The Funnies

Rape cartoons are funny if it's inconceivable to you that you could ever be raped.
(a guest post by friend of the blog, Shailja Patel) Rape cartoons are funny if it's inconceivable to you that you could ever be raped. If you live in a bubble of gender privilege that insulates you from all consequences of rape culture. AIDS jokes are funny if you've never loved someone who died of AIDS. If you live in a bubble that allows you not to know that millions of Africans died, thousands of gay men died, of criminal state indifference and denialism. Because they were, after all, only blacks and queers. Comedy material, not lives worth grieving. Ebola cartoons are funny. Unless your partner is a public health doctor, forced to choose every day between treating patients without protective clothing or abandoning them to save her own life. Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed naked, on all fours, anus… Read More...

A Year in Writing Things On the Internet

January: The American Studies Association Goes to Politics January 8, 2014 Freedom Industry January 11, 2014 Disband West Virginia January 15, 2014   February: Woody…
January: The American Studies Association Goes to Politics January 8, 2014 Freedom Industry January 11, 2014 Disband West Virginia January 15, 2014   February: Woody Allen’s Good Name February 2, 2014 There is no such thing as “The Court of Public Opinion” (but maybe there should be). February 7, 2014 None of This Is Written By Me February 22, 2014   March: Ambitious Conditions: Taiye Selasi’s “Ghana Must Go” March 8, 2014 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Solid Personal Achievements March 15, 2014 Two Covers March 17, 2014 The World and What it Isn’t: Dinaw Mengestu’s “All Our Names.” March 27, 2014 “Performance in Shailja Patel’s ‘Migritude’” March 28, 2014 (Some Provisional Writing on) Time, Poetry, and the ICC Witness Project” March 29, 2014 “This is when things got weird. And ugly.” March 31, 2014   April: Reading the ICC Witness Project:… Read More...

Three Little Books

Chris Abani, Esi Edugyan, and Alain Mabanckou take a field trip to Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
In 2014, three little books were published by three “big” authors, and those little books have been mostly ignored, so far as I can tell, by almost everyone. Chris Abani’s The Face: Cartography of the Void has been overshadowed by his most recent novel, The Secret History of Las Vegas, the just published Letter to Jimmy will probably be the most neglected of Alain Mabanckou’s generally under-appreciated oeuvre, and if you haven’t read Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues, you certainly haven’t read her little book of her Kreisel lectures, Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home. There’s no scandal in the way these kinds of little books get written only to disappear; these are odd little books published on relatively small presses by writers who are, themselves, more widely respected than they are well-known, especially in the United States. Of course, being an… Read More...

Citizen, Occasional Poetry

Page 6 Michael David Murphy Title: Jim Crow Rd. Date: 2008 Credit: Michael David Murphy
I. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen opens with a sequence of anecdotes, a catalog of racist micro-aggressions and “moments [that] send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs.” Being mistaken for a black person by a realtor who expected the person she talked to on the phone to come to see the house; being mistaken for a black person by a co-worker who confuses the names of the two black people at the company; being mistaken for a black person by someone else on the plane. Of course, these aren’t mistakes, but they also are mistakes: Claudia Rankine is black, yes, of course, but being mistaken for a black person is the sort of mistake—the sort of “there must be some mistake”—which cannot be real, but is. It’s an accurate mistake, accurately reflecting the maddeningly absurd and… Read More...

Spoiler, Serial

Spoiler: at the beginning of the last episode of Serial, Sarah Koenig tells us that she’s going to have an ending. But she doesn’t. She also tells us that she’s going to give us her opinion, but she doesn’t really do that either. She says what she would do if she was on a jury — she would vote to acquit — but that’s not an opinion, that’s a refusal of certainty. In the end, she doesn’t uncover and show us the truth of what really happened, and she knows it, and says so. Which is to say, she is still basically where she was at the beginning of the series: Adnan could be innocent but maybe he isn’t. This is where we started. By the end, we have a lot more facts and information, as the story gets piled… Read More...

The body must be protected, not the thoughts.

The body must be protected, not the thoughts. The body must be protected, not the thoughts. The body must be protected, not the thoughts.
I've been thinking about Maaza Mengiste’s piece on Ferguson, “From a Shrinking Place,” because her demand that the body is not a metaphor, that it's not "the body," brings me up short. It's not the body. It's that body. And that body comes first. I can't stop thinking about it, because the inadequacy of thinking is the place where it takes me, and I feel that place shrinking around me as well. She demands of us that the ethical demands of the body must interrupt the normal course of intellectual work. It has to come first. But she's not talking about "the body" in the abstract. She's talking about that body. And any body can be that body, and will be, when it's yours. The 43 students whose bodies were burned at a landfill, placed inside plastic bags, and thrown into a river. Each… Read More...

Some observations on Taiye Selasi’s “Driver”

I am not going to kill my employers.
It may surprise you to learn that Taiye Selasi’s short story, “Driver,” absolutely seethes with class antagonism. It does so very quietly. “I am the full-time driver here,” is the first line of the story; “I am not going to kill my employers” is the second. Instead, the protagonist—Webster, a formerly college-bound young man whose ambitions were halted by his father’s illness, and who has become a driver for a wealthy Ghanaian family—writes “I will make just a few observations.” This is all he will do. He will not kill them. He will merely see them. He does not burn down his employers’ house, for example, but he does make some heated observations: the madam’s flowers are, she tells him, the “toast of all of Ghana”; some of us, he responds, do not have bread. But he doesn’t say it;… Read More...

(NOT) Five African novels to read before you die

or, “here, let me scratch that surface for you”
University of Leeds professor Brendon Nicholls made a list of the “Five African Novels to Read Before You Die” yesterday, and it’s a fine list, if your best-case scenario is that literate first-world types manage to read a handful of creative works from Africa in their lifetime. And let’s be real, most Westerners are not even going to do that. So his list is fine, albeit extremely predictable: Achebe and Ngugi, of course, and let’s add Ayi Kwei Armah’s most canonical novel—because we need more than one West African male novelist from the 60’s—and, hmm, oh, shoot, we need some women, so, okay, Tsitsi Dangerembga, obviously, and Bessie Head, I guess. But not the really hard Bessie Head novel, let’s try the one that won’t confuse people. DONE. I’m giving Nicholls some good-natured sass, here (sorry dude), because, as someone… Read More...

Verbs

Protests Flare After Ferguson Decision Fury Boils From Plains to Both Coasts Protests erupt in Ferguson Ferguson burning after grand jury announcement Ferguson Decision Sparks…
Protests Flare After Ferguson Decision Fury Boils From Plains to Both Coasts Protests erupt in Ferguson Ferguson burning after grand jury announcement Ferguson Decision Sparks Violence Fires, looting erupt after police officer is not indicted Burning Rage Fires burn in Ferguson, gunshots heard in streets Smoldering City. Ferguson in flames: Officer cleared in teen's shooting death No Indictment: Ferguson inflamed Ferguson Burning Violence flares after grand jury forgoes any charge against officer in Michael Brown shooting Fires, violence and looting in Ferguson after grand jury decision Ferguson erupts: Officer Darren Wilson cleared in Michael Brown shooting death Chaos returns to streets of Ferguson after police officer goes unindicted "Burn This Shit Down" Mayhem and Protests Engulf Ferguson With no indictment, chaos fills streets in Ferguson, Mo. These are all headlines from major newspapers and news organizations based in the United States. Most… Read More...

“As an American writer” (Toni Morrison on Colbert)

Toni Morrison inspects Stephen Colbert's script.
Toni Morrison is delightful on Colbert, and it was a fun thing to watch. And it’s a small thing, but I was interested to note that Vox Dot Com has a headline in which they declare: I saw a few people passing that framing around on twitter, and I was surprised. I thought, huh, what a surprising thing for her to say! I'd never heard her say that. Has she said that before? A little digging around gave me this Paris Review interview, from 1993:   This is Morrison rejecting the terms of the question, the implication that one is not the other, and the demand that she disclaim being specifically African-American. long the same lines, in a 1981 Newsweek -- "Toni Morrison's Black Magic," by Jean Strouse -- it is reported that "Morrison hates it when people say she is not a… Read More...

Africa39: We Have New Names

"Assorted toiletries, Baby Foods, Body Building, Body care, Bulk Items, Confectionary and so on until Teas."
Ever since I got my hands on the Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara anthology, I’ve been stealing a moment here or there, often on the bus to work, to drop myself into the world of one or two of the stories. I haven’t even finished it yet, because I rarely read more than one at a time, and never more than two; they’re too different, too diverse, and too radically irreconcilable with each other. This is often the way with anthologies, or collections of short stories. You get so firmly embedded in the world of one story that when you have to drop everything and reorient yourself to the next story—to give up one world and take on a new one—it takes real mental work. You get attached to the first story, and you don’t want to give… Read More...

Noted

In West Africa, disbelief and distrust in medical science is a problem: “Some in the crowd were silent, baffled by the white building and the…
In West Africa, disbelief and distrust in medical science is a problem: "Some in the crowd were silent, baffled by the white building and the moonsuits worn by the health workers. In that part of the world, not everybody believed in the infectious theory of disease, the idea that illnesses can spread through microbes. Why wouldn’t the doctors let people see or touch their loved ones at a funeral? Many people distrusted the government, and spiritual explanations for the disease circulated." In the United States, by contrast, we know and understand that Ebola can be spread by genetics: "Her daughter was in school and sneezed a couple of times. They took her temperature and placed her alone in a room, called my sister and said, given the situation...” Solomon’s sister was asked to temporarily remove her daughter from school: a girl… Read More...

Where Justice Found Is

Whose business is it what he does in the privacy of his body?
If a man assaults a woman’s body, where does she seek redress? Where does she find justice? If she stands in a public space and proclaims her grievance—or if her sister proclaims it for her—she will be told that she is in the wrong place. The public is the wrong place for such statements. She should go to a different place, the courts: There she will find justice. She should trust justice. If she goes to the courts, if she proclaims her grievance there, and demands justice, they will tell her to stop talking. We will handle this, they will say, soaking up her words with the alacrity of a paper towel blotting up a spilled drink. Give us your statement; release it to us. We will hear you--after all, we are justice--but after that, let no one hear you… Read More...

Waiting For

"You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions."
"You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions." (Sven Lindqvist, Exterminate All the Brutes) The idea of “the facts” has done a lot of damage in its career, but one of its most insidious effects is its ability to justify inaction. “Until we know all the facts, we can’t” is a phrase that gets placed at the beginning of many a cowardly sentence; in a world where “we may never know what really happened,” waiting for all the facts to come out is a little like waiting for Jesus to come and fix things. When we don’t want to act, it can be a relief to pretend we don’t know what we know—to arbitrarily raise the standards of proof we require—and… Read More...

breathless babbling and blathering about Okwiri Oduor

A profile of Okwiri Oduor, writer.
A profile of Okwiri Oduor, writer. Read the full transcript of my interview with her here. Okwiri speaks slowly, carefully, gently. Often she doesn’t speak at all. In a group, you will see her listening intently, but in a crowd, she has a tendency to disappear, to retreat into herself. And then, suddenly, she speaks, and it’s worth hearing. She says things. It’s good to listen to her. In my first conversation with the most recent winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing—arguably the most prominent prize for contemporary African writers—I found myself talking a lot, and listening less than I wanted to. There’s an intensity to her silences that I couldn’t help but babble and blather to fill. Not because she made me uncomfortable, but the reverse: she is a listener. And how do you hear a writer… Read More...

Rape Culture: The War At Home

Women know a lot about conflict and war. Women have a very intimate knowledge of violence.
(This essay by Wambui Mwangi was originally posted, a year ago, at Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman, and has been slightly revised. I thank her for writing it, and allowing me to share it.) When it comes to gender-based violence, Kenyan men like to say "these are women’s issues." Many Kenyan men also wonder aloud if having a woman as the Defence Secretary and a woman as Foreign Affairs Secretary is a good idea. These men opine that women in general know nothing about war, conflict, violence or international relations of force. They are wrong. Women know a lot about conflict and war. Women have a very intimate knowledge of violence. Men usually initiate the wars and men do most of the killing, but it's women and children who suffer the most. It is so also often women who have lost… Read More...