A Week of Reading: 23-30 September 2012

From Fritz Tucker, Zeteo Assistant Editor

23 September 2012
While reading Tyler Anbinder’s book Five Points for a New York history class, I came across a quote from a Chinese-American, from the 1870′s. My eye was caught by the description of America as “the country of the wizards,” and Americans as wealthy “barbarians.” I was reminded of the year I spent in India and Nepal, where America continues to be viewed by many as the land of opportunity. The people I interacted with both in big cities and the countryside generally seemed to think Europeans and Euro-Americans (a) had more money than they knew what to do with, and (b) were unhygienic beings who let dogs and shoes in their homes and used toilet-paper instead of  water to clean themselves. I found it striking that America, almost 150 years later, continues to be seen by many as the land of wealthy people in need of refinement.

A man of our tribe . . . had gone away from our village a poor boy. Now he returned with unlimited wealth, which he had obtained in the country of the American wizards. After many amazing adventures he had become a merchant in a city called Mott Street, so it was said. When his palace and grounds [back in China] were completed he gave a dinner to all the people who assembled to be his guests. One hundred pigs roasted whole were served on the tables, with chickens, ducks, geese and such an abundance of dainties that our villagers even now lick their fingers when they think of it. . . . Having made his wealth among the barbarians this man had faithfully returned to pour it out among his tribesmen, and he is living in our village now very happy, and a pillar of strength to the poor. The wealth of this man filled my mind with the idea that I, too, would like to go to the country of the wizards and gain some of their wealth.

24 September 2012

Recently I’ve been enthralled by Richard Wright’s American Hunger (originally the second half of Wright’s Black Boy manuscript, it was published posthumously in 1977 as American Hunger, and republished in 1992 as  y). Wright recounts his life as a young man on the South Side of Chicago. A recent migrant from Jackson, Mississippi, Wright describes his experiences of northern, liberal racism and membership in the Communist Party. He depicts “Negro Communists, eschewing the traditional gestures of the Negro preacher” and adopting the oratory styles of Europeans: “put[ting] their left hands into their shirt bosoms or hook[ing] their thumbs into their back pockets as they had seen Lenin or Stalin do in photographs,” and mimicking Polish accents. Wright observes that, “[t]hough they did not know it, they were naïvely practicing magic; they thought that if they acted like the men who had overthrown the czar, then surely they ought to be able to win their freedom in America.” Recalling my own undergraduate misadventures hawking communist propaganda on the South Side, I found this observation particularly cutting. I’d come to realize that my proselytizing was intellectually problematic; until reading this passage, however, I hadn’t recognized that I’d been engaging in something as unintellectual as magic.

26 September 2012

“A new study from Purdue University suggests that mothers prefer to be cared for by the child with whom they have the strongest emotional bond… [C]are from a not-so-favorite child was sometimes even worse for a mother’s mood than being on her own.”

I’m conflicted about whether I should share this Jezebel article with my brothers.  If they want me to be my mother’s favorite, they might just give me all the credit whenever they do wonderful things for our mother.  On the other hand, it could lead to an ugly race to the bottom.

(Jezebel is a popular feminist blog.)

27 September 2012

I finally encountered Pamela Gellar‘s anti-Islam ad on the subway today. It reads: “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support civilized man.  Support Israel.  Defeat Jihad.”

In spite of the copious racism and imperialism I’ve witnessed, this ad shocked me.  I think it had less to do with the words, and more to do with their public display. It is the first ad of its kind; the MTA has refused to post ads like this in the past, but just lost a court case to the American Freedom Defense Initiate, forcing them to post this one.

29 September 2012

My mother included this poem at the end of her last email. It’s deceptively contemporary sounding.  I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that they had animal crackers back in the day.

God gives the things of this earth
a certain color and variety and value,
causing childish folk to argue over it.

When a piece of dough is baked
in the shape of a camel or lion,
these children bite their fingers excitedly in their greed.

Both lion and camel turn to bread in the mouth,
but it’s futile to tell this to children.

Rumi (13th century)

Caged Birds

The cartoon above is by Andrzej Krauze, once a prominent critic of the Soviet Union. Krauze left his native Poland in 1981 after the declaration of  martial law. He has since lived in London, where,  for three decades now, more Anglo forms of bureaucracy have been the recipient of his visually stunning metaphors. His drawings have appeared regularly in The Guardian.

Krauze has provided a steady source of artistic inspiration and compassionate friendship to two generations of my family.  The birds breaking out of one cage and voluntarily entering another resonate with me, as a student of revolutions, having read time and again about people overthrowing their State, only to put a more powerful one in its place.

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