Weeknote 5

February is moving slightly faster than January did, but that was a very low bar. As TheH says, it’s a bar the Corgis could walk over, no jumping required. It’s still mostly gray and cold and damp, with the occasional sunny and slightly warmer day to taunt us.

WORK

My Privacy class finally clicked. We’re out of the heavy theory section and reading older work on the online world as it used to be, which they find kind of interesting. And one of the examples was about free speech vs. writing violent material that can be accessed by younger teens. It was interesting. 50 Shades even came up, and I startled them by telling them more about it (and my involvement in the 50-related Romancelandia stuff) than they could ever have expected. It was amusing for all of us.

One of my weekly seminars featured a paper by a colleague from anthropology who is working on fashion and sustainability, which is extremely relevant to my interests these days. So that was another unexpected crossing of streams. We had a lively discussion; everyone can relate in some way to fashion, ecological issues, and the omnipresence of consumption capitalism. One person raised the interesting point that even among people who are focused on improving conditions and products at the local level, they opt to become entrepreneurs rather than to join with other like-minded people to improve existing labor and supply-chain conditions. Being a capitalist is still the default choice.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

We returned to Maigret, but rather than watching the next episode of the TV series we opted for a 1950s film starring Jean Gabin as Maigret. It was terrific. The print had been remastered and all of the performances were excellent.

I had two library holds come in this week and finished one of them: The Story of a Goat, by the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan. I have his previously translated novel in my TBR. That one earned him death threats from the Hindu nationalists and led him to declare that he would no longer write fiction. Luckily for us he changed his mind, but he made the main character an animal rather than a human. The Story of a Goat is exactly what it says on the tin: we meet Poonachi when she is a very young kid and is handed into the care of an old couple by a mysterious stranger. The story follows Poonachi’s growth to adulthood and all of the events that transpire during her life. The cast includes humans as well as the other goats among whom she lives and whom she encounters along the way. It’s an excellent novel, poignant and yet almost completely unsentimental. It’s not a happy story, but it has upbeat episodes along the way. Murugan is explicit that this is not an allegory, and I think that’s right. Poonachi and the other animals aren’t stand-ins for humans; instead, Murugan is showing us how the life cycles of humans and animals are not only intertwined, but more similar than we would like to believe, especially in terms of the lack of control most humans have over the circumstances of their existence. It reminded me somewhat of the works of Premchand, the great Hindi writer who frequently put animals at the center of his stories. Murugan’s novel is not the easiest read, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while, and unusual in the best ways.

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