Jan 24, 2006

Exoticize This!

Keepin' the Neighbors Up With: Testament/Live in London

SM regular, Manish was right on the money in this visual takedown of a new release from Ballantine Books, "The Mango Season." I can't tell you how many times a friend and I would decry the choice of book cover, font, or other elements of design that trivialize or even worse, completely objectify the writer and the writer's community. For him, it was the "chinky" letters that plagued even serious Asian American titles - what gives? Can't they give the damn Charlie Chan routine a rest?

And now, though I have been sick to tears of the food metaphors for more years than I can remember, the scourge remains, and in this example, at least, seems really quite egregious. I just don't know how much creative control the writer has, but you have to see all of the classic examples in this case, and wonder if she couldn't have at least cut some of the most obvious shit out. If we don't stop ourselves from self-exoticization, how can we expect the Man from doing it?

So sisters, do us a favor and stop using mango, chili, spice, papaya, palm trees, curry, vindaloo, coconut, banana, and all the other obvious, rote, boring, tired, offensive, annoying, and unimaginative choices as metaphors for cultural dissonance, plurality, or confusion. Just tell your stories, and leave the lame titles out of it.

Brothers, well... where the hell you at, anyway? And that's a whole other post. Where is the progressive South Asian male literary community? Queer or hetero, but especially the latter. Was there an alien abduction that I didn't hear or read about?


flygirl said...

I hear you, brother. Recently, a rag reviewed The Bollywood Beauty. After chucking in the usual curry metaphors, it concluded that the book was, in a word:"spicy."

*bangs head on table*

Rage said...

It's just so obvious and annoying that you have to think these folks have been living in a cave for the last 30 years and suddenly came across brown folk and their writing and were beside themselves with glee and annoying metaphors.

Though I wonder if the British press has moved on (likely). It's just Stateside where I feel like it's really annoying. Curry this, vindaloo that, and then it's all about the bollywood. I just wish that we'd some folks who can either review the books without the annoying display of two-bit exposure to some fragment of culture, or just take the logical approach and tell me if the damn book is worth reading.

flygirl said...

Bollywood Beauty did better in the broadsheet - no vindaloo rubbish and a good analysis of the book , even suggesting it described a "universal experience." Most reviews are the same crap though (yeesh, try reading an article on Desai or Devakaruni) - desi is still a new beast here and they have no idea what to make of Bollywood. Interesting that Rushdie never gets this kind of nonsense. I imagine that the British have moved on, esp as so many desis - Pico Iyer, Pankaj Mishra - often write in their papers as opposed to here. Their association with desi goes so much longer. Damn the Poms, their media is so much better :-(

Rage said...

I think that Rushdie probably has graduated from the group - as probably Seth. Collect enough mainstream accolades and you get left alone. Of course, Rushdie isn't the fave of most desi readers, anyway.

And I definitely think that it's a gendered response. Of course, I have my own beef with how few desi male writers are out there from the younger generation, but I may just not be plugged in enough.

What/Who are Poms?

flygirl said...

Hmm..I think you may be onto something there. Maybe desi females *are* more visible, recognisable representations. Females...exoticisation, fetishisation, docile oriental women, submission, misceganation (evil, evil word).... Not alot of young male writers come to mind, even Vikas Swarup is an "oldie", I think. But there are quite a few published in India who don't seem to make it outside. What think you of Mr. Ghosh?

Not even sure Rushdie qualifies as Indian anymore, he seems to use it when it suits him. That was nasty, I know.

"Poms," is an Australianism for the Brits - either a contraction of "Prisoners of Her Majesty" or, as we prefer, "pompous." ;-)

Rage said...

I actually haven't read anything from Amitav Ghosh - our bookshelves are laden with the works of many great writers, but law school sucks your spare time from you. I really like Amitava Kumar's work though (have you checked out his blog?).

I definitely think that there are a lot of great writers in India/South Asia - but not really getting out into the mainstream. In terms of South Asian men, I really like Shyam Selvadurai's work (have you read it?). But the pickings are slim.

Poms. Learn something new every day.

flygirl said...

Ghosh I like as an essay writer. He writes brilliantly. But I;ve only read The Hungry Tide, and somehow found it uninspiring. He had great elements, but I felt he didn't tie them together that well.

Have heard of Selvadurai but not read any. Going into an Indian bookstore is a revelation, and I kind of feel that we are missing out not having so many of those desi-English novels presented over here.

I have seen Amitava Kumar's blog, and it's superb! Not read any books though. locana.blogspot.com is where I go for fab desi lit links, he has a few in the top ten listed in the blogroll that are brilliant.

Rage said...

Yeah - I would definitely recommend Silvadurai, especially Cinnamon Garden, which is one of my fave desi diasporic novels.

Will check out Ghosh, and that site! Thanks!