Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The JOY d'esprit de la memoria

And a little child will lead them, but will the direction be leader-like? As the HOLYdays amalgamate into good food, great familia and much blessing--this one thing I ask and plead for humanity.

That with love and faith, and hope we would all plead for memories. Yes, the recapturing and re-telling of articulated story. The extension of history, the archiving of a generative space.

In time and times of hardship and loss, memory of plenty will hold us; in time and times of suffering and pain, memory of hope and joy will sustain us; and, even in time and times of misunderstanding, memory of better days, of better nights will keep us.

Memory is sacred, is romantic and culpable to an indefinite existence. It is perfectly, imperfect; it is hopelessly hopeful; and even consistently inconsistent. May this falling year awaken in the one to come--a new collection, a new memory for the memoir that live, to be.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Pause of Concentrated Thanks

This is the day that many people groups, in their own manner, celebrate a moment of thanks. For what exactly? Well, for the pilgrims that came over; that family member who is still with us; the news of distress, which turned into eustress and all good things followed.

On this day--I am thankful for the plenty, the little; the large, the small; the successes and the failures; the pleasure, the pain. Most of all, I am thankful for the memories.

My beautiful better half is with me on this day, and I am fully elated. Our adversity cannot even begin to compare with all the rich blessings that have unfolded our way! And, yes--for that I am thankful, thankful, thankful.

Many people will play it "cool" on this day, and settle for some reductive and materialistic nomenclature to sum up this moment, this event. It is rightfully called Thanksgiving Day--period! Still, whatever you wish to call it--be thankful, give thanks.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bill Maher said what?

So I am sitting on my couch listening to Larry King--Live on CNN. The time is 12:15 a.m. Larry is interviewing Bill Maher. interesting night. Bill Maher is rattling off some witticisms and trying to be funny. At one point he succeeds.

Maher states that Obama troubles comedians because he is intelligent, loves his wife and children, is skinny, and just plain likable. "Nobody wants that kind of person around!" Ha. Ha. Then it happened.

Maher continues to suggest to King that we, as comedians, need to put Obama in the on-limits category. He is after all the president. Maher further states, "He is not a black man. He is the president."

I thought to myself about this statement, and wondered if in context Maher was attempting to continue the punchline. This would be me being gracious, and giving him the benefit of the doubt. Let's just assume though that he was not being facetious and that the comment was made by a sagacious agent.

To think of Obama in the category of "president--only," minus the black hue he embodies, is to diminish his ontology to its fullest sensibility. Like it or not--Obama is categorized in this country as the first African American president of the United States; the Obamas will be the first African American family in the whitest of houses; Michelle Obama will be the first African American First Lady of the United States. I do agree with Maher that Obama as a political cartoon icon hopeful is not off-limits, but to state that his new "job," his new "status," his new "estate" is to be president absent from being a black man--is silly, wrong and itself comedic.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On 4 November 2008 Where were You?

At 11:15 p.m. a young, African American male was elected as the 44th president of the United States. He is an educated man, an experienced man, an African American man.

His candidacy, verified as not only a viable Democratic representative, but now as a president of the country.

As a young, African American man, I have not wintessed the atrocities of slavery, the disimissal of the human tag due to the color of one's skin, or the shameful tolerance and ignorance of (in)visiblity.

I will remember the journey from within my generation, from the geo-political spaces I have since traveled, and for my future family, my children.

I will note this, however, I am not fully convinced that this country is still without its culpability, its racism, its shortcomings. Still, I am quite lucky to be alive. In terms of electoral votes thus far: Obama 338, McCain 156.

This moment, this event is tearful to all, and if MLK, jr. had survived, if DuBois had been alive, and others had witnessed what I have had the privilege to follow, to behold for the last 2 years--just...awesome.

Here are the facts: Barack Hussein Obama, a reflection of the African, a reflection of the American has transcended the color line--at least long enough to be judged amidst his peers, his citizens to be the 44th president of the United States.

There will be many, many, many blogs, books, op ed pieces and so on. To quote The Preacher, "of making many books there is no end." I urge us all to embrace this moment, and enjoy the present. I am overjoyed, humbled. I now believe.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Learning to Follow Through

Someone once asked me: "What is the most important thing to remember in graduate school"? I responded with a slew of text-book responses, but as I think of it--my new response lends itself to simplicity.

The most important concept, or thing NOT just in graduate school, but in life is: one should be able to follow through.

That is, if you begin at anything, make sure your genesis is progressive and that it terminates, it plateaus at an eschaton. I utilize the indefinite article, because we do begin many projects and desires. Unfortunately, they remain empty, unfulfilled.

For instance, there are those of us who begin projects, but place them on the back end of our minds. We do not follow through on them because of time, cost. Our level of investment is weak, and our desires for flippancy strong.

These areas of follow through are beyond academic life, and enter into the arena, the rim of the social, the political, the communal. That "thing" that you have been putting off--do it, but do it to completion. That person you have been meaning to contact and "keep in touch with"--do it, but do it to completion.

Moreover, as we get closer to choosing a new president for these here United States of America (insert your accent of choice here) observe rather closely--who follows through the best, who completes tasks, and even who moves in and out of the genesis moment toward the eschaton.

I began this post with a suggestion from a past memory, but I end with a suggestion toward a portable progressive present: whatever you do, do it to completion.

a Return from Exile

It has been sometime since I have posted to my blog. I have received several e-mails and e-texts asking about my silence. Well, I break it here.

Much has transpired in the interval. I am currently finishing up my doctoral studies at Purdue University in the field of Medieval Studies Literature. I am in St. Petersburg, Florida working on my second book, and of course enjoying the "Sunshine State" immensely. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida has been more than accommodating.

The process for doctoral completion within the discipline of Medieval Studies is a daunting one. First, I am preparing a reading list comprised of primary and secondary sources.

Second, I need to submit a Plan of Study (POS) by 15 October 2008. This Fall 2008 I am teaching English 420: Business Writing and taking classes. In Spring 2009 I will need to take a final class, then study for my preliminary examinations (pre-lims).

These pre-lims will be taken in Fall 2009 alongside my perspectus. If all goes well, by Spring 2010 I will be ABD, or "All-But-Dissertation." I feel like my dissertation is already written in my head, and have begun to work on some preliminary chapters. My goal is to have my Ph.D. no later than Fall 2010.

The life of an academic, and a doctoral student at that, is a bit demanding, but worth the "silence," the long hours of reading and translating ancient languages. The Ph.D. wielder represents the less than 1% population in the country. Anyone interested in such intellectual and rigorous, mental trauma--just enter a doctoral program, but be warned: it will take your life.

Monday, July 7, 2008

En Honor de Rafael Nadal, Parte Dos

Duro por mas de quatro horas! El campeon de Wimbledon 2008 es el tenista de Mallorca Rafael Nadal,o Rafa! No hay mas que decir--to lo dije!

Ahora esperemos por el US Open. Quien sabe este puede ser el 2008 de Rafael Nadal, no? Vale. El tenista Roger Federer, el suizzo no tiene mas que dar a el juego de tenis. Lo tiene todo y nunca ganara a el French Open mon ami, nunca.

Para a los que no soportarron a Rafa solo tengo esto que decir, "Vamos Rafa! Vamos!"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

En Honor de Rafael Nadal

Ya he visto el French Open de 2008 con los tenistas Rafael Nadal y Roger Federer. "Rafa," come el es llamado gano 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. Vamos Rafa! Tengo lo mas respeto por Federer pero nadie, nadie, nadie puede jugar el juego de tenis en Rolan Garros como Rafael Nadal--punto!

Tambien creo que Rafa va a ganar en Wimbledon. Me da muchisimo orgullo que en España tenemos un campeon quien es joven a solo 22 Rafa sigue adelante! Que celebramos a nuestro campeones en cada deporte donde los hispanicos establecen orgullo y amor y apollo y honor. Viva la patria! Viva España! Viva los hispanicos! Viva Rafa!

Ahora que esperemos por Wimbledon y por un nuevo campeon? Nadal v. Federer otrav vez? Quien sabe, no.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Good Scholarship: Not A and B; but, A and 1

As I sit here in front of my computer enjoying my "Cheap Red Wine," and I seriously mean the label here by Vin Ordinaire Ltd., I recall my conversation with a wonderful and seasoned Renaissance scholar at Harvard U. Her name you ask? Well it is none other than Professor MG.

In our car ride from the Indianapolis airport we began to engage in a rather light discourse regarding Shakespeare and Bioethics. The conversation ended with the following maxim:

Good scholarship is not necessarily between A and B; rather, good scholarship is between A and 1.

Ah! There it was as ripe for the picking as a French mango in the backyard of my St. Croix home. The position of parallelism and analogy is okay, but what happens when you gather the pick-worthy fruit of seemingly disparate subject matters and/or equally incongruent ideologies?

In the afore stated maxim then, good scholarship, if not good research avails itself to similar systems of codification that remain different enough to necessitate, if not warrant an arrest toward similarity. How is this done? In one word: abridgment.

As a Ph.D. student I am given the task to evaluate a given literature within a specific time period and reflect my findings accordingly. It is in the flames of balanced inclusion, however, that the phoenix of relevance not only fly--but soar!

My personal research seeks this type of understanding toward relevant inclusion, and further hunts the critical animal[s] within the forest of adventure. I exist then, as that Gawain in the hunt for, not the green girdle, but the phenomenology of the black phoenix. This is the mythical figure which in turn seeks beyond the mere boundary, and locates the multiple center[s]. To bring this back into focus then, I adhere that looking into seemingly diverse ideologies, and rigorously building a lattice framework that bridges such distinctions reveals what good scholarship is meant to be.

Of the Cemetary: inescapable border[s]?

Recently, I had the honor of driving past a cemetary, but this particular encasement of the dead was different. How so? This particular cemetary was surrounded by a fence, or what I will call human-wire.

The question in my mind persisted: Why would anyone "fence" in/out the dead? I thought, well, of course--it is because of grave robbers, or because it was private property--and still, this particular inquest continued to work on my mind. I immediately recalled the need for private/public space distinction in the work of Hannah Arendt as well as the cosmopolitanism of the public sphere regarding "freedom" within the work of Jürgen Habermas. Still, why all the investment toward inclusion and exclusion? Essentially, what is the position of the cemetary?

The cemetary has often reflected a given society's need toward closure with respect to the living more than the dead. After all, one could argue that the dead no longer "tell tales," but in their silence, and in their own way--they signify. Can a cemetary as a miniature of that community's geopolitical space encase more than the corpus of the dead? That is, can it offer the living present-tense cognition?

In literature we are reminded of the locus of the cemetary, or meeting place of the dead. I am here referencing the respective position[s] and space[s] of the Hebrew Sheol, the Old Norse Valhöll, the Greek Hades, the Christian's Hell and so on. These encasements of the fallen, or translations from life toward death act as a reminder; a faithful (re)telling of a life lived; an awareness toward missed opportunity to do in the now, what cannot be done in the then; and, of course--an escape from and toward a new established order of space and behavior and responsibility.

Am I saying that in Hell there exists responsibility, or in Valhalla, or in Sheol there exists a measure of social aquisition and prosperous utility? At the risk of sounding like Swedenborg--I do apologize. Still, it is worth an examination, or some level of investiture.

In short, the next time you pass a cemetary note whether an additional encasement surrounds the property, the space, the human gathering grounds of the fallen, the loved, and others within the interstitial surroundings of the living and the unborn.

A Cruzan Medievalist Signifies

In Derek Walcott's Nobel lecture entitled: The Antilles: fragments of epic memory, a fondness and a nostalgia surfaced over my mind and heart like the mist in Christian mythlore that soaked the eorðan in le Jardin d'Eden.

It is difficult to engage in the discourse of memory without acknowledging the erudition found in the ouevre of Bergson, Russell, and Yates. Still, what interests me is how the Caribbean has come to be viewed as abject other--that extension of and from the center.

As Walcott notes: "Memory that yearns to join the centre, a limb remembering the body from which it has been severed," and again, "[it is] the way that the Caribbean is still looked at, illegitimate, rootless, mongrelized." Applied to St. Croix, the largest of the known U.S. Virgin Islands and my home--this is a case in point.

St. Croix is an island located Southeast of Florida and is nestled in the Caribbean Sea south of St. Thomas and St. John, and further east of Puerto Rico (Vieques and Culebra, respectively). Growing up in Christiansted, or the mid-east end of the island as oppose to the west-end of the island offered distinction and cultural stereotyping. That is, those who were a part of the east side were a bit more civil in terms of wealth, job opportunities, education, et cetera.

On the other hand, those who were part of the west side were a bit more rural and lived in the rain forest area, went to a more public education system versus private school opportunities offered on the east end, culturally represented the "savage" side of the island in terms of rastafarian ideology, children diving off of the pier performing for white tourists, et cetera. Of course, the above statement is not only racist and prejudicial--it is ridiculously essentialized and incorrect! This view, however, predominates and its misconceptions proliferate.

In terms of language and communication St. Croix is distinct and diverse. The island has boasted seven national flags, of which Dutch, English, French and Spanish tenure have affected its present standing. Dialect formation has taken effect, wherein Cruzan (also, Crucian) is the broken English spoken. Some areas still speak the Dutch language as well as French and Spanish. We turn to Walcott, himself a native son of St. Lucia, a French colonized island, and where my father was born, as he asserts:

Tonally the individual voice is a dialect; it shapes its own accent, its own vocabulary and melody in defiance of an imperial concept of language, the language of Ozymandias, libraries, and dictionaries, law courts and critics, and churches, universities, political dogma, the diction of institutions.

Growing up on St. Croix was a treat in itself, but there always seemed to be an asterisk next to my identification regarding citizenship of these United States of America. In other words, though born on an island and educated in the private school system--I was conferred U.S. citizenship status, but readily adhered to the cultural aesthetics of an island upbringing. I still carry this stigma wherever I happen to be stationed.

Currently, I am a medievalist studying at Purdue University--main campus, in West Lafayette, Indiana. Still, I am a Cruzan medievalist who breaks into my Cruzan dialect and accent on the phone with my family, Spanish with my peers and associates at school, French and attempted patois with my father and English with my professors in the Department of English.

Yet, how did an appreciation for Medieval Studies enter my mind? And, for that matter, how does a Cruzan signify? What literature gets privileged, and moreover, in what language does one read or misread the Caribbean mind? As a critic and writer I challenge myself with these inquests, which may seem familiar to other islanders. Again, we refer back to that Caribbean genius--Derek Walcott. He posits:

and what delight and privilege there was in watching a literature--one literature in several imperial languages, French, English, Spanish--bud and open island after island in the early morning of a culture, not timid, not derivative, any more than the hard white petals of the frangipani are derivative and timid [...] this flowering had to come.

At last then, there it was--signifying signification! The Caribbean had been de-flowered within its own borders by its own people as well as by those imperial controllers of sun and water and earth. I was given a grand opportunity, which I thought to be privilege, selectivity, Morrisonian access but, in reality my people and their mental vacuum proved to be the impetus for such intellectual depravity and disparity.

I am a reader of both culture and non-culture; an examiner of books and humans as text; and moreover, I am a seed of St. Croix that has traveled up until this point, perfect in time and purpose--to signify. As I open my mouth I signify, and as I close it--I signify. I am a product of a whatever it means to have a Cruzan education. This is not a secondary attempt at a real education, or a misgiving toward a prurient and savage identity construction away from the masters of power. I read, and am read--daily. As Walcott asserts:

Yet, deprived of books, a man must fall back on thought, and out of thought, if he can learn to order it, wil come the urge to record, and in extremity, if he has no means of recording, recitation, the ordering of memory which leads to metre, to commemoration.

This is the charge and the methodology assigned, which leads me to raise my left fist, to place my right hand over my heart and to pierce the world with my light, brown eyes as I echo in present tense the Nobel laureate's chanson de tristesse et espère:

Caribbean culture is not evolving but already shaped. Its proportions are not to be measured by the traveller or the exile, but by its own citizenry and architecture.

St. Croix you are my home and I your native son, and wherever my travels occur, this Cruzan medievalist, will ever--always signify.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Identité as Metonymic Significance: Piri Thomas’ Memory as Imperfect Vesselage

The present project attends to de-stabilize the text of Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets (herein, Streets), and seeks to do so in a three-prong process; first, the position and subject of memory shall be analyzed and appropriated to the mémoire that is Streets; second, the metonymic significance of Piri’s travels shall be examined via the “ship” motif of Gilroyan observance and the position of “space” as bridged by the physical and mental streets embedded within the novel itself; lastly, I will privilege select passages in order to conduct a close reading analysis on Streets in hopes to support my thesis: memory as recall and recollection is at once subject to the waves of an [im]perfect mind, and just as a ship can be carried by such vehement waves, the mind too faces similar subjugation; Piri Thomas’ Streets then, is an example of this striated “fiction,” embedded within the “real-time” event phenomena of existence, as a Black Puerto-Rican attempts to make sense of his and our world.

In the May/June 2006 issue of Poets & Writers, a magazine dedicated to their subheading: “From Inspiration to Publication,” a featured article “promoted” the rather distinguished career of Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate and Nigerian Maven. The article, written by Trent Masiki, introduced yet another installment of Soyinka’s ever-expanding [re]collection of thought; the text, You Must Set Forth at Dawn marks his fourth attempt at what Masiki asserts as: “his relentless pursuit of freedom in his homeland” (38). Moreover, the article privileges Soyinka’s thought on the matter of private/public cognition in the genre-writing framing of the memoir [con]text. As Masiki states: “You Must Set Forth at Dawn is more than the story of one man’s private life; it is a political record—the story of a nation” (40). Of interest here then, is whether or not such a view is privy to the memoir style of writing? That is, can someone comment on the interior of another’s ontological supposition? Put another way—can one know the purist and purest intent alongside the prurient writer within? In this latter inquest, it is the voice of Soyinka himself who comments:

I think it is impossible to bare one’s interior completely. I think what defines us as human beings is our sense of privacy, and while we are social beings, and political beings, and therefore public beings—whether we like it or not—there is a very viable, very valid core in the human personality which keeps certain things to itself. (42-3)

Recall, that the nature of this present section singular, and the present project proper is to de-stabilize, or to deconstruct what is meant by memory and the position of mémoire, as privileged within the embedded framing of the interior psyche that is Piri Thomas’ Streets. As Soyinka dmonishingly suggests, “whether we like it or not—there is a very viable, very valid core in the human personality which keeps certain things to itself,” and it is these “certain things,” which interest us here. For the present, however—we return to Masiki’s terminal statement concerning Soyinka’s You Must Set Forth at Dawn, as he posits: “It is the story of a man who has dedicated his life to the cause of social justice, and the story of a nation that has yet to make him proud” (43). Comparatively then, la langue est un écho in the voice of Piri Thomas, at once the subject and the subjugated fractal of Spanish Harlem, as Soyinka, arguably, may have been in and for and even toward a Nigerian presence singular and Africa proper. Moreover, does Piri speak toward nation, or colonial dissension? In the “Afterforward” to Streets Piri has this to say:

Writing Down These Mean Streets was a soul-searching experience for me, in which I forced myself to go back into time to see the sees, do the dos, hear the hears, and feel the feelings over and over and over again, at times feeling certain past traumatic experiences seven times stronger. (327)

Is this not wriiten in the spirit, in the tenor, and in the likened-vein of Soyinka’s admonishment toward baring the interior of one’s soul? Further, could this be what Soyinka alludes to in terms of the “human personality” as compared alongside Piri’s “forced” to feeling “certain past traumatic” events? Again, these fascinating connections help to validate my earlier claim of travel, if not of mobile travail, within the physical and mental space[s]. What follows then, are additional views on the position of memory. The purpose is to create a varied lattice-work of the subject of memory, albeit a non-exhaustive list here, and then approach Thomas’ Streets not with trepidation, but with a well-armed reading that may elucidate more of the motive for memoir [re]visitation in the first place (after 30 years). I remind the reader here of Thomas’ intent, written under the euphemism of “hope,” which was recorded on January 1997:

In writing Down These Mean Streets, it was my hope that exposure of such conditions in the ghetto would have led to their improvement. But, thirty years later, the sad truth is that people caught in the ghettoes have not made much progress, and in fact, have moved backwards in many respects—the social safety net is much weaker now. Unfortunately, it’s the same old Mean Streets, only worse […] I propose we remove the blindfold from the eyes of Lady Justice, so for the first time she can really see what’s happening and check out where the truth lies and the lies hide. That would be a start. (337)

How do we “read” Thomas’ statement then in light of Soyinka’s earlier claims of “political being[s]”? In other words, how do the private holdings of one man’s psyche produce the necessary affectation into the public cauldron of the Spanish Harlem space, and beyond? Both Soyinka and Thomas share a similar ideology toward improving their world’s view, not their world view mind you, but their world’s view—and yes, the distinction is worth exploring—but I digress, slightly. In moving forward then, I too would like to propose and echo Thomas’s claim of “Where do we start?” His answer is also my answer, because I too “am concerned with words, names” (336).

According to the late twentieth century political philosopher Hannah Arendt the subject of “memory,” as tackled in her seminal work, The Life of the Mind, suggests that “memory, the mind’s power of having present what is irrevocably past and thus absent from the senses, has always been the most plausible paradigmatic example of the mind’s power to make invisible present” (“Willing” 11). This perception of the unseen to be seen then is of strong interest for this present project.

Arguably, Piri Thomas had this in “mind,” forgive the pun, when suggesting his desire as a forced position upon himself; again, wherein he states: “I forced myself to go back into time to see the sees” (327). This rape of time and violence of the mind suggest a faulty approach to recall, and one that warrants suspicion as to the “full” story of authenticity. Did Piri Thomas tell all, or did he pre-set his mind to private? As we move along in this examination I hope to unveil the potential answers to such inquests. For the present they will remain. In further solidifying her position on memory, Arendt continues to argue that “memory is our mental organ for the past,” and that moreover, when invoking that great Patristic father of the Church St. Augustine, she asserts: “In On the Trinity, the most important mental triad is Memory, Intellect and Will […] the Will tells the memory what to retain and what to forget” (13, 99). Though this project does not concern the latter two members of the “mental triad,” we can still note their influence and significance on the mind proper. Still, Arendt distinguishes the Memory from the other two, the Will and the Intellect. She states: “nowhere in our philosophical tradition does Memory again attain the same rank as Intellect and Will” (117). Why? The transient nature of human recall is subjective and subject to factors beyond cognitive control. Arendt suggests the reason is the loss of the “sense of the thoroughly temporal character of human nature and human existence, manifest in Augustine’s homo temporalis” (117). Arendt up until now has given her definition of memory, and its importance, but how can such an examination by a political philosopher assist us here in this present argument toward Piri Thomas’ intent, “hope,” recollection, et cetera? Is his memoir authentic, or is it that the memoir itself is a symbolic trope, or a metonym toward identité? We close with Arendt’s greatest and most relevant quote yet: “the faculty of memory (the innate lest-we-forget, which seems to belong to a temporal culture as much as the ability to form projects for the future) had never been broken” (212). How might this align with Thomas’ use of the word “forced” then, and more importantly how do we read “the ability to form projects for the future” as Author function rather than authorial intent? Is this not what Piri Thomas attempted—a future outlook toward change, distinct improvement, social awareness, all enveloped in his [re]telling, [re]capturing, [re]framing of story within the codified and striated genre of memoir.

The body, or physical corpus as center, and its adherents, that which influences the senses, serve as both conduit and conductor in the deciphering terrain of relevant memory. Utilizing the French critical thinker and social philosopher, Henri Bergson, in his Matter and Memory, we find a rather interesting position between the body and the “mental organ,” the mind. Bergson is useful to our present project because he quantifies the position of memory in two forms; in his own words then he states:

The first records, in the form of memory-images, all the events of our daily life as they occur in time; it neglects no detail; it leaves to each fact, to each gesture, its place and date […] (the second), always bent upon action, seated in the present and looking only to the future […] has retained from the past only […] it no longer represents our past to us, it acts it […] Of these two memories, of which the one imagines and the other repeats, the second may supply the place of the first and even be sometimes mistaken for it. (92-3)

Bergson’s ideology of memory and the bisection it represents suggests a possible separation from a memory, which I will here label as A, that imagines the events to be, and a memory, which I will here label as B, that in turn performs it into existence, albeit repetitiously. In terms of Piri Thomas and Streets such a dual distinction may in fact serve us here in terms of what I will label the framing of narrative schizophrenia; i.e. the selectivity process of what to include, and what not to include necessitates a future examination, and as such may suggest Thomas’ work of “memoir” to be nothing more than pre-meditated annotation. At the risk of sounding essentialist and reductive here, I am only suggesting a possible “reading” of the novel in inquest; however, in the latter section we shall entertain this ideation in full. Departing from Bergson’s ideology of dual-memory (icon and mimesis, or put another way—imagio and repetition) we move into the written encoding of yet another Nobel Laureate in Literature (1950); namely, philosopher, mathematician, and social critic Bertrand Russell. For Russell then, memory went beyond the external senses, and warranted a more careful study than behaviorists employed.

In the Analysis of Mind Russell argues for a different externalist account in terms of memory as an episteme amidst other factored influences: credence, desire, convention, denotation and causal law. He states: “MEMORY, which we are to consider to-day, introduces us to knowledge in one of its forms […] memory-knowledge, both as introduction to the problem of knowledge in general, and because memory, in some form, is presupposed in almost all other knowledge” (93). What concerns us here in this project, is the position of imperfect recall, due to a mind that is ever-always on the sea, like a ship, or a mind on the streets of transition, wherein static memory is moot, and dynamism, albeit of cultural, social, political, economical influence, yields a knowledge that is at once tangible, but tangible as fog. It does exist, but attempt to close your hand around it, and to accept that you have “fog” in your hand, is a suspicious claim at best. The subject of memory becomes cloudier still when we attempt to recover identity within such an already frail structure. Russel states it best, as he states: “Can we constitute memory out of images together with suitable beliefs? We may take it that memory-images, when they occur in true (whatever this means) memory, are (a) known to be copies, (b) sometime known to be imperfect copies” (95). It is this latter position of imperfection which situates our present concerns. We must then suggest, or rather to soften the assertion here, offer another possible reading of Streets. By utilizing the trope of metonymic semiotics one can begin to construct the genre form of memoir as the moving vessel of Piri Thomas’ imperfect mind. Moreover still, such an imperfection of memory warrants a closer investigation via the magnification lens powered vis-à-vis metonymic significance.

In this section we attempt to look once more at Paul Gilroy’s use of the ship to de-stabilize the text that is Piri Thomas’ Streets. This section looks to de-stabilize, briefly, the title to Thomas’ memoir: Down These Mean Streets. To begin, by default the position of “streets” suggests mobility in an idealized direction respective to forward and backward progression as well as regression. However, I offer a different reading in terms of mobility, and in fact borrow from the media res motif as privileged by Dante Alighieri’s famous Comedia Divina. We are here interested in only the first part of three, or the Inferno section, wherein Dante’s movement is to proceed through concentric circles of hell, sheol, hades, et cetera. The “image” is of one slowly walking down an ever-winding staircase to some sort of end in sight. As a disclaimer, we are not to read Thomas’ Streets in terms of the eschaton, or the end of all ages and times motif, but for Piri there is a familiar terminus, which begins his travels on the streets, both of the mind and in the physical locus, or space privy to NYC geo-political locus. Taking the image of Dante’s travels then, we note the linguistic measure of both the term “Down” and “Mean” with reference to “Streets,” respectively. How are these to be read exactly? Let us return to the metonymic significance of streets in terms of Gilroy’s “ship” imagery. Gilroy offers, and I quote it here at length:

I have settled on the image (emphasis my own) of ships in motion across the spaces between Europe, America, Africa, and the Caribbean as a central organizing symbol for this enterprise and as my starting point. The image of the ship—a living, micro-cultural, micro-political system in motion—is especially important for historical and theoretical reasons […] Ships immediately focus attention on the middle passage, on the various projects for redemptive return to an African homeland, on the circulation of ideas and activists as well as the movement of key cultural and political artifacts: tracts, books, gramophone records, and choirs. (The Black Atlantic 4)

How then might the position of the ship reflect the memory of Piri Thomas, and prove an [in]adequate vessel over the streets as space? Piri, the novel-memoir’s protagonist, begins at the “Prologue,” but does memory carry such a distinction, or rather is such a privilege fit for what Wole Soyinka has determined not as fiction, but as the embellishment of facts, or “faction”? Moreover, the “ship,” like the “streets,” appears to provide movement, and cannot exist otherwise than mere object, that is a ship and a street are still these identifiers regardless of whether they function in their intended capacity or not. But once more, we digress—slightly. Recalling specific scenes as images within the embedded mind of Piri Thomas then, we proceed, but with the awareness that such a narrative is fraught with imperfection in terms of selective memoria. Also, if “ships” for Gilroy offer metonymic significance in terms of political ideology what can the “streets” offer the reader as a rhizomorphic space, wherein the multiplicities of self as subject is at once served, examined, weighed, re-examined, re-weighed and so on? The novel that opens with a shouting and exhaling Piri, is also the novel which ends in like manner with a Piri that is a lot older stating with the same strain and tenor: “Viva the children of all the colors! Punto!” (Streets 337). Piri’s mind then, is that Gilroyan system of political ideology as fleshed out in the movement of himself throughout the streets of memory, or the identité as metonymic significance. Armed with the competing discourses and philosophies and theories concerning our subject of memory and identity we progress into textual analysis as a whole, privileging some scenes over others. The method here has been to select scenes which privilege the themes raised in this rather brief analysis regarding the Streets of Piri Thomas.

Amongst the many descriptions afforded to reflect the text of Piri Thomas’ novel, memoir, fiction, et cetera the position of testimony and recorded witness have yet to enter this discourse proper. Why? Because of the justification of the “Afterword,” thirty years after its inception. Immediately what become of interest are the text’s authenticity artifacts similar to what Gilroy mentions as: “tracts, books, gramophone records, and choirs” (4). In terms of Streets then we will begin with the “Prologue.”

Piri Thomas’ coming-of-age novel is representative of the struggle of a young man’s identity as reflective of the space which is Spanish Harlem. Piri begins the book with: “YEE-AH!! Wanna know how many times I’ve stood on a rooftop and yelled out to anybody” (ix). Such an inquest appears to be seeking for an answer, but upon closer analysis one realizes this inquiry is rhetorical in nature. What is more, Piri notes, “This is a bright mundo, my streets, my barrio de noche […] Sounds of joys and sobs that make music” (ix). Under the trope of an apostrophe the reader is first introduced to such a distinct voice, only to culminate in the metaphor of sound, a cadence of image and repetition. Recall, these were the Bergsonian tools and ingredients, which question the soundness of memory to begin with. Yet, how does he, that is Piri, describe himself? He states:

I’m a skinny, dark-face, curly-haired, intense Porty-Ree-can—Unsatisfied, hoping, and always reaching […] Yet when I look down at the streets below, I can’t help thinking It’s like a great big dirty Christmas tree with lights but no fuckin presents. (x)

The prose here adheres to a cadence much like the swells of a given ocean: turbulent, uneasy and tossed. This is reflective of the mind of Piri—a system of instability attempting to make sense of the world around him. And before we enter Harlem proper, we share with Piri his point of view, like a demi-god, with a grander scope of vision, albeit a rooftop, and armed with a me-against-the-world rant that asserts his position as: “Unless you cop for yourself!” (x). As scenes in a movie, frame by given frame we navigate through the “streets” of Piri’s recall, or mind—that mental organ, which Arendt so appropriately labeled, and yet, this organ is [dis]eased. In the opening chapter, “Cutting Out” to the first section labeled Harlem we discover a Piri who is in his element and on foot traversing what else but the streets. He states: “I had been walking around since 9 p.m. My thoughts were boiling,” (3) and again:

As I came out into the street. I saw the same shining badge. I just kept walking toward him. Man, I was going home. The cop came up to me and passed me without even giving me a second look. After all, a twelve-year old kid walking the streets at 3 a.m. was a nothing sight in Harlem. (6)

This occurrence with the policeman is not an original one, and in fact, the scene occurs in Ralph W. Ellison’s Invisible Man, wherein his nameless protagonist also encounters a policeman who passes him by; moreover still, one can trace this event of invisibility via municipal authority in the work of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (also called the Underground Man). The point here is that the subject of “invisibility,” addressed by other authors, critics, writers ad nauseum is better left out of this present project, which regards memory as unsafe knowledge. What is of serious concern, however, is the phrasing: “a nothing site” in Streets. This line can be read in two ways; first, the term nothing, nihilo is suggestive of an ante-space, wherein in terms of volume and displacement, existence is warranted in the absence of what use to be; second, ex nihilo, or out of nothing suggests that a “sight” had occurred, but it was of no relevance to the political, social, economic awareness of the authority that particular evening; i.e. the cop was in a different world, realm, eorðan, et cetera outside of the scope and space, which is and was Piri. Lastly, such an observance of a twelve-year old child in the dark streets of Harlem at an early morning hour suggests a de-sensitized policeman who apparently may have witnessed an event of a similar degree in his years on the police force. At the risk of further speculation then, we depart from this scene and shift toward the hardships that memory affords and the levels of performance within the subtext of the 1930s depression, a historical artifact within real-time struggle, as Piri’s mother [re]collects her mental organ imaging of Puerto Rico, the utopic ideal space as contextualized against the space that is New York City proper, and Spanish Harlem singular.

Piri’s mother is his only “true” attachment to a more pure state of existence, wherein the “ship” that is the street of memory is imperfect. Why? Her children cannot “imagine” nor “repeat,” what their mother, a link to the past within their present, amidst her heavy and nostalgic accent of homelessness can conjure—seemingly, at will. One might even argue that her longing is reminiscent of Ovid’s poetic cries from exile, but I digress once more. Piri’s mother recalls an earlier time as “Momma talked about Puerto Rico and how great it was, and how she’d like to go back one day, how it was warm all the time there” (9). This utopic space is privileged, but only in the mental organ of Piri’s mother, and as it continues to unfold, the children cannot do otherwise than inquire. Here the narrator speaks, like Langston Hughes, but not of rivers, but of another metonymic significance tied to the identity of the self—the streets of recall. Nostalgically, Priri’s mother cries: “Dios mio,” she said, “I don’t think I’ll ever see my island again” to which Miriam mispronounces Puerto Rico as “Porto Rico” (9). This disconnect is quickly rectified by her mother’s correction as she states: “It’s not Porto Rico, it’s Puerto Rico,” and continues with the mimetic refrain: “I remember,” which occurs twice within the second chapter, “Puerto Rican Paradise” (9). Shifting gears, scenes and even ports, Piri’s travels take him toward the section in the novel called, “Suburbia.” This section opens with a subheading: “This Long Island ain’t nuttin’ like Harlem, and with all your green trees it ain’t nuttin’ like your Puerto Rico” (79). Piri, unsettled, selects to “tell” of his disfavor with the move from Harlem to Long Island. He states: “My face tried hard not to show resentment at Poppa’s decision to leave my streets forever. I felt that I belonged in Harlem; it was my kind of kick. I didn’t want to move out to Long Island” (81). Again, the reader encounters a Piri who is [dis]eased with the idea that Harlem is, for him, a sense of belonging, or home, and anything else, like Long Island, is mere counterfeit. This position finds green pasture when Piri decides to leave and head back into Harlem on his own [terms]. Before he leaves the house, his mother shouts after him, “Adios. Escribe!” And yet, it ends with Piri stating: “I didn’t look back any more” (91). Of interest is the intensity of such pathos; it is simply striking, and somehow reminds me of my Puerto Rican mother—and her painful cry at seeing her son pick up trash as a construction worker—who for whatever reason could not afford to go to college until the following year. The position to recall is a painful one then, and one can only wonder if such a recollection was set up to fail in the first place. When charged to “Esribe!” by his “moms” I wonder if such a charge is without merit, and if the result of Streets is not simply the fulfillment of a son’s obedience. Such a reading, although an interesting one, shall be left for another, more gifted critic and writer—at present what concerns us here is Piri’s travel spaces amidst the “streets” of memory.

In the nineteenth chapter entitled, “Las Aguas del Sur,” Piri finds himself a seaman; specifically, a Coast Guard hand. In terms of memory and recall, the chapter opens with a flashback to the figure of one Gerald Andrew West, a rather “conscious” brother on matters of race and passing beyond the [in]famous “one-drop rule.” Piri narrates: “At breakfast our heads cleared a little bit and our memories began to focus through the haze of a thirty-six hour hangover […] it wasn’t the chicas we remembered, but Mr. Gerald Andrew West, the blended wonder” (179). Turning to a more dark and sinister shade of the lunar side of Thomas’ Streets we note that such initial cynicism has a way to convert itself within the mental organ, and give birth, or produce a genesis accounting of inevitable and self-generative vice. Here, we get to view the interior, or what Winston Churchill once called, The Inside of the Cup, with respect to the inner sanctum of the mind’s invocation toward prayer, and I quote it here at length and without shame:

I learned more and more on my trips. Wherever I went—France, Italy, South America, England—it was the same […] My hate grew within me. Dear God, dear God, I thought, I’m going to kill, I’m going to kill somebody. If I don’t kill, I’m going to hurt one of these paddies. I was scared of the whole fucking world. (191)

What more can be mentioned about Piri’s story and the times in jail, the hospital, or jail and the “smell of the streets,” as a trope for freedom. Better still, what of the trope that is linked to imperfect memory, and why after thirty years did Piri Thomas come back, back, back like Milton’s Lucifer who remains falling, falling, falling, and never felled. Is memory like a ship, or different? More importantly, who decides, which of the legs, if not toes, of memory to keep, to handle, without emendation? For a last mental image we return to the Streets as Piri himself speaks and states:

Thoughts walked into each other through my mind—Everything happened yesterday. Trina was yesterday. Brew was yesterday, Johnny Gringo was yesterday. I was a kid yesterday and my whole world was yesterday. I ain’t got nothing but today and a whole lot of tomorrows. (330)

I have attempted here to offer a more informed reading of Piri Thomas’ “memoir” as existing within the creative parameters of metonymic significance. His identity is commensurate with his movement amidst the fluidity that is the “streets.” This brief analysis then, attends to the words, the cataloging of memory, the shifting in imperfect recall, and the need to return; to reclaim; to reconstruct and to re-deconstruct that which became image and mimesis. For Piri Thomas then, the adjectival position of “mean” prior to streets pales in comparison to the direction the “streets” have taken him—a place at once familiar and, like a ship is tossed on the sea, so too the mind is a frail vessel, selective and active in its fabrication[s] and fiction[s], and faction[s]. The Streets are of this “mean” constitution.

Can a Man Live--two lives?

Human: The Intent Thereof

Can a man live?

For a period of time without
Life attacking
And consuming the other?

Part the First

I have begun a life in the Spirit and am
Finishing in the flesh; my end is destruction,
And death awaits me-for after this…

I am such a man in pursuit of the
Winds of ambition;
They are indeed fleeting and after all
Is said and done-
Is vain!

Is there an example I should follow;
A High Priest and Bishopric to my soul;
A man who knows my pain, suffering, and

My creed is Catholic,
Universal suffering in need of complete

He is, that High Priest
In the line of Melchizedek;
He is the one to whom
God, that Prime Mover

And Play-Do Maker, said,
‘You are My Clay.
I have become your Hasbro’.

And again, ‘You are
A Priest forever
In the line of

Then Justus, this Clay-Maker, is both Divine
And made in His own

He who offered prayers, delivered:

Pleadings, with love, cries and tears;
Is the
By You it is!

To re-present, in wrapping,
Being in their dealings

With God?

In my folly, unlike Erasmus,
I had rather praise Wisdom and
Know what is
Know what is

Through obedience I have learned
The art of suffering;
Through suffering I have learned
The human chase for the skirts of obedience;

I have taught others
The Way,
But have lost my own;
I am-


Like a babe who desires the milk of the
But still content to drink milk
Beyond my well-tuned years of experience;

I can preach solid food,
But cannot partake of it;
I know about much and much is expected
From me;

Here then is the
Of the whole matter:
One is to follow

After God,
His Christ, true freedom,
With Salem’s Shalom-
Repeated Peace!

The Father in His Liberty,
Draws me upon the Son;
The Son, in turn, grants affinity to
The Father;
The Spirit acts between them.

Part the Second

God provides;
His literature to the masses;
His messengers, aflamèd;
His Spirit, with much grace and truth-

I reject such fruit-for the hand that picks it,
With original dust,
Wills me to treason,

My flesh lusteth;
Earthly pleasure inflames my heart;
Scabbed I be, calloused from birth;
Engenderèd is the flow of youth;

Like Chaucer’s Reverdie,
In April’s showers of lost soul-gazing;
I have
In common with Luciferius,
Than Satan,
With Judas, than Justus;

I am a mess.

It is impossible to restore to
Those who were once enlightened;
Impossible to bridge the chasm of the
‘What if’ soul;


I am,
To this world or the next;


I have,
Of things to come:

Deus Pater.

Our Father?
Piacere, mio!

I am like Odysseus passing through the
Kingdom of the Dead,
By Circe’s wind;
Oh! How far indeed have I

Not unlike the Wandering Jew in
Search of Lost Tempus;
In search of the Prince of Barters crying-
‘Take, take! My life for a life!’

What then is man that thou,
Deus Pater,

I take interest in the stars,
ignoring Socrates’ diatribe,
‘a Waste of time’!

Indeed, fairest Muse, there are many wastes,
Lands untreated,
But, He who placed such twinkling sights,
is due
Our praise, with
Up! Lifted orbs and bloody hearts;

Part the Third

I long for peace and harmony;
They are for War;
I long for the rhythmic workings and underpinnings of
Logic and Faith;
Fact and Fiction;

These are Foxe’s Martyrs,
Recorded with shaky hands,
Of a time past,
It is finished;

If words hold Power,
Then I shall be remembered,
My diatribe and song,
From a discourse of a
Vita Nuova
But one score, nine, and counting.

Fickle then, the man,
Designed to sip from the caffeine of
The opiate of the being;

In this way La Vita Nuova
Del Mezzo Cammin, a middling
Of hope and repeated

The Blakian contraries discovered in
The Ancyent Marineare’s woes;
The yield?
This present realm, an Age, where there is nothing
Under the Sun!

Part [at] the Last


My poetic Edda;
My heapings, congeries, like Shakespeare, Milton,
Or Aquinian Philosophia;

From my stable, very stable hand;
My wayward, very wayward heart;
My electric, saucy, pedantic mind;

And these three exist as one,
In hope,
But the greatest of these,
Is the least of these.

I shall write a fiction and
Shall read it!


She trembles in her shawl,
Cigarette in tow;
Writing, withdrawing, and
Ever Beautiful.

She is a drawing in motion,
Created in the image of my

No, she is Psyche, tied to no man,
Independent to her need,
Dependent to her want;
She is the opiate of my desire.

My Psyche is strangely familiar,
Resplendent in womanly
How now can I be of service?

Psyche is a gift from the gods of love
And chance would have her be
A friend, a lover
Of people?
Of me?

Her psychology feeds me,
Necessitating response;
Such is my plight and my

It thirsts in a dry realm,
Where normal is unfit and the fittest,
Are mere images of themselves;
Images of Psyche?


She is a pleasant dream;
A reality attainable through her

I tremble at her presence and long
To know her, yes, to know her.
In knowing Psyche I can really know…

Part the second

Where comes my help?
My help comes from Psyche,
That patron Muse of love,
Sweet as honey
Passionate ambrosia!

She suggests to the man
Of laughter-
The gods need to think!
Does genius reside in inquisition?

The answers are to be found in
Ambush our hearts oh gods of chance
And time!

Batter my soul!
Psyche’s tears replenish
My thirst;
My hunger;
My own demise;

Yet wisdom is mine to wield,
Or at least mine to apply.
To what?
To the praise of Folly!

Psyche is charmingly aloof;
Existing in mystery;
Enshrouded in enigma;
Yet, I am her sleuth!

Oh! Psyche let me into your forbidden realm;
Trust your angels,
Feelings and Instinct,
Aflamèd with fire, messengers of

Be my salvation;
Be my reality;
Be my fiction;
Be mine damn you!

Part the Third

Psyche is falsehood’s bane!
She is truest purple,
And my envy is true green!

Her love of color?
Deepest black!

My words affect her heart,
The blood that pumps it,
Sacred, youthful,

My Psyche has left,
A void, chasm-deep,
In need of filling,
Her Person, the balm.

My wound?

Stayed by her curled lip;
A smile ensues, or is it
My presumption that she laughs,
But silently?

Will such happiness return?
Will inordinate affection

From her smile she melts me;
From her voice, the flowers bow;
Clovers, four-leafed bend and part,
From her touch, simply

Her hands, fingers, warm,
Inviting me in.
I am to be a gentle man;
Her fellowship-becoming!

We are to meet, talk, and hope
The fates of chance return us
Similar grace;
Caught up in the moment?

No! Such passions…last
And last….and last!
What if we were the only two?
Soul survivors on this blue orb?

Our planet, a playground of pastel beauty:


Our selfish lust would populate
Our priorities, yielding much!

End in the beginning.
For me, Psyche?
These three exist then:

But like our poets of old,
The greatest of these is…Psyche;
Her love, my desire and my


Part the Fourth

I caught a glimpse of the night
Glow worm ‘till the end;
Psyche is my Beatrice as
I am her Dante!

Then terrorize my theory:
Foster my Foucault,
Battle my Bataille,
Laugh at my Levinas,
And Synchronize my Significant
Monkey’s sycophant?

Our music, of high affinity,
Shared likes in need.
Our chorus, much like Orpheus’s
Lyre to the masses?


It is a pliant sound of rhythmic heartbeats;
It is the flow of a mighty rushing,
A mighty, mighty, deluge of expressed


Each framed in fearful symmetry;
Captured, captive, and catalogued
In the annals of my memory;
Oh! My Psyche do not let go of such
Heavenly hell.

We are mere pieces to
Puzzling, riddling, primal movements
Of which my pen is servant to the ink gods,
And they, in turn,
Subject to the pages…

I will immortalize you in such
Pages, stemming from a heart, though
Scabbed and calloused by experience;
Beats for more expression!

Psyche’s body, milk-white

I can only imagine, but she did touch my
Hand, which followed after my heart-hard!

I hope to touch that which is beyond her flesh;
Spurring hope and blush in other, deeper recesses of her

Her nose, quaint, cute, up-turned only
To ward off the weak of heart;
I am of the persistent clan though,
And in such an aim I would be the cheese,
She the beauty mouse, but with a razor-like

My mind races, faster, faster, with more resolve
Than Herculean Achilles at the battles of Troy!
I await my next visit to
Il Paradiso?

The Italian heaven, scent of my

Part the Fifth

Is there such a thing as a

I await Psyche to find out.
Until then:

And be merry doing it all over again.

Diary of a BAD Year--really?

Looking at the hardcover copy of J. M. Coetzee’s novel, Diary of a Bad Year, one cannot help but to first notice all of the accolades used to sell the work of such a seasoned writer. “WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE,” and “author of DISGRACE,” are emblazoned on the cover, along with my favorite identifier, which comes right after the title, the smaller, all-capped font that reads--“FICTION.” This diminutive word sets up the reader for what promises to be an inventive story and a challenging read. Coetzee’s writing in this installment then is reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Sand who in his twilight years, captures the emotive response to old age and fleeting, youthful desire.

The book is narrated from the perspectives of three characters: a Cartesian named Señor C, or Mr. C, a clever euphemism for Coetzee as well as Senior Citizen; Anya, the Filipina lust interest of Mr. C; and Alan, her white, Australian cynic and beau. The pages themselves recount this tri-partite style quite uniquely, so that each page contains a passage of narration from the point of view of all three characters, the segments themselves separated by two thin lines. Here, the reader is faced with two main choices: read all three narratives at the same time, or read one narrative strand and then return to the subsequent narratives. Reading the narratives together provides a much richer experience; it allows the book to excite as it entertains, offering political philosophy amidst the running thread of sexual tension, old male desire and youthful, female performance.

The structure allows the text to engage with itself, presenting a varied discourse that bleeds, or travels from the top of the page down. At the top of any given page is an offering from Mr. C’s commissioned book on “strong opinions,” which is heading into press release in the German language. Such offerings from Mr. C’s book include: “On the origins of the state,” “On democracy,” “On Machiavelli,” “On national shame,” “On paedophilia,” “On the body,” and even “On Zeno.” Mr. C is seventy-two years of age, living in Australia, and has “commissioned” Anya to type-edit the work. She is twenty-nine, and quite attractive. The true brilliance of the book, however, is not all of its philosophical entries within the embedded textual frame, but the way Coetzee allows the reader to “see” the formation of Mr. C’s book. He not only talks about the book project; we are front and center observers of his smaller text forming within the novel’s larger [con]text. Again, such a creative move makes for a challenging, but rewarding read. To add more tension to the narrative, Alan, 42 years of age, provides what seems to be the cynical voice of Coetzee, as if the writer is speaking to the aged version of himself, Señor C. He reminds Anya of the true and shameful intent of Mr. C’s lustful designs. When Mr. C commissions Anya as a type setter, Alan is quick to suggest a motive:

Why not? Maybe that is how he gets his kicks: making the woman read his fantasies
about her. It is logical, in a back-to-front way. It is a means of exercising power over a woman when you can’t fuck any more.

Our aged protagonist, Mr. C, indirectly fires back at this indictment with the rhetoric of a writer’s craft, revealing that the power dynamic inherent in writing a book is even more complex than either Alan or Anya tend to believe:

To write a novel you have to be like Atlas, holding up a whole world on your shoulders and supporting it there for months and years while its affairs work themselves out.

Diary of a Bad Year is truly a God-like feat, managing to create a space for “strong opinions” and self-indictment alongside classic story-telling. Mr. C lusts for Anya, but carefully frames his intent via employer—employee relations; Alan, the misanthropist, blames Mr. C for his disgraceful mannerisms, and Anya is the love/lust interest of both men. As readers, it really does feel as if Coetzee is holding the world on his shoulders while it works itself out, and the author reinforces this by claiming that “Stories tell themselves, they don’t get told.”

In addition to the triptych narrative on each page, as mentioned prior, the novel is further divided into two sections. The first section is entitled: “Strong Opinions: 12 September 2005-31 May 2006”; the second section follows with the softer label: “Second Diary,” and is non-dated. The first half of the novel introduces the book project and Mr. C’s strong, philosophical assertions. In the second half of the book, however, Coetzee seems more concerned with mortality and ontology. He begins with the chapter, “A dream,” wherein the “I” has “died but had not left the world.” This perhaps is Coetzee’s attempt at coming to grips with his own mortality, while at the same time hopeful for some type of legacy. This “I,” assumed to be Mr. C, is not alone in this section, but “was in the company of a woman, one of the living, younger than myself.” Though Mr. C is old, aging and closer to death—he is not unaccompanied, for in his dream the young woman represents some sort of tie to the living world. In this way, his existence finds contextual meaning in her identity. The old exists in the context of the young, the aging with the youthful, and the dying with the living.

Those who have read Coetzee’s earlier works, especially Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, will find his pathos concerning unrequited love/lust between the old male and the young female quite familiar. Waiting for the Barbarians is framed between an old, male Magistrate and a young, female barbarian captive; Disgrace concerns an old professor who falls from the Ivory tower due to unwise sexual relations with a much younger student. Both set up the similar character and theme positions of Coetzee’s familiar binary: old male lust alongside youthful female capture and pity. As Anya puts it in Diary of a Bad Year: “I was the one he was in love with, in his old man’s way, which I never minded as long as it did not go too far.” This attempt by Anya to place some sort of boundary around Mr. C’s flirtatious attempts is typical of Coetzee, but here we have the added context of a writer’s craft. Recall, it is Alan who suggests that Mr. C is getting his “kicks” by writing her [Anya] into his book project. The message: a writer has no true boundaries. Coetzee illustrates this repeatedly through the style, structure, and content of his narrative. And as such, Diary of a Bad Year has no boundaries—only multiple centers.

Read this book then, in light of its irregular framing, and its colliery for reflection. Appreciate its pathos and weigh its message: the importance of recognizing your station in life, albeit from an old or young perspective. Coetzee asks us all to be grateful for what we will leave behind, whether it be documented, [mis]interpreted, or judged. In short, although Diary of a Bad Year feels altogether unfamiliar and provides a challenging territory—like a minefield—there is something equally disturbing in its morose ability to capture truth. Tread accordingly.

J. M. Coetzee
Diary of a Bad Year
Viking Penguin Group, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-670-01875-8
231 pages
U.S. $24.95

Monday, April 14, 2008

Of Mimicry and Men: A Chat by a Surviving Colonizee

This analysis originally took place in the class taught by Professor T-----, and I have posted it here:

“The discourse of post-Enlightenment English colonialism often speaks in a tongue that is forked, not false,” begins Homi K. Bhaba, in a chapter entitled, “Of Mimicry and Man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse,” taken from his The Location of Culture (1994).

If colonialism, albeit an initial attempt to look after the Imperial powers’ goods, relies on the desire to see itself in [an]Other, then Bhaba’s comment on such authority may be in fact more than mere observation and analysis. He asserts, “If colonialism takes power in the name of history, it repeatedly exercises its authority through the figures of farce” (85). Bhaba utilizing quotes from Lacan, Sir Edward Cust, Freud et al. positions his thesis alongside mimicry and repetition and suggests:

I want to turn this process [of man’s extended gaze] by which the look of surveillance returns as the displacing gaze of the disciplined, where the observer becomes the observed and ‘partial’ representation [re]articulates the whole notion of identity and alienates it from essence. (89)

This position of “essence” intrigues us here as readers and interpreters of text and culture, because it reemphasizes Lacan’s ideology of mimicry as distinction. Recall, mimicry as an itself, or subject of inquiry, is both distinct and camouflage. This is the “fork” of Bhaba’s discourse.

In this short analysis then, I wish to look at several interesting points that Bhaba raises in his chapter, and then provide some minor examples of critical allocation toward our present reading of Nelly Rosario’s Song of the Water Saints (New York: Vintage Books, 2004).

To begin, in utilizing the term, “mottled” in the quote taken from Jacques Lacan’s Of the Gaze, Bhaba subscribes, in my estimation, to what Deleuze and Guattari register, in terms of “history,” as that body of organs, wherein a rhizomatic impetus of alternating smooth and striated space[s] emerge. The position of the established O/order and its extended creation are at once part and parcel of the whole, and yet separate from its C/creator.

In other words, it exists to reflect, but its existence is altogether “itself.” Recall, at the onset of this class Professor T----- suggested that our discourse proper throughout these texts (novels, memoirs, and vignettes) would be construed as non-static; i.e. the voices of the story and its teller, in terms of race, geo-politics and body are constructed, [de]constructed and[re]constructed, but I digress—slightly. Let us return to the terms of mimicry, repetition, farce and so on.

Bhaba defines mimicry in terms of: “an ironic compromise,” “constructed around an ambivalence,” “coheres the dominant strategic function of colonial power, intensifies surveillance, and poses an immanent threat to both ‘normalized’ knowledges and disciplinary powers” (86).

Taking the earlier quote by Sir Edward Cust on p. 85 then, we argue that the Creator (the Imperial power) created the creature (the colonized space[s]), and that the latter is not at fault for its unmistakable cultural resemblance[s] in whatever capacity this can be noted. To be English and to be Anglicized then is, as Bhaba posits, “[to] desire to emerge as ‘authentic’ through mimicry—through a process of writing and repetition—is the final irony of partial representation,” and furthermore it [mimicry] “repeats rather than re-presents” (88).

Bhaba offers several examples of such mimicry and farce when observing Locke’s and Foucault’s panoptic gaze and self-policing mechanism, the “slippage produced by the ambivalence of mimicry (almost the same, but not quite),” Charles Grant’s partiality studies on “the Asiatic subjects of Great Britain,” James Mills’ History of India regarding religion and reform of the colonial subject, and Macaulay’s ‘Minute,’ which “makes a mockery of Oriental learning until faced with the challenge of conceiving of a ‘reformed’ colonial subject” (86-87).

Of further interest is the chapter’s usage of the phrase, “almost the same, but not quite.” In terms of science, I suggest this can be construed as an existence within the interstitial walls of an already—present and its established present O/order, within the greater integument system proper. In other words, those of the Anglicized exist as an “itself,” and yet resemble that which is English and Englishness.

In terms of authority the position of mimicry is one of intrigue and of repulsion, and the inter dicta, is what privileges the earlier assumption of Lacanian camouflage. Bhaba states it best as he turns to a Freudian reading of “colonial textuality,”as:

that form of difference that is mimicry—almost the same but not quite […] Writing of the partial nature of fantasy […] the very notions of ‘origins’ […] The desire of colonial mimicry—an interdictory desire—may not have an object, but it has strategic objectives which I shall call the metonymy of presence. (89)

The examples listed of this metonymy of presence, suggested by Bhaba are reflected on p. 90 at the top of the verso side. What is at stake here exactly? In one word—confusion, or perhaps a more cultural critical term, [dis]allocation—wherein, incertitude is more often than not—certain—and most certainly and often risked. Again, we turn to Bhaba as he suggests that this part for the whole (metonymy and synecdoche), “cross the boundaries of the culture of enunciation through a strategic confusion of the metaphoric and metonymic axes of the cultural production of meaning” (90).

In other words, where distinction is no longer factored how can one tell the colonizer from the colonized? What is more, who holds true authority when these lines of difference are threatened? Such violence is what “the work of Edward Said will not let us forget,” namely that “the ethnocentric and erratic will to power from which texts can spring is itself a theatre of war” (90).

With such a rhetoric of violence, in terms of disruption, it is no wonder then that the theatre goes unnamed; i.e. is this theatre one of private or public space; are its actors reflectors of a given whole; are its participants casual observers or otherwise than; lastly, who holds a higher affinity toward culpabilis within such drama. Mimicry may adhere to men, in following this chapter by Bhaba, but what of the position of a woman? I believe Nelly Rosario raises similar moments in her novel Song of the Water Saints, wherein the subject of authenticity rings true to Bhaba’s thesis of surveillance and re-appropriated gazing.

In the chapter titled, “Casimiro • 1920,” Rosario opens the novel with a simple construction of “boy—meets—girl, which of course turns into more than a mere meeting. Graciela, the protagonist of sorts opens herself up to this new man in hopes that he will not be like Silvio.

Of interest is the name of Casimiro as well as the novel’s scene of mirrors and reflection found on p. 54. A loose translation of the name Casimiro can be construed as: “almost—glanced,” or as the infinitive command: “to gaze in the not-quite.” This attempt to destabilize the name of Graciela’s new beau arrives full circle when the text alerts us to, “Casimiro was an innovator,” and that “part of his appeal was in the casual way he gave meaning to the trivial and stripped importance from the respectable” (54).

This analysis of his name and disposition, though occurring in some four short lines, speaks volumes in terms of the part of the whole for the position of the male [gaze] and the [fe]male’s attempt at such resolution. We note that Graciela herself is concerned with her identity, her image and the [mis]use of the mirrors.

The position of the mirror here reflects the earlier, part of/for the whole, observance of Bhaba’s mimicry turn to farce. Again, in terms of legitimacy, authenticity of the self Graciela is left to have “guessed at her appearance” (54).

At an earlier point in the novel one can also make the argument that the voyeurism episode, though initialized by Peter West, is sustained by both Silvio and Graciela. It is they who problematize his gaze. This problematization is suggestive of incertitude, or an ambivalence that at once reflects and refracts the onlooker, a form of authority behind the lens, but at once reliant on his [Mr. West's] two models, for such validation. Is this not then a viable example of Bhaba’s switch from mimicry to menace, or farce? You decide.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

God Is Dead--really?

I was given the opportunity by Sycamore Review (Purdue U) to review Ron Currie Jr.'s God Is Dead. I was further elated when the author contacted me, and thanked me for such a review of his book. He sent me a signed name plate, and I, sent a copy of my review. The exchange was a wonderful one, and showcased the amicability between reviewer and author. I was truly honored.

Ron Currie Jr.’s first novel, God is Dead, is a contribution to the larger “what if” dialogue regarding the death of God and what happens to life, humanity, and hope without the presence of a divine figure. Currie has received critical acclaim for his short stories, which have appeared in Glimmer Train, The Sun, and Night Train; but this new project probes deeper, examining what happens to the human self when God, or the “head” of a concentrated belief system, is removed. Suggestively, God and hope are held in tandem, and it is not until the former is demised and the latter, essentially departs, that the fractured self take precedence. Instead of reliance on God to fix our distinctions, the onus is re-appropriated back into the hands of humankind. Thus in the novel, when God, “disguised as a young Dinka woman,” dies, word of the Creator’s demise immediately spreads as wide and far as the Sudan desert itself. But in Currie’s imagination, God’s death leaves the world unchanged; no cataclysmic earth shatter or Zeus-like thunder bolts emerge. Instead, wars and violence continue, and people continue to complain and act selfishly.

From the opening chapter of God Is Dead, Currie creates a fragmented world that is uncannily familiar. Tethered by the common filament of progressive human failure, his chapter selections present this world in a collection of narrative vignettes. “God Is Dead,” “Indian Summer,” “Interview with the Last Remaining Member of the Feral Dog Pack Which Fed on the God’s Corpse,” and the closing chapter titled “Retreat,” all remind us what it means to be human in a frightening age. For the most part, each narrative focuses on a single character, and it is not until the end of the text that we notice characters overlap, a technique that serves to emphasize human despondency. While each chapter selection can stand on its own as a didactic interval, a morsel of instructional warning for better living, overall they help to further disrupt the traditions of the Divine character.

Inhabited by desire, conflict, and the sadism it uncovers, God Is Dead illustrates the death of a concentrated belief system, but not necessarily, belief itself—offering in tasty bite-size morsels a meal of reflection as well as a feast of our fissured selves and our carnal shortcomings. Currie not only kills God, but decides to “take out” religion altogether, replacing it with subjects such as teenage suicide, and the well-placed humor of Aramaic-speaking desert dogs who reluctantly feast on God’s flesh. Currie ends his threaded tale with “Retreat,” an Armageddon of sorts. In a world already on the brink of self destruction, the absence of God does not staunch the progress of our own divisive methods. Currie presents the reader with plagued human beings that though forgettable in name, are not so when they present a reflection of our present real-world indifference.

Currie openly experiments with the flaws of humanity by first suggesting there is perhaps a flaw in the Creator. Though “God came at dusk to a refugee camp in the North Darfur region of Sudan,” and is clothed in “a flimsy green cotton dress, battered leather sandals, hoop earrings, and a length of black-and white beads around his neck,” death does not respect such a transfiguration. Further, when first introduced to God’s less than perfect physique we are told that “He’d manifested a wound in the meat of his right calf, a jagged, festering gash upon which fed wriggling clumps of maggots.” With an early and disturbing image of God, Currie further problematizes God’s demise by raising a somewhat philosophical question: If humankind prays to God on their death bed, then who can God pray to exactly? Better still, who could accept the burden of carrying such a confession? These are the intriguing inquiries that Currie hoists upon the reader and are the true brilliance of the book. At the same time, these questions demonstrate the humor, criticism, and measured irreverence of Currie regarding God, death, and hope. For example, at one point the author shows a pensive Colin Powell confessing to a “sympathizing” and dying God. The character Powell asks:

how does a man become the first black assistant to the president for national security affairs? How does a man become the first black chairman of the Joint
Chiefs? How does a man become the first black secretary of state? And then I
answer myself: by behaving, in every possible manner, like a white man.

Again, the reader comes face-to-face with Currie’s wit, denigration, and careful impertinence as a powerful man questions his own failures. In God Is Dead, no one is exempt from direct scrutiny and the pressure to re-examine and re-evaluate the self—not God, not Powell, and not the engaged reader. Indifference must be eradicated and responsibility privileged.

One could argue that Currie’s personal philosophy is at stake in God Is Dead, but his command of language and the situating of current events alongside religious upheaval contain lasting implications about the fractured self, which is constant and not necessarily dependent on God being alive. We as readers are all implicated, as the novel is a mirror of our own frail, finite and fantastic selves. Currie shows that people do not necessarily need God to behave as civil, rational, and responsible human beings. Filled with equal parts seriousness and hilarity, Currie’s master tale is at once a fiction and a truth-telling of our current status, namely that we are all too human. By taking the title from a phrase long associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, Currie has developed a thoughtful, yet disturbing text that, like Nietzsche, claims to disrupt the status quo. In his world, God is truly dead, but unlike the German philosopher, Currie does not overtly claim, “and we have killed him!” Although there are moments of hilarity, this is ultimately a serious book, and readers should approach this novel with the measured tension of both reverence and irreverence.

Ron Currie, Jr.
God Is Dead
Viking Penguin Group, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-670-03867-1.
182 pages

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Notes on Obama: Change I Can and STILL Believe In

In a rather cold and long line I waited for free tickets that would grant me entry into Jefferson High School (JHS) to hear the speaker from Chicago. For what you might ask? I was there longer than I thought I had patience for, and yet as the cold winds swept across the crowds and cut through my polo sweater--I waited.

When I finally did pick up my two tickets--an overwhelming feeling of cynicism and doubt crept over me. I actually stood in line for a time, waited for tickets to hear the famed speaker from Chicago and through it all--I now had my doubts about the next day's importance and hype.

O ye of little faith, no.

On 10 April 2008, A----- and I headed toward Jefferson High School, located in Lafayette, Indiana. Why? Because Senator Barack Obama, that famed speaker from Chicago, was holding a "Town Hall" meeting with those "lucky" few who were able to procure tickets for the event. These faithful ramblings are from that moment, an event in the space of JHS.

Obama opened thanking ALL who had staged the event, and was received with raucous applause. After quieting down the crowd with both hands raised, he announced the reason he entered the campaign: "The fierce urgency of now!"

Quickly moving into the war in Iraq, the senator reminded the people that such a war is costing us $400 million/day, and that even the higher--ups are feeling the pinch. Why? According to Obama, "Pain trickles up."

Amidst clapping and cheering the senator was able to give a good, sound speech highlighting some of his larger points on the campaign. Immediately, he charged into the crowd with--"We can't wait!" Then, he cleverly weaved his message of responsibility, wherein the government had failed the American people. His solution, to rise from the "bottom--up!"

Periodically, folks stood up! Clapping and "war-whooping" throughout. Even under brief technical failure with mic problems and sound system feedback, Obama held his own, and kept his stride.

At one point Obama reminded ALL that he had not taken any money from special interest lobbyists, and that all funds raised to run his campaign came from the American people. Why? The former suggests a reciprocation to the special party interest groups; the latter, well, it suggests that the future president hopeful is indebted to the American people--period. Sound foreign? Yeah--believe it or not--that is how government is to work--you know "by the people, for the people."

In his own words--Obama declared, "I don't owe them, I owe YOU!"

Lastly, Obama closed with questions from the crowd, as he is apt to do at these "events." Someone commented on the war on Iraq--to which the famed senator suggested, rather asserted--"The war on Iraq was unwise," and again, "We need to bring our troops home--it's time."

For the most part the crowds were very supportive of Obama, and his plan to remove the troops from Iraq in 2009. In closing, when asked about how such change could and would come about, the senator invoked the spirit of MLK, in the words of JFK, and posited:

We should not negotiate out of fear, and we should never fear to negotiate.

Obama is a formidable candidate, as much as Clinton and McCain happen to be; however, what is missing from the round and round and round discussion re: how do we run this country, Obama offers both head and heart; mind and conviction; competence and pulse.

I was encouraged by what he said, and as a very smart person once told me--initials PR--look at the WAY he says it. I did just that this evening, and was rewarded with "Real Time with Obama."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

'Till We Have Faces, Part I

I am old now and have not much to fear
from the anger of gods.

And so begins what many critics considered to be that last great literary achievement by a man who considered himself a dinosaur of sorts. The quote is from Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis taken from his book Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold.

As the title suggests Lewis did what many medieval writers of the past had done. He [re]told a story. His genius of re-telling is comparable to what Geoffrey Chaucer had done with the Canterbury Tales from Boccaccio’s Decameron. Lewis, like Chaucer before him, understood the function of a story and to retell it made it all the more original.

This of course is a medieval concept, however, one that Lewis delivers quite well. Lewis’ objective was to reshape and possibly present a different view of a known, pagan fable. In doing so he fashioned a story unlike the original. In fact, he made the story a Lewis story.

The story itself is a tale between two earthly princesses-one attractive (Psyche) and the other, for lack of a better term, ugly (Orual). The tale interweaves a pre-Christian era involving pagan worship and themes of love, selfish desire, and as Lewis himself thought, “a work of (supposed) historical imagination.” The story includes the pagan god of love Cupid, son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.

As a Christian apologist Lewis was no stranger to myth lore and other pagan forms of religious rhetoric. In fact, it was because of his ability to embrace pagan allusion without letting it interfere with his faith that made him such a strong advocate for the Christian religion to begin with. John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien noticed this ability in Lewis and assisted in his appointment as Chair for English & Medieval Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University. Their relationship would wane over the years, and this, due to the fact that Tolkien did not appreciate Lewis’ overt Christian rhetoric in his works.

Lewis believed that every good man or woman was a type or a like of Christ. In his own words he describes his character Psyche as existing as “an instance of the anima naturaliter Christiana making the best of the Pagan religion she is brought up in.” Moreover, Lewis exclaims that “she is in some ways like Christ because every good man or woman is like Christ.” It is this “like Christ” in conjunction with the title of his book “Till We Have Faces” that intrigues and upholds the reader’s imagination. It is possible to read through the book unchanged, but it is not possible to read through the tale unchallenged. Lewis does not leave room for that, and I suppose, in a suggestive sense, the response to this challenge is a type or supporter of change.

What follows is a close look, in two parts, at what allusions may have been circling the mind of Jack Lewis and what per se these ideas may reveal about our present culture. I would be doing the former Cambridge don a disservice if I did not mention that he himself viewed the subject of love in his book as motive for the actions of man, woman, and yes, even the gods, whom it would appear Lewis did not think were crazy. His final thoughts on love and the age of love I believe motivated a response from his curious mind and encouraged him to write what originally was titled Bareface. Lewis took the transmitted story from Lucius Apuleius Platonicus’ Metamorphoses (sometimes called The Golden Ass) and created something that was original in its retelling. It was a re-creation of collected words interweaved and birthed into a new view of the old world where “love is too young to know what conscience is.”

The story of Psyche and Cupid is one of love, deception, and ultimately tragedy. It begins with the birth of three beautiful daughters to a king and queen. The youngest was the most beautiful in face and bodily appearance. Her beauty it was told rivaled that of even Venus herself, to which the goddess did not take kindly to. Venus’ jealousy stirred her to call upon her son, Cupid. The young god was told to wound Psyche with his arrows and make her fall in love with some degraded creature. Cupid, winged with his arrows and maternal obedience, flew toward Psyche with intent on destroying her life. Cupid upon noticing for the first time Psyche’s beauty was also struck as it were by the very arrow of love that afflicted many a mortal. He instantly loved Psyche and took her away to a palace where he was to remain a hidden husband to Psyche.

What is more, the story incorporates the jealousy of the two other sisters who were married off to lesser matches and who wanted to know what became of their sister. Upon finding their sister, Psyche shows them her palace and her wealth, but to the gods’ warning that nothing good can come of it. This foreshadowing proves only too true as the sisters poison Psyche’s mind to betray her husband. Psyche is told to take a lamp and let the light from the lamp illuminate who her husband really is. Armed with a knife Psyche follows through on this plan, but upon looking on her husband she does not recoil in fear, but is completely enamored with the beauty and magnificence of the young god of love. Psyche, in holding the lamp, mistakenly lets a drop of hot oil fall on the unblemished, white and radiant ambrosia-like skin of Cupid. He immediately senses his discovery and departs! Psyche is then left to wallow in her grief and roam about half-crazed, a result stemming from her disobedience. Suffice it to mention that this portion of the story concerning Psyche and Cupid is what Lewis “improved” upon. The characters are the same but it is set, as one critic put it, “against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world.” Lewis utilized the absence of a Christian world to paint the very vivid presence of Christ, or archetypal Christ.

This characterization involves Psyche. On the one hand the tale depicts sacred love and on the other a love that is profane, tarnished, and tainted. This love develops into a selfish desire and need and we are made aware of its troubling effects. In fact, Psyche will be “killed” for it. Though Lewis enjoyed utilizing the topos of allegory I do not believe he is symbolizing any of his characters throughout [t]his tale. In criticizing his own work he is quick to admit that “an author doesn’t necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else,” however he plainly admits that Orual “is (not a symbol) but an instance.” Lewis explains that she is “a ‘case’ of human affection in its natural condition, true, tender, suffering, but in the long run tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession.” The beloved here of course is the younger sister, Psyche.

What can misalign love tell us exactly? How is this helpful to the reader? Recall, Lewis by this time had a huge following and his works were already in circulation. At a glance is Mere Christianity, Allegory of Love, Pilgrim’s Regress, and of course The Chronicles of Narnia. The latter bringing him much acclaim to both youthful and aged audiences alike. Why then do critics place Till We Have Faces as one of his, if not the most, monumental, literary achievement? I believe the answer may lie in the possibility that all of his faculties are at work here! Lewis himself acknowledged that this book, among his other written projects, was his greatest achievement. Again, the question is raised with regards to his use of pagan allusion embedded in myth lore. Why not adhere to your Christian audience and retell a pagan story that clearly labels the Christian and the pagan; the absolute good and the bad; the acknowledgement of societal culpabilis, sin and transgression and the reward and blessing for honoring the one true God? Though all pertinent questions—Lewis, arguably, addressed them all by adhering to the style of a pagan myth. Perhaps then, the undercurrent message here is “as Christians we are called to be in the world, but not of the world.” A challenge indeed, some more than others, but a challenge nonetheless. Think of the audience Lewis is reaching with such a book. By placing Psyche in a type of Christ role she is then given an ability to “see.” Lewis brilliantly takes the pagan notion of an invisible palace and retells it in the vein of a “seen palace.” The one who is without sight is also the one without understanding and without a face, hence Till We Have Faces.

Who then understands the infinite? Who then can make sense of those who now can see? Perhaps, Asaph can shed some light on the matter. It is understood that David wrote many psalms in the canonical collection or Book of Psalms, and yet the Book of Psalms contains many authors. For example, Moses, Asaph, and even Solomon all wrote psalms. One psalm in particular, Psalm 82, suggests some similar things to which I believe Lewis is alluding to. The text reads as follows:

Psalm 82
5 "They know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 "I said, 'You are "gods";
you are all sons of the Most High.'
7 But you will die like mere men;
you will fall like every other ruler."

Now compare such a sentiment to a section of Lewis’ narrative where Orual is asking Bardia, a guardsman for some explanation to Psyche’s supposed madness:

“Bardia, what kind of a lover must this be who forbids his bride to see his face?”

To which in reply the prudent soldier responds:

“I should say-speaking as mortal, and likely enough the gods know better-I should say
it was one whose face and form would give her littler pleasure if she saw them.”

At one point the psalmist Asaph taps into a disturbing and very Christian idea; i.e., “you are gods” and that “you are all sons of the Most High.” Can it be both? On a second note Bardia, one steeped in the Glome, pagan culture replies to Orual’s inquiry with a hesitant, but sufficient reply with regards to the god of love. That is, “the gods know better.” I believe Lewis’ genius is materializing rapidly here. He has incorporated a pagan notion and made it Christian. How? Well, first notice that Asaph sets up the idea or allusion of “gods” and “sons” existing together, and possibly exist as one and the same. Lewis provides the “gods” with a “knowing” that excludes or rather goes beyond. Beyond whom? At least beyond Bardia and Orual, both type cast their estate-one, a cast-off princess and embodiment of a crumbling earthly royalism, and the other, a defender of a pagan culture that is nothing more than loose code and superficial, and to some extent syncretic ritual.

Nonetheless, Lewis taps into an interesting concept here. The idea that knowing exists outside of seeing is a Christian concept. In other words ones epistemology, albeit steeped in one’s ontology, is pursued without tangible reason. After all, the saint can no more see Christ than you or I can see the splitting of atoms with the naked eye, and yet there is a certainty in knowing that they exist, no. Recall, it was Christ who rebuked Thomas for unbelief linked to his sight. Likewise, Lewis may be suggesting that a similar idea exists with Orual as well as Asaph’s intended audience (ultimately the audience is us because scripture is God-breathed). The idea of the unknown has always presented a kind of fear to mankind, and Lewis plays off of this, sometimes a medieval concept, but a prevalent notion regardless by today’s reckoning. How exactly does Lewis unleash his fear, and what it [fear] displays may actually question whether we see the face[s] at all. These are not the faces on the outside of our bodies, but quite possibly the existing reflections from within them.

Further, Lewis’ turning point for his tale comes from Orual after she “sees” Psyche. Psyche, still beautiful appears to be in tattered rags in the middle of nowhere, and though Orual briefly sees the much-talked about palace, it is her unbelief that is her undoing as the “vision” quickly fades and her eyes resume that natural vision for the Glome, albeit an Old English allusion to eorðan, or earth[ly], world-view. I mentioned earlier that this short essay would incorporate an analysis on Lewis’ Till We Have Faces and how the tale holds up for today’s readership. This will continue in the next installment. For now I leave you with a thought from Glome and a psalm:

“Oh Orual” she said, “not even I have seen him-yet. He comes to
me only in the holy darkness. He says I mustn’t-not yet-see his
face or know his name. I’m forbidden to bring any light into his-

Psalm 97
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.

7 All who worship images are put to shame,
those who boast in idols-
worship him, all you gods!

**Here ends part I**