The Island of Isolation

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The Island by La Goutte – Getty Images

Buzzing Hemisphere by Urayoan Noel is a very intriguing yet puzzling piece of literature. In the text we visit a number of different ideas both philosophical in nature and in interpretation. As the name would suggest, Hemisphere would suggest the presence of geography and it’s role in the material. The northern and southern hemispheres both play important roles in this book but most notable the northern hemisphere. For the purposes of this blog I will be discussing the ladder; and the idea of “The Island.”

The island gets brought up in the text periodically during the beginning of Alphabet City and My Burning Hemisphere. “Come down with me in search of the city and whatever it lets us share already sick of the teachable moments and the banking-crisis-recovery hymns that leave us like pop-ups in the skyline decoding the spyware on our skin and yet we claim these endomorphic islands alive in former factories of feeling neglected but not yet disassembled.” (Noel, 8). In this context I am lead to believe that the Island symbolizes isolation of some kind. The northern hemisphere is depicted as this one single entity, a conglomerate of different countries on a map, but poetically a autocratic body of governance. Which could also relates to territoriality.

Most of this text is very earth-based, geocentric, and geographical. “. . . they talked about tourism but I’m far from the island isolated.” (Noel, 17). The word “isolation” is actually used as we further progress in through the reading. To me, Noel is attempting to show the reader that while the stigma applies to the vast majority of society which she is surely attempting to depict; there are exceptions, as in all things. If isolation is indeed the message of the day, it surely is expressed in a very encrypted way. I have always been a fan of poetry, but in this application I do find it very difficult to follow the mood of the text. Most poetry has a behavior that is easy to follow, like music notes. In terms of this poetry it’s like navigating through a puzzle. But that could have been the authors intentions all along.

 

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A Tram into History

 

 

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Credit: Universal History Archive Universal Images Group Getty Images

Tram 83 is a captivating piece of poetry that is quite literally a portal into a distal world; or perhaps better yet, a scope into the reality of modern history. In the developing world the African Province of Congo is considered to many as civilizations roots, this is due in part to the geopolitical relationship we share with the country as a whole. While this assertion couldn’t be further form the truth and could even go as far as to be considered a negative stigma associated with historical prejudice, it nevertheless serves as a centerpiece for this novel. A notion I believe Mujila intended when writing this text.  The application of history here is very intense throughout the reading. When we look into the dark history of Congo it’s not hard to imagine where all the inspiration came from.

 

 

Leopold II king of the Belgians (1935-1909) King in 1865 when his father LeopoldI died, c. 1900 Felix Potin collection

King Leopold of Belgium – By 

The railroad in this novel symbolizes something far greater than a means of transportation for the Congolese. The rails symbolize European occupation, resource and mineral extraction, migration, and most notable – colonization. Belgium effectively monopolized the Congo for their own economic gain at the expense of the masses. A man who sat on a throne an entire sea away yet held such a firm iron grip over the people for decades. The railroad to many, is a hateful remembrance of their past. “I’ll throw myself on the tracks if dad insists I study history.” (Mujila, 42). This is a reflection of the commoners consensus in Congo. It’s an illustration of cultural value and more importantly; a look into the value of history. I have the feeling that the Congolese engage in some form of forgetting, as their past brings them no patriotism or association with country. Instead it pains them, humiliates them, and dehumanizes them. The Belgian rule over the province in Africa was considered very totalitarian , authoritarian, and cruel even in comparison to their other European counterparts.

 

 

The entire idea of imperialism, most uniquely showcased in the events that unfolded in Africa is disgusting. And I believe Mujila capitalizes on this sentiment through the imagery of the railroads and the significance of the the novel’s title.   

 

The Monkey and the Man

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“Dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed” –  Paulo Freire, Source: Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Much to the tone of the novel Utopia, the fundamental principle of dehumanization rests in ability for one to deprive a person of the natural qualities that make us “human”. The act of dehumanization is deeply rooted in the socioeconomic constraints that exist in a society; like those that consumed the German-Italian sentiment in the 20th century. Utopia paints a grotesque variation of the term defined above. At first glance, the chapter titles themselves suggest animal-like qualities, “Predator” and “Prey”. Throughout the text we witness this underlying theme of of a hunt, and all the elements that follow, such as death and killing. From the very start of the book the narration guides the readers into this birds-eye view the class struggle and inequality that Egypt faces. “Utopia, where death retreats behind barbed wires and becomes nothing but a game that adolescence dream of …” (Towfik, 6).

The idea of Allah going out on a hunt to track down, torture, kill, and keep the corpse of an ‘Other’ is very barbaric – Like some kind of fixed game hunt, where only the fittest survive. Or more realistically, those with access to more resources. The narrator mentions multiple human-animal associations ranging from rats, wolves, chickens, bugs, to even monkeys. In this respect dehumanization really supports the “class-conflict” that I previously mentioned, and almost gives it validity. Throughout the entity of the book many people are refereed to or even treated like animals. It opens with US Marines shooting down a civilian in the desert and then checking the body to make sure it was dead, like hunting big game. This idea carries through to the very end of novel when Allah is gunning down stampedes of Others in an effort to keep them from invading Utopia.

The author does an amazing job at illustrating this struggle coupled with the universal human struggle of purpose. In many way it’s disgusting how these individuals were treated based on the amount of wealth they were born into, but it is also eye opening to the realities of our current state of affairs in the world as a whole.

The Cross into Contrast

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Picture by Jonas DeRo Utopia vs. Dystonia  

Yuri Hererra’s novel Signs Preceding the End of the World was an amazing piece of literature that even in its translated state, was still as captivating to it’s audience as if you had read the original thing itself. For me, it was like reading a pop-up book; the material was so raw, yet defined. As if the words themselves built upon this structure illustrating each and every scene. Much of the book itself was like moving your eyes across the panoramic view of a painting. The colors, texture, and fluidity all granulating into the “big picture”. For me, the big picture was a contrast between two competing elements, Mexico and the United States.

It is certainly fair to say that Makina had less than enthusiastic thoughts about crossing the boarder into U.S. territory. A very cynical perspective of it’s reality deeply rooted in the colonial oppression of the past and the geopolitical sentiment of the present. Describing the nature of their relationship would be to paint a picture that contrasts two very distinctive, but restrictive, elements that evoke very different emotions in it’s viewer. For that is what Hererra does is to give us a look through the lens of a Mexican immigrant crossing the American border.

She describes her town as “bland”, “pale”, and “riddled with bullets”, which is also a reference to the scars colonialism still has on their country to this very day. She goes on to associate the United States with “Pink houses”, “malls”, and “movies”. This is one of those pop-up images, like the light secreting into the dark. I visualize Utopian sky liners slicing perfectly symmetric slivers in the clouds that allow for the sun’s light to touch upon the mangled shacks and mines of suburbs they overshadow. A lot of what Makina is hinting at, in my opinion, is the dehumanization and humility that crossing the border involves. It’s damaging in many ways to ones character, in that it robs them of individualism and other qualities associated with being a fellow human being.

This novel was very vocal, political, and above all – eyeopening to the realities of immigration.