Blogging and Last Day

I just wanted to remind you all that Tuesday is the last day of class and you must have your blog posts up by that time.  I encourage you all to begin drafting your posts early and to make sure you know how blogging works; if there’s some problem getting your posts on the blog, email me your text and images by 9 pm Monday (tomorrow) night and I will post them.

Also, remember that you must present your blog to the class, so bring the text you’re writing about (or part of it, if you can’t or don’t want to bring the whole thing) in to share in your presentation.

Finally, we’ll finish discussing the Adichie book as it relates to national romance, postmodernity, and storytelling. You can have until this Friday to complete the paper, but bring in a passage you are thinking of writing about.

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Assignment for Thursday 7/8 and Blog Ideas

Great job today; remember, again, that this stuff is very tricky to talk about, particularly postmodernism because people are still trying to decide what it is.

For Thursday, think about the Adichie “Danger of a Single Story” clip. Here it is if you want to watch it again:

A few questions to consider: What is the modernist/revolutionary answer to the danger of the single story (i.e., how does Fanon ask and answer a similar question)?  What makes Adichie’s answer postmodern?

And then with regard to the book: How is Adichie addressing the question of the danger of the single story? How does Half of a Yellow Sun address the question of ownership of stories, and questions of power, and narrative? What is the role of the artist in the struggle for decolonization/revolution?

Other things to consider about the novel: how is the novel connecting romance and nation/nationalism? What can we do with the novel’s successful and failed romances?

You are welcome to consider any of these questions for your final response paper, which is due next Tuesday 7/13, the last day of class. Feel free to bring in a passage or two if you’d like to talk about it and start thinking about your paper.

Also for Tuesday, you should have your blog entries ready.

Again, some preliminary ideas:

Lynn Hirschberg’s recent hatchet job in the New York Times Magazine on Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. (for this option you should probably listen to a song or two of hers)

Walter Salles’ 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries

Steven Soderbergh’s 2008 Film Che

Also,  you could write about this thing I just heard about which is a controversy over the pro-Palestine site in second life; this would take a little bit of research, but you can definitely ask me if you need more historical information on either Palestine or Second Life.

If you wanted to focus on continued US imperialist discourses and policies (which you will have to think about in any case), you could write about the US’s continued possession of the Guantanamo prison and the territory on which it rests; Obama’s halfhearted attempts to close it; and the options discussed by the US media if the prison did actually close someday, among other places in this column by (neo)liberal NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (hint: returning the land to Cuba is not one of them).

I will keep thinking of options, but definitely write me if anything else interests you.

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Sample Blog Entry

Here’s a blog entry I actually wrote a few months ago when I was in Bolivia, slightly modified for the purposes of this class; we’ll talk a bit about it tomorrow.

Watching Avatar in La Paz

Last night I finally watched Avatar– a pirated copy, dubbed in Spanish, obviously not 3D, which was perhaps not ideal but fitting because this is the way people watch movies here. The film itself was pretty much how I thought it would be: colonization-as-romance narratives we’ve seen before in Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, etc. mixed with a halfhearted rehashing of man v. machine thematics enacted more memorably in  Terminator and The Matrix (the latter being far superior but nonetheless very influential), although was nice to see the U.S. army get its ass beat by the Na’vi with help from the entire fancifully-animated ecosystem.

I watched it with my housemate Luchi, who was was slightly more impressed than I was: as an artist she appreciated Cameron’s world-building skills, but she was concerned with the “caudillismo” of American soldier-turned-Na’vi-romancer/defender Jake’s call-to-arms. Actually, I tried to convince her, it’s far worse than caudillismo, because it’s (literally!) puppet caudillismo. Why on earth do they need a North American soldier in a borrowed body to tell them how to resist? Yeah, THAT has ever really happened in the history of anti-imperialist guerrilla warfare. If the history of the sixties has taught us one thing, I argued somewhat stridently, it’s that indigenous and otherwise oppressed people are perfectly capable of fighting for themselves; the idea that they need technology and ingenuity from “more developed” places is part of an ideology of progress that ultimately silences them. Even in the cases where the peasant/revolutionaries win, in this equation,  they lose, since a developmentalist ideal of liberation is imposed on them in place of any collectively determined vision of the good life.

The ethos of Avatar, then, unself-consciously depicts the process by which revolutionaries  internalize and absorb development discourse, making obvious the connection by having the same soldier who would save them through corporate/imperialist modernization save them through teaching them to fight against it. Even though the Na’vi pointedly refuse any and all development interventions, the tough-yet-tender American soldier (who in his previous career was surely helping children and freeing women, not kicking doors down at midnight to haul off and torture innocent people etc.) must teach them how to resist. Che’s fantasy of “the angel who has fallen into the zone” has always been just that, a fantasy. People know how to resist, they need support and solidarity.

Despite my predictable annoyance, I was interested in watching Avatar here because the comparisons between the Na’vi and Evo Morales have been ubiquitous: Evo has stood up to the U.S. government in significant ways, defending their connection to the natural world against, for example, the DEA’s “coca eradication” programs and other neoliberal imperialist projects; and MAS’ color is blue, following an interesting post-Cold War global color-reversal trend that perhaps signals the new new left’s (or, as Arturo Escobar posits here, the new post-leftist, post-development, and above all anti-imperialist politic which is most fully elaborated by Bolivian indigenista social movement politics ) focus on nature that Cameron also grasped, perhaps the reason the film has been embraced by colonized/oppressed people around the world, despite their lack of a an ex-G.I. savior to lead them (instead, in a depressingly yet predictable postmodern turn, they need an animated film to make the case of the urgency/reality of their struggle):

Evo himself went to see Avatar, in supposedly only the third movie-watching experience of his life, and commented that “the film contains a high degree of fantasy, but is at the same time a profound depiction of resistance against capitalism and the fight to defend the natural world.”

Leaving aside the already-remarked-upon postmodern ironies of a socialist/indigenist leader praising the “resistance against capitalism” and “fight to defend the natural world” in a (again, animated!) movie that cost over $300 million to make, Evo is right about the the film’s basic critique.  If we can, as Evo did, ignore the heroic American or dismiss him as window-dressing, mobilizing narratives like Avatar might disrupt the continued insistence that places like Bolivia “modernize” no matter what the cost to its land and people. This continued insistence comes even from liberal U.S. voices: a recent New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright on the possibilities of extracting lithium in Bolivia condescendingly calls Evo “a creature of his biography” with “a mystical attachment to coca,” calls Evo’s attempts at a social welfare state “out of date,” and quotes an opponent (one of an overwhelming number quoted in the article) saying “Evo is Aymara, and the Aymara see the world as a fight between good and evil, like ‘Star Wars.’ For him, the forces of good are coca growers and the coca leaf. The evil is the D.E.A. and the U.S.” It’s worth noting that a) Bolivia is not the country that formulated either star wars or ANY of the manichean “you’re with us or against us” justifications for pre-emptive war that define the era of U.S. hegemony; but that b) Evo was nearly beaten to death by D.E.A.-affiliated Bolivian troops for his work in the coca-growers union, so the shoe kind of fits here. See this excellent article by Suzanna Reiss to learn about how the Obama administration is, if anything, exacerbating the entirely imperialist–i.e. concerned much more with governments’ attempts to hold onto and redistribute their resources than with stemming drug distribution and consumption–drug war.

Anyway, the New Yorker article: Wright refuses to budge an inch from the developmentalist paradigm, lamenting Bolivia’s failure to emerge from its “pre-industrial cocoon”; worries openly that now that Evo has expelled the DEA, that “the drug trade” will “corrupt Bolivian society”; and, in perhaps the most disgusting and libelous move of the article, characterizes the entire cycle of anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberal uprisings of the early and mid 2000s as about silly age-old anti-Chilean hostilities. Nothing could be further from the truth: the vast majority of Bolivians are attempting to reject neoliberal capitalism on purpose, in order to (re)conceptualize ways of life not based on modernization, endless accumulation, and environmental destruction. At least James Cameron gets that.

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Assignment for Tuesday 7/6

Good job today. Your assignment is to review postmodernism (here are some pretty good charts that contrast modernist and postmodernist sensibilities: this one from Georgetown, and this one that’s more of a list of features ). Then try to apply some of the conceptual and historical frameworks to a reading of a passage from Gravity’s Rainbow, a 1973 postmodern novel by Thomas Pynchon. It’s very hard to describe the plot of this novel, but this bulb is hanging over an unnamed colonel as he gets a haircut:


Make an argument about the passage and postmodernity for your response paper.

Also, read at least 100 pages in Half of a Yellow Sun; try to read, actually, to page 195, which I think you should be able to do because it’s a really quick read. Think about what it has to do with modernization, and start thinking a bit about whether and how it’s postmodern.  And if you are totally lost reading the Pynchon, you are welcome to write about a passage from the Adichie book, thinking either about a) how the book is commenting on master narratives of development and progress or b) how the book is postmodern or has some postmodern features. And as always, you are welcome to send me thesis statements and/or email me with questions.

Also, I will talk in class on Tuesday about your final blog entry.

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Assignment for 7/1

For Thursday July 1, finish the García Márquez book if you haven’t already. Your next response paper will be due next Tuesday, July 6.

Then pick a passage from anywhere in the book about failed revolution. Type or photocopy and mark up your passage (notice at least 5 specific things–and hopefully more–about the language and structure) and bring it to class Thursday. Some things to think about:  what happens to make so many revolutionary missions (particularly those of Aureliano Buendía) fail? Why are they fighting in the first place? How can you connect these failures to what you know about revolution, nationalism, gender, and romance in the 1960s?

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Assignments for 6/24 and 6/31

Good job today. We’re dealing with some difficult concepts which we’ll keep coming back to.

This Thursday we’ll continue thinking about gender and development through a discussion of population control and the Bolivian radical film Blood of the Condor; your only reading assignment is to keep going in One Hundred Years of Solitude. On Tuesday we will resume our discussion of nationalism and the novel, thinking about the gendered, romantic, and developmentalist nationalist ideas advanced in the movie as well as revolutionary culture as outlined by Castro and others. Although I listed some readings on the syllabus, I think I’m going to just excerpt them for you in class since I’d really like you to focus on the novel.

For Tuesday, as we discussed, your third response paper is due. Pick a passage (anything but the first page) and do a close reading like we practiced in class; mark it up and write down all the details you can,  then formulate a thesis about García Marquez’s stance towards, or characterization of, technological progress and modernization.

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For 6/22

Thanks for all your response papers. For Tuesday, read as far as you can in the Garcia Marquez book; at least 100 pages, but if you can get further that’s great. I will post some discussion questions later in the weekend, so stay tuned.

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