Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Comment on Khadra at Strangled Sleep

The following is from an entry at ....

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

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Open Thread

Shopping or Protest on Saturday

"It isn't rationalism that will overcome the religious zealots, but ordinary shopping and all that it entails - jobs for a start, and peace, and some commitment to realisable pleasures, the promise of appetites sated in this world, not the next. Rather shop than pray." (127)

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?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Open Thread

Suicide Bombings, Response, and Khadra

Yasmina Khadra does not give us the full motivation of the female suicide bomber in The Attack. He leaves the idea of an embodied bomb out there to consrast with other ideas in the book. It is juxtaposed against the character of Amin, a selfish doctor who chooses life in medical care but is as selfish as a bomber when it comes to personal motivations. The suicide attack is positioned against Israel's airstrike response. These juxtapositions bring up questions but do not define. What are we to take from that idea?
Talal Asad writes of suicide bombers "that motives in general are more complicated than is popularly supposed and that the assumption that they are truths to be accessed is mistaken: the motives of suicide bombers in particular are inevitably fictions that justify our responses but that we cannot verify" (3). If this is true, what does Khadra and maybe even literature in general provide? A verification or new assumption to add to the list? Or, does lit have a productive insight, method, or idea to posit that will challenge our thought process in a productive way? If so, how does Khadra carry it out?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Open Thread: The Cyclist

Politics, Community, and The Cyclist

The Cyclist portrays a cycle of violence that moves forward indiscriminately through attacks that seem to be without political motivation. But the text does not withdraw from politics, it places its message in the body of those involved mainly through food. The central position of food and its use as metaphor for violence as well as its actual role as sustenance, not to mention that food is the narrator's reason for living, means that politics needs to be thought through food.
Food contains communal properties as representative, conduit for bringing people together, etc. Its position in the center of the text means all political messages must move through some idea of what food means. I want to suggest that Viken Berberian is more concerned about the communities being destroyed in Mid-East violence, envisioned through food, than the actual politics of the Nations involved. In what ways does the author develop this idea through more than just food?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Open Thread: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Intertextuality: Camus, and Hamid

The relationship between Camus and Hamid is immediately apparent when comparing The Fall and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Hamid models the structure of his text on that of Camus, a conversation between two men taking place mainly in a bar. But Camus's themes are what resonate in the contemporary text. Complicity, lack of innocence, and a paramount event that changes the central character are at the forefront of both texts. But the question I have is, what do they have to do with terrorism?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Open Thread: Due Preparations for the Plague

Turner Hospital's Question of Finding Testimony to Terror

Trauma contains within it an essential ambiguity. The terrorist act invokes this absence. The various networks within our society - media, government, ngo's - capitalize on the absence to foreclose the meaning of the event. They ursurp the voices of the dead and fill in their own discourse in what amounts to realpolitik. Yet, the question remains, how do we see the event for what it is, finding testimony to trauma?

"The dead never stop telling stories. Those whom we have betrayed, no matter how pure our intent, how scrupulous our reasons, they tell their tales to us night after night, which is why some of you will lose all capacit to sleep" (270). Janette Turner Hospital understands that the story lies with the dead, the intefral insight of Primo Levi comes through here. But somewhere between the loss of testimony and the foreclosure by outside means is an ethical way forward, investigating the event and responding to it. Giorgio Agamben explains that it is in understanding the absence and directing our attention to the middle ground. "Survovors bore witness to something it was impossible to bear witness to," according to Agamben (13). With this understanding, is Due Preparations for the Plague seeking a new ethical territory to respond to the essential absence that terrorism provokes? Are "due preparations" not simply ways of preventing terrorism, but ways of dealing with the aftermath?

The Artist and Terror

Due Preparations for the Plague is filled with intertextual elements that play diverse roles in the text. Epigraphs are used to bring other voices to bare on the text. The structure used can be and has been compared to that of Dante's famed Inferno. But I want to think through how these other texts and artists - those both outside, inside, and situated in some liminal relationship to the text - add questions and engage terrorism.
"We ignore, therefore, at our peril the artist's insight. It is the artist-it is Homer-who observes and names Achilles' heel" (230).
"Do you think it was the plague-the plague itself-the Boccaccio, Defoe, and Camus all sought, with such frantic scribbling, to keep at bay? ... No. I can attest to this: no" (270).
Janette Turner Hospital posits a few ideas on the topic. From these quotes, we see that art works in different ways. But in the contemporary world, is art able to add critical insight into terrorism? What does art keep at bay in the face of terror?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Due Preps for Janette Turner Hospital

Janette Turner Hospital approaches fear from a different impulse in her prescient novel Due Preparations for the Plague. She situates terrorism and the fear it invokes as analogous to the plague, victims waiting for a vile death to take them indiscriminately from their lives. When she began writing the novel prior to the events of September 11, 2001, she could not have known how her ideas would resonate with the largest media event of our time and that the culture of fear would grow so pervasive as to make her critique all the more salient. After 9/11, she did not deny the impact of that day on finishing the text. In an interview with Eleanor Hall, Turner Hospital describes her reaction to the recorded voices of the victims experiencing the tragedy, “there was a sort of radiant calm to them and they wanted to tell the people they loved that they loved them, and I was unprepared for that, you know, and it altered very much the tone of the end of the novel.” Turner Hospital heard the opposite of fear in those voices, that impending death inside of a catastrophic event does not destroy the voice but empowers a final message of hope. Terrorism did not close off the voices of its victims; the voices rose up from the aftermath of the event to inspire and comfort n a time of uncertainty, especially for the families of victims, but also for those left wondering what would become of the world.

Janette Turner Hospital challenges readers to look at the culture of fear that persists in the face of terrorism in a new light. The text examines the importance of critical engagement to take us beyond recognizing the event and into a space where critical engagement can begin to take us beyond the spectacle of terrorism. Both are stories of foreclosure that show how voices are closed off by the fear mongering mechanisms of society, the media and the government, and demonstrate the impact of silencing the voices of individuals.

Turner Hospital takes a transnational view of terrorism, one that crosses borders and forges connections across impossible boundaries to show the global reach of terrorism while envisioning its impact on two people. She explores how government conspiracy functions in the same manner as the spectacle to foreclose lives and empower fear in the aftermath of terrorism.

For Turner Hospital, the text takes a realistic look at the way we prepare for terrorism by asking, “how do we ready ourselves for what might happen tomorrow? What possible preparations can be made?” (401). Each demonstrates how fear is the means through which the unknown becomes palpable in a time of uncertainty, and when societal forces capitalize on fear, art needs to go beyond the foreclosure of the media and the government to critically engage the spectacle of terrorism, bringing about an ethical discourse that allows subjects to live without perpetual fear.