Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


A Handful of Reviews

During the summer I usually read a good deal of fiction, along with some non-fiction. This summer I have been working through the novels of Salman Rushdie and Walker Percy- granted, not two writers one usually takes together, though both are excellent, and I shall perhaps comment upon them later.

While browsing in the used book section at an antique store (antique stores can sometimes turn up pretty decent books at low prices), I ran across A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul, which I bought not particularly knowing anything about V.S. Naipaul or having read anything by him before that I can recall. The novel turned out to be quite good, however. Set in post-colonial Zaire (though the reader is never given the name of the country or places within it) it deals powerfully and provactatively with post-colonial issues: the collapse of the colonial order, the experience of independence, rebuilding, engagement with the crossing of European and African culture, and then a second collapse into chaos and violence.

He deals with a lot of issues particular to post-colonial literature, but does so in a unique manner. Salim, the narrator of this first-person narrative, is African-Arab, and hence at once an outsider and an insider. His situation in the post-colonial world is even more ambiguous than the other foreigners in his town, for he is an exile from a place that has ceased to exist: his community, foreign and not-foreign, has ceased to exist on the coast, and his place on the continent is precarious and uncertain. The novel is primarily concerned with his experience, the events and developments of the world unfolding often only as background, until they intersect directly with Salim's life.

Naipaul raises some difficult issues, particularly concerning the transition of traditional, tribal Africa throught the colonial experience into some sort of independence in collision- collusion- confusion?- with the modern age. He does not paint a rosey picture; the novel concludes with loss and destruction more bitter than the loss and destruction at the end of the colonial era. There is no offer of a possible hope, that civilization (itself an ambiguous term) will eventualy rememerge, the violence and disorder be quelled.

Turning to film, I recieved in the mail today Palestinian film-maker Hany Abu-Assad's most recent film, Paradise Now. Following two best friends as they seek to carry out a suicide mission in Tel Aviv, this isn't a particularly easy film to watch or arrive at a judgment about. Abu-Assad seeks to examine the suicide bombers and the organization behind them from within; he does an incredible job connecting the viewer with the two men, as they struggle with issues that are both generic and personal.

Both men contend that their fight is for freedom from oppression, equality, and an end to an unjust occupation: the official rhetoric. How they ultimately respond to this belief, how much they actually believe it, and what happens when their insistence on violence as the only means is questioned, makes for a very compelling film. Yet besides this 'offical' rhetoric and reasons are personal ones, and each man's personal psychology. In trying to get inside the internal, personal motivation of a suicide bomber Abu-Assad echoes Salman Rushdie's latest offering, Shalimar the Clown, in which the chief antagonist associates himself with radical Islamic terrorism, espouses its doctrines, yet is really motivated by intense personal private concerns. Abu-Assad suggests motivation that consists perhaps more evenly of both.

The film itself is excellently done: the characters are believable and compelling, and the story develops with a decent pace and enough- believable- developments and turns to make it interesting. The cinematography is well done, particularly considering that the filming locations were occasionaly subject to gunfire, mine explosions, and the like.

Ultimately Paradise Now shows the emptiness of terrorism as a political tool; at the same time it humanizes those caught up in it. It also does the comendable job of reminding us that not every Palestinian is in favour of violence, and that some approach violence with an ambiguity and uncertainty. Often times in such conflicts there is the development of a second-self in people who cannot help being aligned with one side or another; they try to act from within a second-self that they hope can be detached from the actions and compliances they are forced into. Some of this tension is hinted at by Abu-Assad. Finally there is the role of religion: Islam is certainly a presence in the film, partially as motivation, but more as a background element. We are led to wonder in the depth of true belief in the primary actors, and how much it motivates them is never fully clear.

Overal a good film, though I am not certain how fully Abu-Assad details the motivations of the suicide bombers- and this is certainly a film from the Palestinian point of view, which has both its advantages and weaknesses. Yet it manages fairly well to examine a very complex situation and convey some measure of understanding, while deftly undercutting violence and ultimately appealing for peace.


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