A Photographer Confronts His World
This was weird. The reviewer is in awe of her – power, celebrity, scion, hereditary fame, activism, beauty, western composure, oriental aesthetic, class privilege and dynastic worth.
“It’s no wonder she has consistently denied any interest in going into politics. Still, at age 32, Bhutto is more of a celebrity than most first-time fiction writers. Born in Kabul, raised in Damascus, educated in New York and London, she now lives in Karachi. She has over 850,000 followers on Twitter, where her page begins with a quote from Vladimir Nabokov that reads, “My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.”
The perfect product of the Western imagination of how the Wogs will grow up to be civilised like us. And yet, the book review, when the writer does get past fawning over her and starts to read her work, suggests a trite, cliched, pretentious work. It may not be, but that is the impression left from reading the critical review part of this hagiography. Details »
A wonderful meditation on the lives of two artists and intellectuals, and the different paths they took in the aftermath of 9/11. Salman Rushdie, as Pankaj Mishra so angrily pointed out, was amongst the European intellectuals who lost their moral courage in the shadow of that terrible event. Speaking about Amis, Mishra argued that:
It is a depressing spectacle – talented writers nibbling on cliches picked to the bone by tabloid hacks. But, as Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, the “men of culture”, with their developed faculty of reasoning, tend to “give the hysterias of war and the imbecilities of national politics more plausible excuses than the average man is capable of inventing”.
The writer Amit Chaudhuri, someone whose works I have long admired, recently gave a short interview to The White Review where he discussed his new work Calcutta: Two Years In The City. The interview, conducted by Anita Sethi, takes place, we are told…
…almost 5,000 miles away from Calcutta: we meet in central London one freezing cold day in February.
And yet she claims that despite the distance – in geography, experience and I would argue urban imaginations, Chuadhuri’s conversation allows them to be…
…imaginatively transported into the heat of Calcutta, the central character of the new book, which the author explores in all its complexities and contradictions. One can almost see, smell, taste and touch the life of the city’s streets and its inhabitants.
What follows is a fairly ordinary interview – probably commissioned as a result of Chaudhuri’s publisher’s efforts to get him exposure for his new work in the all-important market of the UK, where he discusses his thoughts of the Indian modern, literary influences and his reasons for writing the book.
What was really striking about Chaudhuri’s responses was that all his references – whether literary and others, were Western. There is no non-European here, let alone an India, an Asia or even something remotely related. Details »
I have decided to take a short break from the field work on the The Idea Of India project. The monsoon and exhaustion have collaborated and pushed me to return to Delhi to rest, and also to rethink my work plan for the coming months. But as always, I now find myself immersed in readings, some of which were recommended to me by friends, others I found on friend’s bookshelves, and some that I had ordered online. So what am I reading: Details »
He was my introduction to Latin American literature. Before I came to Marquez, Bolano, Paz, Allende, Galeano, Borges, Rulfo, Carpentier, Bastos, Llosa, Fuentes and Vallejo I had come across Sabato. And it was this work – dark, nightmarish and frenzied that seduced me, and was my doorway to this amazing group of writers. Details »
Across my lap sits a fascinating work by Tzevetan Todorov called The Fear Of The Barbarians: Beyond The Clash of Civilizations where he confronts Europe’s slide towards xenophobia and Islamophobia and the abandonment of the principles of the Enlightenment (Todorov’s real interest is in this particular moment in European history and his The Imperfect Garden a wonderful exploration of the development of thought and ideal of that period, and their relevance and important to our modern age) that these attitude entail. Details »
It was once quite fashionable amongst photojournalists to argue that ‘too much information’ about a situation, conflict, region, culture, society, subject or story could confuse and damage a photographic work. I remember at least a handful of interviews with ‘major’ photographers where they each claimed that they went into situations and stories such that they were not ‘influenced’ by readings and open to the experiences and inspirations from actual experience. I always felt that this was yet another weak attempt to veil what can only be described as intellectual laziness behind the obfuscating language of ‘the creative process’. It was quite obvious that the works being produced from complex socio-economic environments were riddled with simplicities, banal clichés and a frankly egregious and irresponsible disconnect from the broader social, political, economic and cultural factors that defined the nature of the ‘social pathology’ the photographers were focusing on. Details »
Tony Judt has passed away.
What first bought me to Tony Judt’s works was a paragraph from a remarkable (for an American audience) piece he wrote in the New York Review of Books called Israel: The Alternative. The specific paragraph that struck me vividly was this one:
The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.
A remarkably honest statement from a writer/intellectual who was once a Zionist, and volunteered as a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), to a vehement opponent of the policies of the state of Israel and its continued brutality of the Palestinians. He argued against the Iraq War (Bush’s Useful Idiots), defended the works of Mearsheimer & Walt about the Israeli Lobby (A Lobby Not A Conspiracy). And more recently, despite suffering from the debilitating Lou Gehrig’s disease, he penned some wonderful essays for the New York Review Of Books including some of my favorites like Night, Ill Fares The Land, What Is Living & What Is Dead In Social Democracy. He also appeared in an interesting Dutch documentary about the impact of the Israeli’ lobby on American foreign & Middle East policy.
It was a mere weeks ago that i finished his latest book, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, which was recently reissued in paperback. Over the months since I began this small blog, I have frequently referred to his words and works to underpin my own. Specifically, he was given intellectual weight and relevance to my mediocre thoughts in my pieces like The Strange Silence Of The Conscience, and Individualism vs. Individuality: A Photographer’s Work Reminds Us Of The Difference, and Broken Promise: Israel Known & Unknown.
May his soul rest in peace. Ameen.
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