The Perfect Candidate II

So, there it goes. The job apps have been mailed. Yeah, did you notice the plural? Me too. Last we talked on this subject, I was only going to be applying at UofMyDreams. However, once my advisor came back from his summer sojourn, he suddenly had some newfound interest in my career and proceeded to harangue me (almost daily) on my lackadaisical approach to academics [can you tell from this post that I have been writing letters of applications?]. So, I ended up sending applications to half a dozen places. That, there even exist half a dozen positions for South Asian Islamic historians is mind boggling. I, actually, kept out of the Billings, Montana race. Nothing against Montana, I swear, I am just a city guy.

Over the past month, I have been busting my ass trying to get these things out of the door. It is HARD to sell yourself. At least, it is for me – maybe, that is why I blog pseudonymously. I have to tell the dour search-wallas that I am brilliant and exciting and all that. But, I just like reading really old books and wondering what they meant to their intended audience, and what they mean now. That ain’t sexy. An editor proof reading my letter pointed out that I did not use one catch phrase (postcolonial, subaltern etc.) and wondered if that is a good thing. I really, honestly, do not know.

Let’s see what happens. I will, uh, keep you all posted.

2046 II

Last night we watched the Cannes version of 2046. DMan, as always, was the one who made the viewing possible. I have mentioned earlier how insanely psyched I am to see this movie.

2046 essentially takes place over the course of two and a half years in the late 60s. It does travel back in time to the early 60s and the events after In the Mood for Love. And there is the future stuff. But, we will come to that later.

While ITMFL centered on Maggie Cheung, 2046 is about Tonny Leung. While ITMFL was a microscopic examination of the moment when the lives of two people intersect, 2046 is akin to a cosmic view of the many women that Tony beds. While ITMFL was almost an ascetic koan, 2046 is a baudy ballad.

Love is all a matter of timing. It’s no good meeting the right person…too soon or too late. If I’d lived in another time or place…my story might have had a very different ending

That right there is the movie. Love and Time. Tony loved Maggie but she didn’t love him back. Zhang Ziyi loves Tony but he doesn’t love her back. Tony loves someone who reminds him of Maggie but she knows that Tony loves someone whom she resembles (even has the same name). Tony loves someone who loves someone else. Love, it seems, is the avenging angel of fate bent on ripping your heart to shreds for no apparent reason. Time cycles back on itself so you stay in a loop of heartache, living and reliving your pasts – in your futures. DEEEEEPRESSING.

And a bit lazy on the part of WKW. The editing is sloppy and lots of characters muddle in and out of the script aimlessly. The cinematography is as brilliant as I hoped. The print we watched had no real color but the shot composition was classic WKW with some particular ones of breathtaking sadness.

The majority view after the movie ended was that this was not the sequel we were waiting for – actually, most didn’t like the movie at all. I reserve my judgement until I see the theatrical version. WKW supposedly has made immense changes in the editing room. I really wanted to adore this movie but I am only in the “hmmm” mode. The strength of WKW has always been in uniting varied threads in his different movies. 2046, the self-declared sequel, seems curiously disjointed from anything before. Whether it is the fractured narrative, the despondent heartlessness of Tony Leung or the portions set in the future, I don’t know. I did not get into the movie until the second half – though that is indeed quite powerful. And another wrinkle, as DMan pointed out, is that the Tony portrayed in the first half – doesn’t ring true. He is hyper-sexual and aggresive. Neither qualities were evident in ITMFL. So what gives WKW? Because, again, in the second half we are back to the Tony we had – a sad silent martyr to love. Is it rebound portrayed rather naively? And why so much emphasis on his sexual conquests? hmmm…Is this some autobiographical detail from WKW? I really don’t know.

One last thing. Zhang Ziyi is a revelation. I had no clue she could act. I was tired of her petulant warrior schtick almost from CTHD. But, she steals this movie from everyone else. Amazing. Oh, about that future stuff, it adds nothing to the movie, WKW should just take it out.

De Maat is Vol III

News today that Pakistan has banned the Nov. 22 issue of Newsweek. The cause is an article imaginatively titled, “Clash of Civilization” [btw, can we put a moratarium on the use of that phrase in weeklies and dailies for, like, a year?]. The article is standard enough coverage of Theo Van Gogh’s murder and the aftermath in the Netherlands but the Pakistani govt. is mad about the picture accompanying the article depicting the Qur’an written on the woman’s torso.

The BBC report said that most issues are already sold out. I would keep my eye on this and see how the mullahs run with it. From my childhood memories, the Satanic Verses brouHAHA did not erupt until the urdu press (Takbeer especially) got hold of western reports. No one ever read the damn book.

The banning seems to be a pre-emptive strike by The General to prevent the floundering MMA from any ammo against him since the MMA has already announced major public protests.

Have a nice weekend, gentle readers.

T Day

I told my mother that I was going to Ohio for Thanksgiving and I hear an exasperated, yeh, kiya roz tum nai tehwaar banatay ho?. So, to convince me mum that I did not make up Thanksgiving and that it does exist even though no one outside of N. America cares:

There is very little on the net about Thanksgiving that is not geared towards 12 years old. Goes to the whole construction of social memory thing that I get giddy about. Anyways, this holiday was proclaimed right after American independence by the Congress in 1782:

… the success of the arms of the United States, and those of their Allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States:—– Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

This didn’t quite catch on (with Jefferson grumbling about separation of church and state). Around the late 1840s, Sarah Hale – the Oprah of 19th c – started to petition and lobby for the national observance of Thanksgiving. She got the ball rolling and by the end of 19th century, we had a national holiday. One cool tradition in the late 19th c. was the telling of stories about the years past at Thanksgiving – which emerged as the pseudo-mythic puritan/native feast of the Thanksgiving story – taught in schools around the nation. And then Macy’s took over.

This holiday is all about giving thanks for loved ones and family and hiding the dread on meeting said family. It is not insanely commercial as Xma$ – which makes it lovely in my immigrant view. It is also about eating turkeys. Why turkey? Blame the Dickens.

I recommend the Library of Congress’ collection of texts on Thanksgiving. Esp. this “Uncle Sam’s” thanksgiving dinner from 1877-8. I also recommend Pieces of April. Taking in conjunction, the two can give a nice undergrad paper on memory in America.

ps: as usual, Sharon has a treasure trove of links. How does she do that?


Closed for Repairs

One obvious effect of 9/11 has been the drop in foreign student enrollments in the US. Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week that from the ’93-’94 academic year, the drop has been 2.4%. The drop is 6% in graduate students. India is one of the countries with a largest drop in graduate enrollment. I have no statistics for Pakistan but anecdotal evidence suggests the same picture. Kids who would have come to the US for undergrad or grad are going to Canada or England (matter of fact, EVERYONE is going to LSE, for some unknown reason).

Fareed Zakaria had an op-ed in WaPo yesterday, that decried this as bad for business:

Falling foreign enrollments will produce a broader but no less profound loss for the United States. America has spread its interests, ideas and values across the world by many means, but perhaps the single most effective one has been by educating the world’s elites. For example, Western ideas about the benefits of free markets and free trade have become the global standard. This may have much to do with Western foreign and trade policies. But surely this shift has been strengthened and facilitated by the fact that so many of the people in the ministries of finance, trade and industry in the developing world were educated at Western universities. The U.S. government can claim little credit for Chile’s remarkable and successful free-market revolution. But the University of Chicago — which trained most of the economists who spearheaded those reforms in Santiago — can. Foreign students return home from the United States bringing with them an appreciation for U.S. values, ideas and, indeed, for America itself.
The hegemony of ideas is often a greater and more lasting source of power than brute force. When historians write about our times, they will certainly note that America dominated the international agenda for decades through this distinctive form of power.

I care about this because I am one of those who came to the US to get educated [Got my visa at the Lahore Consulate. Got there early, around 5 in the morning, only to discover a looooong line. Got in line. They cut it off right behind me. Sultan Rahi was 2 ahead of me. Talked a while with him. Very nice guy. Around 4, I sat in front of a consulate officer who asked me something about my father and then said go sit over there ]. That day, I was one of two people who got the visa. So, getting a US Student visa has never been easy. The difference, I think, is that now it is approaching the point of impossibility. At the same time UK, Canada, Australia, EU are making themselves more and more attractive by offering English medium education and broad certification.

Some of those who came with me to the US (or those whom I met later) are back at home running multi-national companies, ngos, teaching at universities. There is an immense intellectual capital that they acquired in the States and which is now being invested in Pakistan. Goodwill and love for the US goes with it. Same, yet more dramatic, story in India where Banglore and Chennai were built by US educated tech elites.

Zakaria is absolutely right. US has to figure out how to reverse this trend. But, it is not just students that are despairing of visa policies. Even plain tourists are being rejected for unknown reasons. Zack described his family’s case. I have been urging my parent to come visit and they are very hesitant. And rightly so, it seems.

Have a stuffy T-day.

Innocents at Home

One thing I cannot appreciate is a historian (or journalist or whoever) who writes up a thesis than goes out in the wilderness looking for “evidence” – if it fits, it is in; if it doesn’t, just toss it and hope no one notices.

David Cannadine is a solid historian who wrote a book a few years ago called Ornamentalism. Cannadine was at Columbia while Said was holding court there and must have grown irked at the slander on good British character in Orientalism. One reason, I think, that Cannadine wrote his slender volume that suggested that the British weren’t racists, oh no, but were classists. Now, it is not easy to put class, front and center, in colonial historiography and to do that, Cannadine had to, basically, ignore a lot of history. Cannadine argued that the men who governed the British Empire from the 18th century through the decades after World War II approached the task of empire with class hierarchy in their blood. The members of the British imperial elite were far more comfortable with the indigenous nobility of the lands they controlled than they were with the greengrocers and industrial workers of modernizing Britain. But, such a theorization of colonialism ignores that the hierarchical class distinctions depended on particular racial and cultural understandings of the exotic East. Class distinctions do not explain the British fetishization of the “noble races” or the “warrior races” why Bengalis were dismissed as “babus” and the Pathans praised as a “true martial race”. So, Cannadine had to downplay, or dismiss, all the evidence of anthropological surveys, census bureaucracy and countless narratives of English and Scottish administrators concerned, chiefly, with the racial make-up of the native, for his thesis.

Now, why would he do that? Because of the legion of South Asian and American scholars who, taking their cue from Said, have carried out a full-frontal attack on the once-glorious English Empire as a racist, exploitative entity. And someone has to defend the ole Union Jack against such attacks. Start singing Niall Fergusson’s empire hey / empire ho / empire was the way to go chant.

Add to this a new entry into the Empire Rehabilitation Studies by Bernard Porter called The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society and Culture in Britain [via Ed at Gnostical Turpitude]. David Cannadine reviews it quite amicably in the Times. Big Surprise. Let me try to recap here. Ferguson: Don’t blame us, the Empire was good. Cannadine: Don’t blame us, the Empire wasn’t racist. Porter: Don’t blame us, No one knew about the Empire!

Before the 1880s, he insists, only a tiny fraction of the nation’s population had any first-hand experience of empire, and they were mainly middle-class families with a dynastic commitment to service overseas who largely kept themselves to themselves and when they retired congregated in such places as Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells. But the majority of the population, Porter argues, knew little of empire: it rarely made the political headlines, or featured prominently in art or novels or music, and most history textbooks just ignored it. Most Britons did not know where Gibraltar was, let alone Ceylon √≥ or the Falklands.

Now, this is just silly people. I haven’t read Porter so I don’t know which evidence he chooses to ignore – but there is LOTS of it. The British people never knew about the Empire? Ever heard of the American colonies and the, uh, loss? What about the parliamentary and editorial fights picked by Lord Macaulay concerning Empire in late 1820s? Or his famous Minutes on Education from 1833? This was a very public affair with intense debate followed closely in op-ed pages. Oh heck! just look at the subaltern journal being serialized at the CM! Written and published in the 1840s in three different newspaper and, then, in a bonded volume. Vanity publishing? Don’t think so; there was serious demand by the public to “know” about life in the colonies. What about the Great Exhibition of 1851? With its floors of Chinese and Indian exhibits in the Crystal Palace. Guess, no one attended. Demand of news of the colony was a easy sell for dailies and evenings. The peak of such interest was the 1857 Uprising which generated immensely florid and gory accounts in penny novelizations of native barbarians raping and pillaging white Christian women. The “Masssacre of Kaunpur” alone demanded a harsh and severe backlash from the London public against the rebels. The famous images of rebels strung from trees or tied to the front of the cannons were just as much for consumption in London as lessons for the natives. The Raj came into effect because after 1857 John Company lost the PR campaign amidst the English – who demanded “Direct Rule”. The list goes on….

Anyways. Here is another take by Amardeep Singh who is less bothered by it all.

update: Caleb points out Catherine Hall’s Civilising Subjects: Metropole and the Colony in the British Imagination 1830-1867. Something Porter should have read, maybe. Also see, Matthew Edney’s Mapping an Empire : The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843. And, Mukherjee’s Crime and Empire: The Colony in Nineteenth-Century Fictions of Crime.

The Russian Invasion

Aimee‘s book reading kicked off a most excellent weekend. She was great and I am looking forward to reading the short stories. Sunday, we went to see Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists play at a church in the north-western suburbs. This being the second weekend in a row that we were surrounded by hundreds of old Russian ladies. Last weekend, we saw Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata play at the CSO. That show featured two Concerto Grossi by A. Schnittke. If you aren’t on that band wagon, I urge you to jump here or here. Ms. Sepoy, who is a regional authority on Schnittke, is my window into that polyphonic world and seems not to get insulted when I call Schnittke the DJ Shadow of classical music.

The Bashmet event was exclusively Russian with a nice bazaar of CDs, DVDs and books. Picked up my coooolest toy ever [it is a little replica red soldier from 1918 who wobbles back and forth, most excellently]. The program was, uh, mixed and didn’t exist at the venue, but they played a light mixture including a piece by Toru Takemitsu (he composed for Ran). Bashmet talked a lot (in Russian) and told many amusing anecodets (in Russian). I laughed along.

The conversations turned to the impact of capitalism on classical music in Russia. Our russka informants said that the kids are having a hard time making a living now that every one is only interested in $s and no one wants to waste money on culture. Yikes. Imagine 20th century classical music without Russian composers and players. Pretty bleak and boring, if you ask me. Should we thank the communist regime for being oppressive enough to stimulate creativity and bureaucratic enough to support public arts? Which makes the recent noise about NEA going the way of the dodo bird all the more alarming.

Related question: Is Spain the dog that didn’t bark in western classical music? Someone know about the musical aspirations of the Church after the Reconquista?