15.3.07

Book Review: "The Farming of Bones"

Edwidge Danticat's novel Farming of Bones
Edwidge Danticat’s novel Farming of Bones (1998) is set in the Dominican Republic in October 1937 during the Parsley Massacre, the systematic slaughter of Haitian illegal laborers. Danticat writes the novel as a memory. The protagonist, Amabelle Désir (It is no coincidence that her name is désir/desire) is a young Haitian woman who survives the mass killing ordered by General Trujillo; around 30,000 people died.
The novel is a study in trauma: using sensuous language Danticat writes the body in pain. Like a patient in therapy, when the story is retold, the subsequent retellings of the story, four things happen.
  1. The body remembers.  This is why Amabelle says, “This past is more like flesh than air; our stories testimonials …” (281).
  2. The story, as a testimonial, repeated and retold differently and with divergent perspectives, with an occasional interpretation by the therapist is revisited. 
  3. The third consequence of this telling is a recognition that the story is held in tension with the official story — here the story told by the Dominican victors against that which is held in the heart of survivors or lost forever with the dead.
  4. The language acts as a kind of counter-narrative to the anger and hatred against the black, coffee-colored, bodies of the Haitians. 

7.3.07

Book Review: The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist

In The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist by Emile Habiby, a Palestinian illegally gains re-entry into Israel after the deportation of Palestinian refugees in 1948. Saeed eventually gains an advantage, working for the Israelis and living in Israel; He falls in love with Yuaad, whose name means “it shall be repeated.” He loses her; apparently, she dies after been deported by the Israelis. Saeed’s life is one of inconsequence and random opportunism. As a contradistinct Candide, Saeed calls himself and his family pessoptimists. It’s his family’s way of thinking about the world, a little bit of optimism mixed with a touch of pessimism. Not quite as optimistic as Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, “the best of all possible worlds” nor is it as gloomy as Schopenhauer’s philosophical pessimism. “Pessoptimism” is like Saeed’s mother’s declaration that her son who died in a crane accident, his body smashed on rocks at Haifa’s coast, tell her daughter-in-law, “It’s best it happened like this and not some other way!” Maybe a pessimist would have said, “What do you expect? I’ve always known he would die a horrible death!” Or an optimist: “Well at least we know he’s at peace!” As is obvious, Habiby’s novel is like Voltaire’s Candide. Both books set about poking fun at a certain world-view — in Voltaire’s case it is pathological optimism that states that the death of thousands of people in an earthquake in Lisbon is justified as God’s will. Voltaire makes fun of this absurd optimism by drawing it to its extremes. In a similar way, Habiby is taking this conglomerate philosophy of optimism/pessimism called pessoptimism and drawing it out to its extremes. Doing this, Habiby draws attention to the absurdity of the Palestinian/Israeli problem. Throughout the narrative, there are incidences of pessoptimism that make satirize the ambiguity between who claims a right of return and who doesn’t, who is a Palestinian citizen and who is Israeli and who is secretly working for the opposite side. Saeed’s family is from a long line of pessoptimists. “The Pessoptimist family is truly noble and long established in our land” (8). Saeed’s family had been scattered abroad, even before the Palestinian deportation, to Lebanon and Syria. His father even worked for the Iraqi government after the establishment of Israel; not because of allegiance to Israeli nationalism but rather because of the pessoptimist notion that it wasn’t as bad as having nothing. When Saeed’s father is killed on the road (I imagine, by stray bullets during the fighting of ‘48). Saeed marries Baqiyaa, whose name means, “she who has remained,” even though her village was destroyed by Israeli tankers. They bear a son, Walaa. Walaa is not a principal character in the novel, but I think his character typifies young, Palestinian masculinity — or any situation where a young man grows up in an environment where the definition of home is unstable one and where children are taught to whisper, not even to sing in the shower, lest they be heard and arrested.

6.3.07

Poem: "Oranges in my mailbox"

I am not a man of pleasure
— it has been denied me —
(save for an orange in my mailbox
and a shave of savon in my bath)
For when I go to touch pleasure I only find
a vaporous warmth, a verdant void,
thinned out ecstasy, lightly veined
things,


for those things, those real things
are forbidden to me —
for with a hair shirt for a mind
and a brazen wooden lenten bowl for desire,
I shall not have pleasure,
even with
an elevator to take me several floors,
air conditioning massaging my cell,
and an orange in my mailbox
Greig Roselli © 2007 PDF Copy for Printing

24.2.07

Poem: "Portraits"


Click here for a printable copy of "Portraits" © 2007 Greig Roselli 

5.1.07

Poem: "brother & sister"

    she’s a waif about to vomit her bread,
    to get ready for the Banana Republic shoot,
    the “I love it when you look at me” pose.

    she’s singularly angular, positioned on a bar,
    her brother at her side,
    singing glad hallelujahs to the boys passing by.

    Everyone loves a stare, a glance, une regarde,
    but this gal wallows in it,
    lapping up the paparazzi shots, the mental
    undressing behind the pews.

    She loves it;
    she’s sick,
    or possibly stuck in a Truffaut film.
   
    he loves it,
    complete.

    And we are so sick that we stare anyway,
    because we know he, she, they love it.

5.12.06

Book Review: Warmish-Cool Pleasure in As I Lay Dying


Image result for as i lay dying faulknerWilliam Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying, is the archetypical quest story, one of the most satisfying and basic plots in the literary canon.
The Journey Story
William Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying, is the archetypical quest story, one of the most satisfying and basic plots in the literary canon. Like Homer’s The Odyssey, the pleasure of the quest narrative is in the process of the journey, not necessarily in the final outcome. We read a narrative like As I Lay Dying or The Odyssey to discover pleasure in the journey itself. It's this desire for the journey that makes a story about wandering heroes so appealing. For example, it is not a plot spoiler to find out prematurely that Odysseus slays the suitors and saves his wife and son. In fact, that's not the most exciting part of The Odyssey. It is about the becoming of the hero that is so enthralling. The pleasure of the journey quest is in the process of becoming. As Heraclitus, the Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher wrote, “One cannot step in the same river twice,” so also is As I Lay Dying a journey-process of becoming, albeit a macabre journey of a poor white family in Mississippi to bury their dead mother’s corpse.
The River as Metaphor for Story 
   In this post, I will explore how the madcap journey the Bundren family undertakes becomes, like an ever-changing river, a locus of pleasure in the narrative itself. I will show this using the tableau image of Darl drinking the water-filled gourd because the language and tone of this scene is inebriated with warmish cool water riddled with stars, as Darl describes it himself (8). I will then show how the narrative of the water-filled gourd is depicted as sensuous pleasure, the pleasure of the body and the readerly satisfaction of a wavelike release - in the story's end.
The Bundren Family and Their Motives
   Oddly enough, the disturbing nature of the story is what makes the novel pleasurable. The motives of every Bundren family member cannot be said to be of the highest moral value. Each and every one of the clan has their own motive: Anse, the father, Cash, the eldest, Jewel, Darl, Vardaman, the youngest, and even Addie, the dead mother, all have strange desires and motives. The fact that Cash, in the novel’s opening scene constructs his mother’s coffin, as she lays dying, in a place where she can obviously see and hear him, is sadistic and disturbing. Who would do this to their own mother? After her husband has gone to work and the last “dirty snuffling nose” had gone to school, what kind of mother would go to a quiet place so she “could be quiet and hate them?” (114). But this is the kind of pleasure that Faulkner is gesturing at in this novel. Cash derives pleasure from constructing the coffin, as is shown in a chapter that lists deliciously how he made the coffin on the bevel (53).  His reason?  “The animal magnetism of a dead body makes the stress come slanting, so the seams and joints of a coffin are made on a bevel” (53).
    This pleasure is what makes one reader say, “this book is so funny” and another reader to say, “this book is so sick!”   There is a voyeurism ingrained in the reader to want to find out more about this strange, poor family and what compels them to undertake their journey no matter how much you feel or think their journey is depraved.  The reader is interested in as many details as can be garnered that can aid in putting the narrative pieces together to understand the journey arc of the novel.  This is highly pleasurable.  Added to this is the structure of the novel itself.  It is told by a series of monologues written in a stream of consciousness style.  The reader puts together the pieces of the Bundren’s journey through the varied and limited mental states of the characters.  Being inside of the mind of a character provides pleasure, for it is a romp within the mental imagery of another “person”.    
Darl as the Central Character
    The character of Darl comprises many of the scenes in the book.  We are inside Darl’s mind, it seems, more than any other character.  Darl seems to be a logical character, but one notices that he takes too many “soft right angles.” There is something sinister in his immediacy with the world around him. Darl emphasizes an unmediated relationship to the world.  His conception of the world is dictated solely by sensuosity.  Although this will prove to be his demise into insanity, he finds pleasure in what he apprehends to be intuitively sensuous and tangible.  He is not interested as much in the concern and care for other human beings as long as they fit into his own sensuous relationship to reality.  For example, the scene with the water-filled gourd warrants how Darl’s sensuous response to things around him becomes a fixated locus of pleasure in the narrative arc of the story’s journey.
The Water-Filled Gourd
    Around the side of the house, the Bundrens have set a cedar bucket to allow water to sit.  It gives the water a sweet taste.  As the father Anse points out, water tastes sweetest when it has sat in a cedar bucket for at least six hours, not in metal.  It’s “warmish-cool, with a faint taste like the hot July wind in cedar trees smells" (8).  Once the water has sat for a time, it is poured into a gourd.   
    What enhances the pleasure for the reader in this scene is how Faulkner situates the text within the narrative structure of the chapter.  We are inside Darl’s troubled head here. But we hear his father ask him, “Where’s Jewel?” (8). It is in the interstices of this question that Darl fantasizes about going to the water-filled gourd at night, stirred awake, to see the stars in the water inside the gourd, to be intoxicated into an erotic reverie.  But the text reverts back to reality.  Back to the scene where his father had asked him about Jewel’s whereabouts. The text brings us in and out of internal journeys into external journeys and out again and back again. This is what gives the novel a heightened sense of journey for the reader.  The pleasure of the text is not only Darl’s own bodily pleasure, but the text itself becomes an erogenous zone. The text is a sensuous locus of pleasure as well as the pleasure of the character Darl himself, despite Darl’s own descent into madness.