Margaret Puleo Races Through Modern Global Literature as Nefertiti

Preliminary Overview 2
Einstein's Dreams 4
In Hell With the Two People I Hate the Most 6
Mark Doty 7
‘The Great Gatsby’ 9
As Told to Nefertiti 9
Nefertiti Tries ‘The Great Gatsby’Again 11
Nefertiti’s Dream of Gatsby 14
Nefertiti as Pi 15
Nefertiti in White Noise 16
Reading Rushdie, A Presentation Critique 17
Red Azalea 21
Nefertiti’s Frustrations, aka Nefertiti’s Day 23
Ulysses 26
God Dies by the Nile 27
The American Effect 29
Preliminary Overview
This is the real me: I’m really excited about hearing Mark Doty read. His work has opened me to poetry for the first time in many years. I first read his Heaven’s Coast about 3 years ago and was astounded by the beauty of the language. I read Firebird a little later. Since then I’ve bought, read & pored over Atlantis, Sweet Machine, & Source. I’m ready for more.
I’m still agonizing over my alter ego selection so to start I’ll write out these inconclusive ruminations.
My first choice is Margrethe of Copenhagen; I love her intelligence and directness (and her name), but maybe she is too much like me, or, more modestly, more like the person I try to be. Contrariwise, she is just too protective of her husband for me at this point in my pending divorce.
The professor in White Noise is another possibility (what’s his name? Where did I put that book?), but he seems too naïve (or stupid) to be a good tour guide through the other books. He could be fun though.
Usama of Wild Thorns is intense, but he’s having enough trouble figuring out his own culture.
Akhenaten is too introverted. Inez of No Exit is just beyond me.
Daisy Buchanan is a good candidate, impressionable, maybe too air-headed.
Again forgetting the name & without the book for reference, the main character of Cosmopolis could do the job. Prides himself on his astuteness, but maybe a tad self-centered.
The God Dies By the Nile characters seem so of a piece with their place and time, difficult to transport, but maybe all the more fascinating for that.
Pi is intriguing because of his open-minded attitude toward religions, his knowledge of animals and his resourcefulness. He has quite an imagination – that one could embrace all 3 religions attests to that as much as the multiple possible versions of his story. He would suggest several takes on the same circumstances. I hear Yann Martel has been accused of plagiarism.
So far I haven’t gotten very far in Among The Believers; I’m not too keen on Naipaul, quite a stuffy old man, although I did like A House For Mr. Biswas & Half A Life.
I haven’t yet gotten a copy of The Children of G…
I think Pi may be the winner, stay tuned.
Einstein's Dreams
Alan Lightman
This is mind-bending book, no doubt about that. At first, Nefertiti had no idea what to make of it. Some of it was familiar to the point of cliché - if you visit the past, don't change anything, you'll cause possibly personal deviations in history. Nefertiti has heard that advise in Superman comics and hokey movies.
But so many other parts were concepts of time difficult for Nefertiti to wrap her structured little mind around. A place where no one has any memory, has to learn everything again every day - as the poet mentions, great for one's sex life. But I think he underestimates how much of our behavior is learned - not just where we live, but how to walk, how to talk, not just where to buy, but why. Ah, but the point of the book is to put some of these logical constraints aside, just go with it. One must be very free indeed to live without memory.
Another world - where time is a sense, and different people perceive time differently - some faster, some slower, some not at all. Sounds like an acid trip to Nefertiti. Nefertiti doesn't mean that cynically. Nefertiti thinks the popularity and availability of mind-altering drugs, specifically consciousness-altering drugs, have contributed to the cultural and artistic understanding of revolutionary ideas like the theory of relativity. Nefertiti is not saying a person has to do acid to understand modern physics. Nefertiti is saying that the drug culture encouraged a (large part of a) generation to question the basic nature of experience, allowing ideas like quantum physics to pervade the culture. Just as the individual artist need not understand advanced particle theory to reflect it in her work, so the individual couch-potato need not have done acid to accept the media's appropriation of just-yesterday's avant-garde presentations. Or so Nefertiti theorizes.
Nefertiti loved the speculation about the Nows and the Laters. Nefertiti was for so long a Later, but presently is a Now. But there is no doubt this change has been precipitated by intimations of mortality. Otherwise no reason to get up in the morning, besides things like feed the kids, walk the dog, etc. Kids and dogs, however, are totally Nows (well, kids until adolescence). Cats I'm not so sure, all that napping. I have one of each, still (and at my age!) can't decide whether I'm a cat person or a dog person.
In Hell With the Two People I Hate the Most
My Apologies to Sartre
Hi, it’s me again, Margaret . In my own life hell is really easy to describe because I am trying to divorce my husband of 21 years, and he won’t leave the house. A perfect second person would be my father, Daddy, grateful dead now for only sixteen years. If you can’t say something good about the dead don’t say anything. He’s dead. Good.
Each of them always reminding me of what I’m not, what I never will be, of my many faults, of every mistake I’ve ever made, blaming me for every difficult circumstance I find myself in, and expecting me to relieve them of any responsibilty for anything. Oh, no, it couldn’t be his fault. Dragging me down, not letting me pick my head up, belittling any accomplishment, mocking every dream, intent on depriving me of anything their jealous minds construe as worthy of them, not me.
Am I blaming one for the other? Accuse me of that, too, of not knowing what’s making me unhappy, because the problem is obvioiusly my faulty nature, and nothing either of them did or said. No, when I’m perfect, then I can say something to one of them, then I can ask one of them for help, maybe if the sex were hotter he’d do some housework.
Could I make a hell for each of them? Daddy’s bitter disappointment can be his hell, his disappointment in me. And for John? No sex is a good start.
Mark Doty
I couldn't believe my luck! Mark Doty was the poet we were hearing at the creative writing presentations. I have loved his work since I was first introduced to it about three years ago.
I came across his memoir 'Heaven's Coast' in the financial district's late great $2 bookstore. At first I was horrified - how could somebody write a book about his partner's slow death from AIDS? Who would want to read such a thing? But fortunately my morbid fascination got the better of me, and I was amazed that he could tell such a grievous story so beautifully. His wide-eyed experiences of the AIDS epidemic, not just with his lover but with the larger gay community, spared no detail of the physical, emotional or spiritual devastation. And how did he go on, during and after? The going on, the struggle to bear up under it all, gave the book its (to me) most universal elements. And the language, so descriptive and original, so imaginative, so thoughtful, so intelligent.
When the $2 bookstore had 'Firebird' I grabbed it right away. That book is about 'growing up gay in baby-boom America'. I felt like a freak growing up at the same time myself (and then came the sixties and suddenly everybody wanted to be a freak), and I know it didn’t take a lot of deviation to be an outsider then. Amazingly, some of the locales he described are places I know pretty well myself - I was in Tucson Arizona at about the same time, and later Provinencetown Massachusetts and Greenwich Village. The geography mere coincidence, of course, but it reinforced my feeling of direct ties to this person.
I hadn't read poetry for years, but I made my way over to the poetry section and tried 'Sweet Machine'. I was hooked. He sees every detail, and thinks about everything he sees. He is first a poet of surfaces, of appearances, of presentation - and goes from there. With Mark, it starts with the concrete, the visual, and goes to wonder.
About his poetry, I would have to say the Mark is an 'easy' poet to read - many of his poems tell stories - the first reading offers up a satisfying experience - the rhythm and cadence of his language - his clarity of ideas - his telling descriptions - but he does reward frequent visits as well, as layers of subtlety waft up from those shimmering lines. One of his lines I love: the 'unconditioned hair of graves' - taking the well-known line from Whitman - 'uncut hair of graves' - and spinning it up that unexpected modern toiletry - with so-personal overtones - unconditioned as 'not used to', unconditioned as 'unconditional'…
His writing about painting seems a perfect fit. His fascination with light and the effects of light on perception dovetails with the oil painting techniques of the Dutch still-life masters, and many other traditions of Western painting. 'Still Life With Oysters and Lemon' is a quick course in art appreciation and the story of an extremely personal relationship with memory and beauty.
Hearing him read and having a chance to talk with him was a real treat. His appreciation of the Elizabeth Bishop piece was interesting, but I really enjoyed hearing his own newer works - the piece about the near-disasterous plane trip was phrased so memorably.
‘The Great Gatsby’
As Told to Nefertiti
I believe in the throne only as a means to serve God. In the time of Akhenaten monotheism was new – bold- daring – an adventure of mind and spirit. Today that road is clogged with the small of mind, those who would only go back, back to a time they themselves never knew, back to a time impossible in its simplicity, denying all change and growth. Those of us who would dwell in the truth must always be seeking it, looking forward for the light, not back on the imaginings of our forebearers. What they had in the past did not save them. We must look for the truth in the future, in the hope of what we can make. We must be prepared to resist the forces of evil that would freeze over our hearts, that would blind us to what is real around us.
We must do the right thing. We must try to make the best decisions we can with everything at our disposal – our knowledge, our intuition, our love. If we decide wrongly we will live with the consequences of our mistakes.
Gatsby erred. He believed too much in the past. He tried to live forever in the moment he was first awed by money and the beauty it can buy. He thought he could recapture that feeling. He loved what had been – and he ruthlessly tried to recapture that. He thought that what he is in the present could rewrite the past, could erase the hurt of youthful inconsequence and insignificance. But our present is here, and we cannot deny the past that has brought us here. Neither can we undo it. We can only go on, persevering in ourselves learning from our past but not regretting it. Because it has brought us here. And from here we go forward toward the light of truth.
Gatsby’s pursuit of money and a love that is past cannot remake him. His idolization of the careless rich leads him to early ruin. The frivolity of those rich is not his truth.
And what is the truth for Daisy and Tom? Flitting here and there, unhappy with everything they pursue, holding themselves aloof, withdrawing from the scene of emotional involvement? Tom is unhappy with Daisy, unhappy with Myrtle, and unhappy at Gatsby’s party, always scrowling. The narrator mentions that Tom is still looking after his old glory days on the college football field. Daisy gushes over Tom, over Carraway, over her daughter, over Gatsby – but seems to make no real commitment to anybody. Jordan lies and poses. Various partygoers gossip vacuously.
Where is the truth here? No one seems to care at all. Whatever are these people looking for? Are they looking for anything in their unhappy lives? What is life for if not pursuit of the truth?
These lives are empty, glittering but empty, with no one to show the way. These people believe in love only as a means to worship money. They fall in love with money and the trappings of money – the magnificent homes with their gardens and chandeliers – the extravagance of clothes and ornaments – the glitter and howl of festivities and galas – the drunken revelries – the ponies and the yachts – the dinners and the fast cars – and the spoiled people at the center of it all.
I was blessed in my partner Akhenaten. Power was his, unsought. Love and glory came to me through him. I look forward to our reunion in the afterlife.
Nefertiti Tries ‘The Great Gatsby’Again
The next celebrity to arrive was Nefertiti. She came in a golden Rolls Royce surrounded by elegantly uniformed bodyguards on motorcycles and in intimidating black limousines. The chauffeur’s assistant – a huge man in a dark suit, sunglasses and a crewcut – opened the car door for her while two smaller versions of himself unrolled a multicolored carpet of Persian motif. First one dainty foot showed itself, then the other. And there she was – tall, so slim, her white dress just glimmering, her face aglow, her hair a halo of dark curls. Her skin was the warm color of honey, her limbs were long and oh so graceful.
The crowd paused, the hardy partying arrested for a moment by this haughty presence. She regarded the group silently, gazing slowly over the gathering from sophisticated heights, looking amused but not smiling. Then she bowed her head and the two biggest bodyguards ushered her along the carpet into the house.
On the lawn, the party resumed. Gatsby was waiting in the main room of his mansion. ‘My honored guest, you have come at last!’. He was wearing a white flannel suit – beautiful ! – but he felt awkward before her. Even without the high heels she would tower above him.
‘I hope you’ll enjoy the entertainments we have planned for tonight.’ He was struggling to regain his composure. Finally she extended a warm tanned hand, the slim arm curving artily, the golden bracelets shifting, sparkling in the party lights. She smiled sweetly. ‘I’m sure it will be interesting. I’ve been looking forward to seeing for myself on of these gossip-column parties of yours’.
‘Let me introduce you to some of my guests’.
‘Yes, I would like to get to know some of your friends’.
‘Friends would be stretching it’.
‘So why are they here if they’re not your friends?’
‘Oh, they just come for the party’
‘And you give the parties because…?
‘Because they’ll come’
‘And you’ll come. You did come. Here you are. You came to see’
‘Yes, here I am. I’ve come to see what it’s all about, what the big attraction is’
‘Oh, everyone loves to dance, to drink, to eat good food, to hear the latest music and the popular entertainers, to see others make fools of themselves’
‘Is that the big attraction, the fools?’
‘Well, the wise seem to stay away’
‘And why is that?
‘But you’ve come tonight, and you are certainly wise. Come and meet some people’
‘On to the pursuit of fun’
Nefertiti took Gatsby’s arm and he swelled with pride as they walked out of the house and made their re-entrance into the party on the lawn. This was why he had these parties, to be seen with a woman like Nefertiti on his arm. If the parties what she liked – well, no more parties. He watched carefully the signs of ennui and – worse! – disgust.
She had only a little wine and found little to engage her mind once she had browsed the happenings. ‘It’s good for the people to relax and enjoy themselves, but I tire quickly of this overindulgence’
‘That’s what parties are about! That’s what they’re for!’
‘And you – what are you about – what are you for?’
‘I am for the love of you, my dear Nefertiti. So long I have worshipped you from afar!’
‘But you don’t know me. You have in your mind only a shadow of the image of who I am – a fleeting acquaintance from another time and place. Gatsby, I’m not the person you remember, if you ever knew me. I’m grown and changed’
‘No, I love you as you were – you were perfect and you loved me’
'And I’ve gone on from there. That was good then. But that was then. This is now. I can’t be with a man who has so strong an idea of me – it would shackle me’
‘You didn’t like the party’
‘It was lovely, my dear. Goodbye’.
Nefertiti’s Dream of Gatsby
I am wearing a full, softly pink dress and I am dancing at Gatsby’s party. I whirl, I leap, the dress floats around me, everyone is watching. I raise my arms, my body moves cloudlike, I glide and swoop. The men sigh, the women gape, all adore me. I start to sing, sing of the glory of music and dance, trill a senuous air of longing and beckoning. All who see me want me.
I take a partner, the boldest looking man from the crowd, a dark complexion and haughty poise to complement my own. Together we move to the music, now loud and fast. He leads handsomely at first. When he stumbles I allow a tall blond fellow to step in. His moves are smooth and strong, graceful and poserful. We linger in slow embrace.
Then I am with another, a dominating muscular body, a quick step, a sure pace, a sudden dip – Catch me! Yes! Sliding with the music, singing harmony as one, one voice, one dance.
On to the next, lean and taut, hard and commanding, angular and unbowed.
Then alone with one, soft and giving, playful, affectionate. We hum a sweet tune. Encore!
Back to the crowd on the dance floor. Another partner – who can keep my pace? Another song – who can sing with me? So high, so fine, so many, so various, so so.
Dream on.
Nefertiti as Pi
Alone on the boat with my tiger, I will not be daunted. I will face this beast, and he will know who is the master. He will not betray me. I know what he needs, and only I can satisfy him. I know his mind, and he can never know mine. The strong will be triumphant, the strong of will.
Dispair may haunt us but we will never be bowed, we will never succumb. My tiger and I will live as one and reign together over the chaos of the seas. The seas taunt and terrorize us, but we perservere through the adversity. I know my way and my tiger knows me. What is true will emerge glorious from these trials, we will not be forsaken.
We have the truth and the power – the truth of God and the power of all religion. Our faith will be rewarded and we have faith in God and religion. God reveals his law for the tiger and the tiger obeys God’s law. God is one for the tiger. And God is one for me. As the tiger obeys God and the law of God, so he also obeys my submission to God and God’s law. And so he obeys me.
Nefertiti in White Noise
Page 119
‘It was a fire captain’s car with a loudspeaker and it was going pretty fast’ I said, ‘In other words you didn’t have and opportunity to notice the subtle edges of intonation’.
‘The voice was screaming out’.
Nefertiti says, ‘Let us consider the truth in this. Will this information bring us closer to the light? Is the fire captain the divine one? Does he have a nice ass? He had a fast car, well, that’s a good start. Sounds like a man with power and money. So when he commanded, did people go? Did he sound authoritative? I like a man people will listen to and, you know, obey’.
Page 194
‘Then he entered you’.
‘Don’t use that term’.
‘He effected what is called entry. In other words, he inserted himself’.
Nefertiti says, ‘Oh so clinical! So remote! No great attraction here, no passion. Arguing about word usage – the linguistic style of it all – when you’re discovering this incredible truth about your life - just being annoying about the choice of words! How wimpy! What ever could you see in this man!’
Page 195
‘There’s some jello with banana slices’.
Nefertiti says, ‘Yes, thank you’.
Reading Rushdie, A Presentation Critique
I was not satisfied with my Rushdie presentation. The main problem was that I got too hung up in the details, too much into insignificant background material, so that I missed the major points I originally wanted to make.
Let’s try again:
‘The Satanic Verses’ raises issues in Islam concerning the revelation of the Quran. In Sura 53, the book says:
Have you considered al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other? They are naught but names yourselves have named, and your fathers. God has given them no authority.
In Arabic tradition at the time of the Prophet, al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat were important goddesses, revered as the daughters of Allah. Some early histories repeat a different, earlier version of these lines:
Have you considered al-Lat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the other? These are the exalted birds whose intercession is approved.
Traditionally, these lines are called the Satanic verses, repudiated by Muhammad as sent to him by Satan and later corrected by God through Gabriel. The difference is significant because this version compromises the monotheism integral to Islam. Islamic monotheism is radical, that is, it abides no other worship. In Christian tradition, Jesus is worshipped as a person of God, but to the Muslim, this is heresy. There are no Muslim saints in the Christian sense, persons who can be addressed in prayer and who will take spiritual responsibility for the faithful. Islam forbids any representations of God or the Prophet – no drawing, no statues, no painting – because of the danger that these could lead to idolatry. This has been extended to forbid representation of people or even animals, and led to the elaboration of Middle Eastern art and architecture in geometric and floral designs.
So were these lines just politically expedient for Muhammad? Denying the importance of the goddesses was a direct affront to the political as well as the religious status quo of Mecca, where the leading clans maintained major temples to them. This is what Rushdie is suggesting; throughout the book his characters argue that possibility, not only about these lines but about the Quran itself. Not only is Rushdie’s telling profane, as highlighted in the selection Evergreen read in class, it actively doubts the basis of Islam. Rushdie’s book is very much about doubt, the antithesis of faith. In telling the story of Hagar in the desert, ‘From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable’ (page 97 of the edition I have). Rushdie plays with this throughout, making Salman Muhammad’s amanuensis and having him alter the sacred text, ‘Your blasphemy, Salman, can’t be forgiven. Did you think I wouldn’t work it out? To set your word against the Words of God?’ (page 387).
The Quran has an even higher status in Islam than the Bible does in the Judeo-Christian religions. It is regarded as the direct word of God, unmediated. It is eternal, existing before time exactly as recited by Muhammad, in Arabic. It is Allah addressing man, giving his plan for humankind. The angel Gabriel spoke the book through Muhammad, Muhammad did not write it or interrupt it.
More on the subject of names: Ayesha, the name of the prophet’s favorite wife, used for the butterfly girl who claims inspiration from the archangel (who denies this & points to al-Lat, ‘Al-Lat, Gibreel understands, bursting out of Ayesha’s shell’ (page 221)), also used as the name of the Imam’s arch enemy. And Alleluia Cone, the mountain climber, sharing her name with the name of Muhammad’s mountain. But beware of reading too much into the names, ‘names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried’ (page 224).
I loved the portrayal of the Imam as the enemy of time ‘History is a deviation from the path, knowledge a delusion, because the sum of knowledge was complete on the day Al-Lah finished his revelation to Mahound’ (page 217). I saw in my research that the concept of ijtihad – independent judgement – is a recurring issue in Islam. ‘Closing the gates of ijtihad’ i.e., deeming that everything necessary to know is known, versus the possibility of new truths causes major theological division among Muslim sects (Sunni, Shii, Sufi, and so on).
A few other things I loved about this book: on-its-ear biblical commentary: ‘the garden had been a better place before he knew its names’ (page 45); exploration of what it means to be Indian: ‘entire national culture based on the principle of borrowing whatever clothes seemed to fit, Aryan, Mughal, British..The Only Good Indian, meaning, is a dead… we’re all bad Indians’ (p. 52); the main characters being actors, the one playing at all religions (shades of Pi), the other faceless, a thousand voices only; references to some of the themes we’ve been visiting this semester: ‘In this century history stopped paying attention to the old psychological orientation of reality’ (p. 447), ‘laws of space and time had ceased to operate’ (p. 207).
We talked in class about the many literary references throughout the book, from Shakespeare, Brecht, Nabakov, et al. And the language, the swoops and dips of Indian-English cadences, the humor of unexpected change in tone.
And I love that I see hints throughout the book that the narrator is the inspiration of the original Satanic verses themselves, Satan. The lines I read in class ‘You think they fell a long way? In the matter of tumbles, I yield place of pride to no personage’ (page 137).
Thanks for listening.
Red Azalea
This book is the memoir of a young woman’s experiences during Communist China’s cultural revolution. Nefertiti reads this as a marvel of state intrusiveness into the daily life of the individual and rigid control of every aspect of thought and behavior.
The story that moved Nefertiti the most was the denunciation of the beloved teacher who had excited Anchee Min by introducing her to literature and sharing some foreign books with her. The authorities coerced Min, then a child, into testifying against the teacher by arguing with her until she was worn down, convinced that they were right and she was wrong. It hurt her so to have to speak publicly against the teacher.
Parts of the book were difficult to read because of the suffering of the people involved. The description of Min’s childhood, the long hours her parents were away working leaving her to care for younger siblings at such a young age, was a brutality in itself. Nefertiti knows that this is a side effect of poverty in an industrial society, not limited to communist states. Other atrocities are more difficult to classify as economic, cultural, or ideological. The intense sexual repression, for example, could be cultural or ideological, and is more likely a combination, cultural biases being enflamed in service to the purposes of the state.
The treatment of intellectuals, meaning anyone with an education, is a major horror. Min’s parents were treated so badly specifically because they had education and skills. The political climate encouraged the masses to abuse anyone they were jealous of. So Min’s parents worked at hard labor, and her family lost its home.
Another striking characteristic of Chinese culture described in Red Azalea is the pervasiveness of the political propaganda, and the limited – in fact, completely unavailable - access to diversity of cultural experience. Again, this could be attributed in part to the economic developmental stage of the country, but certainly it is manipulated by the state.
Nefertiti has read other memoirs of the cultural revolution (eg, ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang), and feels that this book, while vivid on some topics, misses some of the larger tragedies of that movement. Mao encouraged – enjoined – the destruction of China’s rich and ancient culture, on the grounds that the culture had grown at the expense of the masses. Libraries, artwork, monuments, buildings were destroyed, the same way the Taliban destroyed cultural artifacts in Afghanistan. The universities were closed, in some cases for years. The intellectual elite were sent into hard labor, from which many never recovered. There is no denying that huge inequitites had shaped the development of Chinese culture, but will Chinese society and posterity benefit from such destruction? That is hard for Nefertiti to believe.
Nefertiti’s Frustrations, aka Nefertiti’s Day
Nefertiti is not having a good day.
Things are not going well this week at all for Nefertiti! Work, school, family, marriage, divorce, kids, love life, money – nothing is going well for Nefertiti! Nefertiti’s software is throwing errors hither and yon, and Nefertiti was up half the night trying to debug, and Nefertiti has run out of ideas here – it should have worked – Nefertiti didn’t change anything – these programs worked last week – what happened?! Nefertiti has to figure it out. Nefertiti wrote this software and everyone’s watching, waiting for Nefertiti to fix it. Fix it, Nefertiti, fix it!
And Nefertiti is very worried about her job. On Monday the big bosses sent an email about outsourcing, what a really great solution it is for the bank, it would be perfect for Nefertiti’s department!! Will Nefertiti have a job? For how long? Will Nefertiti’s job be outsourced to India? Will Nefertiti’s job be outsourced to IBM? Will IBM continue Nefertiti’s job benefits like tuition reimbursement? Will the bank eliminate the platforms where Nefertiti has expertise? Will Nefertiti get a real severance package, or only two weeks notice?
And school – how many journals can Nefertiti keep in one semester? Will Nefertiti complete those term-end projects? Will the bank pay for the fall semester? What if Nefertiti registers and then the bank doesn’t reimburse? Should Nefertiti switch her major from Literature to Creative Writing? Ah, this is a luxury question, delightful with possibilities!
And family! Nefertiti’s fourteen-year-old daughter has taken to going all over the city with friends, not even calling Nefertiti, although Nefertiti has provided her with a cell phone, what’s that about? Should Nefertiti be worried? I think so!
And more family! Aunt Julie just had cancer surgery. Is she dying from the same disease that killed Nefertiti’s mother? Nefertiti has to visit every weekend. Now that Aunt Julie is sick, who will take care of eighty-nine year old Aunt Alice? Nefertiti does not feel good.
And marriage! Ohmygod don’t get Nefertiti started! Godamned divorce is dragging out, freeloading dickhead will not move out, insists he’s entitled to be supported, expects large amounts of money as a settlement, won’t agree to anything – can Nefertiti afford to continue divorce proceedings? What if she’s laid off? Nefertiti has vivid fantasies starring a speeding garbage truck, and the dinkleberry of a husband steps into the street and … it’s so very messy!
Kids, too! Boy Wonder does nothing except sit at his computer apparently hoping to evolve into a brain in a jar to be used exclusively for browsing the Internet. Nefertiti’s daughter threw a major fit because Nefertiti would only pay $20 for a half hour’s chores, and the princess wanted $40 to go to the mall.
And Nefertiti’s best friend at work can’t resist blaming the Indian guys for our job situation and is spewing all kinds of racist shit. Get away from me.
And the only candidate for a boyfriend is looking too much like soon-to-be-ex-husband, so that’s the end of that! Another godamned little prince, I don’t think so!
Contrary to popular opinion, Nefertiti has never had a lot of luck with guys, and now that she’s old and fat and losing her job and has two disrespectful teenagers, why the potential suitors will be lining up! The line will be long and distinguished!
And Nefertiti ran out for a late lunch, but forgot to go to the bank, so there she was at the cash register with her crummy sandwich and no money! One good note, deli takes plastic and apparently Nefertiti is not over her limit credit yet!
Stay tuned!
James Joyce
This is the first time Nefertiti has attempted 'Ulysses', and she is very glad to be doing it in an academic setting with direction from an experienced literature-type person. This is why Nefertiti came back to school, to learn how to approach works like this and appreciate them, recognizing that this is acknowledged as seminal in twentieth century literature, but feeling so baffled. Having the overstructured mentality that she does (hey, Nefertiti has been a computer programmer for almost twenty-five years), Nefertiti totally appreciates a leg up on this nonlinear stuff. Nefertiti personally has attempted other Joyce, namely 'Finnegan's Wake', solo, to depressing effect.
The movie was a good intro, at least Nefertiti can see now what the action line (plot?) of the book is. It's really hard to see in this book what's happening inside someone's head here vs. what’s happening out on the street. Also a big Yes! to the discussion in class and the handouts on the parallels to Homer. And - this is so important to Nefertiti - the outlines of how appreciate the nonlinear world are emerging through this experience.
Nefertiti has gotten only about 150 pages (20%) into the book itself, but is very motivated to go on. Nefertiti is a person who can't just read this on her own.
Thank you.
God Dies by the Nile
This book describes the subsistence life of peasants in twentieth-century Egypt, oppressed by poverty and politics, enslaved by ignorance, manipulated by religion and fear. The people of the village are victims of the greed and jealousy of their leaders, their anger co-opted into superstition. The powerless are exhorted to punish the weaker – women, the fatherless child, the solitary unbeliever. Nefertiti is horrified by the cruel tyranny of the inhumane Mayor, but recognizes the basic outline of power struggle that goes on everywhere.
The Mayor himself is alone – he has no friends – he hates his cronies, the three men who think they’re his friends, who do his bidding and exercise his power – Sheikh Zahran the Chief of the village Guard, Sheikh Hamzawi the Sheikh of the mosque, and Haj Ismail the village barber. These men are held close to the Mayor by their own fear of losing his favor. Any one of them can be isolated and cast aside at the Mayor’s whim. And the mayor does cast Sheikh Hamzawi out when it is to his political advantage. When misfortunes strike the village, when the worm eats the crops in the field, the Mayor dispossesses Sheikh Hamzawi to appease those who fear ‘their prayers might not be favorably received by God since the man who leads them has sheltered a child born of sin and fornication’. By the time a fire destroys some houses and a child is killed, the peasants have been reinforced in their belief that the child is to blame, leading to the stoning death of the child and the kind-hearted Fatheya.
In the same way, the police prey on the powerless of the peasants by exhorting the men to exercise power over their women, ‘Do you mean that in your household it’s the girl who decides…women are only convinced it they receive a good hiding’.
When Zakeya is driven to distraction by the misfortunes of her family, she and Zeinab are cynically manipulated by Haj Ismail (no doubt in cahoots with the Sheikh at the mosque of Sayeda Zeinab) to deliver Zeinab to the Mayor.
The brutal maneuvering to get Kafrawi and later Galal out of the way so the Mayor can get to Zeinab is classic totalitarian politics. Elwau dies so Kafrawi can be framed for murder, supposedly to avenge the dishonor of his family. It doesn’t matter that the villagers know Kafrawi would not do such a thing. The supposed beliefs of the villagers are enough justification for the powerful in town. Galal too is framed by the police, this time for theft. The more upright and independent a man is, the bigger threat he is to the powerful, and therefore the more likely to be singled out for elimination.
Nefertiti sees here no disrespect of God by Nawal El Saadawi, but a scathing indictment of the political system of modern Egypt. The God who is villified in this book is the government in the person of the Mayor. Surely this is what is so threatening to merit official censorship. Allah is beside the point here – no one believes. Sheikh Hamzawi was using his Friday sermons to praise the Mayor, yet he tells his wife ‘You do not know the Mayor…He’s a dangerous man, and fears no one, not even Allah...We cannot go on about our lives if we are in disfavor with him’.
The American Effect
Nefertiti and the princess went to The Whitney to see the American Effect show. Some of the exhibits were really cool! Nefertiti’s very favorite was the painting of Rudolph Guiliani as a glorious hero of socialist realism, supported by two balls of elephant dung. There were a few eye-catchers in that first room, the room of heroes. The ‘Nursing Home’ of superheroes was a clever piece, America as aging-out superpower.
Another fascinating work was the Japanese screen of infinity bombing New York. Glad to know that one was done before 9/11 - watershed/bloodshed event.
Nefertiti didn’t take notes, what else was really memorable? The video of artifice, the porn stars walking around in lush gardens, but that one didn’t work. First, too much about it had to be explained to have any significance, you would never know that those people were porn stars or that the garden was professionally designed and heavily irrigated. Second, as a gardener Nefertiti knows that all gardens are artifice, maintaining any garden is a struggle against nature as much as a partnership with it. The bugs, the mildews and fungi and slugs and other assorted pests, the droughts, the heavy rains that mock drainage and prevent pollination, and the weeds, the weeds, the weeds are just a few of the nature’s conspirators against one’s flowers and vegetables. But that was just one piece in the show.
It was good to have a knowledgable guide to highlight aspects of the works, it enlarged Nefertiti’s experience, making it more interesting.
Some of the other pieces surprised Nefertiti with their optimism and positive view of America. But that’s curator’s choice, samples of world opinion, not necessarily proportional to opinion percentages. The diorama of next-millennium New York was quite upbeat.
Photos of Germans pretending to be Native Americans were provoking - the Westerns of our childhood are so politically incorrect now. Nefertiti is aware of new-age interest in Native American culture, but the dress-up is still visually disconcerting, those so-white folks in full feathered regalia.
A second piece commenting on the Western experience was striking for other reasons. The intense physicality of the sculptures - the size - the muscularity in motion - the harshness - graphically communicated the brutality of the frontier. That was a strong ending for the show.