Wednesday 17 June 2020

Usurped, Erased, and Taken over

Hafez is one of Persia's most influential poets. Too bad many of the quotes and poems attributed to him in English are bogus. Omar Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, tells the story about the booming market in counterfeit Muslim poetry:
This is the time of the year where every day I get a handful of requests to track down the original, authentic versions of some famed Muslim poet, usually Hafez or Rumi. The requests start off the same way: "I am getting married next month, and my fiance and I wanted to celebrate our Muslim background, and we have always loved this poem by Hafez. Could you send us the original?" Or, "My daughter is graduating this month, and I know she loves this quote from Hafez. Can you send me the original so I can recite it to her at the ceremony we are holding for her?"

It is heartbreaking to have to write back time after time and say the words that bring disappointment: The poems that they have come to love so much and that are ubiquitous on the internet are forgeries. Fake. Made up. No relationship to the original poetry of the beloved and popular Hafez of Shiraz.
For Safi, it's one more example of Western appropriation:
Part of what is going on here is what we also see, to a lesser extent, with Rumi: the voice and genius of the Persian speaking, Muslim, mystical, sensual sage of Shiraz are usurped and erased, and taken over by a white American with no connection to Hafez's Islam or Persian tradition. This is erasure and spiritual colonialism. Which is a shame, because Hafez's poetry deserves to be read worldwide alongside Shakespeare and Toni Morrison, Tagore and Whitman, Pablo Neruda and the real Rumi, Tao Te Ching and the Gita, Mahmoud Darwish, and the like.

Thursday 11 June 2020

Arrows That Strike At The Heart Of Readers

Aphorisms, argues Andrew Hui, not only predate Western philosophy, but "constitute the first efforts at speculative thinking." Thinking aphoristically, he says, remains a foundational part of any intellectual tradition. One member of the "cult of the fragment"? Nietzsche:
His philology on fragments became a philosophy of fragments when he abandoned his profession as a classicist in the late 1870s. Rather than just studying aphorisms, he started producing them. In the most fertile stretch of his life, from Human, All Too Human (1878) to Ecce Homo (1888), he composed thousands upon thousands of pithy sayings and maxims. The fragmentary form became the preferred style for the rest of his life. The prophet in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85) speaks in enigmatic dithyrambs reminiscent of the wisdom literature of antiquity.

Nietzsche’s aphoristic form becomes his way of training his readers not to subscribe to a doctrine or a particular Nietzschean view of life, but rather to create and craft their own philosophy of life. He writes that "in books of aphorisms like mine there are plenty of forbidden, long things and chains of thoughts between and behind short aphorisms." What this means is that Nietzsche will not spoon-feed his readers. His method is like Heraclitus’—intense, difficult, aporetic maxims and arrows that strike at the heart of readers, seizing or destabilising their habits of thought. They are required to do much work, to investigate what is "between and behind" his sharp words.

Sunday 7 June 2020

Black Lives Matter in Montreal

While putting together a Black Lives Matter syllabus to celebrate the contribution of Black writers in Montreal, Robyn Maynard looks closely at the city's failure to confront it's own history:
Montreal is often absent from national discussions about race and anti-Blackness, which tend to centre on Toronto and Halifax. This city, home to Black persons for over four hundred years, demonstrates little official recognition of the significant historical and literary contributions of Black writers and scholars. Despite organizing efforts by Black students, including a present-day push at Concordia University, there is no Black Studies program in Montreal, and less than one percent of full-time faculty at the two English universities are Black. Even the basics of Black Montreal history—such as slavery—are still absent or minimized in most school curriculums.

As in other Canadian cities, Black communities in Montreal have been subject to centuries of structural violence, including two centuries of enslavement, ongoing targeting by police, over-incarceration, and over-representation in child apprehensions by welfare agencies. These realities are inextricable from Black visions of past, present, and future Montreal, and continue to inform both non-fiction and creative writing.

The Unluckiest Businessman in the World

Here's a short chapter from Éric Plamondon’s Apple Stranslated from the French by Dimitri Nasrallah. Originally appearing in 2013, the novel completes Véhicule Press' publication of the 1984 Trilogy into English. Gabriel Rivages, Plamondon's alter ego, is the the central unifying figure across the trilogy. He performs all the online searches and collects the constellation of facts about Johnny Weissmuller, Richard Brautigan, Steve Jobs—and, this case, Ron Wayne, the little-known Apple co-founder.
Originally, it’s spelled: iota, khi, theta, upsilon, sigma. In Ancient Greek, ichtus means fish. In Roman, it corresponds to the first letters of the following five words: Iêsos Christos Theou Uios Sôtèr (ictus). It means: Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior. That’s how the fish became the symbol of Christ. For Rivages, this all reminds him of his grandmother. She always had the same bumper sticker on her car. It was a sticker in the shape of a fish with Jesus written across it. His grandmother attended mass every Sunday. She never knew that the fish related back to the Greeks. What does that change anyways? Nothing, but Rivages can’t help but uncover origin stories when he wants to understand.

Not much is known about the origins of the April Fool’s tradition. Why do we tell tall tales on that day? Why do we play tricks? Why do we tape paper fish on people’s backs It could connect back to the Zodiac. This would have come about at the time that the Sun rose from the sign of Pisces. There’s also a story that speaks of the end of Lent. Others say that to celebrate the Annunciation people gave presents on the first day of April. They commemorated the day that the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary she’s pregnant.

Apple is officially founded on April 1, 1976. April Fool’s Day. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak own ninety percent of the business. The remaining ten percent belongs to Ron Wayne. He’s the one who draws the company’s first logo with Newton sitting under an apple tree. But two weeks later, Ron changes his mind. He regrets jumping into this adventure. He doesn’t believe in it. Anyways, he doesn’t like the idea of founding a company on April Fool’s Day.

He sees it as a bad omen. He sells his shares back to the two Steves for eight hundred dollars. Thirty years later, they’re valued at three billion. Ever since April 1, 1976, Ron Wayne has the impression that a permanent paper fish has been pasted to his back.

Saturday 6 June 2020

John Barth Was Astonishingly Boring

John Domini does his best to reverse the reputational damage that John Barth, once a towering figure in postmodern American writing, has suffered:
For the better part of 40 years, applause for this author has gone largely unheard. In the Times Book Review, for instance, the novel [Angela] Carter so admired took a loud thwacking. Gore Vidal, both in print and on TV, insisted that Barth was “astonishingly boring.” Long and short, the man couldn’t catch a break. His work suffered worse than that of any writer who followed his lead. Unlike, say, Donald Barthelme, Barth became one of those “no one reads anymore.” First Raymond Carver made him look prissy, then David Foster Wallace rendered him unhip.

Now, the buffeting of cultural winds is always a risk. Arthur Miller, one of our greatest playwrights, saw all his later plays trashed—a damning indictment, according to Tony Kushner, of the critical establishment. To me the case of later Barth looks awfully similar.