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Un blog lleno de historias

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febrero 2007

Oscar’s Night

Las manos de Sheeba se sujetan al cuerpo del muchacho, teme caer. Felicitaciones, Hanoko ha sido seleccionado para ir a la guerra. You are a black in Boston, you don’t need me to be fucked up. ¿Miedo a morir en el desierto? No le diremos quién fue su padre. The rats are everywhere. El placer de ser mirada por su hermano. Estrellitas en el diario personal. Sexo al borde de los rieles. No kidding? Are you famous? I am from Oklahoma. No es un buen momento para visitarla, acaba de morir su gata.Tu general se ha vuelto loco. Her type are very young kids…I ve heard.

Morir luchando con la pala, hasta perder el sentido de un culatazo. En la 65 tomando un largo trago de un licor traído desde China. Caminando en el Palisades Mall, luego del margarita jamaiquino. Se ha quemado la canchita. La segunda fuente ha estado deliciosa. Enmedio del monte, esperando a los rebeldes, rodeada por caballos. En el laberinto, en el mundo que es un laberinto, en la trama laberíntica, en la descorazonada historia de Shebba, en las calles de Boston, en el desierto de la frontera o en Marruecos, esperando la muerte. De cierto modo todos estamos infiltrados, de cierta forma todos morimos al final.

Harold Bloom and The Western Canon


In the first chapter of The Western Canon, “An Elegy for the Canon,” Harold Bloom quotes W.H Auden, who said that “reviewing bad books is bad for the character.” Bloom uses the experience of W.H. Auden as a literary critic to justify the existence of “The” Western Canon.

Bloom writes that with the thousands of books being published every year, we need a guide of “suggested reading,” filled with the most prestigious minds of the ages, to avoid losing time reading material that won’t nourish our soul or our mind. This is how he begins his defense of “The” Western Canon.

He suggests not only certain authors and books but also certain editions and certain translations. Because of his long career studying, analyzing, reading books, we could say in his favor that he has the expertise and the knowledge to appropriate himself the colossal task reserved for the most respectable individuals in the history of the English language.

However, anybody in any other country of the Western Hemisphere who studies literature with his same passion (or maybe that simply enjoys the pleasure of reading) could ask: who gave him the right to decide who is and who is not in The Canon? Why accept “The” Western Canon of Bloom instead of “My” Canon? What if it was simply a modest List of Suggested Reading by Harold Bloom?

Bloom says that the task is necessary because of the permanent attacks to the departments of literature by a “new” school that pretends to judge literature with other tools than the tools of quality.

He defends his trench furiously because he said that literature is losing some of the most brilliants minds because of this permissiveness, this weakness of professionals who can not differentiate what is the best of the best and what is the worst of the worst.

To go to an extreme, how can anybody even dare to say that a drama written in North America in the 90’s has the same quality than any of the best tragedies of Shakespeare? Why has nobody –before Bloom– had the courage to put Shakespeare at the center of the Western Canon the way Whitman is at the center of the American Canon? Bloom, in a certain way, writes The Canon, as an obligation towards an art that he loves.

Certainly, there is a problem in a field of study where, as Taylor writes in the chapter 3 of the Mc Comiskey’s book –English Studies-, “now some departments are debating whether a course in Shakespeare should be required of all English Majors…many of whom are slipping through innocent of either Dryden or Milton” (216). To Bloom, this equates to an heresy–like telling somebody who studies Mathematics that it is not necessary to study addition, or, in the same field of Humanities, to deny Leonardo or Michelangelo their category of Masters.

As Taylor says, the Canon changes and some authors that were considered major authors at the beginning of the 20th Century aren’t read at all during the 21st Century nor considered in Literature Anthologies. Some of the major changes in the “new” Canons are the inclusion of women’s works.

The problem for Bloom, and certainly the problem for the most radical of the critics who defend the existence of “The” Western Canon, is that after the attack of cultural studies and “all the enemies” of literature as Bloom calls them, there seems to be no standard of quality at all. Now any book, independent of its quality, could be admitted into The Canon. Maybe because there is not an standard of quality anymore.

And, as the chairs of literature departments all over the country should know, the highest standards, the highest quality, is what allows them to get the most brilliant minds to register in their programs.

Shouldn’t the main goal of this profession be to reach the highest standards in the teaching of English studies, and to give every teacher of English the tools and the judgment to say what is good literature and what is bad literature? Is it possible to defend a literary text because of its quality (and to know what quality is?), and not because it has a “label” of “feminist lit”, “gay lit”, or “post colonialist lit”, etc?

Is it possible to love literature and at the same time to deny Shakespeare (or Dante, Whitman, Dickinson, Moore, Pound or Borges) their position in the Western Canon?

Rupac.Taking Paths


Dangling my feet from the top of the mountain, I wondered how my life was going to be back in the city.

There is a certain magic in the way that Rupac looks at night. Lost in the middle of the jungle, its gigantic stones looking to the East, it seems to be the perfect place where one could stay and nobody would dare to tell you ever to leave.

My brothers and friends are gathered around the bonfire we made inside one of the ancient stone houses. I have tried to walk a hundred feet away, but it feels dangerous among the vivid sounds of insects, a distant brook, and the moving leaves of the surrounding forest. After dangling my feet over the abyss for a few minutes, I walk back.

The morning after, I was among my brothers and my friends descending the path to the small town of Pampas, leaving behind the ancient stones of the perpendicular city that touches the clouds. The soles of my muddy boots were gone, and I preferred to descend bare foot. It was a three mile path beside a waterfall that transformed the light into a luminous rainbow.

Four hours later, I throw myself over my bed and tried to summarize the trip in my school notebook.

I have discovered this morning, in a forgotten drawer of my Lima’s bedroom, the brief sentence that I wrote about that weekend on a piece of yellowish paper: “We left to see the light and through the light to guess who we are.”

All the pictures that I took of that trip, including the zoom to a condor standing over a stone and gazing into the curious lens of my Canon camera, are lost.

But my memory is rigid. Among the ruins of Rupac, running down the muddy path towards Pampas, I discovered a piece of an eternal truth.

My brothers know how difficult it is for me to lie. Everytime, I prefer lying to myself.

Written after reading Henry James’ description of the horrors of WWI, and the execution of Nafisi’s student, Razieh, by the Revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, in the book Reading Lolita in Tehran

La carta más hermosa del mundo


Antes de que se acabe el dia, déjenme compartir extractos de una carta preciosa que me acaba de llegar. (Solo omitiré algunos detalles muy personales)

Dearest Ulises:

All day long today I have been telling myself that you are absolutely
perfect for me. My students wanted to know how many sugars were in my
coffee, because I was so smiley. My officemate asked about you, and I
could just feel this uncontrollable grin on my face. She must have seen it
too because she wished us good luck.

During class, my students were roudy, and I knew it was because I was
exuding this devil-may-care attitude, as in: Who cares!? I have
Ulises!

I wanted to write this letter to you because I wanted to share with you
how blessed and lucky I feel to be with you, to have found you, to not have
been successful in pushing you away…Lucky because I finally let you kiss me!

It is the little things that make me grateful to know you and to be
alive. I love your little slits of brown eyes (brown light) peeking through in
the morning. I love how you cross the studio to say to me “Tell me, mi
amor.”

I love the way you do little things backwards, but with love, like the
shower curtains, the cuisine art, the coffee cup in the pots and pans
cabinet (you put that there, not me!).

I love the way you pay close attention—you listen, you watch, you exude
love. You have become my reason for living. Is this bad? Is it
enough to turn my fiancé away? I love you. I am excited to spend the rest of my
life with you. And I know you are too.

We have the same career goals, which is a blessing, because I know what
kind of support you need to be successful—you need the same things I need,
that you give! The reciprocity of us is one of the most beautiful things
that we have. We make good bedmates; we keep each other warm, both literally
and figuratively.
When I told mom we were serious, she asked me does he want to be with
you all the time? And I said “YES,” and “me too.” So apparently this is
what love birds do.

You are so intelligent. You live in the present. You can do
anything. I admire you in a way that I have never admired anyone else. I want to
be like you, I want you to admire me. I know you do, and this is more
meaningful than anything else because it means the most coming from
you.

You, who speaks many languages, who had one career already, who is
brave and confident and happy. You who gives all that you are all the time,
everyday.

Thank you.

I am writing this outside of your classroom (because I am cutting
Jacques, long story, wrong venue), watching you teach.
You look like you are good at it.

Love,

Frances

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Esta es la respuesta a la primera parte del libro de la escritora iraní Azar Nafisi. Es un conjunto de memorias acerca de un grupo de lectura conformado por mujeres iraníes, estudiantes de literatura inglesa, a comienzos de la década de los 80. La lectura se realiza mientras se implementa en Irán el riguroso control “moral” del regimen del Ayatholla Khomeini.

Algunas de las obras discutidas en Teherán: Lolita de Nabokov, Daisy Miller de Henry James, El Gran Gatsby de Fitzgerald, Orgullo y Prejuicio de Jane Austen, Madame Bovary de Flaubert. De cierta manera, este libro está escrito desde un punto de vista parecido al de una muy buena novela gráfica que leí hace algunos años: Persépolis de Marjane Satrapi.

Response paper to Reading Lolita in Tehran
By Ulises Gonzales

The idea of putting The Great Gatsby on trial made me think about the whole idea of criticism, particularly recent criticism about the whole idea of a Western Canon. When critics take on the task of criticizing a novel, aren’t they starting a new trial on the literary works of the masters?
Even the trial by the Iranian people at the time of the Islamic revolution was an exercise of criticism. Although the tools where not the old ones established by Aristotle—and all the classical critics who followed him—but by those of fanaticism and religious ideas. There are novels and poems that have stood many trials, survived them, and come out stronger than before, such as Sophocles, Virgil or Shakespeare. Others, sometimes enthroned as the sublime expression of literary achievements, have succumbed to those trials and have been forgotten.
From my point of view, Nafisi is doing the same that the British critic Leavis did when he named Eliot, Conrad, James and Austen as the greatest novelists of English literature. Nafisi is using Fitzgerald and Nabokov’s novels as a way to interpret the years he lived in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Picking us those authors—and leaving others in obscurity—Nafisi is also acting as a critic. As George Steiner claimed in Real Presences,, if there was no criticism, then creators could be considered critics. This is so because when a writer decided to use a novel or a poem as his or her influence or to follow a certain writer’s style, that writer is exercising criticism. Even when I picked Leavis or Steiner to write this paper, I am exercising criticism and putting these authors on trial, once again.
Nafisi’s book is a memoir of the hardest years of the Islamic Revolution. Iran is not as it was when Nafisi was teaching at the University of Tehran , but her book stands as a valuable recollection of those times. Through her book, we could understand how literature helped her to survive all those years. Also, in reading her book we have a powerful demonstration of how to use literature as a way to analyze a society. Iran and its leaders are analyzed through fictional characters like Professor Humbert or Gatsby.
The answers given at the trial of Fitzgerald’s novel could summarize the different points of view of Iranian society at that time—its doubts and contradictions.
I agree with Roland Barthes when he writes in Criticism and Truth that a novel is eternal not because it gives just one meaning to many different men, but because it suggests many different meanings to a single man. I would like to think that Reading Lolita in Tehran has also many different meanings according to the many interests of its author and readers.
Some of the readings and interpretations in Nafisi’s private classes are strongly attached to the feminism, and the analyses I like the most of Lolita came from that specific point of view. There are other meanings that the reader picks up on when Lolita is analyzed through the historical events happening in Iran at that time. Some comparisons with the new regime place the novel against totalitarianism. Another reading has to do with the profession of the author and her deep love for literature. She uses Nabokov, Austen, James and Fitzgerald because she admires those novels as art.

Those different layers of interpretations and readings are what is most captivating for me. The complexity of different loves: her students, her books, her country. All of them are (re)interpreted through a bunch of novels that she loves.

The Grocery Store


Grandpa walked every morning, by the olive tress, on the dusty road from the main plaza towards the grocery store of his best friend: Manu.

Once, when I was 7 years old, I went with him to the store. Out of curiosity I asked him who was the oldest one. Grandpa lighted his cigarette, puffed once, smiled looking to the roof and never answered. I did not ask him again.

Grandpa died when I was 19. At that time he had forgot almost everything, he passed the whole day walking around our house in the capital and spitting over the floors just waxed. One day he opened the door and started to walk away. He walked a long distance before we could find him. I asked where he was going and he barked back that he was going towards the mountains “to kill Indians”. His eyes were red and I could feel that he was going to spit to my face if I dared to oppose him.

When I was a kid I liked to run from the old house, bare foot, towards the grocery store. There were always people around the streets that knew me, old aunts, uncles, young cousins. The last time that I went to the town I was 30. While driving around the main plaza I could not recognize anybody sat down on the benches there.

A pinky-cheeks guy of my age waved hello to me. He asked for my family. “Everybody moved to Lima,” I said, from my almost brand new 4-wheel drive black SUV. He told me that he married with the daughter of the school’s director and worked the olives of her family. I said bye and drove towards Manu’s store.

Manu was still there, as old as the things that he displayed on the shelves of his store. He did not recognized me at first. When he did, he seemed to be happy to know that my family was surviving in the capital.
-Who was the oldest of you Manu? I asked before leaving. It was the kind of stupid question that you ask because you don`t have anything else to say.
-Your grandpa did not tell you? We were born the same day. He smiled and turned around to look for some invisible cigarettes.

I smiled back. I knew he was lying.

ILASSA Conference, University of Texas at Austin


Grupo de panelistas y organizadores de ILASSA, en el salón de bienvenida del Thomas Conference Center en el campus de la Universidad de Texas.

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