Sunday, October 23, 2005

An article from last year

Writing is sometimes very hard work. I'll use this excuse and the excuse of being busy to present something old, an article I wrote in April last year, after a camping trip to Havasu Falls in the Havasupai reservation, near the Grand Canyon. I was reading the article recently, and there is a certain pleasure in rediscovering work you write, then set aside and forget - suddenly what you had written seems unfamiliar, its motivations and tensions belonging to an earlier time, but irrelevant now. The process sometimes provides startling insights about oneself; these insights that were unavailable during the process of writing become crystal clear at a later time.

The article is on my university website, which is like a bare cupboard - somebody once told me that when the website loads, the general impression is that an error message has come up. To make reading of this long article (1300 words) more colorful, I thought I'd provide a photograph, taken by Thomas, one of the three guys I camped with.

And here is the link to the article itself:

Monday, October 10, 2005

My thoughts on Columbus Day

Columbus Day is quite a difficult day. When I started this post, I tried to make it light and easy, avoid altogether the tragic events – some of deliberate intent, some inadvertent – that followed in the centuries after Columbus’s landing. This is what I wrote:

“I promise not to be elegiac. Instead, I shall sing paeans to Columbus’s pioneering effort, the great adventure that he embarked on, which lead to the discovery of the New World. What valor! What doggedness! The glamour and gloss of that legend!

And the New World was full of strange exotic foods that completely changed cuisines in Old World. For we wouldn’t have otherwise had potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, vanilla, corn, and turkey; no marinara sauces, no fries. What luck to have stumbled on the sources to such culinary riches!”

I realized soon I could not proceed in this manner. I could not exalt Columbus and hide his avarice. I could not happily talk of the new food imports and ignore the vicious spread of diseases from the Old World that exterminated so many so comprehensively that there are no stories to tell. There are too many uncomfortable facts, of subjugation, genocide, swept under the rug of history, the rug that the victors chose to spread. (To call some worlds New and others Old: these can only be the categorizations of those who conquered; history, as they see it.)

Perhaps not writing anything at all – recourse to passivity, unquestioning acceptance – is the best way of acknowledging the almost total silence of many hundreds – even thousands possibly: how does one know? – of languages, ways of living, cultures that have ceased to exist. How else does one reconcile with this?

I sometimes think that this sense of tragedy is just a fashionable, romanticized feeling, easily dredged up for angst-filled insinuations. Have not other people in other places at other times suffered the same fate? Yes, but the memory of this most recent and massive dispossession and disappearance is still fresh. Perhaps it shall take a few more centuries, a millennium even, for the burden to lighten, for things to be viewed from a cold, impersonal distance.