Saturday, April 16, 2011

Closing Up Shop

As this is presumably the final blog post of the year, I decided that I would post something lighthearted (and relevant!) that I think you all might appreciate. Here is the link to a very brief interview with Salman Rushdie himself:

That's right... In the future, we can watch Midnight's Children, the Movie! Though my initial reaction to the news was skepticism at the possibility of ever doing the original text justice, I have to admit that it makes sense after brief consideration. As we said in class, Rushdie is very cinematic in his style; scenes quickly range from small, individual details to panoramic views. Just think of how he describes Bombay as its own character with actions that mirror Saleem's. Furthermore, movie references abound in Rushdie's book, likely as a result of Bollywood's importance in India. One has to respect Rushdie for making his novel into a Bollywood movie rather than a triple-A Western title. Hopefully he will have as much success as Grass did when the Tin Drum was turned into a movie (which won several awards including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).

Incidentally, I believe all of the Tin Drum is on YouTube in the event that any of you want to bring your year full -circle.

Time to take the Last Supper picture and get around to graduating.
Ecce Finis Laborum (Behold the end of our labors)!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I was reminded of Margaret Sanger today when we discussed Indira's emergency. Under her plan, vasectomies were commissioned to men whose families's could no longer economically support a bigger family (with more children). It is directed at lower income people-making it seem as if they are trying to get rid of this specific group. As we discussed previously with Margaret Sanger, her push for women's birth control could have been seen as a racist ploy to purify the race. Although personally I don't think Sanger was pushing women's rights and birth control as a means to eradicate the minorities, Indira's plans could be suspicious. She was accused of election fixing so do you guys think that her vasectomies were aimed to exterminate the lower income people or to really benefit the greater good of India?
Also, sterility is a common theme in Rushdie's novel. For example, Saleem can't use his two "pens" can't be used at the same time. Could it be that Rushdie is referencing Indira's programs?


I recently stumbled upon a website that displays minimalist movie posters. This reminded me of previous class discussions about well-known minimalists such as Frank Stella, the artist of the Quathlamba series. As a reaction against Abstract Expressionalism, Minimalist artists reduce a work of art to its most fundamental and necessary elements, while still expressing the entire meaning or idea behind it. Here, in these posters, minimalism is taken to its extreme. Some of my favorites are 15. Spider Man, 39. Planet of the Apes, 40. Dracula, and 41. The Wizard of Oz... Check it out:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Midnight Children's Conference

Saleem's descriptions of the Midnight Conference mirror the current state of India and allow the reader to gain insight on Saleem's character. He originally desires for the Conference to benefit the rest of India; he believes the midnight children can make a difference. However, through his adult perspective, Saleem views his childish hopes as part of the "disease of optimism." Rather than helping India in creation, he ominously refers to their destruction.
Saleem wants the Conference to be "a sort of loose federation of equals, all points of view given free expression" (252). As a foil to Saleem, Shiva discounts Saleem's views. When Saleem claims that the Midnight Children must have a purpose, Shiva declares, "What purpose man? What thing in the whole sister-sleeping world got reason, yara? For what reason you're rich and I'm poor? Where's the reason in starving?" (252). Shiva's points resonate with me because I think about these questions often. How can there be reason and fairness in the world when people are starving? Rushdie raises the questions that many people in India during this time were probably asking themselves through Shiva.
I think it is interesting that Rushdie depicts interactions between Saleem and Shiva. By portraying Shiva as a realistic but violent poor person and Saleem as an idealistic but passive rich person, Rushdie displays how these viewpoints and personalities conflict in India. I think their interactions deeply influence the other children as well, although Rushdie does not write as much about this.
What do you all think about the Midnight Children's Conference and the relationship between Shiva and Saleem?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gandhi Biography Controversy

Speaking of Gandhi, I mentioned a new biography about the Mahatma earlier in class this week. The book, which has not yet been released, is already the focal point of a fair amount of controversy. Critics claim that the author, Lelyveld, suggests that Gandhi was a bisexual individual. As a result of this charge, multiple Indian states are planning to ban the book, despite potentially violating the author's right to publish.

I heard the story on NPR. You can find the audio file and the printed transcript of the feature by clicking here.

I think that these events take place at a convenient time for our class. One is able to observe quite directly the supreme reverence India's people have for its former visionary. In fact, multiple Indian politicians and states are prepared to violate the democratic right to freedom of the press in order to defend the symbol of the new, powerful country. Such a ban reminds me of Islam's declared fatwa against Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses. At the same time, however, very many Indians are making a valiant effort to fight for the other side on the issue by defending the press, thus demonstrating the wealth of societies and cultural values dispersed across the wide region of the globe. India's diversity is exceedingly clear. Can anybody else integrate this news story into the broader framework of Rushdie's novel?

Incidentally, the newly unified India clearly retained many of its earlier colonial states!

Gandhi's Absence in Midnight's Children

I am intrigued by Gandhi's pronounced absence from Book I of Midnight's Children, which covers the years and events leading to Indian Independence in 1947. Throughout the world, Gandhi has become a symbol of tolerance and nonviolent protest; he was the hero of India's independence. Therefore, it makes no sense that Rushdie would leave out such an important and beloved character without specific reasons to do so. It is possible that Rushdie simply didn't see the use in celebrating an individual whose reputation was already so spotless. Perhaps Rushdie didn't feel the need to put effort into retelling such a popular story. However, I think that a large deal of Gandhi's absence must be attributed to Saleem himself. After all, Saleem is telling us his story; within this metafictional construction, the omission is truly Saleem's, rather than Rushdie's. Perhaps Saleem sees himself as a competitor or potential replacement for Gandhi. Saleem holds hundreds of millions of people together, just as Gandhi managed to do in the midst of a colonial crisis. Now, after independence and with Gandhi killed, the stage is set for Saleem and the rest of the Midnight's Children to take the reins and serve as models for the character and society of India. The implication that Saleem is focused on himself reinforces that concept of the postmodern anti-hero who has ulterior motives and cannot be trusted as a narrator.

Modern Art and College Visits

Hello, everyone! I feel as though it is time for me to contribute something new to the blog. I know this post's topic is a little after the fact, but I still think that it is worth the time. When I was touring Princeton, I came across the sculpture pictured above. Around five seconds after first glancing at it, I did what must have been a rather hilarious double-take. With excited curiosity, I approached the work and confirmed my suspicion: that this was a member of David Smith's Cubi series. The sculpture above is none other than Cubi XIII.

The experience definitely made me appreciate Mrs. Quinet's attempts to improve our cultural literacy. However, I think that the event is interesting for still another reason: how was I able to recognize Smith's work without ever seeing it before? How does an artist manage to find a distinguishable style amidst the proliferation of Minimalist and Abstract Expressionist art? Smith's sculpting material (steel), use of geometric shapes, and configuration of disparate elements is simultaneously commonplace and characteristic of his art specifically. I suppose this dichotomy points to the modern artist's ability to appeal to subtle and subconscious psychological processes for pattern recognition and analysis. In other words, the artist toys with our presuppositions and takes full advantage of our ability to think symbolically. What do you all think?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Saleem's Search for Identity

As we continue to discuss Midnight's Children, I have started to think about how there is so much chaos going on in the life of Saleem, and that it must be extremely difficult for him to feel as if he has a true identity. I don't know if any of yall are feeling this way but if I had 3 potential fathers, I would be a pretty confused person. As Saleem recounts the life of his family, which should identify him, he discusses the various confusing elements of his life that in my opinion would make him question himself.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Heart of Darkness and Midnight's Children

While we were discussing Methwold's character in class, I kept thinking of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The colonizers in Heart of Darkness, like Methwold in Midnight's Children, act as if they are above the natives, yet perform vulgar actions. This divide between the West and India blurs, leading the reader to question the true differences of the two cultures. Just as we tried to decipher the source of the darkness in Conrad’s novella, we have attempted to determine whether the positive impact of the Europeans outweighs the negative effect. Rushdie seems to reject binary thinking, and thus he narrows the gap between Indians and Westerners. What examples does Rushdie give to refute traditional, binary ways of thinking?

"Wee Willie Winkie"

Since we're planning to discuss "Wee Willie Winkie" in class tomorrow, I decided to look up the rhyme and share a few things about it with you all now. Considered a Scottish poem or nursey rhyme, "Wee Willie Winkie" was first published in 1841 by William Miller. Most people agree that the title character is a personfication of sleep, while a few believe that Miller created the character in order to satirize King William III of England. I posted the English version below, which was first translated in 1844. How do you all think Rushdie's character corresponds to the original version of Wee Willie Winkie, and why do you think the author chose to incorporate this figure into his novel?

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Up stairs and down stairs in his night-gown,
Tapping at the window, crying at the lock,
Are the children in their bed, for it's past ten o'clock?
Hey, Willie Winkie, are you coming in?
The cat is singing purring sounds to the sleeping hen,
The dog's spread out on the floor, and doesn't give a cheep,
But here's a wakeful little boy who will not fall asleep!
Anything but sleep, you rogue! glowering like the moon,'
Rattling in an iron jug with an iron spoon,
Rumbling, tumbling round about, crowing like a cock,
Shrieking like I don't know what, waking sleeping folk.
Hey, Willie Winkie - the child's in a creel!
Wriggling from everyone's knee like an eel,
Tugging at the cat's ear, and confusing all her thrums
Hey, Willie Winkie - see, there he comes!"
Weary is the mother who has a dusty child,
A small short little child, who can't run on his own,
Who always has a battle with sleep before he'll close an eye
But a kiss from his rosy lips gives strength anew to me.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Snakes and Ladders

Rushdie's analysis of life as a series of snakes and ladders strikes me as interesting and thought provoking. On page 160, Saleem states, "All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every sanke, a ladder will compensate." The rest of the chapter describes situations that contain both snakes and ladders, but Saleem learns from an early age that the line between snakes (misfortune) and ladders (happiness) is thin and blurry. After baby Saleem gets typhoid, snake venum cures him, exemplifying the positive aspects of a seemingly evil creature. As Saleem also mentions, ladders can be descended just as snakes can be benefitial.
The snakes and ladders game mirrors the cyclical nature of life, which is especially important in Indian culture.
What other snakes and ladders appear in Midnight's Children, and what do you all think about this metaphor?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

British Colonization of India

Many historians have debated between whether British's Colonization of India was detrimental or beneficial to the Indian society. Some have argued that the colonization of India was positive in the long run because it united the many territories of India that may have never joined on their own. Others suggest that the Britain's push for Indian's independence caused serious conflicts between India and Pakistan (The Indo-Pakistani War among many others). Also, many historians believe that Britain positively enlightened India in many literary and technological aspects and broadened their economy. However, others argued that these same technological advancements allowed India to create destructive weapons that destroyed their nation and others.

What are yall's opinions on this issue?

Britian's colonization of India

Friday, April 1, 2011

7 Years War In India/ The Third Carnatic War

I found it extremely interesting that the 7 years war in India extended from Southern India into Bengal. The battle between the British East India Company and French East India Company were fought on land dominated by the Mughal Empire. British and French forces fought to win over major Indian territory, especially Calcutta. In 1761, the French-Indian capital fell to British forces. The Carnatic Wars lasted almost 20 years; the "third Carnatic war" coincided with the 7 years war in America, reigniting conflict between the French and British forces.