By Andrea Plaid
Arundhati Roy. Photo: Sanjay Kak. Courtesy: pcp.gc.cuny.edu
If Arundhati Roy was a rock star and I was at her concert, I’d be that fool who’d shout, “I LOVE YOOOUUU!” from the cheap seats while she was doing her between-song banter.
Well, Roy is a literary rock star. I fell for her writerly riffs when I caught up with her 1997 semi-autobiographical debut novel, The God Of Small Things, a couple of years ago:
May in Ayemenen is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The rivers shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.
The nights are clear , but suffused with sloth and sullen expectations.
But by early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn mossgreen. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads. Boats ply in the baazars. And small fish appear in the puddles that fill PWD potholes on the highways.
The God Of Small Things brought Roy, who previously worked on screenplays and movie criticism and trained as an architect, incredible acclaim in the US. She also won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 for the book, though some folks threw serious shade about it. However–perhaps presciently–she had to answer for obscenity charges back in Kerala, where she grew up, for the book’s descriptions of sexuality.
by Guest Contributor Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, originally published at Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
I’m not going to lie. I’m not a big fan of the Olympics and in fact every four years I think I hate them more, for all of the obvious reasons. Vancouver 2012 I disliked the most because when watching the opening ceremonies with my then eight year old insomniac, in what must have been the middle of the night, he looked at me and said “When is Team Anishinaabeg going to be entering the stadium? Probably before Team Haudenosaunee, right, because Anishinaabeg begins with A?” As all Native parents know, the colonialism talk makes the sex talk look a lot like a platter of cupcakes with a chaser of ice cream cones.
This year, I’ve been lucky and I’ve mostly been able to ignore the whole conspicuous spectacle, except that during the opening ceremonies I had to unfollow Billy Bragg on Twitter because he was so enamored with Danny Boyle’s lefty take on the ceremony, that he failed to notice Boyle skipping over the four hundred years of colonialism, genocide and occupation England’s heaped on Indigenous nations globally. And yes, this year my entire Olympic experience is mitigated through my Twitter feed which is made up almost exclusively of Indigenous artists, academics and writers. Which means in addition to the Billy Bragg incident, the only Olympic related news I’ve heard is confined to the two racist athletes expelled from the games, the four Indigenous athletes from North America including Anishinaabekwe Mary Spence and today, Damien Hooper. Continue reading
By Andrea Plaid
Joy Harjo. Courtesy: keeperofstories.blogspot.com
Reading that wordsmith/musician/teacher Joy Harjo’s memoir just dropped brought back that crush with capital-L life I had in my undergrad days : all dewy-new to the adult world, pretty effin’ cocky about what I thought I already knew and wanting to gooble up more ideas from new books and new people, and seeing middle age as sunset-colored horizon meeting the ocean, all lovely and over there.
Harjo was one of the writers in my 4-year degree days who, if you didn’t read her, you knew of her because her name and/or the titles of her writing dropped from almost every Women’s Studies major’s mouth, cropped up in anthologies by feminist writers of color, and compiled by professors in (what the folks at my university) called their “Kinko’s books.” (“Kinko’s books” were copies of individual articles, poems, essays, analyses, etc. college profs compiled and constructed with bookbinding famously associated with mega-copy shop Kinko’s, now known as FedEx Office. The compilations have been since ruled to infringe on authors’ intellectual property.)
Now that I over here in the beginnings of my middle age–realizing that I don’t know everything and being pretty OK with that, still trying to navigate Life’s waters, and seeing my youth as storm-clouds of not-so-lovely and quite happy that it’s back there–I revisited Harjo’s most famous work, “She Had Some Horses.” Her poem does what quite a bit of literature does well: it navigates life with you, sometimes as compass, sometimes as lodestar, sometimes as anchor. An excerpt after the jump; the rest of the poem is here.
Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai published Queering India: Same-sex love and eroticism in Indian society and culture wherein they read many “key ancient texts” against the grain to state that they’re texts that challenge the assumed heterosexism of our “ancient Indian society”; Kamasutra, they said, was one such text. Burton’s translations (along with a few other Orientalist scholars like Max Muller, Clarrise Bader, etc.) saw “Indian sexuality” as effeminate, and predictably justified its colonization, whereas Upadhayaya writing in the post-Independence era, washed away any queerness the text may possibly have suggested and re-framed it to fit the needs of the Hindu nationalist agenda. Vanita and Kidwai use all these texts to illustrate how pain and sexual pleasure can coincide and how there is plenty same-sex action going on, enough to say that Kamasutra is a queer and therefore, a liberatory text. On close inspection, the incidences where BDSM seems to be evoked, it is mostly practiced on bodies of Dasis—the slaves in the Vedic age—sometimes by the wives, usually by the husband/master. Again, most queer instances happen under the surveillance and force of the husband/master. The question here isn’t whether people then were “really” queer, nor am I concerned with the politics of BDSM and consent within this particular text (not sure if consent can even exist, if one cannot say “no”). This is where I want to inspect the politics of feminism itself, if slavery is seen as liberatory simply because there are events where the boundaries of “accepted sexuality” are pushed.
Studies like Queering India create a frame that suggests Indian culture is “inherently radical” because “see queerness has always existed here too!” frames that are produced and upheld within Subaltern historiography departments, the very academic disciplines that critique and challenge the colonialism within academia! They tend to equate queerness with progress, backed with Vedic texts like Kamasutra and Manusmriti—both of which mention queerness only within the contexts of slavery and caste/skin-color based sexual domination—and the conversation is limited to “We have always been queer, because our heritage (the texts) say so.” Don’t think I need to point out the dangers of such a limited conversation again.
However, I do want to ask why talking queerness is inherently political, revolutionary, and radical, given that many of these conversations happen at the cost of erasing slavery in ancient India (books like The Palace of Illusions, The Pregnant King come to mind here). Talking sex—especially about the Kamasutra—is progressive, but discussions of the political economy of the text don’t get the same pedestal. How can I claim and embrace queer liberation (as much as I may want to), when it silences someone else?
—Battameez in “Kamasutra and the Indian Feminists,” published at Bitch Media.
For me, the family fukú is rape. The rape culture of the European colonization of the New World—which becomes the rape culture of the Trujillato (Trujillo just took that very old record and remixed it)—is the rape culture that stops the family from achieving decolonial intimacy, from achieving decolonial love. – Junot Díaz
This two part article from the Boston Review was more bracing than a morning cup of coffee. Paula M.L. Moya guides us through an amazing conversation with Junot Díaz, digging deep into cultural theory to come up with a treasure trove of insight around the academy, Junot’s body of work, and missing pieces from our cultural conversations about race. While you should go read the whole thing, I particularly loved a few paragraphs.
Yunior’s a victim in a larger, second sense: I always wrote Yunior as being a survivor of sexual abuse. He has been raped, too. The hint of this sexual abuse is something that’s present in Drown and it is one of the great silences in Oscar Wao. This is what Yunior can’t admit, his very own página en blanco. So, when he has that line in the novel: “I’d finally try to say the words that could have saved us. / __________ __________ __________,” what he couldn’t say to Lola was that “I too have been molested.” He could bear witness to everyone else’s deep pains but, in the end, he couldn’t bear witness to his own sexual abuse. He couldn’t tell the story that would have tied him in a human way to Lola, that indeed could have saved him.
One has to understand that all the comments, all the things that Yunior does in Oscar Wao, move him inexorably away from the thing that he most needs: real intimacy which must have vulnerability, forgiveness, acceptance as its prerequisites. So that even though Yunior is sexist, even though he’s misogynist, even though he’s racist, even though he mischaracterizes Oscar’s life, even though he’s narcissistic—at the end he’s left with no true love, doesn’t find himself, doesn’t find that decolonial love that he needs to be an authentic self. In fact, he ends up—like the work that he assembles and stores in the refrigerator—incomplete. [...]
Thinking about Yunior as having been raped made (in my mind at least) his fucked-up utterances in the novel have a different resonance. And while he wasn’t yet ready to bear witness to his own rape, it gave him a certain point of view around sexual violence that I don’t think would have been possible otherwise. It helped me produce a novel with a feminist alignment. A novel whose central question is: is it possible to overcome the horrible legacy of slavery and find decolonial love? Is it possible to love one’s broken-by-the-coloniality-of-power self in another broken-by-the-coloniality-of-power person?
By Guest Contributor Jaymee Goh, cross-posted from Silver Goggles
I’m pleased to be part of the launch of the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card, designed by Aliette de Bodard, Joyce Chng, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, @requireshate, Charles Tan, @automathic and @mizHalle. Launch orchestrated with the help of Zen Cho and Ekaterina Sedia in addition to above authors.
I’ve talked about cultural appropriation here a lot–and neocolonialism as well–and that neocolonialism can manifest in the form of cultural imperialism. I could talk at length about this, but if you were wondering what are some general sentiments that cultural imperialists spout, here is a handy dandy Bingo Card for you to play with the next time you’re watching a discussion about the Third World had by (usually white) First Worlders unfold before your eyes, whether online or off. Strike any statement that comes close and see how long it takes for you to get Bingo!
I should probably add that all the statements in this card, we didn’t have to make up. Most of us have seen these sentiments in comments sections…or just said outright to our faces. It’s pretty incredible, yea? Not, not really. Sigh.
ETA: Reader Modern Wizard took the time to transcribe the card: Continue reading
By Guest Contributor Costa Avgoustinos, cross-posted from Pop Culture and The Third World
T'Challa, The Black Panther. Courtesy: Marvel Comics.
Since we’re all on an Avengers high, now is the perfect time for a close look at the fascinating sometimes-Avenger: The Black Panther, Marvel’s first black (/African) superhero. Specifically, let’s look at the 2010 BET animated TV series, Black Panther, because the politics in it are, frankly, stunning.
What politics? Well, here’s the premise: The Black Panther is the leader of the fictional African nation, Wakanda. Wakanda is the exclusive home to a precious mineral called vibranium, an impenetrable metal with exceptional properties, and so The Black Panther’s job is to protect Wakanda’s borders from bastards that want to invade and exploit its riches. This includes French colonialists, ruthless mercenaries and, in the TV series, the modern U.S. government.
By Andrea Plaid
Vijay Prashad. Courtesy: Mitra Images
This week’s Loved-Up is courtesy of former Racialicious owner/editor, Carmen Van Kerckhove-Sognonvi.