Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cultural Appropriation or Interweaving: Rushdie Book Analysis

The Nature of Adoption:
Cultural Appropriation or Interweaving

            Adoption is a something both a parent and a nation can do.  Just as an adult can apply to adopt a child from a foreign country, so too can a nation adopt another nation, it’s usually a much bloodier affair.  In both cases the same issue can occur, will the “child” be appropriated into the “parent’s” culture, or will the two cultures interweave.  In either case, the child can end up feeling lost and without a homeland, this is what Rushdie addresses in many of his work, particularly in East, West.  This novel very much treats the West as the parent of the adopted East, but instead of just looking how the East conforms to the West, East, West looks at each of the cultures individually and then looks how they are absorbed by the other. 
            The East section is not just some lovely reminiscing over a lost homeland, it is a serious critique of, and look into, India.  “The Free Radio” in particular is a critique on government meddling in certain social affairs, in particular the regulation of birth rates.  This is what makes this novel/anthology effective, Rushdie is not taking only certain shards of his shattered mirror and taking a rose colored outlook of his lost homeland, he is taking all the shards and adding in a modern look at his former homeland.  This is similar to how Sons for the Return Home deals with former homelands, though more academically critical and less risqué, as the main character does not see the fantastical homeland that his parents tell stories of, he sees it in his mind as it more accurately is once he is older.  Even though East, West is critical of the East, it is also one of the more personable sections, specifically compared to the East.  In “The Free Radio”, he actually uses first person to narrate the section, showing that he does feel some personal investment in the East and is not entirely separated from it.  The “West” section on the other hand is very impersonal, but none the less well crafted. 
            The West is critiqued through the cultural icons of Shakespeare, The Wizard of Oz, and Columbus.  “Yorick” is the story primarily of the younger days of Hamlet before the play, Hamlet, begins, though it does continue till after the play ends.  It follows Yorick and Rushdie uses the Bard’s own style to make commentaries on the West, particularly at the end of the section.  In the penultimate paragraph, the narrator talks about Yorick’s surviving son who goes about the world making mix race babies, including the author.  This is a seeming commentary on how the West goes about inseminating the world with its ideas, forcefully in many cases, and then not sticking around to take care of the results.  Though sometimes it does breed successes, as it breeds the author of this book, but that which is left unsaid is more striking, that many times this indiscriminant breeding leads to more chaos than harmony.  “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” comments quite simply on the idolatry rampant in Western society in terms of actors and famous people in general.  This commentary is very simple, but what makes it more interesting is that it is set after the story of “The Prophet’s Hair” and shares many base similarities, thus this story is both a commentary on the West while also commenting on the similarities of the East and West.  Finally there is a story about Columbus which mainly comments on how Westerners treat foreigners and how foreigners in general are treated when away from their homeland.  After introducing Columbus we get narration that seems to be the court’s reaction to him, which ends up being them denouncing him for being a foreigner and not understanding their ways while admitting that foreigners are still helpful for the “dirty jobs”.  This is obviously a modern view of foreigners in the West and around the world for the most part, just look at how the Chinese are looked at in Singapore, the Mexicans are looked at in the US, or the Pakistani in England.  Finally with these individual commentaries we then see the commentary on when and how these cultures mix. 
            The “East, West” section is a commentary on this mix, a commentary that I believe suggest that cultures can mutually give and take, but it is by no means a simple.  In “Chekov and Zulu” there is a surface level connection to the West with the Star Trek references, but this connection actually goes much deeper.  The way these two men speak to each other is in many ways their own language combining Sikh traditions, English, and Star Trek references.  Not even Mrs. Zulu can fully comprehend their communication, it truly is a culture of their own.  “The Courter” also shows the power of language, but in a very different way that the former story tackles it.  Because Certainly Mary has a language barrier because of growing up in Lahore and Mixed Up has issues because he had a stroke, but they found a way of connecting through chess, which is a game that came from that area of the world and brought back to the West with only minor adjustments.  I believe that this symbolizes the struggles both sides have with fully understanding another culture, but by creating a common language that lacks the preconceptions inherent in either side, they can both meet on common grounds. 
            I do agree with Rushdie that cultures can find a common language, but I believe that there is an inherent parent-child power complex that is still left over from colonialism.  Even though there is this Post-Colonial resurgence of cultural exchange that is becoming vastly easier with the spread of technology, more often than not culture is appropriated by the parental West and not interwoven into society in a symbiotic manner.  This is a two way issue however, as the West takes what it wants from other cultures, but other cultures sometimes accept this dynamic and seek to simply profit off of it instead of taking back their dignity.  The West takes pieces of other societies for their own enjoyment without a real appreciation for where it came from, food being one major piece.  While taking a Victorian course I was looking into how women contributed to imperialism and some suggested that they would make foreign food “British” and then reintegrating the English-inized product back into the culture which it came from.  Most famously this happened with curry as when the English invaded and conquered England, they started making their own curry mixes that were nothing like that of the culture, then they used their influence to make it the number one selling curry mix in India.  On the other hand I look at the Hallyu, the Korean Wave, sweeping across much of the world in the form of Korean pop music and Korean drama shows.  These companies are basically slave drivers and manipulators using a completely false image of Korea, to the point that many Koreans don’t listen to or watch much of these programs, that entices foreigners to obsess over and idolatrize this image of Korea as if it were real.  Even though we can still learn about the true Korea, it is made harder because you have to rake through the fake muck created by these entertainment companies.  In the end however, I believe we are slowly moving towards true understanding and acceptance of other cultures, even if it is slow progress moving away from the parent-child, or master-slave, dynamic. 

The grandiose made simple

Rushdie’s work East, West explores themes that are familiar ground for Rushdie and have already been discussed in his work Imaginary Homelands.  This piece (as does Homelands) opens up a line of inquiry that asks: how do we view our homes within the inevitable and almost overwhelming context of nostalgia. His narrative style plays a pivotal role in inspiring this thesis for each story follows an kind of elevated, transcribed oral history. There’s an intimacy in the way he deals with the reader. The fourth wall is constantly broken the one is directly referred to, the narrator often speaks in the first person and at points the narrator candidly admits to withholding information, or simply not knowing and the plots of the stories are recalled as though they are folk tales. However, Rushdie is doing more than simply being a storyteller. He is pursuing more deeply and more lyrically the notion put forth in Imaginary Homelands, namely can one come to terms with the cracked, imperfect mirror through which home must be viewed or is an idealization and attempt at reclamation the only course of action.
A poignant example of this theme being explored can be found in the story The Free Radio. The piece opens with the assertion that “We all knew nothing good would happen to him while the thief’s widow had her claws dug into his flesh, but the boy was an can’t teach such people”(Rushdie 19). However, the reader presently finds that the boy becomes a movie star and is awash in more success than one could ever imagine (Rushdie 31). Still the narrator persists that there is a mark of the old strain and fear that had begun slowly morphing into a profound anguish in the final days before the dream of the free radio was destroyed and a new dream forced to be realized and indeed that could be the interpretation of the boys success. He overcame the odds and through his fight and fire, he is forced to transcend to greater heights. This is not though how his success is read. Instead the question is begged: what did he lose on his way to stardom? What can a free radio to carry with during one’s dead end job represent that isn’t multiplied a hundredfold by all the trappings of wealth and stardom? The answer is, innocence. A free radio is no longer enough, nor is his quiet life as a rickshaw driver and there is a failure to acknowledge that, hence the “huge mad energy which he had poured into the act of conjuring a reality” (Rushdie 32) is still palpable. He’s still forced to conjure a reality but it’s one that seeks to make the complex and grand simple rather than make the simple complex and grand.
Reading this story was interesting particularly after going this weekend to see the Peabody 

Symphony Orchestra perform a piece by contemporary composer Kevin Puts entitled 

(a little lamely) “Island of Innocence”. 

It was a piece that dealt with the innocence and naivety allegedly felt before the 9/11 

attacks. The supposition is a little problematic for a number of reasons (the least of which 

certainly isn’t that the words “naive” and “innocence” can’t really be applied to a nation that 

has the taint of genocide and slavery so deeply ingrained in its history) but for the purposes 

of this essay, what’s most interesting is the desire to make the grandiose and complex i.e., 

the history and persona of the United States, into something simplistic, something innocent. 

The music, for all of its technical mastery and cutting execution, was overly sentimental and 

conveyed a theme or message that patently ignored the complicated loss of innocence that, 

in all likelihood, this homeland (and possibly the boy) never really had.

Fantasy and Reality

           Rushdie’s East and West evokes the real and the fantastic, the everyday and the out of the box, the exuberant and the calm in order to weave somewhat of a narrative that pertains to his many ideas and thoughts about East and West. It seems as though Rushdie, through these stories, declares his refusal to declare one “home”, the East or the West, his true home. When he lived in India, the West seemed like a magical world of knowledge and prosperity, but now as a Westernized man, he somewhat sees India as the more magical, mysterious place of his past. If we think of the historical context, Rushdie is writing in a post-fatwa time in which he fears for his life. This anthology seems like Rushdie trying to understand his own thoughts by separating East and West and then reconciling them again. 
           When he does combine the two entities into “East West”, the focus of the stories is love, friendship, and relationships, and how they survive and adapt when cultures collide, which seems to me to be Rushdie’s way of saying that our relationships define our home and our life experiences. In both “East” and “West” we encounter things that are familiar, that we have read about before in this class or others or that we have encountered in our western lives. Rushdie juxtaposes the comfortable and familiar with the absurd and ridiculous. He paints a heightened and fantastic image of each place; the plots are twisted and ridiculous but reflect the struggle that comes from being a product of two places and, thinking back to “Imaginary Homelands”, to not knowing what is real and what is fantasy. 
             In “The Prophet’s Hair” we encounter a, for the most part, normal family, that is torn apart by fanaticism when a hair belonging to Muhammed comes under their roof. Rushdie interjects a curse and somewhat magical occurrences into a story that was originally representing the everyday. In “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers”, Western obsession with possessions and money is made ridiculous by the introduction of a world market and auction where everything is for sale, even people’s souls. In this way, East and West become similar as the West’s obsession with movie memorabilia is compared with worshipping a strand of hair from the head of Muhammed. Perhaps, in doing this, Rushdie is trying to show that when a person comes from two places and have two homes, neither home is based in reality, both are “imaginary”; aspects of both cultures will be exaggerated. 

             In relation to our own discussion of homelands and home, I think that Rushdie’s anthology contributes fascinating ideas about home. We have been trying to understand the authors and their stories and discover what these works are saying about home. I think that part of the closing from “The Courter” really sums up how Rushdie feels about home but also gives insight into other stories we have read and other authors we have encountered. He writes, "I, too, have ropes around my neck, I have them to this day, pulling me this way and that, East and West, the nooses tightening, commanding, choose, choose. . . . Ropes, I do not choose between you. Lassoes, lariats, I choose neither of you, and both. Do you hear? I refuse to choose” (Rushdie 211). Rushdie seems to be torn in this work, but not between two homes, between fantasy and reality. 

Rusdie and Lahiri

Salman Rushdie's East, West portrays characters with various ethnic backgrounds who harbor dual infatuations with two cultures. Indian characters such as Mustafa and Ms. Rehana express their torn sense of self-identity that fluctuates based on the discrepancies between Indian and English culture. The characters in these short stories experience the confusion of cultivating a persona among two differing cultures. Contrasting social norms and cultural values cause strain on one's sense of personal identity. Characters such as Mary from "The Courter" express a longing to return home throughout the duration of the story. Her ultimate decision to return home is prompted by the untimely death of the protagonist, as well as her underlying affinity for India that surpasses her love for England.

The novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri correlates with the principle themes of these short stories, as well as the majority of works covered in this class. It tells the story of a Bengali couple who settles in Cambridge MA after having their only son Gogol. An important theme throughout the text is the significance of names and the role they play in cultivating our identities. Bengali culture denotes that children be given a nickname or "pet name" that more or less serves as a term of endearment intended to be used only by the family. Gogol's parents attempt to give him a more Americanized name while at school much to his dismay. The young boy's reluctance to give up his pet name correlates with the notion of not wanting to forsake one's homeland due to the familiarity and comfort they provide. As Gogol matures, he gradually seeks to assimilate into the social culture of his high school and college. During this portion of the novel, Gogol begins to hate his name because it promotes his difference or "otherness" to the American culture he so desperately seeks to join. His assimilation into that culture is solidified by his marriage to an American woman who further helps him adapt to American culture in a way his parents never could. The notion of Homeland assimilation by generational progression is demonstrated in The Namesake.

Love Without Language

     Salman Rushdie’s East, West is a collection of stories concerning the phenomenon of intercultural exchange between the Eastern Indian lands and the pioneering Western lands of England. What has been so apparent in our studies up to this point is the relation between the post-colonial homelands and the mother nation of England with her many adopted nations. What began as an occupation of English people in foreign lands has evolved into foreigners from those foreign lands migrating to England. From a sociological standpoint, it is clear to see that peripheral nations become increasingly dependent on core nations as time progresses to the point where citizens of the sub-nation must migrate in order to ensure their quality of life. The first half of Rushdie’s book East is largely focused on the Indian homeland after the age of the British Raj. The second part of the book is West and it concerns the English nation as they interact with waves of migrants from different peripheral nations. The final stories in the book are where East and West meet and this meshing of culture is what allows for the story “The Courter”.
      The Courter is a story about an English boy being raised by an Indian woman in London. This dynamic is interesting because it is present in every multi-cultural core nation. When well-to-do couples decide to have children, they must also take into consideration their own personal lives and careers and often times the parents find they cannot relinquish these things so easily and must compromise the upbringing of their child through his or her childhood. Enter the nanny: somewhere in her 40s with a heavy foreign accent but with all the motherly traditions from her homeland. In New York city these nannies are black women but in Rushdie’s England these women hail from the East.

      It is the interaction between the English child and the Indian mother that allows for such a dramatic juxtaposition of culture. There are cultural barriers as well as language barriers as she continually mispronounces his name and fails at several junctions to connect with the boy. Yet this is of little importance as the role of mother uses a universal language. While the two may never see eye-to-eye culturally, they share a bond that can only be formed between a caretaker and the taken care of. It is beautiful to witness the love without words and Rushdie portrays it several times in his collection of stories from East to West.

Dialogue and Language in East, West

                Salman Rushdie brilliantly uses dialogue in East, West to draw readers into the stories he tells. His characters all have different styles of speech which betray their personalities, and the manner in which dialogue is used creates different atmospheres in each of the stories. For instance, “The Prophet’s Hair” contains very little dialogue, most of which is urgent (“’Because we can afford no last-minute backings-out… I am determined to tell you everything, keeping back no secrets whatsoever’”) or severe (“’A dope! I have been cursed with a dope!’”) (40-41, 46). This significantly increases the tension in the story. Moreover, this story is dominated by brief monologues or isolated statements rather than drawn out conversations, which creates a choppy and disjointed mood that a reader finds unsettling.
“At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers,” however, contains little dialogue, and that which does exists resides in flashbacks. The reader and the narrator both become disembodied observers to the story, rather than participants – the absence of speech distances the reader from the events of the story, and so allows him or her to plunge directly into the meaning of the story. “Chekov and Zulu” uses the opposite technique – it is dominated by uninterrupted conversations between characters. The extensive use of dialogue, as well as the casual, joking quality of the characters’ speech, obscures the themes of the story while bringing attention to the characters’ interactions. The way Chekov and Zulu communicate is familiar to the reader, because the inside jokes and implicit understanding between friends is thoroughly realistic. They seem to share a unique, personal language which nobody else can comprehend (certainly not Zulu’s wife, who can barely repeat the message Zulu sends Chekov), and the intimacy of the connection this language creates deepens the tragedy of the friends’ parting.
Dialogue plays a profound role in the plot of “The Courter.” Rushdie immediately establishes the flaws in Certainly-Mary’s and Mixed-Up’s communication – Mary speaks broken English and mispronounces words (particularly those containing the letter P), and Mecir suffered a stroke which greatly reduced his brain function. The children mock them for these faults, as they mock their father for misusing the word “nipple,” but the narrator confesses that he, too, struggled with the language and is ashamed of his difficulties (185). However, these two, who can communicate only brokenly through spoken conversations, learn to communicate instead through chess. Even though they can barely talk to each other, their relationship grows strong, which shows the diversity of languages that can connect people.
Communication is an essential part of human life. We form connections with others through language, whether this is the private language of two old friends or the silent language of a game that two lovers understand more easily than the spoken word. We communicate differently with different people, depending on how we relate to them. With our superiors and elders we know to speak politely and formally, but with our friends we speak openly and share whatever is on our minds. The knowledge that one can speak freely is in itself a sense of home – it indicates a degree of comfort with one’s surroundings. A home is filled with those who speak the same language, whether Indian or English or a web of personal jests that only close friends or family can understand.

                I’ve recently been exposed to such a codified “inside language” in an unexpected way. At my service site, Tunbridge Public Charter School, the teachers and students have a system of rules and terms that threw me for a loop during my first few days there. The school promotes what they call “pax,” which is essentially good behavior. The teachers turn rules into games that the young children can understand – when they want the students to quiet down, they will say “show me your bubbles!” and the students know to puff up their cheeks and listen. The teachers have established these methods to communicate with the younger kids who cannot understand the language that adults would use to communicate with one another. It was somewhat strange to find myself in a position where pre-K students understand what was going on better than I did, but every time I return to Tunbridge I become more familiar with the language of the school, and I learn to speak to the students in terms we all understand.

The Old and Young

I enjoyed this anthology of Rushdie's work. I was particularly fixated on the old versus young dynamic that took place in this story as it reminded me in very subtle ways of Chandra's handling of the old/young dynamic in "Love and Longing in Bombay." It seems to me that one of the present themes in the works we've read is this idea that the young people know better or don't know better than the elderly about the conditions of their placement in the post-colonial world. Most clearly I see this theme explored in the words of the old man who admits, "Yes, I know, I'm an old man, my ideas are wrinkled with age [...] Maybe all the views of the old can be discounted now, and if that's so, let it be. But I'm telling this story and I haven't finished yet" (Rusdie 30). In my mind, I took this to mean that the elderly people's views should not be discounted as they are still alive, and still have a story left to tell and live out. It seems to me that the very set up of Chandra's story sought to impart this knowledge as well. The very first story of this anthology, "East, West," is about a woman who seeks out advice from an elderly man that she, ultimately, does not follow. Additionally, it seems as if their is this general understanding that the knowledge that the elderly posses is somehow outdated or outworn.
This strikes me as interesting because I know that in West African culture it is very much the case that when an elderly person speaks you listen. The words of the elderly are so revered and prized that I have often heard an older person say, "even if I'm speaking rubbish,you must listen to my rubbish." A proverb that I think really captures the essence of this attitude is a Nigerian proverb that roughly states, "What a young man can't see standing on the mountain, an old man can see sitting down in his chair." The general attitude is, in fact, that wisdom comes with age. I know that from my personal experiences growing up with this background in the Western world, it has been a difficult pill to swallow. I think that in the West we are so ready to accept that age doesn't prove anything, but that we have taken it one step further, and produced an idea that the young have much to teach the old. As the movers and shapers of the present and the future, our stories are important, and definitely need to be heard and not silenced. Here, I am reminded of Potiki where the characters are discussing how they must know where the location of their jumping off point so that they know where they will land. The stories of the elderly tell a history that is still useful in the formation of the present and the future.

Ultimately, I feel that the message that Rushdie and Chandra are trying to communicate is not that the elderly voices matter more than the younger generation of stories, but that we shouldn't forget their stories as we cultivate our own. The stories of the old are an important resource in the formation of the future. Often it is looked at as progressive to go against the advice or position of the old, but sometimes that may not be the case. In the end, the elderly and the young need to be in conversation with one another in order to realize their present truths.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Meshing of Culture and The Borderlands

The short stories in Salman Rushdie’s East, West examine the meshing and overlapping of two distinct cultures, as well as the difficulties that may arise from being divided between two homelands. Some of the themes present in this book are reminiscent to another piece that we’ve examined this year by Rushdie called “Imaginary Homelands”. In both works, we how troubling it can be to identify with two different homelands at some times, and at others, be unable to identify with any home at all. In “Imaginary Homelands,” Rushdie explains that “[s]ometimes we straddle two cultures; at other times, we fall between the two stools,” which could accurately be used to describe the circumstances of some of the characters in the final short story, “The Courter”. (Rushdie “Imaginary” 15).  The narrator and his grandmother Mary both experience a loss of identity to a degree, as they struggle to adjust to English culture while juggling their Indian roots. Luckily for Mary, she meets the courter, who is able to help her grow into her new home through chess, which eventually “had become their private language” (Rushdie “East” 194). Their relationship helps her to feel more comfortable in England, as the courter increased her familiarity with the country and its culture. The significance of the courter’s presence for Mary is clear when he is stabbed and she decides that can no longer stay in England and that she must return home to India. The courter represented her link to this new world—one that allowed her to mesh into the society rather seamlessly despite her deep roots in India. Without him, she feels lost, as if the home that she had begun to build in England had been torn down around her, and thus she naturally reverts to what was always comfortable for her.

            There are interesting parallels between the themes of homeland apparent in Rushdie’s pieces and a book that I recently read for an International Relations class this semester. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua sheds light on the meshing of cultures that occurs around near the U.S.-Mexico border, and the effects that it has on the citizens living in this “vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary” (Anzaldua 25).  The intermingling of people and cultures from both sides of the border create an identity that is both American and Mexican, while at the same time, neither. Anzaldua explains how those who call the borderland their home feel marginalized because they are forced to prescribe to one side or the other, while they don’t necessarily identify with the culture associated with either nationality. Instead, the culture of the borderland represents a unique blend of various backgrounds that form something completely new. This is much like Rushdie’s take on being divided between homelands, as Anzaldua explains that people in this area can prescribe to a variety of different identities such as Mexican, mestizo, Chicano, Raza, or tejanos. Despite the plethora of options by which to identify oneself, there is simultaneously a lack of central identity that plagues those live in the borderlands, much like the narrator of “The Courter” struggled to compensate his Indian Roots with his developing British identity.

Monday, October 26, 2015

An Intersection of East and West in Rushdie's Novel

True to form, Salman Rushdie adheres to his habit of creating anthologies of interweaving stories that demonstrate a crisis of identity as it relates to the concept of homelands. The novel begins with the story of Ms. Rehana, a betrothed woman looking to pass a test in order to obtain a permit to London. She has been sent for by her betrothed, Mustafa Dar, and once at the Consulate, a kindly employee, Mustafa Ali, offers Rehana a simple way to pass the test due to his immediate attraction to her. Instead of accepting his advice, Rehana decides to take the test on her own terms. In a twist of fate for which Rushdie is known for, it is revealed that Rehana lied on all of the questions because she sincerely wished to remain in Lahore. For Ms. Rehana, a geographical region is home, not a man. It is at the end of this story that Rehana fully develops her sense of identity. She knows what she wants, and is completely unafraid to go after it. Ironically, the story is entitled Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies, and yet Rehana rejects the good advice offered to her. 

The second story, entitled The Free Radio, also takes place in the East and essentially revolves around government attempts to regulate birth rates and family planning. Again, we see a crisis of identity in a homeland; the government wishes to regulate a basic human right and it leads to a deep questioning of society. The old man watches events unfold between a thief, Ram, and an unsavory widow who Ram eventually takes as his wife. At the conclusion of the story, the old man remarks sadly that, as a direct consequence of his old age, his views and opinions are largely ignored: "Yes, I know, I'm an old man, my ideas are wrinkled with age, and these days they tell me sterilisation and God knows what is necessary, and maybe I'm wrong to blame the widow as well - why not? Maybe all the views of the old can be discounted now, and if that's so, let it be" (Rushdie 30). Again, Rushdie is exploring a crisis of identity. The old man sees what is happening to Ram and he listens to the government's plan for regulating human population, but he no longer has a voice in his own home. His age has rendered him useless in his mind, and he is therefore paralyzed.

The stories from the West weave in multiple pop culture references, including an allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet and his court jester, Yorick. The second story from the West, entitled At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers, contains yet another reference to a Western pop culture icon. An interesting fact contained in this story is that in the written version of The Wizard of Oz, the slippers were silver. However, in the movie adaptation, the slippers are ruby. The last story from the West is entitled Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship and is again a direct reference to an important Western occurrence as it signifies the beginning of one of the most powerful empires the Western world has ever known. 

Finally, Rushdie concludes his anthology with an intersection of stories from both the East and West, bringing the stories full circle. The Harmony of the Spheres, Chekov and Zulu, and The Courter all weave together cultural differences and provide a sense of home different from what we have encountered thus far. The Courter is especially intriguing because it tells the story of a young boy raised by an Indian woman in London, and she consistently mispronounces the name of the "porter" and instead calls him a courter. It is a brilliant example of the struggle to assimilate into a different culture, and Rushdie drives his point home through the example of a woman trying to do right by this boy, but still making mistakes along the way. 

Overall, I enjoyed this anthology as I found that it related to the cultural melting pot present in America today. Cultures are merging all over the world, and my worldview is admittedly limited to my observations in the U.S., but everywhere I see cultures and ethnic groups mixing and assimilating. I can only imagine how difficult the process must be to leave the comforts of home in search of a different life, and I think Rushdie does a fantastic job of illustrating the differences, but also the similarities, between Eastern and Western cultures. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Nederends Plot

Reading this novel, I found myself in constant worry that I was somehow missing the point or larger meaning of the work. I understand that it is meant to be satirical and that the humor is meant to illuminate some deeper message, but there were many times when the nature of the thing being described, mostly farts, just got in the way for me. I found myself wondering why the author decided to choose such a distracting motif to write about. Interestingly, however, as the story progresses the gruesome activity of the bodily functions take a back seat and readers are able to learn a lot more about the pacific culture where the story takes place. I think the effect of using such a potentially distracting motif is that most times I wasn’t aware that I was being taught about a culture. It is less didactic than Achebe and Wendt. In my mind, it is trying to communicate the same things, but achieves it differently as it does not make the culture itself the subject of discussion.

            In many ways, I found myself thinking about the oral culture and how it operates in this story as I felt that it did indeed read silly, but if I were happening to hear this story, I can’t help but think that I’d be enchanted. We are told this silly little story about a man with an anus that farts musical tunes, but through this simple story we learn so much about the pacific culture. We learn about the effects of  colonization and modernization of the land and the booming tourist industry, as well as about the conflict between the doctors and dottores. I believe that the novel's plot allows it to more organically unfold the tensions that arise when two cultures clash. Instead of prioritizing the world of colonization as the subject of exploration, I think that Hau'ofa usefully unfolds the reality of the daily lives of people existing in that environment, the ways in which they are both aware and unaware of, as well as defiant and compliant of their own colonization. 

Warts and All

After half a semester of works that propagates an intense respect for the culture of native peoples, a comprehension of how little is understood of their struggle in the face of colonialism and some of a glance at how unscathed these cultures emerged from carnage of colonialism into the brave, new post colonial world, Kisses in the Nederlands comes as something of a shock. Initially, it seems to treat the natives of the Pacific Islands, as buffoons. Superficially speaking the characters (endearing and fascinating as they were) struck yours truly as almost primitive individuals who illogically rolicked their way through a medical issue,morphing it, because of their ignorance, into a life threatening crisis. This characterization seems to be given weight by the trajectory of the piece which culminates with Oilei’s malady being solved by the intervention of modern (read:western) medicine.

But that can’t be what Hau’ofa is trying to say because that’s bigoted and absurd. However, I think what he’s saying is a little more nuanced than the tried and true cliche: cultural compromise/adaptation is necessary for continued cultural growth. Rather, he presents yet another dynamic to the ongoing conversation swirling around these cultures. This new dynamic forces the reader (at least it forced yours truly) to cringe and deal with imagery (such as Ninongs growing succulent in the swampy wetlands of everyone’s anus) and situations in this culture that are a little absurd and don’t have the austere dignity that is so easy to relate to and talk about from a western perspective. To date, there’s been something of an anguished hagiographical nature to the depictions of once colonized people. But Kisses in the Nederlands destroys that paradigm and brings a low brow sense of humor to the party with jokes about the nether regions galore. By focusing so intensely and funnily on so unseemly a topic Hau'ofa humanizes the cultures. The outsider need not speak in hushed, increasingly reverent tones about them any longer. One can see them warts and all and come out the other end still fond and full of respect for the characters involved. One can even come out a quasi believer in anal kissing for peace.

Comedy and Misunderstanding

            In Hau'ofa's Kisses in the Nederends, misunderstanding of humor and comedy, allows the reader to see the distinct differences between the Western culture and the Pacific Islander culture, the characters' character, and the satirical undertones. Hau'ofa's humor is meant to make the reader laugh out loud; he uses puns, satire, and conversational humor. However funny the novel may be, however, the satire is meant to evoke more serious undertones about inequality and corruption. The comedy, although apparent on every page of the novel, is not Hau'ofa's main point; he uses wit and satire in order to attack humanity and society's problems and faults. He does this by disregarding the social injustices as a joke throughout the novel. 
       The novel begins with a humorous action scene in which Oilei is relieving himself (in a pig-like manner) and his dog pees on his foot. This reflects how animal-like and disgusting Oilei is from the beginning.From this moment on the reader knows that this novel will be humorous. Yes, their exists puns such as calling Oilei a prostate or a pig, which is funny because he has a medical problem with his prostate and he actually acts like a pig. When Oilei is meeting with the Christian Reverend, Masu Lasu, he tells him to "take your arse out of my house, and don't bring it back here again. Oh shit!"(which was one of my favorite lines in the entire novel). Oilei and the Reverend don't see eye to eye and therefore they can't understand each other fully, especially each other's humor. One obvious difference between them is that the Reverend speaks as a reverend would, in a very respectful way while Oilei curses regularly. The difference between Western ideas and Pacific traditions and ideas is shown here.
      It is obviously hysterical that Oilei can't stop farting but that is not what is truly important (though entertaining) in this novel. Through his journey we sees the outrageous society and the many problems of corruption and social justice that exist in his community. 

The Effectiveness of Satire

Sometimes the best way to understand something you are unfamiliar to you  is through comedy. If someone is able to relay information by using satire and are comfortable enough to do so then it makes the readers feel just as comfortable. Hau’ofa’s Nederlands introduces a Pacific island culture by using satire in a particularly unique way. The focus on the anus and bodily functions kind of takes a less serious look on the culture shift which the Polynesian characters experienced throughout the novel. Interestingly the language is familiar to non-Polynesian readers which is also important in the understanding of the culture.

Although hilarious that Oilei’s farting is out of control it is important that Hau’ofa still addresses how important Oilei is to the community. Through the satire you begin to understand the tension within the village and how the community collaborates. Compared to other books we have read so far this one is definitely less serious but still manages to teach us about the culture in a rather successful way. Comedy is attractive and often people can learn from it, from this novel you learn the dynamics in the village and how individuals are affected by the changes within their community. 

Cultural Transition and Discrepancies

Epeli Hau'ofa's Kisses in the Nederends contains themes that parallel those of similar post-colonial works. Potiki and Kisses both utilize the Maori tribes of New Zealand to depict the inevitability of cultural alteration as a direct result of colonialism. Virtually every novel discussed thus far conveys themes of cultural transition facilitated through the actions of characters based on historical colonial figures. Their influence on the various native cultures is always dynamic in nature and frequently prompts an alteration of cultural values and practices. Although the Maoris discussed in both works demonstrate the changing influence of white colonial characters, their inherent cultural values remain vastly different. This is most clearly exemplified through the Maori's conceptualization of nature. Maori culture and religion holds nature in high esteem and reverence. The tribal characters redundantly describe their sense of connectedness to nature. They regard death as not malicious and worthy of fear, but rather as just another step in life's sacred process. Numerous discrepancies exist between the white and Maori outlooks respectively. Potiki's white characters are referred to as "Dollarmen"due to the lack of reverence they demonstrate towards nature and their desire to exploit the land as a means of generating profits. The correlation most evident between these two works is the Maori's reverence towards nature. Unlike other aspects of native culture relinquished to colonial figures, their relationship with nature is too profound to be altered by colonial influence.

Logic (or Lack Thereof) in Kisses in the Nederends

                In Kisses in the Nederends, Epeli Hau’ofa depicts the bizarre mechanisms of human behavior and logic in a comedic light through his cast of eccentric characters. One example of the twisted logic Hau’ofa presents the reader is Oilei’s preference of dottores over the hospital because he detests the idea of nurses looking at his anus, but he allows dottores of all kinds to examine him, and they spread word of his affliction as surely as any nurse would. Eventually, Oilei’s problem is common knowledge across the country, but he still refuses to seek medical attention at a hospital. The dottores themselves entertain similarly flawed logic – they all come up with completely unfounded explanations for Oilei’s ailment. Marama explains her theory of “lecturer fart,” Losana claims that a wayward demon causes the distress, and Seru concocts the extremely convoluted notion of warring tuktuks wreaking havoc on the body (11, 34, 86). None of these theories are founded in science or sense, but the dottores express them with such certainty that Oilei readily accepts them. By following the advice of these dottores and favoring their traditional treatments over professional assistance, Oilei renders the necessary surgery completely impossible. Oilei is too easily convinced by others, regardless of how poorly formulated their arguments are. For instance, Babu’s simple proposal that all parts of the body are equal quickly dissolves into madness as he suggests that by kissing each other’s anuses, world leaders will achieve “eternal peace” (104). Babu persuades Oilei to accept this notion by “kissing his ass,” which raises the point that those with questionable logic convince others of their causes by ingratiating themselves with them. Throughout the novel, characters make ridiculous mistakes and poor decisions based entirely on ill-conceived rationale, and blindly follow others without considering matters for themselves. This is evident even in the tourists which populate the background of the story – they gladly pay money to experience Amini’s turtle shell con, and deceive themselves into thinking it successful (51). The entire novel is a testament to people’s naivety, particularly concerning matters of which they know very little.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Colonialism as a Projection of Culture and Values

Epeli Hau'ofa's Kisses in the Nederends continues a trend of readings that we have examined this semester in which colonization results in the diminishment of native culture for the benefit of the colonizing power. After reading this book, I struggled to grasp the various concepts of home and culture that were being presented in the novel, and I decided to resort to my own outside research. While “Seru saw the human body as a world in itself,” my outside research continually pointed to the fact that Hau’ofa is doing the opposite and likening the world to a human body (Hau’ofa 86).  In this analogy, the Pacific Islands are equated to Oieli’s aching backside—a place from which great pain is being generated, but an area that few people like to talk about. Thus, the novel satirically examines how colonizing powers seek to fix problems in the colonized world by Westernizing the area further. This is seen in a literal sense early in the story, as at the first International Conference on the Promotion of Understanding and Co-operation Between Modern and Traditional Sciences of Medicine, it is announced that there would be the “imminent opening of the International School of Traditional Medicine…where established and rising dottores will go to study for periods up to two years to bring them up to date and to broaden their fields of competence” (30).  In response to the problems that the Pacific Islands face, colonial nations feel that it is best for their doctors to be reeducated and modernized. This strategy diverts the focus of traditional “witch-doctors” away from custom and instead, indoctrinates them with Western techniques that are assumed by Western powers to be superior to traditional practices. This same idea is seen allegorically in the obvious, when Oieli finally undergoes an anus transplant and receives the backside of a white woman. His body’s rejection of the transplant is symbolic of the fact that the projection of Western values upon colonized nations may not always be the best solution to the problems that they face, as these solutions may not always be compatible with existing (traditional) cultures and ways of life. This idea is visible in Patricia Grace’s Potiki. When the “Dollarmen” arrive seeking to purchase the Maori’s land, they are shocked that they cannot be persuaded with promises of jobs or conveniently located apartments. While these solutions may have persuaded other Westerners, the Maori do not share these same materialistic values, and thus have no need for the things that they are offered. These two novels, as well as others that we have examined so far this semester, underscore the sanctity of individual cultures, and how it is impossible to utilize a one-size-fits-all approach to solving problems within different societies.