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.