?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
19 January 2009 @ 07:09 pm
While I drink my spiced chai tea latte  
A juggernaut, yeah, that's a great big machine
from Star Wars -- or maybe a truck
Avatars are who you are in a game
and karma, we all know, is luck.

Kali's a demon; Dan Simmons should know
He went to Calcutta one year
and Soma's a drug out of Huxley. It's so
very great how inventive they were!

---

Sparked by some of the conversation on the What is Cultural Appropriation thread. And oddly not entirely consistent with what I've said about it. Apparently my writing brain doesn't entirely agree with my analyst brain.

ETA: I'm very sorry to do this but I'm disabling comments for now. turning off email notification on this thread and won't be checking  back on it for several days.   I  meant to disable comments, but then realized that would hide the comments that were already made, which isn't my intent at all.

This is all me and my silly head -- I need to work on a paper and won't if I keep wondering if people have said anything here.  So I  need to forbid myself lj till the paper's done.
 
 
Current Mood: amusedamused
 
 
 
Rachel M Brownrachelmanija on January 20th, 2009 06:09 am (UTC)
I thought Song of Kali was incredibly racist. All the Indians are either evil or victims or hate their country, and Calcutta is depicted as the worst hellhole on Earth - not just a noirish crime-ridden city, but as the physical embodiment of pure incomprehensible evil.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on January 20th, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
Yeah, the amazon reviews are funny if you like your humor black and bitter. It's all non-Indians going "What a great description of that hellhole" coupled with Indians going "This is incredibly racist and offensive and ignorant" and being ignored.
Itinerant hacker adventuress: grey hand-drawn crowthewronghands on March 7th, 2009 03:41 am (UTC)
(Here via papersky.) I couldn't agree more. I was *horrified* by that book. I picked it up in the English-language used bookstore in Ho Chi Minh City, because I thought it would be cool to read something about India. (Had I realized who the author was, I wouldn't have bothered, but for whatever reason, the name didn't twig.) It sounded a bit more horror than my usual tastes, but I thought it was worth a little creepy. Epic, epic fail. It was "Heart of Darkness" bad. It is the only time in my life that I've ever thrown a book away... but I certainly wasn't keeping it, and I didn't want to return it to used bookstore circulation, either.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on March 14th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
Yeah, I ... *shakes head wordlessly*
I haven't read it, but... I don't feel too bad about judging a book unread in this case.

It's not like I'm starry-eyed when I read or write about India -- I am not blind to the inequity and staggering poverty so many people face. But I think books like this make it harder to face that in a nuanced way.
Itinerant hacker adventuress: grey hand-drawn crowthewronghands on March 18th, 2009 06:41 am (UTC)
I think it may be the incorrect "I know something about that already" resistance that people have when they have a little knowledge. First exposure, disproportionate impact, and then resistance to hearing "you're wrong" because now they're personally vested in their opinion somehow, and more prone to be defensive. These things can hang around in the hindbrain for years. For example, there were no mangos in my childhood. I had only encountered them through a children's book that said they were so juicy that you had to eat them in the bathtub. Twenty years later, a friend of mine had mangos fresh from the market. Hearing that I had never had one, he asked if I wanted to split one with him. I thought he was propositioning me! After a few seconds I realized where I got that idea, and that my friend probably was not trying to entice me into the bath with him. He laughed until his stomach hurt when I explained why I'd looked so poleaxed.

I suspect that there are plenty of less innocent examples of initial misinformation leading to wildly incorrect conclusions by knee-jerk, and yes, then later discussions are much harder to frame in a useful fashion. Even if you remove the underlying incorrect "facts", there's still the emotional impression and way of thinking about it that's often more subtly difficult to unlearn.

So, yeah, IAWTC.

Is there anything that you'd particularly recommend along these lines that isn't appalling? I read Ashok Banker's five volume retelling of the Ramayana and very much enjoyed it, but I am always shamelessly open to new recommendations. "Better than Dan Brown" is not a high bar by *any* means, but I'd love something that was, well, good. [grin]
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on March 18th, 2009 10:24 am (UTC)
Hm.
I may not be a good recommnder for you, becaus the Banker books were not my cuppa tea. I found the voice adventure-story bland and culturally muddled (lots of translatable words not translated, together with Rama saying "dude" or something of the sort, just put me off).

What lines are you thinking of recs along? Myth retelling specifically, or anything Indian and grounded in or influnced by the culture? I'd recommend Vandana Singh's stories for the latter (and some of mine! *grin*) but I'm really not sure about actual retold mythology.

I also really like the first two books of Kara Dalkey's Blood of the Goddess series (Goa and Bijapur), but the third (Bhagavati) has proven almost impossible to find.

(Oh, and -- It's Dan Simmons at fault here, not Brown!)
Itinerant hacker adventuress: hoodie on vikingbeastthewronghands on March 18th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
Re: translation, that's always a hard call. (I am perpetually reminded of Hofstadter's "Le Ton Beau de Marot" and its many many renderings of the same source material.) I'm kind of in favor of flavoring the text with words from the original language(s) even when they are easily translatable if it adds to the feel of the world, but don't like it when the characters fall into that cheap and inexplicable arena of speaking perfect English except for the pathological need to say "yes" and "no" in their own source language. So it's fuzzy. "Dude", however, I could see as being pretty jarring.

I like myth retelling, but I was thinking the broader scope of "Indian and grounded in or influnced by the culture". I am generally not fond of horror (it didn't bother me as much until I worked a pretty grisly job, now I can get nightmares), but have fairly broad tastes other than that. I recently finished Chitra Divakaruni's "Mistress of Spices" and enjoyed that as well -- I liked it for being vividly written with a strongly characterized protagonist whom I liked. (Books where I hate every single character, no matter how well written, are harder for me to enjoy.) I'll check out the authors above (and your stories!) -- thanks!

Re: wrong Dan, oops, my error! That's what I get for commenting in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks for catching it.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on March 18th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
There are so many varieties of perfect English that there'sno such thing as "neutral" perfect English. I am sensitive to dialect, me, and American English does not sound like English. It sounds like American English. And, well, if one wants one's characters to sound American fine, but if one also keeps a lot of Sanskrit vocabulary, then it reads to me like Disney Does India.

Subtleties of sentence structure and word choice give dialectal and register information, and those were all over the map in those books. To me, that is a lack of control over the craft.

You might also like Mary Anne Mohanraj's Bodies in Motion -- a book of interconnected short stories about two families that left Sri Lanka for the US. What I particularly love, besides the cultural grounding, is that all the stories stand alone, but some color how you read others by giving you other viewpoints on characters.

There is no speculative element in that, incidentally.
Itinerant hacker adventuress: polite raventhewronghands on March 20th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
Ah, yeah, dialect isn't one of the things that most easily throws me off when reading for fun -- I might notice, but it's unlikely to ruin my enjoyment unless it's caricature-level bad, or to the point of actually being offensive. (For example, Gambit's bad Cajun accent in the X-Men doesn't even bother me, and I grew up around those.) But I'm a lot less versed in Indian dialects, so I'm sure that I'm not noticing places where it'd be jarring to someone more familiar.

Oh, I've read Mary Anne Mohanraj's stuff before, but not that one. I'll check it out, thanks! I often enjoy that sort of multilayered interconnected storytelling. (At least, when it's a sort of washover effect, rather than the awkward kludge of "no it was all a dream" style retelling. Ugh.)
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on March 20th, 2009 08:07 am (UTC)
It's the washover :)

And yeah, that's a biggish difference in our reading, then. I am hypersensitive to dialect. Partly because I am familiar with... well, call it four... major dialects of English, and over a dozen different accents. Every group I'm in gets giggles over my "weird" mixed-up English.

I also have some notion of several languages, though I haven't used any except English in so long that I cannot claim competence. Basic passive understanding, at least, though.

I'm also a linguist :)

So... yeah.
Itinerant hacker adventuress: polite raventhewronghands on March 20th, 2009 08:52 am (UTC)
I get arched eyebrows at my accent, but for the most part not over turns of phrase. Being from the South originally, people expect me to have a much more pronounced accent than I do. It really only still comes out when I'm tired, angry, or talking to other Southerners, though. The rest of the time, I'm told that I sound Canadian, or occasionally, British. I blame this in part on my Bostonian relatives, and in part on my live-in partners' accents. My ex whom I lived with for years is Scottish, my current cohabiting partner is Australian. It's probably a mercy that I don't pick up accents more easily.

The multiple language thing never really hit my own accent or made me particularly sensitive to others, though. I wonder if that's related to my near-inability to hear tone in tonal languages. (I had the worst difficulty with that in China, Vietnam, and Thailand. I had my handy phrasebooks and did my best, but was almost always reduced to pointing at what I was trying to say and looking apologetic. In countries with less tonal languages, I can usually at least make myself basically understood even if no one would ever take me for a native speaker.) It seems like it would make sense that a lack of sensitivity/awareness/ability to perceive that, even when trying, would make me likely to be less sensitive to dialect in general.

Re: linguist, one of my closest friends is a professor of linguistics. I'll have to ask her how much her profession bleeds over into her enjoyment while reading -- I'd be unsurprised if she weighted it more strongly, as you do. (Although that worries me a bit -- we've been reading Borges to each other out loud, and I know I've been mangling the excerpts in languages that I don't even vaguely speak. And there are a lot of them. I hope it's not all fingernails on chalkboard to her!)
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on March 20th, 2009 09:07 am (UTC)
There's apparently also a genetic basis to tone sensitivity.

But also, I left India at age 4 and was exposed to multiple dialects and acccents (and languages) on a daily basis from then on. And really even before that, though in a less pronounced way for English.

My parents live in Scotland, and one thing I love is that they'll say things like "Nae bother" in their almost-standard-Indian accent.

Itinerant hacker adventuress: geese what's thatthewronghands on March 21st, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
Re: genetic basis, oh, that's really interesting. [runs off to Google] I'd been really trying to work on it, but I clearly was just appallingly bad at it. I felt rude.

Re: "nae bother", that is awesome.

My linguist friend, when consulted, says that her general English training can sometimes have the same throwing-out-of-enjoyment effect when reading, and that typos in published material or awkwardly written work drive her up the wall. Fortunately for me, my mispronunciations don't seem to be as bad as I had feared. [grin] Having grown up in a very diverse urban environment, she says that she notices dialectal mashings, but tends to chalk that up to mixed dialects through similar exposure unless it's glaringly inconsistent with what's known about the character. (Now I want to feed her Banker and see if she's also annoyed. [grin] What else are friends for?)

Speaking of friends, do you mind if I add you? I've been enjoying our conversation.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on March 22nd, 2009 03:38 am (UTC)
I've also talked to several linguist/writers who say that the increasd sensitivity to language really helps with writing, so that's not just me either...

I'd be delighted if you add me! Only, do be patient with me because I am currently intimidated by my friends list and thus haven't been adding people back unless I already know them or their work -- and I think I have missed some of those. Sometime in the next month or so I'll be going through it and getting up to date. I hope.
(no subject) - thewronghands on March 22nd, 2009 06:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on March 18th, 2009 10:25 am (UTC)
Oh and...
I'm sure you're right about misinformation and knee-jerk reactions :)