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Rules for Revolutions

7 Dec

It used to be, back when I began bogey, I wrote birthday posts for my people. The final one was for myself, the year I turned 25; the year I moved to New York. Since then, I realized recently, I haven’t slept alone on my birthday. I did last night, and while I remain too acclimated to the habits of couple-hood to occupy my entire bed instinctively, last night I sprawled. It had been a beautiful day, better than I expected, far better than I had earned, and reluctant to let it end I lay there, awkwardly spread-eagled, and thought about New Orleans.

Several years ago, tipsy outside the Spotted Cat, my companion and I were accosted (during a fraught half-conversation) by a person who identified themselves as a “mystic.” I was drunk enough to leave with that magical bar with someone I barely knew (and wanted with that gutting desire that happens so rarely in life), but not (yet) quite drunk enough to cheat on my then-partner, and I have always been grateful to said mystic for intervening when she did and offering to tell our fortunes. He left, and she informed me that I was “gifted with people” while I gazed in dismay at his receding frame and the promises it carried. (oh, but what if I had gone; that would surely have been a different life.) At the time, broke as fuck, I muttered I would rather be gifted with money and then she got huffy and intoned “you will not be easily forgotten.” I rolled my eyes, walked to my hotel, felt vaguely guilty for a few days, forgot the whole episode. Last night, drunk on my people— who called, texted, and emailed from every continent on earth after months (if not years!) of shameful and sustained neglect— I thanked her for her blessing, so thoroughly undeserved.

This was a difficult year, a lonely year, a transitional year. It was the year in which New York finally became home, by which I mean it became a city I could fathom leaving. Not quite yet, perhaps not even soon, but eventually. Most of all it was a surprising year, with an uncanny knack for allowing me to have only what I didn’t know I needed and literally nothing else. I’m proud to have survived it, and for the first time in a very, very long time, I’m looking forward to being me again. That is a lot to have happened, all in one day, but it wasn’t even all that happened, because last night, trying to explain dialectics to Vajra (as one does) I began thinking about revolutions and then— wait for it— I wrote my first full paragraph in four months.

windspiral_bronwynberman.jpg

Windspiral, Bronwyn Berman, 2006.

So, right, revolutions. That’s what this post is actually about, cos this evening I read Supriya’s tweet about Shashi Deshpande’s keynote, the one about MeToo, in which she says that “the breaking of the silence is the beginning of revolution.” Yesterday morning I’d have said, oh fabulous but also what is a revolution, because for a while now I’ve been wondering whether revolutions are worth identifying at all, and whether the usefulness of the concept outweighs the violence involved in theorizing it. All abstraction is inherently violent, of course— to specify is to deny, dialectics 101— and I’m not arguing against, like, thinking. My point is only that concepts have to be useful to justify their own existence: establish a pattern, stake a claim, something that allows us to inflict our thoughts on the recalcitrant world, and for some time now it has seemed to me that “revolution” occludes more than it reveals and that the only patterns it allows one to trace are hackneyed ones.

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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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we apologise for the inconvenience.

23 Nov

In one week, a fantastic essay will be published. In two, I turn 25. For all my abundant solipsism, I’ve never written a birthday post to myself. I don’t intend to start. If you wish to celebrate that I… arrived, buy a copy of December’s Caravan*. It hosts epic dithering on epic fantasy by this din. In print, too. Cheers all.

*January’s Caravan, which means I will have to get that tattoo after all. and the rest of you have to buy me books.

The  reverberations of age have me thinking. This year, bogey steered clear of din. Once the quest was to highlight the pest. The tipping point, for those who care, was a prophecy about the transience of digital identity I wrote during the mylaw chronicles. After the whedon essay back in march, bogey became my cave, a safe vantage for netscapin’. Best, I figured, to plan for redundancy and assume irrelevance in one’s experiments. If bogey were wholly whimsy, she would stay solely mine.  There’s a price, to be sure. My arcana were abandoned while reviews were drafted and articles assembled. Hebdomad plods along, pilfered poetry has been banished to twitter. We teetered along the brink of 50 posts for six months, bogey and I.

This is It.

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