Professor Julia Keefer, Ph.D.
Course Objectives: This is a global literature
course, introducing students
to close textual analysis, primary and secondary source research, and creative
role-playing to better understand the aesthetic, cultural, political, philosophical,
structural, and psychological components of the work. The objective is not
just to enhance understanding and appreciation of literature and the skills
to analyze literature, but to see literature embedded within the entire global
spectrum, a useful exercise for non-majors in business, media, communication
and even health science. Students will be introduced to a wide range and depth
of material from all over the world and be asked to read and write critically and creatively on a weekly basis. It is just as important to have analyze the material closely, as it is to interact creatively with the literature. The point of alter ego monologues is to allow students
to enter another life subjectively as well as objectively, and to explore
a perspective and culture different from their own. Creative writing majors can prepare a portfolio deconstructing the literature, business, political and social science majors can design a project that explores the marriage between literature and their field of interest.
This course can also include classics like Aristotle's Poetics to analyze definitions of terror, the Apocalypse or Revelation section from the Bible, and Shakespearean plays such as Richard III.
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
The Devils by Dostoyevsky
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erick Maria Remarque
The Penal Colony by Kafka
No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
The Myth of Sisyphus, Rains of New York, and The Rebel by Albert Camus
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Falling Man and Mao II by Don De Lillo
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Terrorist by John Updike
Saturday by Ian McEwan
How to Survive as an Adjunct Professor by Wrestling (Parts II and III) by Julia Keefer
Hiroshima by Marguerite Duras
Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Martyr's Crossing by Amy Wilentz
The Day the Leader was Killed by Naguib Mahfouz
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany
Night Song by Chris Abani
The Water Cure by Percival Everett
Gardens of Last Days by Andre Dubus III
A Disorder Peculiar to this Country by Ken Kalfus
The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
City of Tiny Lights by Patrick Neate
The Attack, Swallows of Kabul, and The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmina Khadra
This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar ben Jelloun
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian
Weekly poetry of your choice inspired by fear and terror
In addition to close textual analysis, you will be expected to develop a project of your own from the beginning of the semester, related to your major, interests, and career objectives. This can include a creative writing webfolio deconstructing the literature, compare/contrast of various cultures, literature and business, science, sociology, politics etc.
Round my neck,
from time to time, there was the hallucination
of a noose, and now and then, the weight
of chains binding my feet.
Then one fine day
love came to drag me, bound and manacled,
into the same cavalcade as the others.
from Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Loves Captives
translated by Naomi Lazard
While I will lecture on all material, your work need only include an in-depth analysis of five works of your choice, although you should acquire and peruse all books to be further studied at a later time.
Summer 2007 Breakdown
May 14: Introduction to theme, close textual analysis, and terror-criticism, a combination of formalist, historical, eco-, liminal, techno-criticism. Difference between modern, postmodern, and terror-criticism. Organize projects. See The Secret Agent. Read Conrad and Remarque.
May 21: Discuss projects. Lecture on Conrad. See All Quiet on the Western Front. Classical versus Contemporary Terrorism. Read Safran-Foer and Shalimar the Clown by Rushdie. Prepare 2-3 project proposals with list of five books.
June 4: Analyze project proposals. Close textual analysis lecture. Jonathan Safran-Foer. Salman Rushdie. Liminal. Aporia. Visual/verbal expression. Read Parts II and III of Keefer.
June 11: Michael Steinberg Reading. Read Hiroshima and The Penal Colony. Discuss online.
June 18: Show Hiroshima. Close textual analysis lecture. Kinds of narrative. Un-clashing Civilizations by Keefer. Read Pamuk.
June 25: First draft of Comparison/Contrast close textual analysis due. Lecture on Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Bring No Exit and The Myth of Sisyphus and the Rains of New York to class next week.
July 2: Mid century existentialism. Act out No Exit by Sartre. Read essays by Camus. Read Khalifeh and Wilentz for next week.
July 9: Two versions of the Israel-Palestine conflict--Khalifeh and Wilentz. Read Mahfouz and Alaa al Aswany.
July 16: Lecture on Mahfouz and Alaa al Aswany. Allegory and censorship. The Yacoubian Building and The Day the Leader was Killed. Rough draft of final project due. Read Terrorist and Windows on the World.
July 23: Falling Man by Don DeLillo. McEwan and Beigbeder. British and French responses to 9/11.
July 30: Global food fest and presentation of projects.
Professor Julia Keefer and her Major Twentieth Century Writers/Students Present
Global Literature and Food Festival
When: July 30. 6:30-9:30 pm
Where: 194 Mercer, Room 301, then 306
What: A Global Literature and Food Festival
APPETIZERS AND SPIRITS
Al Aswany, Alliteration, Analogy, Anapest
Babaganoush, Baklava, Beaujolais
Becket, Beigbeder, Borges
Brie, Broccoli, Bordeaux
Camembert, Caesura, Camus
Climax, Conclusion, Confrontation, Conrad, Consonance, Crisis, Cummings, Dactyllic, DeLillo, Dramatic Structure
Duras, Eliot, Ellison, Endives, Hersey
Lawrence, McEwan, Mahfouz, Marquez, Morrison, Metaphor, Meter, Nabakov, Narrative, Onomatopoeia, Ordinary World/Special World
Personification, Plot Point, Poetry, Proust, Pynchon, Pyrrhic, Rhyme, Rhythm
Catalyst, Central Dramatic Question
Iambic, Improvisation, Ionesco, Irony, Joyce, Kafka, Kebab, Keefer, Khalifeh
Knish, Lamb Shishkebab
Rushdie, Safran-Foer, Salad, Sartre, Simile
Scallion Pancakes, Shrimp, Spinach, Spondee, Steak
Story, Theme, Updike, Watercress, Wiesel, Woolf, Wilentz…WOW!
Literature and Food, Literature and Sex/Love, Literature and Violence/Terrorism, Literature and Politics, Literature and Religion, Literature and Science, Literature and Business, Literature and Health, Literature and Sickness, Literature and the Environment
Literature and Life
We will analyze different kinds of narrative, comparing Arabic with British, American, Chinese, Iranian, Russian, Turkish, Greek and French, looking at cyclical, pass-the-ball, superimposed, step narratives, interior monologues, stream of consciousness, American straightforward plainspeak, multiple narrators, shifting points of view and time. We will analyze dramatic structure and show how Aristotle's Poetics has been transformed with twentieth century organic drama, screenwriting, ordinary world/special world paradigms and other innovative structures. Through oral interpretation of the texts we will analyze the musicality, phrasing, syntax, and vocabulary of the various authors.
Course Requirements: You must do close textual analyses every other week uploaded to FILES for the cyberspace sessions, creative writing alter ego monologues through the same books for the meatspace sessions, and two oral presentations for the meatspace sessions, including primary and secondary sources which will grow into an 8-10 page final paper. The alter ego monologues will grow into an 8-16 page webfolio.
Grading:You will be given Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory for the weekly assignments, but letter grades for the close textual analyses, oral presentations and creative webfolios. The last day will involve a skit with role playing as alter egos. The creative webfolios and oral presentations make up 50% of the grade; participation, attendance, and WEEKLY assignments make up the other 50.
Method of Instruction:
Cyberspace Sessions will consist of uploading Close Textual Analyses into FILES. Choose a passage, at least one page, from each book in that cluster, write it out triple spaced; then analyse it in terms of language, vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraph organization, figures of speech, rhythm, narrative voice, characterization, relationship of dialogue to description, relationship to plot, structure and rest of novel or play, cultural implications and other extrinsic factors related to politics, philosophy, geography etc. Keep all your analyses, usually three, in one document and upload to FILES. Cross edit each other's work. We will have frequent discussions in the listserv about the books, the analyses, and related topics.
Meatspace Sessions will consist of creative role playing based on monologues you write in your character's voice, oral presentations on each of the authors, viewing of pertinent audio-visual material, and discussion and lectures on cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary issues related to the global literature.
Required Reading: Books are organized into seven clusters
for the meatspace classes. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman is daily
meditation. Bring it to the first class. Clusters will be reworked with the addition of contemporary literature.
Cluster One: No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Plague by Albert Camus,
Cluster Two:All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Night by Elie Wiesel
Cluster Three: The Day The Leader Was Killed by Naguib Mahfouz, God Dies by the Nile by Nawal el Saadawi, and War in the Land of Egypt by Yusuf al-Qa'id, Un-clashing Civilizations by Julia Keefer, from How to Survive as an Adjunct Professor by Wrestling
Cluster Four: Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh, Martyr's Crossing by Amy Wilentz, Satanic Verses or Fury by Salman Rushdie
Cluster Five:Red Azalea by Anchee Min, Soul Mountain or One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian
Cluster Six:Mao II by Don DeLillo, News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Hostage by Zayd Mutee'Damaj, Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
Attendance/Participation Policy: The professor is not in a position to evaluate excuses so do not give her any. Weekly reading and writing assignments are clearly listed. If you fall drastically behind, a medically documented incomplete is possible but not recommended. Since you can access this course any time, anywhere, there should be no reason why you cannot complete assignments. If you have to miss a class, check SYLLABUS and OUTLINE as well as printed lectures, and email class listserv for any other problems. No one expects you to be perfect but you must write and read, and then ask questions if you don't understand.
Notes for Hybrid Course
Joyce Carol Oates
11'09''01 Film anthology
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Erich Maria Remarque
Explore Feminism and the Body.
Expand your timespace in Einstein's Dreams.
Morrison, Toni. Selections from Jazz.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Lethal. (above)
Wagner Jane. (performed by Lili Tomlin) "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe."
Literature and Terrorism
In an age of terror, how does literature help us transcend our reality, lend perspective to our confusion by pulling us into the past and other cultures, and give expression to our anguish and fear through catharsis? They survived it; so can we. In this course we will define terrorism the way the Arabs define it, as any organized violence, by an individual, group or state, legitimate or illegitimate, against a civilian population, either intentional or unintentional. Because this is about twentieth and twenty first century literature, we will include the two World Wars with All Quiet on the Western Front, Night, No Exit, The Plague about Algerian terror as well as the German occupation and natural scourges, to Islamic militant terrorism in Egypt in The Day The Leader Was Killed, Satanic Verses, God Dies by the Nile and War in the Land of Egypt, to Israeli/Palestinian terror in Martyr's Crossing and Wild Thorns, to the terror of hostage-taking and kidnapping in Mao II, News of a Kidnapping, and The Hostage, to the terror of totalitarian regimes such as China in Red Azalea and Soul Mountain. Black Water is both a personal and stylistic meditation on terror as well as an indirect indictment of the terror a powerful political leader has over an innocent civilian. Because one objective of fiction/drama is to create a combustive drama for the reader's catharsis, literature and terrorism are really competing with each other. Sometimes real life provides so much terror that the reader hides in literature for escape, seeking fantasy, happy endings, funny, harmless stories that eschew the turmoil of an unlivable situation. Often cultures will move through a transformation like New York did after 9/11, moving from the transformation of reality into tragedy with heroic stories, to silly, innocuous escapes, to some social comedy, and finally to stories that deal with fictional terror. No one can take too much of one thing. When New Yorkers were coughing from the smoke and toxins downtown, they did not go to the movies to see sci fi representations of Manhattan blowing up. Enough is enough.
But literature is different from film because we can choose when and how often to put the book down. Instead of watching a naturalistic representation, we recreate the story in our minds to excite, soothe or incite us. Many of the writers we will study had personal experience of a world war, the holocaust, the Israeli checkpoints, prison for their writings or gender brutality such as clitorectomies. Some could not write for years afterwards; others wrote on toilet paper in prison. It is significant that terrorism demands a certain amount of intelligence in order to achieve its devastating effect. Formalist agenda about character, plot, style/language, theme, setting/geography, descriptive techniques and narrative point of view must be supplemented and developed to deal with how "literature engages with contemporary critical understandings of nationalism, race, gender, sexuality, global multiculturalism..." I would add cyberspace to the list. I also believe that it is stultifying to repress critical reflection on difference to be politically correct. Not only does it make us oblivious to the richness of difference, but we also lose our sense of humor.
One of the most influential persons of the twentieth century was Albert Einstein, not only for his theories on relativity, but because he revolutionized the way humans perceive time and space in all domains from art and literature to atomic warfare. The twentieth century novel broke with traditional structures as it questioned the linearity of time, the certainty of empirical relality, and the "reality" of the external word by focusing on stream of consciousness techniques, interior monologues and a nonlinear use of time/space. James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust were the innovators of this new novel, but we see their influence in the works of Joyce Carol Oates BLACK WATER, Gao Xingpian's SOUL MOUNTAIN, Don DeLillo's MAO II and Salman Rushdie's SATANIC VERSES.
No Exit is a good way to explore basic dramaturgy: unities of time, space and action, character conflict (different objectives) and orchestration, crisis/climax/resolution, and relationship of theme, HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE, to central dramatic question, WHAT KIND OF HELL WILL EACH PERSON EXPERIENCE? In terms of content, it deals with the German occupation of France during world war II, and the Empire drawing room satirizes the stultifying life of the French bourgeoisie in contrast to the new Marxism Sartre probably misunderstood. It is the most accessible introduction to the philosophy of existentialism, existence precedes essence, in contrast to the Cartesian saying, "I think, therefore I am." Sartre was a prolific writer of fiction, drama, literary theory and philosophy. He popularized existentialism with sayings such as "I am therefore I think," "Man is nothing more than the sum of his actions," and "Hell is other people." We will act out scenes from his brilliant, provocative, well-structured play, NO EXIT, to be found on my website. During the anthrax scare in the Fall of 2002, students identified with the characters and situations in Camus' The Plague. Both works are essential to an understanding of their times, and yet they transcend their times so that they speak to us now in the darkest moments of our war on terror. The Plague introduces us to the formal elements that make a good novel, the third person narrative that clinically but compassionately describes the struggles of Dr. Rieux to help Oran survive the plague. Unlike drama, description and narration assume paramount importance as the world transforms from before plague, to plague, to post-plague. If we recall the anthrax attacks after 9/11, we remember how easily Manhattan could be transformed into Oran. This is also as wonderful study in character transformation as each person's true character is revealed when he is confronted with the existential dilemma of possible or imminent death.
While No Exit is a battle of individuals, The Plague charts the growth, collapse and renewal of a community through a skillful, meticulous attention to description and narration, the chief elements of novel writing. Each culture has different expectations regarding characters, plausibility, and levels of introspection, censorship, conformity to cultural values, as well as the kinesthetic thrust of the drama. Western dramatic structure is more linear, moving to that one big climax, while Arabic literature is recursive, with many climaxes. American literature often wants "three-dimensional" characterization and transformation while Arabic literature can sometimes go for good versus evil. Spanish rhetoric/narrative styles are more circumlocutious, less direct. Indian writers are often more diverse, layered, even chaotic than Arabic ones. Rushdie versus Saadawi. Is this because of the pluralism of their religion versus Islam's relentless monotheistic focus? Contemporary American audiences expect a higher degree of plausibility, unless dealing with science fiction. Yet there is much cross cultural influence. Oates' Black Water is as recursive and thematic as an Arabic poem. DeLillo's Mao II has the plurality, variety in tone, playful satire and chaos of a Rushdie work. Martyr's Crossing is written in the same studied, skillful style as many New Yorker fiction pieces. And most significantly, Soul Mountain combines the reflective, vast space of pre-modern China with the effects of the repressive Communist regime and then a deconstructed narrator, an I, she, he, you, who plows through these mountains with the introspection of a French postmodern writer. Perhaps that is one reason it won the Nobel Prize. What makes cultures different? History, geography, ethnicity, language. But adaptation and change occurs in response to the land, to the struggle for survival. Arabs are desert peoples. In the desert the people see forever; their God is the sun, their enemy excessive dryness. The vast mountains of China created a collective culture in contrast to the vast mountains of America where ambitious individuals forged a frontier through the wilderness, killing the indigenous people. So as our cultures mix and mingle, delicious new concoctions of literature will be created. The point of this course is to preserve the distinctness, the diversity and the difference of cultural flavors, rather than looking at the more homogeneous products of American mass culture with which we are already familiar. By studying the narratives of diverse people we come to an empathy and understanding for "the other," so that we are not trapped in that good versus evil, us versus them, binary crusade of many American politicians.
Major Twentieth Century Writers is a course in cross-cultural communication as well as literary analysis. Ask yourselves why members of some cultures seek solitude, whereas those of others feel sad or even incomplete if they are not continuously in the company of other people? Why do some cultures worship the Earth, whereas other molest it? Why do some cultures seek material possession while other believe they are a hindrance to a peaceful life? Are some cultures more visual, kinesthetic, linguistic, rhythmic than others? As we analyze different styles of communication and expression, we weave a fine line between political correctness and legitimate diversity, homogeneity from the global melting plot, and specific differences that foster both creativity and a combustive clash of civilisations.
ALTER EGOS: It is important you have a subjective as well as a scholarly experience of this great, global literature and therefore, each student will choose an alter ego, a major character from one of the books who will journey with you through the literature, enjoying the different countries and cultures, and perhaps changing the plot by falling in love with one of the characters or creating havoc, mayhem or good. Pick a character from a book you love but try to choose someone whose culture, religion and/or gender are different from your own. Find out as much as you can about the character and then let your imagination and experiences through the other novels transform the character to your liking. If you are confused, see what past students have done with their characters in the webfolios at twenty/twenty.html,
ORAL PRESENTATIONS/RESEARCH PAPERS: Choose two of the authors to compare and contrast, perhaps related to your alter ego. Read the books carefully but also do internet and library research on a dilemma, looking at the works embedded in their sociocultural context, using both primary and secondary sources and focusing on literary theory, intellectual history, political or military or religious issues, depending on your major and interests. Make sure you have a clearly stated thesis that you develop through argumentation and close textual analysis. For example, if your major is religion/philosophy, you might want to analyze the Rushdie affair. Students will have a meatspace class for their oral presentations, and are encouraged to use audiovisual aids as well. Last year Jane Schreck did a middle eastern dance and brought in her costumes, films and photos as she led us into a deeper understanding of the world depicted in Nawal el Saadawi's writings.
CLOSE TEXTUAL ANALYSES: Every other week we will upload close textual analyses from the assigned books. Choose a few paragraphs from each book, copy them down triple spaced and anlyse every work for implicit and explicit meaning, structure, relationship to the whole etc. We may have related assignments such as writing a short memoir or poem to help you further understand the microcosmic aspects of the literature.
This course is organized into six distinct sections, each with a macro (sociological, historical, philosophical, psychological aspects) and micro component (the text itself.)
Cluster 1: One of the most important figures of the twentieth century was Albert Einstein. Not only did he revolutionize science with his theory of relativity, but literature, art, philosophy were all transformed by our nonlinear views of time and space. The novel of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust played with time, memory, and space in creative ways undreamt of in previous centuries and cultures. With film, art and contemporary literature we have poked holes in the unities of time and space, opening up narrative to infinite possibilties. Throughout the semester let your imagination play with time and space in your own lives. I have chosen Alan Lightman's EINSTEIN'S DREAMS as your nightly bible. Read a chapter every night before bed and meditate on that timespace change. For more ideas on Einstein, go to twenty/zeller.html or twenty/einstein1.html. As you analyze the books, pay special attention to the use of time and space.
Alan Lightman was born in 1948 in Memphis, Tennessee. Lightman says that ever since he was a child he built rockets and wrote poetry. He majored in physics at Princeton, reasoning it was easier to be a scientist turned writer than the other way around. In 1974 he received his doctorate in theoretical astrophysics from Caltech in 1974. Between 1976 and 1899 Lightman taught astronomy and physics at Harvard, moving to MIT in 1989 because there he was given the chance to teach both of his loves--as a physicist and as the director of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. Lightman credits Rushdie and Marquez, two other writers on our list, for influencing his work because they are writers who distort reality to see it more clearly. He also enjoys reading writers from other cultures, so he can enter worlds unlike his own. He tries to bring readers into the scientific world in EINSTEIN'S DREAMS which he wrote in 1991 at his summer home on a small island off the coast of Maine.
Our first cluster will examine THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus and NO EXIT by Jean-Paul Sartre. On the macro level, we want to get an introduction to Existentialism and the new Marxism and to how these great writers used literature to further their ideologies; on the micro level we want to examine the works, through close textual analysis, to see how the form of a play differs intrinsically from that of a novel. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was born into a well-to-do, highly educated family and graduated first in his class in philosophy from the Ecole Normale Superieure, one of the most schools in Europe. He met Simone de Beauvoir, the second wave French feminist, and thus began a life-long partnership. Sartre was greatly influenced by German philosphers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, thinkers who questioned the existence of God, universal truth, immortal life and many accepted "truths" of Western civilisation, in favor of a more phenomenological approach to existence. During the Enlightenment, the French philosopher Rene Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." Sartre is quoted as saying, "I am, therefore I think;" in other words, existence precedes essence, hence the name Existentialism. What this means is that human consciousness develops as a response to phenomena in the "real" world, as opposed to more Platonian ideals of consciousness coming from man's soul or a higher being.
Sartre spent 1933-34 in Germany and when he returned he wrote his book NAUSEA. Like many twentieth century intellectuals, he also had his stint in prison, in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1940. When he was released in 1941, he became part of the French resistance against the German occupation, and sought to combine his Existentialist theories of human individuality and freedom with the collective responsibility of the new Marxism. Death, without the hope of eternal life, creates anxiety but forces man to act in the present, to make hard choices, to exercise his freedom, so that he carves out a life, that is in essence, the sum of his actions. But this existential philosophy should not make a man more selfish, but more responisible; his choices must include a responsibility for humanity as well as himself. In this respect Existentialism is a Humanism , the title of another of Sartre's works. I use the pronoun "he," because Sartre did, although his partner was a strong feminist.
I received a Master's degree in French Literature from the Sorbonne in Paris at a time when Sartre, Camus and the influence of existentialism on the theatre of the absurd was most in vogue, before the post-structuralists and postmodernists like Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva and Barthes had taken over Parisian intellectual life. In fact my specialty was theatre of the absurd and the title of my thesis was "La Chute de la Tradition Theatrale," which involved an analysis of the aesthetic as well as philosophical distinctions between classical dramaturgy and theatre of the absurd such as Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett and others, and how the media of television and film had forced an anti-naturalist trend on the theatre. I also performed in French theatre as I was completing my degree there. NO EXIT has a classical structure with existentialist themes, so it is different from works by Ionesco and Becket.
Albert Camus (1913-1960) was born in Algeria to a poor, working class family but because of his talent and brilliance, received distinction in philosophy at the University and moved to Paris. He published THE STRANGER in 1942, about an existential, alienated protagonist Meursault who murders a man, for no apparent reason, and who is subsequently condemned to death. It is as much an indictment of capital punishment and society's social norms as it is an existentialist narrative, written in sparse, pristine prose. In 1947 he published THE PLAGUE, charting the inception, process and resolution of this disease in a fictional North African town. It is a metaphor of the German occupation during World War II but could apply to any event. During the anthrax lockdowns after 9/11 last semester, students identified strongly with this novel, with the different responses to the epidemic, and with the personification of the disease and its devastation. After 9/11, we New Yorkers know how it feels to be in a lockdown. Like Sartre, Camus was aware of the social/cultural/psychological constraints of existentialism, but he was more religious or spiritual. My professors at the Sorbonne thought that he would have become more and more Catholic had he not been killed in a car accident at 46. In fact, Sartre and Camus did split and dissociate from each other after the war.
Both were prolific writers, spreading their energies across novels, short stories, essays, plays and expository books, which is one reason why Existentialism became a popular movement. However, I feel that Sartre was more gifted as a dramatic and argumentative writer, and Camus as a novelist and lyrical essayist.
Read NO EXIT (it's all online, don't buy it) and THE PLAGUE together for comparison and contrast. Note that they both adhere to unities of time, space and action, although THE PLAGUE takes a little longer to unwind. NO EXIT conforms to Aristotelian dramaturgy on most levels. It is simply the conversations of three newly deceased characters, coward Garcin, lesbian Inez, and baby-killer Estelle in hell, which is a Louis XIV drawing room. They are waiting to see when hell will begin until they finally realize that "Hell is other people." There are no mirrors: they must look into each other's eyes for all self-affirmation and approval. And here is the rub because each character wants and needs something from the others that they cannot give him or her. NO EXIT is an excellent example of how interpersonal conflict is combusted into intense, riveting dramatic action. Every stage is carefully orchestrated until the door opens-- and no one can escape. There are unable to exercise their human freedom to choose. But the hell is in essence, of their own choosing, because they lack the strength of the existentialist hero who can become the sum of his actions.
Working only with dialogue, the bourgeois drawing room and a few limited props, Sartre is able to create a play that continues to be performed all over the world as a great work of theatre, as well as a mouthpiece for the chief tenets of Existentialism. The play was originally commissioned as something short and easy to take on tour, with no changes in scenery and only three actors. Sartre was also asked to ensure that none of the three actors felt jealous of the other two by being forced to leave the stage or getting the best lines; consequently, he began to think in terms of a situation where three characters would be locked up together--first, in a cell during an air raid, and then in hell. In this inferno, "hell is other people," because Estelle sees no truth, Joseph hears no truth, and Inez speaks no good, according to former student Jerry Harman. In contrast, THE PLAGUE uses methodical description and precise narration to suck us into another hell, that of a population avoiding and finally facing the ravages of the plague. This is a brilliant sociological study, of how characters work with and against each other to fight a common evil. Dr. Rieux is like Giuiliani after 9/11, making himself stronger by administering to the needs of the population, working night and day with that indefatigable Hizzoner energy.
Note how important descritive writing is to the art of the novel. Sartre often lacks the patience to describe as thoroughly as Camus, preferring to whip and hack and demolish his world with dramatic and philosophical conflict. Camus documents, describes and patiently recreates a world palatable to all our senses, a world that is often a metaphor for some philosophical injusitice or condition he would rather not attack directly through expository writing. Yet he focuses on the community more than the unconscious exploration of the characters.
Since you need to pick a character to play for the semester, you might enjoy playing any one of the characters in these two great works. For the close textual analysis assignment, pick passages from the two books to analyze to show the difference between dialogue and description aesthetically, the main difference between a play and a novel.
I chose the books in Cluster Two, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and NIGHT, to give us a better understanding of the World Wars on the macro level, and the effect of memoir or naturalistic memory on the historical/political novel on the micro level. The tradition of naturalism in literature was fortified in the second half of the nineteenth century with the works of Emile Zola and the Victorians. For the first time, readers wanted to see reality with all its warts, and not use literature for escape, romance or entertainment. These books are in this tradition although they have more twentieth century aesthetic and psychological dimensions. ALL QUIET documents the trench warfare of World War I where soldiers were in another kind of hell for months at a time, fighting against young men for reasons they did not really understand.
NIGHT documents the holocaust and what it took to survive the concentration camps. Both books were drawn from personal experience. Both Remarque and Wiesel suffered, in part, from post traumatic stress syndrome from their experiences during these terrible wars. For a time they ran away from their suffering, and were not able to catharsize their pain fully until these books were published.
Elie Wiesel is the author of 36 works dealing with Judaism, the Holocaust and the moral responsibility of all people to fight hatred, racism and genocide. Born 1928 in Romania, Wiesel led a religious, communal life until 1944 when he and his family were deported by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. The following words were written with his blood, embedded forever in his memory: "Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never." Is this how you feel about 9/11? What are your memories of the event? What is your "night?" But it was Wiesel's steely will to survive that enabled him to leave Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Gleiwitz after the liberation in 1945 and eventually study at the Sorbonne, which nurtured the French writers, Gao Xingjian and your illustrious Professor Evergreen. Wiesel became chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement.
In May 7,2002, Wiesel wrote a letter to George W. Bush just before Ariel Sharon's arrival in Washington with the following pleas: "Please remember that a majority of Israelis favor a Palestinian State alongside Israel if the terror is stopped, whereas a majority of Palestinians, including Yasir Arafat support suicide killing operations against Israel. Please remember that while Palestinian Terrorists were hiding explosives in ambulances, Israeli reservists in Jenin were taking up collections out of their own funds to repay Palestinian families for the damage done to their homes. Please remember that the maps on Arafat's uniform and in Palestinian children's textbooks show a Palstine encompanssing not only all of the West Bank but all of Israel, while Palestinian leaders loudly proclaim that 'Palestine extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, from Rosh Hanikra (in the North) to Rafah (in Gaza). Please remember Danielle Shefi, a little girl in Israel. Danielle was give. When the murderers came, she hid under her bed. Palestinian gunmen found and killed her anyway. Think of all the other victims of terror in the Holy Land. With rare exceptions, the targets were young people, children and families. Please remember that Israel--having lost too many sons and daughters, mothers and fathers--desperately wants peace. It has learned to trust its enemies' threats more than the empty promises of 'neutral' governments. Today, more than ever, Israel must be trusted to decide what concessions are or are not possible within the framework of its own security. Please remember that Ariel Sharon, a military man who knows the ugly face of war better than anyone, is ready to make 'painful sacrifices' to end the conflict. In fact it was he who carried out the handing over of Yamit, displacing thousands of Israelis, in exchange for peace with Egypt. Please remember that while Israelis mourned alongside us for our nation's tragedy on September 11th, Yasir Arafat was busy suppressing footage of his constituents dancing in the streets. Please remember that American Jews share your moral outrage at international terrorism as well as your determination to defend democratic ideals and religious freedom in the world. As diversified as we are in our political views, we are united in our hope that you, the leader in the campaign against the world-wide terror, will recognize that terror is Israel is but another of its facets, another result of the hatred being systematically taught to Arab children by the Palestinian Authority and state-funded schools elsewhere in the Muslim world. Years ago, we had hopes that we were entering a new era, an era of peace that would see Palestinians living alongside Israelis, in an alliance that would make the entire area flourish. If the Palestinian leadership can be persuaded to stop the abomination of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians, it may still not be too late."
Think about that letter when we get to cluster four and analyse WILD THORNS and MARTYR'S CROSSING.
For the close textual analysis assignment, copy out two passages from each of the books that seem the most moving to you. Then write down your memoir from 9/11. Then look at the relationship of the memoir to the event, to what the personal story gives you that you cannot get in a history book or traditional novel. How does the memoir get closer to reality and give the novel depth and breadth? How does the novel based on memoir allow the personal story to be catharsized completely? How does your memoir give dimension to mainstream news coverage of 9/11?
Cluster Three: Inspired by my trip to the middle east and love of Egyptian culture, (another Western orientalist? not exactly!) I chose the next three books to analyze cross-cultural story expectations, Islamic feminism and the recursive, poetic aesthetics of Arabic story-telling, as well as the different time/space elements. In GOD DIES BY THE NILE the sexual abuse of young girls, the clitorectomies, the stoning of the adulteress, many of the injustices present in contemporary Islam are ruthlessly described by Nawal el Saadawi, the first female Egyptian doctor whose writing was so controversial she was imprisoned by Sadat. THE DAY THE LEADER WAS KILLED is a collection of monologues by three characters about their domestic/love problems around the time Sadat was assassinated, but again, the focus is on the injustice of the arranged marriage that Randa must submit to for social approval and financial necessity, in spite of her love for Elwan, and the grandfather's wisdom, pain and ultimate impotence. Sadat's murder is wedged in between Elwan's beating of his rival to death, which seems almost like a unconscious eruption of rage and jealousy. For more ideas about cross-cultural feminism, go to twenty/bodyf.html.
Neither book has the linear kinesthetic thrust of the traditional western crisis/climax/resolution. In GOD DIES there are so many crises/climaxes that Zakeya's murder of the village leader seems only one of many. When asked where Allah is, she says, in prison, that she killed him-- he is buried on the banks of the Nile. El Saadawi's structure is Arabic in its recursive themes of sun rising and setting on every scene, but also multi-orgasmic with its many climaxes. Mahfouz weaves his climax into the fabric of Egyptian domestic life, never giving in to its finality, always letting each character finish the integrity of his monologue, asserting his own microcosmic reality. WAR IN THE LAND OF EGYPT is also written with very different story expectations than typical Hollywood fare. None of these books have really happy endings, unless one could say that ending up in prison is a happy ending.
Naguib Nahfouz is the best-known and most studied Arab novelist in the Anglophone world. Mafouz was born in a warren of ancient alleys in the heart of Islamic Cairo, behind the al-Hussein Mosque, in the neighborhood of Gamaliya, in December 1911. His father, a minor civil cervant, was highly traditional, and his mother was doting, his childhood lonely but unremarkable. After attending Islamic elementary schools and a secular high school, he entered Cairo University (then King Faud 1) University and in 1934 graduated with a degree in philosophy. He rememberes that period, which coincided with the anticolonial movement against the British, as the happiest of his life--as "the golden age of patriotism....when the times themselves were listening to you," he wrote in his 1961 novel The Thief and the Dogs.
Until 1971, all his works were written late at night, for he spent his days as a government bureaucrat: as an official film censor, an adviser on the arts, and a minor functionary in various ministries, including the Ministry of Religious Affairs. A private, timid man who married late in life, Mahfouz is a strong believer, a bit of a mystic, and a Fabian socialist of the most passionate sort. Mahfouz married a Christian woman at age 43 and had two daughters and no grandchildren. He has never liked to travel, leaving Egypt some three times in his life. By the late 1950s, social realism had become the defining characteristic of his work. His well-ordered, punctilious, conservative daily life was the antithesis of the world he created in his books. Note what he says in this book we are studying: "We live in a repugnant age of slogans. And between the slogans and the truth is an abyss, into which we have all fallen and lost ourselves."
He published his first novel in 1939 and since then has written thirty-two novels and thirteen collections of short stories. This prolific writer's work appears to have gone through four stages. The first (1939-44) consisted of three novels based on the history of ancient Egypt, focusing on a cherished theme, the heroic struggle of the Egyptians and their patriotic Pharaohs to expel the Hysos, as foreign ruling invaders, from their country. Like Camus' THE PLAGUE, THE STRUGGLE OF THEBES bore a relevance to Egyptian sociopolitcal reality, the British occupation. In 1945, Mahfouz left the history of Phaoronic Egypt to write A NEW CAIRO. This led to the publication of THE CAIRO TRILOGY, in 1956-57, a realistic study of Egyptian urban society between the two World Wars. In THE MIRAGE, published in 1948, Mahfouz experimented with a psychoanalytic novel, inspired by Freud. In 1959 another stage began with OUR QUARTER, an allegory of human history. In the mid seventies he returned to the fourth stage where he asserts the unique voice of Arabic narrative forms in THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS and THE DAY THE LEADER WAS KILLED.
Mahfouz' world view is similar to Sartre's social commitment and responsibility, a far cry from the nihilism of Islamic extremists. His work reveals the irony of a European intellectual woven through the ancient Arabic storytelling. In 1988 the Swedish Academy gave him the Nobel Prize and wrote that "through works rich in nuance-- now clearsightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous, Mahfouz has formed an Arabic narrative art that applies to all mankind." His characters are warm and human, in spite of and because of their grotesque flaws from the tyrannical merchant of the Cairo Trilogy, to his debauched and fanatical sons, to the weak and wayward women who tempt and distract them. Yet there is a robust sensuality, a deep reverence for Islam, a generous tolerance and the creation of world so ripe and vivid that you want to savor it forever. CHILDREN OF THE ALLEY with its autocratic rulers and echoes of prophets found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, proved most controversial and prompted a religious fatwa calling for his death in 1989.
In 1994 there was a near-fatal assault on Mahfouz by Islamic terrorists,
wonderfully described by Mary Anne Weaver in her book, A Portrait of
Egypt (1999) when he was stabbed while sitting in his car. since then
he has only been able to write for 30 minutes at a time because of injuried
nerves. He must keep armed guards around his apartment even now, in 2002.90
year old Mahfouz was recently interviewed (2002) for the New York Times.
He says that even now he struggles to write every day: "A writer must
sit down to write every day, pick up his pen and try to write something--
anything-- on a piece of paper. Perhaps they will succeed, or maybe come
up with a new idea that will blossom eventually. Perhaps they will complete
a short story, and perhaps nothing will happen at all."
Like many of the writers we are studying, Mahfouz is intensely involved in political, social and philosophical debate. At 90 his eyes and ears are so impaired that a friend arrives every morning to read the headlines for an hour. He gave his first interest payments from his Nobel Prize to Palestinian charities and now defends suicide bombers, a common position among Arab intellectuals:
"They are people defending a cause by sacrificing with their souls, and this is the highest level of noble resistance, although the death of civilians is regrettable. We have to remember that this is not a regular fight, a regular war where you can choose your target and fight only soldiers. This is a desperate situation where you blow yourself up and whoever happens to be on the site."
At the same time he shows little patience for those who want to destroy Israel or censor freedom of expression or intercultural exchanges between Jews and Arabs. At the end of the interview, after discussing death, he said:
"That is the way of life. You give up your pleasures one by one until there is nothing left, and then you know it is time to go."
Think of the elements of THE DAY THE LEADER WAS KILLED, describing the time when Mohammad Atta lived in Egypt: the decline of the Egyptian system, the emergence of an authoritarian state, a middle-class urban family torn apart by economic stagnation and uncertainty, the sexual tensions of a young couple in a society in which men and women are kept strictly apart, the rise of corruption, and of militant Islam, as the almost inevitable result of a system that seems to be spiraling out of control.
Elwan could be like many of the cafe drifters, unable to find a job or buy or furnish an apartment, unable therefore, to marry Randa the woman he loves, and forced to share that dingy, cramped room with his grandfather. Think of what he says in that coffeehouse, a coffeehouse where Mafouz probably did most of his writing: "We are a people more acclimatized to defeat than to victory. It is just a Mafia which controls us--no more, no less. Where are the good old days?...My pride wounded, my heart broken, I have come to this cafe as a refuge from the pain of loneliness....How many nations live side by side in this one nation of ours? How many millionaires are there? Relatives and parasites? Smugglers and pimps? Shi'ites and Sunnis?--stories far better than A Thousand and One Nights What do eggs cost today? This is my concern. Yet, as the same time, singers and belly dancers in the nightclubs on Pyramid Road are showered with banknotes and gratuities. What did the imam of the mosque say within earshot of the soldiers of the Central Security Force? There is not one public lavatory in this entire neighborhood...[Sada] He's a failure--"my friend [Menachem]Begin, my friend Kissinger," is all he can say; his uniform is Hitler's; his act, the act of Charlie Chaplin. He's rented our entire country--furnished--to the United States..."
There are many Saudi extremists who feel that Saudi Arabia has been rented, furnished, to the US as well. While Mafouz chronicles Eyptian urban life in Cairo, el Saadawi and al Qa'id describe the corruption of the authorities, usually the Imam, in the rural outskirts.
Nawal el Saadawi in "BREEDING TERROR or AN UNCIVILISED CLASH OF CIVILIZATONS": "Once again we are facing the fundamentalist, absolutist dichotomy of God versus the Devil, and of Good versus Evil used to mystify people, to confuse them, to veil their minds. The language which George W. Bush uses is no different from that of the pope, or that of bin Laden. All three speak in the name of God against the enemy, against the Devil. The church and the mosque are not just spiritual bodies with a spiritual agenda, but also geopolitical, economic and even military bodies, but their agendas here are clothed in spiritual robes....This war on terrorism is being used to halt the rising wave of opposition to unbridled transnational exploitation of nature, human resources and human life. In the global patriarchal capitalist system war ahas been and remians the economic stimulus required to stave off recession and protect accumulation of profits. But I wonder how many bombs will be needed, and how many innocent people must die in order to ensure that the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq will begin to climb once more....State terrorism is the elder brother of individual terrorism except that it claims the legitimacy of laws upheld by a powerful few."
Like American and Israeli leaders, she feels that fear is the great enemy, not because we can't shop till we drop, but because it will make us accept anything in the name of security or the war against terrorism. "Fear can help the Big Brother to drive us with a big stick into an Orwellian world." El Saadawi believes we should eradicate the original roots of all kinds of terrorism by restoring religion to the personal realm and developing secular huimanist societies that are able to abolish colonial and neo-colonial principles as well as the hegemony of the multinational corporations of the World Economic Forum. She speaks at the World Social Forum, advocating peace, love and justice from the grassroots up, abolishing all patriarchal systems that breed double standards and binary thinking. What do YOU think?
El Saadawi was born into a well educated family in 1931 in the village of Kafr Tahal, Egypt. Along with Shakespeare, Aristotle, Sartre, DeLillo, Lightman, she is one of my heros because of the energy, curiosity, intelligence and strength which with she has embraced and attacked so many areas of human knowledge and discourse: medicine, literature, politics, religion. She even has a great website. www.nawalsaadawi.net. After her imposed clitorectomy, she has been a strong advocate for feminist rights, criticizing the sexism of the American cosmetics industry as well as Islamic fundamentalism. In 1955 she became Egypt's Director of Public Health, but her book WOMEN AND SEX (1972), condemning clitorectomies and the veiling of the female mind even more than her body, aroused the anger of male authorities who put her in prison because of her continued research and writings in this area. After his assassination in l981 (read Mahfouz) she was freed and continued her political, medical and literary fight for the rights of oppressed peoples, particularly women. She claims that Westerners are particularly oppressed by their governments because they believe they are free even though they are the greatest true believers of them all and their democracy an illusion of freedom and equal rights.
In spite of her didacticism, her writing can be beautifully simple and poetic with ancient themes like the rising and setting of the sun in GOD DIES BY THE NILE. While DeLillo begins writing by deconstructing the sentence, by falling in love with words, she distrusts words, because they are weapons manipulated by Machiavellian politicians:"Language should be clear, so we understand each other. No monopoly, no playing, no games, no political games, no linguistic games, because I am really fed up with the linguistic games of the so-called 'postmodern era.'...We find ourselves lost in an avalanche of words which appear very dissident, and which multiplya dn reproduce themselves endlessly....We drown in these words; we are suffocated by them. It is the zero-sum game of words in which you lose your power to understand." For el Saadawi, language is a weapon, at least to those who imprisoned her, a weapon she will not give up even if it means her body would be imprisoned again. Like many great writers of our times, writing is her jihad, and as founder and president of the Arab Women Solidarity Association, her strong stance offers a welcome antidote to many solution to the clash of civilisations.
Like many of the books in this syllabus, WAR IN THE LAND OF EGYPT was banned in its country of origin in the seventies. Unlike much of the Arabic literature, this story is steeped in irony and black humor as it recounts the fiasco that occurs when a village elder persuades a poor night-watchman to send his own son as a stand-in for the elder's son who was drafted into the Egyptian army on the eve of the 1973 October war. Like Mahfouz, Yusuf al-Qa'id makes use of multiple narrators, but Qa'id's characters do not each present the entirety of the plot; in fact, there is eventually no overlap in their narrations, and therefore little or not repetition of events. This permits the plot to unfold as it would in a standard narrative, devoid of multiple voices, which enhances the story's dramatic impact while maintaining the variety of perspectives and giving us a microcosmi catalogue of Egyptian social types. The characters are conscious of their roles, as well as their co-narrators, which leads to more conflict between the characters. The story is embedded in Qa'id's sociology where schisms between rich and poor, city and country, mystery and myth deepen the conflicts between characters. After all my years of reading and writing, al-Qa'id has given me a more pristine understanding of narrative.
Born in 1944, Yusuf Qa'id is one of the most important representatives of the new generation in style and sociological message, even though (or maybe because) he was born in a small village from a long line of poor, illiterate peasants, and received all his education in his native land. His trilogy, THE COMPLAINTS OF THE ELOQUENT EGYPTIAN, involves an author writing a novel, drafts of which are incorporated into the text, along with other documents. Another of his novels, IT IS HAPPENING IN EGYPT NOW foreshadows interactive hyperfiction as it invites the reader to create the novel along with the author, providing documents for that purpose.
Choose short passages from each of the three books that illustrate the unique features of Arabic story telling, the recursive themes and structure, multiple and/or mysterious or flattened climaxes, multiple narrators. Sometimes I like to compare Western ballet to Middle Eastern dance to help students understand the difference between the gravity-defying, competitive discipline of pointe work with the earthbound, undulating, repetitive sensuousness of belly dancing. Or compare the round, voluptuous spaciousness of Mosque architecture to the jagged, stuffed, ambitious and upward bound soaring of a skyscraper. See if you can find the same similarities in the literature. In spite of her didacticism, El Saadawi's writing can be beautifully simple and poetic with ancient themes like the rising and setting of the sun in GOD DIES BY THE NILE. While DeLillo begins writing by deconstructing the sentence, by falling in love with words, she distrusts words, because they are weapons manipulated by Machiavellian politicians:"Language should be clear, so we understand each other. No monopoly, no playing, no games, no political games, no linguistic games, because I am really fed up with the linguistic games of the so-called 'postmodern era.'...We find ourselves lost in an avalanche of words which appear very dissident, and which multiplya dn reproduce themselves endlessly....We drown in these words; we are suffocated by them. It is the zero-sum game of words in which you lose your power to understand." For el Saadawi, language is a weapon, at least to those who imprisoned her, a weapon she will not give up even if it means her body would be imprisoned again. Like many great writers of our times, writing is her jihad, and as founder and president of the Arab Women Solidarity Association, her strong stance offers a welcome antidote to many solution to the clash of civilisations.
Note how the climaxes of WAR IN THE LAND OF EGYPT and THE DAY THE LEADER WAS KILLED seem like seeds embedded in a labyrinth and the narrative objective is to unravel the story within the community. GOD DIES BY THE NILE is multi-climactic, with horrendous evenets occurring in almost every chapter, in a way that leaves the reader exhausted or breathless. But the structure almost comes from the placement of the sun in each of these events and the interface of the Ordinary World of the village with the Special World of the wilderness of Om Saber, Metwalli the necrophiliac, the runaway women and men and the sites of death orgies. How different these structures are from the typical Hollywood movie, which is essentially a cliffhanger!
When I was in Egypt, I got the worst sunburn of my life, so I am particularly aware of the influence of the sun on the writings. In the desert, sunrise and sunset are the big events, the only changes in that eternal landscape. For your close textual analysis, pay particular attention to the relationship of geography to spirituality, dreams, symbols, and the role of women in this fiercely patriarchal world. Arabic languages are written from right to left; metaphors, similes, long arrays of adjectives and repetition of words are frequently used by Arabs in communicating all ideas, witness the political rhetoric of Osama bin Laden. Again, there are some wonderful characters to play in these books as well as great places to take your character. Don't forget your alter ego can change the story, fall in love with the oppressed women, take people out of jail, or change the plot any way you so desire. Have fun!
Cluster Four: MARTYR'S CROSSING, WILD THORNS and SATANIC VERSES were chosen to bring light to the middle eastern conflicts and to help us understand role criticism, an outgrowth of theories of multiple selves, developed by Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, Sherry Turkel and other thinkers in the second half of the twentieth century. Do a novelists' characters reflect their thoughts? Which role are YOU playing now? Do we have one integrated self, or are we made up of a kaleidoscope of selves? Are you starting to integrate your alter ego in your own life? Is he helping you or wrecking havoc?
Salman Rushdie still cannot fly Air Canada because the airline is afraid some Islamic extremist will bring down the plane in an effort to fulfill the fatwa issued by Iran after publication of SATANIC VERSES. Yet this is a book of fiction. Islamic rebuttal to Western condemnation of Fatwa against SATANIC VERSES: Semseddin Turk , the President of the MIT Islamic Society writes "Because of the unequivocal attempt at associating itself with real events, THE SATANIC VERSES is dangerously, even criminally, misleading for a Western audience that knows little about Islam and Muslims. Rushdie's metaphors and symbols are strongly reminiscent of and reinforce traditional Western prejudices and myths about Islam. THE SATANIC VERSES is one of the most slanted works in a regular cycle of intentional or unintentional misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims in media sources and textbooks. Because of its wild implications and virulent language, the novel constitutes an unprecedented assault on Islam, and indirectly, on the Abrahamic religions preceding it."
The novel aptly begins with Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta falling from an expoding airplane, hijacked by Shiite terrorists, to the shores of Britain. Chamcha is an anglicized Indian who has lived in England since youth, while Gibreel, a religious movie star, recently recovered from an illness where he lost faith in Islam, comes to England to pursue Alleluia Cone who he fell in love with in India. Upon arrival, Saladin grows horns and hooves and thick hair develops all over his body, while Gibreel acquires a halo, metamorphosing into forces of good and evil which Rushdie then blurs by making Saladin embrace his Indian heritage while Gibreel begins to doubt his pro-Western choices. At the end Saladin is bettered by his transformation while Gibreel, who was the "angel," commits suicide to escape from his dilemmas. What Muslims most object to are the dreams of Gibreel, the story of Jahilia and Mahound, the latter referring to the prophet Mohammed and the former referring to the city of "ignorance," or Mecca. He then refers to the great personalities of Islam as "fucking clowns," "riff-raff," and "goons." The verses of the Koran are "revelations of convenience." They particularly hate his discussion of sex where "sodomy and the missionary position were apporved by the archangel, whereas the forbidden positions included all those in which the female was on top." Mahound is guilty of "fucking as many women as he liked," including mothers and daughters.
Westerners rebut that Muslims are being too literal and unimaginative, confusing postmodern, deconstructionist fictional techniques, irony, and suspension of disbelief with deliberately malicious anti-Islamic propaganda, thereby repressing freedom of speech. Muslims protest against the use of obscene, violent language when dealing with respected Muslim religious leaders. Nikos Kazantzakis also received similar criticism, without eternal death threats, for THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.
In an open letter to Rajiv Ghandhi, Rushdie states: "The section of the book in question (and let's remember the book isn't actually about Islam, but about migration, metamorphosis, divided selves, love, death, London and Bombay) deals with a prophet who is snot called Muhammed living in a highly fantastical city...in which he is surrounded by fictional followers, one of whom happens to bear my own first name. Moreover, this entire sequence happens in a dream, the fictional dream of a fictional character, an Indian movie star, and one who is losing his mind at that. How much further from history could one get?
Rushdie was born to liberal, prosperous Muslim parents in Bombay June 19, 1947. In August 14 of that year, Pakistan divided itself from India as part of an agreement ending the period of British colonialism in South Asia. The result was a chaotic and extremely violent period as 6 million Muslims moved north to the newly-established Islamic state and 8 million Hindus and Sikhs moved south fleeing it. In 1961 he moved to England to study at Rugby School and then Kings College, Cambridge. In 1980 he published MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN which won the Booker Prize but gained a law suit from Indira Gandhi who won her libel case before she was assassinated. In 1983 he published SHAME and in 1988 SATANIC VERSES. Like India, SATANIC VERSES is dense, multicultural, creative, rich, magical, chaotic, a complex "chutneyfication" of echoes and allusions that Rushdie infuses with biting satire. Like Wittgenstein, Rushdie seeks to attack questions ather than provide pat answers and paradigms, to break down the rigid, self-righteous orthodoxy of extemist Islam.
The theme is a search for identity in a post-colonial, pre-colonial vein. People of Anglo-saxon stock are almost entirely absent form the London of THE SATANIC VERSES. Instead the city swarms with immigrants: Indians, Bengalis, Pakistanis, Jamaicans, German Jews, etc. He reminds the English that they too were colonized, by the Romans and the Normans. Interestingly, he rejects both martyrdom and triumphant nationalism as inadequate foundations for a satisfactory self-identity, questioning the credibility and beneficence of orthodox, traditional Islam. Gibreel's dreams challenge the Koran's claims to infallibility, accuse Islam of the repression of women, call into question the probity and honesty of the Prophet himself. He spares no institution or person in his quest to answer the question, what kind of idea are we? Underneath its complex structure Rushdie reaffirms beliefs in individual liberty and tolerance, freedom of expression, skepticism about dogma, and belief in the redemptive power of love. Again Rushdie voices some of the issues developed by Sartre in his affirmation of human freedom and responsibility in a world devoid of absolutes. Rusdie writes about the novel in his essay, "Is Nothing Sacred?" "Because whereas religion seeks to privileg one language above all others, the novel has always been about the way in which different languages, values and narratives quarrel, and about the shifting relations between them, which are relations of power. The novel does not seek to establish a privileged language, but it insists upon the freedom to portray and analyze the struggle between the different contestants for such privileges. (420) ...while the novel anaswers our need for wonderment and understanding, it brings us harsh and unpalatable news as well. It tells us there are no rules. It hands down no commandments....And it tells us there are no answers; or rather, it tells us that answers are easier to come by, and less reliable, than questions. If religion is an answer, if political ideology is an answer, then literature is an inquiry; great literature, by asking extraordinary questions, opens new doors in our minds. (423) "In the twentieth century, the novel came to be viewed as primarily oppositional, critical of the culture which produced it. Rather than providing values, it challenges them. Modern novels are praised for their courage in exposing hypocrisy, challenging tradition, exploring forbidden themes. If blasphemy is not the most common of techniques in western fiction it is because so few writers take religion seriously enough to feel it worth attacking. "(Rushdie:"In God We Trust"376-377)
In 1988 VikingPenguin published SATANIC VERSES at which point a Saudi newspaper in London denounced him. Threats and complaints followed and in 1989 the book was burned before TV cameras in England, 5 members of an extremist group attacked the American Culture Center in Islamabad, and in Kashmir, sixty were injured and one died in a protest. For these questions and his plIn an age of terror, how does literature help us transcend our reality, lend perspective to our confusion by pulling us into the past and other cultures, and give expression to our anguish and fear through catharsis? They survived it; so can we. In this course we will define terrorism the way the Arabs define it, as any organized violence, by an individual, group or state, legitimate or illegitimate, against a civilian population, either intentional or unintentional. Because this is about twentieth and twenty first century literature, we will include the two World Wars with All Quiet on the Western Front, Night, No Exit, The Plague about Algerian terror as well as the German occupation and natural scourges, to Islamic militant terrorism in Egypt in The Day The Leader Was Killed, Satanic Verses, God Dies by the Nile and War in the Land of Egypt, to Israeli/Palestinian terror in Martyr's Crossing and Wild Thorns, to the terror of hostage-taking and kidnapping in Mao II, News of a Kidnapping, and The Hostage, to the terror of totalitarian regimes such as China in Red Azalea and Soul Mountain. Black Water is both a personal and stylistic meditation on terror as well as an indirect indictment of the terror a powerful political leader has over an innocent civilian. Because one objective of fiction/drama is to create a combustive drama for the reader's catharsis, literature and terrorism are really competing with each other. Sometimes real life provides so much terror that the reader hides in literature for escape, seeking fantasy, happy endings, funny, harmless stories that eschew the turmoil of an unlivable situation. Often cultures will move through a transformation like New York did after 9/11, moving from the transformation of reality into tragedy with heroic stories, to silly, innocuous escapes, to some social comedy, and finally to stories that deal with fictional terror. No one can take too much of one thing. When New Yorkers were coughing from the smoke and toxins downtown, they did not go to the movies to see sci fi representations of Manhattan blowing up. Enough is enough. ayful satire, Rushdie was condemned to death by the Ayotollah Khomeini of Iran in the following fatwa: "I inform all zealous Muslims of the world that the author of the book entitled SATANTIC VERSES--which has been compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran--and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death."
He elaborates: "I call on zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they may be found, so that no one else will dare to insult the Muslim sanctities. God Willing, whoever is killed on this path is a martyr." Rushdie defended himself as follows: "Nowadays...a powerful tribe of clerics has taken over Islam. These are the contemporary Thought Police. They have turned Muhammad into a perfect being, his life into a perfect life, his revelation into the unambiguous, clear event it originally was not. Powerful taboos have been erected. One may not discuss Muhammad as if he were human, with human virtues and weaknesses. One may not discuss the growth of Islam as a historical phenomenon, as an ideology born out of its time. These are the taboos against which THE SATANIC VERSES has transgressed (these and one other: I also tried to write about the place of women in Islamic society, and in the Koran). It is for the breach of taboo that the novel is being anathematized, ...THE SATANIC VERSES is not, in my view, an antireligious novel. It is, however, an attempt to write about migration, its stresses and transformations, from the point of view of migrants from the Indian subcontinent to Britain. This is, for me, the saddest irony of all; that after working for five years to give voice and fictional flesh to the immigrant culture of which I am myself a member, I should see my book burned, largely unread, by the people it's about, people who might find some pleasure and much recognition in its pages. I tried to write against stereotypes; the zealot protests serve to confirm, in the Western mind, all the worst stereotypes of the Muslim world." (The Book Burning 25) Even though his book was fiction, Rushdie was personally blamed for its ideas. The extremists lack humor and suspension of disbelief as well as tolerance. But the book itself as well as the political controversy are good examples of the dilemmas of role criticism, which we will examine in the American Jewish and Palestinian interpretations of occupations and Israeli checkpoints.The story of the Satanic Verses is not mentioned either in the Koran or in any of the early oral or written sources. As a magical realist, Rushdie chooses to focus all his attention on these figments, instead of writing a more accurate, comprehensive version of Islam. But he is a novelist, not a scholar.
One of my students was recently reprimanded in the New York subway in July 2002 for reading SATANIC VERSES. Accosted by a Muslim woman, she was told "not to believe anything in that book." Is that the point of novels, to make us believe, or is suspension of disbelief just the willingness to enter a FANTASY world created by the author? Why do so many cultures, American included, expect fiction to be naturalistic, true to life? Why do some of us take irony, humor, satire, fantasy so literally?
Ever since I spent the night in a Greek freighter in the harbor of Alexandria, listening to Egyptians throwing grenades into the sea in the hopes of bursting the eardrums of Israeli frogmen who were planting bombs in their ships, I have been unable to take sides in the middle eastern conflicts. I see humans on both sides; rights and wrongs committed by all states. In MARTYR'S CROSSING and WILD THORNS we will explore the humanity on all sides, the longing, frustration, guilt, despair and rage that has caused the holy land to be so unholy for so many years.
Sahar Khalifeh was born in 1941 during the British mandate in Palestine in Nablus. She left a frustrating marriage to study literature and feminism in America. Her first novel was confiscated by the Israelis, which shows that militant Iran is not the only country guilty of censorship. Her second novel was first published in Cairo. She has taught at Iowa and Bir Zeit University and probably knew some of the suicide bombers, maybe even the women. She founded the Women's Affairs Center in Nablus. In WILD THORNS we see militancy as a necessary venue of resistance to Israeli occupation. But Khalifeh does not let didacticism make her prose laborious and heavy; the novel is rich and succulent like ripe olives and we see, hear and feel the characters-- the underground, militant high schoolers we have recently seen so often in the news, the shopkeeper who sells groceries to Israeli soldiers, or the village mothers who ululate in solidarity as their homes are bulldozed. Although it was written in 1975, the novel offers us a deeper understanding of what is going on in 2002 with the seige of the Church of Nativity, the bulldozing of homes in Jenin, and the terrors of the suicide/homicide bombers/martyrs.
Khalifeh's characters are not drawn with the same good vs evil morality we saw in GOD DIES BY THE NILE. After Usama assasinates the Israeli officer, "sombre images fill Adil's mind. The dead officer, his grieving widow, the little girl stretched out on the ground, her pale, bare legs partly covered by Um Sabir's veil. People running through the streets, someone yelling, 'Leave a pig alone!' Bitterness flooded his heat. My cousin kills a man and I carry off his daughter. Tragedy or farce? Still, the memory of the Israeli woman's head on his shoulder, despite all the boundaries that divided people, seemed top opne the horizons of this narrow world." (172)
Those who compromise, however, are usually the ones to survive, so Adil must suffer to see his family home blown up by the Israelis: "Take a deep breath, Adil told himself. Tears. Dust. Fog. He could smell lemonwood through the acrid aroma of dust and crumbling stone. The lemon tree was burning in the rubble of the courtyard. The soldiers looked so arrogant in their dark cars. A thirst for reenge, for rebellion, stirred deep within him. I'm not cruel, but I'm filled with rage and bitterness, filled up to here. And these cowering crowds. And you yourself, Adil, a god of patience, that's what they say. What could be worse than admitting you're an impotent god, unable to assert your own rights or anyone else's? The process of ascent and fall goes on. A god-like ascent to the heights of Mount AIbal. And descent through seaweed into the gutters and decaying refuse. You search for yourself in other people's eyes, Adil. You find yourself mirrored in the eyes of the hungry, the nake, the homeless, those who live in tents. The winds and storms toss you in all directions. But the will to live still beats within you, defiant and instinctive. What can you do? Your spirit is bottled up; it can't find a way out. You experience sorrow, repress your emotions, and wait. Nevertheless! This mind of yours at least keeps you awake, wards off the drunkenness of indifference. Your heart rages and storms, yet the energy's suppressed by the machinery of oppression." (206)
But unlike the suicide bombers, Adil only thinks the thoughts and then goes back to his job working for the Israelis: "If only you were more cruel or harder of heart, you'd blow up everything you could lay hands on, from the Atlantic to the Gulf and on to the world's furthest reaches. You'd leave no two stones standing. You'd uproot the trees, exposing the infections beneath the earth's surface to the light of the sun, to the breezes of spring. You'd turn everything upside-down. And begin again. Slowly, very slowly. Here a seedling. There a tree. Here a flower. And you, young Sabir, a tall, broad-shouldered palm. Your hands would bring rocks from the depths of the earth and from the mountains. Those stones would shine like raw diamonds. We could colour them, decorate them, and build them into rows of beautiful houses that would stretch as far as the eye could see and stand for all eternity. The soldiers' metal detectors could ring all they liked, we wouldn't hear them." (207)
These are the thoughts Adil has as his enormous, ancient family house lays in ruins, the house that Khalifeh first described as "...a real, old-style mansion. There were marble pillars, high valuted ceilings and an open courtyard paved with huge stones. In the middle of the courtyard was a pool, surrounded by lemon trees and sweet-smelling jasmine. Arabesque plasterwork decorated the walls, stained glass lanterns reflected the light and the anitque chests in every room were inlaid with mother-of-pearl." (33)
As his world crumbles, Adil meditates on the poetry of nuclear terrorism-- to destroy all and begin again. Yet for Adil, he sees it only as a wish-fulfillment, a dream upon which he would never act. The novel closes as people go about their business, selling newspapers and other goods, buying vegetables, fruit and bread, surrendering to the same sad survival that Wiesel's holocaust victims did. Does Khalifeh give you insights into the souls of these men, that you don't see in the other two novels?
MARTYR'S CROSSING is Amy Wilentz' first novel. She is a journalist, a chronicler of Haitian life and politics and an essayist for The New Yorker. She said in an interview with Kate Manning that the key to writing a novel is to create at least one character whom everyone will love, so that when he is not there, you want him back. Now that she has finished the novel, she feels lost without Doron, George, Marina and Ahmed. She says that she likes Ahmed the best because he is self-centered, self-important, and based loosely on a former PLO fighter and Bethlehem politician, who lived in a tent on a mountain until he was forced to move into an Israeli settlement. Wilentz said that Marina was the most difficult character to write because she is the closest to herself. Even though she is a journalist, she tried to put the politics around the characters' situations so that we never lose our emotional grip on the story. She says that Doron is not crazy when he dresses up in Palestinian clothes to search for Marina in Ramallah; it is because he sees the other side as human that he succumbs to his suicidal situation at the end. Many of the scenes between George and Marina were similar to those between Amy and her father. When asked about gender and fiction, Wilentz said: "MARTYR'S CROSSING is very much a guy's novel. It's full of history and politics and explosions and what, I'm told, is a rather ripping plot, amazingly enough, since plot is something I hate thinking about." (Appendix)
In this cluster we are focusing on character. Note how Wilentz goes against type and makes Ari Doron, the Israeli border guard, an almost psychotic, but highly empathic, sensitive, wandering Jew-- wandering into enemy territory in his Palestinian disguise to get himself killed. See how puny, skinny and almost wimpy the jailed Hamas leader Hajimi Hassan is. Only Ahmed Amr, and Yizhar, the Israeli boss, and George Raad, the American/Palestinian writer/intellectual seem truer to type. When does stereotype work and when does it become shallow? Can going against type create unbelievable characters or just reflections of the author? In her effort to go against type has Wilentz just created mirrors of herself? Does her over-the-shoulder third person narrator who speaks in the same staccato, verbless sentences for everyone help or hurt the interior monologues of characterisation? Does the precipitous inciting incident give you enough time to develop empathy for Ibrahim, the asthmatic baby? What techniques does she use to enhance suspense in the thriller structure? Notice the clarity of the central dramatic question: "Will Hamas find The Soldier indirectly responsible for Ibrahim's death?" and the way Wilentz relentlessly focuses on this question from every perspective. Wilentz' transparent, communicative style prunes descriptive, interior monologue, dialogue and diversion to create the forward momentum of her American style narrative, unlike Rushdie's more coded novel that requires research into Indian culture, the Koran, immigrant London and his fertile imagination in order to understand all the allusions. Wilentz is a perceptive writer, an accomplished journalist who seems to understand Israel better than Palestine. Based on my trip to Israel in the seventies, I was particularly impressed with her economical, but brilliant description:
"Doron hated the desert wind: it coated cars with a film of yellow sand, it go up your nose, it made you cough, and worst of all, it reminded you that Jerusalem, with its McDonald's and Burger Kings and nice red buses and nice red post offices and its green gardens and flowering terraces and public buildings flanked by foundatins, was actually right on the edge of an ancient desert where camels and cactuses and Bedouins were the only successful species. " (109)
Contrast the difference in the traditional American suspense structure of MARTYRS CROSSING with the Arabic narrative of WILD THORNS and the wildly nonlinear, deconstructionist narrative of SATANIC VERSES, which nevertheless, has a beginning, middle and end. Note the preponderance of dialogue again in the Arabic novel, the use of compound words in SATANIC VERSES to accentuate the "chutneyfication" of language, and the clean, New York nineties style of MARTYR's CROSSING. See how Rushdie and Wilentz play with good and evil, while Khalifeh sticks to her political agenda and didacticism, albeit embedding it in a rich poetic language and imagery.
To clarify the sociopolitical context of this cluster, read the following speech given by President Bush on June 24, 2002:
"For the sake of all humanity, things must change in the Middle East. It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation. And the current situation offers no prospect that life will improve. Israeli citizens will continue to be victimized by terrorists and so Israel will continue to defend herself. And the situation of the Palestinian people will grow more and more miserable. My vision is two states living side by side in peace and security. There is simply no way to achieve that peace until all parties fight terror. Yet at this critical moment, if all parties will break with the past and set out on a new path, we can overcome the darkness with the light of hope. Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence. And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state, whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East. In the work ahead, we all have responsibilities. The Palestinian people are gifted and capable. And I'm confident they can achieve a new birth for their nation. A Palestinian state will never be created by terror. It will be built through reform. And reform must be more than cosmetic change or veiled attempt to preserve the status quo. True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism.
Today the elected Palestinian legislature has no authority. And power is concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable few. A Palestinian state can only serve its citizens with a new constitution which separates the powers of government. The Palestinian parliament should have the full authority of a legislative body. Local officials and government ministers need authority of their own and the independence to govern effectively. The United States, along with the European Union and Arab states, will work with Palestinian leaders to create a new constitutional framework and a working democracy for the Palestinian people. And the United States, along with others in the international community, will help the Palestinians organize and monitor fair multiparty local elections by the end of the year, with national elections to follow. Today the Palestinian people live in economic stagnation made worse by official corruption. A Palestinian state will require a vibrant economy where honest enterprise is encouraged by honest government. The United States, the international donor community and the World Bank stand ready to work with Palestinians on a major project of economic reform and development. The United States, the E.U., the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are willing to oversee reforms in Palestinian finances, encouraging transparency and independent auditing. And the United States, along with our partners in the developed world, will increase our humanitarian assistance to relieve Palestinian suffering. Today the Palestinian people lack effective courts of law and have no means to defend and vindicate their rights. A Palestinian state will require a system of reliable justice to punish those who prey on the innocent. The United States and members of the international community stand ready to work with Palestinian leaders to establish, finance and monitor a truly independent judiciary. Today Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. This will require an externally supervised effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services. This security system must have clear lines of authority and accountability and a unified chain of command. America is pursuing this reform along with key regional states.
The world is prepared to help. Yet ultimately these steps toward statehood depend on the Palestinian people and their leaders. If they energetically take the path of reform, the rewards can come quickly. If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject terror, they can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine. With a dedicated effort, this state could rise rapidly as it comes to terms with Israel, Egypt and Jordan on practical issues such as security. The final borders, the capital and other aspects of this state's sovereignty will be negotiated between the parties as part of a final settlement. Arab states have offered their help in this process, and their help is needed. I've said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror. To be counted on the side of peace, nations must act. Every leader actually committed to peace will end incitement to violence in official media and publicly denounce homicide bombings. Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. Every nation actually committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups and oppose regimes that promote terror like Iraq. And Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations. Leaders who want to be included in the peace process must show by their deeds an undivided support for peace.
And as we move toward a peaceful solution, Arab states will be expected to build closer ties of diplomacy and commerce with Israel, leading to full normalization of relations between Israel and the entire Arab world. Israel also has a large stake in the success of a democratic Palestine. Permanent occupation threatens Israel's identity in democracy. A stable, peaceful Palestinian state is necessary to achieve the security that Israel longs for. So I challenge Israel to take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state. Advertisement As we make progress toward security, Israel forces need to withdraw fully to positions they held prior to Sept. 28, 2000. And consistent with the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee, Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop. The Palestinian economy must be allowed to develop. As violence subsides, freedom of movement should be restored, permitting innocent Palestinians to resume work and normal life. Palestinian legislators and officials, humanitarian and international workers must be allowed to go about the business of building a better future. And Israel should release frozen Palestinian revenues into honest accountable hands. I've asked Secretary Powell to work intensively with Middle Eastern and international leaders to realize the vision of a Palestinian state, focusing them on a comprehensive plan to support Palestinian reform and institution building. Ultimately Israelis and Palestinians must address the core issues that divide them if there is to be a real peace, resolving all claims and ending the conflict between them. This means that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized borders. We must also resolve questions concerning Jerusalem, the plight and future of Palestinian refugees and a final peace between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and a Syria that supports peace and fights terror.
All who are familiar with the history of the Middle East realize that there may be setbacks in this process. Trained and determined killers ‹ as we have seen ‹ want to stop it. Yet the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties with Israel remind us that with determined and responsible leadership, progress can come quickly. As new Palestinian institutions and new leaders emerge, demonstrating real performance on security and reform, I expect Israel to respond and work toward a final-status agreement. With intensive effort by all, this agreement could be reached within three years from now. And I and my country will actively lead toward that goal. I can understand the deep anger and anguish of the Israeli people. You've lived too long with fear and funerals, having to avoid markets and public transportation and forced to put armed guards in kindergarten classrooms. The Palestinian Authority has rejected your offered hand and trafficked with terrorists. You have a right to a normal life. You have a right to security. And I deeply believe that you need a reformed, responsible, Palestinian partner to achieve that security. I can understand the deep anger and despair of the Palestinian people. For decades you've been treated as pawns in the Middle East conflict. Your interests have been held hostage to a comprehensive peace agreement that never seems to come as your lives get worse year by year. You deserve democracy and the rule of law. You deserve an open society and a thriving economy. You deserve a life of hope for your children. An end to occupation and a peaceful democratic Palestinian state may seem distant. But America and our partners throughout the world stand ready to help, help you make them possible as soon as possible.
If liberty can blossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza, it will inspire millions of men and women around the globe who are equally weary of poverty and oppression, equally entitled to the benefits of democratic government. I have a hope for the people of Muslim countries. Your commitments to morality and learning and tolerance led to great historical achievements. And those values are alive in the Islamic world today. You have a rich culture and you share the aspirations of men and women in every culture. Prosperity and freedom and dignity are not just American hopes or Western hopes; they are universal human hopes. And even in the violence and turmoil of the Middle East, America believes those hopes have the power to transform lives and nations. This moment is both an opportunity and a test for all parties in the Middle East. An opportunity to lay the foundations for future peace. A test to show who is serious about peace and who is not. The choice here is stark and simple. The Bible says: I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life. The time has arrived for everyone in this conflict to choose peace and hope and life. Thank you very much."
Who are the heroes and martyrs of these novels? How do the relate to their home and what would they do to defend and protect it? Which character is the most dangerous, or the most trustworthy?
In keeping with our exploration of role criticism, choose a passage from each of the three books that reveals character. Note the extensive use of dialogue in WILD THORNS, creating an indigenous storystelling style in the oral tradition. You could almost make a play of the book.Note the way the characters are so grounded in the earth and connected to their home that you feel as bad when that home is exploded on purpose by the Israelis as when an innocent person is murdered. The characters' scents and sounds mingle with the aroma of market goods, the smells of olive trees, the feel of the dusty desert. But MARTYR'S CROSSING, written by an American, is constructed with the disciplined, highly literate technique of a New Yorker ficiton writer, in spite of the extensive research and cross cultural empathy. All the main characters seem to have the introspection that the female author has and yet each cause is championed, all are sympathetic. Rushdie's characters are unbounded, often confusing, amalgamations of reality and fantasy, bigger than life. Analyze how each writer brings their characters to life. How far have YOU gone with your alter ego? Do you know their dreams, hopes, fears, plans, unconscious wishes? Their imperfections? Have you made them fantastical in some way?What has happened to them during their journey through all these books? How have they transformed?
Cluster Five: For years my father and brother traded with China when the U.S. had severed economic ties to the Chinese Communist regime during Mao's cultural Revolution. My father would come back with librettos of the Peking Revolutionary Operas, complaining of the hours he had to spend politely watching them, in order to seem like an enlightened enough capitalist to close a deal with them. Please look at some of the pictures of these operas. When I was studying ballet, I was particularly drawn to these strong, feminist ballerinas who carried guns as they leapt through the air instead of dressing up as swans to be lifted by princes in the western tradition. In many ways, feminism was more completely realized in China before it came to America. For this reason, I chose Anchee Min's RED AZALEA, a description of her time in military farm during the Cultural Revolution as well as her professional experiences as a performer in the Revolutionary Opera. Anchee Min was born in Shanghai and lived in China from 1957 to 1984. During the Cultural Revolution, she was a leader of the Little Red Guards in elementary school, then she went to a place like the Red Fire Farm, and finally played a starring role in RED AZALEA, one of Madame Mao's movies. In 1983 she fled to the U.S. after the death of Mao, the execution of his wife and the ensuing political turmoil. RED AZALEA received the New Times Notable Book of the Year award and in 1985, the Carl Sandburg Literary Award. She lives in California with her daughter where she is a painter, musician, photographer and novelist. While she is not one of the greatest writers of the century, RED AZALEA is one of the best memoirs of the Cultural Revolution. This book is a highly romanticized, Americanized memoir, but it still reveals much about the SELF vs STATE theme of this cluster.
The objectives of this session are to deepen our understanding of Marxist criticism, touched on at the beginning with the French existentialists, in an analysis of the literature post Cultural Revolution in China, and to enhance our sensitivity to purely descriptive writing, isolating it from the English idiosyncrasies of linguistic style which we will analyse in the final cluster. I chose SOUL MOUNTAIN not only because it won the Nobel Prize but because it represents the matrix of the collective Chinese culture, Gao Xingjian's forays into individualism and deconstruction with his multiple protagonist I, she, he, you narrator, and the vast nature and history described in the long treks through the mountains. It is a book of the future, of the multicultural mix of the best of self with nature and the state. It ends with questions, with inquiry, with an openness, as expansive as the towering mountains. Gao Xingjian makes his living as a painter of ink drawings. When comparing this work to that of Sartre, who is more confrontational, discursive and dialectical, do you see how visual Xingjian is, painstakingly painting one image after the other as he weaves through the mountains? Note how the effectiveness of the descriptive language of both Xingjian and Min comes from superior visualization rather than language use as the vocabulary and syntax are not that remarkable. In fact, in Mabel Lee's translation, comma splices are rampant and the word choice is fairly mundane; yet the images created in the brain glow with power and vividness because of the precise visualization of the authors. Min has a deeper sense of personal drama the way she relives her relationships with Yan and her colleagues in the Opera but Xingjian has a sense of the epic, creating a kind of Joycean Odyssey for Chinese literature. Although Chinese culture, from Confucius to Mao, is strongly collective, there is a hierarchy in this gigantic organization and like America, a way for it to abandon religion for a completely secular government, something that the Islamic world does not often want to do. While Little Green was ostracized in her culture, a woman like Yan might not get the love and financial rewards she wants in American culture. What is the difference between the hypnosis of TV commercials and Red Army slogans? Americans can theoritically turn the channel but unless one makes peace with McWorld, financial security and comfort are denied. Chinese communism was more binary but maybe having intellectuals spend a few months working in a field is better than just not paying them for anything which is what often happens in America. As you analyze some of this propaganda and censorship, take a closer look at how we manipulate thought in the U.S.
Take your alter ego to the prison farm, up the mountains, and through Chinese vast geography. How does geography change your character? Because we will not be doing close textual analyses of these books, try to incorporate form and content, style and story into your presentations and discussion.We will also discuss the differences between China and the U.S. in terms of the semiotics of war propaganda, nonverbal communication, and literature's power and place in the state. While Communist regimes often outlawed or imprisoned writers, thereby creating dissent, scandal and usually more popularity, Capitalist countries just ignore many of their great artists, writers and thinkers who subsequently slip into oblivion.
The micro objective of this cluster is to sensitize us to the descriptive powers and talents of Min and Xingjian. The imagery is very specific without being influenced by the oral, sonorous quality of adjectives and adverbs. Xingjian is an ink and paper artist who paints every scene precisely in all its dimensions; Min is more of a dramatic writer, intensifying objectives and obstacles to make her life story more focused and combustive than it probably was. Nevertheless she uses unusual metaphors and vivid description. The Chinese language was recorded well before the Gutenberg invention established written language in the West. Stemming from pictogram to ideogram to vertical alignment, it stimulates different thought patterns and relationship of image to action and thought.
While Western languages move from left to right with complex syntax, and Semitic languages move from right to left with a heavy oral feature, Chinese language moves up and down. Yet the architecture (Forbidden City of Beijing) and city planning, the ballet (with the ballerinas caught in horizontal lines of arabesques and hand-held rifles) create horizontal lines. Mosques are circular domes while the spires of cathedrals and the modern skyscrapers are vertical. Middle eastern dance is earthbound as the belly ripples in circles while Western dance pitches the ballerina on her tip toes in gravity- defying, illusory, upward bound acts.
What I love most about Chinese civilization are the martial arts, massage, acupuncture, 5 elements, food, --in other words, the holistic connection between humans and nature, something we see in the activities at the Red Fire Farm in Red Azalea, as well as the journeys of the narrator through the mountains of China. At times he seems to be uncomfortable with "I," with naked solitude, so he invents the she, he and you, not only to keep him company but because Chinese communication begins with a duo or a triad, never with the naked self.
The Chinese Communication Research scholar and colleague of Professor Keefer, Jia Wenshen, writes that the "Chinese live in a web of relations, but this web is vvery insulated and walled. Beyond the web is a world the Chinese tend to perceive to be generally hostile, harsh, and cold, and thus they act accordingly...."in the modern West, communication is primarily concerned with effectiveness of passing objectie information separable form the human agent as a sender to the human agent as a receiver. In other words, Chinese communication is conceptualized as a morality-centered activity to improve members' social behavior, whereas the Western scientific model of communication is primarily conceptualized as a scientific instrument to transmit knowledge to other people for the mere sake of knowledge. Communication in this Western sense is largely detached from moral reasoning or the purpose of bettering people's social behavior. " Professor Wenshen feels that Chinese communication research must be consistent with Chinese philosophy--cosmology, epistemology, ontology, axiology-- and Chinese culture. He focuses on interpersonal concepts such as face or mianzi, humanness or renquiing, and connections or guanxi. To understand the political meetings and the history of negotiation we must understand face. Face is important in politics and literature as evidenced by the propaganda, posters of Mao and descriptions of face. Wenshen divides this concept of face into relational, communal/social, hierarchical and moral components rooted in Confucianism but he is quick to point out that Confucianism is hierarchal and modern Chinese communication must include changes made since the uprising in l989 in Tiananmen Square which called for more democracy and therefore equality in all aspects of life. Professor Wenshen is writing a book on this which will be useful for international business students.
Besides analyzing SOUL MOUNTAIN from the stylistic (descriptive precision), political (Marxist), and deconstructionist points of view, we should also look at it as a shamanic journey, a more indigneous journey than what Campbell outlines in his myth studies but with many of the same landmarks and personae such as Guardians, Warriors etc. See Myth and the Movies.
For a stronger focus on the cultural revolution, read Xingjian's newly
translated book, ONE MAN'S BIBLE with searing memories of repression under
Mao. Gao Xingjian really won the Nobel Prize for his two novels -- SOUL
MOUNTAIN and ONE MAN'S BIBLE, published in Taiwan in 1999 and recently translated
by Mabel Lee. While SOUL MOUNTAIN is born of the 1980s and is a more mystical,
inquisitive book, ONE MAN'S BIBLE bleeds from the claustrophobia, cruelty
and paranoia of the cultural revolution of the sixties and seventies when
neighbors and families spied on each other, creative people burned their
work and communities were scattered and decimated by re-education, prison
labor, disease and untimely death. In this book he only uses a YOU and a
This life is described as follows: "...you write simply to indicate that a sort of life, worse than a quagmire, more real than an imaginary hell, more terrifying than Judgment Day, has, in fact, existed. Furthermore, it is very likely that when people have forgotten about it, it will make a comeback...It is by cloaking naked reality with a gauze curtain, ordering language and weaving into it feelings and aesthetics that you are able to derive pleasurre from looking back at it, and are interested in continuing to write."
It might be interesting to compare ONE MAN'S BIBLE with RED AZALEA.
History: Please search academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/chinhist.html
and http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/cult2.html for pix and further details
and links, courtesy of Ruth Snapper.
In 1962, Mao advocated the Socialist Education Movement (SEM), in an attempt to 'inoculate' the peasantry against the temptations of feudalism and the sprouts of capitalism that he saw re-emerging in the countryside. Large doses of didactic politicized art, whether figurative or literary, were produced as serum for this inoculation process. The Party organization saw the initiatives proposed by Mao and his even more radical followers as interfering with its successful program of economic rehabilitation that had started after the Great Leap Forward. Given the scope of the problems, the Party preferred more technocratic solutions and was averse to Mao's millennial visions. There are no indications that open opposition to Mao actually existed, although the Chairman believed there was. He was truly convinced that the more moderate leaders were trying to steal his place in history by subverting the nature of the revolution he had fought for. In order to reclaim his rightful place at the apex of power and to oust those he perceived as revisionists, Mao turned towards the People's Liberation Army, the only organization he still deemed ideologically correct. Mao already had appeared prominently on propaganda posters dating back as far as 1950, despite his ambiguous warnings against a personality cult. The intensity of his portrayal in the second half of the 1960s, however, was unparalleled. Under Lin Biao, the PLA increasingly was employed to bolster the personality cult around Mao, and thus to produce art that would contribute to the construction of Mao's god-like image. All this took place with Mao's consent. Already before the compilation of the Quotations from Chairman Mao (Mao zhuxi yulu, the 'Little Red Book', published in May 1964) for use by the armed forces, the PLA had been turned into "a great school of Mao Zedong Thought". The army became the driving force behind the campaign to study Mao's Quotations. A study session with the Quotations "... supplied the breath of life to soldiers gasping in the thin air of the Tibetan plateau; enabled workers to raise the sinking city of Shanghai three-quarters of an inch; inspired a million people to subdue a tidal wave in 1969, inaccurate meteorologists to forecast weather correctly, a group of housewives to re-invent shoe polish, surgeons to sew back severed fingers and remove a ninety-nine pound tumor as big as a football."
The PLA also supplied most of the behavioural models that embodied the
"spirit of a screw" (luosiding jingshen) by blindly following the instructions
from the Party and/or superiors and attachment to the larger group. The
best known of these were model soldiers as Lei Feng, Wang Jie, Dong Cunrui,
and Ouyang Hai. Logically, the Army became responsible for art. This art
should unite and educate the people, inspire the struggle of revolutionary
people and eliminate the bourgeoisie. Art had to be guided by Mao Zedong
Thought, its contents had to be militant and to reflect real life. Proletarian
ideology, communist morale and spirit, revolutionary heroism were the messages
of a new type of hyper-realism that took precedence over style and technique
and that differed in all aspects from art creation until then. In the PLA
paintings of the time, the color red featured heavily; it symbolized everything
revolutionary, everything good and moral; the color black, on the other
hand, signified precisely the opposite. Color symbolism continued to be
important in the following years, not only in visual propaganda, but in
printed propaganda as well. Mao's wife Jiang Qing supported the artistic
direction set by the PLA. The conceptual dogmas and theatrical conventions
provided by the model operas (yangbanxi) that she supported also became
the standard in the visual arts. For the stage, she formulated the 'three
prominences' (stress positive characters; stress the heroic in them; stress
the central character of the main characters). In the arts, this was translated
as: the subjects were to be portrayed realistically, and they were always
to be in the centre of the action, flooded with light from the sun or from
hidden sources. Moreover, when we look at the propaganda posters of these
years, it always seems as if we, the spectators, are looking upward, as
if the action is indeed taking place upon a stage. The subjects were represented
hyper-realistically, as ageless, larger-than-life peasants, soldiers, workers
and educated youth in dynamic poses. Their strong and healthy bodies functioned
as metaphors for the strong and healthy productive classes the State wanted
to propagate. In line with the egalitarian character of the Maoist culture
of the body, the gender distinctions of the subjects were by and large erased‹something
that was also attempted in real life. Men and women alike had stereotypical,
"masculinized" bodies; they were dressed in cadre grey, army green or worker/peasant
blue; their hands and feet often were absurdly big in relation to the rest
of their bodies; and their faces, including short-cropped hairdos and chopped-off
pigtails, were done according to a limited standard repertoire of acceptable
examples. Even in the many propaganda posters that featured Mao, the Chairman
was subjected to these stylistic dictates. As a result, he appeared as a
muscular super-person. As the Great Teacher, the Great Leader, the Great
Helmsman, the Supreme Commander, Mao came to dominate the propaganda art
of the first half of the Cultural Revolution. His image was considered more
important than the occasion for which a particular work of propaganda art
was designed: in a number of cases, identical posters dedicated to Mao were
published in different years bearing different slogans, i.e., serving different
propaganda causes. Mao could be depicted as a benevolent father, bringing
the Confucian mechanisms of popular obedience into play. Or he was portrayed
as a wise statesman, an astute military leader or a great teacher; to this
end, artists represented him in the vein of the statues of Lenin, which
had started to appear in the early 1920s. Another group of posters visually
recounted the more illustrious of his historical deeds. ...
But no matter how Mao was depicted, he had to be painted hong, guang, liang (red, bright, and shining); no grey was allowed for shading, and the use of black was interpreted as an indication that the artist harbored counter-revolutionary intentions. His face was painted usually in reddish and other warm tones, and in such a way that it appeared smooth and seemed to radiate as the primary source of light in a composition. In many instances, Mao's head seemed to be surrounded by a halo which emanated a divine light, illuminating the faces of the people standing in his presence. As a super model, every detail of his representations had to be preconceived along ideological lines and invested with symbolic meaning. An extreme example of this is the painting-turned poster Chairman Mao goes to Anyuan. As a consequence of these creative rules governing the depiction of Mao, the more god-like and divorced from the masses he became to be portrayed, often hovering above those masses. And yet, despite this apparent distance, there was something in the Mao images that struck a chord with the people, something recognizable that turned him into an EveryMao. Mao somehow remained united with the people, whether he inspected fields, shook hands with the peasants, sat down with them, and shared a cigarette with them; whether he inspected factories or infra-structural works, joked with the workers, and possibly shared a cigarette with them; whether he was dressed in military uniform, discussing strategy with military leaders, inspected the rank-and-file, or mingled with contingents of Red Guards; whether he stood on the bow of a ship, dressed in a terry cloth bathrobe after an invigorating swim in the Yangzi River; whether he headed a column of representatives of the national minorities; or received a delegation of foreign visitors. As the Cultural Revolution unfolded, Mao became a regular presence in every home, either in the form of his official portrait, or as a bust or other type of statue. Not having the Mao portrait on display indicated an apparent unwillingness to go with the revolutionary flow of the moment, or even a counter-revolutionary outlook, and refuted the central role Mao played not only in politics, but in the day-to-day affairs of the people as well. The formal portrait often occupied the central place on the family altar, or at least the spot where that altar had been located before it had been demolished by Red Guards in the early days of the Cultural Revolution. This added to the already god-like stature of Mao as it was created in propaganda posters.
The days were structured around the ritual of "asking for instructions in the morning, thanking Mao for his kindness at noon, and reporting back at night. "This involved bowing three times, the singing of the national anthem, reading passages from the Little Red Book in front of Mao's picture or bust, and would end with wishing him 'Ten thousand years'. In the mornings, everybody would announce what efforts they would make that day for the revolution. In the evenings, people would report on their accomplishments or failures and announce their resolutions for the next day. In the early 1970s, the extreme and more religious aspects of Mao's personality cult were being dismantled. In propaganda posters, proxies such as Lei Feng‹or one of his reincarnations‹and Chen Yonggui (the model Party secretary of Dazhai Commune) often replaced Mao himself. This did not diminish the adulation of Mao, who continued to lead the CCP as it was being rebuilt. The excesses committed by the people during the heyday of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, including the embarrassing habit of "3,000 years of emperor-worshipping tradition" which Mao himself had consciously promoted and in which he himself had basked, were attributed to Lin Biao, who had quite literally fallen from grace in 1971. Similarly, the Army, the former "great school of Mao Zedong Thought", no longer functioned as a model for the people. Instead, the "fine work style" of the CCP and the masses were what the army needed to learn from. After the Cultural Revolution, the propagation of the divine presence and the accomplishments of the supreme leader would never again be repeated in the same intensity, sophistication, and mind-numbing density. In the China of economic reforms and Open Door policy, the production of posters containing ideological exhortations was replaced more and more in the 1980s by those stressing economic construction, or even ordinary commercial advertisements. In the early 1990s, a resurgence of the popular belief in the protective qualities of a truly god-like Mao did take place.
This MaoFever coincided with the marking of the centenary of his birth. The continued importance of Mao as a political symbol is attested to by the issuance of a new 100-yuan bank note in 1999 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the PRC: the image of a youngish Mao graces the bill. He moreover appeared in a special series of posters, also showing Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin (the so-called "three generations of leaders"), to mark the occassion.
David Apter & Tony Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press 1994)
Geremie Barm. Shades of Mao:The Posthumous Cult of the Great Leader (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe 1996)
Dachang Cong, When Heroes Pass Away: The Invention of a Chinese Communist Pantheon (Lanham MD, etc.: University Press of America, 1997)
Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao; The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician (London, etc.: Random House 1996)
Melissa Schrift, Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge:The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult (New Brunswick, etc.: Rutgers University Press, 2001)
Frederick C. Teiwes, Politics and Purges in China‹Rectification and the Decline of Party Norms, 1950-1965 (Second Edition) (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe 1993)
Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun, The Tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the Tiger During the Cultural Revolution 1966-1971 (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press 1996)
Ross Terrill, Madame Mao. The White-Boned Demon (Toronto, etc.: Bantam Books 1984)
Roxane Witke, Comrade Chiang Ch'ing (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1977)
Yan Jiaqi & Gao Gao (translated & edited by D.W.Y. Kwok), Turbulent Decade: A History of the Cultural Revolution (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press 1996)
Yang Kelin (ed.), Wenhua dageming bowuguan [Museum of the Cultural Revolution] (Hong Kong: Dongfang chubanshe youxian gongsi, Tiandi tushu youxian gongsi 1995) [in Chinese] -email@example.comThis site is hosted by the International Institute of Social History
Cluster Six: For the last four books we will return to aesthetic criticism with its innovative uses of timespace, language and story structure, as well as deconstructive theories of the self. The theme is kidnapping, or being held hostage. In MAO II, De Lillo writes about hostages in Beirut but on another level, the writer is held hostage to his words, to his writing, his computer or typewriter. In NEWS OF A KIDNAPPING, the journalists are held hostage by Escobar's henchmen during the Colombian drug wars; in BLACK WATER Kelly as Mary Jo is held hostage to The Senator (Kennedy) in a metaphor for the Chappaquidic scandal. The HOSTAGE story reverses cultural expectations by focusing on the vulnerability of boy toys as they are seduced by Islamic princesses in guarded castles.
The purpose of this cluster is to take a common situation, kidnapping, and examine how it is treated by American, Colombian, and Islamic writers, male and female, not only in terms of theme and event, but style, narrative organization, and characterization.
Joyce Carol Oates (born in 1938) had a working-class upbringing in upstate New York, attended Syracuse and the University of Wisconsin, taught in Canada where she began a prolific and highly successful writing career, culminating in her appointment at Princeton University as the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities. The ballad-like BLACK WATER (1992) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It reimagines the events of Chappaquiddick and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne through the victim's eyes. Inspired by the interior monologues in Joyce's ULYSSES and other stream-of-consciousness techniques, Oates draws us into 26 year old Kelly Kelleher's distorted and damaged consciousness as she is caught in the slow, repetitious, haunting labyrinth of death. We are inundated with water at every turn and on every level, giving us a unique understanding of the process of dying with all its associated memories, fears and sensuality.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez' opening quote in THE SOLITUDE OF LATIN AMERICA: "It is only natural that they insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, forgetting that the ravages of time are not the same for all, and that the quest of our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them. The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary." GGM was born in 1928 in Aracataca, Colombia. He won the Nobel Prize in 1982. The pristine, precise, factual and often understated style of NEWS OF A KIDNAPPING contrasts remarkably with his luscious, magical, linguistic jungle spanning ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. But like Sartre, Saadawi, Oates, Camus, Rushdie and others, he has the flexibility to switch from expository journalism or didactic academicism to descriptive, lyrical or poetic language.
Although DeLillo's style is postmodern in its deconstruction of sentences, he is also hysterically funny and thought-provoking in his satire on American cultural and social life. He thinks long and hard about America and the world, and like Saadawi, Sartre, Camus, Wiesel, Khalifeh, Marquez, Remarque, and Rushdie, he is not afraid to speak his mind incisively at the risk of his unpopularity or criticism. Born in 1936, he was brought up in the Fordham section of the Bronx, playing lots of ball, and studying communication arts at Fordham. After five years in advertising, he embarked on a prolific, productive and highly successful career as a novelist which forced him to live, like Professor Evergreen, in a tiny Manhattan studio with no kitchen and a broken down bathroom. Of course now he lives somewhere in Westchester-- Evergreen also spends time upstate in New Paltz. After a while the Manhattan studio becomes its own prison, and writers hostages of McWorld, or penniless refugees.
It is in MAO II that DeLillo simply and vividly describes his raison d'etre: "I am a sentence maker. Like a donut maker, only slower," or "Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it's the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. I've always seen myself in sentences. I begin to recognize myself, word by word, as I work through a sentence. The language of my books has shaped me as a man. There's a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer's will to live." When you do the close textual analysis of MAO II, remember what DeLillo says: "The words typed on the page have a sculptural quality. They form odd correspondences. They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look. The rhythm of a sentence will accomodate a certain number of syllables. One syllable too many, I look for another word. There's always another word that means the same thing, and if it doesn't then I'll consider altering the meaing of a sentence to keep the rhythm, the syllable beat. I'm completely willing to let language press meaning upon me. Watching the way in which words match up, keeping the balance in a sentence--these are sensuous pleasures. I type rather than write longhand because I like the way words and letters look when they come off the hammers onto the page--finished, printed and beautifully formed. MAO II is about Bill Gray, a famous, obsessively reclusive writer who lives with Scott, an alter ego, and his girlfriend Karen a former Moonie. There is also Brita, a photographer who shoots only writers, and leads Bill toward a confrontation with his own death.
Phrases like "The future belongs to crowds," are made terrifyingly real in his desciription of the weddings at the beginning and end of the book. Even before our current wave of suicide terrorists, DeLillo said that the death of the individual is necessary to accomplish the objectives of the terrorist and the mass organization. DeLillo is inspired by images, images of homeless living in Tompkins Square Park in New York, the Sheffield, England, soccer tragedy, mourners in Teheran after the death of Khomeini, the Massacre at Tiananmen Square, images usually mediated by television. When I teach media studies, I usually include a book by DeLillo, usually WHITE NOISE. I wonder what he will cook up for 9/11. Opening quote: "...I do think we can connect novelists and terrorists here. In a repressive society, a writer can be deeply influential, but in a society that's filled with glut and repetition and endless consumption, the act of terror may be the only meaningful act. People who are in power make their arrangements in secret, largely as a way of maintianing and furthering that power. People who are powerless make an open theater of violence. True terror is a language and a vision. There is a deep narrative structure to terrorist acts, and they infiltrate and alter consciousness in ways that writers used to aspire to." After 9/11 were you more interested in watching the real life drama on TV or in reading a book or seeing a movie? If terrorists have seized control of the world narrative, if they have captured the historical imagination, have they become, the world's new novelists? For sheer influence over the human mind, have they displaced a precariously placed literature? Are writers--lacking some greater if lethal faith-- the new hostages?
Mutee'Damaj creates an unusual, unstereotypical hostage situation in THE HOSTAGE, originally published in 1984, about a youth from the countryside taken hostage by the ruling Imam's soldiers to perform boy toy services to the pampered, oppressed older women in the palace, only to fall in love with the youngest, most beautiful single woman in the palace. Again, we have more humor than we are used to seeing from western media coverage of Islamic culture with the toothless women vying for the young studs, the bestial mule sex episodes, and the desperate flights through the cemetery. Like the other novels, it makes strong political statements but never at the expense of the humanity of the characters, the style of the narrative. It is set in the highlands of Yemen in the late 1940s, towards the end of the time of the Imams and the beginning of the republican era. Remember those pictures of Afhganistan? Well, this was worse, (or better if you are an ecospiritualist): no piped water, surfaced roads, cars or engines, electricity, telephones or radios. In terms of religious fundamentalism, these Yemeni were akin to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, which many later joined, an Arab old boys clique that nurtured the likes of Osama's colleague, Zawahiri and possibly Mohammed Atta. THE HOSTAGE gives you an in-depth portrait of the palace corruption with a new twist-- women abusing boys.
Cluster 6 looks at the concept of kidnapping, hostage-taking and the theater of terrorism. Is Kelly a kind of hostage to the Senator? Think of recent hostage situations with the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl and the stand-off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (spring 2002). How would YOU feel as a hostage? How does Marquez treat the situation differently from DeLillo? Although DeLillo is a superb stylist, he is as committed to content as much as any of our writers in this course: "My own personal preference is for fiction that is steeped in history, that takes account of ways in which our perceptions are being changed by events around us. Global events that may alter how we live in the smallest ways."A kidnapping or hostage-taking is an excellent plot device because of the built-in conflict, enforced relationship, expectation and time deadline. Who would your character most hate to be kidnapped by? How would your character react and change under a hostage situation?
When you write your 9/11 memoir in the voice of your alter ego, feel free to break into poetry. Billy Collins, Poet Laureate and adjunct Professor in our program at NYU delivered the following poem to the 9/6/02 Congressional meeting in Manhattan.
by Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A fine rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a waterby bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name--
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn on a corner--
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods, I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in tone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening--weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle--
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds--
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in green rows in a field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the deep warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
Read before Congress on September 6, 2002 in commemoration of the "names" of those lost on September 11, 2001.
Too real for fiction ... the South tower of the World Trade Centre beginning to collapse. Photograph: Gulnara Samiolava/AP