The Fantastical Nature of Our Times

CM friend, Neelika Jayawardane, reviewed Lapata’s The Little Book of Terror for Africa is a Country.

Rather than fall into the sort of pop-psychology that claims to sort out why the children of the well-off (Osama bin-Laden included) may find “radicalism” attractive, Daisy Rockwell’s “cheeky little volume” of paintings and minimalist essays, The Little Book of Terror, offers a series of “big-name, international rogues” as well as the small fry caught in a big net. But, as Sepia Mutiny reports, “the feeling of uneasiness comes not from these over-chronicled villain archetypes whose images we’ve all seen scattered over televisions a hundred times over.” Instead, that unease comes from the realization that “The State is…a makeup artist,” as Amitava Kumar writes in the introduction to the book: the theatre surrounding “the bad guys” portray the accused as the “shabbiest” of actors with the “worst lines.” But beyond the re-plays repeated on CNN, we also see that the State is skilled “at presenting us with people who come to us stripped of any sign of place or past”: this way, we only see terrorists and terror without a contextualising history.

Rockwell works from some of those highly publicised photographs for many of her paintings, giving the captured people a depth that photography and the State’s vision of them often robs. She writes, in an email correspondence, “I have been interested in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for some time. Looking through photos of him on the internet, it was almost hard to pick which one to work with because he looks kind of sad and lost in all of them.” Her fauve painter’s techniques capture the “ordinary teen” who sported jeans and T-shirts, track suits, headphones, and rode a red-and-blue motorbike too fast sometimes. Her painting also reveals a significant moment in the life of a young man: he has found himself in a location where, perhaps, his limited understanding of subjectivity intersects with power structures that had over-determined the fortunes of vast swathes of humanity. It is far more than he is ready to face. Here, in this photograph, Rockwell points out, “he seemed excited to model his new Nike hat, and perhaps excited to be in London.” In a way, he had too much understanding, but little wisdom or equanimity. “I felt like that interaction with Empire might have somehow informed his eventual decision to attempt to make himself into a human bomb.”

Read the full piece here.

Phillygrrl’s Q&A with Lapata at CM rival-friend, Sepia Mutiny:

 In her portrait of Alessa, Rockwell depicts him in bubble-gum pink tones, prone on a floral bedspread, cuddling with his beloved cat, Princess Tuna. Unsettling. The narrative of terror that we often see seldom contains photos of wannabe terrorists cuddling with their kitty cats, or of the underwear bomber as a sullen teenager, posing during a school trip.

CNN Outfrontblog: Her grandpa painted Amrikans, and OMFG, she paints terrorists!!!!!!

3QD Arts & Lit Prize

I have a BEEF with the ridiculous voting thing that 3QD has – one can only vote for one post (wha?!?). But I want you all to go vote for one of Lapata’s amazing three post (I will be voting for the Stay at-Home Man).

The blogzine 3QuarksDaily Arts & Literature Prize has declared its voting season as open! Five CM posts are there for your pickings, along with 200 other amazing pieces of writing. It has been a good year, looks like.

If Lapata wins, she promises to throw a party and invite only those who voted for her. So, vote for her, then email her your addresses.


P.S. Lapata Sez:

For a trip down memory lane, here are the posts up for nomination:

1. Bookslut: In Search of Spiraling Time (by Lapata)
2. CM: I am Bhains (by Sepoy)
3. CM: Oscar, Wow! (by Lapata)
4. CM: Peccavistan (by Sepoy)
5. CM: The Stay-at-Home Man (by Lapata)

Discovered: Lapata

Ralph Luker, at Cliopatria, announces the Annual Cliopatria Awards in the History blogosphere. Guess who won a 2010!

Best Writer: Lapata @ Chapati Mystery

Lapata’s essays are not so much written as they are assembled, careful collages of visuals, text, and quotations always cunningly integrated into architectural unities. Her style always serves her subject: in pieces like “The Reluctant Feudalist,” the contrapuntal conversation she stages between writers and readers, past and present, catches so much more of what is ambiguous or fragmentary about her subject that a more didactic or polemic style would ever allow. In “The Stay-at-Home Man,” her narrative pursuit of the elusive and mystifying Naiyer Masud is just as appropriately elusive as the author himself. It is the mark of a superb writer that calling her a south-Asian historian, literary critic, visual artist, or narrative non-fiction writer doesn’t seem to quite catch the totality. It’s the particular way she combines all at once — with never a comma or full-stop out of place, never a tiresome clause — that makes her writing shine.

We are so very, very proud.

New readers simply click here and keep on clicking.

Shiny Domes

I have a review of Robert D. Kaplan’s new tome Monsoon up at The National UAE: Recall America’s imperial past, understand its present.

The policy readers of this book will find it sober reading. The empire, which does listen to Robert Kaplan, will surely invite him to speak to groups with shiny brass and shinier domes. The historians reading this book will have less cause to be charitable. The now-standard collapse of lived history from “Alexander the Great” to “us” would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

Again and again, centuries disappear from Kaplan’s narrative as routinely elaborated customs and practices are relegated to either geographic determinism or something called “Desert Islam”. Those inhabitants of the climes in which Kaplan locates his narrative will have more than ample reason to be offended by his caricatures or by his invocations to the healing power of violence – be it Robert Clive or Sultan Qaboos. In this, however, Kaplan is neither unique nor exemplary in a pantheon of great American commentators which stretches from Thomas L Friedman to Fareed Zakaria.

Go Read and come back and tell me how you like it.

This Message Brought to you by Vinay Lal

Gentle Readers,

I am sorry, but I have been drowning in writing deadlines, some of which will trickle into consciousness here over the next year or so and I will delightfully point to this period of non-activity (seeming). In the meantime, some announcements:

A. I AM GOING TO CAIRO!!!. I will be there from Dec 4 thru Dec 16th – hanging out at the AUC – giving a public talk on Monday, the 14th at the Oriental Hall (!!). Everyone I know in Cairo must meet up. Use the comments below or email me etc.

1. Historian Vinay Lal (am a big fan!) has a book coming out this month that I really want (HINT to my Indian conspirators!), Deewaar: The Footpath, the City and the Angry Young Man. He has linked to it, and given us a taste of it, here.

2. Vinay Lal was recently in Berlin for a conference called “What’s Next: Postcolonialism?” or “Who got Next? Postcolonialism” or “Postcolonialism: What’s next?”. I am not entirely sure how that peach was sliced. The good news is that it has prompted Lal to embark on a (already) substantial engagement with postcolonial thought in a series, The Politics of Culture and Knowledge after Postcolonialism: Nine Theses (and a Prologue). You can read Thesis One and Two. Please await the remaindering or start the discussion now! Preferably the now!

3. There are some guest posts in the pipeline – they will come next week.

4. As Aaron puts it, “the internet decid[ed] to stage woodstock at my blog“. Go read. Seriously.

Two Shorts

To the many “Pakistan” related things clamoring for your desensitized attention, may I add a couple more?

I. Artist and film-maker Sophiya Pandeya travels to Hingal, Baluchistan and visits “Nani Mandir” of Hinglaj Mata. This darshan tale is touching, illuminating and worthy of your time. You can watch it below. You can also see a picture gallery from KO of a trip to the same Park.

II. Sasti-Masti is a short made by director Ahmer Naqvi aka Karachikhatmal. A homage to Lollywood, to Lahore, to Ji-woon Kim’s Bittersweet Life, it works wonderfully on many registers – not the least being the tongue-in-cheek one.