Saturday, December 06, 2008

The way to paradise

I just finished reading Mario Vargas Llosa's novel, "The Way to Pardise," about Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristan. Tristan was a proto-feminist author and revolutionary. Gauguin, as you probably know, was an influential French painter most famous for the work he did in Tahiti. They were both of Peruvian descent and each spent an influential period of their lives in Peru, which is probably why they came to be the subjects of a Vargas Llosa novel.

It was the first new (to me) work of high quality fiction I've read in awhile. Part of it is related to my general intellectual decline but I think part of it is that I've again run out of authors. So I'm left with trying somebody completely new and superficially unappealing or reading the lesser, or at least lesser known, works of authors I've read extensively in the past. And of course I go way back with Vargas Llosa. I first read him in Spanish way back when I lived in Peru.

If you are unfamiliar with his work, know that Mario Vargas Llosa is easily one of the greatest living writers. He has an incredible command of storytelling's multiple tools and usually puts them to use in constructing compelling fictions that push, at least slightly, the established boundaries of literature. I consider "The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta" one of the best novels I've ever read. The story itself is great and the way it is told is both masterful and avant-garde, somehow managing to come off as traditional and ultra-modern at the same time. I very much enjoy reading "The War of the End of the World" and consider that a masterpiece as well. I'm not so sure about the ultimate literary value of "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter," but it is one of the funniest works of fiction I've read.

I doubt that The Way to Paradise" will be considered a masterpiece, but it is an interesting read. As usual, Vargas Llosa's mastery of form is exceptional, but it is the historicity of the characters that carries the novel. Paul Gauguin, after all, is an interesting character and if you don't know much about him, as I didn't, you will probably find his story fascinating. I doubt if much of anyone has heard of Flora Tristan, but her life and place in history are fascinating as well.

The link to Gauguin's Wikipedia page above is worth clicking on for the jpegs of some of his major works, many of which are discussed at length in the novel.

But the heart of the story is summed up best by Gauguin's epitaph provided by the Catholic bishop on the South Pacific island where he died: "The only noteworthy event here has been the sudden death of an individual named Paul Gauguin, a reputed artist but an enemy of God and everything that is decent in this world."

That, my friends, is an epitaph worth dying for.

What goes around goes around

Atrios points to yet another abject surrender by the congressional Democrats to the administration. But don't worry my friends. The Democratic party will soon find its spine and thwart the administration in all it tries to do. Just as soon as it's the Obama administration. Of that, you can be sure.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Freedom's finale

Today I went to Sunset Park. It was cold, rainy and ugly. Thus ends the worst vacation ever. Go anywhere my friends. Anywhere but New York City. In addition to cold, rainy and ugly, it's loud and it stinks. People are nice though.

The audacity of reality

Today's Washington Post has a good essay that points out the very obvious reality that Barack Obama is mixed, not black.

I've caught quite a bit of shit from progressives for making the same point. Of course it's true that racists use that fact to help justify their continued hate and ignorance towards non-whites. It's his white half, they say, that makes him smart. Well, it's true that racists are ignorant assholes but that's no reason for everyone else to deny reality. Obama really is mixed, not black.

Personally, I detest the entire classification of humans based on our ancestry. Who gives a fuck about hue and recent genetic origin? People with fucked up priorities, that's who.

I also find it interesting that so many progressives seem unable to comprehend the possibility of progress, at least in this area. I'm always told that reality-based analysis that shows the unmitigated idiocy of the concept of race is irrelevant to the poor African descendant pulled over for driving while black, or otherwise the victim of racism. Oh hi. Scientific reality is not irrelevant. It is the antiquated notions of race that enable the racists. Progress is embracing and promoting reality, not making excuses for those who refuse to do so.

The rules of journalism require the post to balance an intelligent article about race with an opposing one, so here is the answer from a nice, fucked up woman that speaks for all too many progressives:

For me, the goal has never been negating race through colorblindness -- to do so would take a healthy discussion of existing racial disparities off the table. My aim is not for us to be post-racial but to embrace our cultural heritages while refusing to be confined by them.

I've barely recovered from the epic campaign that led to President-elect Obama, so it's a bit early to be thinking about how cold it will be in Iowa come December 2011 or what the crowds might look like. It's safe to assume that Obama's coalition will somehow be altered by the power of the presidency. Perhaps by the time 2011 arrives, the country will have become less racially stratified.

I hope that by then, we will find that an auditorium of white Iowans cheering on a black, Asian or Latino presidential candidate is commonplace. I also hope that in that auditorium, race and ethnicity will remain valued aspects of our identities, not forgotten or homogenized for the sake of some vague notion of post-racialism.

Note three things. 1. It is now commonplace for white Iowans and people from every other state to cheer a (perceived) minority candidate. Fuck, they even voted for one by the millions, and 2. Ethnicity will always be a part of people's identities and no one is saying otherwise. Race, however, is not even real and it's fucked up for anyone to want it to be a part of his or her identity. Even more so to push those fucked up values on other people and 3. What the hell does any of that have to do with taking the goal of fixing existing disparities off the table? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.