Showing posts with label lecture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lecture. Show all posts


Repost from the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research - "Dreams and Hysteria: An Introduction to Freud"


Talk at Tulane University: Salman Rushdie in New Orleans

   Salman Rushdie came to New Orleans last night to speak to a large assembly at Tulane’s Dixon Hall. If you don’t know already, Rushdie is a novelist known for Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses. He was placed on the Ayatollah Komeini’s “to kill list” because it was thought Satanic Verses defamed Islam. The fatwa against his life has been subsequently lifted, but it has not lifted the chatter that has circulated around the author and his controversial persona.
People Condemned Rushdie's Novel Satanic Verses Without Even Having Read It
    At the event, Rushdie spoke about how people condemned his novel without even having read it, going so far as to recount the story of a man who had publicly protested his book, but later on, read the novel, and exclaimed, “What was the big deal?”  “Asshole,” Rushdie said. “Why do people who condemn books never read them?” The people who want to get rid of books are the same people who say, “I am not a book person”!  That is the ludicrousness of the world, writ large. Rushdie also told a story about how Stephen King called up his publisher after having read Satanic Verses and realizing it was a great novel, told the publishers if they refused to put Rushdie’s book on the shelf then he was going to demand they remove all of his book from publication and call ten other best selling authors and demand that they do the same!  Rushdie laughed when he told this story saying, “And now, my book has outsold theirs!  There is no justice!”
According to Rushdie, A Novelist Writes "Fictions" But Tells More Truths than Politicians!
    He spoke frankly about politicians and how they do not tell the truth.  He said the novelist tells the truth because he is not ashamed to say in the beginning that his story is fiction! He spoke about the uselessness of fiction.  He said he was tired of the Utilitarian argument that novels have to be useful if they are to be read. Whatever happened to unadulterated pleasure? Alice in Wonderland, he said, is not a useful book. Its sole purpose is to create pleasure.  God forbid, anyone have a little pleasure!
       Perhaps, people are threatened by pleasure.  Are we really like the Puritan who thinks in his heart and is distraught that somewhere, somebody is having fun?
       Perhaps the role of literature is to open up the world just a little bit and to expand the cosmos.

Rushdie Makes Jibes About President Bush (And the Conservatives in the Crowd Squirmed A Bit)
     Rushdie was witty last night.  He made us laugh. He jabbed Bush. And he made the conservatives in the house queasy.  I saw a politician in the audience, but I cannot remember who it was (maybe it was Melinda Schwegmann): We don’t have many Salman Rushdie’s in our culture today, though.  Gone are the days of the public satirists. Perhaps, you can still find them on Youtube in the likes of Chris Crocker or on television with the Daily Show but the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain are few and far between.  It is like when they asked Dorothy Parker to speak about Horticulture.  “You can lead a horticulture but you cannot make her think!” (You have to say that joke out loud to get it!).

A Man's Daimon Is His Ethos
    I thought it was interesting that Rusdie was in New Orleans.  I think this was his first visit and I am glad I decided to attend. It invigorated me to hear a public intellectual speak who did not mouth the same tired babble over and over again.  I actually, got up and asked him a question. I had read an essay he had written on Heraclitus in Granta and he said his favorite quote from Heraclitus was "A man’s daimon (his character) is his ethos (or his fate)". So, I asked him, “What is Salman Rushdie’s daimon?”  He answered with another anecdote about him and his sister which I really do not recall the details because I was so nervous standing up there at the dais. It’s kind of nerve-wracking to ask a public intellectual a public question!


Response to Ngugi wa Thiong’o speech at Southeastern Louisiana University

A new book by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Wizard of the Crow, satirizes the West from an African perspective; Like Achebe, he brings old questions to the fore about Western colonialism and Christianity. 
The halls of Southeastern's Vonnie Borden theater was filled to hear the world's foremost East African writer. Having just completed a novel about a fictional despotic African leader, Ngugi also spearheads a program at Irvine, The International Center for Writing and Translation, to create and distribute indigenous African tongues apart from Western translations.

Whether or not the Colonial experiment in Africa tainted Christian missionary activity or whether Christian missionary activity is itself tainted is probably not the right approach to tackle Western Christianity’s attempt to proselytize non-Western peoples. It is not that the missionary activity is inherently tainted, but rather that the approach was marred, most significantly because of the imperial and univocal nature of Colonialism — the structure of Colonialism did not allow for, what we would call today, the recognition of the language of the subaltern. The Christian missionary movement was lead by many good-intentioned Christians. But, what many Christian missionaries failed to realize is that they were not only teaching Christian doctrine in their own Mother tongues, not the language of the people, but they assumed that the conquering language had a stake in knowledge that was not apparent in the indigenous languages. Although some missionaries attempted to learn the language of the conquered African colonies, for the most part, the idea of Colonialism was to teach them the history of the Conqueror, the language of the Conqueror, and the beliefs of the Conqueror. Get a few educated elites to learn English, for example, and to translate the ideologies and beliefs of the people into English. In this paradigm, there is no attempt to raise the native languages to the status of the elite — as if Jesus spoke English! Jesus did not speak English, as Ngugi playfully reminded us last week; Jesus spoke a rural form of Aramaic and spoke in simple terms using the imagery and language of the people he taught and lived among in Galilee, which is why it is sometimes very difficult to understand his parables and sayings. But his sayings were translated into the language of the educated elite, which is Greek in this case, and this is how the message of the New Testament writings was originally communicated. But perhaps the Jesus of Colonialism did not learn anything after 2000 years old and is still up to his old tricks, so the language of the elite is still the language of the Conqueror, in this case, English or French, or Dutch, or whatever the language of the conquering nation happens to be. But take this language and try to translate native Swahili to mirror it is obviously going to have problems. But of course, the Harvard educated professor cannot be told by a graduate from the University of Treetops that he speaks good English. “Of course I speak English. I went to Harvard!” Ngugi here is parodying how language is classed, like race or ethnicity. How can the Mother tongue of the Western Nations describe a God (or Gods) to a community of peoples who have their own language of God (or Gods)? It just doesn’t make sense. This has been parodied, as in the short story, "The Gospel According to Mark" when an unbeliever, Espinoza is crucified on a tree like Christ — the people believed him to be the Savior. But this view is terribly pejorative and simplistic. It is as if to say, people of a non-Western ideology or bound to mistake Western religion to the point of sheer, nonsensical violence. This does not make sense. Nor does the univocal injunction to impose one language, one faith, one way of thinking on a collection of people that do not fit into the hegemonic whole. Ngugi seems to be saying that Globalization is partly to blame for this branding of language and culture that seems to disavow the minority of a language for the sake of its own language, not needing to be mediated by a language like English or French to be understood or disseminated. But you may say, there is something innate about all human beings that no language, no matter how univocal its insistence to be the language of choice, can override the dignity and value of humanity, because any knowledge that is worth having is knowledge of a humanity that is universal. But the problem with this kind of thinking is that it ignores the nuances of languages and the inability to express in subtle language — say the texture of snow or the agronomy of the Kenyan plains — that cannot be translated. True, maybe translation from Nilotic to English actually enhances the Nilotic language — but for who? who benefits? Not the Nilotic speaker, but the English one. So, it seems this is what Ngugi is trying to do; he is not trying to disparage English or any other language, but simply insisting that the indigenous languages of a people, to be of value, to provide knowledge for its people, has to be kept within its own language families. Ngugi would say that a novel written in Swahili needs to be translated from Swahili to Nilotic as it is, not mediated by English or French. It would be like translating a letter written in English into another language and then using that language, not English, to translate it into another language. The more permutations of language the more diluted and lost the original becomes. I can see how this can become very problematic and detrimental the more it perpetuates itself. Although I, and millions of other people, know only Western Romance languages and have only read non-Western texts translated into Western languages, it still does not preclude the fact that my language, my Western Romantic language does not need to ipso facto the one language that swallows up the rest.