Monday, May 19, 2003

chocolate malta

i was just talking to a friend who wants to visit malta for her honeymoon, and so this blog post is dedicated to her- the writing is a bit choppy, but i'm leaving it as is. it was written April 16, 2001:

malta is actually made up of three tiny islands, malta, gozo and comino. the trio is found to the east of tunisia. it's one of the smallest countries in the world. the bus system in malta is very efficient, but the bus drivers reminded me that there is a little bit of egypt in everyone. at one point f almost fell out a bus on a particularly jerky turn! never a dull moment ;)

since malta is an island, everywhere we went we could see the sea. our second day there, we took a boat ride around the blue grotto, which is this area populated with several cliffs and caves. we rode into many of the caves, and saw why the area is called the blue grotto. the sunlight reflects off the walls in the caves and turns the water a deep blue- it's beautiful. there are tons of stalachmites hanging from the roofs of the caves as well, and we could get very close to all of it because the boat we
were in was so tiny. it was wonderful- i felt very isolated there, out on the sea, zipping in and out of these caves, looking up to see nothing but cliffs and clouds. it was great.

that day we also walked up to dingli, the highest point in malta. the view from this cliff was worth the climb, but in the pictures we took i know i look like i'm wheezing ;) on the way back from dingli we actually got hopelessly lost. we ended up following a group of german girls back down from the cliff, and they got us even more lost. we did finally end up back on a bus to valletta but by the scenic route ;)

we also went to mdina, the medieval walled city named after the arabic word for city. this was interesting, actually- having read a bit about maltese history i understand better why their language is an odd mix of arabic and italian. there were many words i recognized from both languages. in fact, they actually say "assalaam ciao"! i didn't believe this until i heard it. so. mdina has been called the silent city, the noble city, the old city. mdina played a part in history, actually- during the great siege, mdina sent
a cavalry out to attack the turkish base camp just as the turks were about to seize victory. this attack shook loose a muslim stronghold. interestingly enough we were in mdina on good friday, and so we caught the religious procession. it was good timing- i had just read about the great siege and now i had a chance to think about it as i watched this procession in honor of good friday.

we visited many ancient temples- all of them were built around 3500 BC, give or take a few hundred years. this makes them all older than the pyramids of giza. the gganantija temples in gozo were pretty interesting, but i liked calypso's cave better. the legend goes that homer's ulysses was captured by calypso, a nymph, and kept in that cave for seven years before being allowed to return home. going down into that cave was a slippery adventure but once down there the view was nice. i could see ulysses lounging there, pampered by a nymph and eating grapes for seven years ;)

on the road away from the cave f bought some cheese and fruit, both maltese specialties. the fruit was interesting- it looked like a pear and tasted like an apple. the cheese was laden with pepper and not that great.

we saw more temples at hager qim and mnajdra; these are both ancient structures as well. but honestly what preoccupied my mind this trip was the untamed beauty of it all- this was the kind of thing i'd been hungry for lately. to get lost in some stunning landscape. i've had a lot of city lately and although malta definitely has its share of urbanity we had the option of just going to the seaside, sitting on a cliff, looking at the water. it was refreshing.

this said, by far my favorite part of the entire trip were st paul's catacombs. these catacombs made the ones in alexandria seem paltry. this underground chamber went on and on and on, twisting into hundreds of different rooms... it was awesome. there were so many dark little alleys and holes, many of which i ventured into. it was so indiana jones ;) the areas for the bodies themselves were cut into every available space, and in many you could see the indentation were the head must have lain. some of
the spaces were stuffed with many more than one body, as well. it was just an incredible place. every niche had a grave cut into it. i kept expecting to find a skeleton in some of the darker places i explored- there were so so many graves i couldn't imagine they'd excavated them all! wow. the catacombs were just wonderful. i was in awe of the whole thing.

so. that was malta. i wanted desperately to have a chocolate shake there just so i could say i had a malt in malta but alas i didn't get a chance to achieve such heights of cheesiness ;)

so done

last monday was my qualifying exam for my master's - if all went well, i am done with school! for now anyway. maybe more accurately, i'm done with formalized schooling; i am already compiling a list of classes i want to take for fun, but those don't count. so. master's in english literature. interesting. true, the value of studying english is inherent in the experience itself; it is hard to justify it to someone outside the discipline, but from this seat, it's been a study in beauty and humanity. i'll always have this lens at my disposal, the one through which i will continue to be mesmerized by the beauty of language.

here, example! a quote from poisonwood bible:

"how the women working their field will stand up one after another, unwrap the pagne of bright cloth tied under their breasts, stretch it out wide before retying it. They resemble flocks of butterflies opening and closing their wings."

speaking of books (as usual!), i'm sitting here reading a book that is not for class! very nice. it's actually one that "dr suz" recommended, and i am loving it. it's not a masterpiece; it's not ulysses; it's not revolutionary or intricate. but it is one of the most honest pieces of literature i feel i've ever come across. there is so little self-consciousness in this text that i am awed. i know i'm pretty analytical, generally speaking. i very rarely am able to stop myself from acts of lengthy interpretation. and this book is indulging me in that...

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

the postcolonial question

"Today, 'postcolonial studies' in the Anglo-US academy often suggests simply the opening up of a new archive or a bringing together, in different ways, of various interpretative or reading techniques developed by poststructuralist theorists. There is little evidence that such intellectual work derives any of its critical functions and polemical urgencies from the present-day cultural and intellectual life of the “postcolonial” nation or nations whose historical legacy is under study" (Kaul 75).

In other words, as the colonizer once claimed to be expert in deciding what was important to their colonized subjects, postcolonial theorists are now determining what is important to the field of postcolonial studies, without really taking into account the values of the nation being discussed.

In fact, there is a tendency to simply lump all postcolonial nations together and to view their very different, very specific issues as similar. As Mukherjee writes, "My encounter with such enigmas in the text made me aware very early on in my study of literature how important culturally coded meanings are. This awareness has made me wary of theories that speak of “universality” and “autonomy” of literature. For, as several Third World writers and critics have suggested, “universality” in such theoretical exercises has really come down to a demand that the literary work not contain any references to the local or regional, since the New York- or London- based critic cannot be bothered to waste time acquainting him/herself with Yoruba myths or Indian scriptures" (192).

This is certainly an issue that needs some attention. In studying postcoloniality, it is significant to examine the difference in perspective between the colonizer and the colonized. Yet to attach little or no importance to the perspective of the postcolonial subjects this new field is studying is to create that difference again. How can one do justice to any specific region if one simply groups several different regions together, with their widely differing values, cultures, histories becoming overshadowed by their one true similarity: their status as “postcolonial”? It is as though

"postcolonial theory …overlooks the diversities within any society on the one hand, and on the other, the diversities across postcolonial societies when it tries to speak of them all in terms of the colonizer/colonized binaries" (Mukherjee 193).

This speaks to all of the issues embedded within what is, in my opinion, the postcolonial question. when does literature stop being seen as postcolonial and begin to be seen as simply kenyan or indian or etc etc? when can the literature of a certain country no longer be seen in the light of its colonial history, and stand on its own as national, informed from within by its own cultural context? when we look at the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, and the prejudices therein, can we learn something about the construction of the other within a certain country?