Maps

I have Things about which I would like to Blog.

Unfortunately, I’m exhausted so I apologize in advance if this post is a little disjointed.

But first … MAPS!

 

Map picture

 

 

Isn’t it pretty? I for one am very proud of my new-found technological prowess.

Yes, this is a point-by-point map of my Indian journey thus far. Looking at it this way, it’s pretty amazing. Googlemaps tells me that if I were to go straight from all of these places, it would take me 3 days and 4 hours. But knowing Indian time, it would actually take me more like 5 days.

Maps are certainly amazing things. They tell you so much about a place, without even telling you that much. It would be really extra cool if this map were topographical, with notes about vegetation and wildlife. Perhaps when I’m more tech-savvy (give me a couple months and a better internet connection). But this map gives you only a glimpse at the possible cultural differences between the places I’ve been. Obviously, mountain culture is going to develop very differently from desert culture. But how?

Culture develops so much from our environment. I’ve found in India that I am very aware of the environment – ecosystems, temperature, water, etc. I’m less aware of the environment while living in the Twin Cities, but the city has its own form of ecosystem (think: transit system culture, Big Box stores vs. the corner shop, many different cultures living together, and the random wildlife that can live in urban conditions). Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how culture evolves – how values that different cultures develop are directly related to their environment.

Mountain temples where people worship source water. Jungle villages where people believe the livelihood-sustaining trees were given to their ancestors by the gods. Desert culture that evolved around water preservation – and thus the existence and dependence on different kinds of camel.

How did the environment, the perception of a wilderness ripe for the taking, shape and evolve dominant American culture to this day?

Ok, now we’re getting political.

But think about it.

Culture is shaped by land: humans gradually adapt to the challenges faced by their environments. History is shaped by land: who has control of it, who doesn’t, and how both are using it. Development is shaped by land: what resources people can use to further propel themselves into modernity – or how much they would have to pay to ship resources from across the world, not to mention the historical and cultural trends of land use.

Mathematically:

Land / (Culture + History + Development) = Socio-Economic Processes?

If so, then:

( Land / (Culture + History + Development) ) ^ Oppression = Social Injustice?

These are working hypotheses that I’m sure would make an actual mathematician cringe. Also: I am aware that question marks are not mathematical symbols, but felt that my usually rudimentary understanding of the science of numbers begged there to be question marks.

What other variables have I left out of my equations?

**

My research makes me think of these things constantly. My research on land rights, displacement, oppression, social/environmental justice, coupled with my own experience as an Outsider in an Unfriendly City has been a particularly difficult partnership to navigate.

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Real Life Update

Today is going to be such a marathon! I’m trying to get in nine hours of research (done six already this morning, three in the afternoon), because I need to make up some hours for not being able to do them on Saturday.

My mom is coming to visit, which will be fun! We’re going to the Farmer’s Market, then probably grab some lunch, then take a bus trip somewhere (potentially Harriet Island), and then out for Indian Food for dinner! It is quite exciting! But that means that I won’t be able to get in my usual six hours of research on Saturday, thus I need to make up the hours in the next two days.

Contrary to how I was feeling about research during yesterday’s panic attack, it went very well this morning. I have FINALLY outlined an actual argument (after about 17 pages of brainstorming, might I add … good lord), and am just going to keep writing. I also started to read (again, finally) Edward Said’s “Culture and Imperialism.” Remind me again why I haven’t read Said before now? Oh, that’s right: for no good reason.

You know you should be a professor when: You pick up a book of theory, and decide that while you are reading it for a purpose, it is in fact a good bedside book.

Yes, my nerd has reached that level.

In other news, I’ve been dieting again! There aren’t really rules to the diet, and I think that’s why it’s working. Every meal/snack, I am just making the conscious decision to eat things that will make me feel good. As much as pie might taste good, I will feel guilty for HOURS. So I’m cutting back on the guilt by not doing things that make me feel guilty. Make sense? I think so. I’ve also been keeping a food journal, to look more critically about what I’ve been eating and hopefully keep myself accountable. It’s been working thus far.

I have also finally mastered the art of Thai peanut pasta. Found a new recipe, and it was delicious. AND I have leftovers that I can eat for dinner. I really like cooking kind of complicated food, and especially love it when I make something that I realize I would pay $10 in a restaurant to eat.

I’ve also been exercising fairly frequently. A friend recently suggested that I break up research every once in a while with something like sit-ups or push-ups. Something that will get the blood flowing again. I’ve been kind of incorporating that into the research routine, but haven’t been doing as well.

I did, however, discover that there’s a yoga studio blocks from where I live. It’s really good, and is actually exercise. I am sore today (in a very good way) from yoga on Tuesday. AND it’s a “suggested donation” of $8 per lesson. So that’s been awesome. I’m finding that I really, really like the post-heavy-exercise feeling. Not so much while I’m doing it, but I like the aftereffects.

Tonight I’m going to Baha’i services tonight, and so I think that my next post will probably be about spirituality and exploration and such.

On Reading Legend in Fanon

Warning: What follows is an initial reaction to the opening chapters of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skins, White Masks.” I have not got past Chapter One, though I fully intend to read this book in its entirety.

Rambles, race-talk, post-colonial theory, and a relation to the Arthur Project follow.

**

After giving my presentation on my research last week, I realized that my study of the post-colonial implications of my project were severely lacking. I set aside today in my research schedule to begin to bridge that gap, as well as to collect more sources. I began today with a book that is generally discussing the use of literature in post-colonial theory, and how to better analyze literature from this perspective. But this felt far too abstract. So I moved to read the author that many consider the instigator of post-colonial theory: Frantz Fanon.

Fanon was born in 1925, and died of Leukemia in 1961, but his legacy stands firm in post-colonial and cultural theory. A native of Dominique, Fanon became a psychiatrist after studying in France. He used much of his professional writing career to analyze the psychological affects of colonization on both the imperial forces and the colonized. His two most famous works are “Black Skins, White Masks” (which I began reading today) and “The Wretched of the Earth.” I have read selections from these books before, but have been meaning to read both books in their entirety.

The premise of “Black Skins, White Masks” is basically the book in which Fanon introduces and explains his theories on the psychology of colonization. In the introduction to my edition of the book, Kwame Anthony Appiah states that there are three intertwined themes in Fanon’s writing:

1. Critique of ethnopsychiatry, which aimed to provide an accoutn of the mental life of colonized peoples, and the Eurocentrism of psychoanalysis

2. A dialogue with Negritude, then the dominant system of thought among black francophone individuals

3. The development of a political philosophy for decolonization that starts with an account of the psychological harm that colonization had produced.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, in the forward to the 2008 Grove Press edition

Negritude was a philosophical theory developed by black intellectuals in the 1930s. These writers’ fundamental beliefs were that the African diaspora could come together around common black heritage, arguing that this was the best tool to use to fight against French dominion. Fanon has so far argued that black people in African colonies, at the time of his writing, should focus on a “progressive” agenda of adapting modern European culture and philosophical ideas. Again, I haven’t finished the book so I’m not sure how this aspect of his argument will evolve.

I am not sure whether I entirely agree with this. I recognize that my moment in time, and my identity as a white, middle-class woman from the United States, places me in a position that is very far removed from the experiences and political climate in which Fanon was writing. At the same time, I think that there is something inherently problematic with writing that an oppressed people should take on the philosophies of the conqueror – in a way, isn’t that also another form of colonization? And yet, to be able to use the arguments of the oppressor against them, to show the blatant hypocrisies of the colonial hegemony, is a powerful political move.

(Note: I’m not talking about the arguments of white allies in the cause of decolonization – that kind of dialogue is important and necessary. What I am talking about is the use of philosophers – Paine, Rousseau, Locke, etc. – that talk about equality and freedom but also supported imperial expansion and slavery.)

In the first chapter, “The Black Man and Language,” Fanon is discussing the cultural implications of language. Many in post-colonial theory talk about the necessity for a radical literature in the native languages of the formerly (or currently) colonized nation. Fanon writes in French. I am reading an English translation. He begins this chapter with the assertion that “To speak means being able to use a certain syntax and possessing the morphology of such and such a language, but it means above all assuming a culture and bearing the weight of a civilization” (1). He must, as a means of necessity, be aware of the political implications of writing in French. He is also entering into a particularly French, colonial dialogue.

Which is, I suppose, where the Arthur Project comes back into the equation.

A language is shaped not only by the words, sounds, and grammatical structure of its sentences; it is also inherently dependent upon the myths and beings in the history of that language. Anyone who has studied a language (that is not their own) in depth should begin to realize that language shapes the way that people are able to think. For example: Certain cultures put certain ideas above others. There are more words for snow, with more emotional depth and meaning, in Inuit or Aleutian than there are in English.

There are also countless sayings in languages that are based on a common cultural history. Think of all the words in the English language that are derived from the names of Greek and Roman gods/goddesses.

I’m not saying that Arthurian legend has had a terribly large impact on the English language structurally (though, after reading Mallory, I will never look at the word “to smite” the same way). But if I were to say “We shall make this a Round Table discussion” there are certain implications. Not that we will be discussing Arthur’s Round Table, but that all participants in the discussion have equal weight. The cultural capitol of the Arthurian legends is huge.

John F. Kennedy and his administration referred to his white house as “Camelot.” Part of my research will mean understanding what exactly that meant in the cultural context of the 1960s. Kennedy was connecting the White House to both Arthurian Legend, and then connecting Arthurian Legend to the legend of the United States – all that “City On A Hill” business. It’s my job to place that concept of the White House as Camelot in conversation with Kennedy’s foreign aid and development policies, and then to understand how it is that legend backs up foreign policy and the politics of a culture, and how that culture then interacts with the global community.

This post is getting far out of hand – mostly, it’s for my own understanding of the issues. Clearly, I’m not at a very solid point on this argument, it’s still formulating. Things have taken a turn for the Interesting.