rooted in ideas
February 28, 2008, 6:43 pm
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This goes a million miles deep toward explaining what it means to grow up between worlds:  is it that leaving the tangible, the earth, people, people’s culture, their judgments and pronouncements, makes a void that is naturally filled by intangibles like ideas and memory?  It seems to make sense that this between place, a strange new made-up world, catalyses where memory meets the new reality.

“people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves – because they are so defined by others – by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves.”


chooseth me! chooseth me!
February 24, 2008, 7:07 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Incredibly, the Puritans saw America as a saviour nation, and themselves as chosen by God.  What arose was a civil religion that with abandon mixed the mandate and machinations of the state with that of the church.  More breathtaking still to hear this same idea taken up by power brokers today to advance ridiculous and meddling policy.

“For Bellah and others, the deepest source of the American civil religion is the Puritan-derived notion of America as a New Israel, a covenanted people with a divine mandate to restore the purity of early apostolic church, and thus serve as a godly model for the restoration of the world. John Winthrop’s famous 1630 sermon to his fellow settlers of Massachusetts Bay, in which he envisioned their “plantation” as “city upon a hill,” is the locus classicus for this idea of American chosenness. It was only natural that inhabitants with such a strong sense of historical destiny would eventually come to see themselves and their nation as collective bearers of a world-historical mission. What is more surprising, however, was how persistent that self-understanding of America as the Redeemer Nation would prove to be, and how easily it incorporated the secular ideas of the Declaration of Independence and the language of liberty into its portfolio. The same mix of convictions can be found animating the rhetoric of the American Revolution, the vision of Manifest Destiny, the crusading sentiments of antebellum abolitionists, the benevolent imperialism of fin-de-siècle apostles of Christian civilization, and the fervent idealism of President Woodrow Wilson at the time of World War I. No one expressed the idea more directly, however, than Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana, who told the United States Senate, in the wake of the Spanish-American War, that “God has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.”

Wilfred M. McClay, The Soul of a Nation

pardon me while i strangle you
February 24, 2008, 10:48 am
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What’s striking about this is its absolutism – both in our involvement:  all are outsiders … all are enemies; and in our lack of commitment to change.

“Culture War for us is a domestic version of the Cold War, in which every insider is also an outsider and all neighbors are potential enemies.  The tragedy of American culture in this regard has been its failure to provide what religious scholar Jan Assmann calls “intercultural translation”: the capacity to translate my beliefs into your beliefs and vice versa.  Unhappily, we have very little interest in the challenge of translation, largely because we very much wish to remain cordially at one another’s throats.”

Hot Air Gods, by Curtis White Harper’s Magazine, December 2007

zest! enthusiasm! poison!

In the Latin world intelligence is equated with malice; in America with cheerleading; in Mexico they would give out prizes laced with poison.

“The French equate intelligence with rational discourse, the Russians with intense soul-searching.  For a Mexican, intelligence is inseparable from maliciousness – in this, as in many other things, we are quite Italian: furberia, roguish slyness, and the cult of appearances, la bella figura, are Italianate traits present everywhere in Latin America:  Rome, more than Madrid, is our spiritual capital in this sense. For me, as a child, the United States seemed a world where intelligence was equated with energy, zest, enthusiasm.  The North American world blinds us with its energy; we cannot see ourselves, we must see you.  The United States is a world full of cheerleaders, prize giving, singin’ in the rain:  the baton twirler, the Oscar awards, the musical comedies cannot be repeated elsewhere; in Mexico, the Hollywood statuette would come dipped in poisoned paint; in France, Gene Kelly would constantly stop in his steps to reflect: Je danse, donc je suis.

~Carlos Fuentes from How I Started to Write

the emptiness of one’s luggage
February 21, 2008, 4:36 pm
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The reason people don’t like immigrants is that they seem to have done the impossible – defied gravity and flown; flown from the things that tether us to the ground, especially love for birthplace.  It’s envy.

Escaping the myth of rootedness gives the immigrant hope; however, it is not only birthplace that we have lost, but also history and memory and even time itself.  The metaphor is of an empty suitcase.

“I, too, know something of this immigrant business. I am an emigrant from one country (India) and a newcomer in two (England, where I live, and Pakistan, to which my family moved against my will). And I have a theory that the resentments we mohajirs engender have something to do with our conquest of the force of gravity. We have performed the act of which all men anciently dream, the thing for which they envy the birds; that is to say, we have flown.

“I am comparing gravity with belonging. Both phenomena observably exist: my feet stay on the ground, and I have never been angrier than on the day my father told me he had sold my childhood home in Bombay. But neither is understood. We know the force of gravity, but not its origins; and to explain why we become attached to our birthplaces we pretend that we are trees and speak of roots. Look under your feet. You will not find gnarled growths spouting through the soles. Roots, I sometimes think, are a conservative myth, designed to keep us in our places.

“When individuals come unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same (Bangladesh), the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. . . . And what’s the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one’s luggage. I’m speaking of invisible suitcases, not the physical, perhaps cardboard, variety containing a few meaning-drained mementoes: we have come unstuck from more than land. We have floated upwards from history from memory, from Time.”

~From Shame (New York: Aventura/Vintage, 1984), 90, 91. Salman Rushdie

the retina splinters under the assault of so many things
February 18, 2008, 3:51 am
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

To understand Cezanne is to know that the world can’t be summed up singularly.  In him and Picasso, you can’t see the world in simple terms or in one figure.  Quetglas describes our reordered apprehension in terms of our vision which splinters to accept the world’s attack on our senses.

“It is quite easy to distinguish between a Gris and a Picasso painting.  Each one is derived from opposing operations.  Picasso studied Cezanne, Gris studied Cezanne postcards.  It is a radical opposition because he who has understood Cezanne ceases to be capable of summarizing his view of the world in a single figure.  In Cezanne and Picasso, the eye faces the world and is unable to encompass it in one figure, the retina splinters under the assault of so many things, ‘all convex, each one with its own escape, ruining itself, falling.  The eye becomes concentric from the effort of looking,’ says Cezanne.  His natural gaze and that of the cubist is then produced from the splintered condition of the retina, through which it inevitably reaches the hand, the brush and the brush-stroke, scaly with its comma-like bent line, and hence to the cubist construction.  I, a Cezannistcubist have a glass, an apple or a tree in front of my eyes and in my retina I hear the cracking hum of the scales of colors.  Read Cezanne if you don’t believe me:  he has set it out in literature.  All his energy is aimed at learning to look with precision.  And when one sees in that way, what is produced cannot be cubist.

-Don’t Be Deluded, Josep Quetglas in the book Enric Miralles

February 14, 2008, 3:47 pm
Filed under: departure lounge


congenital displacement: Naipaul
February 14, 2008, 3:41 pm
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Naipaul is a foreigner at birth, every arrival is enigmatic, and crushingly, an outsider in both his place of ancestry and chosen soil.

“To understand the modern state, we are often told, we must read Naipaul, and see how people estranged from their cultures mimic people estranged from their roots.  Naipaul is the definitive modern traveler in part because he is the definitive symbol of modern rootlessness; his singular qualification for his wanderings is not his stamina, nor his bravado, nor his love of exploration – it is, quite simply, his congenital displacement.  Here is a man who was a foreigner at birth, a citizen of an exiled community set down on a colonized island.  Here is a man for whom every arrival is enigmatic, a man without a home – except for an India to which he stubbornly returns, only to be reminded of his distance from it.  The strength of Naipaul is the poignancy of Naipaul:  the poignancy of a wanderer who tries to go home, but is not taken in, and is accepted by another home only so long as he admits that he’s a lodger there.”

Pico Iyer

the realm of presentiments
February 4, 2008, 6:59 am
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , , ,

Trying to get to the realm of intuition is seen as a betrayal; but this realm is the very real inner life of a human being.

“You make films to give people something, to transport them somewhere else, and it doesn’t matter if you transport them to a world of intuition or a world of intellect…A lot of people don’t understand the direction in which I’m going. They think…I’ve betrayed my way of looking at the world…I absolutely don’t feel I’ve betrayed any of my opinions or my attitude to life. The realm of superstitions, fortune-telling, presentiments, intuition, dreams, all this is the inner life of a human being, and all this is the hardest thing to film…I’ve been trying to get there from the beginning. I’m somebody who doesn’t know, somebody who’s searching.”

– Krzystztof Kieslowski

suddenly, literally, in the past: The Child In Time
February 3, 2008, 7:15 am
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Ian McEwan’s novel, The Child In Time, the protagonist Stephen loses his young daughter in a supermarket, and his response to this trauma is the content of the book.  In an astonishing passage, he finds himself in the past where he encounters his parents in a pub discussing whether or not to abort him.  It is described here by a journalist:

“In the midst of these memories comes the astonishment of chapter three in which Stephen journeys by train to visit Julie months after their separation (Stephen observes architectural styles during the trip from London to the suburbs that signal a movement from the past to the present). Having embarked some distance from her cottage, Stephen walks through a field of wheat, and while doing so, he loses his sense of time. He emerges from the field near a pub located in what he perceives to be an earlier, more rustic English landscape. Here he approaches the pub’s window and sees a young man and woman talking over their drinks. Slowly he realizes that he is looking at his parents at some point in time before his birth. He senses something else in their pantomime and recoils, fleeing from an “infant despondency” (McEwan 65). Later, as if awakening from a nightmare, Stephen arrives at Julie’s where she cares for him and where they later make love. However, the “moment of tenderness” eludes them again as unspoken sadness drives them apart at the chapter’s end”.

~Michael Byrne, Time and the Child in Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time

Non linear time and temporal displacement are used to problematize normal conceptions of time.  A man enters a moment between his conception and birth.  Time here is a dynamic social construction not an intractable reality, according to this quotation from another writer:

“In the chrontopes of postmodern novels, non-linear time and temporal displacement are often integral to the thematic structure and content of the novel:  they are not just stylistic elements of the novel.  Although there are sometimes rational explanations for the reversals of time and time slips in these chronotopes, they are designed to problematize scientific, social and cultural constructions of time, constuctions that are associated with western concepts of reality.  Non-linear time in particular has a number of political and ideological implications in the postmodern novel.  This is most clearly the case in Ian McEwan’s, The Child in Time, where the time of childhood is becoming re-institutionalized as a political act, where one man regresses into childhood, and another man is able to enter a moment of time between his conception and his birth.  This is a political novel, and one that recognizes time as a persuasive social construction rather than the hard-edged and incontrovertible reality that supports the tyranny of the clock.”

~The Postmodern Chronotope by Paul Smethurst

The protagonist is given proof that he had been there, and that his presence influenced his mother’s decision, as described by this writer:

“An even more dramatic result of time’s activity occurs when Stephen, on the way to visit his now-estranged wife (their old intimacy torn asunder by their shared loss), finds himself suddenly, literally, in the past, witnessing a conversation between his courting parents, during which they consider whether or not to abort him. And this experience is not presented as a figment of his torment. Quite the contrary, he is given outside corroboration that he had been, in some sense, there at that time, that his perceived presence was what determined his mother’s decision.

~He Turned Around and She Was Gone, Rebecca Goldstein, October 11, 1987, The New York Times