Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Barry Schwabsky’s Opera

My bedside reading:
Language and Symbolic Power
by Pierre Bourdieu
The Skin That We Speak by Lisa Delpit

I didn’t plan to read these books side by side. The latter two – in preparation for courses in the Spring. Opera – because I am curious. There has been a lot of buzz about it and I wanted to see for myself what it was. I avoided reading the blurbs on the back page because I didn’t want to be influenced by other people’s words. I wanted to experience the poems for myself.

Bourdieu talks about the originative and generative power of language. Language can say anything it wants to say, whether meaningful or not, in a semantic freewheeling way, he writes. So he emphasizes the importance of locating language within relations of power and contexts. His concern is the need to be aware of the symbolic power of language as it is used by those who dream of absolute power.

However, poetry’s symbolic language generates another kind of power. While it behooves me to locate Schwabsky’s poems within a narrative context, I am nevertheless led to appreciate the power of the poet to use language to evoke meaningful images and feelings even though, at times, language itself shortchanges me in my ability to express in a likewise beautiful articulate way what these meanings are for me as a reader. As a non-native English speaker, I do not apologize for such inarticulateness; I merely acknowledge it. This is the skin that I speak.

So as I read Opera, these refrains haunt me:

sky, the all containing
the thief of what can’t be stolen
I… unrecognize you.

And as Karen O sings, worlds shift-shape, shaman-like, one letter at a time.
A woman is most beautiful reading about Luisa’s water.

Deep Instructions and a Later Hymnal remind me of Tibetan prayer-wheel. In the beginning was the Word and it was O

Water, sky, light, wind, air – the other poems in this book are full of these in all their varied mutations in the poet’s pen. Like waves lapping on the shore but is it the same wave always? And/Or... the poems feel like the hand pointing to the moon. Only I must find my own moon. Strangely, my mind takes me to a performance of “Moon Water” by the Taiwan Dance Theatre. I would have loved these poems read alongside her moon ballet. That would complete my O.

Monday, December 29, 2003

This rambling is for Tatang:

In 1983, A Nation At Risk, a national report on the threat to the educational system in the US was published, along with books that came out in the same period such as Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Edward Hirsch's books on Cultural Literacy, and other works by Diane Ravitch and Lynne Cheney (yes, that one!), and William Bennett -- all sending out an alarm about multiculturalism and political correctness -- as the threat to the foundations of U.S. history and identity. This is a backlash from the expansion of the canon as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, e.g. the establishment of Ethnic Studies Departments. The conservatives, who see themselves as the guardian of Eurocentric identity and heritage, found an ally in Reagan and then Bush. There was some let-up in this backlash as Clinton's two-term election sought to privilege a liberal type of multiculturalism. (He called for a national dialogue on Race, remember?) Now the pendulum has swung again in the election of Bush Jr. and this time, a well-organized and empowered right-wing conservative movement has managed to elect local school officials, low level officials, and began mobilizing to take regain control of the "foot-loose" (read: immoral) Clinton years. Note the use of religious and moral terms in today's politics and the backlash against higher education and its "tenured radical leftovers of the 60s" even though statistics show that the majority of professors nationwide are not liberals.

I have a problem with the above generalizations (even though helpful) that is why, one of the words I ban in my classes is "political correctness." I tell my students that this is a divisive phrase that doesn't do anything to foster dialogue but immediately freezes people into positions that are closed-off to further negotiation. Noticing corporate-controlled media, we no longer seem capable of having a national dialogue about the "war on terrorism" because the dominating media (like Fox) relies on bullying opponents in order to create spectacles for voyeurs. Toni Morrison once remarked that if you want to see how media has dumbed-down Americans, one only has to listen to the language of the Evening News. And yet who gets blamed for dumbing down Americans? The liberals.

When Noam Chomsky was asked why he doesn't appear more often on national news to comment on current events, he said that his ideas do not render themselves to sound bites and most major news outfits do not want to have to deal with complexity and sustained historical critique of what is going on.

So the issue of "political correctness" and what I see as our continuing engagement with it must borrow from the strategies of Edward Said -- learning to see how colonialism and imperialism is complex and intertwined and irreducible to dualistic terms of either/or. So it's not a matter of studying gay literature versus Roman history (using your example) but perhaps studying Roman history in all its ruptures and fragments which includes its intersection with gender and sex, class, national identities, religion, etc). Or while Stanford may have eliminated the required "Western Civ" course (I am not sure about this), they have also established a new Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (or something like that) -- what the implications of this are will have to be discerned.

When my students ask how they can get away from "either/or" thinking what they get in reply are practices on how to open up dialogue just by learning how to ask questions. For example when they asked how they should stand up to a person who makes a racist remark I said that they could ask: "hm, I wonder where that remark comes from?" "what made you say that?" -- any question that makes the person reflect on what they've just said always creates opportunities for dialogue. Cliches do not do that.

Am glad Achilles' owner doesn't really do a tongue-to-tongue. what a relief! i had that image in my mind all day!
Happy birthday, Michelle!

Friday, December 26, 2003

I have always wondered what an Indian Casino experience is like so we went to River Rock Casino in Healdsburg, CA this afternoon. The casino sits on top of a low mountain; in fact, the mountain has been carved to make way for it. This is owned by the Dry Creek Rancheria band of Pomo Indians. There are three other Indian Casinos north of Healdsburg and another one might open near my university...so near in fact, that the Station Casinos of Las Vegas (which finances Indian Casinos in the area, I hear) has recently donated $1.5M to our Native American Studies Dept. Greg Sarris, a Pomo leader/spokesperson, who is a professor in Southern California said that he would wish to be invited to fill the endowed chair. Sarris is better known as the author of Grand Avenue, Watermelon Nights. He is also part-Filipino.

The casino experience overwhelms me...and to think that this one only had 1000 slots compared to the LV casinos. The smoke gets not just in my eyes but in my clothes and skin. There was a non-smoking section but what is the point of having one if in order to get there one must wade through the thick fog of smoke in the front section?...there were no sexy cocktail waitresses and I don't know whether it's because they don't sell liquor there. Why they don't sell liquor, I don't know either. Is it because they are still waiting to be licensed for liquor or is it an Indian policy based on something more historical?

Well, we stayed for the much-touted Friday night seafood buffet and we weren't too disappointed with the food. But while we dined overlooking the beautiful Alexander Valley at sunset, the noise of slot machines and the elevator music in the background was enough to cause mild indigestion.

All this brings me to Sunny's quote from Battaile:

We need to give away, lose or destroy. But the gift would be senseless (and so we would never decide to give) if it did not take on the meaning of an acquisition. Hence giving must become acquiring of power. Gift-giving has the virtue of surpassing of the subject who gives, but in exchange for the object given, the subject appropriates the surpassing: he regards his virtue, that which he had the capacity for, as an asset, as a power that he now possesses. He enriches himself with a contempt for riches, and what he proves to be miserly of is in fact his generosity.

How does this apply to the Indian casinos? What is the gift? Who gives it? Who acquires power? Who is the subject? What is surpassed? Whose contempt? Whose generosity?

Many classes at my university debated the ethical issue of Indian casino-building. On one side, people express fear of "contamination" of an otherwise bucolic existence in the (white) suburb by unsavory factors associated with gambling, e.g. crime, drugs and alcohol, traffic congestion, gambling addiction and the supposedly resulting moral breakdown from such. On the other side, people empathize with the desire of Indian communities to become economically empowered (and why not thru casinos?). The same folks would emphasize that it is a matter of individual choice and responsibility to gamble or not. In the middle of the road and in search of a balance are those who are concerned with ecological degradation and resource depletion of such large scale operations.

How does one think like a mountain?

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Jean's post about hyperreality reminded me of: the fake as stand-ins for the "real" and where questions about "what is real" are always trapped in the endless slippage of language. The other night we walked around the mall and I casually commented to the spouse that we are playing at being "flaneurs" - mall strollers, gazers. I said that there is nothing at the mall I could relate to -- the fashions (who wears all those tiny clothes?), the footwear (3-in heels on basketball shoes?); the painted hermit crab as pets?; brand-name knock offs from Taiwan or China in those tiny stalls in the middle mall that form some sort of obstacle course; and then there's trying to avoid the aggressive marketer of the body lotion from Tahiti, or the guy hawking cell-phone covers, etc. What was I looking for anyway? It is the mall, after all...what was I expecting? I guess, the answer is - I go to the mall to experience this hyperreality...to remind me of what I'm missing.

The thing is, I was searching for my Filipino Christmas and of course, there's no point in looking elsewhere but in memory.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

erratum: it's johnson not joneses...regardless...do not touch a dog's privates! esp. in public and without the owner's permission!
Tatang and Michelle - i haven't tried snorting warm water with salt but it also works if you gargle (sp?) with it to soothe your sore throat.
Today, I made fake paella (couldn't find Spanish chorizo), nilaga, lutung toyo (abodo without the vinegar, and brown sugar added), spinach quiche for brunch tomorrow, and apritada. All your cooking blogs made me hungry -- Veronica and Barbara!

Wishing everyone a hearty Noche Buena. Maligayang Pasko!

Achilles prompts me to ask: Is it an act of 'other-ing' when an Achilles admirer checks out his joneses without the owner's permission? I wonder, too, how Achilles might have thought about it. It reminds me of a Coetzee story in The Lives of Animals: "Camus as a child saw his mother behead a hen. Memory imprints. Later, in 1958, Camus writes against the guillotin. Capital punishment is abolished in France. Who is to say the hen did not speak?"

Monday, December 22, 2003

Visiting Venepoetics reminds me of what else is happening in the world that the US media doesn't care to cover. Venezuela is about to recall Hugo Chavez. In Bolivia, the indigenous peoples just toppled their president, US-educated Gonzalo Lozada, who has signed a deal with a multinational corporation to pipe gas out of Bolivia and transport it to California via Chile. The indigenous peoples and middle class urban Bolivians understood that such scheme would not allevate their poverty and most of the profits would go into the multinationals' coffers. During their hunger strike protests, 70 were killed.

As an alternative news source, there's Yes!A Journal of Positive Futures! The current issue is on the battle over water - the attempts to privatize public water systems. Do you remember the day when you stopped drinking tap water and started buying drinking water or water filters?

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Chatelaine was a student of Elaine Pagels!! I remember when Elaine Pagels first came out with The Gnostic Gospel in the early 80s; it triggered a minor earthquake in evangelical circles. Based on Pagels' work, the junior college offered The Jesus Seminar courses which became quite controversial during the years they were taught. Then the New Age Movement grew, fed by the migration of disappointed christians and finally coming to terms with the FACT that the writing of the gospels was a matter of politics rather than direct divine instruction. Religion would no longer be enough; a decentered, decanonized (nice word!) spirituality takes the center.

In the 60s, CSLewis and Tolkien were also popular with college students. Lewis and Tolkien were members of The Inklings - a group of Christian dons at Oxford. Lewis became the most popular Christian apologist after he became "born again" and wrote "Surprised by Joy" and many more books afterwards. But there are also the Narnia tales and the Tolkien trilogy which used christian theology as context. However, I recently learned that Tolkien, as a linguist, was more fascinated with Finnish and Welsh languages and had invented languages akin to these and he needed a middle earth kingdom in which to house his languages. He didn't become a Christian apologist the way CSLewis did.

I have a friend who was a grad student at Stanford when he fell in love with Tolkien. When he returned to the Philippines, he introduced me to The Hobbit (because he didn't like CSLewis, the christian - whom I was reading). Anyway, after I came to the US in 83, every year I'd send him a Tolkien calendar. In one of those calendars I found out that Frodo Baggins and I have the same birthday -- 9-11!! (and you, too, Eileen!)

Well, I still haven't seen ROTK because we never seem to get in line early enough. But I've been thinking about the popularity of Tolkien again in a time of resurgent Christian fundamentalism in this country. (As for Harry Potter - the fundamentalists are scared of JK Rowlings!) What does it mean that our president speaks of "the war between good and evil" as if it were a fact and not an illusion?

Friday, December 19, 2003

Every time I see a humiliated Saddam on the telly, I am reminded that our "I and the Other" will never become "I and Thou"...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Jean, thanks for posting a photo of WIlson Harris! Found more info on him here. Looking forward to reading more about him.

now i'm really curious about Sondayo and wish Michelle and Maiana would tell me more. Last night I watched a documentary on Emily Dickinson and her reclusiveness and I've been thinking about it alongside Michelle's reflections on feeling spent and teary after an intense event like Sondayo.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I've just ordered a bundle of books from the U of Chicago Press sale catalog...one of the titles is "Love in a Dead Language" by Lee Siegel. The notes say that its hero, Leopold Roth, complains that, "I am a tenured full professor of Indian Studies and a Sanskrit scholar, and yet, never, never in my life, have I made love to an Indian woman." The novel proceeds with his seduction of one Indian student who was born in Ca and doesn't want anything to do with India...well, it promises to be a fascinating read. Can't wait.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Found another reference to WIlson Harris here and another post here on Filipino Catholics in the Bay Area and how they renegotiate its terms to accommodate Filipino traditional beliefs. And from Lily Mendoza on same thread:

"I hope you don't mind my sharing a (lengthy) portion of a paper I co-presented with theologian Jim Perkinson at the last Third World Studies Conference ("White Terror and the Apocalypse of the Third World in the First"). I thought that not knowing the answers to your students' questions is not the real tragedy but rather the opposite: claiming to know, and this is why:

"Across the planet, in cultures large and small, old and new, among priests and shamans, dervishes and arhants, the Absolute shows a face that now allures and now repulses in inscrutably grotesque license. Life is good...and horrific! People are sometimes saved...and often raped. Lutheran scholar Otto refused simplistic versions of a Judaic or Christian deity as all good, all clear, all coherent and the evident evil of the world as some strange eruption from some incalculable elsewhere. Listening to global reports of what has summoned human beings over the ages to acknowledge their limits before a Big Beyond, he heard both prayer and pillory, both gratitude and groaning. In historical experience, "spirit" has obviously been both deliverer and demon.

"But it was historian of religions Charles Long, who took Otto at his historical word and actually interpolated his famous formula into the real circumstance of modern history. The idea of the Ultimate as Opaque Terror, as Overwhelmingly Silent Watcher of overwhelmingly silencing violence, as apparent Underwriter of apparent Annihilation, could not be applied equally to Euro-colonizer and indigenous colonized alike. It was the colonized who were forced to face creaturely contingency with brutal realism; colonizers could create fictions of God as merely Fascinating Endorser of their every whim and fancy, which they actually satisfied by way of violent demand on those they made to serve them. Euro-Christianity ever since has figured Divinity as God of the Dream of Euro-World-Dominance, Approving Absolute affirming every effort in the on-going re-fashioning of the entire globe in the image of the regnant white male. George W. is merely the latest dreamer of the dammnable dream. The colonized, on the other hand, have had to re-create a world, absent such fatuous notions of either innocent flourishing or infinite duration. They and their postcolonial offspring, marked for continuing marginalization, exploitation, and annihilation by the codes of color in the postmodern permutations of racialization, have been forced into intimate concourse with hardness and endings. They, alone, know something today about the Great Mystery as Tremendum."

"It is this difference that makes indigenous cosmologies take on a tragic character in contrast with white cosmology's grand epic narration of its Manifest Destiny. A tragic sensibility is one that knows reality as an irreducible complexity defying any neat or simplistic categorization as either good or evil; either you are for us or against us. A tragic worldview demands no exemption from the mystery that defies all rational calculation. At gut level, it knows Ultimate Reality as messy, always a mixture, always heterogeneous, never only one thing.

"On the other hand, the grand Euro-Epic narrative is a totalizing story. It has God and might and right always on its side. Whatever ambivalences or anxieties that now and then manage to erupt onto the surface are quickly covered over by the mesmerizing assurance of "shock and awe" capability, the grand display of imperial power demanding obeisance and shouts of Amens and hallelujah from its loyal subjects.

"And yet, even elementary Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis will let us know that such denial and repression of one's shadow for the purpose of keeping seamless the lie (of invincibility, invulnerability and immortality) is bound to erupt, sooner or later, into the violence of projected terror. Indeed, the project of modernity over the last 500 years has left much the same testament across the entire landscape of tellable human history: communities of the crushed litter this planet like so many discarded playthings in the aftermath of imperial hubris.

"Today, we witness that imperial projection as having whiteness at its core. It is the running thematic underneath the display of of cheer and bravado of imperial rhetoric. Exposed, it is the terror of facing one’s own time as brief, one’s own task as tiny, one’s own image as ephemeral, one’s own end as likely ugly and not of one’s own choosing. It has been this teaching of the natural finitude of human existence that has also been the pedagogue of human wonder and brilliance. Spiritual depth and cultural beauty emerge most powerfully only in full confrontation with human mortality."

I briefly heard on NPR today a discussion of why Europe's identity is necessarily Christian (didn't catch all of it). John Roberts in The Triumph of the West expounds more fully "the final emergence of the notion of Europe from the idea of Christendom" and from there, the conception of universal history whose meaning is purportedly to be found in the Christian story as realized in the culture of Europe. Obviously, the Christ of triumphant Europe is a very different one from that of the African slaves, or of oppressed peoples around the world who have embraced his figure as liberator and fellow-sufferer.


Saturday, December 13, 2003

I'm chewing on Jean's post about "other-oriented politics of relation" via Wilson Harris' writing as I'm grappling with the issue of complicity between religion and colonialism. That many Filipinos (whose first language is not English) often have a hard time articulating what they intuitively carry in their bones and memory might have something to do with this "immaterial" rendering that happens at many levels under colonialism. I am having a hard time trying to articulate the violence and oppressiveness of modernization theories because too many of us mis/take the dark for light. It is reassuring to find resonance in Harris' words. Thanks, Jean!

Friday, December 12, 2003

...why so much suffering has been inflicted so long upon a people - our people - so generally devoted to their Christian faith? -- is a question we have been discussing on another listserve. This question arose from a prior discussion on the relationship between religion and politics and how both are linked to Christian imperialism. Below are some of my ramblings on the topic. As this blog is about "transcending otherness" I am trying to make visible the master narratives that tend to hide the process of other-ing -- religion being one of them because it always elevates its discourse into a cosmic language beyond critique.

Dear __, yes, these are important questions your students are asking! I hope we can hear from our graduate theological students on this listserve who try to answer these questions within the Christian framework. I also suggest the work of FIlipino theologian, Eleazar ernandez (Toward a Theology of Struggle - on popular Filipino theology), whose writings answer these questions from liberation and decolonization theology perspective. I think it might be helpful to discuss Christianity's historical evolution as a world religion and power in the West (now gone global) and then to separate that history from the core gospel message of Jesus Christ (whose themes are symbolic and resonate with other monotheistic religions, and even Buddhism and Hinduism).The core gospel message then gets re-contextualized and used by culture and politics to shape a theology that fits in with that culture. The Christian assumption of a flawed human nature (man is born sinful) and hence the need for salvation and redemption, as we know, filled the Catholic Church' s coffers with indulgences until Luther's protest. Protestant Christianity also eventually got wedded to capitalist values. But in the West this is a blind spot and hard to make visible. The evangelical Christian story is a very powerful story and when I have students who are devout Christians I do not negate their beliefs and experience but I do provide the different interpretations that might be worth considering at some future time.

When you read Rey Ileto's account of how the pasyon was interpreted by illiterate Filipino peasants during the revolutionary period, they saw Christ as a revolutionary who then gave them the power and inspiration to liberate mother country. I didn't get the sense that they saw themselves as sinful and in need of salvation (no such concept in the Filipino indigenous consciousness); rather they saw their country as being oppressed and in need of liberation. The fact that so many Filipinos might interpret our predicament as a people today as "suffering inflicted on a people so devoted to their faith" comes from the fundamentalist and evangelical interpretation of salvation as blessing (material) that comes from being "born again" -- so that you can hear Mike Velarde of El Shaddai imply that to be blessed is to earn in dollars as overseas foreign workers (as domestics, for example)...and then to say that to go abroad is to become a missionary for Christ provides the religious rationale for what is essentially a situation where global capital gone mad and a local corrupt governing system exploits poor people and forces them to migrate.

And if we continue the "kindergarten" analogy of American civilization...isn't it scary to think that a reckless child has access to the most dangerous weapons that can destroy his own playground? Childhood,to me, is an age of innocence and goodness - and so to attribute innocence to this civilization, I think, is dangerous. If anything perhaps we should devolve from the paradigm that the US has reached the pinnacle of human development (thus the "end of history" as we know it) for we have become a threat to our own existence.

Oh - maybe your students can also benefit from the book of David Yoo (New Spiritual Homes:Religion and Asian Americans). Rudy Busto has an essay there on why Asian American students are turning to evangelical Christianity on college campuses (good sociological study). After all, the students' search for a religious home is a social and spiritual phenomena at the same time.

Maybe we should organize a forum at SFSU on this in the future??


Thursday, December 11, 2003

If you are thinking of seeing "The Last Samurai" read on. Thanks to Paolo Javier's student, Johanna Novales who forwarded Dwight E. Sora's essay to him. Dwight E. Sora is a Chicagoland native of half-Japanese, half-Korean descent. He has a B.A. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago, and studied Japanese history at Waseda University in Tokyo. He works as a Japanese translator and actor, and has spent the last ten years training in the Japanese martial art of aikido (a combination of grapples, throws and swordfighting), attaining the rank of shodan (first degree blackbelt). He has owned three hakama, and they still manage to come undone on occasion.

"Problems with Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise’s
Japan War Epic"

By Dwight E. Sora

Historical Inaccuracies

1. In the film, in 1876, American Army veteran Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is
hired by Japan’s Meiji government to train the new modern Japanese army in Western arms and tactics. Although the Meiji government did hire Western military advisors in their modernization efforts, they were largely German and British.

2. Algren is ordered to lead the new Meiji army against a group of anti-modernization/anti-
Western samurai led by General Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). The army is defeated, and Katsumoto takes Algren captive. However, the Western military advisors did not take part in the actual battles of the late 19th century samurai revolts led by Katsumoto’s real-life counterpart Saigo Takamori.

Technical Inaccuracies

1. During a fight with ninja sent to kill him, Katsumoto throws a katana (Japanese sword), which spins end-over-end and impales an assailant. However, katana are not weighted properly for use as throwing weapons and due to the personal attachment and reverence samurai had for their swords, it is highly unlikely that sword-throwing would be part of their combat training (in fact, it’s just not true).

2. Algren is given four months of training in Japanese kenjutsu (swordfighting) during his
captivity, and is exposed to the concept of mushin (no mind). During that time, he becomes
capable of fighting an experienced samurai to a draw, and defeats multiple Japanese assailants during an assassination attempt in Tokyo. Although admittedly, there have been and probably are people of exceptional physical talent who show an unnatural aptitude for
learning martial arts (both Asian and non-Asian), keep this in mind–high-ranking samurai
warriors belonged to clans steeped in warrior tradition and began training as young children.
Furthermore, specialized skills would only be taught to a student who showed particular
dedication – the type proven by years of loyal service.

3. During his captivity, there is a scene in which Algren is given a traditional topcoat and
hakama (wide pleated pants). Somehow, without any instruction, he manages to get these on right. This is a nit-picky point, but I can tell you from personal experience that getting a
hakama on correctly can be a major ordeal for the inexperienced.

Mixed Messages

1. Algren kills a samurai during the film’s opening battle, a man revealed to be the husband
of Taka (Koyuki) and the brother of Katsumoto, and experiences absolutely NO CONSEQUENCES for his actions. In fact, Algren becomes adored by the children of the slain man and gains the affections of his wife, who allows Algren to wear the dead samurai’s armor during the climactic battle (She even tells Algren that it would be a great honor for him to do so). This has been defended by some film fans and critics as illustrative of the samurai family’s adherence to the bushido code (Respect for a fellow warrior, so I assume), but apparently it also means that Japanese people are devoid of normal human emotion or reactions to the death of a loved one as well.

2. During the film’s climactic battle, Algren takes up arms against the Meiji soldiers and
cold-bloodedly kills the American officer (Colonel Bagley, played by Tony Goldwyn) leading
them, his former commanding officer in the U.S. Union Army. Though these actions would be transparently criminal in the eyes of the US Consular authorities, to say nothing of Japanese officials, Algren apparently experiences NO CONSEQUENCES for his actions. In fact, in the film’s dramatic closing scene, he somehow gains surprise access to Emperor Meiji’s private chambers, carrying a sword (?), still allowed to wear a full dress US Army uniform, and delivers a stirring lesson to Emperor Meiji on being Japanese.

3. In the film’s closing scene, Algren retires to Katsumoto’s mountain village, presumably to settle down with Taka and live happily ever after. This despite the fact that we’re in the 19th century, mixed-race relationships were frowned upon, and the village would probably have been economically devastated by the fact that all the able-bodied young men were gunned down by the Meiji army.

What the F**k?

1. Algren, who is portrayed in the film’s opening as a burned-out drunk disgusted by war,
suddenly goes gladiator during the first battle scene, and manages to survive against multiple samurai armed with spears and katana by wielding nothing but a flagpole.

2. Algren is a trained frontier soldier, with combat experience during the Civil War and
having served under General Custer. Yet, once his wounds have finally healed while in
captivity, he never once tries to escape.

3. Ninja assassins sent by Omura (a pro-Western politician-industrialist working for the
Meiji government, played by Masato Harada) attack Katsumoto’s village base during a nighttime raid. The ninja presumably manage to evade the notice of Katsumoto’s battle-hardened samurai sentries, as well as Katsumoto himself. However, just before the assassins are able to get Katsumoto in their sights, only Algren (who presumably has no clue what a ninja is) spots them and warns Katsumoto.

4. During the final suicidal charge of Katsumoto’s samurai cavalry against the new
Meiji government’s army, the army unleashes a rapid barrage from a set of Gatling guns, mowing down everyone in its path. However, despite being in the front line of the attack, Algren is the only one not mortally wounded.

5. In the final confrontation in the Emperor’s chambers, Emperor Meiji (Shichinosuke Nakamura),overcome with emotion, blurts out a heartfelt plea in English (?).

Irony of Ironies

1. “The Last Samurai” portrays Katsumoto and his samurai rebels as the good guys, apparently because of their reverence for tradition and adherence to the samurai code of bushido. The pro-Western modernizers, embodied by Omura are portrayed as the bad guys. Conveniently left out is the fact that the “traditional” samurai-ruled culture included a rigid caste system, oppression of peasants, and clan warfare; while the modernization forces brought about constitutional government, rule of law, standardized education and modern industry.

2. The real-life Saigo Takamori became a martyr to right-wing traditionalists in Japan
after being felled by the Meiji army during the actual Satsuma rebellion. In the following
decades, it was likeminded pro-Japanese, anti-Western militarists who took control of the
government, and used the code of bushido to justify military conquest of China, Korea,
and Southeast Asia, leading up to the attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor in 1941. (Kind of makes Algren’s participation in a suicide charge against pro-Western military forces kind of

3. “The Last Samurai” debuted on December 5 in the US, taking over the number one box-office position domestically at $24.4 million. That same weekend, on December 7, the US observed the 62nd anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

hail, thunder, and lightning show last night!

Sunny, thanks for the adobo links. hhmm, what makes adobo italian - the balsamic vinegar? looking forward to adobofest someday! And since I just received my copies of Going Home to a Landscape and just read Veronica Montes' story, it was nice reading her adobo entry, too.


A Devinagar Sufi story from Roshni Rustomji's The Braided Tongue:
"Once upon a time, Miriam met Allah as He was walking in the Garden of Paradise. Allah was unhappy with the human race because brothers and sisters were wounding and maiming and killing each other. She comforted Him and walked with Him. He blessed Her for Her words and Her smile and said, "Miriam, since you have walked the seven important steps of wisdom and friendship with Me, I will always remember you and the comfort and kindness you brought to Me." And she said, "I will make you a special cloak for You and it will comfort You whenever You need comfort."

"Allah wears the cloak whenever He judges a soul.
"And this is what He does. Allah summons the dead person to come into His presence. Then He picks up the person in His right hand...the dead person has to stand in Allah's open palm and speak about the life he or she led on earth. Everything has to be told. Nothing can be hidden...and when at last the story ends, Allah says very gently, "You are My creation. You can now rest." And no matter how good or bad or mediocre or interesting the person has been, Allah smiles at that person with great tenderness and love. He then very carefully places the person inside the wide refuge of the sleeve of His cloak. he protects the soul from the harshness of the world's judgment that does not have even one grain of sand's understandng of Allah's will, His plans for the universe. And Allah says to the soul, "Rest now in Miriam's gift. Her Cloak of Compassion. Go now where you will remember how to dance once again to the music and the rhythms you have forgotten how to hear, the music and the rhythms that have disappeared even from your imagination. Take refuge within compassion." (p.175).

Sunday, December 07, 2003

The wilyfilipino called for Adobo meditations; here goes--

I belong to an Eating culture. (Forget momentarily
that to some academics the word
“culture” is meaningless or suspect).
Eating is a communal ritual.
Rituals enact the Ineffable and Sacred.

Here there are still traces of a seamless world.
Sacred and secular are not separate categories.
Eating is sacred. As sacred as praying.

As I peel and crush garlic cloves,
Cube the pork, pour the soy,
Grind the peppercorn,
Dowse with vinegar, crush bay leaf

I am praying.
To my mother, my grandmother
To my anitos.

As I watch my adobo simmer
I forget that I am modern,
An atomistic individual
Exiled to a white suburb.

As I write about adobo
I wonder if those of us
Who blog about it
Are engaged in a ritual

Recovery of the sacred, cooking to
Fan the fire of communion
And memory in this
Winter of a place.

As I make garlic fried rice
Slice cucumber and tomatoes
Fry an egg sunny side up
Refry the pork, reduce the sauce

As I sit down to eat alone
I think of my Mom.
She always sent a bowl of food
Next door, in the spirit of sharing

The bounty of our table.
If I sent the same next door
They will probably toss it
Down the drain.

They will feel patronized
Feel awkward, show their
Lack of grace.
Why bother?

here's a beautiful poem about conjunctions.

Thanks to Jean for pointing me to another Filipino Ifugao word for soul: gimokud.

According to the myth, the soul, or gimokud, goes about its customary existence at night, and at the rising of the sun, plucks a leaf, twists it into a vessel suggesting the form of a boat, and seats itself upon it, waiting until the hot rays of the sun dissolve it into water. Only when darkness spreads over the land of the dead, does the gimokud resume its active existence.

I like the idea of darkness spreading over the land of the dead. That the gimokud waits for this darkness before it resumes its life suggests to me the need to love the land, the dead, and the darkness that passes over it. Love awakened by darkness. Love awakened by death.

Friday, December 05, 2003

I am so proud of the PInay sister-poets...see photos of their latest poetic invasion of Citylights in SF.

On one of my listserves, we have been discussing religion and politics. This post is from a white, male Christian missionary based in England; I thought I'd share his reflections here on "Why God must be white, male, Republican, and Protestant":


I have always felt that a strong identification with a
specific denomination reflects one's identity being in
the organisation rather than in God/Jesus. For
instance, I could attack God and not too many people
would be too offended, but attack George Bush and
Republican values and Fundamentalists would be willing
to string me up for blasphemy.

Fundamentalists mark strong, definite boundaries
around their 'religion'. These boundaries are in
reality their personal identities and reflect a basic
need for an 'us' v. 'them' distinction. For some
reason, so many Fundamentalists I have known define
themselves as much by what they are not as they are by
what they are. Their God language then allows them to
baptise 'their' identity with ulitmate authority
meaning no one can challenge them because, in their
mind, they are representing God. To make matters
worse any perceived challenge to their identity is
viewed as an attack on God thereby making them
martyrs. Add to this the strong American values of
power and money and their God is one gives them power
and money. In their minds Bush stands for God (a
horrible irony) and the war in Iraq is God's way of
dealing with sin i.e. anything that is a perceived
threat to America. A challenge to America represents
a challenge to God. If it can be shown that America
has shot itself in the foot then all the basic
questions of God will be brought into question. This
is why many of us are to be feared - because we just
might actually make sense and then what would happen to
their god, made in their image.

Most American Christians on the Right simply cannot
afford to believe that the America and US government
aren't at the apex of social evolution - all
sanctioned and led by God of course. To suspect
otherwise would challenge everything including their
belief in God. God must be a white, anglo-saxon,
male, Republican, Protestant, because if he is not,
than he isn't like anything most American Christians
believe in. That is why Bush/American government
simply must be right because if they're not - what
would the alternative be? Scary for most I would say.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Realization at 11 am, Wednesday, while reading from Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole:

I'm shy around poems.
They make me cry.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I'm already feeling withdrawal pains now that Eileen has decided to go on blogleave to tend to her new babies...


For a good cyber-tour of South of Market/San Francisco with radical critique, check out Barbara Jane.. I am hoping to come for the lantern parade on Monday, Dec. 15...as i am proud to be Kapampangan and my town's famous giant Christmas lanterns are on display at Zeum and will be lighted at St Patrick's Church on the 15th. Right, Barb?

Rhett has an interesting take on Philippine-style democrazy with the candidacy of yet another movie star, FPJ, Ang Panday (his movie hero character). The "panday" (craftsperson)is one of the four major roles in the barangay/village; the others are tribal chief, shaman/babaylan, bayani(protector). The recycling of the "panday" role in FPJ's movies is what's feeding his campaign myths. I've never seen FPJ's movies (or Erap's) but this must be the equivalent of Arnie's "Terminator" movie role. If Phil. politics mimics US politics, FPJ was probably thinking: if Arnie can, so can I. But you know, Rhett? I was told that the Japanese will withold further capital investments in the Phil. because FPJ has killed a lot of Japanese soldiers in his movies...(ok, that was an inside joke!).

Monday, December 01, 2003

It's as well if you are frightened of solitude. It's a sign that you have come to the moment of your birth.

-Hélène Cixous (thanks to Ernesto Priego for this quote and Jean for pointing me to his website).

I have a woman friend who treks to the mountains once a year during summer to be alone. She camps by herself in an isolated area in the Sierras. She tells me that she sheds off her clothes, drapes herself on the warm slab of rocks in a horizontal oblation to the godsky. I admire her courage to be alone and naked in the wilderness. But if this act doesn't arouse fear, then is it still a moment of birthing?

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