Tuesday, May 8

Especially Ethnic

Marjorie says (forgive me Marjorie for writing about you, not to you)
but I want to be CHALLENGED... stirred up, even. I want to find stuff that makes me uncomfortable and then figure out why. The thing about Lahiri's writing is that I find it very pat.
Here is where I disagree, partially. Sometimes and I would say more often than not, I want art to sooth and comfort me. I have enough challenges in my life. Maybe I am being selfish but I think part of what Marjorie sees as a plain everyman is partly the point. As a minority in a majority culture/society I am perpetually struck by challenges. In the black community we talk about wearing masks. I try hard not to but I am pushed into wearing masks everyday...I imagine an American born from an immigrant family goes through the same thing and therefore a story like this, written in a "pat" style is something that says to me, you are not alone. You are an everyman, no matter what they would have you believe, no matter what you might believe about yourself.
I was bored to tears with Interpreter of Maladies...
I just started it and I am struggling a bit too.
doesn't ever stop to question itself and its own authenticity in the way that a writers like Maxine Hong Kingston and Emily Raboteau (you might actually be interested in her book, The Professor's Daughter-- it's moving and smart and very carefuly measured) do. What I mean is, they offer a presentation that is meant to universalize a very particular story... and I tend to feel like I'd rather have the particular.
I live with questions of my ethnicity, what it means and where I fit daily, etc. and maybe that's the difference in what I read versus what Marjorie saw. I know this guy, I am this guy. The questions are implied by the way he lives his life.
And this isn't snobbery. Lahiri is well aware that most of her audience is white. And she writes to that audience as though to explain her cultural experience to us. And that gives me the willies a little.
If it gave her "the willies" maybe it was more challenging than Marjorie thought. Maybe Lahiri wasn't writing for an "audience". I recently heard an interview with Kurt Vonnegut and he said you should write for one person in the hopes that she understands and accepts what you write.
I did see the Namesake movie... Stylistically, it was nothing special. I've like other Mira Nair movies plenty and this one was, well, fine. It did very well to spend most of its energy on the story of the parents, as opposed to Gogol. The character of Gogol is drawn as such an "everyman" that I found him totally off-putting because there was nothing notably idiosyncratically human about him, besides his race, of course. He's a bland guy who is only compelling difference is that he's an Indian-American living primarily amongst white people. And for me, I just want more than that!
There was a woman in my book club who said there were times when she just wanted to shake him. She has no tolerance for people who muddle through like Gogol does. I offered to her and I offer to you that more people, more Americans muddle through more often than not. We are not an inspired nation. Lahiri and Nair know this and they recognize that we are in relationships they don't want to be in, in jobs they don't like, most of us never see the dream we dreamed when we were young (like Gogol's Mom does when she decides to move back to India with no plan other than music - following both her youthful dream and her married life dream).
But it's everyone around him that adds color to the story... and really, I found the heart of it is with that mother character.
As usual.
However, the white girlfriend character was written completely ridiculously, with all her obliviousness-- to the point where I found myself rolling my eyes at her a few times-- which is a shame because Jacinda Barrett is a great actress.
Can't say anything about the actress but the character was there to help him realize that he had been floating through and rejecting things, things about himself, that didn't need to be and could never be fully rejected.
But, I mean, the movie is pleasant to sit through. But it all is so focused on pretty presentation that I didn't feel that I, as an audience member, had any work to do. And that's what makes art deficient to me... art that does all the work for you? What's the point? I just want a more full-bodied interaction, you know?
We all have our needs. The story, the book and the movie struck a cord in me. It was not the same kind of chord I get from reading Faulkner, where I sit there page after page asking, "What the fuck is he talking about? or better yet, "Who the hell is actually talking?" It stuck a chord that says you are no more special than anybody else, no matter how often you are confronted with..."you don't sound Black" or "I've never met a black person who listens to that kind of music." This struck a chord like listening to some funky Albert King strikes a chord, a sense of knowing and belonging and comfort.
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