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...

Objects and Clarity

Objectively, Eric Garner was not killed by police because he was black. Objectively: “On July 17, 2014, in Staten Island, New York, United States, Eric…
Objectively, Eric Garner was not killed by police because he was black. Objectively: "On July 17, 2014, in Staten Island, New York, United States, Eric Garner died of a heart attack while police officers were arresting him for selling untaxed cigarettes." Objectivity is important; one must not advocate. The New York Post writes, today: Many teachers had worn the shirts to school Tuesday and Wednesday as a show of support for cops in the wake of the Eric Garner death and union-backed rally by the Rev. Al Sharpton. But they were warned by a United Federation of Teachers official in an email late Wednesday that, “as public employees, one must remain objective at all times. Certain T-shirt messages may appear to be supportive, but individuals (parents, students) may see a different meaning in that message.” According to schooldigger's objective data,… Read More...

Some Thoughts on Fruitvale Station, and No Angel

“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” –Secretary of State Madeleine Albright I’ve been thinking…
“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.” --Secretary of State Madeleine Albright I’ve been thinking about the movie Fruitvale Station, the way—because it begins with Oscar Grant’s death, and because it only becomes a story at all by reference to that morbid telos—it always threatens to become a story about the “value” of Oscar Grant’s life. The entire movie grows from that narrative stem: when Oscar Grant was killed, what was it that died? What was lost? Was he a good person, to be mourned? I use the word “value,” however, with a sense of loss and regret, and not because of the squandered “value” of his life. That’s a strange way to think about what a person is, to think about a life being “squandered.” There is a word… Read More...

(a jet lagged mess)

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August 2nd, AUS to NBO August 17th, NBO to AUS I was in Kenya until yesterday, and my mind is a jet-lagged jumble; perhaps that’s why I can’t focus on anything, why twitter’s mishmash of #Ferguson and everything else seems a more or less appropriate lack of order for my brain right now, and why focusing on one thing only brings another thing into view. Or maybe it’s a Koroga, the mixture of flavors and recipes and histories that isn’t meant to resolve or define or come into focus. Or maybe I just can't focus because I'm jet-lagged. Theodore Roosevelt, uber-white-dad and former NYPD police chief, on the contagion in the heart of darkness: “Then, from out of the depths of the Congo forest came the dreadful scourge of the sleeping sickness, and smote the doomed peoples. Just before watching… Read More...

Independent Poetry and the Pleasures of Concrete

linguistic espresso
(A review of Michael Onsando's poetry chapbook, Something Quite Unlike Myself, by Kenyan poet and friend of the blog Stephen Derwent Partington, first published in Kenya's "Saturday Standard" newspaper, reprinted with permission) When cowardly local publishers abdicate their cultural obligations and fail to print any decent local verse whatsoever, brave poets go abroad or go it alone.  Increasingly, talented new Kenyan poets are finding that they must turn to self-publishing.  Even our younger, funkier presses seem to privilege fiction over poetry; some newspaper and magazine editors seem pathetically confused by the genre, and avoid it altogether.  Many fine Kenyan poets, most of them young, have necessarily self-published. The most recent entry into our Kenyan pantheon of ‘Talented Poets who give a Damn where Publishers Don’t’, is award-winning social blogger Michael Onsando, with his excellent new chapbook, Something Quite Unlike Myself. … Read More...

“Against Literary Passports: the Many Languages of African Literature” (Conference Paper)

The long(er) version of a paper I delivered yesterday at the “From Asmara 2000 to Nairobi 2014: New Horizons and Trends in Africa Languages and…
The long(er) version of a paper I delivered yesterday at the "From Asmara 2000 to Nairobi 2014: New Horizons and Trends in Africa Languages and Literatures" conference at Kenyatta University in/at the edge of Nairobi. Having delivered it, I am now much clearer on what I should have written instead: I should have shown more, told less, though harder about how and less strenuously about what. It is instructive that especially when broad polemics—such as the “declarations” that are ritualistically issued from such conferences—serve as claims of intellectual priority, in practice, there is also a quiet but real tension between such rhetoric and the almost mechanical process of actually-making-it-happen. Perhaps both are necessary, in some mutually dialectic way. But I was struck, for example, by the ways something like the African Storybook Project is engaged in just getting out of… Read More...

Is Genocide Right For You?

Many people have a misconception about genocide, which is not banned by international law, but is strictly regulated so that it can be conducted safely…
Many people have a misconception about genocide, which is not banned by international law, but is strictly regulated so that it can be conducted safely and sustainably. This is as it should be. The role of government is not to dictate to the market what forms of ethnic cleansing are to be traded, though the government still plays an important role: regulating genocide so that it can be safe for consumers. The market has spoken, and people want genocide! But we must all work together to keep this cherished international institution solid for the 21st century. The children are the future. Is your nation licensed to conduct genocide? Contact a governing body to find out the rules and regulations that apply in your area. There may be a governing agency that can help you determine what steps you should take.… Read More...

Texas Stands With Gaza

A selfish statement.
A Selfish Statement. When used in bad faith by Zionist warmongers, the phrase “Stop Singling Out Israel” is an effort to change the terms of the debate. Instead of talking about Israel and what it is doing (they argue), you should be looking at places that are much worse; Syria, for example. Used in this way, it’s effective sophistry. Though implicitly conceding that Israel’s repression of Gaza is at least in the same category as the military repression of Syrians (a remarkable concession, when you think about it), the re-framing forces the American-based, human rights oriented critic of Israel onto a different plane of debate, demanding that you justify why you are focusing your condemnation on Israel in particular. Since, in absolute terms, the slaughter in Gaza is significantly less than the slaughter in Syria—thus, presuming that “absolute terms” is… Read More...

A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Taken Too Seriously, But For Very Serious Reasons

Or, "The Worst Revenge is a Living Will"
That Snowpiercer is an allegory for capitalism and revolution has been widely and well-discussed—for example, see Emma and Peter Frase—and I already knew it when I went to see the movie. So did Unemployed Negativity: “I scrupulously avoided reading any reviews of Snowpiercer once I became intrigued by the basic premise. Despite this, and not reading anything after seeing it this afternoon, I was aware, in that way we become aware of things through an almost social media osmosis, that it was quickly being heralded as a new film about the 99% and the 1%, about social inequality, and, more importantly, about revolution.” This reading is easy, and correct: the train is the capitalist economy, and while Curtis and company initially set out to seize the means of production (the engine), the revolution stops being reformist when Curtis makes a… Read More...

I see no better place

"My life has changed direction," said sun-beaten Thiago Ferreira, a 26-year-old convicted drug trafficker who is helping renovate the Belo Horizonte soccer stadium
“I see no other better place, even temporarily, to receive detainees in Manaus,” Marques, president of the watchdog group tasked with monitoring the prison system in the Amazon region, told reporters. He also suggested prisoners be processed at a venue used to celebrate the annual carnival. “Until the state can solve the problem by building new prisons then these two empty spaces should be used,” he said, in remarks confirmed by court officials." "[Arena da Amazônia] can seat around 41,000 spectators and features a restaurant, luxury suites, underground parking spaces and accessibility for people with special needs. It also includes an on-site rain water recycling system and sewage treatment facilities to reduce its water usage and is designed to make use of natural ventilation to reduce its consumption of energy. In addition, more than 95% of the material from the… Read More...

#NotAllCollectives

Trembling for my sleep forever when I reflect that international justice isn't.
I’ve been thinking about collective punishment lately. The idea that collective punishment is illegitimate, illegal, beyond the pale is international law and international common sense, something you can take for granted. It’s wrong. You can punish individuals for the acts they are individually responsible for; you cannot punish categories of people for the actions of individual members. Obviously. We all know this (or at least most of the collective first-persons that I belong to). Meanwhile, Israel routinely bulldozes the homes of people suspected of terrorism forces us to do this,, to say nothing of individual Palestinian youths being lynched is important ,(it is important to say nothing of the air-strikes that somehow magically spare the pure of hea.rt))Because collective punishment is integral to the Israeli state what it is.. After all, if the Israeli occupation of Palestine is justified in… Read More...

Found Poetry

A Tough Response at the Fun Time Beach cafe Controversial but fabulous, Israel does a good job It will be hard, complicated, and costly, And…
A Tough Response at the Fun Time Beach cafe Controversial but fabulous, Israel does a good job It will be hard, complicated, and costly, And we will have to take over Gaza temporarily, forever Israel, unlike Hamas, will be hard Israel, unlike Hamas, isn’t trying to kill civilians. Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised It’s taking pains to spare them It will be hard, complicated, and costly, controversial but To spare them isn’t trying to kill civilians poised. It’s taking A Tough Response at the Fun Time Beach cafe to find them Read More...

#NotAllPublic, Heartburn, Twitter

Burping up air.
“a gentle reminder of a fact: Twitter is public.” —Hamilton Nolan “I first learned that people don’t realize Twitter is public during Boston marathon.” —Dave Weigel “Public tweets are public. This is a fact, not a value judgment.” —Elizabeth Nolan Brown “Yes, Twitter is public. But” —Amanda Hess “Am I doing harm by amplifying this content?” —Jillian York ... To say “twitter is public” is to beg the question that “public” means something. It's not even wrong to say this sort of thing: the fact that it’s true, that tweets are public, is so obviously true that you can forget to notice that it’s irrelevant, which is the point. Legally, tweets are public. And if “the legal” is what describes and circumscribes your sense of the ethical, you can stop there. But do you want to? Maybe “not illegal” is… Read More...

A Commencement Address from Jonathan Edwards

The bow of economic wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string.
O student! Your dim prospects make you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards unemployment; and if your Economy let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best C.V. and Monster.com and all your nice shoes, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of unemployment, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of your Economy, the market would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the market groans with you; the market is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the job-creators do not willingly shine upon you… Read More...

America is Hungry, Let’s Eat

We can do better. This is only the beginning.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that many people are alive who shouldn’t be. To say nothing of the teeming masses of the third world, why must the unemployed exist, or those without start-up capital? By what right do they occupy valuable real estate, choking our cities and impeding innovation? Look: it is no generosity to suffer their existence. Their lives are a burden to themselves and their families. Yet no one seems to have an answer to the problem. Embattled capital must flee to more hospitable shores, slave to the whims of these lumpen masses, while the government does nothing and innovation is held to ransom. Our dreams refuse to take wing, weighed down by the human waste accumulated in our cities and factories. What if we have misunderstood the problem? What if more government—not less—is precisely what we… Read More...