Thursday, December 29, 2005

Interview with Mahfouz

El-Ahram prints a short interview with Naguib Mahfouz in which he discusses literature, religion, and politics. Here's the first Q and A:
Salmawi: A foreign critic wrote that you predicted over half a century ago that the religious trend would emerge as the dominant force on the political arena. This is because you made the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) character in The Cairo Trilogy have children, whereas the leftist character was left childless. In Children of the Alley, the one who wins at the end is Arafah, who critics interpreted as a symbol of knowledge, in the sense that science rather than mysticism wins at the end. Where do you stand exactly between these two opposing views?

Mahfouz: These are the views of the critics. By its very nature, an artistic work can be interpreted in more than one way. Here lies its value, but none of these interpretations holds the ultimate truth. Critics are still writing interpretations of Shakespeare's plays and pre- Islamic poetry, although such works were written centuries ago. I believe that interpretation, as opposed to analysis, often tells us more about the critic than the work in question. Often the critic would view the work through his own concepts, and not grasp, necessarily, what it's really about.
It's an interesting take on criticism, but leaves me a bit skeptical. It would have been cool if he'd gone into the idea of "the ultimate truth". Does anyone- reader, writer, or critic- really have the ability to grasp it? Does it even exist?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


There's a moment early on in Stephen Gaghan's magnificent movie when an American mother tells her husband not to interfere when their child is being bullied. "Let him work it out for himself: it'll foster his autonomy." And, like a lot of the dialogue in the film, the line is loaded with political significance. What happens to that child and to the many characters while on their quests for autonomy is what makes the movie so good.

Like all fine works of art, Syriana has some serious flaws-- the characters' dialects were all mixed up (at some point a sheikh tells Clooney's character that his Arabic is good when it is in fact so awful I had no idea what he was saying--I wish I'd been his, ahem, dialect coach); Lebanon and many other Middle Eastern countries come off as crappy religious states rather than the complex nations they really are; the storylines could have used a bit more breadth-- but its overall delivery left me feeling knocked off-center.

I was surprised and impressed with how deftly the film connected themes of family and love-- at its heart, this is really a movie about fathers and sons-- with nation buidling, greed, legacy and loss.

And on the drive home, I -- someone who struggles deeply with her faith-- wept as I thought of God. There aren't many movies that do that for me, and I'm thrilled this one is out there.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Whistle While You Work

I've been working on my novel since I got back into town, with brief forays to friends' houses for verbal and nutritional sustenance. For your pleasure, a brief list of things done:

# of cigarettes smoked: 18.
# of vibrators used: 1.
# of phone calls dodged: 19.
# of dishes washed: 0.
# of mangoes consumed: 2.
# of showers taken: 4.
# of times I have listened to Beck's "Debra": 27.
# of coffee filters used: 6.
# of DVD episodes watched of a certain show I am too embarassed to tell you the name of: 16.
# of pages worked on: 120.

Monday, December 19, 2005


I'll be visiting family until Friday night, so posting will resume next week. Have lots of sex and booze for me. Salam.

Ibrahim El-Koni's Desert

I recently translated a short story by Ibrahim El-Koni, and it wasn't until after I was done sweating it out -- the prose was difficult and sometimes archaic-- that I appreciated how much craft went into his sentences and images. Ferial Ghazoul writes about Koni's particular brand of fabulism--its roots and effects-- in El-Ahram. A little something about Koni:
Born in 1948 in Ghadames Oasis, al-Koni was brought up on the tradition of the Tuaregs, popularly known as the veiled men or the blue men. He learnt Arabic at the age of 12 and went on to study comparative literature at the Gorky Institute in Moscow where he wrote his thesis on Dostoevsky. Mythological elements, spiritual quest and existential questions mingle in the writings of al-Koni who has been hailed as magical realist, Sufi fabulist and poetic novelist.

New Graffitti

In Palestine, Artists Without Walls:
Palestinian boys wave to Israeli children by climbing onto their parents' shoulders. The later the hour, the more people can be found waving to each other from both sides of the wall. Communication through a six-meter-high concrete wall, on the border between Israel and Palestine, of all places?

The artist group "Artists without Walls" has installed cameras at a stretch of wall near Jerusalem so that each side can see a film of the other side projected onto the wall. The effect is astounding: for a brief moment, both worlds seem transparent.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pink Nasty

I went out and saw Pink Nasty last night. She's a breathtaking folk singer (with a rapper chick name) who writes about fucked up love and sad endings and going to the Fenway with her homegirls, and has the bewitching ability to repeat a single line over and over and make it sound so profound (as in her rendition of "Slow Education").

Also, she does a badass cover of Usher's "Burn."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum"

Writer Jim Lewis recently sent me a link to T.S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent". You must read it.

Here's a snippet:
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Leon Wieseltier reviews Spielberg's Munich in the TNR, and says of its screenwriter:
... Kushner is not an anti-Semite, nor a self-hating Jew, nor any of those other insults that burnish his notion of himself as an American Jewish dissident (he is one of those people who never speaks, but only speaks out). He is just a perfectly doctrinaire progressive. And the progressive Jewish playwright Tony Kushner's image of Israel oddly brings to mind the reactionary Jewish playwright David Mamet's image of Israel: For both of them, its essence is power.
Intriguing, no? I want to go see it.

Clara & Fanny

dreampianoblueMy fabulous sister, the coolest chick on the planet, just started Clara & Fanny, a blog dedicated to discussing and celebrating the work of women composers. Spread the word!

P.S. This miniature piano is her own creation. Isn't it gorgeous? I love it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Survey Shmurvey

From the London Times:
Finally, a scientific survey has proven what everyone has long suspected (which is what scientific surveys ought to do): creative artists, it appears, really do have more exotic love lives than the rest of the population. The new study, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society, suggests that artists, from poets to painters to puppeteers, have, on average, twice as many sexual partners as non-artists.
(Link via Michalle.)

So that's why I's a hoe!

And Slate has an opinion piece on a survey, the gist of which is:
None of these experiments—the miscarriage experiment, the birth-control experiment, and the "trying to get pregnant" experiment—is perfect, but all three point to the same conclusion. Three imperfect experiments still don't add up to one perfect experiment, but when they all give the same result, we can start to embrace that result with some confidence. In this case, the result is that early motherhood is not only correlated with low wages; it actually causes them.
So that's why I's a broke hoe!


"We nearly exterminated the Aborigines, you flew here" doesn't rhyme as well

I heart Kabobfest.

Lights + My rockslinga T-shirt from the show at Tambaleo's...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Back to reading

I am reading Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, which I bought for a quarter at a book dump in San Marcos 4 years ago. Here's an excerpt:
Having constructed battlements of books round the outer perimeter, Larry would spend the whole day in there with his typewriter, only emerging dreamily for meals. On the second morning he appeared in a highly irritable frame of mind, for a peasant had tethered a donkey just over the hedge. At regular intervals the beast would throw its head and let forth a prolonged and lugubrious bray.

"I ask you! Isn't it laughable that future generations should be deprived of my work simply because some horny-handed idiot has tied that stinking beast of burden near my window?"

"Yes, dear," said Mother, "Why don't you move it if it disturbs you?"

"My dear Mother, I can't be expected to spend my time chasing donkeys about the olive groves. I threw a pamphlet on Theosophy at it; what more do you expect me to do?"
(They sound like Ignatius and Mrs. Reilly, do they not?)

Turns out Larry is Lawrence Durrell. And Gerald is his younger brother. And this book came out before The Alexandria Quartet. It's been re-released in a pretty new paperback (my copy's from 1970, and has cool psychedelic colors and animals on the cover).

Anyway... who knew the Durrells had a sense of humor?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Week of Wack

Or, as my kid says, Whiggidy wackness.

I haven't read a single sentence of fiction this week. I haven't read the news, either. I have no idea what's happen with our government, with hurricanes, with Angelina Jolie, with France, with Palestine, with anything at all.

I have been finishing up my grad school applications and doing a little bit of writing,

I am now filling stuff out at Bookpeople while a huge table packed with menopausal women pretend to talk about Sarah Bird books for a book club... they're really talking about Meg Ryan's face. I keep looking up to see if they're kidding. Some guy across from me is on the phone with a friend and keeps saying things like, "Bush sold us to the Goddamn Commies, the son-of-a-bitch." A father shifts uncomfortably to my left, holding his son's hand a little tighter. A few hippies on my right are just sitting around quietly, and a dozen old ladies with blue hair sit in a circle all around us, waiting. We are waiting for new Narnia tickets, I am told. I had no idea they were giving them out, but what the heck, I'll take one. I'm part of this group whether or not I want to be.