Artists of the Floating World – Chapter 4

The reading this week got me thinking a lot about patriarchal societies. For so long, I believed that as a country, we could move away from the idea of having a patriarchy, but recent events have left me a bit hopeless. I was really fascinated by the idea that Mukherjee was moving from one patriarchal society into another. I never really looked at it that way until the text stated, “Contrarily, there are critics who decry Mukherjee‘s turn towards an ―assimilationist‖ standpoint. Her characters, in the process of becoming Americanized, lose agency and power; indeed, at worst, she has merely swapped one  form of patriarchal embrace (that of her native India)  for another  (that of  her  adopted  United  States)” (84). It’s even more fascinating to me to think of it in terms of The Holder of the World where the reverse seems to happen and Hannah’s journey starts in America.

Mukherjee’s characters are floating between seemingly different worlds, but they are worlds more similar than we believe them to be. I did think it was fascinating when Burton pointed out that, “Similarly,  in  her  story-lines,  patriarchal  figures  are  deliberately murdered  or  renounced,  as  the  following  brief  plot  summaries  will demonstrate” (85). There is a clear rejection of patriarchy on her part. Burton goes on to point out that Mukherjee went through a rejection in her own life as she moved away from being under the patriarchal thumb of her father and moved on into adulthood.

I’m also liking that Burton’s work is reintroducing theoretical approaches, such as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak, that I have learned, but in a new, understanding light. I do have to wonder about whether or not the “subaltern” can speak and the type of power they have if they do.

The section on terrorism was interesting, too, and it raises a point of whether or not violent acts of terror can accomplish the same thing as textual expressions and where the line is for subaltern nonconformity. I think, although one end is extreme, that it is an interesting area to explore and I will be curious to see what our class does with it.



The Holder of the World

The Holder of the World has been a very intriguing and different read so far. I love how it plays around with perspectives between Beigh’s story and the history of Hannah.

What strikes me the most about Bharati Mukherjee’s The Holder of the World is the beautiful, descriptive language. The opening alone, “I live in three time zones simultaneously, and i don’t mean Eastern, Central and Pacific. I mean the past, the present and the future” (5) draws readers in. There is no way anyone can put the book down without figuring out what that means. When she starts delving into her family’s past and Hannah’s story, we realize how passionate she is about it. We get the sense that she truly feels like she lives it. There are so many moments when we are in Hannah’s story and we are brought back to first-person Beigh for just a second.

The language surrounding Hannah’s embroidery and medical skills was also beautiful. One passage that really stuck out to me was, “In the evenings, she embroidered landscapes – frost stiffening blades of grass, pumpkins glowing like setting suns, butterflies dusting colors off their pastel wings against cassocks of black silk and breeches of velvet, In fact, there was a wildness about Hannah. People sensed it” (62). The imagery evoked some sense that embroidery was Hannah’s rebellion. It was her way of expressing herself in Puritanical America.

It is pointed out that since Hannah embroidered such beautiful things, she had to have such a vivid imagination even before she traveled. It was here that I saw her story relating to Beigh’s the most. When Beigh tours the Fort St. Sebastian ruins we see her imagination run wild here. Although it’s her perspective, as opposed to a narrator’s perspective of Hannah’s embroidery, it seemed similar to how they described Hannah’s embroidery taking on a life of its own. When she says, “I can imagine the customs master, Mir Ali, one of Haider Beg’s appointees, spyglass in hand, noting the names and descriptions of all the ships and cargo that sailed into and out of the Bay of Bengal” (96) I am right there with her. Similarly, I can picture the beautiful pieces that Hannah has embroidered.

Although it’s a little thing, I really loved that Beigh is a graduate student in this book. It makes me feel like I understand her process and her research much more. I definitely connect with this character.

Framing the Floating World

Rob Burton starts this chapter off by discussing George Lakoff’s arguments for how the Republicans took control in the 2004 election. He explains that it happens through framing, which Lakoff defines as, “‘[M]ental structures that shape the way  we  see  the  world.  As  a  result,  they  shape  the  goals  we  seek,  the plans we make, the way we act'” (61). Although, I don’t want to get too political in my posts, I think it is interesting to look at the parallels between the 2004 election and the 2016 election. The difference with the 2016 election is that the narrative was framed with this common goal of “Make America Great Again,” framing it in a way that the Republicans were still able to get enough votes because this goal framed “the goals [they] seek, the plans [they] make, the way [they] act,” in such a way that hate speech became a part of the frame. However, although the Republican takeover has brought forth a lot of bad, what this has also brought forth, is the framework of lots of protests and opportunities for a lot of people who have different values than the hyper-conservatives in office to come together to shape the world that they want. They want to deconstruct what is in place and construct something with their frames of the world.

Alright, I think I can talk about framing and politics for quite a while, I do have a lot to say about “Framing the Floating World” and A Question of Power. It was nice to get a lot more concrete details about who Bessie Head was as a person. At one point, Burton points to the quote from her autobiographical essay A Woman Alone where Bessie Head states “‘I have always been just me, with no frame of reference to anything beyond myself'” (Burton 64). I was drawn to this one because I think this is where the difference is between Bessie Head and her protagonist Elizabeth. It was pointed out that Bessie still sees herself as separate; of not belonging to society. Bessie differs from Elizabeth in that Elizabeth is able to feel a sense of belonging in the end of A Question of Power.

I thought the discussion of Head’s idea of “ordinary generosity” was very beautifully stated as “the ability to give treasures to others—a  look of  love, a warm  embrace, a gesture of support, small gestures of support and loving, the kind of things that are able to knit a community of people together, or just two people” (76). I think this is a frame that I like to approach the world with and I think it does help frame how I read her novels. As Burton points out “How  one  frames  Bessie  Head,  how  one reads  her  books  and  stories, depends therefore on the set of assumptions that the reader carries with them and the degree to which the reader  is  willing to allow those assumptions  to  shift” (77). It makes me wonder how I might approach it differently if I had different frames of mind, maybe something like the frame of mind of the hyper-conservative party in power. How would my reading of the novel be different?

Something I love about both this chapter and Head’s novel is the connections to other authors. On page 75, Burton brings up that D.H. Lawrence was discussed at the end of the novel. Although we discussed it a bit in class last Thursday, Lawrence was one author’s story that I knew very little about. I’ve read only a few texts by Lawrence and I knew that he was considered an outcast due to Lady Chatterly’s Lover. I learned that Lawrence went on a voluntary exile and left his homeland. In a way, he can be seen as another artist of the floating world, floating beteen lands, only being accepted by himself and not by society.

I also loved that Ralph Ellison was brought up in this chapter. Although it has been a long time since I’ve read Invisible Man, I remember Ellison’s struggles to figure out how he belonged in this world. Here, it points out that Ellison felt “invisible” (like the title suggests) as well as “a commitment to the musical form of jazz and blues as an expression of black identity” (65). The idea of “jazz” reminded me that Head’s novel also references “jazz” at different moments throughout the book and it also makes me think of Toni Morrison’s Jazz which I think has a lot of connection to both of these books. The interesting thing about Jazz is that it is written in a jazzy tempo, which, in a way, makes me think of the disjointed tempo of A Question of Power. Both tempos (Morrison’s jazzy one, Head’s disjoined one between sanity and insanity) create a feel for the readers that parallels the tempos of the stories themselves.