Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Noted with Pleasure/Interest Here at Blog Meridian

1) Readers of the "About Me" section of this blog will note that the first sentence declares I am "recently married." I suppose I will have to edit that somewhat. As of today, we Meridians are no longer newlyweds but are one-year veterans of this marriage. Alas, Mrs. Meridian teaches this morning and has a tutoring gig in the afternoon, but we'll be celebrating tonight with a good meal at a place that may actually require gentlemen to wear a jacket or not wear denim or something (I will find out for sure today). Swanky, eh?
It's been a good run, this first year. I think it has been to our advantage that our courtship was, shall we say, tempestuous: during that time, we saw each other at our very worst as well as at our best. It's as though we both got all that stuff out of our systems, freeing us to deal with usual first-year matters (and some unusual ones; see: my children) with considerably less tension than might otherwise have been the case. I certainly don't recommend to young lovers that they experience what we went through, because even we look back on that time and wonder how it is that we remained together. But here we are, a testament not just to our love but also to our faith in each other.
2) Book Project #1 talk: Perusers of the Current Reading list will note that two of the books listed are Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and Richard Rodriguez's Brown. I've just finished reading around in the former because a section of it is mentioned in the latter, which I'm reading in its entirety. Rodriguez's book is slim and has a deceptively simple agenda: to meditate on the color brown in relation to American social and cultural history. His book is something of a reponse to de Tocqueville, who argues (in the 1840s, mind) that Indians and blacks have two choices facing them in this country: assimilate or die. Either, obviously, would cause the disappearance of these peoples as distinct types. Rodriguez, in his book, sees these debates perpetuated into the present by various ethnic groups with, ultimately, political investments in the outcomes of these debates and argues that inevitably the issue of "authenticity" arises: who/what is properly "black"/"white"/"Asian"/etc./etc.? His answer: such arguments lead to definitions that are so inclusive or exclusive as to become meaningless--and in any case, they perpetuate the very debates that, in the name of acknowledging this country's great strength of ethnic diversity as a means of bridging our internal differences, end up only reinforcing those differences. So then, as he states in his preface, his real agenda--not just in this book but in his earlier work, is that he "write[s] about race in America in hopes of undermining the notion of race in America" (xi). And, he concludes the preface with this startling statement that flies directly in the face of how much New World literature has been read in the past 10 years but which I, in both my dissertation and book project, happen to agree with (with some qualifications):

When I began this book, I knew some readers would take "race" for a tragic noun, a synonym for conflict and isolation. Race is not such a terrible word for me. Maybe because I am skeptical by nature. Maybe because my nature is already mixed. The word race encourages me to remember the influence of eroticism on history. For that is what race memorializes. Within any discussion of race, there lurks the possibility of romance. (xv)

Stuff like that statement got this book panned in some quarters by, predictably, people who have questioned Rodriguez's "authenticity" as a Mexican-American ("He looks like he does but doesn't know Spanish--imagine!" "He benefited from affirmative action but questions its value--imagine!" That sort of thing). I will need to (re)read some reviews of Brown in order to address specific criticisms of it; the sense I get from having read what I've read so far, though, is that those criticisms have their origins in precisely the issues he raises and, as he says, seeks to undermine in his book. It is bracing stuff, this book, written in a kind of hip-hop Emersonian style, riffing and sampling more than arguing. Worth your time and thought, if you're interested in such things.
3) Last night I watched People Will Talk, not knowing anything more about it that what my movie-buff friend Larry told me about it: that the action centers on an unmarried woman who is pregnant--which, for 1951, would seem to have been rather risque stuff. Well, yes, there was that matter. But the film intrigues me for other reasons, too.
First, Cary Grant's character, Dr. Noah Praetorius, strikes me as a prototype for the title chracter for Fox's new series, House: both present blunt, aloof, even arrogant exteriors but reveal themselves to be advocates for their patients--even against their patients' wishes. Also something of a surprise for me is to see the rather direct advances Deborah (played by Jeanne Crain) makes on Praetorius: she's not dressed in the usual '50s manner of women whose wardrobe signals that they are, um, available, and she admits and (says she) regrets that her pregnancy is the result of falling too quickly for a man she barely knew; but in the scene where she seduces (what other way to describe it?) Praetorius, one suspects that she only dresses like a "Good Girl." Crain, I should say, is pretty but not bombshell-sexy; her manner, though, is another story. (It's rare in my experience to see Cary Grant's characters squirm in a woman's presence, but squirm he does in Deborah's presence.) But what really amazed me was how this film handles Deborah's options regarding her pregnancy: when he tells her she is pregnant and she says she won't tell the father and is afraid to tell her own father, he asks her if she's come there in hopes that he might "do something" for her. She replies that she would not ask him to do anything that would endanger his reputation or trouble his conscience. It's a very oblique exchange, but they are clearly talking about abortion. To be sure, it's only brought up--but the fact that it IS brought up, to me, is the surprise. But the co-writer and director, Joseph Mankiewicz, was not one to shy away from socially-volatile material (see, to name only two, All About Eve and A Letter to Three Wives). This, by the way, is not Cary Grant's best film, but I do have to admit that the more things I see him in, the more impressed by him as an actor. Some people, I've read, dismiss his work because, they say, he's just playing cary Grant . . . to which the rebuttal is, Yes, but that in itself is more than many actors can manage. He has aplomb, a kind of artless grace in a Book of the Courtier sort of way. Look for North by Northwest or Notorious--you'll see what I mean.
4) My brother left the Army before things heated up in Iraq--10 years (during which his unit had been sent to Bosnia and Kosovo) had been enough for him. But he remains on active reserve status in California, where he lives now. His daytime job is as an airport security guy at the San Jose airport; no doubt, he thought that he was done with overseas tours for a little while. But now he's just learned that his unit will almost certainly be going to Afghanistan next year. From what I gather, though, this won't be a military operation, but something more along the lines of reconstruction: he says his unit will spend the next few months learning things like how to pack mules and how to speak some of the language. My brother's military career is worthy of its own post; for now, suffice it to say that I'm glad to say that I have approved of the operations he's been directly involved in. This upcoming one is no exception.

I do prattle on sometimes, don't I?

You are now free to roam about the blogosphere.

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sutrix said...

Happy anniversary!

And kudos for adding technorati tags to your post. They work as categories very nicely (or are at least a crank-me-up alternative till Blogger incorporates categories--which I think they will have to soon); apart from increasing the traffic.

John B. said...

Thanks for the congratualations. As for the tags, I'm contemplating adding them to many of my old posts--the ones I think are especially worthy of being read by others, at any rate.

zakalwe said...

Congrats on the anniversary; and "thx" (blurgh!) as always for your comments- nice to see someone agree with me. I'll look into Charles Wright, if google obliges.

My dad had a military career, and the brit army's habit of re-posting you every 2 years led to some comical choices eg "kids, do you want Dorset or Bosnia?"