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Relief

17 Jan

This fall I assigned myself a beat: folk music. It wasn’t an official requirement, but one of my professors suggested that I might find the discipline useful once he figured I haven’t a fucking clue where my life is headed. It was incredible: I’m no closer to a Plan, but I wanted a footloose semester and by the gods I got me one. My beat led me several interesting places and down a few dubious alleys, but I certainly felt  supremely professional. Even when I used it as an excuse to escape deadlines, or (arguably) stalk people. I went to some amazing gigs; from Keb Mo’ at BB King’s to Jalopy Wednesdays out in Red Hook to a Dominican dance-box up in Harlem.

I met some beautiful people, of whom the 198 String Band described below are indisputably the most respectable. I met them at the “Imagining America” conference; attending that was an official requirement. This was one of the longer pieces I wrote off my beat — most of my “reporting” consists of squiggles and squeees. I had fun writing this, tight word-count and all, and it is (you might notice) a new style for me. I call it my school voice, because bogey wouldn’t be caught corpsified assumin’ y’all need this much explainin’.

But that’s why bogey’s dead, see.

tea

We’d rather not be on the rolls of relief.

One friday in early fall, a small band of Occupy Wall Street protesters were busily organizing Columbus Day insurrections in Zuccotti Park. They were planning rallies and writing protest music, oblivious to the minor miracle underway in the Westinghouse Building a few steps across Broadway, where an equally tiny tribe of genteel New Yorkers were gathered for an evening sponsored by the New York Council for the Humanities. There, in offices that shared space with bankers and accountants, the 198 String Band resurrected Woody Guthrie.

The 198 String Band began in tribute to the “other” Guthries, the forgotten minstrels of the Great Depression. “Unlike Guthrie and Steinbeck, these people didn’t choose to be in the Dustbowl” one member of the band said, “they just picked up the family banjo and played from the land”. Alongside each song, they curate photographs from the Library of Congress archive, choosing images that chronicle the lives of migrants during the depression. The inspiration behind the presentation is to provide audiences a textured history of the folks that the late, great historian Eric Hobsbawm would have called “uncommon people”.

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Conversations with Dead Folk.

10 Jan

Fellow twitterers will know there are multitudes within chaosbogey. What began one diary amidst many became the metadiary, a distillation of my (very dull) existence. Din would read for bogey, she’d think for me, then I’d write for someone else. It clarified my analysis, this messy divorce, yet its memory still stings and I remain hesitant about how well we succeeded. I do know why we fragmented into a halt. IRL, I rarely summon the energy to be this long-winded. or angry. or honest. or curious. or wise. IRL, I’m occasionally funny. Bogey’s peculiar personality is her own, and I’m almost convinced this is a good thing. In my apps to grad school, I call chaosbogey a palimpsest; pompous as it sounds, ’tis closest to the truth as I read it. It’s either that or insurrection/orgy/mutation, and to call her any of those would be an unkindness.

Sanya Glisic, Der Stuwwelpeter.

A hefty bit of bogey’s composite is an absent ally.  On behalf of every ghost within the works, his pledge for 2012 —

Listen carefully,

Neither the Vedas

Nor the Qur’an

Will teach you this:

Put the bit in its mouth,

The saddle on its back,

Your foot in the stirrup,

And ride your wild runaway mind

All the way to heaven.

Kabir

(trans. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra)

In the final year of college, as my friends went about the business of ambition, I spent my nights adapting The Coast Of Utopia for the NLS playfest. Stoppard credits Isaiah Berlin as an inspiration, and so I started Russian Thinkers. Here my theatrical pretensions quickly quailed, for Berlin was my window into a tradition far removed from everything an Indian legal education teaches you about the world. He showed me the ‘tangled undergrowth’ of modern history, enticing me into an alien universe populated by folk my textbooks only accorded footnotes to. Three years later, I documented the journey in the first mystic myna column.

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Lately Said.

4 Dec

My favourite new book this year was Manan Ahmed’s Where the Wild Frontiers Are. A review of the book and another (infinitely worse) book is part of the Sunday Guardian’s cover package today. It was what initiated all the suicidal gloom I inflicted you with last week, and why I began reading Said below. Writing this review was very glee makin’, which has been relatively rare this year, and if it weren’t terribly rude I’d crosspost in a jiffy.

We shall have to settle for essay(s) on Said instead, both published in early November. I compare Manan to him in my review (v. grandiloquent, agreed, I hope he forgives me) and it might be amusing to read them together? ‘Tis a good excuse to put it up, anyway, and an updating bogey needs little else.

The Late Edward Said

November offers caramels of granite.

Unpredictable!

Like world history

Laughing at the wrong place.

Tomas Tranströrmer, November in the Former DDR

 “November is a mournful month in the history of Palestine” begins Edward Said’s obituary for the venerable Isaiah Berlin.   November, he continues, frames the Palestinian tragedy.  The Balfour Declaration began the British policy of “demographic transformation” within mandate Palestine on November 2, 1917. The U.N. partitioned Palestine in November 1947; the Yom Kippur war ruined Palestine forever by November 1973.  In less than sixty years, four million people became refugees, both at home and in exile.  Edward Said, emblem of this diaspora, was born in Jerusalem eighteen years after Balfour began eroding his country.

 Edward Said’s life was devoted to dispelling cobwebs. He was destined to be a stranger in many strange lands, growing up a Christian in Cairo and dying an Arab in America. This eclectic heritage fashioned a thinker willing to probe every truth, and skepticism was the cornerstone of his advice to aspiring intellectuals.  Be alert, he warns descendants, to the threat of seizure.  Never allow your conscience to be subsumed in service to illusions.  He elaborates upon this duty in Representations of the Intellectual:

“That this involves a steady realism, an almost athletic rational energy, and a complicated struggle to balance the problems of one’s own selfhood against the demands of publishing and speaking out in the public sphere is what makes it an everlasting effort, constitutively unfinished and necessarily imperfect.”

We are a wound, Said is saying, a wound that fights.

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Faint Praise.

25 Nov

I’m posting this as I leave for a wedding.

As I depart, bogey perversity insists I ask you, Who is Don Draper? 

This was the question that inspired me to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men. Don Draper, enigmatic and alone, is the postmodern man from your worst fantasy. Still predatory, no longer derogatory.

This was the man I went to find in Ms Ehrenreich’s book.

And failed. Long Live Dream Draper.

The Hearts of Men, a story of mounting perfidy, describes the genesis and evolution of the “male revolt”. In it, she draws a line from  the ‘grey flannel’ playboys to the punks of the early ‘80s.

In all of them, aspects of the Draper abide. Like the grey-flannels, he has an ideal housewife; like the Beats he’s a prole. Like the Hef, his appetite is legendary.

E pluribus, unum.

Hearts of Men

Chloé-Poizat; "mes yeux distendus"

Our telly likes its women fertile and undemanding. Across genre and trope and theme,  girls are penalised for challenging chromosomes. Women are killed cos they’re pregnant, cos they’re not, cos they’re pregnant with the wrong sort of baby.  There is even a soap imploring us to stay away from this cruel country.  Consider, for a sampling:

SAAS BINA SASURAL 

Hic sunt the Toasty, arriving in a household of seven men. A solid bahu, Toasty proceeds to live up to her lovely name. She quits her job, ingratiates her way into everyone’s confidence, discovers a Devastating Secret: an earlier bahu stormed out. Wretched predecessor now divorcing Family.

PAVITRA RISHTA. 

I fled through Pavitra Rishta in forty two minutes. Here is the Saas. There is the other saas rescuing her daughter from abuse.

Moral Turmoil.  Mortal Toil.  More Turmoil. Boy and Girl elope…. I give up.

Pavitra Rishta frames the dominant fantasy of popular soaps. Women exist to ‘knit Families together’.  All their dreams and marginal rebellions are doomed to the devil’s treadmill. Keep your head down, it counsels, as you negotiate imposed boundaries.  Obey, don’t reason. Don’t think, smile!

Her family, pure-bahu concludes after each righteous day, is the sole reason for her sustenance. To separate any woman from her (wedded) Family is a theft of her soul, her identity, her reflection in the mirror. Without her husband, the fabric of her existence would melt away — she would be worse than worthless, she would be wasted.

Why I Sing My Blues. 

Faint Praise.

Size isn’t everything. It’s what you do

That matters, darling, and you do it quite well

In some respects. Credit where credit’s due –

You work, you’re literate, you rarely smell.

Small men can be aggressive, people say,

But you are often genial and kind,

As long as you can have things all your way

And I comply, and do not speak my mind.

You look all right. I’ve never been disgusted

By paunchiness. Who wants some skinny youth?

My friends have warned me that you can’t be trusted

But I protest I’ve heard you tell the truth.

Nobody’s perfect. Now and then, my pet,

You’re almost human. You could make it yet.

*

Semper Fidelis. 

I Started a Joke.

8 Sep

Hullo, strangers.

It has been a long while, I know, and I owe you all explanations. The days, they have been bleak. Literary life was niggardly and personal life devastating, while the parents- backbone, strength, comfort- are losing faith. It’s not so easy, I find, to disappoint. It’s even worse to have terrible timing. Worst of all  is beginning something you have no skill at substantiating and no hope of concluding. I thought, almost a year ago now, that I could stand the perennial anticipation of unfinished business. It turns out delusions are made of sterner stuff than I am.

That was why I haven’t been around, in case anyone was wondering, for heartachey bogey is no fun to read. For once, I find myself agreeing with Thoreau. Tis appalling arrogance to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. That is also why this post will be uncharacteristically terse, for said misery shows no signs of relenting and I am as despondent as exhausted. I hope to wake up soon.

Waking Up

Daylight leaks in, and sluggishly I surface

from my own dreams into the common dream

and things assume again their proper places

and their accustomed shapes. Into this present

the Past intrudes, in all its dizzying range-

the centuries-old habit of migration

in birds and men, the armies in their legions

all fallen to the sword, and Rome and Carthage.

The trappings of the day also come back:

my voice, my face, my nervousness, my luck.

If only Death, that other waking-up,

could grant me a time free of all memory

of my own name and all that I have been!

If only morning meant oblivion!

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