A jewel amongst rocks! Protagonist is a light-skinned Afro-American who is recognized by other characters as being smarter than them (because they donA jewel amongst rocks! Protagonist is a light-skinned Afro-American who is recognized by other characters as being smarter than them (because they don't see him as black.) AND, he not only doesn't die, but gets the girl!
I trivialize. This is a fascinating weave of historical fact, with lots of dialogue in various archaic forms of English. I can vouch for the authenticity of the black American's voice -- unusual enough. The dialogue of the Brits born in India was more than occasionally opaque, due to Ghosh's larding of their sentences with hobson-jobson. Ghosh did a lot of research for this book and was totally fascinated with the huge number of words and expressions from S. and E. Asian languages that were current in 18th and 19th century British speech that have now sunk with almost no trace.
I love Ghosh's non-white and totally sophisticated view of the people of the British Raj. Ghosh depicts the hard-shelled, seamless and self-serving union of Protestant Christianity, sentimental white supremacy, and hypocritical opportunism that enabled Brits of mediocre intellect to conquer people who were there superiors in all other respects, enslave a lot of them, and convince them of their own inferiority.
I learned lots about the opium trade and a little about the slave trade that I hadn't known.
If you have little or no interest in language, you may still enjoy a riveting weave of subplots, colorful characters, and dramatic incident....more
A page-turner that doesn't neatly fit any genre, but is written in sparkling English prose. Appealed to my love of language, things desi, and questionA page-turner that doesn't neatly fit any genre, but is written in sparkling English prose. Appealed to my love of language, things desi, and questioning of notions of ordinary reality.
Without spoiling the surprises, I can say that the setting skips between Victorian and contemporary Calcutta, contemporary New York, and involves a fascinating set of quirky characters and historical events....more
Each time I go back to this book, it's as though I never read it. Yes, it does say that the refusal to be complicit in oppression -- one's own or anyoEach time I go back to this book, it's as though I never read it. Yes, it does say that the refusal to be complicit in oppression -- one's own or anyone else's -- is a prerequisite to true liberty. It discusses the ultimate futility of the drive to power for its own sake, as exemplified in the thought of the Marquis de Sade -- all ideas that fascinated me upon first reading it and which have stuck with me since. But there's much, much more. . . Good as it reads in the Anthony Bower translation, it's even better in the original French. Even if your French isn't so good, it's worth trying Camus in the original. His French prose is that beautiful!...more
Go for the Penguin edition/translation by Magnus Magnusson and Herman Palsson. This is the greatest of the Icelandic sagas and ranks with any of the cGo for the Penguin edition/translation by Magnus Magnusson and Herman Palsson. This is the greatest of the Icelandic sagas and ranks with any of the classics of world literature. . . . The sagas are the originals of most of the themes elaborated in science fiction and adventure games of all kinds. Njals saga includes more of the themes, characters, and settings than any other saga. Blood, sex, chases, battles at sea and on land, meanness, jealousy, greed, and honor. The worldview of the sagas is more directly ancestral in many ways to modern America than the Greco-Roman or the Hebrew. I'm sleepy so I can't say much more now....more
We live in an era and a civilization in which the cultivated appreciation of all the arts has been besmirched with snobbery anHow to speak of Hopkins?
We live in an era and a civilization in which the cultivated appreciation of all the arts has been besmirched with snobbery and identified with wealth and privilege. For all but the few born to wealth and privelege, then, cultivated taste automatically becomes a kind of treason against class. The only exceptions are things like Celtic music, which have clear ties to currently popular forms. Appreciation of Hopkins’ poetry requires cultivation not only of vocabulary, but of a stock of referents in literature and awareness of the ancestry of words. Being a language nerd is a start, but only a start. You need to be able to walk outside urbanized areas and know and appreciate what you’re looking at: birds, rocks, trees, plants, sky. How many people do that nowadays, even those who claim to love “Nature” ?
After all that, you’re ready for Wordsworth, Shelley, and all those guys they give you in literature appreciation. Hopkins, though, is going to ask you to appreciate something he calls “sprung rhythm”, which substitutes the meter of living language for the strict duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah we’re all used to. Then, he turns around and asks us to accept some highly irregular word order and word coinages to make his resurrection of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse work. Well, it’s also about making the sounds of words and underlying meanings come out stronger. He’s heavy, but he’s great.
Since I read “Spring And Fall: to a young girl” at the age of sixteen, I’ve felt with Hopkins a connection deeper than anything conveyed by the word “kinship”. I thrill to the identification with a soaring bird each time I read “To a Windhover”, and to the ultimate love and beauty that underlie all Manifestation, when I read “God’s Grandeur” — although the word and concept “God” has always seemed to me an unnecessary complication and, ultimately, an obscuration and distraction from that grand apprehension. I want to shout at Hopkins “Stop calling it ‘God’! Let yourself be open to the pure experience and wisdom! Let go of all those rules, all that verbiage, ideation, and dogma!” I totally understand his original attraction to Roman Catholicism, with its declaration of the Mystery and its recognition of grandeur. However, I’m mystified by his obsessive clinging to the tangled, and necrophilic apparatus of orthodoxy — but part of me understands it. Much as I’d rather not, I completely understand the sonnet that begins “No worst, there is none.” Though my Buddhist self eschews it, I am not yet totally removed from the self-hatred at the core of Christianity, in which as English-speakers, “Westerners”, we are all steeped.
“I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.” cries from the depth of this self-hatred, but then goes further — to acceptance of its justice. Having already come to love and identify with Hopkins, I raged at this in! I got a “C” on a final exam at the U. Of Chicago that had this sonnet as an essay prompt — I couldn’t put together a coherent critique of it, nor leave it and get on with the rest of the exam.
Like thousands before me, I’ve felt closer to this really odd, truly sick, yet beautiful and brilliant mind than so many I’d be more comfortable with. I’ve wanted to jump into a time machine, sneak into his chamber and remonstrate with him about this acceptance of the notions of Original Sin and of a God who, after allowing the original event, then imposed the Supreme Sacrifice on his Only Begotten Son and — on top of all that — maintains the category of “the lost”, referred to in the penultimate line of “I wake . . .” What could such a being have to do with the glory of Manifestation? What sense is there in speaking of such an entity as “loving”, let alone “perfect”?
But, I have no time machine and I can easily envision great difficulty in reaching Hopkins, even had I one.
I give this a superlative rating because of its clear statement of what it means to be black in a racialized environment, and becDreams from My Father
I give this a superlative rating because of its clear statement of what it means to be black in a racialized environment, and because of Obama's ability to confront the complexities of his own biracial/multicultural heritage without succumbing to romanticism or denying any aspect of his heritage. He opts for a black identity for the same reason nearly all black/white biracials do -- a white identity isn't possible when you're his color and being white requires a dimmed awareness of the reality of race.
I need to explain this last sentence for the majority of people likely to read this. I’ll need to unpack it: why a white identity isn’t possible; what I mean by “his color” and what that means in the world of today; what I mean by a “dimmed awareness”; and what I see as the “reality of race”.
(Come to think of it, I’ve used other terms that really require examination: “black”, “racialized”, “biracial”, “multicultural”, “heritage”, “identity”, and “white”. All these terms partake of the qualities of “keywords”, as discussed by Raymond Williams, Tony Bennett, Ivan Illich, and others (search for my reviews of these texts). “Keywords” in this sense are words that come trailing strong connotations of significance, along with sets of overlapping but distinct, sometimes nearly contradictory, denotations gathered over time from usage in distinct contexts. The first characteristic — strong emotive value — makes them useful for sprinkling around in oral or written discourse to lend authority to what is said or the person saying it. The difference between keywords and“buzzwords” is that keywords actually carry histories of meaning and reference to demonstrable phenomena. This complexity makes them stumbling blocks, but also makes them hard to replace by anything that might be a synonym.)
“You black? What is you mix with?” — minimum half dozen students per year, for nearly two decades of teaching. These questions admit the legitimacy of my claim to black ethnicity, but query details of my heredity. In doing so, they implicitly decouple the biological and social conceptions of “race”, allowing “black” as an ethnic identity.
“Eric, I don’t get why you say you’re ‘black’. To me, you’re not black, at all.” — dozens of white people from my college days up to a few months ago. In order to enjoy or at least manage my interactions in whatever context they and I were interacting, it was incumbent on me — the black man — to get around their (mostly unconsciously held) stereotypes of blackness. I do this by accomodating their parochialism in speech and gesture: don't talk too educated, no jokes in black dialect, tone down my gestures.The comment is a backhanded recognition of my success. Depending on the circumstance, I could go on and help them (maybe) confront those stereotypes and, just maybe, inject historical, cultural, and biological data and insights. This is what non-whites (not just Afro-Americans) refer to when they talk about being “tired of educating white people.”
“They ain’t black!” — student in West Oakland, speaking of Haitian immigrant students. Meaning, of course, “They ain’t Afro-Americans, like me!” “You ain’t black!” — same student, to me. Same meaning, mutatis mutandis.
Obama captures the essence of Whiteness on page 312: “It occurred to me that in their utter lack of self-consciousness, they were expressing a freedom that neither Auma nor I could ever experience, a bedrock confidence in their own parochialism, a confidence reserved for those born into imperial cultures.” Well, that almost captures it. What distinguishes white Americans from Chinese, most Europeans, and others from imperial cultural backgrounds is the white Americans’ childish lack of historical context, of the fact that “white American” is an ethnicity. White Americans blithely tell you “I never think about race. I don’t think of myself as white.” You can’t imagine anyone of any other nation or ethnicity making such a statement (never mind whether it’s true or not.)
An attempt (amazingly successful, I think) to critique the entire modern system of human relations without employing concepts that presume such relatiAn attempt (amazingly successful, I think) to critique the entire modern system of human relations without employing concepts that presume such relations. Only a medievalist who feels marooned in the contemporary era would conceive such a project, or have any hope of bringing it off. He works his huge bibliography into the text in the form of super-footnotes, that you read alternately with the text, itself. He says this is a takeoff from the way they did it back in the old days, by which he means the 13th century. . . . . The book focuses on the peculiarity of scarcity as a central issue/influence in forming the "economy". Asserts that: 1)previous to this society/global civilization, there was no such thing as an "economy". 2) The relations between men and women in this culture are unprecedented in annihilating "gendered" differences in all aspects of life, which existed in all previous societies 3)that sexism and the oppression of women is an unavoidable consequence of the denial of "gendered" difference 4) so many other ideas, all really thought-provoking even if you don't accept them, that I'll stop here. . . . Illich draws on a background in early medieval European history, huge erudition, and privileged access to a broad range of brilliant people's conversation, and a humongous reading background, particularly people around Karl Polanyi, who produced Trade and Market in the Early Empires. In addition to his own knowledge of classical and medieval society, Polanyi's work is a major prop of his thesis. I've thumbed through Polanyi's book, and it does seem to back up Illich. ...more
"The transformation. . .: for the motive of subsistence that of gain must be substituted. All transactions are turned into money transactions, and the"The transformation. . .: for the motive of subsistence that of gain must be substituted. All transactions are turned into money transactions, and these in turn require that a medium of exchange be introduced into every articulation of life. All incomes must derive from the sale of something or other. . . But the most startling peculiarity of the system lies in the fact that, once it is established, it must be allowed to function without outside interference. . . .
". . . Machine production in a commercial society (the only kind that can have it, because machine production is necessarily 24/7)involves no less a transformation than that of the natural and human substance of society into commodities. . . nothing less will serve the purpose: obviously, the dislocation caused by such devices (i.e.the whole apparatus of the market economy)must disjoint [humanity's:] relationships and threaten [our:] natural habitat with annihilation."
HEY MARXISTS! HEY NEOCONS! HEY, GREENS! Polanyi is saying (I got this wrong in my first post, before I finished and re-read, that the market society (which we call "the economy") which has nearly eaten up the whole world, is an inevitable result of mechanized mass production. The dehumanization of everyone-- turning humans into "consumers" is another necessary result. Makes no difference if you call it "socialism" or "capitalism"
Thus, Polanyi makes an interesting companion to Lewis Mumford's notion of "the Megamachine". ...more