Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Random books, beautiful words

On May 23, 2003, the day he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and only months before his death, Derrida participated in a public discussion with Mustapha Cherif on dialogue of civilizations. Islam & The West: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida is the book that chronicles this last discussion. It is not a direct transcript: We read Cherif's account of the importance of the day, his preliminary thoughts, and interesting observations about Derrida's reactions and answers, with direct quotations scattered in between. Although overall a second-hand minor read for those of us who have seen the best and the worst of Derrida's own works, it is nevertheless immensely thought-provoking in a more subtle and sincere manner. 

"Peace is only possible when one of the warring sides takes the first step, the hazardous initiative, the risk of opening up dialogue, and decides to make the gesture that will lead not only to an armistice but to peace."

Who is Mahasweta Devi? Why has Spivak made it her personal duty to be her collaborator and translator? In what ways do their literary-activist and academic projects complement each other? Imaginary Maps is a joint venture into the untold histories of India, with the question that always persists: "Who decolonizes?" The three stories, inspired by Devi's activist work with the disenfranchised tribes in India, are combined by themes and tropes that underscore the interconnectedness between exploitation at local level and the global power structures within the neocolonial context in economic, social, political and academic spheres. An ethically responsible, and responsive, endeavor towards the question of representing the subaltern. Literature at its best.

"Today all the mundane blood-conditioned fears of the wild quadruped are gone 
because she has killed the biggest beast."

Ulysses is not everyone's cup of tea. A modern epic that has been testing readers' patience since 1922, it is the ultimate rite of passage for those of who are in love with words. (Joyce wrote it in seven years, I read it in five. I am proud to have overcome this battle, alnimin akiyla ciktim cok sukur.) Favorite part? The last chapter, where "the last word (human, all too human) is left to Penelope": Molly Bloom's "yes I said yes I will Yes" soliloquy. At the time of its publication, this episode was the longest sentence in English literature. 4391 words without punctuation marks, but with Joyce's experimental syntax you don't need them anyway, the rhythm literally takes your breath away. (Trivia: Kate Bush wrote a song after it, called The Sensual World)

"... I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used 
or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

Aaah, Milan Kundera. Some say he's kitsch, some say he's a pervert. I say he's an eccentric but loyal friend. Whenever you are in need of a good story, he's always around to help. I read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting during a summer holiday that lasted more than 30 days, took to me to 7 different locations, and left me with an awful ear infection that turned into eczema. Both the book and the trip was worth the experience.

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

Jeanette Winterson is my current favorite female author. Her Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is the most beautiful account of growing up in a hostile environment (evangelist parents), after Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding, methinks. (Trivia: Made into a BBC TV series, few episodes available on youtube.)

I came across this book as I was looking for photography tips and manuals in the library. Architectural historian and curator Kenneth Hayes looks for an answer to the question: "Why milk?" Looking at the "milk-splash discourse" throughout the history of photography, particularly prevalent in 1960's-70's, he  finds out that the milk images reflect "the locus of a disturbance,... that recurred with the regularity of a trauma." What an intriguing project!

Milk. Jeff Wall, 1984

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