Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Denizen Memories

In A Distant Shore, Gabriel comes to the realization that he must leave his country. All that has happened to him must be pushed aside as he flees at all cost, trying to get to England. And as he does so, he leaves behind everything, even his memories, to transform.

"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

The NGO Challenge

Some argue that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) offer a challenge to traditional politics and the State. This becomes all the more apparent in the transnational world where borders are more fluid and temporary communities are built out of necessities. In Bel Canto, all of these aspects come into play in the figure of Messner, the representative of the Red Cross. He wields a kind of power no other person in the text maintains.

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

An Aesthetic of Memory

The "garua," a mist that isn't a mist, the fog that is not a fog, forms a thick barrier that hovers around the house forming an even deeper isolation in which the hostages in Bel Canto find themselves. It is the manifestation of their seperation from the world, while new connections are being formed in the inner space demarkated by the "garua." Memory is the only link to the outside world for them, and it is provoked by music.

"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

Collisions of Community

Ann Patchett's Bel Canto forces readers to think about community and the diverse communal nature of our transnational society. This may seem difficult in a book about terrorists taking hostages at a birthday party. But is it just such trauma, the international cast, and the unique foundations on which the cast of characters is brought together that offer the most poignant questions. The uncertainty, the temporary nature of the situation, and the connections across various boundaries add to the mix.

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?