February 14, 2007

The New York Times on Saturday, February 10, 2007

 Are Men Necessary?: When Sexes Collide Bushworld The Bastard of Istanbul The Saint of Incipient Insanities: A Novel Istanbul: Memories and the City America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: And the Architecture of an American Myth Gears of War Limited Edition Strategy Guide The Bell Jar: A Novel (Perennial Classics) Diva Diaries Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters (Library of America) Alexander Hamilton: Writings (Library of America)

My wife introduced my toddling nephew to dot-to-dot drawings a few months back.  Perhaps he loves the feeling, as I used to, of starting at the beginning and having no idea what will unfold.  Then, as one reaches a certain point, the mind catches up with and then passes the crayon or pencil to complete the picture before the hand can finish.  Eventually one arrives at the developmental stage when only the dots are necessary and the picture is immediately clear.  Unfortunately, the dot-to-dots in an adult life don’t always become so clear.  When they do, they can be disturbing.

On Saturday morning, I read most of the thin New York Times purchased at Starbucks in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.  Perhaps it was the relative nearness of the nation’s capitol, or the first day above thirty-two degrees I had seen in weeks, but the dots fell into place for me as I sipped a venti regular coffee purchased with the remnants of a Christmas gift card.  I have always wanted to teach high school history from the daily newspaper.  I would choose all the news fit to print over other papers because I always see the world holistically in the Times.  I always see the dots.

I hit the Op-Ed’s first and instantly found dot number one.  Seeing the title Heels Over Hemingway below Maureen Dowd’s name, I started there.  Dowd complains that “pink” books are invading the literature shelves of American bookstores.  By “pink”, she means fluff-filled, vapid, and superficial.  “Pink” books are laden with socializing textual candy dealing in appearance rather than substance.  Dowd even notes that some classics, like Sylvia Plath, have been repackaged to appear “pink.”  She sees the books as filled not with ideas, but with things like sipping a venti regular coffee purchased with the remnants of a Christmas gift card. 

As a high school English teacher, I feel Dowd’s pain, and agree that pink “books do not seem particularly demanding in the manner of real novels.  And when we’re at war and the country is under threat, they seem a little insular.”  I think that the reader’s of “pink” books are not the only one’s putting their heads in the sand, and Dowd provides the perfect segue to dot number two.  She notes that the reading of novels is traditionally feminine (like teaching) and that men are traditionally seen as ”creatures of action.”  So what form of sand is today’s Y chromosome set using?

One need only turn back the page of the same New York Times to find the answer.  Gears of War is the title of a popular video game that won several awards at the latest installment of the Interactive Achievement Awards.  A group of futuristic Marines fighting off a group of subterranean humanoids called the Locust Horde is the basic plot.  According to the article by Seth Schiesel, video game production brings in about $25 billion a year.

As with the “pink” books, I don’t want to sound like I’m against fun and light entertainment.  All too often, however, these things (and a host of others, of course) become a way of life for people and can be a substitute for reality.  And what is reality?  Reality is Turkey.

To find dot number three, one need only glance left on the same newspaper page, and in stark contrast to the picture of two members of the Locust Horde is the comely figure of Elif Shafak, a Turkish writer, journalist, and Social Scientist, who has been subject to prosecution and persecution for some of the things she has penned.  Reality turns out to be what happens when more and more people become apathetic about ideas and turn to superficial forms of entertainment.  They begin to ignore the world around them, and as long as someone keeps them entertained, they care little about anything else.  It is one among many things that can capture an individual, and when too many of us get hooked, people like Shafak, Orhan Parmuk, and Hrant Dink get caught in the middle.  The real battle between western and Middle Eastern culture and political ideas is being fought in Turkey, while the Americans play a live version of a video game in Iraq.

For my final dot (actually I have more, but this could go on all day) let me turn back to the Op-ed section and the archetype of the movie/video game warrior: Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Gar Alerovitz writes a very insightful piece on the need for a more Jeffersonian view of what the Unites States needs to be, and uses the Governator to introduce it.  He argues that America is too big to represented by a single Federal government.  It is too diverse.  An added problem is that a single government of this size allows for all that concentrated power to fall into the hands of a small group of people, or to be hijacked by a single ideology. 

Ideology, by the way, is another form of addiction.  Alerovitz is an interesting guy, and while he is a bit socialist for my taste, he supports private ownership in the pursuit of communal prosperity.  Too many Americans do not understand the political debate that has raged across this country’s two hundred and thirty five years and how that debate has been manipulated and framed for political and economic gain.  American pragmatism and a government based on compromise have protected the United States as well as the two oceans that caress its shores.  I’m afraid America and humanity is losing them both to elitist politicians addicted to ideology, narcissism, and money, while its citizens are sticking their heads into other sands of addiction and turning the world into Earth: Vice City by ignoring or killing the voices of reason.   People seem to be losing their ability to connect the dots.

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October 12, 2006

Politics and Literature

Filed under: Authors,Books,Nobel Prize,Orhan Pamuk,politics — seth @ 1:41 pm

The White Castle: A Novel (Vintage International)  Snow (Vintage International) My Name Is Red (Vintage International) Istanbul: Memories and the City (Vintage International) The Black Book (Vintage International) The New Life (Vintage International)

Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer recently charged (the charges were dropped in January) for making public statements about Turkey’s culpability in the Armenian genocide, has won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature.  The citation reads “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, he has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”  I am happy with the choice.

The Yahoo! article linked above provides a glimpse at the perceived political nature of this year’s selection, and quotes a few mild critics.  From similar reports on the NPR and FOX (from AP) websites, it appears that there are no serious outcries, other than from hardcore Turkish nationalists.

First, let me say that no prize of this stature can be given without political intentions or the associated fallout.  It comes with the territory.  Yes this was a political decision, and one that I happen to like.  This is the first Nobel Prize in literature to go to a Muslim country in nearly twenty years.  It is also a statement on free speech.  Perhaps it has a larger purpose of engaging the Muslim World in a conflict of words rather than of violence.  It appears to me to be well-intentioned at worst, and a best an opportunity for conflicting cultures to once again meet at Pamuk’s city, as they have done for millennia.  While continuing to see this author as worthy on literary merit alone, I cannot help but think that the symbolism of Istanbul as a city astride two warring worlds is mere coincidence.

Once again, I would reiterate, though the award is politically motivated, I don’t see how the choice of Pamuk can be contested on a literary basis.  He is widely translated (English, German, Swedish, French, etc.), has an adequate body of work (10 novels in Turkish, six translated to English, and a variety of serious literary prizes) and has held honorary teaching positions at a variety of prestigious institutions. 


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