Go Hari

I get really annoyed at this “authenticity” business (see an old complaint) about who has the rights to do exactly what for which community. So I really enjoyed this letter to the Guardian about their nonsensical op-ed, The Trouble with Brick Lane:

As a mixed-race novelist (hell, just as a novelist), I would like to say to your leader writer (The trouble with Brick Lane, October 27) that I reserve the right to imagine anyone and anything I damn well please. If I want to write about Jewish people, or paedophiles or Patagonians or witches in 12th-century Finland, then I will do so, despite being “authentically” none of these things. I also give notice that if I choose, I intend to imagine what your muddled writer quaintly terms “real people” living in “real communities”. My work may convince or it may not. However, I will not accept that I have any a priori responsibility to anyone – white, black or brown, let alone any “community” – to represent them in any particular way.

If Monica Ali isn’t brown enough or working-class enough or Sylheti enough for you, then, well, that’s your weird little identity-political screw-up. Presumably she’s not white enough for someone else. I’m sick of all this cant about cultural authenticity, and sick of the duty (imposed only on “minority” writers) to represent in some quasi-political fashion. Art isn’t about promoting social cohesion, or cementing community relations. It’s about telling the truth as you see it, even if it annoys or offends some people. That’s called freedom of expression, and last time I checked we all thought it was quite a good idea.
Hari Kunzru

Apparently, they are all talking about this. Yawn.

update: An intriguing counter-argument:

And Eggers’s book is also another unsettling thing. I never thought I would reach for this vocabulary, but What Is the What’s innocent expropriation of another man’s identity is a post-colonial arrogance — the most socially acceptable instance of Orientalism you are likely to encounter. Perhaps this is the next stage of American memoir. Perhaps, having run out of marketable stories to tell about ourselves, we will now travel the world in search of desperate people willing to rent out their lives, the way indigent people in some desolate places give up their children. Perhaps we have picked our psyches clean, and now we need other people’s stories the way we need other people’s oil.
The Niceness Racket , Lee Siegel, TNR

Becoming Bibi

bb_6.jpgBenazir Bhutto has always been less than the sum of her parts – ah, but what spectacular parts! Just go look at this amazing series on Benazir done by CM Chief Artist-in-Residence lapata.

Perhaps no memory of my childhood in the 80s can compare to her triumphant return to Zia’s Pakistan – the mantle of the anointed rested easily on her back then – all eager to be the ‘Daughter of the East’, righteously claiming a spot at the head of the table. Sure, she had a few religious detractors but she stopped shaking hands in public and got that dupatta aligned just right and married a suitable zamindar. It almost seemed like the cult of her father’s personality would xerox off on her. But, then the reality of a neophyte outsider mired in corruption and nepotism truly blossomed on the Pakistani people and she lost her luster. Also her seats in power. Her latest return, greeted by violence, does not lend itself to nostalgia that easily but it continues the story of her reinventions.

In all, she has had sporadic success with trying to be a carrier of her father’s legacy for the millions of PPP followers, trying to convince the West of her liberalizing leanings, trying to convince the mullahs that she is not an apostate, etc. However, to my casual eye, there is only one public persona that Bibi has truly excelled at – and I do not mean this in any snarky manner – and that is the persona of a martyr’s griever. One can easily psychoanalyze that to her executed father, whose ghost continues to haunt Pakistan, or her dead brothers or the hundreds of victims of violence in the last 20 years exalted by the PPP….

[I want to note that this post constitutes # 1001 on CM. And I cannot imagine this ever happening without the help of the brilliant lapata. CM thanks her, and you, gentle readers, for sticking around.]

Sunday Reading for Bazaaris

Thanks to my main man, Rajeev, we enjoyed a sunday afternoon at Soldier’s Field watching John Kitna decimate the Bears with his precision prayers. NFL is way more the carnival then any other sporting event – and perhaps much more taxing on the senses. Still, it seems though that watching a football game live is perhaps the only way to do it. My own national pastime, spotting Muhammad jerseys, was easily thwarted since apparently Urlacher jerseys are the only ones sold for legal tender. (Look for photos on my flickr site later).

  • The author has made a point of pre-emptive strikes at his supposed-critics or worse built up straw-critics for fiery putdowns. Sanjay Subrahmanyam on V. S. Naipul.
  • Malise Ruthven thinks about understanding Islam in the NYRB. Can I just note that not a single book, in that review, is actually written by a Muslim? Matter of fact, except for our friend Reza Aslan, I cannot think of any book by a believer put forth in any of our efforts to understand Islam. We insist on asking those who have rejected Islam or those who study Islam – critically.
  • At least, Xtianity has no problems with a resplendent critique. Nor capitalism. Oops.
  • “Doctorow is our Twain.”
  • Shopping in Qandahar seems fun until you pause to think that someone in the armed forces wants to buy all of Disney’s catalog. Or how we would never have bombed the Middle East, if bargaining was allowed in the Mall of America.
  • Speaking of Qandahar, if you haven’t seen Rick Shweder’s op-ed on anthropologists at war, you should. Of course, Shweder fails to point out American Anthropology has a rich tradition of helping carry out the unseemly task of imperialism – be it in the American West, in Africa or in the Pacific Islands. So what’s the fuss, now?
  • And lastly, at the heel of ‘islamofacism’ week, is a cogent reminder about labels from historian François Furstenberg in the NYT.

The Boy Who Got Tired of Posing

Bani Abidi showThose of you in the Toronto area should check out an interesting new show by artist Bani Abidi. The exhibition runs from October 25th to November 24th at Toronto’s Gallery TPW. Here’s a brief description:

At the center of Abidi’s piece is the story of Mohammad Bin Qasim, an 8th century Arab general who led the campaigns to conquer the Sindh and Punjab lands that would become the modern state of Pakistan. Through three imagined narratives — photographs of a young man believing himself to be Bin Qasim, a series of portrait studio images of young boys posing as Bin Qasim, and a segment of a 1993 made for TV movie about Bin Qasim’s conquest of the Sindh — Abidi looks at ways in which the factual and fictitious threads of history are conflated and confounded in the collective memory. Also on display will be Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star Spangled Banner. With this work Abidi commissions a brass pipe band in Lahore to learn the US national anthem. The result is somewhat discordant as the musicians play the anthem of a contemporary imperial power using the instrumentation of a past colonial legacy.