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Blog Entries tagged 'global'

Alexander Pushkin, Afro-Russian brother and father of Russian letters

"Years later, when Pushkin became famous, one teacher grumbled:  “What’s all this fuss about Pushkin?  He was a scamp—nothing more!”  Engelgardt, the Lycée headmaster, took an even stronger dislike to his most famous pupil. His school report in 1816:

"Pushkin’s higher and only goal is to shine—in poetry, to be precise, though it is doubtful indeed he will ever succeed, because he shuns any serious scholarship, and his mind, utterly lacking in perspicacity or depth, is a completely superficial, frivolous French mind. And that is in fact the best thing that can be said about Pushkin. His heart is cold and empty: there is neither love nor religion in it.  It is perhaps as empty as ever any youth’s heart has ever been."

"Anyone who’s ever dabbled in Zen Buddhism knows that “emptiness” can sometimes be an achievement of the highest order.  Perhaps the very  “emptiness”  --or openness-- of Pushkin’s heart made it a perfect vessel for sublime expressions of love. His “emptiness” was a treasure not to be cluttered with skills for  “the service of the state”. Already in the Lycee he had decided:

Farewell to ye, cold sciences!
I’m now from youthful games estranged!
I am a poet now; I’ve changed.
Within my soul both sounds and silence
Pour into one another, live,
In measures sweet both take and give.

 

From The Alexander Pushkin Society site

September 29th, 2009

Vogue India

Lakshmi Menon’s editorial in Vogue India’s March 2009 issue inspires. Shot by one of my favorite contemporary photographers Prabuddha Das Gupta and styled by Edward Lalrempuia.

April 29th, 2009

Culture and Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism

An excerpt from Culture and Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism

By Terry Eagleton, in Commonweal

"The prevailing global system, then, today faces an unwelcome choice. Either it trusts its native pragmatism in the face of its enemy’s absolutism, or it falls back on metaphysical values of its own-values that are looking increasingly tarnished and implausible. Does the West need to go full-bloodedly metaphysical to save itself? And if it does, can it do so without inflicting too much damage on its liberal, secular values, thus ensuring there is still something worth protecting from its illiberal opponents?

If Marxism once held out a promise of reconciling culture and civilization, it is partly because its founder was both a Romantic humanist and an heir of Enlightenment rationalism. Marxism is about culture and civilization together-sensuous particularity and universality, worker and citizen of the world, local allegiances and international solidarity, the free self-realization of flesh-and-blood individuals and a global cooperative commonwealth of them. But Marxism has suffered in our time a staggering political rebuff; and one of the places to which those radical impulses have migrated is-of all things-theology. In theology nowadays, one can find some of the most informed and animated discussions of Deleuze and Badiou, Foucault and feminism, Marx and Heidegger. That is not entirely surprising, since theology, however implausible many of its truth claims, is one of the most ambitious theoretical arenas left in an increasingly specialized world-one whose subject is nothing less than the nature and transcendental destiny of humanity itself. These are not issues easily raised in analytic philosophy or political science. Theology’s remoteness from pragmatic questions is an advantage in this respect.

We find ourselves, then, in a most curious situation. In a world in which theology is increasingly part of the problem, it is also fostering the kind of critical reflection which might contribute to some of the answers. There are lessons that the secular Left can learn from religion, for all its atrocities and absurdities; and the Left is not so flush with ideas that it can afford to look such a gift horse in the mouth. But will either side listen to the other at present? Will Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins read this and experience an epiphany that puts the road to Damascus in the shade? To use two theological terms by way of response: not a hope in hell. Positions are too entrenched to permit such a dialogue. Mutual understanding cannot happen just anywhere, as some liberals tend to suppose. It requires its material conditions. And it seems unlikely these will emerge as long as the so-called war on terror continues to run its course.

The distinction between Hitchens or Dawkins and those like myself comes down in the end to one between liberal humanism and tragic humanism. There are those who hold that if we can only shake off a poisonous legacy of myth and superstition, we can be free. Such a hope in my own view is itself a myth, though a generous-spirited one. Tragic humanism shares liberal humanism’s vision of the free flourishing of humanity, but holds that attaining it is possible only by confronting the very worst. The only affirmation of humanity ultimately worth having is one that, like the disillusioned post-Restoration Milton, seriously wonders whether humanity is worth saving in the first place, and understands Swift’s king of Brobdingnag with his vision of the human species as an odious race of vermin. Tragic humanism, whether in its socialist, Christian, or psychoanalytic varieties, holds that only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own. There are no guarantees that such a transfigured future will ever be born. But it might arrive a little earlier if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals got out of its way."

Which is why, my friends, I ultimately believe more in Buddhism than liberal politics, but remain open to both.

 

April 23rd, 2009

Today, in Waikiki

Walking around Waikiki today, I felt I was inside of a postcard, or somehow trying to be inside of one. It was what it was supposed to be, this Waikiki, and yet it was all completely contrived. It was once what it was, but it was now trying to be what it was. It succeeded, but left me wondering if it ever existed in the first place.
 
This excerpt from White Noise by Don Delillo summed up my feelings perfectly:

"Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing.

THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA.

We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides -- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

"No one sees the barn," he said finally.

A long silence followed.

"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.

We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

Another silence ensued.

"They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said."

March 7th, 2009

House vs. Field Negro Controversy, from Italy's Corriere della Sera

November 21st, 2008

A journalist from Corriere de la Sera called yesterday with an urgent request for an interview about the Al-Qaeda claim that Obama is a house negro. My comments hit the first page--with full spread on page 3.

Translation below the Italian.

November 29th, 2008

San Miguel Atencion

Hey here's an interview I just did for the paper in San Miguel de Allende about the upcoming writer's conference. Hope someone out there comes up and says hi. This interview was with Gina Hyams, editor of the Searching for Mary Poppins:

1. What is your writing schedule like? Do you have a favorite place to write or any creativity-inducing rituals?

Since having my son, I have had to throw a lot of my ideas about where and when to write out the window. I now write anywhere I can charge my laptop: the bed, the sofa, a chair in the backyard. I also write in hotels more lately, and try to build a few extra days for writing into my lecture schedule. My other trick is to wait until I really know what I want and need to say. Then I add a few months onto that until I can't contain it anymore. The urgency makes me write faster.

2. You have been extremely brave about delving into and revealing your complex personal truths in your memoirs and you have paid dearly for doing so. You wrote in Baby Love that your mother was so furious about what you wrote in Black, White, and Jewish that she disinherited you. Was it worth it? Is it worth it?

Well, it certainly wasn't the best financial decision I've ever made! Because my mother is such a powerhouse in the industry (think Oprah and many, many others) and people take sides, the estrangement has had a serious impact on my career and the resources available to me.

Access aside, as millions of people know, my mother is a tremendous human being and I love and respect her deeply. The rub is that, like her, I'm a writer: my life is my material. It's an issue all writers deal with: Is it possible to tell my story without hurting others? What happens to the world of letters if writers only write what is acceptable? What is the point of writing if you can't be truthful?

Some of my favorite memoirists, women like Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Audre Lorde, Diane DiPrima, Marguerite Duras, Susanna Kaysen, bell hooks, Lucy Grealy, asha bandele and others, didn't write what made everyone comfortable. They wrote what they needed to write, and the truth of their expression stands the test of time. I hope my work does the same.

So I guess that's a yes. It is worth it. And the cost is tremendous. I often tell writers in my workshops that their biggest fear about telling their story can come true: you can lose the people you love the most. But, as many of those same writers like to tell me, the opposite is also true: you can become closer to the people you love; telling your story can be a cathartic place of healing. I thought that would be true for me and my family. So far, not so much. But there is still time. I'll never close the door.

3. You have edited three non-fiction anthologies and contributed to at least twenty others. Why do you think anthologies as a genre became so popular and do you think the publishing trend is over? What is your new anthology about and when will it be out? I hear there is a local author in it.


The first anthology I read was This Bridge Called My Back by the late Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua, and my all-time favorite is We Are the Stories We Tell. The genre endures because it fulfills a human longing to see the world from different points of view, all at once. And then there is the fact that collections are like parties for introverts: you meet the most fascinating people without having to leave the house. It's the original virtual community.

My new anthology is about new family configurations. It is called Walk This Way: Introducing the New American Family. It's about all the ways people are living these days: from birthing at home without a midwife, living polyamorously, and inviting the nanny to be a full-fledged family member, to co-housing, transracial adoption, and intercultural ex-pat life. SMdA resident Susan McKinney de Ortega is covering that last topic, and I'm thrilled to include her essay about moving to San Miguel, falling in love and starting what to some may seem like a non-traditional family.

4. Have you been in San Miguel de Allende before? If so, what is the first experience you look forward to having (place to go, etc.) upon each return?

This will be my first trip to San Miguel de Allende, though my mother owns a house in Mexico and I've spent over two decades going back and forth: the country is in my blood. I'm looking forward to speaking Spanish, a language I love, and eating carne asada with beans and rice. I'm looking forward to the light, the warmth of the people, and the focus on family rather than consumerism. I'm looking forward to architectural beauty and diversity. And of course, I am looking forward to meeting some wonderful writers.
December 11th, 2007