Monday, October 27, 2008

Real Quiet

We ended up waiting for the bus home from Reading in New Hunan chatting up a pony-tailed Fujianese over stir-fried tofu. Central Pennsylvania is an interesting place to observe the trees and silent twisting roads and spend time with friends for a weekend. We went to bed early and slept late, ate well and laughed a lot.

It seems as though this is McCain and Palin country. Experience matters and if not that then a friendly “you guys are neat” or “ain’t that cool” from a high-energy evangelical will fill the pews or the stereo speakers. A man named Reiff with an excellent comb-over told us at the Evangelical Free church that God is unchangeable, and that we should all vote on November 4. A man named Doug told me that he isn’t a rascist. “If there was a black boxer from Pennsylvania fighting a white man from Ohio I would root for the black man – ‘cause I have more in common with him,” he said. The same would be true if both the white and black man were from PA he added, he would vote for the white man because he has more in common with him.

This afternoon after church and some perfectly baked pizza Jennifer and I and Gene and Amy went for a hike through some fantastic rock formations on a ridge overlooking rolling Appalachia in browns and oranges and reds. We dodged black-bumper Mennonites and tried not to step on velvety green moss and I poked Jennifer a lot just for fun. New York seems a lot farther than 3 hours away up there in the woods with Jennifer scrambling over rocks, aiming low to be safe. When we were upstairs in Gene and Amy’s house brushing the spinach out of our teeth, she whispered, “I like to think of this as our country adventure!”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Normal Life

This semester I am sitting in on a course with the great M. Taussig – anthropologist extraordinaire. He’s teaching a course on fictocriticism: the anthropology of estrangement. His basic point is that if we expose ourselves to things outside of what we consider normal we are able to see how what we consider normal is just as strange as what we at first consider strange: we are no more reasonable than any other strange people. When we understand this we become enchanted by “the normal” and we can potentially “make culture” through a careful telling the story of our own collective estrangement.

The class is fantastic not only because M. Taussig wears a different exotically woven shirt to every class, and tells wonderful stories of extreme behavior full of snorts, sarcastic reflexivity, and half-closed eyes (for concentration) – but because he tries to reinvigorates the world at large with electric mystical knowledge.

Last Tuesday I went to hear one of my favorite writers, Philip Gourevitch, down at Columbia and who should I see loafing in the back but the great M. Tuassig. Philip Gourevitch was talking about literature and terror (Abu Gharib, Rawanda), about how there might not be any common humanity, and about how the human story might be more about “making the other conform to my story of reality by any force necessary.” Philip has a “pessimistic view of history” grounded in the way “blood makes the fiction real.” But despite this tragic way of life he still has a firm trust in a style of life and writing that prefers the beautiful, the good sentence, the careful composition abstracted from the muddle of everyday power politics and re-presentation re-production. He believes in telling his own story just like M. Taussig. I’d like to try that lifestyle too; as I loaf along the backcloth of Chinese and Uyghur cultural history, through the streets of Foucault’s San Fransico, and the pines of Gary Snyder’s Northern Cascades with my normal wife Jennifer/

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Strange Places

Jennifer and I just came back to the city in a Bieber Bus full of strangers. We spent the weekend with people we once knew, but that was when we were different people. Now our friends are parents of smiling children, they own houses, run companies, can lots of apple pie filling. We’ve all changed and grown and become adults who think differently about how we fit in our worlds and what our worlds are.

We went to a flea market in Southern Ohio last weekend. It was full of white people selling Chinese things and making fudge for each other. Rows of consumerable knicknacks and collectable dustcatchers as far you could see. All my favorite brands of fun: Nascar, scented candles in interesting shapes, porcelain deer antlers with “Indian” beads, rings of pickled bologna. Harlan Barnhart would have liked the old tools here and there, but I have no eye for them. They just looked like sad pieces of junk to me. Sarah Palin had stopped by that small town last week and told the locals that she feels their pain: dead-end jobs that recently dead-ended, dead-beat dads that recently got a little bit deader down at the Manhattan Lounge. It’s a sad world of Vietnam Vets and methamphetamine. Zeb and Lisa and Josh and Terri are living right in the middle of it and trying to disrupt the toilet bowl spiral all around them. And that’s a good thing.

Shannon, my sister, and Rich just bought a house in the new buyer’s market. It’s a three-story antique mansion with floor-length mirrors and windows of filmy glass, slanting hardwood floors and heavy wrought iron doors in three layers of brick and ornate plaster. It looks like thousands of square feet of hard work, but if anyone can turn it into a treasure they can. It’s nice to have a museum in the family. I hope it can be brought back to life as a strange place in a very familiar world.