Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kitchen Sink Realism and Holly Goddard Jones

Chapter 16 interviews one of my favorite authors, Holly Goddard Jones. I'm crazy about her short story collection 'Girl Trouble.' Apparently her style is 'kitchen sink realism'. Good to know this is the style that makes me melt. Kitchen sink realism is fiction about regional, blue collar America. I'm not blue collar America, and think I have always, in all respects, been far away from regional. But these stories speak to me, ruin me even, in that each character no matter how 'regional' is tackling issues which are ridiculously universal, issues which pierce the human heart and draw blood no matter who you are and which social rung you hang your beret. Goddard's characters, as she says in this interview, over think and are aware of their problems: that's means they're smart but they are also sad. And few characters are as satisfying to spend time with than those who are smart but sad.  Goddard does use alot of exposition in her stories, more 'tell' and less 'show' but, for me, her telling has a psycological depth that is phenomenally nuanced and more satisfying to read than a million pages of showing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt, Revolution, Democracy and How it is Done

Mabrook Egypt! And Tunisia too (talk about ripple effects!) Liberty, the struggle for and the attainment of, is just as exciting and intoxicating  for those like myself sitting on a couch and watching TV/internet all these many days. So heady to hear hope and pride and sheer happiness and amazement. It ignites life in all of us despite the rough logistical road ahead. To finally see the women joining the men in Tahrir Square is pure joy! It is also very interesting how modern technology was put to use in this freedom struggle.
I am not Arab but I feel so proud.  I slept to Mubarek causing confusion and delay and woke to him finally stepping down. I wonder who's crying more, he or his opportunistic wife? But it's not just Mr. and Ms. Hosni Mubarek who will have to learn to lead a new life. Real change in Egypt will come when the military and the police learn how to live in a democracy and use their gun power to protect the people rather than terrorize them into obedience.
As for coverage: I think CNN U.S. did a decent job (CNN International has excellent coverage and may as well be from a different world than CNN U.S.-- unfortunately CNN International not offered to U.S. viewers).  FOX News proved to be ridiculous once again since it couldn't stop talking about the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera rocked and ruled. It is shame that U.S. cable networks claim they do not carry Al-Jazeera English because there is not enough demand. Really we American viewers are being deprived of excellent news coverage and need to demand that it be offered as it already is in Ohio, Vermont and D.C. (You will learn more about the world watching five minutes of Al-Jazeera than you will watching five years of any U.S. news channel).

As for the U.S. and democracy -- this is how democracy comes to dawn.  Today in Egypt's Tahir Square celebrators celebrate with fire, with flame, with waving flags. I think back to Iraq and feel sad. I think back to Iraq and that horrid day when Iraq's night skies were lit up with 'shock and awe.'  This is how deomocracy comes to dawn, U.S. lest you forget.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Black Swan- the film

Most people advocate some sort of art project for the repressed to loosen up and get in touch with thier deeper self and in this stead dance is often a highly recommended activity.  In 'Black Swan' Natalie Portman's character Nina is a ballet dancer and like all dedicated ballerinas, ballet dancing is all she does. Unfortunately instead of her art loosening Nina up it seems to have turned her into a nuerotic individual who has no friends (not that oodles of friends are necessarily a sign of a healthy personality, but she has not a single one) and no interests other than becoming the lead dancer before she becomes too old (what a more interesting film this may have been had more been made of this issue). Nina's dream comes true when she is cast as the Swan Queen in 'Swan Lake', a casting which will have her dancing both the part of the good White Swan and the bad Black Swan who seduces the White Swan's paramour. Nina dances the part of the White Swan perfectly but lecherous choreographer Thomas is unhappy with her depiction of the Black Swan and urges her to loosen up, to 'live a little'. How Nina lives a little and can or cannot handle it is the subject of this film. And how does Nina 'live a little'? Why in the most tritest of tropes available-- by having sex of course! With boys and girls and oneself. Nina proceeds to shed some repression by going clubbing, popping a pill, making out in a bathroom, having (or dreaming of) a lesbian experience, and even finally finding out what her fingers were made for. Much has been made of how Nina's monster mother is responsible for neurosis and, indeed, Nina's mother is a very controlling lady: she still brushes the grown Nina's hair, tucks her into bed, sweetly denigrates her ambition and talent, expects Nina to fulfill her own thwarted dreams, threatens to throw away a cake when Nina does not want a slice, and of course dictates her comings and goings. But, as monstrous as this mother may be she is all too recognisable a mother for many of us from Pakistan and India and so I was not too shocked by her emotional blackmailing or dictatorial proclamations. And while in India and Pakistan it is marriage that may finally free a daughter from a tyrannical mother, in 'Black Swan' it is Nina being cast as the lead. Once she is the Swan Queen Nina does begin to blossom in so far that she begins to stand up to her mother (how much more of an interesting film this would have been had more been made of this issue). Of the two elements I did enjoy in this otherwise stale film one was Natalie Portman's incredible acting as well as that of her rival played by Mila Kunis and second the few truly shriek-out-loud moments caused by gross, painful depictions of the human body be it muscles undulating under skin or skin fusing together. No doubt there will be more films about dancers and their repressed personalities and this time might even be told from the point of view of a male dancer and might turn out to  be the fresh, exciting film that 'Black Swan' is not and could not have been as long as sexual adventure-- good or bad-- is touted as being the panacea which will save the world or at the very least repressed individuals. 
ps.  when it comes to monstrous screen mothers, the religious nut mother in the film adaptation of Stephen King's novel 'Carrie' still takes the cake
pps. religion is not the panacea either