coromandal


keeping it regular with the knickered and provincial

M. Fuentes again.  I can’t figure out where the prevailing cultural myth of innovation came from when you consider how prevalent the blanket of stifling regularity seems to be — it’s a malignancy and at an advanced stage.  Fuentes equates popularity with ignorance.  The ancient Greeks did too: to maintain vitality in their senate they ostracized the most popular members; here it is the opposite.

This is DC in the late 1930’s where the school yard is full of fear of outside people and ideas.  How does what must have been a veritable flood of outsiders and their outside ideas into the American capital – the world’s nation of outsiders – not temper and calm this proclivity for fear?  Baffling …

“I believed in the democratic simplicity of my teachers and chums, and above all I believed I was, naturally, in a totally unself-conscious way, a part of that world.  It is important, at all ages and in all occupations, to be ‘popular’ in the United States; I have known no other society where the values of ‘regularity’ are so highly prized. I was popular, I was ‘regular.’  Until the day in march – march 18, 1938.  On that day, a man from another world, the imaginary country of my childhood, the President of Mexico , nationalized the holdings of foreign oil companies.  The headlines in the North American press denounced the ‘communist’ government of Mexico and its ‘red’ president; they demanded the invasion of Mexico in the sacred name of private property, and Mexicans, under international boycott, were invited to drink their oil.

Instantly, surprisingly, I became a pariah in my school.  Cold shoulders, aggressive stares, epithets, and sometimes blows.  Children know how to be cruel, and the cruelty of their elders is the surest residue of the malaise the young feel toward things strange, things other, things that reveal our own ignorance or insufficiency.  This was not reserved for me or for Mexico:  at about the same time, an extremely brilliant boy of eleven arrived from Germany.  He was a Jew and his family had fled from the Nazis.  I shall always remember his face, dark and trembling, his aquiline nose and deepset, bright eyes with their great sadness; the sensitivity of his hands and the strangeness of it all to his American companions.  This young man, Hans Berlikner, had a brilliant mathematical mind, and he walked and saluted like a Central European; he wore short pants and high woven stockings, Tyrolean jackets and an air of displaced courtesy that infuriated the popular, regular, feisty, knickered, provincial, Depression-era little sons of bitches at Henry Cook Public School of the Thirteenth Street N.W.

~Carlos Fuentes from How I Started to Write



congenital displacement: Naipaul
February 14, 2008, 3:41 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , ,

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