Friday, February 28, 2003

what is this art stuff?

here's something i wrote up for some application once- it pretty much sums up my answer to the question.

i believe that there is a universality to human nature; the aspects that humans share stem from the fact that we are all born into a world in which certain questions arise, certain mysteries exist, and certain experiences are inevitable. Many of us share a sense of something greater than ourselves, perhaps a meaning for our lives which we know exists and strive to find. This meaning, this essence of life, trancends space and time and thus so does our search; our intuition prompts us to think about our lives in a greater context, and our imagination articulates what we think.

Art, including literature, is a product of this articulation. I have a great respect for the power of the written work; i believe that manipulating words is an art form.

i had to do a report in class a couple of weeks ago- here are my notes- i kind of just read this whole thing out to the class, which is why i have a lot of strange little asides in there... i liked this report enough to consider turning it into a longer paper- the topic is so dense that i feel i have a lot of room to explore, find a niche within it...

Benita Parry states over and over again in this article that there is a certain kind of resistance that is not resistance at all: "an agenda which disdains the objective of restoring the colonized as subject of its own history does so on the grounds that a simple inversion perpetuates the colonizer/colonized opposition within the terms defined by colonial discourse, remaining complicit with its assumptions by retaining undifferentiated identity categories, and failing to contest the conventions of that system of knowledge it supposedly challenges."

Instead, she calls for the kind of resistance that simply sidesteps the colonial discourse altogether; THAT is resistance.

She says it well in the following passage: "a recent discussion of nativism condenses many of the current censures of cultural nationalism for its complicity with the terms of colonialism’s discourse, with its claims to ancestral purity and inscriptions of monolithic notions of identity cited as evidence of the failure to divest itself of the specific institutional determinations of the west. [ however there is a] profound political significance of the decolonized writing themselves as subjects of a literature of their own." (I'm sure that the empowerment that comes from writing themselves is the first step to resistance- even if they end up subscribing to the same colonial discourse, their movement is not insignificant.)

"[however] in exposing the operation of a nativist topology- inside/outside, indigene/alien, western/traditional- it installs a topology of its own, where the colonizer is dynamic donor and the colonized is docile recipient, where the west initiates and the native imitates. Thus while the reciprocity of the colonial relationship is stressed, all power remains with western discourse."

By using this reversal technique, in which the colonized "turns the tables", so to speak, they are doing exactly what the colonizer did; or more accurately, they are appropriating the discourse that the colonizer also used. it is what she calls a reverse ethnocentrism. And I think it's interesting that nativism is a negative movement, in that it stems from negative sentiment, but for all its support of rejection it buys into the very system it is supposedly resisting. In fact, that is what I took to be her main focus- or at least her most interesting point- whether the way colonized people assert themselves or their nationality is not, in fact, simply a reassertion of the discourse of colonialism.

She does repeat herself a lot in this article, (which is why I repeat myself a lot in this report!!!) but what she is saying directly relates to another of her articles, "materiality and mystification in a passage to India." This article seems to be an application of her resistance theories to a specific text, and because it stays pretty close to the text, and actually makes her abstractions seem a little more concrete or grounded, it's much easier to read. (at least for me!) I took it as an illustration of what she is saying in Resistance Theory.

She writes, "praise for a passage to India as a poised and sympathetic account of the sub continent's landscape, history, and culture which Indian critics of older generations had offered, has since been repudiated by their descendants as 'emanating from a colonized consciousness.' (which is exactly what parry says is an unsuccessful method of resistance.)

To actually be such a novel would be to not overlook that "amongst this novel's many indias is one whose topography evades colonialism's physical invasion, and whose cognitive modes elude incorporation within normative western explanatory systems. Were a case for the novel's radicalism to be made, this would need to rest on the recalcitrance of this 'india', and not on its manifestly inadequate critique of a colonial encounter."

And I just want to add here that to consider such things as the topography of the land or the peoples' ways of thinking is obvious upon reading, but it’s a perspective I did not have until I read that passage... It is easy to critique what someone writes, but to think of an angle that they have not considered is a lot more compelling... I really enjoy coming upon simple statements like that one, that sort of illuminate the dark corners.

She says, "the reputation of a passage to India as conventional in form, language, and attested value has inhibited discussion on an emergent modernism that is inseparable from the novel’s failure to reach the destination intimated in its title. (I thought that was interesting since we're talking a lot in Modern Novel about the characteristics of modernism- I had not thought of the fact that to never really reach India in this novel is the kind of reaching for that non-empirical "something" that modernism is all about and that we've been talking about so much…) Said has remarked that for him the most interesting thing about the book is the use of India to 'represent material that according to the canons of the novel form cannot in fact be represented- vastness, incomprehensible creeds, secret motions, histories and social forms'. Again, it's as we’ve discussed in class- that something is very much worth reaching for, but it cannot quite be described in words or explained...

I really liked said's comment- it's interesting to think that there are many sides of India that forster could never have captured, and it is their existence that is a kind of resistance in itself. It is as though recognizing India as non-empirical or mystical is the stepping out of a colonial discourse that Parry calls for. Perhaps she is saying that although forster does try to conjure for the reader india's differences, he somehow caters to the west regardless. he doesn't write of these differences as "deviations from western norms of historical development, aesthetics, civil society, and sexuality." They are still inscribed within a certain line of thought.

i read this in a book that was being passed around in class yesterday, thought it was interesting:

"The Europeans did not "discover" one piece of land nor one human being in the entire world except of Europe and Europeans. Just imagine the Europeans DISCOVERING THE SOURCE OF THE NILE while thousands of Africans who have lived there for generations after generations WATCH THEMSELVES BEING DISCOVERED." - Yosef Ben Jochannan

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

um, yum

a friend and i stepped into an organic grocery store a while ago, and we wandered around, ending up at the fruits and vegetables. our first response was to exclaim over how puny they were- not at all like the large, shiny produce i'm used to buying at the big, flourescent-lighted grocery stores! i know i should be impressed by this all-natural fruit that hasn't been sprayed with lethality and illusion and all of that, but really that fruit was tiny... so i guess i'm not a hippie after all.

Monday, February 24, 2003


my best friend called his dad a couple of days ago with a hardware question, and upon hanging up, he said something like, "man my dad knows everything you would ever want to know about this stuff." yeah. his comment sort of stuck in my mind, for a couple of reasons. of course it impresses me when people are very, very knowledgeable about something i have little experience with (for example hardware and the mysterious business of constructing big, bold, useful things out of nothing)- but more than that i am constantly awed by how varied people are. i know so many people who do what they do incredibly well- but who differ from one another completely. i remember making plans in college to start a commune with my friends- we're all so different that we figured whatever we need, someone would be able to do. and we were probably right...

but more than that, this hardware comment stuck with me because i instantly thought of my dad - i take it for granted that if i am lost anywhere, ever, i can call my dad and he'll know exactly what intersection i am near, and the best way to get out of there and found again. it's incredible, really. how does he know? how does he do that?

they seem like little things, really- nuts and bolts, driving directions... but they are not little things. they belie a parental wisdom that can only be gained through the kind of full life (full of mistakes, that is!) that i am still in the process of living- that they are still living themselves. if learning from my mistakes is indicative of some sort of forward movement, some - dare i say it - progress, then i can at least look forward to accumulating a fount of wisdom that will amaze my own future children...

one can hope. *grin*

Thursday, February 20, 2003

the sights and smells

i was looking over past emails, and decided to post this one- for reasons other than originally intended. i can't help but notice how much my writing has changed (even if the difference- or development- is perceptible only to me). the following is anectodal in the extreme and if not for the memory of the experiences it outlines, i would almost feel as though it was written by someone other than me... but i'll post it anyway.


hong kong. i wandered around a lot and tried to get lost but found that that's nearly impossible to do in hong kong- there's an MTR station around every corner. i saw street festivals and lots of facial moles and lots and lots of gutted fish. and malls.

hong kong wasn't quite what i was expecting- i knew it would be frenzied and super-efficient, which it was. but i also expected it to be more... ethnic. living in cairo, i've gotten used to having what is different about cairo very apparent and often in my face. life here runs on a different track and because of this i went to hong kong looking for what was different rather than looking for what was the same.

yet in hong kong i found myself facing the very familiar instead of the intriguing and ethnic. i had to keep my eyes open to discover the hong kong i was there to see. it was just fascinating sometimes to see how the everyday common nothings of life in hong kong compared to my daily life. for example, i had a headache and a friend ran into a 7-eleven for me. i expected her to come out with some tylenol and instead she gave me a tiny bottle of green oil to rub into my temples. apparently the strong smell clears one's head.

two things that truly enchanted me were the flower market and the bird market. the flower market was full of puffy flowers and stringy flowers and all kinds of exotic looking plants- all of this fragrance was mixed in with the smell of frying fish that came from stalls alongside the flower vendors. surprisingly it worked. they had a lot of orchids there, which i love. the whole thing was very secret garden-ish to walk through.

and the bird market, which was in this large area beyond the flower market, was awesome- these cages are so intricately made, with tiny ceramic hand painted pots holding the bird's food. there was one bird in each small cage, and the birds themselves were beautiful- my favorite was this completely black one with a white underbelly. he posed for the camera ;) another was totally black with a fluorescent green face. the market was full of old men with stereotypically long white beards (truth) holding up the cages to their ears to listen to the bird's song. they buy a bird based on the beauty of its song rather than its appeareance. the whole scene was very picturesque. messy but picturesque- i left with seeds in my hair ;)

we went up to victoria peak, supposedly the best view in hong kong- too bad we picked one of the most polluted and foggy days of the year ;) it was actually pretty funny- after looking at the fog for a few minutes, we went back inside the building and amused ourselves by posing with the strange statues outside the Ripley's Believe it or Not exhibit. the bus ride to the peak tram was wonderful- the bus was a double decker and the second story was roofless, so we hung over the back, catcalling the pedestrians
and looking up at the buildings as they whizzed by over our heads.

we attended a traditional folk concert, which was cool. what was cooler, though, were the street performers stationed outside the MTR. they played very different-looking instruments which, along with their sweet trilling music, didn't quite fit into the throbbing urban scene rushing about them. the pace of the city was so fast and yet around these street performers i felt like time almost slowed down to the slower wail of the music.

and the food. ohhhh. i wasn't expecting this plethora of yummy exotic dishes. there were so many different KINDS of chinese food- it was wonderful for me, since i'm used to cheap takeout from 'the great wall' where my roommate once found hair in her food. the korean barbecue was my favorite- there's a hotpot in the center of your table, and they serve you raw marinated meat which you cook yourself. oh. we forgot all table manners in a furious feeding frenzy- we were concentrating so hard that there was no conversation at all for thirty minutes ;) at all of the places we visited, i liked just perusing the menus- it's fun to see sea blubber in
sesame sauce on the menu!

i also really loved the street markets- endless rows of stalls selling everything i could want and a lot of things i really really didn't want.

the scenery was nice, too. the mountains were wonderful- that is one thing i don't have in chicago and certainly can't find in egypt.

while i was there i listened to the radio as i walked around- chinese pop sounds suspiciously like eighties music, so i found myself humming along to every song. on one these stations they played some strange version of rem's strange currencies- i recognized the song and thought the title was fitting ;)

it was a great visit. i've just gotten pictures back and am appalled by the fact that i took four pictures of one bird. poor guy, his song was pretty squawky but he was my favorite ;) and F, m'goi sai for everything and i'll see you soon ;)

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

"only the sun, moon and sky"

you know who i would love to meet? tracey chapman. she is just completely amazing. everything she says is just so right on. and i never get tired of listening to the same tracks over and over again. i read alex haley's "queen" with tracey chapman's album "crossroads" in the background the entire time, and each one made the other more powerful. i'm just such a fan.

of course, if i met her, i don't know what i'd do... knowing me, i'd probably quote every one of her songs for her or something. or, no, scratch that. i would interview her and ask all these really interesting questions! about the words she writes and her inspirations and things like that! actually, i don't know. i probably would just quote her. or i'd shake her hand really hard and grin really wide and walk away satisfied.

she's just the best, okay? i will make a mix tape for anyone who wants one, just to prove it.


one of the things i wanted to do with this blog was put the old mass emails on it- the emails i wrote in the last few years have a lot of my thoughts embedded in them, and i think they're important to the development of this weblog. but i've been looking at a few of them, and they are all (on the surface) travel narratives. so now i feel a little cheesy putting them up- i don't want to seem wistful for those adventures. because really i'm not wistful for them at all- i am eager to go have some new adventures, of course, but i like a lot of the things i've said in those emails and i want to share them.

so i guess i will...

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

ten thousand years, a thousand autumns

read Sartor Resartus by thomas carlyle if you get a chance- or just read the "natural supernaturalism" section- it's the last one. it is FULL of small passages that you will marvel over:

"innumerable are the illusions and legerdemain tricks of Custom: but of all these, perhaps the cleverest is her knack of persuading us that the Miraculous, by simple repetition, ceases to be Miraculous."


so some people have been asking me recently about what i've been writing for CARE- so the couple of things i've written will be up soon-ish and i'll put out a link. but to all of you, thank you for asking!

in class last week we talked about the fact that there are so many cliches floating around in our culture, that when people begin to write, they often find themselves regurgitating those cliches instead of really finding their voice right away. that made me think about whether or not i have found my own voice... of course i'd like to think so, but it's hard to tell. but a few of the people who have visited this blog have come back at me with actual comments about what i've written (and how i've written it) and i need to thank them for that- it's really, really helpful to hear specific comments.

Monday, February 10, 2003

"the veil becomes a symbol of colonial frustration, for it lets the woman gaze upon the world while shielding her from prying eyes." (Loomba).