Monthly Archives: December 2006

Orlando Letelier

It appears there may be some traffic when I finally arrive at my destination, since I will coincide with the funeral of Augusto Pinochet.

He will not have a state funeral, but only a military one. Gott sei Dank, as my aunt would have said, and Alhamdulillahi, as we would have said in my Arabic class.

That makes this evening an excellent time to remember Orlando Letelier and many more. Presentes. Ahora. Y siempre.

The Unapologetic Mexican has an excellent post on Pinochet and his nefarious contexts.



Filed under News

On Trolls and Banes


I got a trolling e-mail and was disconcerted. Initially, I was just hurt, because it was in fact a hurtful remark. I apologized, thinking, if you have hurt me, then I must deserve it. Then, I realized the remark had been rude. I e-mailed again, saying, look, that was rude. If you really wanted to raise the issue you raised, you could have done it far more productively. Then I remembered, this person actually does know how to be polite. He does not just need a little guidance, he needs to be called on his presumptuous, gratuitously abusive behavior.

As you can see, it takes me some time to process these things, which is why I do not “just ignore” them. Unless I allow myself to process these behaviors and their effects upon me, I find myself simply accepting them, internalizing them. That is not to truly “rise above” them, and what I do now is notice how they actually make me feel, and talk back.

Trolls are irritating, but in the end, I am grateful to have encountered some. Their words and rhetoric have taught me a great deal about rhetorics of privilege, entitlement, male privilege, and whiteness. These often draw upon the rhetoric of abuse, which, as I have been learning, does in fact have a rhetoric.


I grew up under two sentences. 1. You do not have the right to be a person, but if you recognize and submit to that, you will be provided for. 2. Forget that you are not a person for any length of time, and you will be left to starve.

These sentences are a major Bane. They create a series of double binds, since if one is not a person, one cannot provide for oneself. Reeducation retaught me the two sentences quoted above, sentences I had long since forgotten. I am to this day uneasy because I am providing for myself. In order to do that I must be, at least to some extent, a person. I must make my own decisions. I cannot leave everything to chance or to someone else. And yet, I always feel I am doing wrong by being a person, by having my own thoughts.

That is another, important Bane. It is one reason why I was so struck by the graffiti I saw on the walls when I was a child: “Freedom NOW!” “Free Huey Newton!” “I am a MAN!” Freedom was coming, and I was for it, and I looked forward to participating in it, as a PERSON.


In the new year, however, I am not going to let trolls, on the Internet or elsewhere, drain my energy. I will not do this even when they claim to be friendly, to be “only trying to help,” or to “mean no harm.” I am perfectly lucid, I am quite good at working with serious criticism, and I do not need to “learn lessons” from random snipers. Although I am not a celebrity, I will take a page from the celebrities’ book. Celebrities know that people just will find something to criticize. They have decided long since to simply go about their lives.

Also in the new year, I will live as I did before Reeducation. I will spend more time in town, on the trails, and in the studio. I will be more involved with my local communities. My academic writing will be less cautious than it is now. I will suffer fewer fools, and I will not bargain with anyone about my own integrity. I will live at the center of my own life, and take authority there, whether the trolls and Reeducators feel it is kind of me, good of me, sweet of me, moral of me, or ethical of me to do so or not.

Life, it always seemed to me, was so easy and simple for someone like me. If you have health, youth, and a living, none of which I ever lacked, it is easy to be in the world and to do a number of things. This, of course, was an unacceptably simple attitude to take in Reeducation, but I really do think I am right about it.



Filed under Banes

Tasneem Khalil


Tasneem Khalil is has a new weblog. This is excellent news. I discovered his old site utterly by chance, and was fascinated for technical, literary, and artistic reasons, as well as the interesting and articulate content. Then the site disappeared, and I was concerned. Khalil is a journalist who writes on, among other things, human rights. Had he been disappeared himself? But he is back, and right on time for my own purposes. I am practically out the door, and I may or may not be posting over the next three weeks. And anytime is an excellent time to start reading Tasneem Khalil.


I am going to the Andes, and dreaming of the highest peaks, but I do not really intend to do the entire Aconcagua climb. I am not in shape for that. I do not have the money or the time, nor do I possess all of the necessary equipment.

It costs money to climb such mountains because you need some emergency support staff, and some radios, since you will rise to nearly 23,000 feet. There are many routes up the Aconcagua, some of them quite challenging. The route I would take, and that I may take one day, is the easy one, on the northern wall. It is a non-technical climb on a regular trail. The only special equipment you need there are crampons and ski poles.

I do intend to hike on the slopes of this mountain, and to climb on other hills and mountains near it. And the Andes are like the Himalayas, and their peaks are gods. And I am a masked narrator, but not an unreliable one.


A lot of people who climb the Aconcagua have sherpas. Perhaps this really is necessary, but who carries the sherpas’ packs? Once when I was hiking in Peru with some Brazilians, and some of the Brazilians got altitude sickness, sherpas rose up out of the trees, we’ll carry those packs for you for $4 a day.

They had been watching us the whole time, just waiting for this to happen. It was very interesting to see who actually hired sherpas: the straight white guys. These were the people in our group who were, at least apparently, in the best physical shape of all of us. But they had no endurance, as it turned out, and no psychic strength.



Filed under News

Año nuevo

I am leaving in the morning, as the bluesmen say. I am going to try to climb this mountain. Even if I do not make it to the summit, I will still get close. If I do not post, it will be because I am drinking Andean wine at some base camp, or sifting through archives and used book stores in town. I will see you in the new year, si no antes.

I will return inspired. I can already see the beginning of inspiration. One flash came from a friend who is not a professor, but who sometimes teaches, and reads research and scholarship in order to prepare classes. He said, “My God! These so-called researchers are sniping at each other, like stereotypical sorority girls when not also like Mafia thugs! I am not from a genteel family, but my mother taught me to be more polite than that, and more secure than that!” I thought: Thank you, Jesus. At last someone has validated my extreme allergy to academic goons.

Another friend is reconsidering the ways she chooses Rrrelationships. She said that as with other major decisions she has made, she will now choose relationships which are in accordance with her deepest wishes for her own life. I realized in a flash that where I have rarely made decisions in that way is at work.

I decided to climb the Aconcagua in that way, however. Now I may not make it to the top, because I was going to acquire the right shoes, and everything, three months ago, and train, and I did not. But I will get close enough for now, and I will be satisfied. I will add the relevant cueca lyrics here, as soon as I find them.



Notice and disclaimer: I have e-mail here which assumes, like some earlier commentators I did not publish, that I write here so as to harangue you. That is not a skilled reading, I must say. As a comment, it is presumptuous and rude.

I very much appreciate comments, and I do put this up to be read. However, I do that primarily because it helps me to formulate my thoughts and push them forward. But I am not writing for approval here, and I wrote every day for months before I ever got regular comments, so there. HAH!

I find it slightly amazing that anyone would read this site and not realize that it is where I examine my inner life. A basic theme of the certain unpublished comments from the past, and of this e-mail, is that the site is cooler than I am in reality.

But I do not write the site in order to seem cool. And if you actually read it, you will see that it specifically announces that I am not perfect. What is it – are you just jealous that I have this space at all, or have anything to say at all? Then get your own space. HAH!

It occurs to me that those who so worry that I may be projecting a false identity are as concerned about this false problem as they are because they themselves are actually faking identities, in actually malicious ways. I am being genuine here. HAH!

The comments to which I refer are primarily from white men and Christian fundamentalists. Their rhetoric suggests that at bottom, what they do not like is to see a woman speaking. In particular, they do not like my term Da Whiteman. They do not like to see criticism of whitemen, and they do not like to see positive comments. HAH!

These whitemen always make the same complaint. Each one truly appears to believe he is original – or that his interlocutors will think he is. The most recent one, I called on his comment, and he said he had not meant to offend, and I could ‘go in peace’. I only vaguely remember meeting this person, and he thinks he is my priest? HAH!

This is not a lecture, or a confessional, or an interrogation room, or the Jerry Springer show. It is the semi-formal, ludic space where I paint pictures and say things.

If my remarks on Da Whiteman, or on whitemen, are so upsetting to you that you have to write in and complain, perhaps you might ask yourself what it is that you have done which so resembles whiteman activities, that you are unable to simply say you do not like or agree with this weblog, and move on?




Filed under Resources

Se vuol ballare

Slaves of Academe has reminded us more than once that in academia, as in life, good deeds rarely go unpunished. Sometimes, however, they are rewarded or at least not opposed. This leads to feelings of empowerment, which brings perspective and focus, and fosters further accomplishment. This is why I have always considered empowerment a positive thing. As my old student, the yogi, once said: “I understand now. You believe that even undergraduates should have power.” And I do.

A few days I created an amusing concept, the Bane, based on the English word bane. A Bane in my specific redefinition is a piece of conventional wisdom or truth, based upon a fallacy, infused with the “paralyzing gas of fear” (Galeano), and used as a control mechanism, or, more specifically, as a method for the internalization of oppression. As I can, I will be expanding my list of currently common Banes.

When I say “empowerment,” do I mean asserting power over others? One of my early memories is of labor and civil rights protestors wearing enormous placards which said, I AM A MAN. Soon afterward, at school, girls older than me announced that we were women, and caused meetings of the newly formed Women’s Caucus to be announced in the Daily Bulletin (much to the annoyance of my Spanish teacher, who had to read it to us). When I say the word empowerment, I refer to examples such as these.

A relevant song could be Se vuol ballare. Bryn Terfel sings this song with some panache and an amusingly Viking-tinged look.



Filed under Banes

Rigoberta Menchú Tum


[Five Rigoberta Menchús, oh my!]

One of my students wrote an honors thesis on the controversy which surrounded Rigoberta Menchú after David Stoll alleged that there were false statements in her testimonio. This student read virtually every book and article then in print about the issue. She said to me, “This is the academic Jerry Springer show! It started out with a disagreement between two people, and now the entire audience is slugging it out on the floor!”

I will not attempt to summarize the entire debate here, but it was somewhat unnerving to those who had an interest in the literal truth of Menchú’s narrative – the first paragraph of which contains this sentence: “I’d like to stress that it’s not only my life, it’s also the testimony of my people.” I never thought veracity in a ploddingly literal sense was testimonio’s cornerstone. Stoll’s interest in discovering Menchú’s “untruths” is primarily political. He disagrees with her politics, and wishes to discredit her so as to discredit these.

In Nebaj, Guatemala, I had a conversation with a man who put it slightly differently. “Stoll is just envious. He is a man, a Euro-American, a Ph.D., and a professor. She is a woman, a Native American, and a Guatemalan, with very little formal education. But her book has been very well received academically in the metropolitan countries. She achieved First World academic success without preauthorization. This he cannot forgive.”



Filed under What Is A Scholar?

Lydia Mendoza

Lydia Mendoza - Roots

[Lydia Mendoza. Folk Roots/Arhoolie Foundation.]

Every once in a while, you need mariachis, but I could not find a video that was not just too campy. So I started looking at conjunto music, and finally decided to introduce the amazing tejana singer Lydia Mendoza.

NPR’s brilliant Lydia Mendoza page page allows us to hear her signature song Mal hombre in its entirety. There is oral history here and a lot more, including a recipe for chiles rellenos.

We can read all about Mendoza in this 1993 book, by the reliable James Nicolopoulos and Chris Strachwitz. There is also a new book by Yolanda Broyles-González.

We can listen right here to a few tracks from the album of hers I bought in Austin. We can hear samples of her 2001 album, La alondra de la frontera. Chulas fronteras, one of my favorite films, features Lydia Mendoza. And UC Berkeley is streaming clips from that film at us right now.

A lyric: “Mujer que asesina / con una mirada / mirada que clavas / como puñalada / Los ojos que tienes / yo te los quitara / porque no te caben / en tu linda cara. / Ojos de tragedia, pedazos de noche / de brillo tan negro como el pedernal / que rasgan el alma, y la hacen pedazos / tienen tus ojazos el filo del mal.” In her picture, you can see her eyes, which give an idea of what the lyric means.



Filed under Arts