About Aaron Bady
A graduate student in real life at UC Berkeley, Aaron is a graduate student in virtual life at zunguzungu.
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posts by Aaron Bady
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Founding the Terror State in Macondo
Years after that founding, after Macondo has become more established and more connections have been built to the outside world, Don Apolinar Moscote shows up in Macondo and declares himself to be the Magistrate—by writing it on a piece of paper—and his “first order was for all the houses to be painted blue in celebration of national independence.” When José Arcadio Buendía, the town’s historic founder and patriarch, demands to know by what right he has given this order, Moscote declares, in a wonderfully productive passive voice, that “I have been named magistrate of this town.”
I love the way you can paint a house blue in celebration of an anniversary, the way an event fixed in time—the day of independence—becomes an ongoing, never ending spectacle (the way it is always September 12th for a certain mindset in the United States). But I’m even more interested in the passive voice construction of that second declaration, the way it asserts an authority, a power to compel, based in the complete elision of that power’s origin. Who has declared him the Magistrate? If he had to say, he would limit his power, give it a temporal and spatial scope, and that kind of power is not the kind he wants. After all, it is the very basis of omnipresent terror-power that it admits no actual existence, as Kafka understood.Continue reading "Founding the Terror State in Macondo"
Founding Macondo in Forgetting Rape
To continue the “big famous book Latin America” kick we’re on, I want to take us to the author Bolaño called “a man terribly pleased to have hobnobbed with so many Presidents and Archbishops,” and who just generally represented so much of the literary establishment The Savage Detectives seemed, as far as I could tell, an effort to escape from underneath. Cause it turns out he’s not a bad writer. Who knew?
I’ve been teaching Cien años de soledad/One Hundred Years of Solitude and I’ve been struck this reading, for the first time, how interwoven the founding of Macondo is with a desire not only to forget, but to specifically forget the specter of rape. For example, of the original expedition to found Macondo we read that:
“In his youth, José Arcadio Buendía and his men, with wives and children, animals and all kinds of domestic implements, had crossed the mountains in search of an outlet to the sea, and after twenty-six months they gave up the expedition and founded Macondo, so they would not have to go back. It was, therefore, a route that did not interest him, for it could lead only to the past.”
Immediately before this line, it is mentioned that the ancient city of Riohacha is on the other side of some impenetrable mountains, “where, in times past—according to what had been told by the first Aureliano Buendía, his grandfather—Sir Francis Drake had gone crocodile hunting with cannons and that he repaired them and stuffed them with straw to bring to Queen Elizabeth.”
There’s a connection between these passages, though it isn‘t immediately clear what that connection will be. But about ten pages later, we’ll get a little closer when we learn that “every time Úrsula became exercised over her husband’s mad ideas, she would leap back over three hundred years of fate and curse the day that Sir Francis Drake had attacked Riohacha.”Continue reading "Founding Macondo in Forgetting Rape"
Friday, February 19, 2010
“I meet them, yes. I go around.”
I found this Swahili Forum article by Uta Reuster-Jahn absolutely fascinating:
Continue reading "“I meet them, yes. I go around.”"
“It can be said that newspaper serials are the most popular form of Swahili literature in Tanzania at the moment. This is all the more important for the assessment of reading culture in Tanzania, as book sales via the established channels of distribution using book stores are weak, or even on decline, as in the case of Ndanda Mission Press’ entertainment books. This decrease seems to be counterbalanced by an increase in fiction published in newspapers. In addition to being read in the papers, it must be noted that a number of serials appear in the form of books after the stories have reached their end in the paper, thus contributing to the book market in Tanzania. However, they tend to be overlooked by scholars because they do not turn up in book stores. Rather, they are sold on the streets using the distribution channels of the papers...
Since the privatisation of media in the 1990s, the number of newspapers and tabloids has multiplied, and serials have become abundant...they are the most popular form of fiction at the moment in terms of quantity of readers. They are especially prevalent in the tabloids, where there often are more than three stories being serialised at a time...However, the most prominent writer specialising in newspaper serials is Eric James Shigongo, who probably is also the most prolific author of popular literature of the last decade in Tanzania altogether. In his case, novel writing has reached a new quality as a well organised, apparently successful, self-owned business. His history as a writer is inextricably connected to his activity in the publishing sector, as he serialises his stories in his own newspapers. Eric James Shigongo is owner and chief executive officer of Global Publishers & General Enterprises Ltd., located in Sinza, Dar es Salaam. Together with Abdallah Mrisho Salawi, he founded the company in 1998, and only then did he start publishing novels too.”
Thursday, February 11, 2010
More Original Aura
I can’t figure out if I should be excited about this or not. But apparently Sally Wolff-King has found a fragment of a Mississippi planter’s diary from which Faulkner took (at the least) a bunch of names for his novels:
As she puts it:
“The diary and a number of family stories seem to have provided the philosophical and thematic power for some of his major works. Names of slaves owned by Leak — Caruthers, Moses, Isaac, Sam, Toney, Mollie, Edmund and Worsham — all appear in some form in “Go Down, Moses.” Other recorded names, like Candis (Candace in the book) and Ben, show up in “The Sound and The Fury” (1929) while Old Rose, Henry, Ellen and Milly are characters in “Absalom, Absalom!” (1936). Charles Bonner, a well-known Civil War physician mentioned in the diary, would also seem to be the namesake of Charles Bon in “Absalom.”
I am, however, amused that while the document itself “has been discovered” in the first paragraph, Sally Wolff-King doesn’t actually get named for discovering it until paragraph seven. That’s original aura for you! It discovers itself!
(Apparently, a preview of her findings is to be found in the fall 2009 issue of The Southern Literary Journal while her book Ledgers of History: William Faulkner, an Almost Forgotten Friendship, and an Antebellum Diary will be out in June from LSU Press).
Thursday, January 28, 2010
This isn’t a particularly deep point. But I was struck, looking at this image of the only original manuscript copy of Paradise Lost (h/t), at how much more it affects me precisely because I’m seeing a digital reproduction of The Original:
Mainly, of course, I just wanted to share this image. But it’s a strange inversion on the vulgar Benjaminism of clearly dividing between Art and mechanical reproduction, between the initial distinction I want to draw between aura and no aura. Somehow this thing has the aura that it has (at least for me) precisely because it’s been digitally reproduced. But then, I guess Benjamin would never have written that essay before mechanical reproduction, would he?
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Avatar and the American Man-Child: “Don’t you want to be an Indian little boy?”
“I am a firm believer in children living out their lives in the mythical stage: in the period when they ask and answer themselves questions about nature…The child is a born savage…the child is born a naturalist…[To the children:] Don’t you want to be an Indian little boy, and put feathers in your hair? Wouldn’t you like to dig a hole and live in the ground, and wouldn’t you like to roam at will in the big woods? Certainly you would.”
Asking if Avatar is racist is the wrong question, I think, however necessary it may be; a negative answer is impossible, but a positive is insufficient. To build on what Scott and Annalee have written, then, I think we should look closer at what it actually uses its warped racialism to say.
After all, defenders of the movie will point out that the natives are the heroes, that the main character’s journey is towards a greater understanding of the native culture and appreciation for all sorts of values that his own society, a damnably capitalist, militaristic, and scientific culture (with a different figurehead for each value), has given up, to its own profound detriment. And I think Wax Banks is right that the best ending for this movie would have been to submerge Jake into the collective and produce “an eco-disaster film in reverse, with the audience cheering for Nature to wipe out the goddamn army,” without any “heroic” focus at all. He’s right because the movie wants its politics to be an argument that “modernity” has profoundly harmed us, and that because we, like Jake, have been crippled by the times in which we live, we have to go native, go natural. But this means that while the movie is profoundly patronizing towards its natives, it infantilizes them only because it idealizes them for that very infancy, making them into children because it, too, wants to retreat from the adulthood/modernity.Continue reading "Avatar and the American Man-Child: “Don’t you want to be an Indian little boy?”"
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
On teaching a writing class in a classroom whose door was recently knocked off its hinges
At 3 o’clock yesterday, I taught my first “normal” class since the strike of last week, the occupation of Wheeler Hall, and since the confrontation between UC Berkeley students and the BPD, the SFPD, and riot cops from the Alameda county Sheriff’s office. This happened outside my building, a long and protracted confrontation with the police that followed the occupation of the classroom I actually teach in, and I needed to take account of it somehow:
So I wrote the following email to the English graduate student listserv, and I reproduce it here both because I want people to understand what happened on Friday (and what’s happening at the UC system more generally) and because it helps express the position I and my fellow teachers get put in when politics literally occupies our classrooms. Not every teacher I’ve spoken to had the same experience, but when we spent most of the class discussing what had happened, and what was at stake, multiple students thanked me for talking about it in terms which I believe were truly genuine. A few, I imagine, couldn’t have cared less. But I don’t have so high an opinion of my own teaching prowess to think that they lost something irreparable by losing a few classes of discussion section with me, or at least not compared to the benefit of actually stopping to reflect on events which are rushing past us* and to hear other perspectives on the issue (that we ended up having a conversation between students radically divided by class, ethnicity, and political inclination was, I think, not a common occurrence for them). Education happens in all sorts of ways.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Rudyard Kipling: You would like him when he’s angry
At age 24, Rudyard Kipling was angry with the United States. His books were being pirated, since American copyright laws took a liberal approach to defending British authors. So, en route from India to England, he took time to write a “Brit goes to America!” book (starting in San Francisco), which begins with the fantasy of burning it to the ground. Things kind of go downhill from there (after the break).
Monday, November 09, 2009
Repressive Anti-Sentimentalism: Best [Male] Writers of 2009
I find it hard to regard “best” lists as anything other than an expression of taste, as anything other than basically subjective. I have nothing against subjectivity, of course, and I’m not saying that the enterprise isn’t valid or useful in some important sense, but it means that I regard the pretense of objectivity that judges so often assume as they attempt to justify their choices as delusory at best and disingenuous at worst. If you disagree with that sentiment, then I bet you will disagree with what follows. But I think you will do so because of where you place value, because of how you subjectively define objective truth.
Publisher’s Weekly, it seems, has produced an all male Best of 2009 list, which they introduce as follows:
“From more than 50,000 volumes, we valiantly set out to choose 100, and this year we’ve upped the ante with a top 10 list…We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration…We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”
It’s interesting to me that it didn’t disturb them all that much. Because while a certain kind of male-bias in taste proceeds without an awareness of itself, there is something perverse and bizarre in the spectacle of people who are explicitly aware of their bias proceeding without regard to it. After all, an all male list doesn’t just happen. Or, rather, unless you really and truly believe that over half the population of writers just happened to produce truly sub-standard work; unless you really believe that, of all the novels produced by women writers, not one was as good as the tenth best novel written by a man; unless you believe that there is something about having ovaries that disables one from producing great literature, this is the sort of experimental result that absolutely screams experimental error. If you flip a coin and it comes up “male” ten times in a row, you are working with a bad coin. But the list of judges who compiled this list find the fault, it seems, in the writers with ovaries who failed to measure up.Continue reading "Repressive Anti-Sentimentalism: Best [Male] Writers of 2009"
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Tarantino is an Inglourious Basterd
First, I propose to you the difference between fantasy and counterfactual. A counterfactual is interested in historical causation, both the question of what could have happened (but didn’t) and what, as a result of that change, might have happened next. A fantasy, on the other hand, is not interested in any of that. Counterfactuals usually introduce (and isolate) the intervening change that causes history to play out differently, but a fantasy simply revels in the thing which is different itself. So a counterfactual might ask “Would killing Hitler, Borman, Goebbels, and Goering in a movie theater in 1945 end the war and save lives, etc?” But Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds doesn’t just beg that question, it completely ignores it: the point isn’t what causes Hitler’s death (or what is caused by it) but rather the spectacle of his body writhing as bullets rip it apart. It is a pornography of history.
Most of the movie’s reviewers have expected nothing more than that from him, and they’re not wrong. Tarantino clearly has created a particular kind of “fucking Jewish wet dream,” as his producer was quoted as calling it (in Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic). But most reviewers, I think, give Tarantino’s movie too little credit and stop there. Those words do get to the heart of the fantasy Tarantino has made for us: a revenge fantasy which makes Hitler into the fetish object from which all anti-semitism emanates, thereby transforming all remembered grievances (Tarantino’s producer’s “I was taunted and thrown into lockers, and I’ve never forgotten it”) into the childish fantasy of killing Hitler. But as it becomes a movie about movies, it also becomes a fantasy about fantasies.
Monday, November 02, 2009
Things Fall Together; or, the different hats that Chinua Achebe wears
A friend of mine has the annoying habit of reading African novels that I’ve read long enough ago to have more or less forgotten. The other day, in fact, he returned Nuruddin Farah’s Knots, a novel which I’ve not only not read, but which I forgot I even lent to him. The selfish jerk. Plus-which, the fact that he’s writing on Joyce and James and Stein and people like that makes it prick my conscience all the deeper that he has smart things to say about Soyinka’s The Interpreters.
This irritates me because there was a time when I told anyone who asked that I was studying “African Literature” and I feel a certain sense of loss and nostalgia for that kind of project, for the sense of a definable object of study that one can speak authoritatively about. Because, after all, what is African literature? The more one thinks about it, I find, the more it falls apart as a category. Which is to say, while it certainly exists in a phenomenological sense, trying to place that phenomenon in any kind of empirical context is a project of fast diminishing returns: the more seriously you attempt to group the literary production of an entire continent into a single term, the more you occlude the fundamental fictions of that categorization from your vision. I’m not going to go over all the different kinds of linguistic, cultural, historical, geographical, and racial categories that different critics have tried out in their search for a securely definable field of “African literature” (each of which is at least usefully wrong) but to treat any of them as anything but imperfect fictions is to naturalize (and thus sacrifice the ability to think critically about) those very discursive narratives.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
The Underdetermined Death of Uhura
Having imbibed a bunch of commentary on the new Star Trek film (starting with Adam‘s post, which led me to Abigail’s overview, and finally on to Millicent‘s reading), I want to up the ante on the vitriol, and declare this movie to be genuinely odious.
For a start, while the commonplace that women exist in cinema to serve as growth charts for the male leads is commonly true, there’s something particularly attenuated about this phenomenon in this particular Star Trek. As has been pointed out elsewhere, women are important primarily as absences, even—to put it more strongly—legible only as traumatic representations of absence. While Spock and Nero, for example, have highly developed narratives which spool out their characters by reference to their loss of mother and wife, post-infant Kirk has no apparent mother at all, an absence from the narrative necessitated by her actual presence in his life. In this movie, only dead women are real and reality is a function of dead women.*
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Breeding and Diversity: Using Baseball and Politics to Hide My Ignorance About the 18th Century
Opposing teams and fans enjoy attributing their success against my hapless Washington Nationals to their own dominant pitching and defense. To me, however, it is obvious that the proximate cause of the team’s 13-34 start is our impotent bats, anemic pitching, and Buster Keaton-esque, golden-age-of-Hollywood style physical comedy carnival show that masquerades as field defense. This is not surprising: the statistical idiom of baseball transforms the messy, overdetermined causation of different plays into countable units by attributing sole causation to a single player. A hitter therefore gets a hit or a pitcher gets a strikeout, without reference to the help they needed from their opposing number to do so, or the any number of other ways its causation could be understood. The language of baseball, in other words, encourages us to understand events as having a single cause, in a way that has a certain utility, but also a very specifically limited one.
If it’s not clear where I’m going with this, blame it on the psychic burden of being a Nats fan. I start with this example because, as Stephen Jay Gould writes at the beginning of Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, “we reveal ourselves in the metaphors we choose to depict the cosmos in miniature,” and just as it tells us something interesting about how baseball thinks that it gets so thoroughly mediated by statistics, so too does Gould find an important difference in whether we conceptualize biological diversity as a bush rather than a ladder. By the same token, formulating the problem of human difference and diversity as an opposition between “nature” and “nurture” reveals a great deal about the unspoken assumption underlying either position; whether it’s nature or nurture that wins out, posing the problem as an “either/or” (or even as a “which is more important?”) question very silently makes an aggressive assumption about the autonomy of both, assuming that “nature” has some kind of existence outside of the environment in which it gets nurtured, or vice versa.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Norwegian and Nigerian Woods: Keziah Jones and the Beatles
At the beginning of the title song of Keziah Jones’ masterpiece Nigerian Wood, an Oxbridgy voice tells us we are about to hear “African music research, long playing record, side two,” and that we’ll open up with a “a dance song with a moral.” The joke is, of course, that we are about to hear a CD of modern dance music produced by an African who delivers it to us himself, ostensibly unshepherded by any form of ethnographic mediation. And sampling Dr. Oxbridge (as he was in the act of sampling some tribal savages dancing and howling) is the postcolonial turnabout move par excellence, an assertion of cultural self-possession via the rhetoric of signifyin’ mimicry. But since Bhabha and Gates are no longer as cutting edge as they once were, I’m less interested in the fact of signifyin’ mimicry than I am in what is being signified, and in Jones’ own commentary on what he’s doing. After all, while he is clearly mocking the speaker, Dr. Oxbridge’s statement is also completely true on the most basic literal level: this is dance music, become the vehicle for social commentary. But in this case, its commentary is addressed to exactly this process, to the ways that Jones’ own music functions as a cultural commodity, and about the ways that the production of cultural texts (like this very song) gets commodified and marketed.
“You want the best Mahogany...Designed to keep you company Memories...Through all safari memories...You want the best Mahogany”
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Continuing to Trouble Walter Benn Michaels: The Wire and the Spirit of Capitalist Critique
From the outset, I should admit that I find it difficult to engage with Walter Benn Michaels’ arguments because they simply do not resemble any reality, literary or historical, which I recognize. I admire his Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism a great deal, but the fact that he could write that book without mentioning Jose Marti seems to me symptomatic of a problem that has gotten worse as his work has become more and more directly polemic: a performed ignorance of the very literary tradition of American immigrant writing that he sets out to critique. I don’t want to get to deep into that, though; he’s been making the kind of claim he made in the essay that Andrew first responded to for a while (and there have been good discussions and critiques of it elsewhere), so it doesn’t seem worth it to rehash here what I think he mis-frames as a class vs. race argument. Instead—like Andrew, I think—I’m more interested in what a poor reader his approach seems to have made of such an otherwise astute critic, and some thoughts about why.Continue reading "Continuing to Trouble Walter Benn Michaels: The Wire and the Spirit of Capitalist Critique"