Chimamanda Adichie – Single Story Perception & Understanding

Nigerian novelist/writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s writings are among the many good works that present stories of difference.  In the video here, she gives a fantastic talk about how multiple stories of one subject, are important in how we may interact/not interact with that subject; perhaps in a more thoughtful or just way, ideally, than approaching a subject with a single story in conscious/unconscious mind.

This is an important point which I, in its basic way, agree with.  We are multiple, we are not singular.  Our stories have multiple points and trajectories, multiple positions from which we come to life and how our stories are told to self and other, can determine many attitudes and opinions and processes.  If our multiple-ness, is taken into account, then perhaps there is more patience, more reflection and pause, more of a place from which to engage other, perhaps understand positions in relation to culture and oppression, resistance and heritage, privilege and sorrows, joys and questions.  Single stories do cut-off history, cut-off political positions brought on through histories, cut-off the circulation of the realities of life and its movements in time and change.  Multiple stories may open avenues in taking these into account.

This being said, I have a critique of one aspect that may come up in listening to, seeing, and engaging this talk which is so eloquently spoken.  It is what I have mentioned before in my blog posts, and through which I speak on practically every post.  It is this question of how to accept/not accept: Difference.  I do not say that Chimamanda Adichie means one thing or another, but I am certainly opening up a discussion about how she approaches the topic of difference.  She says that people often have single stories and this closes a ‘fuller’ understanding or the realization of the similarities between people, communities and cultures.  She then goes on to say that people have more similarities than differences and there is an assumption that this is ‘better’ or that it is a fact of life that there are more similarities, which means this is more positive.  I am not sure that she means this exactly, but this is certainly one way in which Chimamanda Adichie speaks to the difference/similarities dynamic.  I say that this ‘similarities and differences’ polarity is not eternal, or a set of natural ‘facts’ and that this similarity that is so often prioritized in the world, is not positive necessarily.  To put it another way, I think that valorizing similarities is an act that can legitimize violence based on difference, with the matter of sameness and similarity being measured and applied as criteria for treating someone or a group or thing, with respect or dignity.  This is a problem with liberal thinking as well as conservative in the United States.

The measure of similarity and sameness should NOT be a criteria for measuring respect or how we treat someone or culture or community or history, or how we approach avenues for engagement and/or understanding.  Not understanding should be just as much of a pleasure and accepted space.  In fact, the reason there are more similarities today than ever before, is that there is less diversity.  One can go to any scientific journal and there, it is no secret.  There are extinctions in progress, as well as less species of most of the beings on this earth, as human beings increase their numbers.  There is less diversity not just because of over-population.  I say there is less diversity because of neo-colonization– i.e. globalization, which is an extension of colonial expansionism and what goes along with it in the nation-state system:  homogenization.  Everything is become more of the same.  This sameness has been constructed through history through the colonization of minds and lands, cultures and ideas, killing, torture, coercion and manipulation and exclusion through laws, textbooks, military weapons, covert agents amidst cultures, educational policies, judicial systems, and everything else we know to be our reality.  Assimilation and exclusion have worked hand-in-hand in order to create national cultures in the global system.  This is a continuation of the colonization process.  Difference can only be understood.  It cannot be different and not understandable.  This is the reason we must experiment on people and animals, develop stories around them that make scientists and counselors wealthy and create medicines and psychologies that deem certain things abnormal, inexcusable, sad and assimilatable, or wrong.  Learning to question ourselves and others become wrong.  It is now normal to think of everything as right and wrong, good and bad.  We either know, or are embarassed to say we don’t know.  Or we just repeat what our elders and teachers have taught us, or our parents, or our own reactions to what they’ve said because we have hated them.  In any case, our perceptions of reality do not accept difference as well as we would like.  So if we are to follow Chimamanda Adichie’s path, we come to the same tactic of exclusion and marginalization.  There is not acceptance of difference if we only look for and fetishize ‘similarity.’  Looking for a mirror in others is a sure way to the death or invisibility of both yourself and other.

You can do your own experiment. For instance, go through the history books of practically any culture group through history and pick out pictures of soldiers and their uniforms over time.  So start with pictures and drawings of how soldiers in Turkey or in Guatemala or in China or England looked in the 12th century, the 14th century, then the 17th century, the 19th century, the 20th century early and late and in the present.  See what the uniforms look like for each country.  You can do this with several other aspects of life as well, such as clothing, in general, or food, etc.  The affluent people from various cultures around the world starting in the 12th century to the present should confirm what I get at.   It will not be the ‘same’ in every case.  But there is certainly a pattern.  And do we excuse this as ‘evolution’ and ‘progress?’  Shall we now have to look at who used these terms ‘evolution’ and ‘progress’ and address and analyze for ‘what purpose’ these terms were used and how they were used to subjugate and annihilate?

So I disagree with the tone and assumption that Chimamanda Adichie brings in speaking to the issue of single versus multiple stories.  I like how she approaches the subject and explains it.  I do not agree with her notions of making sameness and similarity a criteria for harmony or a reason to let alone and not molest or control.  Isn’t that the reason colonization was justified in the first place?  Why genocide is justified from its beginnings in massacres and to the present day?  Is our understanding a criteria for killing and maiming, manipulating and giving permission to change the other?  However, I do not condone unethical behaviors and traditions so do not say I condone things like female circumcision and other such things.  However, I do not believe that not understanding someone or some culture group or tradition or history, means that we must.   In order to do this, we must co-opt ‘the other’ into our own understanding.  There are differences.  Why are we so afraid of non-difference (irreconcilable differences that is further than what we think about as ‘different’)?  It speaks more about us than of the other.

So this wonderful talk with fantastic, lucid points about history, education, power, and relations, is as is everything, multiple.  I only take issue with the will to incorporate other into an understanding that allows us to be at peace with difference.  In that instant, we are even further apart and alienated.  And in our present climate, this would give a legitimate go-ahead for a take-over and a make-over; violence as some normal activity.  It is a something we need to de-colonize in our thinking.

In relation to the subject matter and analyzing content while appreciating, we must also look at where this video rests.  It rests in the TED site.  If one has so much money behind it, so much corporate connection, then we must also think of it as towing mainstream thoughts in some ways, perhaps in subtle ways in more of the radical thinking.  Let us not be mistaken, this is not a radical change site.  It gives comfortable, informative, interesting, and safe thoughts.  For instance, for as much great things Al Gore has done in warning the public about Global warming, he does not touch his constituency, his ‘group’ and friends, who have been the ones to engineer the human quotient and engines to the destruction of our ecology.  Until he himself becomes radicalized, he keeps himself and our elites and our patriotisms comfortable, continuing the invisible domination by elitism and privilege without a shift in thinking.

And with all this, I highly recommend this wonderful talk that pushes mainstream thought to the edges of history, colonization of the mind, forgetting, education, nation-state and cultural/historical difference.  Critique is not about excluding and putting down, it is about analyzing its various positions, approaches, assumptions, possibilities reached for freedom and creativity, aspects that need further investigation, etc.  Enjoy, think, appreciate, change!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie website:  http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/

TED (technology-education-design): Remarkable Talks site: http://www.ted.com/

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More – LHASA de Sela

Photo:  fbladi.com

1001 Nights

I have no way to prove it
No proof but I believe
A thousand and one nights of this
And then I will be free

My prison will be broken down
The dark will come undone
A thousand and one nights of this
And then the change will come

A garden growing underground
A treasure waiting to be found
A bird that never makes a sound

You don’t have to believe it
But just you wait and see
A thousand and one nights of this
And then I will be free.

 

Lhasa de Sela (September 27, 1972 – January 1, 2010) – Singer/songwriter

Lhasa de Sela is one of my favorite singer/songwriters.  I connected with most of her music on a profound level.  Perhaps it was because she was raised in a nomadic lifestyle, in Mexico and the United States.  Perhaps because you can hear/feel emotions in her singing that many other singers struggle to reach.  Perhaps because she sings in three languages.

In her adult life, she split her life times between Canada and France.  She grew up speaking English and Spanish, then learned French.  In her later singing, she also began singing some songs in Arabic.  She loved difference, sound, and what it can evoke and make.

She passed on in her home in Montreal on January 1, 2010 at 37 years of age after a long bout with breast cancer.

Her website:  http://lhasadesela.com/

I present some of her music here.  She has too many that I love so I will add more at a later time.

I have lyrics to a few of the songs below the videos corresponding.

Enjoy, feel. Understand.  Miss.

RISING

I got caught in a storm
And carried away
I got turned, turned around

I got caught in a storm
That’s what happened to me
So I didn’t call
And you didn’t see me for a while

I was rising up
Hitting the ground
And breaking and breaking

I was caught in a storm
Things were flying around
And doors were slamming
And windows were breaking
And I couldn’t hear what you were saying
I couldn’t hear what you were saying
I couldn’t hear what you were saying

I was rising up
Hitting the ground
And breaking and breaking

Rising up
Rising up

EL DESIERTO

La Marée Haute

La route chante,
Quand je m’en vais.
Je fais trois pas,
La route se tait.

La route est noire,
À perte de vue.
Je fais trois pas,
La route n’est plus.

Sur la marée haute,
Je suis monté.
La tete est pleine,
Mais le coeur n’a pas assez.
Sur la marée haute,
Je suis monté.
La tete est pleine,
Mais le coeur n’a pas assez.

Mains de dentelle,
Figure de bois,
Le corps en brique,
Les yeux qui piquent.

Mains de dentelle,
Figure de bois.
Je fais trois pas
Et tu es là.

Sur la marée haute,
Je suis monté.
la tete est pleine,
Mais le coeur n’a pas assez.
Sur la marée haute,
Je suis monté.
la tete est pleine,
Mais le coeur n’a pas assez.

Eduardo Galeano: Writing to Re-think Mythologies of Memory

Always in all my books I’m trying to reveal or help to reveal the hidden greatness of the small, of the little, of the unknown — and the pettiness of the big.”

–Eduardo Galeano

Uruguayan poet, journalist and writer, Eduardo Galeano, is one of the most widely read literary figures of the 20th century.  He is read in many history classes, as well as third-world activism classes and workshops and Latin American studies courses.  His works are the telling of stories in ways that break down ‘the usual’ and shift the imagination of social breakdown and social change.  His most well-known works, which propelled his writings into larger international fields, are Memory of Fire (1986) and The Open Veins of Latin America (1971).   He makes use of his political analysis as a historian and journalist, to bring his activism forward as one who opens the can of development and neo-colonization to the fore.  He presents it not as an easy North versus South battle because there has now been internalized colonization and the shift of cultural myths and memory.  His most pointed method for telling his stories toward the evocation of the will for change, is through the actions of our memory/amnesia.

He is one of my favorite authors, and like many, consider him to be one of the most important scholar/writers of the 20th century to the present, and always into the future.  His Memory of Fire Trilogy, beginning with Genesis, and his Mirrors: The Stories of Almost Everyone are among the most creative, profound and historical of his works as he continues to work for change in the recovery of forgotten histories and the complexities, dominations, and oppressions of our times.

Below are Exerpts from Interviews with Eduardo Galeano by Danish journalist Niels Boel for UNESCO courier

On Globalization:

This is not a new phenomenon, but a trend that dates back a long while. Globalization has considerably accelerated in recent years following the dizzying expansion of communications and transport and the equally stupefying transnational mergers of capital. We must not confuse globalization with “internationalism” though. We know that the human condition is universal, that we share similar passions, fears, needs and dreams, but this has nothing to do with the “rubbing out” of national borders as a result of unrestricted capital movements. One thing is the free movement of peoples, the other of money. This can be seen very clearly in such places as the border between Mexico and the United States which hardly exists as far as the flow of money and goods is concerned. Yet it stands as a kind of Berlin Wall or Great Wall of China when it comes to stopping people from getting across.

The Right to Choose One’s Own Food:

The perfect symbol of globalization is the success of firms like McDonald’s, which opens five new restaurants around the world each day. For me there is something more significant than the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was the queue of Russians outside McDonald’s on Moscow’s Red Square as the so-called “iron curtain”—which turned out be more like a “mashed potato curtain”— was coming down.
The “McDonaldization” of the world is planting plastic food in the four corners of the planet. But the success of McDonald’s has at the same time inflicted a kind of open wound on one of the most basic human rights, the right to choose our own food. The stomach is part of the human soul. The mouth is its gateway. Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are. It’s not about how much you eat but what and how you choose to do so. How people prepare food is an important part of their cultural identity. It matters greatly to poor or even very poor people, who have little or no food but who respect traditions that turn the trivial act of barely eating into a small ritual.

Against Standardization:

The best side of the world is that it contains many worlds within itself. Such cultural diversity, which is the heritage of all humanity, appears in the different ways people eat, but also in how they think, feel, dream, talk and dance.
There’s a very marked trend towards the standardization of cultural behaviour. But there is also a backlash by people who endorse differences that are worth preserving. Emphasizing cultural differences, not social ones, is what gives humankind its many concurrent faces instead of just a single one. In the face of this avalanche of forced standardization, there have been very healthy reactions alongside the odd crazy ones springing from religious fanaticism and other desperate attempts to affirm identity. I don’t think we’re at all doomed to live in a world where the only choice is between dying of hunger or dying of boredom.

Identity on the Move:

Cultural identity isn’t like a precious vase standing silently in a museum showcase. It’s always moving, changing and being challenged by reality that is itself in perpetual movement. I am what I am, but I’m also what I do to change what I am. There’s no such thing as cultural purity, any more than there is racial purity.
Luckily, every culture is made up of some elements that come from afar. What defines a cultural product—whether it be a book, a song, a popular saying or a way of playing football—is never where it comes from but what it is. A typical Cuban drink like a daiquiri has nothing Cuban in it: the ice comes from somewhere else, just like the lemon, the sugar and the rum. Christopher Columbus first brought sugar to the Americas from the Canary Islands. Yet the daiquiri is considered quintessentially Cuban. The churro fritters of Andalusia originated in the Middle East. Italian pasta first came from China. Nothing can be defined or derided on the basis of its origin. The important thing is what is done with it and how far a community identifies with something that symbolizes its favourite way of dreaming, living, dancing, playing or loving.
This is the positive side of the world: a constant intermingling that produces new responses to new challenges. But because of forced globalization, there’s a clear trend these days towards uniformity. This trend comes largely from the ever-greater concentration of power in the hands of large media groups.

Hope for the Future:  the Internet and Community Radio:

the right to speak? And how many people have the right to speak? These questions are very closely connected with the battering that cultural diversity is currently suffering.
Opportunities for independent activity in the world of communications have been greatly reduced. The dominant media groups are imposing doctored and distorted news along with a vision of the world that tends to become accepted as the only one possible. It’s like reducing a face that has millions of eyes to the standard two.
What does seem promising is the dawn of the Internet, one of those paradoxes that keeps hope alive. It sprang from the need to coordinate global military strategy—in other words, to serve the cause of war and death. But it is now the forum for a myriad of voices that were barely noticed before. Today they are heard and networks can be created using this new tool.
It’s true that the Internet can also be used towards commercial ends or to manipulate people. But the network has definitely opened up very important areas of freedom for expressing independent views, which tend to be ignored by television and the print media.
Good things are happening in radio too. The growth of community radio stations in Latin America is encouraging a much wider spectrum of people to express themselves. Talking to people about what is happening is not the same thing as listening to their own voices recounting their lives, when this is possible and when freedom of expression is respected.

End and Means:

In Ancient Greece, knives were convicted along with the murderer. When a knife was used in a crime, the judges threw it into a river. We must not confuse the means with the end. Latin America’s misfortune is that the U.S. model of commercial television has taken root. We’ve learned nothing from the European television model, which is geared towards different ends. In countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, television still plays a very enriching and important cultural role thanks to a degree of public ownership—even though it’s not as strong these days. Here in Latin America, by virtue of the North American television model, anything that sells is good and what doesn’t is bad.

The Indigenous Struggle:

One of the great hidden strengths and energy sources in Latin America is the people, who have expressed themselves through the revival of indigenous movements and the tremendous force of the values they stand for. These values are about harmony with nature and sharing lives in communities not focused on greed. They are values drawn from the past but which speak for the future and are relevant for all of us today. They are widely shared because they are values everyone needs to grasp in a world where compassion and solidarity have been seriously wounded in recent years and in some cases destroyed. Ours is a world focused on selfishness, on a belief in “everyone looking out for their own self.”

People and Land:

Five centuries ago, people in Latin America were taught to separate nature from Man—or so-called Man—which in fact meant men and women. Nature was placed on one side, human beings on the other. The same divorce took place the world over.
Many of the indigenous people burned alive for worshipping idols were simply the environmentalists of their time who were practising the only kind of ecology that seems worthwhile to me—an ecology of communion with nature. Harmony with nature and a communal approach to life ensured the survival of ancient indigenous values despite five centuries of persecution and contempt.
For centuries, nature was seen as a beast that had to be tamed—as a foreign enemy and a traitor. Now that we’re all “greens,” thanks to deceitful advertising based on words rather than deeds, nature has become something to be protected. But whether nature is to be protected or mastered and exploited for profit, it’s still seen as separate from us.
We have to recover this sense of communion with nature. Nature is not a landscape, it’s something inside us, something we live with. I’m not just talking about forests, but about everything to do with the reverence for the natural that the indigenous people of the Americas have and always have had. They see nature as sacred in the sense that every harm we cause turns against us one day or another. So every crime becomes a suicide. This can be seen in the large cities of Latin America, which are bad copies of those in the developed world where it’s just about impossible to walk or breathe clean air. We’re living in a world whose air, water and soil are poisoned. But most of all, our minds are poisoned. I truly wish that we could manage to summon up enough energy to heal ourselves.

Memory as a Catapult:

In my book Days and Nights of Love and War, I’ve asked myself whether our memories will allow us to be happy. I still have no answer. There’s a North American novel in which a great-grandfather meets his great-grandson. The old man remembers nothing because he’s lost his memory. He’s senile. His thoughts are as colourless as water. The grandson doesn’t have any memories because he’s too young. As I read the novel, I thought: “This is bliss.”
But this is not the happiness I’m after. I want happiness that comes from both remembering and from fighting against remembering. A happiness that includes the sadness, pain and injury of experience but also goes forward. Not memory that works like an anchor, but like a catapult. Not a memory that you just arrive at, but one that’s a launch pad.
There’s an American indigenous tradition found in the islands of the Pacific, in Canada and also places like Chiapas, in Mexico. It goes like this: when a master potter gives up his trade because his hands are no longer steady and his eyesight is failing, there’s a ceremony at which he presents his best pot, his masterpiece, to a young potter just starting out. The apprentice takes the flawless pot and smashes it into a thousand pieces on the ground. He then picks them up and mixes them into his own stock of clay. That’s the kind of memory I believe in.

Self-Portrait:

I find it hard to categorize any of the books I’ve written. It’s difficult to draw the line between fiction and fact. What I like best is telling stories. I feel I’m a storyteller. I give and take, back and forth. I listen to voices and transform them through the creative act into a story, an essay, a poem, a novel. I try to combine genres to go beyond the standard divisions and convey a complete message because I believe you can create such a synthesis with human language.
There’s no divide between journalism and literature. Literature is the totality of written messages that a society produces in whichever form it chooses. You can always say what you feel like saying, whether as a journalist or a writer. Good journalism can also be fine literature as José Marti, Carlos Quijano, Rodolfo Walsh and many others have shown.
I’ve always been a journalist and want to continue because once you enter the magic world of newspaper offices, who can pull you out again? You are taught how to be brief, to summarize—an interesting exercise for someone who wants to write about so many things. You’re also forced to come out of your little world to face reality and dance to the tune of others. You have to get out and listen to people. But there’s a downside, mainly the urgency. Sometimes when I’m writing I get stuck on a word and spend three hours looking for another. That’s one luxury journalism couldn’t afford to give me.

Dreams and Vigilance:

My only task is to try to reveal a masked reality, to write about what we see and what remains hidden. It is a reality that comes from being on watch, a false reality, sometimes a deceptive one, but also one capable of telling unknown or rarely heard truths.
There’s no magic formula for changing reality unless we start by looking at it as it is. To transform it, you have to begin by accepting it. This is the problem in Latin America. We still cannot see that. We are blind towards our own selves because we have been trained to see through the eyes of others. The mirror only reflects an opaque glint, and nothing more.

And Football:

All Uruguayans are born shouting “goal” and that’s why there’s always such a tremendous racket in our maternity wards. I wanted to be a football player like all Uruguayan boys. I started playing when I was eight years old but I was no good at it because I was so clumsy. The ball and I never got along. It was a case of unrequited love. I was also a disaster in another way. When an opposing team played a good game, I’d go and congratulate them—an unforgivable sin in the rules of modern football.

This article from:  http://www.unesco.org/courier/2001_01/uk/dires.htm

“A Callarse” or ‘Keeping Quiet’ – Pablo Neruda

The great Chilean poet/activist Pablo Neruda  (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973) is considered to be one of the most beloved poets of all-time around the world.  His poetry spoke of love, longing, and nature as well as politics.  Often, those worlds would meet in his poems.

Neruda held many political positions for short terms, including the Chilean Communist Party.  He was staunchly against prioritizing business interests over the people.  But the Cold War began, splitting many of the nations around the world into ‘for or against’ mentalities–between the capitalist market elites and the socialist/marxist elites.  Propaganda in all nations began against the ‘other.’  As with most countries, propaganda would work to create the enemy despite that fact that many knew nothing of the other system and what it was.  Propaganda created fear and suspicion of  ‘the other’ system.  Also, one would believe that their own systems (for instance, if one is a wealthy businessperson, one wouldn’t want to lose that wealth, prestige and power) needed to be maintained.  However, the dissatisfaction of the working classes and unions which offered them some sort of empowerment against the corporations and governments, were a threat to those establishments.  Those who were journalists, defense lawyers, artists, were all under threat in this war.  Pablo Neruda’s ‘art’ became an act of treason.

In 1948, the ultra-conservative leader of Chile outlawed all forms of communism, an arrest warrant was issued for Neruda.  Neruda’s friend hid him well in several places around Chile before he eventually went into exile through the rugged mountain ranges into Argentina.  Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.  Soonafter, Allende invited Pablo Neruda to speak.

The CIA and the business powers did not like this kind of government, of course.  Those who follow the historical moments of the world and the several crisis that have to do with our historical present, understand and know that the United States engineered a coup of that government (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm) with Augusto Pinochet as local leader to be set-up as the next.   Elite businesses and right-wing groups joined forces in many nations across the world, including the US, creating propoganda against all leftists during and shortly after the Cold War.  The Cold War, as it was called, created an illusory world of dual styles of politics that dominated the imagination from the late 40s through the 1960s.  There were the Western capitalist interests, and on the ‘other side’ were the communists who were more interested in non-hierarchical societies.  On both sides, their motto was equality.

During the violence in the offices, Allende died of a gunshot wound.  On the very same day of the coup d’etat,  Neruda was rushed to the hospital after collapsing and three days later, died of heart failure.  Although on paper he died of heart failure, the people the world over who loved him and those closest to him as well, spoke of him dying of a broken heart.

Those that knew him, were usually surprised at how he and his wife second wife Delia were simple, warm, generous and spontaneous people.  Many had known of him as a great literary figure with great political minds.  They began to understand that their writings were for the love of the people and life and nature, not writings and speeches for political cleverness and gain.


Keeping Quiet / A callarse

Now we will all count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fisherman in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could perhaps do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

-By Pablo Neruda

-from Full Woman, Fleshy Apple, Hot Moon
-English translation by Stephen Mitchell