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T. S. Eliot Memorial Reading: Fred Moten - YouTube
“The first annual T. S. Eliot Memorial Reading honored the work of Fred Moten, who was introduced by Prof. Teju Cole.

Recorded on April 25, 2019, at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University.

Sponsored by the Woodberry Poetry Room and the T. S. Eliot Foundation.“
tseliot  fredmoten  tejucole  2019  towatch  freedom  vigor  love  witness  withness  breakingform  ephasia  art  writing  fluency  transformation  we  uninterrogatedwes  ceciltaylor  language  escape  édouardglissant  tonimorrison  howweread  howwewrite  difference  separability  meaning  meaningmaking  words  poetry  expression  togetherness  liberation  howweteach  lacan  criticaltheory  reading  purity  jamesbaldwin  race  beauty  criticism  self  selflessness  fugitives  fugitivity  work  labor  laziness  us  capitalism  politics  identity  society  belonging  immigration  africandiaspora  diaspora  violence  langstonhughes  looking  listening  queer  queerness  bettedavis  eyes  ugliness  bodies  canon 
7 days ago by robertogreco
Class Day Lecture: Teju Cole - YouTube
[See also: https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2019/05/commencement-teju-cole ]

"The GSD has named Teju Cole as its 2019 Class Day speaker. Teju Cole is a novelist, essayist, photographer, and curator. His books include Open City, Blind Spot and, most recently, Human Archipelago. He has been honored with the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Internationaler Literaturpreis, the Windham Campbell Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among many other prizes. His photography has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, and he was the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine from 2015 until 2019. He is the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard."
tejucole  2019  commencementaddresses  design  refugees  tonimorrison  fascism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  oppression  complicity  power  doors  sandiego  borderfieldstatepark  friendshippark  border  borders  migration  immigration  us  mexico  tijuana  borderpatrol  humanism  grace  chivalry  hospitality  humans  kindness  commencementspeeches 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
Teju Cole on the unpredictability and potential of the city: “Once you give up insisting on stereotypes, you can really start to see.” - Harvard Graduate School of Design
"The work of novelist, essayist, and photographer Teju Cole is a genre-defying exploration of race, governance, migration, justice, culture, music, and privilege. It is defined by a comfort with uncertainty and a commitment to defending the freedom and autonomy of others.

The city is the motif that recurs most frequently in Cole’s work. He is drawn to the unpredictability and potential of the urban environment and its endless narrative material. And he is intrigued by the “continuities” between cities—what makes them similar, regardless of size, median income, or hemisphere—as well what makes each one unique. He describes these peculiarities as “smaller zones of interest that, once you give up insisting on stereotypes, you can really start to see.”

“The guidebooks might say, ‘Check out fabulous Florence.’ Or, ‘Kinshasa’s a mess,’” Cole says. “The reality is that teenagers in Florence hang out at the mall, teenagers in Kinshasa hang out at the mall. People in both places who have money can go to nice restaurants. Florence has a trash problem, so does Kinshasa. It’s the same story. The task of insisting on that continuity feels to me like a writerly ethical responsibility. What makes one city different from another is the subtleties, the smaller things you notice when you relinquish the task of exaggerating.”

Cole spent nearly two decades each in Lagos and New York, and he says that they are examples of cities that serve “intellectually as a source of exploration of thinking for my work.” He explains, “If you draw a map around New York, Zurich, Lagos, and São Paulo, they represent the extremes of what cities are and what they do, and each in its own way precisely represents some interests of mine. New York, Lagos, and São Paulo are all part of what I consider the Black Atlantic, places that have been shaped by the black creative presence to a very large extent.” His 2007 debut novel, Every Day Is for the Thief, takes place in Lagos, while his second novel, Open City, and a number of essays are set in New York.

[photo with caption: "“Kitchen to living room. Bedroom to bathroom. Downstairs to get the mail. House to subway. An evening stroll. You take around 7500 steps each day. If you live to eighty, inshallah, that comes to 200 million steps over the course of your life, a hundred thousand miles. You don't consider yourself a great walker, but you will have circumnavigated the globe on foot four times over. Downstairs to get the mail. Basement for laundry. Living room to bedroom. Up in the middle of the night for a glass of water. Walking through the darkened house, you suddenly pause.” “Zürich,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

Cole’s writing has been translated into more than 15 languages and has earned him numerous awards, including the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. His photography has led to guest curating opportunities and solo exhibitions in seven countries on three continents. In addition to his two novels, he has published Known and Strange Things, a collection of essays on art, literature, photography, and politics; Blind Spot, a singular collection of photographs and writing; and Human Archipelago, a meditation on refugees and displaced people with photographer Fazal Sheikh. He has written for the New Yorker, Granta, and other magazines, and served as the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine from 2015 to 2019.

This afternoon, Cole, Harvard’s first Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing, will deliver the Class Day address for the Graduate School of Design. He plans to use his address to encourage graduates “to think about our life together” and to imagine how a future can be conceived and built. Cole himself is a model for a cross-disciplinary creative practice that is at once intellectually rigorous, politically and socially engaged, and unbound to any singular medium.

[photo with caption: "“A gust of wind sweeps in from across the lake. The curtain shifts, and suddenly everything can be seen. The scales fall from our eyes. The landscape opens. No longer are we alone: they are with us now, have been all along, all our living and all our dead.” Excerpt from “Rivaz,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

Cole’s fluidity between forms of expression can be credited, at least in part, to a background that has elements of multiplicity and movement, trial and error, switchbacks and reboots. Born in 1975 in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nigerian parents, his life began with two passports, cultures, and languages. At four months old, Cole moved with his family to Lagos, Nigeria, where he lived until he returned to Michigan to pursue studies in art and art history at Kalamazoo College. Later he would go on to study African art history at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and art history at Columbia University in New York.

“It was an important fact mentally to know that I belong to Nigeria and the United States,” he says. With time, that comfort with the in-between of dual identities evolved into a confidence in belonging to both places. “It’s always interested me, this idea of, ‘Oh, we don’t say it that way in America.’ To which my response is, ‘Well, we do now.’ Whatever I am, whatever I do, that’s part of America now. This imagined community that we call a nation is ever-expanding and ever-complexifying, and that’s a good thing. We’ve expanded the possibilities.”

Although he first made a name for himself as a novelist, Cole has always identified equally as a writer and a photographer. “I got into both at the same time, around 2004. With whatever I had studied, with whatever my education was, there was a certain voicing that I knew I wanted to explore more in writing. At SOAS, I started what I would say were the very first glimmerings of Open City. I wrote maybe five pages, but it was Mad Libs, no sentences. It was like a fever dream,” he remembers. “But by 2005, I started to feel like, ‘No, I need to write clear sentences’ and let the clarity convey the energy, just have it be cumulative. Around the same time, I started shooting with a film camera.” In Every Day Is for the Thief, a novella that follows a young Nigerian returning to Lagos after years in the US, Cole weaves black and white photographs throughout the narrative.

[photo with caption: "“I opened my eyes. What lay before me looked like the sound of the alphorn at the beginning of the final movement of Brahm’s First Symphony. This was the sound, this was the sound I saw.” “Brienzersee,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

In Blind Spot, images and photographs also have equal footing in a series of single-spread couplets—on one page a full-color image, on the other, prose. Inspired by the six months Cole spent living in Zurich, the book is a call-and-response between a snapshot of a place and a burst of associations. His aim is to come at a subject in such a way that the audience experiences something unexpected that, as he once said, “detonates on some deeper level.”

Cole credits his time writing monthly photography criticism for the New York Times Magazine with growing his photography practice. Reading the photographs of others opened him up to taking his own. Called “On Photography,” his column also gave him an opportunity to engage in a deeper dialogue with the history of photography and to consider himself in relation to artists including Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Luigi Ghirri, and Guido Guidi. He says that contemporary Italian photographers like Ghirri have had an especially significant and validating influence on his work.

[photo with caption: "“I pray to Tarkovsky, Marker, and Hitchcock. I acknowledge the dumb skull, the verso of the face, the local globe from which all thinking originates. I pray to Ojeikere and Richter, in whose works someone is always turning away. In certain pictures, we can verify a character’s presence, but, without the clues of the confessional face, not what the character thinks. What has turned away contains itself.” Excerpt from “Chicago,” from Blind Spot, by Teju Cole."]

Yet Cole says that the most life-defining experiences behind his work have been purely interior. Becoming a born-again Christian at age 13 injected heaviness and seriousness into his life; coming out the other side as an atheist at age 28 changed his “relationship to the world and ethics.” And, at 33, he found what he calls an “even keel” spiritually, outside of religion. “Open City came out in 2011 and that was really what got the public aspect of my career going. But what was important happened eight years before [at 28]: discovering that I had a sense of how to move forward in my life. The pivotal moments have had to do with my relationship to my own being in the world. Some of the external stuff is nice, but I will never define myself around that. Ever. It could all be gone tomorrow. It doesn’t matter because that’s not the definition.”

Cole left New York to take up his teaching role at Harvard in January 2019. Being back in academia, on the other side of the lectern, is right for him, right now, he says. He clearly enjoys nudging his students toward the difficult interior places to find voice, material, and meaning.

“I’m trying to be free. I was influenced by people who are free, including Toni Morrison and John Berger, great artists…. Learning to prioritize that freedom is what led me to this work. Not in a glib ‘I could do anything’ way but in an ‘I have a responsibility to expand the field, to move the center’ way. So, what I say to students is not, ‘You can do anything,’ but ‘You can do a lot, if you’re serious about picking up the necessary skills for each of the things you want to do.’”"
tejucole  toread  2019  salaelisepatterson  cities  urban  urbanism  unpredictability  stereotypes  seeing  noticing  johnberger  tonimorrison  photography  writing 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
“Design Is Not an Intellectual Exercise” | Harvard Magazine
"STANDING BEFORE a graduating class of soon-to-be architects and designers and urban planners at the Graduate School of Design’s Class Day, Teju Cole—the Vidal professor of the practice of creative writing—wanted to talk about doors. Real doors, but also symbolic ones. He began with a story from his own childhood in Lagos, Nigeria, about a door his father had brought home from a trip to Brazil, a “honey-colored, luminous, gorgeous” object that was “fit for a cathedral” but had no practical place in the family’s two-bedroom rented flat. For years, said Cole, the unused and unusable door gathered dust in the corner of their home, but his father remained committed to the idea it represented: a house and property of their own. That commitment “stayed with me, not only as an act of faith, but as an instinct for understanding a kind of power of portals.”

Cole is a novelist, essayist, photographer, and curator. His five books include Open City, Blind Spot, and most recently, Human Archipelago, a collaboration with photographer Fazal Sheikh that explores the plight of displaced persons and refugees around the world. Cole’s own photography has been the subject of solo exhibitions, and from 2015 until 2019, he was the photography critic of The New York Times.

In his speech, he wound through the etymology of the word “door”—one of the oldest in human civilization, as ancient as “hand,” or “bread,” or “home”—and its equally ancient architectural history (“a house without a door is either a dungeon or a tomb”). He spoke about doors as a rich, resonant subject for artwork, and explored the symbolic force of the word’s many meanings: passageways, openings, opportunities, the act of crossing over, of overcoming. Finally, his meditation landed on a very different kind of door. A few years ago, he traveled from Lagos across what was once called the Slave Coast of West Africa, to Ouidah, Benin, where a giant bronze and concrete arch, the Door of No Return, memorializes the enslaved who were taken from that place. Cole saw the tree to which people had been chained, the field that was once a holding pen for thousands, the pit where those who rebelled were thrown to their deaths. “This was a journey into traces of human cruelty,” he said.

He looked out at the graduating class. “Design is not an intellectual exercise,” he said. Taken altogether, their work will be influential. “But the question of what kind of influence you will have is up to you. We face challenges, and we need you to be a door for us. We’re living in a time of toxic patriarchy still. We are living in a time of white supremacy still. There are those who agree to build prisons. There are those who agree to build detention camps. Oppression has always had great use for architects and designers and urban planners. Redlining was a technical skill. And everything that betrays our collective humanity depends on people just like you, with skills just like yours.”

He wasn’t finished. “Fascism in guises large and small requires signage and advertising,” Cole said. “It requires vivid design and the architecture of enmity. History assures us that many, many people get swept up in the flood of its seduction.” He paused. “Will you be one of those who refuse to participate? Even when you know that there will be no medals for your refusal? Even when you’re assured that your refusal will only earn you mockery, poverty, or worse?”

A few minutes later, he returned to an idea he’d introduced in the beginning of the speech: how people become doorways for each other, to help others get where they are going. He quoted the author Toni Morrison, who, in a 2003 interview, said, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”

“I think about that a lot,” Cole said. He told the graduates-to-be that it is important to take their professional endeavors seriously, to work toward mastery in all their skills. “But expertise is not the destination,” he cautioned. “The destination is freedom. What can we do to free others? Sure, we are experts, but under what ethical pressures does this function? In other words, how do we become a door for others to pass through?” Later, he added a wish for the graduates’ careers. “You will do work that allows you to live with yourself. That’s the bigger dream, putting feeling into form in a way that doesn’t do violence to what is human in you.”

And what about his father’s door? Eight years later, Cole said, his parents—both of whom were in the audience—finally were able to buy a piece of land, on the outskirts of Lagos. They built a house there, and placed the door in it, “like a jewel in a velvet cushion.” Three years after that, Cole left home at 17 to go to college in the United States. And “it was through this doorway, literally, that I stepped—this beautiful, long-nurtured Brazilian door.”"
tejucole  2019  design  fascism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  oppression  complicity  tonimorrison  power  doors 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
Teju Cole — Sitting Together in the Dark - The On Being Project
"Writer and photographer Teju Cole says he is “intrigued by the continuity of places, by the singing line that connects them all.” He attends to the border, overlap and interplay of things — from Brahms and Baldwin to daily technologies like Google. To delve into his mind and his multiple arts is to meet this world with creative raw materials for enduring truth and quiet hope."



"I’m going to go back to a word I used earlier, which is how much help we need. We sometimes think of culture as something we go out there and consume. And this especially happens around clever people, smart people — “Have you read this? Did you check out that review? Do you know this poet? What about this other poet?” Blah blah blah. And we have these checkmarks — “I read 50 books last year” — and everybody wants to be smart and keep up. I find that I’m less and less interested in that, and more and more interested in what can help me and what can jolt me awake. Very often, what can jolt me awake is stuff that is written not for noonday but for the middle of the night. And that has to do with — again, with the concentration of energies in it.

Tomas Tranströmer, the Swedish poet, who died — can’t remember; maybe 2013 he died. He seemed to have unusual access to this membrane between this world and some other world that, as Paul Éluard said, is also in this one. Tranströmer, in his poetry, keeps slipping into that space.

In any case, I just found his work precisely the kind of thing I wanted to read in the silence of the middle of the night and feel myself escaping my body in a way that I become pure spirit, in a way. I remember when he won the Nobel Prize, which was in 2011. We live in an age of opinion, and people always have opinions, especially about things they know nothing about. So people who were hearing about Tranströmer for the first time that morning were very grandly opining that his collected works come to maybe 250 pages, that how could he possibly get the Nobel Prize for that slender body of work? — which, of course, was missing the fact that each of these pages was a searing of the consciousness that was only achieved at by great struggle. I think the best thing to compare him to is the great Japanese poets of haiku, like Kobayashi or Basho."



"But I wrote this today, and — for a long time now, but very definitely since January 1 of this year, I’ve been thinking about hospitality, because I wanted a container for some things I didn’t know where to put about the present moment. Who’s kin? Who’s family? Who’s in, who’s out? And just thinking this whole year about the question of hospitality has given me a way to read a lot of things that are very distressing, in this country and in the world, around the border but also around domestic policy. So this one goes against the grain, but I needed to put it down.

“The extraordinary courage of Lassana Bathily, an immigrant from Mali, saved six lives during a terrorist attack at a kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes in 2015. He was rewarded with French citizenship by the French president, François Hollande.

“But this is not a story about courage.

“The superhuman agility and bravery of Mamadou Gassama, an immigrant from Mali, saved a baby from death in the 18th Arrondissement in May 2018. He was rewarded with French citizenship by the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

“But this is not a story about bravery.

“The superhuman is rewarded with formal status as a human. The merely human, meanwhile, remains unhuman, quasi-human, subhuman. Gassama crossed the Mediterranean in a tiny boat — that was superhuman, but no one filmed that, he remained subhuman, and there was no reward.

“Such is Empire’s magnanimity. Merci, patron. Je suis tellement reconnaissant, patron.

“The hand that gives, it is said in Mali, is always above the hand that receives. Those who are hungry cannot reject food. Not only those who are hungry but those who have been deliberately starved. But soon come the day when the Hebrews will revolt and once and for all refuse Pharaoh’s capricious largesse.

Hospitality.”

Because I wanted to think about this beyond what seemed, to me, too easy — the headlines, the gratitude — “Oh, he was heroic. He was like Spiderman, and the French government did a great thing and made him a citizen.”

How did we get here? Why is this enough? How did we get into the position where he kneels down to receive the crumbs?

If I were still on Twitter and I wrote that, I might get cancelled. You get cancelled when you’re out of step with the general opinion."



"I just find that anything really loud and hectic can just last for a moment, but it does not get to that deepest place, that place of self-recognition, which becomes indistinguishable from other-recognition, which is continuous with world-recognition. So I’m attracted, in all the arts, to those places where something has been quietened, where concentration has been established. I think one of the great artistic questions for any practitioner of art is, how do you help other people concentrate on a moment? This photograph, it’s a frontal portrait of a young woman, but it’s not a posed portrait. She’s in a crowd, and he has photographed her. She’s African-American, but her skin is dark, and he has made it darker still in the way he has printed it so that your first thought is, “Oh, could we lighten that a little bit?” And then you think, “No — no, no, no. Why am I feeling this way about this image?” In all the arts, there are those moments that are as though somebody has made the gesture of raising a palm, which is not a stop sign, but a — ”Attend, hush, listen.”

I think those are the moments we really live for in art, the moment where the artfulness falls away, and all that is left is that thing we don’t have a better word for beyond poetry."



"This is going to be my worst misquotation of the evening. But Toni Morrison talks about — we die, and that may be the — does anybody know it? — that may be the length of our lives or span of our lives; but we do language, and that may be the meaning of our lives — something in that direction. And I think it is somewhere in there. A frank confrontation with the facts is that between two cosmic immensities of time, you are born, you flare up for a moment, and you’re gone. And within two generations, everybody who knew you personally will also be dead. Your name might survive, but who cares? Nobody’s going to remember your little habits or who you were. So one meaning of our lives might be that we die.

But then the other is this other thing that has nothing to do with the noise out there — advertising, arguing on social media, which we all can get tempted into — or even our personal disputes or even our anxieties, even our struggles — but some other thing that is like this undertow that connects us to everyone currently alive and everyone that has lived and everyone that will live. So I think there’s just the stark, existential fact. It’s not fashionable to take up labels or whatever, but on some level, I’m sort of an existentialist. I don’t think it necessarily has a grander meaning. I certainly don’t believe that God has a wonderful plan to make it all OK. I used to. I don’t believe that anymore. You die; I don’t know what happens. I talk to my dead; I don’t know if they’re anywhere. You die, and it hurts people who love you.

But then, the other thing is that if there’s no grander, larger meaning, in real time there does seem to be a grand and large meaning. Right this minute, this does seem to be something that is real, that might not be meaning but comes awfully close to it: to be sitting together in the dark of this political and social moment, to be sitting together in the dark of what it actually means to be a human being, even if this were a euphoric political moment.

So there’s the grim view of, we’re not here for very long, and LOL no one cares, and then there’s the other thing, which is when your favorite song gets to that part that you love, and you just feel something; or when you’ve had a series of crappy meals and then finally, you get a well-spiced, balanced goat biryani — you know, when the spices are really fresh? Black pepper — a lot of people get black pepper wrong. Really fresh black pepper — and you have this moment.

So these moments of pleasure, of epiphany, of focus, of being there, in their instantaneous way can actually feel like a little nudge that’s telling you, “By the way, this is why you’re alive. And this is not going to last, but never mind that for now.” It happens in art, and it happens in friendship, and it happens in food, and it happens in sex, and it happens in a long walk, and it happens in being immersed in a body of water — baptism, once again — and it happens in running and endorphins and all those moments that psychologists describe as “flow.”

But what is interesting about them is that they happen in real time. As Seamus Heaney says, “Useless to think you’ll park and capture it / More thoroughly. You are […] / A hurry through which known and strange things pass.”

You’re just a conduit for that. But if you are paying attention, it’s almost — I’m not sure if it’s enough, but it’s almost enough. I’m certainly glad for it. I’d rather have it than not have it.

What do you think?"
tejucole  stillness  2019  truth  hope  interconnected  jamesbaldwin  brahms  place  borders  interstitial  tomastranströmer  smartness  reading  poetry  wokeness  kin  family  families  hospitality  photography  art  silence  quietness  listening  donaldtrump  barackobama  howwewrite  howweread  writing  tonimorrison  socialmedia  noise  meaning  seamusheaney  fear  future  optimism  johnberger  rebeccasolnit  virginiawoolf  hopelessness  kalamazoo  pauléluard  primolevi  instagram  twitter 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Is "Show Don't Tell" a Universal Truth or a Colonial Relic? | Literary Hub
"In his essay “The Storyteller” (1936), cultural critic Walter Benjamin mourns the death of oral and communal storytelling, taken over in modern history by the novel, the “birthplace of the solitary reader,” and information technology with a rise in capitalism. Yet, what Benjamin posits as the organic evolution of oral, communal practices of storytelling into modern modes of storytelling, consumed by a reader in “privacy,” is in fact, the understanding of a Western history of storytelling as a universal one. As Maggie Awadalla and Paul March-Russell suggest in the introduction to their anthology The Postcolonial Short Story (2012), many non-Western countries did not transition “organically” from oral to written storytelling with a rise in capitalism. For many formerly or currently colonized spaces like South Asia, Africa, Caribbean, American South and Native America, there has always existed a rich, vibrant tradition of oral storytelling, one that was marginalized, often violently, through an imposition of an allegedly modern, white Western language and culture. In their study, Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts (1998), Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin defend “orality” not as a cultural precondition that morphed into a more advanced written culture, but orality as a counterpart to writing, where both co-exist, complement and transform each other constantly. This coexistence of oral and written modes of storytelling continues to thrive in postcolonial spaces, including those of Asia and Africa.

In her now-canonical essay “Characteristics of Negro Expression” (1934), Zora Neale Hurston makes a strong case for the use of vernacular—especially dialect and rhythm—in Black writing. In his story collection, Creole Folktales (1988) and equally canonical co-authored essay, “In Praise of Creoleness” (1989), Patrick Chamoiseau offers a manifesto for Caribbean storytelling that aims to free itself of French colonial gaze by transforming Martinican-French literature through a militant use of Creole. And while not through cultural theories or essays, contemporary writers like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Chandra, Roxane Gay, Junot Díaz, and Edwidge Danticat, among others, bring a strong, self-conscious vernacular in their stories. Their fiction questions not only an allegedly mainstream Euro-American storytelling marked by narrative brevity and an economy of words, as lauded by Edgar Allan Poe, John Barth and Francine Prose in their critical writing, but also the dominance of visuality in many fiction writing workshops with their show-don’t-tell credo, bolstered by our cinematic and digital age with its preference for images over sounds."



"James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sandra Cisneros, Gish Jen, Tiphanie Yanique, ZZ Packer, Rajesh Parameswaran—the list of contemporary writing affirming oral and aural alternatives over a sight-based focus of storytelling is long. And I haven’t even gotten started with poetry-in-color, including an aesthetic legacy of rhythm in writing spawned by Papa Césaire and the Négritude movement. What I’ve explored above is a brief sampler on a multifaceted use of orality that challenges the boundaries of a more standard Euro-American literary English with its emphasis on brevity, clarity, and good grammar. In playing persistently with language, sounds and syntax, multiethnic fiction does not shy away from “writing in scenes,” however, it does dethrone the reign of eyesight to stress the importance of other senses in fiction, and hearing in particular.

That said, the use of vernacular or dialect is far from unique to non-Western writers writing within or outside the West. Time and again, major writers across the world have challenged the status quo of a hegemonic language by using the vernacular in different ways. I’m thinking here of Shakespeare and Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s linguistic innovation within English and French respectively, and of pioneering poets like Kabir who used the vernacular in Bhakti poetry to challenge the rule of Sanskrit in medieval South Asian literature.

And yet, the examples of multiethnic fiction I’ve shared above have all been published in the last couple of decades, following complex literary and historic changes that include mid-20th century’s wave of decolonization that swept the “third world,” the Civil Rights Movement in the US, the institutionalization of Ethnic Studies in the American Academy, and the literary canon wars that followed. This recent, layered, global history has led to a higher visibility of non-white, non-Western voices in the Western metropolitan publication scenes of New York, London and Paris. The content within contemporary multiethnic fiction often talks of identity, home and displacement; they ask questions like who has power and voice and who gets marginalized or silenced, these ideas fleshed out obsessively in stories through plot, theme, form, language, or a combination.

Orality within fiction that is deliberately engaging with power dynamics between the West and non-West—as evident in the title of Rushdie’s story collection East, West—thus becomes more than just a stylistic device or virtuosity with craft. The shift in sensory focus within multiethnic fiction from images to sounds holds a mirror to our contemporary, complex literary history, guiding the reader further to ways in which these stories maybe constructed, read, or deconstructed. Orality here becomes a political stance, an ideological move reminding the reader over and again that what we consume as universal in story craft, literary history, or aesthetic taste is anything but universal."
orality  oraltradition  visual  via:vruba  2018  storytelling  walterbenjamin  culture  tradition  namratapoddar  globalsouth  maggieawadalla  paulmarch-russell  billashcroft  garethgriffiths  helentiffin  vernacular  zoranealehurston  creole  creoleness  folktales  writing  salmanrushdie  vikramchandra  junotdíaz  edwidgedanticat  edgarallanpoe  johnbarth  fancineprose  criticalwriting  howwewrite  literacy  multiliteracies  dialect  rhythm  patrickchamoiseau  caribbean  africa  asia  colonialism  english  alicewalker  imperialism  gishjen  jamesbaldwin  tonimorrison  tiphanieyanique  zzpacker  showdon'ttell  sandracisneros  roxanegay  ajeshparameswaran  négritude  papacésaire  haiti  aural  oral  sight  brevity  clarity  grammar  fiction  aimécésaire  martinique  léopoldsédarsenghor  léondamas  postcolonialism  louis-ferdinandceline  latinamerica  indigenous  canon 
november 2018 by robertogreco
On the Blackness of the Panther – Member Feature Stories – Medium
"At least once a day, I think: “another world is possible.” There’s life yet in our dreams. The pan-African political project is still alive. The memory of whatever was good in the Bandung Conference or the Organization of African Unity still makes the heart race. Flashes of common cause among the Darker Nations can be illuminating and sustaining. But “Africa” as trope and trap, backdrop and background, interests me ever less.

I am more fascinated by Nairobi than by Africa, just as I am more intrigued by Milan than by Europe. The general is where solidarity begins, but the specific is where our lives come into proper view. I don’t want to hear “Africa” unless it’s a context in which someone would also say “Asia” or “Europe.” Ever notice how real Paris is? That’s how real I need Lagos to be. Folks can talk about Paris all day without once generalizing about Europe. I want to talk about Lagos, I don’t want to talk about Africa. I want to hear someone speaking Yoruba, Ewe, Tiv, or Lingala. “African” is not a language. I want to know if a plane is going to the Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport. You can’t go to “Africa,” fam. Africa is almost twelve million square miles. I want to be particular about being particular about what we are talking about when we talk about Africa.

* * *

I grew up with black presidents, black generals, black kings, black heroes, both invented and real, black thieves too, black fools. It was Nigeria, biggest black nation on earth. I shared a city with Fela Kuti for seventeen years. Everyone was black! I’ve seen so many black people my retina’s black.

But, against the high gloss white of anti-black America, blackness visible is a relief and a riot. That is something you learn when you learn black. Marvel? Disney? Please. I won’t belabor the obvious. But black visibility, black enthusiasm (in a time of death), black spectatorship, and black skepticism: where we meet is where we meet.

Going on twenty six years now. I learned African and am mostly over it. But what is that obdurate and versatile substance formed by tremendous pressure? What is “vibranium”? Too simple to think of it as a metal, and tie it to resource curses. Could it be something less palpable, could it be a stand-in for blackness itself, blackness as an embodied riposte to anti-blackness, a quintessence of mystery, resilience, self-containedness, and irreducibility?

Escape! I would rather be in the wild. I would rather be in a civilization of my own making, bizarre, contrary, as vain as the whites, exterior to their logic. I’m always scoping the exits. Drapetomania, they called it, in Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race (1851), the irrepressible desire in certain slaves to run away.

* * *

Ten years pass and I still dream about that cat. The eyes slide open, an image enters. Where are you now, Mirabai? Euthanized years ago by the animal shelter? Or successfully adopted and now gracefully aging in some home in Brooklyn? With people, young or old, merciful and just? Dream cat, leaping up to meet me."
tejucole  2018  blackpanther  africa  culture  race  film  blackness  identity  cats  animals  knowledge  racism  zoos  capitalism  monarchism  rainermariarilke  switzerland  colonialism  tonimorrison  lagos  nigeria  immigration  edwardsnow  eusébiodasilvaferreira 
march 2018 by robertogreco
Metrograph Celebrates the Inventive Truth-Telling of St. Clair Bourne | Village Voice
"Let the Church is so free of form and spirit that, presented without context, it could easily be seen as a fictional piece. It is not clear how much the scenes are staged, or, indeed, whether they are staged at all. Right from the first interaction, in which what seems to be a religious teacher laboriously explains the purpose of a sermon, there is a distance with the people filmed (broken on occasion by extreme zooming and direct address), as well as a writtenness and theatricality in the dialogue that can be delightfully confusing. What one learns while watching Bourne is that there are many ways to enter a subject, and one mustn’t refrain from exploring them, especially not in the name of nonfiction convention."



"Bourne conveys the collective through the individual: What do these voices reveal of the state of mind of the subject, and how do they mirror that of an entire community?"



"There are individuals who have been burdened with what Frantz Fanon has described, in Black Skin White Masks, as the “colossal task to make an inventory of the real.” Fanon was of course one of them, and so was Bourne.

The task is even more herculean when the reality has been so intensely erased and distorted, including by the very medium in which Bourne decided to express himself. Hence the extreme sensitivity and curiosity that animates his body of work, which belongs — right next to the early literature of enslaved Africans, the films of Oscar Micheaux, the novels and essays of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston — on the shelves of every Black family, its images ornating the minds and memories of every Black child. Much like the Martinican psychiatrist did with philosophy, poetry, and psychoanalysis, St. Clair Bourne utilized the tools of television and cinema to uncover the multitudinous facts of Blackness — and to send his people many love letters."
fantasylla  2018  stclairbourne  film  documentary  blackness  filmmaking  frantzfanon  zoranealehurston  jamesbaldwin  tonimorrison  realism  dialogue  breakingform  form 
february 2018 by robertogreco
TILTY #21 - Selected Annotated Bibliography for the Librarian Resistance
"I am writing but I am mostly still listening. Letting my friends and community know I am here for them. And reading poetry.

[screenshot of Wendell Berry’s "The Peace of Wild Things"]

Not to be all "Hey it's going to be fine if we all just reconnect with nature and not let it bother us" but more that self-care is useful and the birds don't give a shit about this election so sometimes it can be good to just sit with them to recenter before you get back to work.

Post-election time in America is time for a lot of reflection, frustration, and planning and scheming for whatever is coming down the road. I've been reading and assessing.

My peripatetic lifestyle has always held some risks and that hasn't changed. My position otherwise is not that risky. Many people are being thrown into incredibly vulnerable positions as a result of this election--positions that were only getting slightly stabilized over the last decade--and this is happening at a national or international level, not just in our local communities. I'm proud of what libraries have been able to accomplish in the world so far. I offer a reading list and hopes that we can weather this storm together and form an effective and ruthlessly efficient resistance.


Brief Annotated Bibliography for the Librarian Resistance

• While I am still helping people get their first email addresses, people are blaming algorithms for losing the election for HRC. I am not forwarding this position personally (also not NOT forwarding it) but it's a fascinating look at what can happen when we can't get under the hood of our systems. Noted for later.

• The folks from We Need Diverse Books came out with a post-election statement.

• EFF has provided a very good Surveillance Self-Defense page for those who feel they need to communicate significantly more securely than they have been.

• Helping people with questions about what this all means for them? Lambda Legal has a post-election FAQ for GLBTQ folks. More specifics for other vulnerable populations can be found at Concrete Suggestions in Preparation for January 2017’s Change in American Government a nice repurposable online document (sometimes overloaded with readers, try again if you can't get it).

• Libraries can be a health lifeline for people most at risk, according to a US study (headline is from Reuters, let me know if you'd like me to email you the PDF of the study)

• Rebecca Solnit's book Hope in the Dark is available for free for a few more days.

• Libraries step up (in times of crisis) is a place on Facebook where you can get help with library issues concerning this recent election.

• How to weather the Trump Administration? Head to the library. An OpEd piece in the LA Times.

Librarians may be the only first responders holding the line between America and a raging national pandemic of absolutism. More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.

**********

Urban Libraries Unite is having their annual fund drive and will send you a My Library is for Everyone button if you donate, or you could just make your own button (but donating anyhow is a good idea, I did).

[image]

Maybe you don't know what to do? Letting people know that the library is for everyone, maybe just "surfacing" the policies that you already have like Lawrence Public Library has done, can show people that you know that this is a tough time for many and that you are there for them.

[image]

Or something like this? Other suggestions from Programming Librarian.

**********

I am bad at talking about my feelings, so I will continue mostly not to. I am better at talking about, and taking, actions. Pointers welcome. Replies to this newsletter always read and replied to. Signing off with a quote from Toni Morrison

"I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art."

and another poem from Wendell Berry.

[screenshot of Wendell Berry’s "The Real Work"]"
jessamynwest  libraries  politics  resistance  donaldtrump  2016  wendellberry  tonimorrison  poetry  librarians  inclusivity  protection  rebeccasolnit  eff  security  privacy  refuge 
november 2016 by robertogreco
No Country for Young Women | Incisive.nu
"Of course that’s what he thought, crooned the snake in the brain. And on the bad old days, when the snags were fresh: Not one of your heroes believed you’re a person.

But eventually you remember the snake is a shit. So I clawed through the stacks till I found writers who did cast women as people. Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison and Anaïs Nin and Nicola Griffith and Elizabeth Hand and Jeanette Winterson and William Gibson and Gertrude Stein. (Meshell Ndegeocello, Martina Topley-Bird, Beth Gibbons, Diamanda Galás, Missy Elliott, Nina Simone.) They even gave me the headroom to appreciate a few of the male writers who dehumanized women in literature or abused them in life without losing my actual mind."
books  feminism  gender  reading  erinkissane  2015  women  writing  television  film  music  virginiawoolf  tonimorrison  anaïsnin  nicolagriddith  elizabethhand  jeanettewinterson  williamgibson  gertrudestein  meshellndegeocello  martinatopley-bird  bethgibbons  diamandagalás  missyellitott  ninasimone  literature 
august 2015 by robertogreco
A Visit From Kendrick Lamar — Best Day Of School Ever? : NPR Ed : NPR
[See also the supplementary video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZTKOBElkyg ]

"Lamar is on top of the rap game at the moment. His latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly, came out earlier this year and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's albums chart. It's a complex, multilayered piece of work that wrestles with themes around blackness and beauty.

That's why Brian Mooney decided to use To Pimp a Butterfly with his freshman English students as they studied Toni Morrison's novel, The Bluest Eye. The book is about a young black girl who yearns to have blue eyes.

"I was listening and I was like, wow, there are just so many themes that are the same," Mooney says. He's also a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University, working with a program exploring the use of hip-hop in education.

"The main character that my students spoke about, Pecola Breedlove, she's experiencing internalized oppression," Mooney explains. "And so Kendrick is speaking to that same concept with the song 'Complexion.' He's speaking to that same idea of pushing back against the dominant narrative that there's this mythological norm that is considered good and beautiful and valuable."

The lesson caught on with his students. They wrote essays, poetry and rap lyrics inspired by the book and album. Around Mooney's classroom, posters of Morrison quotes and Lamar's lyrics are paired with images of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Mooney was encouraged, so he wrote a blog post about the lesson. [https://bemoons.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/why-i-dropped-everything-and-started-teaching-kendrick-lamars-new-album/ ]

"It just took off, and it went across the Internet, and Kendrick Lamar got it and read it," Mooney says. "His manager reached out to me and said, 'I want to come visit your school.' So we made it happen."

Lamar, in a brief interview in the school's theater, says Mooney's blog post was fascinating. "I was intrigued how somebody can — other than myself — can articulate and break down the concepts of To Pimp A Butterfly, almost better than I can," he said.

The artist says he didn't just come here to perform, or just to mentor the students.

"Something even — for me — even bigger than mentoring is really listening," he says. "And when I do that, we have a little bit bigger connection than me being Kendrick Lamar and you being a student. It's almost like we're friends, you know? Because a friend listens and we learn off each others' experiences."

Throughout the day, Lamar listens. At a school-wide assembly students present the work they've done with Mooney. Ben Vock, Joan Tubungbanua and Sade Ford read their poetry and essays. Vock reads a poem about his own prejudices.

Lamar says he likes it.

"You know, the hardest thing for not only an artist but for anybody to do is look themselves in the mirror and acknowledge their own flaws and fears and imperfections. And put them out for people to relate to it," he tells the senior. "I can relate to you as well, you dig what I'm sayin'?"

After the readings, a group of students perform a dance number to a mashup of Lamar's songs.

Then it's his turn. Lamar grabs the mic and dives into "Alright," one of the tracks on To Pimp a Butterfly.

"It was very exciting" Sade Ford, a senior, says after the show. "And this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.""
literature  culture  hiphop  life  music  kendricklamar  tonimorrison  thebluesteye  education  howweteach  topimpabutterfly  2015  identity  blackness  beauty  oppression  cipher  rap  lyrics  writing  howwewrite  acknowledgement  race  racism  sexism 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Why American novelists don’t deserve the Nobel Prize - Salon.com
"An American hasn't won in 20 years. The Academy finds our writers insular and self-involved -- and they're right"

"As Bret Anthony Johnson, the director of the creative writing program at Harvard, noted in a recent Atlantic essay, our focus on the self will be our literary downfall, depriving literature of the oxygen on which it thrives: “Fiction brings with it an obligation to rise past the base level, to transcend the limitations of fact and history, and proceed skyward.” This sentiment is a sibling to Wallace’s anger — and both have a predecessor in T.S. Eliot’s 1919 essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” where he called art “a continual extinction of personality.”"
alexandernazaryan  us  literature  novelists  writing  politics  books  nobel  2011  self-involved  insularity  jonathansafranfoer  joycecaroloates  johnupdike  thomaspynchon  philiproth  cormacmccarthy  dondelillo  davidfosterwallace  daveeggers  bretanthonyjohnson  jhumpalahiri  amytan  aleksanderhemon  826  ralphellison  tonimorrison 
october 2011 by robertogreco
Stray Questions for: David Eagleman - NYTimes.com
"with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position—one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story."

"I’m always recommending my literary heroes: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner. At the moment, I’m reading David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” and Olaf Stapledon’s “First and Last Men.” In the nonfiction realm I read a lot of neuroscience and physics, but in this past week I’ve been revisiting Carl Sagan, an early inspiration for my Possibilianism."
philosophy  davideagleman  possibilianism  tonimorrison  gabrielgarcíamárquez  italocalvino  borges  davidmitchell  agnosticism  athieism  belief  uncertainty  religion  atheism  science  ambiguity  certainty  curiosity  hubble  ultradeepfield  williamfaulkner 
february 2011 by robertogreco

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