Jonathan Rosenbaum

I have long admired Rosenbaum as one of the two premier critics in Chicago (the other one should be an obvious guess). He has now retired from the erstwhile Chicago Reader and all his reviews are now online. Including one of my favorite one – on Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

Lahore Snaps VIII: Dupata

The shuttle-cock burqas that now envelope our collective imagination as womanly garb across the Islamicate society was rarely seen in Lahore during my childhood. It was all light as breeze, translucent, brightly hued flags wrapped around jet black hair – effortlessly matching the shalwar-kameezs. Dupata, itself, is more than a simple matching wrap; it has a storied history in Urdu literature and poetics. It’s lightness and transparency connect sober decorum to public grace and beauty. As in this playful song, where the lyrical shifting of the dupata causes the proverbial end of the times. But more than piety, this thin fabric often symbolized vivid connection to love.

While sitting next to my Amma from one interminable visit to an Auntie to another, my favorite pastime was to nibble on her dupata. A habit that quickly ran afoul of her good nature, when she started to find little teeth-bitten holes in her favorite _outside_dupatas (yes, there is a system). Boy oh.

I was lucky enough to snap some pics of a typical colorizing (dye-ing) of a dupata to match a shalwar-kameez fabric. Go below to see.
Continue reading Lahore Snaps VIII: Dupata

Sunday Reading for Speed Racers

I watched Iron Man a few weeks ago in Copenhagen. It is a pretty boring movie – except for fans of Robert Downey Jr. – but it is worth watching for professional reasons alone. Let me explain, briefly. The movie that most brilliantly captured the particular brand of American Orientalism was 1994’s True Lies. Can anyone doubt the inspiration of Crimson Jihad? The Middle Eastern terrorists have the perfect mixture of rage, muscles and the technical ineptitude (By technical, I mean both mechanical skills as well as planning and execution skills) that defines America’s particular Other. I mean, seriously, the camcorder scene is pure genius. Now, since those heady days of True Lies, we have had some changes. 24, when it emerged in November 2001, went with eastern European bad guys. Reality being what it is. It wasn’t until 24’s season 6, in 2007, that the True Lies storyline finally re-entered popular American culture. In fact, the fear of nuclear weapon was fulfilled. My one complaint about season 6 was that when, post 2001, they finally went back to the days of True Lies – they denied these terrorists the “mastermind” status.1 The capacity to think and plan and invent – ie, Reason – is an Enlightenment lag, after all. Iron Man continues the good work of 24, so that even as there is linguistic diversity in these cave dwellers in Afghanistan2, they remain bumbling, sniveling and completely helpless in the face of American technical super-knowledge.

In related news, the Wachowski Brothers have finally matched the joy and exhilaration of 1999’s The Matrix in Speed Racer – a classic. Unlike the universally acclaimed Iron Man, Speed Racer has received harsh drubbing by the critics. Watch them eat crow in the coming years.

  • I have travelled a lot recently and also read a lot of articles3. Among them, J. Y. Wong’s British Annexation of Sind in 1843: An Economic Perspective, 1997. I was reminded of it when CM friend Rohit Chopra, send in Salil Tripathi’s interview with Amitav Ghosh. Ghosh has a new book out tracing the role of Opium in the colonial economy. Ghosh’s claim – “Modern India was built on a drug” – seems provocative. I would push Ghosh back on his understanding of “Modern India” – sure Parsee and Sindhi merchants benefitted enormously from the Opium trade but does that really constitute a greater influx of money to “domestic” India? Still, I think that the native networks – of trade, knowledge, expertise etc. – deserve a lot more scrutiny than historians have given them. And even though I didn’t enjoy Ghosh’s last two books, I am looking forward to reading this one. Those interested in this issue will want to look at this chart from Wong: The Place of Opium in India’s Total Gross Revenue, 1821-58. Also see Sheela Reddy’s interview with Ghosh in Outlook India.
  • Google’s Friend Connect is worth a closer look for a number of reasons – some even academic. While we are on the subject of Google, this is a likely future around the world.
  • Joseph’s O’Neill’s Netherlands looks very promising.
  • Alberto Manguel edited one of the best compilations of fantastic literature ever – Black Water, which needs to be back in print. I didn’t know much about him, though, but his ruminations on his library is a fascinating document.
    “There is a story by Julio Cortázar, “House Taken Over,” in which a brother and sister are forced to move from room to room as something unnamed occupies, inch by inch, their entire house, eventually forcing them out into the street. I foresee a day in which my books, like that anonymous invader, will complete their gradual conquest. I will then be banished to the garden, but knowing the way of books, I fear that even that seemingly safe place may not be entirely beyond my library’s hungry ambition.”

    I love that story.

  • Finally, I leave you with Tony Judt. “Since 1989, he proposes, public intellectuals have mattered less and less. What’s more, it is still generally and complacently assumed that America “won” the cold war in that monumental year.”
    ———
    1. The iranian/arab terrorists in season 6 were sweat-soaked, grungy, bumbling Arabs but mere henchmen []
    2. so close to reality! []
    3. Since Jan 1, 2008: Chicago – Baltimore, MD – Chicago – Greenville, SC – Chicago – Columbus, OH – Chicago – Boston, MA – Chicago – Toronto, QC – Chicago – Dubai, UAE – Karachi, PK – Lahore, PK – Dubai, UAE – Chicago – Amsterdam, NL – Berlin, DE – Copenhagen, DK – Berlin, DE – Chicago. And next week, off to SF. And yes, I was randomly selected for further screening at every single airport entry listed above. In these travels, I read Naipul’s A Bend in the River, Melville’s Moby Dick, Bellow’s Ravelstein, Jalal’s Partisans of Allah, Sharar’s Guzishta Lucknow, Beiner’sRemembering the Year of the French, Steedman’s Dust, Sebald’s The Emigrants, McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangos, and a couple of issues of Wired and lots of NYers. []

Tufte Was Here

Pardon the title but being a fan of visual representation of quantitative data, and of Edward Tufte, I really, really liked The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts, 1986-2008 by Mathew Bloch, Lee Byron, Shan Carter and Amanda Cox. Great stuff. Us historians need to learn from these guys ways of presenting historical data/information in graphical format. Think, for example, the 1100 – 1800 period in India with many competing claimants to power and a similar ebb and flow of dynastic succession.

And specifically on the map, look how long the tail used to be.

Also: Matthew Bloch and Shan Carter rule! I want to have them write a piece on visualizing data specifically for historians – esp. using GIS. Please?

Spurned Lover

Via pdcs

What is it that must precede the conveying of history? Must there not be the declaration of a double passion, an eros for the past and an ardor for the others in whose name there is a felt urgency to speak? To convey that-which-was in the light of this passion is to become a historian. Because the past is irrecoverable and the others in whose stead the historian speaks are dead, unknowable, she cannot hope that her passion will be reciprocated. To be a historian then is to accept the destiny of the spurned lover – to write, photograph, film, televise, archive and simulate the past no merely as its memory bank but as binding oneself by a promise to the dead to tell the truth about the past.

Can the historian ever bring back that which has gone by, ever tell the truth about the past? The mundane view of truth as a matching of event or pattern with what is said about it, a relation of homology between proposition and referent, has been undermined by powerful present-day criticisms of both rationalist and empiricist theories of knowledge. Is the historian as the lover who is spurned a faithless lover after all who seduces with a promise that cannot be fulfilled, yet knows all along that truth as the return of the past in all of its Leibhaftigkeit is a chimera? Does she lie when she avers, “I will tell the truth about the past, je te jure?
– Wyschogrod, Edith. An Ethics of Remembering: History, Heterology, and the Nameless Others. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Once a Muslim

For a while, the exemplar op-ed for ridiculousness and gross violation of logic, reason, history and straw-men argumentation was Bernard Lewis’s appearance on the WSJ pages declaring the End of Times. But, I think that standard has now been met, if not exceeded, by Edward Luttwak’s incredibly offensive President Apostate? Love that Question Mark. Oh, Luttwak, why the Question Mark? Tell us how you really know and understand the 1 billion Muslims and their burning hatreds.

To what purpose does NYT give space to such claptrap? I am sure there are many thousands of voices waiting for the ability to speak to NYT’s global audience. And they chose this partisan hack?

Aaargh.

update: It was heartening to see that all of the letters to the editors flayed Luttwak. Also, Juan Cole does the dutiful and takes on the theological argument.

update 2: The Public Editor for NYT has a note today, Entitled to Their Opinions, Yes. But Their Facts?. Hoyt writes that he called up five experts of Islamic jurisprudence and they all said Luttwak was wrong. And that the editors of the op-ed page never consulted any such experts because, they don’t “customarily call experts to invite them to weigh in on the work of our contributors”. Not only that, David Shipley, the editor of the Op-Ed page does not “think the Op-Ed page was under any obligation to present an alternative view, beyond some letters to the editor.”

Your liberal press in action.