Friday, May 29, 2009
However, this self-awareness does not take the shape of historiographic metafiction like other postmodern texts. The narrator does not reflect upon the construct of the text, nor does he present an awareness of the act of writing. Flight enacts the process of reading through the narrator, Zits, who supernaturally experiences the actions and is privy to the thoughts of other individuals, while remaining conscious of his own thoughts as well. As Zits puts it, "I can fall so far inside a person, inside his memories, that I can play them like a movie." Or, as I am arguing, read them like a book.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
If viewed as a reopening of the discussion, the novel can be seen as an ethical endeavor to further understandings of the tragedy. Consequently, readers may have a new engagement with the event that offers the opportunity for new responses to be formulated from a position of heightened knowledge and the awareness of diverse perspectives. However, by channeling such familiar images, mostly from media coverage, does it simply reinforce existing sentiments? The project mimics the goal of the 9/11 Commission Report, a book that attempted to report rather than engage with the event. But as a work of art, is not the burden one step further, to engage the event, rethink it, ask new questions? I don't know that the graphic novel has this impact.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
"A dream - that would help explain the gaps, and the general incongruity of life now - the cyclic repetition of events on cable news, waves of natural disasters, scientists announcing the same discoveries over and over (Planet X, dinosaur birds, cloning, certain genetic codes), the random daily shift of national allegiances, wildly famous people who no one could recall becoming famous, the sudden emergence and disappearance of epidemics, the declaration and dissolution of governments, cycles of scandal, confession, and rehabilitation, heated elections in which losers claimed victory and races were rerun in the same sequence, events that catapulted wildly out of control, like plagues of illogic ..."
Are these what exist in the state between consciousness and unconsciousness, possibly where we all exist today? The text depicts a culture that is not enlightened to the point that it can accept the void and discover the meanings from within it. Rather, society tends to overlay pop culture and populous understanding atop the void.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
On one hand, the program has an overt goal of producing cultural change; it aims to influence meat consumption in Japan by proffering a vision of the happy, American family eating meat. It sells meat through its association with American values, amounting to what many call cultural imperialism. Media theorist James Lull explains this viewpoint as "a process that homogenizes thought and experience, destroys local cultures, exploits their populations and makes way too much money for the anonymous, often foreign corporate producers." However, Lull argues that this argument does not hold much weight. "Even the most fundamental idea that widespread representation of cultural forms leads to undifferentiated reception of those forms - an unstated assumption that underlies the usual critical argument - simply does not hold." Contemporary media allows for interactive engagement through a variety of communication technologies making the homogenization of culture more complicated.
The novel complicates the view by showing the multiple and singular nature of the American family. Jane takes the responsibility to show the diversity of the American family while challenging the influence of the sponsor by focusing on more than just beef. Jane creates a needed tension between the goals of the sponsor and the show. Thus, she complicates the cultural influence of the program, and as a result, produces a different outcome than expected, demonstrating how the media can be a positive tool for change across borders.
Furthermore, the body remains the central focus of both the program and the text, as the issue of meat production comes to the forefront. Specifically, the effect of harmful drugs used in feed lots and slaughterhouses on human reproduction, antibiotic effectiveness, and other side effects.
The media can make people aware of the problems, but the text specifically highlights the ineffectiveness of the media to create changes in individual behavior. Jane explains the difficulty of linking media information to action. "Coming at us like this - in waves, massed and unbreachable - knowledge becomes symbolic of our disempowerment - becomes bad knowledge - so we deny it, riding its crest until it subsides from consciousness." The realization throws another wrench into the battle over the body for Jane. "Ignorance is an act of will," she explains, "a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence." Thus, she realizes her limitations and attempts to go outside of the mainstream by producing unique programing that confronts the politics of the body. Even thought she realizes the effect may be limited, she still pushes forth, and in the end, changes one Japanese woman who contacts her seeking a new life for herself and her child based upon the diverse views she saw in Jane's programs. Diversity prevailed, even in the media.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
When Ben Sachs becomes a terrorist, bombing replicas of the Statue of Liberty, it is to confront the prevailing discourse of freedom in the U.S. "He simply wanted America to look into itself and mend its ways. In that sense, there was something almost Biblical about his exhortations, and after a while he began to sound less like a political revolutionary than some anguished, soft-spoken prophet." Ben aspires to reopen the discussion of what freedom means and not allow a statue to be a misguided icon that people hide behind. This use of bombs to send a message might be "[u]nlike the typical terrorist pronouncement," but it brings to the forefront the idea of terrorism as discourse, violence that attempts to hijack the discourse and put forth its own message. However, the text's critical awareness is always focused on particular perspectives. Terror, thus, amounts to one perceptive, and even though it dominates the headlines due to fear and horror, it must be dealt with through discursive means.
The question then becomes, what is literature's role in this mess? Can writers, in the novel's case both Ben Sachs and Peter Aaron, effectively shape discourse so that terrorism will not? Paul Auster does not answer these questions because Ben becomes the terrorist as a result of his inability to influence political dialogue, and Peter writes to challenge the inevitable opinions that will be formed when the government learns that Ben Sachs is the bomber called the "Phantom of Liberty."
Friday, April 10, 2009
They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.
Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.
There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.
They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.
I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.
Translated by Clare Kavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I will always hold to my argument that literature asks unanswerable questions that push the dialogue into new territory. The media foreclosure of the discourse in the post 9/11 world can be confronted anew by literary texts that refocus the discussion on individuals coping with the repercussions of the tragedy and the way it played out in the sphere of new media. Furthermore, literature slows the engagement from its hyperspeed on global networks that infultrate public space and shape cultural memory. The process of reading allows for careful consideration by a lone reader, allowing singular responses to take shape instead of mass consensus. Lastly, many texts not only respond to the tragedy but allow for new responses as well, literature's response-ability.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Torture becomes a sort of tumor in society in the same way the Vietnam war was. Duncan uses the My Lai massacre to make his point: "Whatever you thought of war, soldiers in it became the bearers of the world's strange tidings. Among which was the news from My Lai. America faced a tumorous question about itself from its own sons." Duncan's example forms a link between the way Vietnam, specifically the My Lai massacre, made Americans see themselves in a new light and the way torture should do the same. Both Vietnam and today's war on terrorism amount to exceptional circumstances where otherwise unheard of acts are carried out or justified based on the emergency at hand. The question becomes, do we, as a nation, treat the atrocious act as a mnemonic device or a convenient failure of memory justified by the exceptional circumstances? Duncan prefers the former.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
The complexity of the situation is also written in religious terms. One of Farah's protagonists explains his "misgivings about saints and angels ... especially as I fear that people describe the Yankees as 'good angels' come on a humanitarian mission, to perform God's work here. Do you think Yankees ceased being angels, because of the conditions met here, conditions that wouldn't permit them to perform any work but Satan's? When do angels cease to be angels and resort to being who they are, Yankees?" Farah embeds religious terms in the political questions in an way that draws the two together.
The links he forms ask the crucial questions. How does the media influence foreign policy and subsequently the lives of individual Somalis? How can humanitarian goals be forgotten so quickly when things begin to go wrong on the ground? And then link the two - the media, humanitarian ideals gone wrong - an ethical imbalance?
Friday, October 31, 2008
Bile, one of Nuruddin Farah's protagonists in Links, explains, "an artist representing an image cannot presume to be an artist unless he is able to be the very figure being represented. Likewise, a man with a radical image who's spent years in detention for political reasons must act forthrightly and without fear of the consequences."
The comment links the artist and the radical. Both must act forthrightly and without fear to have an impact. But, what does it mean to be the figure being represented? An artist can inhabit the revolutionary role with an imagination that builds characters, scenes, and story through links to the real. Or, the artist can be the firgure represented and present a realist version of events from personal memory in order to convey a political point. The artist can be either inside or outside, but either way must present a threshold for the reader to pass through, which evokes meaning and provokes response. How does the artist reach that point?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
- Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’
Art's warfare ... from where does it derive its power?
Friday, October 3, 2008
This line from Anil's Ghost possessed me while I was reading the first part of the book. The unreal aspects of war, the horror, the trauma, collapse all sense of truth and understanding, history and memory. Ondaatje explores how fear infiltrates a country so pervasively that nobody can recognize the reality of individual lives. Is this what happens in all wars? Cause and effect become propaganda and history the fiction written in a time of exception?
The text explores these questions but also initiates a response. It attempts to empower mechanisms to bridge the gap between past and present, the bones of the dead that lie in the earth, the stories of relatives, literature. How do we read the surreal world that disconnects life from its own story?
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
"Gabriel knows that if he is going to live again then he will have to learn to banish all thoughts of his past existence. There can be no sentiment. Hurtling blindly down this highway, he knows that if he is lucky the past will soon be truly past, and that with every gasp of the acrid air beneath the heavy tarpaulin, life is taking him beyond this nightmare and to a new place and a new beginning."
In effect, Gabriel becomes the exception, leaving everything to enter into the unknown, at once citizen and not citizen, forgetting in order to create new memories, starting life over after having lived too much. He embodies the changes that occur to the traveler, but how does it compare to the England he finds upon arrival? How is the memory of the past in play for both the immigrant and the citizen? Do they both embody the nomadic state? Does the immigrant, as the exception, force the resident of a country to see themself differently?
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Messner's "manner was so calm, so seemingly unaware of the chaos that surrounded them, that he could have been taking s Sunday morning collection. The Red Cross was always there to help the victims of earthquakes and floods, the very ones Vice President Iglesias was sent to comfort and assess ... 'The Red Cross,' he said to the bank of guns behind him."
Where does his power, or an NGO's power come from? Is it the way they stand on a higher ethical ground that gives them protection above others, akin to clerical or some other status outside of normal relations? How does Messner embody the state of exception, and what critical ground does that offer us as readers?
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
"He could only hear the notes, the clear resonance of her voice, like when he was a boy and would run down the hill past the convent, how he could hear just a moment of the nuns' singing, and how it was better that way, to fly past it rather than to stop and wait and listen. Running, the music flew into him, became the wind that pushed back his hair and the slap of his own feet on the pavement. hearing her sing now ... was like that. It was like hearing one bird answer another when you can only hear the reply and not the plintive, original call" (99-100).
If an aesthetic is defined as a quality of artistic production that elicits an emotive reaction from the viewer, a sensory value of sorts that opens art to values of judgement and sentiment, does Bel Canto put forth an aesthetic of memory? If so, it seems to act in similar ways across the group of hostages and terrorists alike. What does it mean that it crosses borders and acts nomadically, connecting to the past while also helping to construct a unique community in the present? What are the productive possibilities?
Monday, September 1, 2008
What constitutes a community and binds it together in the contemporary world? What roles/subject positions are most vital to a transnational community? Are fleeting communities always formed out of trauma, temporary and necessary to escape a distinct threat?
Thursday, August 14, 2008
DeLillo's novel Falling Man refers to this famous picture. In the text, a performance artist recreates the photo by placing himself at strategic locations around the city and jumping from a building tethered by a single rope. In the process, he assumes the position of the man in the photo. DeLillo's text asks the important question: "Falling Man as Hearless Exhibitionist or Brave New Chronicler of the Age of Terror" (220).
I believe DeLillo is asking us to remain shocked out of our daily routines, not to let 9/11 become simple history, and relearn the lessons of the event each day. Is this giving too much value to terrorism? Is performance art that interrupts our daily lives an important aspect in postmodern society? If art does not interrupt, what will?
Sunday, July 27, 2008
"When those men asked my husband if he was a Jew, he said, 'Yes, I am a Jew.' He didn't say, 'No, I'm an individual ... An individual. What's that? Individuals are all the same, you know. Cut off from what they are. They are nothing at all. It's the context that matters ... I wonder could you do that? Give up everything, your family, your life, just for once to be completely what you are?" (132-133).
The wife believes that one needs a solid identity marker to define ones character. She believes that the husband's unwillingness to shy away from his identity is valiant, even though he is depicted as "Not a good Jew," whatever that means (133). I simply question the validity of that type of overarching identity signifier in today's world. Is there one thing that defines any of us that we hold onto completely and would give up our individualism for? Is that called patriotism, loyalty, fanaticism....? The context she speaks of seems to be a large identity affiliation, but don't we more actively identify with smaller more localizes identities which we inhabit on a daily basis? Things like community, family, ethics formed based on experiences within a more localized context? Is the solid marker of religion or culture what we truly "are" more than family, relationships, community? Could you, would you, give up your family for the sake of some more grand narrative?
"Alternatively she wished for a disaster, like the ones they had imagined for one another the night before; a pox, a plague, a pure, holy terror event after which all that had come before would be erased in a brilliant white light, rendered irrelevant from one searing moment to the next, so that all the world could experience the same dislocation that she had. The shattered pieces would rearrange themselves eventually. Life would go on. But no one would return to the before-place, when everything was ordered and complete" (177).
If terrorism acts as an event that interrupts the status quo and puts us on new ground, does that mean it is an effective means of changing the world? What does it mean to desire that kind of dislocation of identity and attempt, as takes place in the book, to provoke this type of shift? Is that what art does already, or can art shift the ground beneath our feet to invoke a more ethical society to the degree that political dissidents will not need to use violence as a means of political action?
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
To the American reader, the ethics here seem obvious; the dog is being physically harmed and one must come to its aid. Shit, there is even a TV show about animal cops where we enjoy watching these crusaders save desperate animals and lock away the offenders.
However, Jeebleh is vilified for his behavior. His acts amount to dirtying himself by actually touching a dog and offending the others present. Farah uses the example to establish the cultural divide between his English speaking readers and the locals. But it also posits the contradiction of a society enamored with American culture, envisaged in the "cowboy hat and jeans," saddled with the legacy of colonialism, the BBC man's dog, and at odds with the helping hand of NGO's, "UNOSOM." It is a conflict that plays out between the western world's ideology of individualism that infiltrates Somali culture yet conflicts with the traditional clan-based rule. The essence of the political problem of the country lies somewhere in the conflicting ideals of clan vs. individual.
The example embodies the political misunderstandings that outsiders bring to bare on Somalia and other African nations. The question is thus, how do we approach the situation? With an eye for the individuals who are suffering, which seems to be the only thing that draws our attention? How do we give due consideration to the local customs?
Sunday, June 29, 2008
The Return of the Jewish Nose: Reading Yasmina Khadra's The Attack
Unless you are a fan of Tex-Mex, truck with balls, scorching heat, and museums commemorating George W. Bush, there are very few reasons to spend the summer in southeast Texas. But I happen to be here visiting someone, and so I’ve taken the opportunity to sit in on his Texas A&M University class on contemporary world literature, where the focus is literature and terrorism.
For today, we read Yasmina Khadra’s The Attack (2007). Khadra (his real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul) is a former Algerian army officer turned novelist, and this novel, despite its unsophisticated writing style, does a pretty good job of getting college students to think and talk about terrorism in an unfiltered way. The only problem is that the book is so severely biased against Israelis and Jews that one wonders how unfiltered the discussion can truly be.
The storyline goes something like this: Arab-Israeli surgeon is called to the hospital where he learns his wife has been killed in a restaurant bombing. He later finds out that his wife was in fact the suicide bomber. The rest of the book, with all of its undeveloped plot threads, is about his attempts to uncover her secret life and come to grips with what he sees as her betrayal of him. The important thing to note is that it’s not that he needs to come to grips with what his wife has done to innocent men, women, and children in a crowded restaurant, but with what he sees as her personal betrayal of him.
A bit self-absorbed, no?
It’s not that the novel doesn’t tell a good story or address timely issues. It definitely kept me reading, but perhaps that was also because of the all but latent anti-Semitism that kept jumping out at me. Like many people, I tend to like to stare at things that repulse me. Although I run the risk of sounding like an anti-Semitic ambulance chaser, it is difficult not to read between the lines when nearly every time Khadra’s narrator introduces a new Jewish character, he refers to his “unattractive nostrils” or depicts him looking down his “nose” at the narrator. Or, in the absence of the description of a character’s unflattering nose, he depicts them as fat, selfish, and always gobbling things up.
.... continued at http://strangledsleep.blogspot.com/
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Saturday explores the tension between the self and the world and how one situates both thinking for oneself and thinking globally at the same time. The above quote, which resonates with comments made by both our President and Vice President, seems to say that the balance is maintained by shopping. The text seems somewhat at odds with this type of understanding with its constant reference to social involvement and political discussion. So, where is the balance? How does this tie in with religion in both the fundamentalist terrorist way and in an everyday American way?