Sunday, May 22, 2011

research project

The word "research" used to make me cringe until I realized that it doesn't necessarily have to mean science science.  I much prefer social sciences.
Lucky that the Oxford class revolves around British culture and history anyway.

I am most interested in contemporary cultural and social aspects. Harry Potter was brought up as a possible topic, and being a lifelong fan of Harry Potter, I would love to study that (the effects of Pottermania, Rowling's social mobility, what aspects of British culture make it into the Harry Potter books that Americans miss or don't understand, etc.)  I also find the accent fascinating -> the break between American and British accents must have happened less than 250 years ago, and I always thought that was a very small time period for large linguistical changes to occur.  I'd love to look into British slang, or the relationship of movie theater entertainment versus dramatic theatre entertainment.

How does one research things like slang or accents, though?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

americans on brits and vice versa

After the hubbub about the royal wedding, especially here in America, I was a bit curious as to what the general American view on Britain was.

I mean, we had a direct war against them, so it's interesting how hostilities have died down.  I suppose it has been over two centuries.  But the USA was founded on antagonizing the British, leading to the nationalism that was able to unite the colonies against the Loyalists and win the Revolutionary War.

We all know the way that the Revolutionary War is taught in American textbooks.  Americans are painted as the honest farmers who simply want to be recognized by the Crown.  (Actual reasons for revolt varied much more than that, I suspect.)  So how are the American colonists depicted in British textbooks?  I would predict we are painted as rebels that ran off with the colonies and abandoned the motherland that spawned us.  That is fair enough, I suppose.  It's just interesting how perspectives change everything.

History sometimes seems really universal and concrete.  I mean, if a certain battle occurred on a certain date, etc. etc., then how much is there that can be fabricated or twisted?  In two ways is this assumption incorrect.  First, as the cliche goes, history is written by the victors, so any losers that were stamped out have no voice in what we hear today.  (Perhaps we lost evidence of any more egalitarian, pacifist societies that were overrun by the war-friendly; we shall never know.)  Second, it is difficult to realize that even in the "unified" present there are still so many fault lines where we differ.  (The present being commonly described as "unified" in the sense that the internet is able to share ideas and when international relations are arguably at their most prioritized point to date.)  We could learn so much just by looking at the differences in what our children are taught to be facts.

A lot of this internal discussion was spawned from the following picture from my favorite webcomic, Married to the Sea.

Cheers to the fact that we seem to have mostly gotten over our differences in respect to the Revolutionary War.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mr Begum

I like the idea that not everything has a point.  It really allows me to relax when I read.  Knowing that Zadie Smith did not necessarily intend for some profound meaning is comforting.  In fact, I think I would be a bit of a mess if I had continued frantically searching for a point in both short stories we have read, "Picnic, Lightning" and "Mrs. Begum's Son and the Private Tutor."

I wonder if Smith's descriptions are a little bit too polarized, however.  I used to write fiction too.  (You could call them short stories -> they were intended to be novels, but the word count never made it past short story length.)  There was certainly a dilemma on how to word my descriptions succinctly, yet...well, descriptively.  I can't help but feel that Smith forces herself to choose whether her characters will be comical or credible.
For instance, Mrs. Begum never comes off as much more than a ridiculous matriarch-wannabe.  The description of her home drips with disdain.  Geeni is a very stereotypical child figure: I made a face at the phrase, "As Geeni tugged pointlessly at the hem of her mother's skirts" because the act of 'tugging at skirts' always seemed like such a cliche.  The people on the bus are carricaturized as well.
Meanwhile, Pembrose, the narrator, seems to be the only credible figure, except for perhaps Magid (though Magid's original description brought up a "fat kid" stock image in my head.)

Then again, as Pembrose is the narrator, and not necessarily Smith, all of this could just be indirectly informing the reader of Pembrose's perceptions of superiority.  Nevertheless, the cliches make me cringe.

I suppose that Mark displays a bit of both sides.  The words that describe him seem to emanate with cigarette smoke themselves.  Yet he displays remarkable understanding and compassion for his father's situation in life.

Speaking of Mr. Begum, I developed a theory on what Mark was talking about.

'"I think your mother hopes you and Magid will have more opportunities," I said weakly.
"It's not enough," he said quietly.  "It's not enough.  Someone's got to pay it back. ..."' (pg 10)

The concept that parents work to better their children's future seems pretty standard nowadays.  People hear this sentiment, nod, and smile.  Yet it is rarely considered how the parents fare in this deal.  Mr. Begum worked quietly in the garden, struggling through all the adversity quite literally thrown onto his head by outsiders that did not know him or care about the well-being of his garden.  He struggled to help his plants to grow.  The plants could not really help themselves to grow.  It was all Mr. Begum's responsibility to take care of them.  Yet when the plants do grow and blossom or bear fruit, and the passerby stop to admire them, it will be the plant that they admire, and not the admirable efforts of Mr. Begum.
Isn't that what raising kids is like?  Parents endure the financial and practical responsibilities of children.  The act of even raising their offspring to be functional human beings is quite a feat.  If the parent does their job well, the child can run out into the world to succeed.  Meanwhile, the parents are left to "pick up shit."

Admittedly, the final dialogue between Pembrose and Magid was somewhat lost on me.  I still am unsure what to make of that.

Lastly, how on earth do you pronounce Magid?  I've been saying May-gih-d, but that can't be right.