While I was in Seattle, I got a chance to do a little research at the University of Washington. Their library is huge and intimidating, yet everyone was wonderfully accommodating. In their Special Collection area I was able to go through two volumes of Japanese school readers from 1908 and 1903. Near the end of my browsing, with unlimited enthusiasm but limited Japanese, I came across this scene (pictured above) from “Momotaro” in one of the katakana readers:

 

I reads (if I translated correctly):

The cart had treasure.
The dog pulled enyaraya.
The monkey pushed from behind enyaraya.
The pheasant pulled the rope enyaraya.

It’s a simple stanza that uses a familiar scene from a popular story to help children learn katakana (the syllabary used for foreign words or emphasis, as opposed to hiragana). And while I am a definite neophyte in translating, I came up against the phrase “enyaraya” and had no idea what to do with it. Was it an onomatopoeia? Was it an exclamation? What the heck (一体!)

Quick searching showed that it appears to be part of the Momotaro folk song, sort of a repetitive phrase at the end of the sentence. I liken it, in this instance, to a “heave ho” or “Let’s go.” Yet there’s still more research to do. Even in this four-sentence grade-school lesson, there is so much to learn. This story uses “enyaraya” in a way that I imagine is being depicted above in the illustration: “Upon the signal shout of “Enyaraya” by the float leader, the Naginata-hoko float, which is traditionally exempted from the ticket-drawing and fixed to the lead position of the parade, started from Shijo-dori Karasuma.

A good part of my thesis talks about this story, how it parallels events in history, how it was packaged specifically as children’s literature during the Meiji Restoration and how easily it was used as propaganda in an up-and-coming empire. I also discovered how “Momotaro” was one of the stories children had to rip out of their school readers during the Allied occupation after World War II.

As with many versions of the story, Momotaro, himself, doesn’t do much of the work here. With the help of his faithful dog, monkey, and pheasant pals, he is able to conquer the Island of Demons and return with all of their treasure. In some version the inhabitants are all killed, in others they merely promise to remain lawful. Sometimes the demons (oni) are cannibals, sometimes merely pillagers. Like all folk and fairy tales, their innocuous nature and proliferation allows for a myriad of reboots, each generation adding or subtracting what elements suit their current society. The details of Momotaro’s quest may change, but the Peach Boy persists.

 

 

Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t at some indefinite time in the future. The only reason for not having watched it thus far is that it came out at the same time I was edging into my thirties and felt the need to distance myself from my own teen angst. The reason I bring this up is to establish that I’m no Joss Whedon hater, I loved Firefly, but there has yet to be a compelling reason to launch into binge watching another show. (Have you seen my To-Be-Watched list on My Anime List? NO? It’s secret!)

Anyway, scrolling through Twitter I came across a thread describing the early Wonder Woman script that Whedon wrote. Another disclaimer, I have not see the new Wonder Woman movie yet either (next week) but I have heard good things from friends. Yet these excerpts that were posted describe a Wonder Woman that could have been vastly different from what was eventually made.

The whole thread is worth a read. I had no idea–or, more likely, don’t remember– that there had been a huge backlash against Whedon a while back. Perhaps I brushed against this while reading something on Jezebel, or skimming through my news feeds, but apparently this was something I’d missed.

The whole thread is worth a read. Seriously, I’ll be right here when you get back.

But the reason I’m posting this isn’t to rehash an argument that I was never part of, but to highlight a paragraph from a post that was linked in the above thread. The post is from laureljupiter.tumblr.com and is two years old, yet I absolutely had to highlight the following paragraph. The context is discussing Wash from Firefly in relation to the rest of the Whedonverse:

A big outlier here is Wash, from Firefly and Serenity, who almost fit the pattern, but not quite, and that “not quite” was enough of a problem that, like the similar character Oz, he had to be written out of the story.  Alan Tudyk had the same general physical resemblance to Joss and the same dress sense as Andrew, Topher, and Billy Horrible.  His dinosaur theater sessions looked and sounded like the action figure games the Trio played, and the blurb for Joss’s media company, Mutant Enemy.   But unlike all the other nerdy blond men of the Whedonverse, Wash was in a equal and loving relationship with the strong soldier woman he adored.  Other characters in the series were preoccupied with the traditional gender role imbalance in Wash and Zoe’s marriage and questioned whether Wash felt emasculated by his wife being stronger than he was, but both Wash and Zoe were completely above and untouched by it.  She was a warrior woman and she was married to a dorky guy who told stories and who wasn’t the most physically powerful man on her crew.  She could have broken him in half with her pinky and they loved and respected each other and had a happy, healthy marriage. This was, somehow, too much for Joss to handle, and so Wash had to die.

Not only is this a great observation, but it’s gets at the reason why “War Stories” will always be my favorite Firefly episode.

 

Slides are scary.

Sometimes, it’s hard just to stand at the bottom of the ladder, looking up at your friend’s backside as it disappears into the summer sky. Then, there’s a hop, a bump and a screech as their ass hits the hot metal and they shed three layers of skin on their way down.

And then this crazy person comes back around to climb up and do it again.

You let them pass.

Here you are, at the bottom of the ladder, not even the fun part of the slide, looking up at the fun part. Never mind the hard macadam that surrounds the base of the slide, never mind the stench of burnt flesh as friend after friend has millimeters of their epidermis sizzled off like layers of Aqua Net on a curling iron.

They’re having fun and you’re too chickenshit to move.

See, the thing about slides is, you have to climb up. You have to put one foot above the other on the wrought steel, possibly stamped with your municipality name, more probably not. You have to haul your cowardly ass up and up and up until you’re standing atop a blazing tower of metal, buffed by the butts of heroes of the past.

You HAVE to do it, because right now, at the base of the ladder, you’re in everyone else’s way.

But the scariest part, the most terrifying, gut churning, knuckles to the knees, “Elizabeth I’m coming” moment is before you. It’s before you. It’s horrendous, it’s gob-smacking, it’s one thin parallel universe away from your first adult orgasm and it smells like fear.

It’s also brief.

Because as you sit there, butt squeezed in between the “safety” handles, sun baking down on your Mork and Mindy t-shirt, the weird ovals of worn chrome on the slide base laughing at you from below, you know that once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

Technically you could. You could thrust out your hands and feet and grip the edges of the slide and stop yourself mid-descent. You’ll shift hard with a squeak and a squawk and you’ll hike up your underwear so far into your “dark neighborhood” that you’ll never wear those Underoos again.

Sure, you could stop, but you’ll be in everyone’s way. Again. Worse this time.

See at the base of the ladder, you could just take a step back out of the way and play it off as consideration, courtesy, too-cool-for-the-kiddie-slide.

But, in the middle of the slide, you’ve got two choices. Do the long, embarrassing, butt-shift scoot back the top to the jeers of your friends and local wildlife?

Or slide.

Go.

I had started with good intentions, truly. But like all things that crash and burn, the flame of inspiration is the start. As I’m nearing the end of my time in the Masters program, I am beginning to look forward: to a PhD program, to the GREs, to the continued deferral of my undergrad student loans.

I have also decided to aggregate my class posts under this one blog. From Introduction to English Studies, Indigenous Rhetoric and Postcolonial Studies, these three classes were outside the core of what I want to specialize in–late Victorian, non-traditional literature and fairy tales. Yet they provided me with a breadth of experience and stories that inform all of my work.

They are sometimes rough and rushed, blogging as an assignment not necessarily high on my list of desirable activities, in the end I realized I was underestimating the medium. The only difference between the handed-in response paper and the response blog post is access to readers, and there is where I found my weakness. I am the type of writer that usually writes with one reader in mind–what Stephen King calls his “ideal reader”–and had to rework my thinking for a larger audience.

It’s an important lesson, one that I learned early on for social media, that the medium you pick determines the shape of the message. It took a couple of semesters to transfer that worldview to my academic writing, but I think I’ve got a handle on it now.

More or less.

I’ll promise to blog more, but I’ll be separating them by interest. I plan to aggregate them in this blog, so if you’re so inclined, you won’t have to follow all of them. Or feel free to ignore this completely. You may be better off that way.

 

In Dirlek’s attempt to pinpoint the era of postcolonialism in his essay “The Postcolonial Aura”, he suggests three definitions: “literal description of conditions in formerly colonial societies […] “global condition after the period of colonialism” and lastly, “a discourse on the above-named conditions” (563-64).  Over the last weeks, we have focused on the last, learning about the discipline of postcolonialism as it pertains to literature—which, as we all know, means how it pertains to society. We have read narratives that attempt to convey life before, during, and after colonization and in them we can begin to piece together a sense of where postcolonialism fits into the other narratives of the world. (Note: I originally wrote “larger narratives of the world” as if I was suggesting that postcolonial narratives are somehow smaller than others. Perhaps in exposure, but not in meaning. My only caveat is that “larger” is the usual word to place in that type of expression, and now I’m questioning every time I’ve used it in the past.)

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Who decides what shape a “nation” takes? Image courtesy of  (http://io9.gizmodo.com/a-map-of-colonial-africa-just-before-the-outbreak-of-wo-1704165344)

 

Yet postcolonialism can also be expressed as a state of uncertainty, caught between the legacy of colonialism and global pressures to pass through nationalism straight into capitalism. The so-called First World countries went through a gradual progression from feudal state, to nation-state, to global capitalism. For the colonies, there has been an insistence to eliminate that second phase, the phase—though violent—that solidifies a nationalistic identity for a group of people before entering into the global realm. I am not arguing that this phase is necessary, but we are denying nations—a term and state of being that has been insisted upon by Europeans–the same societal evolution that we have had.

As a discipline, postcolonialism should have a number of targets, both inward and outward. Looking at the impact of colonialism upon a people, how those people then have to redefine themselves—through political action, art, violence—and, also, how the colonizers have to acknowledge their part in the process. Colonization is not a single direction vector; the impact of subjugating a people creates an ideology of superiority that has no justification in the real world outside of force. And when that force lessens, the justification for the First World’s sense of place disappears. Unfortunately, being on top means not working too hard to stay on top, so millions of willfully ignorant people do not understand why they are no longer “number #1.” Clinging to religion and guns, indeed.

Yet focusing on the colonizer as victim should only be a tiny, miniscule part of the discipline. Their suffering is pale in comparison to the millions of people oppressed, displaced, and killed through the process of colonization and settlement. We can look at this one section of the colonial mind and take notice, and understand, and somehow, prepare for the ultra-right-wing discourse that fills the void where global superiority once lived; and we should look long enough to remain vigilant against those forces gaining power. But in the end, the postcolonial discipline is about raising voices, voices in the present and past, and creating a tapestry that reflects those who have never had a voice in the global discourse.

The two stories I chose, at random, were “The Free Radio” and “At the Auction for the Ruby Slippers” from Salman Rushdie’s collection East, West. The true success of an anthology is if you can recurring themes across a sample of stories taken from anywhere within the text. Both “Radio” and “Ruby Slippers” deal with unfulfilled dreams, but they are dreams sold as lies. Ramani and the narrator of “Ruby Slippers” are both trying to obtain something just out of their reach. They have made sacrifices—some big and unimportant, some small and life-changing—and in the end their dreams are unsatisfied. Ramani is easy seduced by the thief’s widow and the promise of a free radio, an old compensation for vasectomy in order to curb the population in India. The reward was still rumored, still part of the fabric of society, even though the radio rewards had dried up generations before. Yet, for Ramani, this small token means access to the world, to All-India Radio, and the land beyond his small town. The dream of the radio unrealized, he leaves to take on another dream of becoming a movie star, and, with wife and her children in tow, takes leave. Another disappointment awaits Ramani, most likely, though he keeps up appearances in letters home. He is not smart enough to be nihilistic.

The narrator of “Ruby Slippers” sits at an action in some post-postmodern future, where commerce and cruelty are as commonplace as bombings in the streets. The magic aura surrounding Dorothy’s slippers has reached religious levels, as the fictional and the real collide. They hold a promise of “home” a place that, in the time of the story, holds no real meaning outside of a nostaligic place of perfection—in the same way that some people view 1950s America. For the narrator, the promise of home is a direct representation of the sexual relationship with his cousin Gale, and his desire to return to her. Yet in the frenzy of bidding, the excitement of the rising price actually frees our narrator from that desire. He is whisked away—like a tornado, as it were—from her hold on him and as he comes to his senses, he realized he is free. The dream unfulfilled is much smaller than Ramani’s, but the scene of crass commercialization and debasement of individuality is the true prison our narrator is in. The only person in “Ruby Slippers” that has a true sense of home is the astronaut stranded on Mars. Everyone else is pretending.

We see how often part of colonization is selling a dream; a dream/lie of modernity, education, progress, etc. Selling a dream/lie of a better life, but that is a life defined by someone else. Generation after generation the dream is postponed, and “soon, be patient, work harder” are the only consistent messages the colonized hear. Eventually, the magic of the dream/lie fades and perhaps that is where the postcolonial truly begins.

The word I keep coming back to is assimilate. Like a long ago episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “assimilate” is not only the command of The Borg, it is, in their mind, the inevitable duty of all species in the galaxy.

And in both Pérez-Sánchez and Puar essays, I felt that assimilation was the unspoken rule when it came to accepting members of the LGBTQ community. Where Pérez-Sánchez talks about acceptance on a national scale, Puar discusses the possible underlying motives affecting the United States specifically, but could be applied anywhere. Overall, it is argued, that you are more likely to find acceptance within the larger community if you are white, male, gay, economically stable, and willing to portray typical patriarchal-capitalist roles.

Pérez-Sánchez opens by talking about the unfortunate imbalance in queer theory as “predominantly white, Anglophone [and] male” and that this has been the main voice being heard by the mainstream (165). What happens when that voice is somewhat dated by small steps in legislation? When minor victories are won, but issues affecting still marginalized groups go without being noticed, what happens to that predominant voice that was so present? Pérez-Sánchez focuses on work in non-traditional mediums in order to show how the message from the LGBTQ community is not a singular voice, nor has it been quieted with a few added lines on Spain’s national ID. If the white, male, LGBTQ members of the community have been appeased with gay marriage, who will lift up the voices of those who fight for their right to exist?

Puar’s extensive introductory essay entitled “Homonationalism and Biopolitics,” attempts to define the mechanisms in place that allow sections of the LGBTQ community to fragment and thereby become less cohesive. By assimilating white, gay, males (and to a larger extent females) into the nationalist identity through the military and the market, the LGBTQ community faces dismissal if their overall approach isn’t in some sense to become “white”. If the message isn’t their assimilation – we can buy houses and have jobs and fight wars, just like you – and rather a change of attitude from the heteronormative masses, the message will fall flat. Gay marriage is still marriage; it is still deeply rooted in patriarchal notions of property rights. It is still a large driving force in the event economy. Once the market realized that there were white, gay men with disposable incomes, the attitudes adjusted from within. The rules for membership in the American Club changed; heterosexual was no longer mandatory, white and well-off still were.

This market assimilation is what separates out the white members of the LGBTQ community from their comrades. For the mainstream masses, the gay problem was solved with gay-marriage. It is only until two things happen that the rest of the voices of the movement are finally heard: 1) writers like Pérez-Sánchez keep highlighting the tram-medium work of artists still marginalized, and 2) we need to own up to our unwritten insistence upon assimilation, and force the conversation back into the mainstream and, more importantly, the market, for these abandoned voices to be heard.

If this were a film blog, I’d love to talk about the sound design in Persepolis. The ominous sounds of the tanks as they moved in, the wheels of the bicycle as the children chased after it, the frantic footsteps as the young men were chased across the roof; if you weren’t wearing headphones while watching this film, you missed at least a third of its artistry.

The animation, as well, would take center stage in this discussion. The black and white denoting the harsh separation between two worlds, nothing truly existing in the grey–where we all live, the flashes of color in the present-day scenes highlighting a more nuanced, though bleaker, outlook on the world, the homogeneity of the women in post-revolutionary Iran, nearly indistinguishable from each other; Persepolis uses visual narrative so effectively that it would work as a silent film.

“But in a way he loved his country, unlike his son who succeeded him.”

One commenter on Amazon, where I rented the film, complained that the film failed to mention the seizing of the American embassy. What this commenter gets blatantly wrong is that the film is under no obligation to mention anything. The first act of the film documenting the incidents leading up to the revolution are told from the perspective of our young protagonist, Marjane, and its her viewpoint that is important. Relegating this film to kowtow to the interests of Americans is negating the importance of the film entirely. Persepolis is a personal story, not a marionette play to allay a Western audience.

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Speaking of puppets, the terrible French of the British puppet should have been amusing, but it was terrifying, like sharpened claws on a chalkboard.

“They think we’re all violent, bloodthirsty fanatics.”

And this is the point where I want to bring in Spivak, at least incidentally, since its that commenter’s attitude that blocks the Western audience from seeing the true message of the film. We are somewhat confused by the tangled emotions seeing a young girl sent away from her family to Europe, only to return and find herself out of place in her homeland. Marjane is disconnected from her European friends over their misconceptions about Iran, and displaced from her Iranian friends over her time abroad making the transition to the heavily regulated society difficult. As a Western audience we can relate to her ennui in both places, her depression at being denied her sense of self, but, more importantly, we relate to her sense of guilt for living in the Western world while Iran and its people are being torn to pieces. Yet, our guilt isn’t the same as Marjane’s guilt. Our guilt should be about realizing our complicity in a system that plays a deadly game with entire nations of people in a quest for oil.

“Our torturers were trained by the CIA.”

Have I mentioned the trickle down effect of violence to the children? Or the snake like movements of the women trying to regulate Marjane’s dress? These subtle points of visual narrative may give some Westerners the idea that they are correct in their prejudices towards Iran and its people, but that is only because Westerners–mainly Americans–tend to be terrible at subtly. Marjane Satrapi is commenting on her own society from within. She is bound by the ideology of power, or the hegemony, and recognizes its hypocrisies and ambiguities. She is living this statement. Westerners, benefactors of years of colonization, have a much more difficult time commenting on their own ideology, mainly because it benefits them in many unrecognizable ways.

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Yet even as Marjane is privileged within her own Iranian society–progressive parents, an honest and straight-shooting grandmother–the pressure to conform upon her return at first sends her into a depressive spiral, but then she bounces back once she ultimately succumbs. She is living in the liminal space between two ideologies–black and white, Western and Iranian–and as soon as she begins to assimilate does she find a small amount of contentment.

“We were so eager for happiness we forgot we weren’t free.”

And that’s the point of years of pointless war. Remember the simple pleasures while your freedom is slowly fading away. Remember those who died while we make your decisions for you. Remember the fallen while we plan the next series of martyr-making escapades to keep the next generation from rising up their heads and saying “why?”

Just because Westerners don’t call thier fallen soldiers “martyrs” doesn’t mean we don’t treat them as such.

In many ways, Persepolis can be seen as a treatise against over-education. The more you know, the more you see through the world and the more simple happiness slips through your fingers. You feel less a part of the world around you by the simple fact that you can see more of it, more of the depth of it, more of the hues of the world instead of just the simple black and white. Yet the world is better in this view, full of more interesting people. The world of the over-educated is devoid of so many enemies and overflowing with stories, stories from everywhere, stories from everyone. In the end, Persepolis is also a reification of storytelling, not without, but in spite of ideology. If we can wrestle ourselves out of the stranglehold that Spivak argues suffocated the Western critic, then we get a little close to that Technicolored world. It is difficult, and it is discomforting, but it is glorious.

Note: I apologize to my classmates for missing last week’s discussion. My time management skills apparently had not yet returned from break. I have since forcibly extracted them from the void and, battered as they are, am working diligently to get them ship-shape. Considering the time-stamp on this post, they are still a little…disgruntled.

The turtleLanguage is like clay. The one you are born into benefits from years of kneading, handling, molding, and is soft and pliable. If you are lucky, you spend your life creating different shapes with the clay, using examples of sculptures that came before you, refining your process. Then one day, another language beckons you, and you answer the call. A new, hard lump of clay is placed before you and the slow, arduous kneading process begins. It is frustrating, tiring, and, all the while you are kneading this new language you realize that you may never achieve the same malleability of your own language, but, at the same time, that even an approximation of that malleability will be ultimately rewarding. The two essays I chose to abstract for this week discuss the sculpture that Achebe creates with language and his ability to form a recognizable story with foreign–and often diminished–clay.

James Snead opens “European Pedigrees/African Contagions: Nationality, Narrative, and Communality in Tutuola, Achebe, and Reed” with a quote from Samuel Johnson: “Languages are the pedigrees of nations” (264). He spends a great deal of time deconstructing that statement and as well as our definition of nation. He questions our notion that nations are naturally formed geological separations between people, created independently and having a shared culture and history. But this definition neglects the naturally porous nature of all societies, the unnatural creation of borders by colonization, and the diverse populations that entertain ideas of national “purity.” He also argues that the larger an empire spreads its control, the more diverse it becomes and, therefore, the more insistent its “original” members become when it comes to a “pure” race. Rethinking the concept of “nation” and, by extension, the idea of a “national language” and a “people” also forces us to see nations as populations living within an imaginary boundary and consenting–or being forced–to exist under a single law. After the nation is created, the language established, then, Snead argues, literature takes hold as the signifying voice of that nation. We continue to see remnants of that process in our own course listings today. Snead also argues that as certain texts and literatures are elevated, they become synonymous with a sense of “universality” and as other texts are produced outside that national culture, the critic’s first instinct is to search for the universality of the piece. Yet, that instinct is entirely Eurocentric, and therefore, has difficulty recognizing the universality of a story without the common features of the national literature that came before. In a sense, this is where Achebe, as well as others, have succeeded–and in some cases, confounded–to the critics demands. By molding the English language into approximating the oral tradition of the Ibo, Achebe forms the language into an African sculpture–though the notion that any author can speak for all of Africa is an Eurocentric view as well. Snead suggests that, for Achebe’s novels, “their most interesting aspect is the almost casual manner in which they present African norms to primarily non-African readers” (278). Achebe uses the language most accessible to the European audience to render a story initially unrecognizable to them, yet one that slowly reveals its universal theme throughout the rhythm of the narrative.

That rhythm is discussed in detail in the next essay, “Rhythm and Narrative Method in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart,” by B. Eugene McCarthy. At times McCarthy delves into the analytical of scanning lines and marking repetitions, but they are all pointers to a larger pattern in Achebe’s book. He quotes Walter Ong’s definition of the oral tradition, citing that “thought must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balances patterns, in repetitions and antithesis, in alliterations and assonance, in epithetic and other formulary expressions” (428). The repetition, or “backlooping” is an integral part of the oral narrative–folklore, fairy tales, myths are replete with these patterns–but not necessarily a staple of the Eurocentric novel tradition. There may be cycles in theme or symbols, but, McCarthy argues, Achebe creates these cycles with the language itself, allowing the larger theme to be not only symbolically cyclical, but literally. As he progresses through his close reading, McCarthy shows how Okonkwo is bound by the cycles of the village and of nature, but ultimately rejects them. He is so absorbed into projecting his own masculinity, he rejects the natural cycles embodied in the feminine. While the masculine moves forward unrelentingly, the feminine recognizes seasonality. Ultimately Okonkwa’s inflexible push forward meets head on with another inflexible force, the white man, resulting in his committing the arguably unmasculine act of suicide. Achebe, in his use of the English language, showcases not only the cyclical nature of oral storytelling, but the cyclical nature of the life in which Okonkwa is bound. There is a danger of dismissal when likening written prose with oral narrative, as the Western tradition elevates the former over the latter, but McCarthy’s essay shows the beauty of this rhythmic storytelling in Achebe’s novel and the effectiveness of this long-diminished strategy.

Your listening for this post:

When I read Dr. Clemens’ post about this week’s reading, I was worried that “the most depressing book they have read” consensus of Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero would unduly influence me. It prepared me, in some ways, to build up a wall against what I might find. Thankfully, Saadawi’s prose tore down any barriers I had to the story and in the end, no, I wasn’t depressed. Depression is a terribly selfish emotion, inward looking and isolated.

I was in awe. I was ashamed. I was angry.

In awe because of something we don’t spend as much time on in this class because of the flood of injustice presented in the texts. I was in awe of the writing. Saadawi has taken the honest and harrowing tale of Firdaus and turned it into a beautiful fairy tale. And a fairy tale not in the unbelievable, happy-ending, Disney sense of the word, because that’s just patriarchal condescension dressed up in technicolor and musical numbers. No, a fairy tale in that it tells truths that are difficult to hear in their pure form; though Saadawi is as close to pure, I’d argue, it is possible to get. The cyclical nature of the storytelling underlined not only the multitude of oppressive waters Firdaus tries to rise above, but the constant rotation of her experiences. How falling in love is akin to falling into someone’s eyes, as if into their soul—and how the other person’s feeling matter little in that moment; how the severing of her clitoris as a young girl is reenacted over and over again as Firdaus is forced to sever herself from her own feelings in order to survive; these moments turn in the wheel of fate that Saadawi’s psychiatrist kneels on a cold floor to hear, entranced and unable to pull away.

And I was ashamed, just like the woman in our story frame, for being able to put the book down upon completion, plug in my iPhone and try to sleep. I was ashamed for having been born privileged in skin, location, money, and ability. I was ashamed that I never had to work so damned hard, not just to establish myself as a success, but to establish myself as a human being, surrounded by a world—worlds upon worlds—whose intent to dehumanize me for their own exploitation had become so profuse that it was hard to recognize. (How does a fish explain when the water is oppressive?) The multiple layers of oppression I talked about in the last post are laid bare in Woman at Point Zero and when even your body is no longer your own—and for women, is it ever?—lashing out and denying another their body in death seems almost righteous.

Then I was angry, because little has changed. Firdaus’s only moments of agency are the times she left the homes of her abusers and wandered the streets. Terrifying and edifying, these repeating scenes when she is poured into the masses of people and becomes anonymous are her only moments of freedom. This freedom is always ripped away when  a man notices her and she follows. She follows because she has no other option and the only path to even a small sense of agency is money. Saadawi’s book feels like the fictionalization of Oyěwùmí’s essay, or better yet, the naturally outgrowth of relabeling an entire portion of the population. Re-categorizing community members as ‘women’ and therefore, subservient, allows a redistribution of power that makes the colonizer more comfortable in dealing with the colonized. We name things in order to control them, and in naming, we bring all the connotations from the colonizer’s language down upon the head of the named. Women are inferior because they have always been so. Women are unable to hold positions of power because in our imperial memory they have not—Her Royal Highness notwithstanding, since that’s ordained by God, who’s a man. The colonizer is so emboldened by his superior strength that he has no cause for reflection upon his own ideology—not even a recognition that he embodies an ideology, because it is the dominant one, and therefore, the right one.

Yet, Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero eclipses all the other readings for this week. It’s lyrical prose exposed the background drumming of patriarchal oppression in clearer tones than any essay or video. Firdaus’s struggle—no, I won’t patronize her by calling this a struggle—her realization is that life is her true prison is the essence of the story, of so many of these stories. It is not about changing Firdaus’s choices, but about changing the very fabric of the world in which she, and all of us, live. It is reading this and recognizing that this oppression is all around us and we perpetuate by being sad and depressed and feeling grateful. We should be in awe of this book. We should be ashamed that this is not our life. And we should be angry that we are still fish underwater, surrounded by a system determined to force into inferiority.

Perhaps the only way for us to evolve is to leave the water and find a way upon the land.

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