Transcending Trauma

I found that the structure of The God of Small Things was somewhat similar to the structure of Beloved and was therefore successful in conveying a similar message. Both novels arbitrarily shift from past to present, similar to how past trauma from Ayemenem and repressed memories from Sweet Home emerge throughout the novels. Although trauma lingers in both novels, the characters are able to find ways of battling through and lessening the pain of their trauma. Sethe’s relationship with Paul D allows her to persevere through her trauma by keeping it in her memories but detatching herself from the painful aspects. 

Similar to Sethe and Paul D, Estha and Rahel are drawn to each other not only because they are twins but because of their shared trauma. Before Rahel and Estha reconnect, she marries Larry McCaslin, an American, but gets divorced because her “Emptiness” overwhelms her. In describing Rahel’s marriage, Roy writes:

He didn’t know that in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity

Estha is the one for Rahel because unlike Larry, he lived through the same traumatic experiences as Rahel and is able to understand her in a way that Larry cannot. Both novels communicate the idea that victims of shared trauma can transcend their experiences by using relationships with other victims to create a community of healers.

Is the Ethnic Food Aisle Convenient or Another Form of Segregation?

In recent years, we’ve seen less and less of the blatantly offensive caricatures of Asians and Asian-Americans in the media. The entertainment industry has recently been staying away from exaggerated stereotypes and has instead been striving to provide more accurate representation for Asians. We can, however, still see orientalism in more subtle indignities, specifically the ethnic food aisle of the supermarket.

Why is it that French and Italian food is never referred to as ethnic, but Indian and Chinese food almost always is? The pasta, sauces, and cheeses typically associated with Italian cusine can usually be found anywhere in the supermarket, so why is it that products like soy sauce and soba noodles are always found in the ethnic aisle?

Does the ethnic aisle really make grocery shopping more convenient or does it segregate select ethnic groups from the rest of the supermarket and reinforce their position as “the other”? It seems as though the foods of different ethnic groups become part of the general supermarket once they are integrated into American cuisine. But is it a good thing to integrate Chinese, Japanese, and Indian food into American cuisine or does it take away the culural significance from the dishes? I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question and would love to hear from other students who indentify with ethnic groups assigned to the ethnic aisle.

A Romantic Comedy That Is About More Than Romantic Love

Amélie is a romantic comedy filmed in over 80 Parisian locations by acclaimed director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The film captures the charm and mystery of Paris, and is also a true aristotelian comedy.

Amélie Poulain, the comic hero, is the only child of a doctor and a schoolteacher. When Amélie was a child, the only physical contact she had with her severe, reserved father was a monthly medical checkup. When Amélie was six, he decided that she had a serious heart defect, when in actuality, her heart would beat faster because she was so nervous of the rare contact with her father. He decided that because of her hard condition, she had to be home-schooled by her anxious, overreacting mother. Because she was so isolated from other children, Amélie developed a vivid imagination and became relatively comfortable with her solitude and with entertaining herself. The lives of her and her father take a turn for the worse, however, when her mother was fatally crushed by a suicidal tourist who jumped off of the roof of Notre Dame. Her father became severely depressed, and Amélie received even less affection and attention. 

One day, Amélie discovers a small box behind a wall in her bathroom that contains pictures and toys from the owner’s childhood. Amélie finds the box’s owner to return it and decides that if he is touched, she will devote her life to acts of kindness. When Amélie returns the box tears up about his childhood memories, and Amélie discovers that her act had inspired him to visit his estranged daughter and meet his grandson for the first time. 

Amélie encourages her father to travel for the first time by stealing his treasured garden gnome and giving it to her stewardess friend, who takes pictures of it all over the world. Amélie anonymously sends the pictures to her father, inspiring him to travel. Amélie helps a co-worker at the cafe, whose ex-boyfriend possessively spies on her all day, by  setting the ex-boyfriend up with another co-worker. Amélie steals her concierge’s letters from her deceased husband and creates a new letter in which he apologizes to his wife for his unfaithfulness. Amélie also avenges a friend by pranking his boss who constantly insults him. 

One day at the train station, Amélie sees Nino Quincampoix, a young man who finds delight in reconstructing torn-up pictures found underneath photo booths. Nino drops one of his photo albums in the station, and Amélie decides to return the album, but wants to meet him so she sets up clues for him to bring them together. Her efforts to woe him consume most of the film and she does not end up with him until the very end because they are both rather shy and idealistic. The film ends with the narrator prompting the audience to observe the remarkable things in life that occur every moment.

Amélie is not only about romantic love, Amélie believes in finding love in simple, everyday pleasures and helps other characters do that. Through her humorous interactions with others, Amélie demonstrates that love and amusement can be found in everything, including the seemingly insignificant aspects of life. Amélie is the truest example of an aristotelian comedy because with Amélie’s help, every character advances from a low place to a high place. The interest she takes in the lives of others is what allows each and every character to thrive. The film Amélie advocates for both romantic love and a love of and an appreciation for everyday things, contributing to the idea that even in a romantic comedy, comic success does not have to be romantic love.

The Carlyle Supremium

In an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act that focused on the streetwear brand Supreme, Hasan Minhaj examined hype culture and how hype streetwear is produced. Minhaj related hype culture to the concept of conspicuous consumption and pointed out the ridiculousness of the lucrative resale industry created by hype culture. Minhaj also brought attention to the fact that 50% of Supreme is now controlled by the Carlyle Group, a private equity linked to military profits and defense contracting.

To drive his point home, Hasan Minhaj launched the Carlyle Supremium website and sold a limited amount of parody Supreme white t-shirts with slogans referencing the Carlyle Group’s involvement in Supreme. Some shirts read “Private Equity”, “Oil and Gas”, “Defense Contracting” and “Corporation”. Minhaj parodizes hype culture further when he describes the shirts as a “collab” between Supreme and the Carlyle Group and “perfect for wearing 72 hours straight while you wait in line outside a store for a new product launch”.

The website features a home page and an about page where he says “Carlyle are the real ballers that people should know and love, and everyone should recognize them as the force behind the street-wear brand Supreme. Whether it’s oil production, defense contracting, or acquiring a stake in top fashion companies, Carlyle is absolutely killing it right now and people need to hear about it!” He utilizes dramatic irony in his public declaration of admiration for the Carlyle Group because the private equity has been actively trying to keep their connections secret.

Through his parody website, Minhaj suggests that hype culture is a nonsensical form of modern day conspicuous consumption and that it should not be as widely celebrated and participated in as it is. He also suggests that society should be more conscious of where our clothing is coming from and who we are really buying from.

Big Yellow Taxi

“Big Yellow Taxi”, which appears on Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon, invokes a sense of urgency about preventing environmental degradation. This song was written in the 1960s, around the time that environmental and preservation movements first gained momentum. Mitchell wrote “Big Yellow Taxi” on a trip to Hawaii. In an interview, she described the parking lot below her hotel window that inspired this song as a “blight on paradise”. This song is said to be the inspiration behind many cities curbing their urban development in favor of greenspace.

In the first verse, Mitchell sings:

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot

Mitchell critiques society’s tendency to replace undeveloped land with the asphalt and buildings. The paving of “paradise” represents the degradation of nature for commercialization. Describing the land as paradise stresses its natural beauty, whereas the mention of the pink hotel and the “swingin’ hot spot” communicate artificiality.

Mitchell continues to express her environmental concerns when she sings:

They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum

And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em

She argues not only for the protection of the environment, but also against capitalism. Mitchell’s jab at a “tree museum” is in reference to Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, which is a living museum of tropical plants. She uses the irony of this situation to illustrate a very real and imminent problem.

Through both the chorus and the final verse, Mitchell strays from her environmental call to action and political stances with a personal connection, leaving the song up for more than one interpretation:

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?

Late last night, I heard the screen door slam

And a big yellow taxi took away my old man

By describing the loss of either a lover or a father, she relates environmental issues to other genuine concerns of human beings. She illustrates that the loss of a loved one and the loss of a natural environment are actually very similar. She makes the issue more identifiable and relatable to those who do not believe they are directly impacted by loss of nature. Through her admiration of nature, criticism of capitalistic society, and personal loss, Joni Mitchell communicates to listeners that everyone should be concerned about the environment because everyone has something at stake. This song is nothing less than a poem because of because of how her convincing diction romanticizes environmentalism and her personal connections and experiences leave for open-endedness.

What is the Significance of Breast Milk?

*slight spoilers for Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon*

When first reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I tried my best to be a good Nabokovian reader and approach the novel as something brand new, but as the story progressed, I couldn’t help myself from drawing similarities between Beloved and Song of Solomon, another acclaimed novel of Morrison’s.

Not only do the novels have similar storytelling techniques and sentence structures, but they even share several central themes and motifs. Both novels have roots in slavery, even though they are both set in post-slavery America and have central characters who were born into freedom. Milkman, the great-grandson of a slave, tries to uncover his family history, whereas Sethe, a former slave, tries to hide her past as a slave from her children. 

There was one particular motif that I was quite surprised to find in both novels: breast milk. In Song of Solomon, Macon Dead III is given the nickname “Milkman” because when he was four years old, he was caught by a neighbor breastfeeding from his mother. His mother breastfeeds him for such a long time because it is the only physical intimacy she has with another human being. Their community views the exchange of breast milk between Milkman and his mother as inappropriate and incestual. In contrast, in Beloved, breastfeeding is seen as the ultimate expression of maternal love in an intimate and affectionate but not sexual way. 

“All I knew was I had to get my milk to my baby girl. Nobody was going to nurse her like me. Nobody was going to get it to her fast enough, or take it away when she had enough and didn’t know it. Nobody knew that she couldn’t pass her air if you held her up on your shoulder, only if she was lying on my knees. Nobody knew that but me and nobody had her milk but me” (19).

In Beloved, milk symbolizes a mother’s love, yet in Song of Solomon, it represents a mother’s impure desires. In both cases, the mother’s milk provides nourishment to the children, but the intentions are completely different. I find that Morrison’s ability to use different connotations of motifs interchangeably across books is the most sophisticated form of symbolism there is. Is Nabokovian reading really the best way of reading if it prevents people from making connections like this, or did making this connection somehow negatively impact my reading of Beloved?

What’s the Point of the Vignettes?

Throughout Saeed and Nadia’s story, seemingly unrelated vignettes interrupt the storyline, just for the plot to be picked up again within a few pages. It was not until a few chapters in that I realized that each vignette portrayed a different experience with the magical doors that Saeed and Nadia would eventually travel through. Still, I could not quite comprehend why Hamid felt the need to diverge from the storyline so frequently. Perhaps it is because each vignette not only provides a different perspective of the migrant experience but also helps further the plot by serving as a parallel to Saeed and Nadia’s story.

The vignettes paint migration as not just a means of escaping war and peril but as an opportunity to find the ideal life for oneself. A man in England contemplates suicide before discovering a door to Namibia and creating a new life for himself there. Regardless of how geographically desirable a location may seem, suffering can always find a way to manifest itself. Hamid depicts migration as a tool to break free from both physical and mental suffering and suggests that we are not as bound to our locations of origin as we may believe we are. In another vignette, an old man from Brazil finds love in Amsterdam and brings his Dutch love interest back to Rio de Janeiro for a visit. The nomadic lifestyle that these doors provide is what allowed the two men to discover their love for each other.

Nadia and Saeed could have had a stable life in England, but they both felt incomplete and were inclined to relocate once again to Marin, California. Through the vignettes and Saeed and Nadia’s journey, Hamid communicates that the reason for migrating can be as grave as fleeing for one’s life and can be as simple as craving new experiences.

Parallels Between “The Stranger” and “No Exit”

For the past week or so, I have had discussions about existentialism for two periods each day. In my AP French class, we just finished reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. No Exit is play about three deceased characters who are punished for their actions on Earth by being locked in a room together for eternity. The three characters become entangled in a love triangle and each create a personal Hell for the two others. While reading the play, I struggled to connect it to Camus’ The Stranger and the existentialist discussions we had in class. I was not sure how the play’s underlying theme- “L’enfer, c’est les autres” or “Hell is other people”- is applicable to the argument that the meaning of life is life itself. I could not comprehend how these two seemingly unrelated ideas were derived from the same philosophy.

After speaking with my French teacher about some of these thoughts, I now understand that Hell is other people because what we fear most and loathe most is the judgement of others. The idea is not that other people are hell because they can be annoying or rude; the idea is that other people are hell because of how they make us feel about ourselves. Existentialism is being free from social constructs and the judgement of others that reinforces those constructs. In No Exit, the characters’ damnation is an eternity of seeking approval from others and never receiving it. Other people cannot provide your life with meaning. I think that meaning is something you have to define for yourself.

Although I agree with existentialism to some extent, I have had quite a hard time practicing the philosophy. I have found that the most significant deterrent that is preventing me from embracing existentialism is in fact my fear of being judged by others. I think that I have internalized too many social constructs to be a true existentialist, but I am open to becoming more self aware like Camus’ Meursault or Sartre’s Ines.

Variations in Human Nature on Different Planets

I found that Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” was by far the most outlandish and unconventional short story that our class read. I still cannot seem to wrap my head around the implantation of Tlic eggs into the Terran hosts. What I found the most jarring though was actually how accepting the humans were of their submissive role to the Tlics. 

Throughout human history, humans have always managed to find and seize new things that were not there for the taking. For centuries, imperialism was second nature to many powerful nations. The arrival of European powers was always followed by the appropriation of land and resources and the forced assimilation of natives. I found it quite surprising that the humans had not attempted to subject the Tlics to their own influence upon immediate arrival on the Tlics’ land. Butler reveals that there had been Terran resistance to Tlic power in the past; however, the resistance seems more likely to be over the reproduction arrangement than an unsuccessful attempt at imperialization. Perhaps the first Terrans to arrive really had tried to colonize the Tlics’ land but failed and were written out of history as a result.

Regardless of whatever the backstory might have been, the Terrans’ obedience is still surprising because of how unbalanced their relationship is in favor of the Tlics. Human beings have always viewed themselves as the single most important and developed species, so it is quite out of character that they would submit to another species.