Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dissertation Update and Setting Up Goals

I have finished the entire first draft of my dissertation. Now, I need to get into the dreaded task of revising. I have decided to keep log of work on this blog for that. I need that push to get this work onto its next stage, and I think, keeping myself accountable on this blog will be helpful. So, beginning today, and by this coming Friday, I want to have a revised draft of my chapter on neo-slave narratives in Ghana. The chapter I have now is too long, and one of my advisors suggested that I break it into two. Because of the issues I am dealing with, I think, it makes sense. So, this week, I will concentrate on getting the chapter on transnationalism and the Ghanaian neo-slave narrative out of my way. So, today's goal:

1. type the section on Hartman I have already written

2. read Murphy's conclusion
3. do some research on Osu castle case
4. chalk out an opening for the chapter, focussing on Osu castle

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Harjo's Kitchen Table

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

I have been thinking about this poem a lot, especially how this one would speak to Shonto Begay's poem that I blogged about here. Harjo's poem makes visible a lot of things
which Begay's poem obscures-- women's labor, the conflicts that happen around the domestic space, the production and reproduction. There isn't any "I" in this poem.Instead, there is a "we." However, there is still something that makes me uncomfortable about this poem. What does it mean to say the world begins and ends at the kitchen table, when the struggle for a large section of women in this world had been to construct a world beyond the kitchen table. It doesn't really shrink a woman's world per se, as it happens in the Begay poem. But it shrinks the world itself to fit into the space of domesticity. I am trying to formulate a way in which to relate this shrinking to the kind of politics of indigeneity that Harjo ascribes to, but haven't been able to do it yet.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

::In My Mother's Kitchen: Thoughts::

I have been thinking a lot about food, because I am teaching a class on food. I like to eat, I like to experiment with ingredients in my kitchen. But when I approach food as the raw material for my scholarly and creative reflections and productions, I am primarily interested in these things: food and its relationship to concepts of power, food as a site of power, food as a site of resistance, food as a site that exists as an intersection of social processes like labor, commodification and consumption. Because I am interested in the labor that happens around food production, I am also interested in the valence of the kitchen-space. Kitchen the space within which most domestic food production happens. Kitchen the space which has, for so many centuries of human history, has been seen as the space where women belong. I can flip the equation around, and also say, because I am interested in gender, I am interested in the history and politics of the kitchen. I have been trying to find poems and memoir-pieces on kitchen. And this is one of the first things that came up when I did a Google search with the keywords In My Mother's Kitchen.


Fragrance of fresh tortillas and corn stew

Fills my mother's kitchen

Sparsely furnished

Crowded with warmth

Soot-grayed walls, secretive and blank

She moves gently in and out of light

Like a dream just out of reach

The morning light gives her a halo

That plays upon her crown of dark hair

Strong brown hands caress soft mounds of dough

She gazes out into the warming day

Past sagebrush hills, out towards the foot of Black Mesa

How far would she let the goats wander today

Before it rains

Childhood dreams and warmth

Tight in my throat, tears in my eyes

The radio softly tuned to a local AM station

News of ceremonies and chapter meetings

And funerals

Flows into the peaceful kitchen

Lines upon her face, features carved of hard times

Lines around her eyes, creases of happy times

Bittersweet tears and ringing silvery laughter

I ache in my heart

My mother's gentle movements light up dark corners

Her gentle smiles recall childhood dreams still so alive

My mother moves in and out of light

Like clouds on days of promising rain

—Shonto Begay

And here is Begay's website:

What struck me about this poem is the way the poet reveals the little details of the mother's kitchen. There are so many images in this poem, much like the classic confessional/memory poem tradition of American poetry. But, all those image-work have been mobilized towards a specific impulse : to construct the mother's kitchen as an abode of peace, and the mother as a figure who embodies all that is "gentle" in life. Given Begay's personal and creative history, I am seeing in this poem a well-known trend: constructing the kitchen and the mother that provide refuge against the outside world : the world of funerals, tears and chapter meetings. In other words, the colonizing world which is only capable of generating trauma. But then, the mother in this poem is hardly a "real" figure : she "moves in and out of light", she is like a "dream that is out of reach." Yep, she becomes the classic national allegory. The allegory of the indigenous "American" nation that hasn't been born, that probably will never be born, and therefore, like the mother of this poem will always be a little elusive, its dream-like quality providing solace during moments of stressful contacts with the "mainstream" world.

But this is not just all. I am also thinking about how this elusive mother-figure keeps appearing in male poetry throughout the world. And not just the mother figure, the figure of the allegorized woman, Like Jibanananda Das's classic imageries of "kishorir chal dhoya haat" ( the young girl's rice-washed hands). In spite of their huge geographic and cultural difference, what is common in Begay and Das's kind of metaphor-making is that, it transforms women's actual labor into romanticized allegories, symbolizing some kind of inaccessible, elusive antithesis to the trauma of the outside world. So, when I read poems like this, I cannot help asking: where is the actual labor of the mother within the space of the kitchen? How does the mother-figure's frustrations and hysteria get reproduced within the kitchen space? How does the kitchen become the space where women's trauma (as against the "outside" world and its identification as the space for male trauma) gets constituted, articulated, expressed? And last but not the least, how does the mother herself see this kitchen? Does this ever become the space for expressing her creativity? What I am seeing as I am reading these lines I just wrote, what are the questions that we need to ask in order to de-naturalize the idea that kitchen is the essential space where women find belonging, and somehow, that's inherent in the very constitution of women. Unfortunately, in spite of the beauty of his images, that's what Begay's poem ends up doing.

As I am struggling through these questions, I find myself writing some poems which try to answer these questions. So far I have written six such poems. All of them are pretty short. But I am enjoying writing them. And along with finishing the first draft of the dissertation and teaching, that's what I have been up to.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

;; It's Already February;;

Yesterday I finished the first draft of the Introduction of my dissertation, and today my dissertation group read it. So, now I have the dissertation in FULL. It is not perfect, it is not good, but it exists. That is one step ahead from the time when I wrote my New Year Resolution post. Also, compared to what I did last semester, I am doing FAR better. So far I have written five poems. Again, not good. But still, beginnings. This is already four more than what I accomplished last semester. I have cooked almost every other day. I did eat at my friend's couple of times, but that was more in the spirit of celebration. I am not using her cooking skills and hospitality as a crutch anymore. There have been days when I have experimented with recipes. There have been days when I have just rehashed the old recipes. Sometimes I have made some easy and quick comfort food-- like tonight. I am cooking nothing more than a tomato dal and rice. But still, even the attempt to cook that really simple meal, makes me feel better about myself. In terms of my teaching, I have learnt a LOT. There have been challenges. And it is not that I didn't expect them. But just having my own class to teach, takes off so much pressure. Besides, I am really interested in the materials I am teaching and I am learning to think in a way that is different, yet related to my usual dissertation methodologies. I haven't been able to blog at all, and I am hoping to change that pretty soon. But the last one month has been challenging, but productive. And what more can I expect?