Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Encounters with the Nation-State

Yesterday, I had a parking ticket withdrawn. A conscientious policeman, having noticed that my registration plate was wrongfully displayed (the sign had fallen off to be precise), had stuck on a ticket for $55 on my windshield, thereby rendering me rather footstompy at the end of a taxing work day. In atypical bravado, I decided to contest the ticket, especially since I had painstakingly renewed my registration a month ago and given up my beloved Texas number plate for a Wisconsin one. All that sacrifice in vain, I thought. Of course, given Rick Perry, and the brutal summer, it hasn't been that bad I think. But oh wait, there is Scott Walker. Ah well, this is the world as we know it after all. We exchange one evil for another. All the time.

But yes, my story. So I decided to contest and submitted the following online:

"I received a citation of 55.00 for unregistered vehicle/ improper display. My vehicle is indeed registered it is no longer xxxxx but xxxxx. The display had been taped onto the back but seems to have fallen off due to weather conditions. I was not in town on the day and did not have occasion to use the car until back in Madison hence I did not notice. Kindly consider waiving the citation or alternatively reducing my liability. Thanks so much."

How polite we are in our conversations with the state. How extra polite in fact. And how much scorn lies hidden in that politeness. We function "as if" we are polite. The economy of the "as if" that then takes on the the place of reality. And this reality is powerful. In that very scorn couched in politeness, lies the compelling nature of power...

After sending this in, I waited. Even as I thought that all this waiting was in vain and that in fact I would receive a cold note telling me in Kafkaesque fashion that the citation would have to be paid, this being my debt for owning a car, and functioning in an irregular, ignorant manner, I held off paying the ticket. I had done all the right things; submitted a contestation within ten days of receiving the ticket, been superbly polite, and crossed my fingers. I had prayed to the Gods, and kept away from sin. No word. I steeled my nerves a little further. Apocalyptic thoughts of my car being taken away, or my being stopped at every signal, or worse, steely eyes following my every driving delinquency did cross my mind. Alright, I admit I was caffeinated.

However, on the day when I was almost ready to give up, give in, and do my time, my inbox beeped at me with this ominous title "Parking ticket". The mail said "The applicant's claim has been recognized and the ticket withdrawn". (On an aside, have you noticed that despite American averseness to the passive voice, the American state continues to deploy it? With much effect if I may add.)

And of course, scorn notwithstanding, I was ecstatic at my claim being recognized. It helped that I didn't have to shell out any money. But the location of such ecstasy also lay in the fact that the state had recognized the veracity of my claims. It had just told me that I was a good citizen. Gold star.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

'Tis the end of summer days

Fall is almost here. Well, actually, given that I have to wear two layers of clothing in the house, it is here. And I have so much to say that I'm suffering the problem of excess. This space will not contain everything, will it? So let's resort to our favorite way of making sense of the world. Lists.

(a) Speaking of lists, here is a really cool list-making tool called TeuxDeux. I am of course assuming that you are of the persuasion of people who believe that the tool precedes the solution. Even if really, in a world of increasing chaos and reducing rain (ask Texas if you don't believe me), there is no solution. And by tool, I mean gadget, not you-know-what. Imagine if Peter O'Toole had to be a teenager in this time and age. Sigh.

(b) Speaking of chaos, I was in Amsterdam. And saw the new Von Trier film, Melancholia. It is a strange, strange, film. He is a strange, strange, man. And as I said to my lovely companions, E and L, I was compelled despite myself. Here is a review from Peter Debruge in Variety,

"It's the end of the world but also the start of something new for Lars von Trier, whose mind-blowing Melancholia offers perhaps the gentlest depiction of annihilation one could imagine from any director, much less the Danish provocateur...If Antichrist was the needle in the eye von Trier needed to shake a bout of pulverizing depression, then Melancholia serves as his unexpectedly lucid response, blending grand-scale Hollywood effects with intimate, femme-focused melodrama."

Go see it. But, perhaps, only in a theater.

(c)Before that, the father was here and we went to Chicago and Milwaukee. And I do really like Chicago.

(d)I flew back to Chicago from Amsterdam through Detroit. The immigration officer was of Indian origin. In the midst of banal, rapid-fire questions about "occupation", "number of years in the US", "purpose of visiting Amsterdam", he threw in "Miss, are you single?" and then proceeded to say,"Welcome home". I'm not sure which of those two questions amused me more.

(e) Fall of 2011, I am teaching a course called "Hypermodern Cities". Of all the courses I have taught in my limited teaching life, this one has been my favorite. Also, I'm a rather entertaining teacher. Last week, I went to class all prepared to teach the wrong set of readings.

(f) I read a couple of really good novels over the summer. One of them was M.G.Vassanji's "The Book of Secrets". Publishers Weekly calls it "a very postmodern meditation on the allures and pitfalls of narrative." And yes, it is. But Vassanji is exciting to me because of a couple of reasons. One, his intimate engagement with identity. He was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania. He writes about a variety of problematic identities and identifications in East Africa. Ethnically, his characters are both Indian and African. But he delves deeper. They identify with their religious affiliations, transnational loyalties, and local allegiances. They are caught up in political circumstances and allied with the Germans or the British. They are the in-betweens, the cross-identified, and the illegitimate. They are wily, worldly, and often troubled by calls for identity. Fluid and mobile, they travel. And together, they create a rich picture of community life, and community in the densest version of the word. As a lived everyday reality, and one populated with the makings of our melodramatic lives. Suspicion, adultery, doubt, pride, love, lust, philandering, birth, rebirth, death. His is also the kind of writing that caresses the landscape. And creates visceral feelings of heat, humidity, cold, dryness, and languor.

P.S On a completely different note, Vassanji is a nuclear physicist by training.

(g) I have giant orange lilies and an apple pie to help tide over what will be a rather demanding week.

(h) My next post will be about apple pie. Or Amitabh Bachchan.