A Story in the Spaces

 

Buzzing Hemisphere. Possibly one of the most bizarre novels I have ever read. Written by Urayoán Noel, Buzzing Hemisphere is a set of different poems that are written in both English, Spanish, and sometimes a combination of the two. Reading it once or twice, one may not understand the intricate nature of how each poem is written, translated, and even organized. Noel makes the absurd nature of the poems intentional in order to hide deeper meanings within each of them using many forms of formal methods. One of these methods is his use of spacing and separation between his poems, specifically the spaces between the English and Spanish translations. This use of spacing could be argued as a form of deterritorialization, a literary term described as the process of undoing what has already been done.

Noel uses this form of deterritorialization in multiple ways throughout the novel. Starting in the section titled Alphabet City (3) where poems written in English and Spanish are separated from each other in the middle of the page, sandwiched between two more stanzas of poems written in Spanish and English also separated from each other. We see more of a separation as we go further into the novel. After Alphabet City we get to Voice Creaks (14) which also has many poems, each with English and Spanish translations. Only this time, they are separated farther from each other, almost like islands. But as the novel progresses these separations between English and Spanish starts decreasing, and the translations start getting closer together. Just look at stanzas under Heaves of Storm (37); instead of each translation being at the far edge of the page, they are next to each other, providing easier read of both forms. And finally, as we get to Fake Flowers (75) the translations have become mixed, almost like it was Spanglish, where Spanish and English were a part of the same sentences, not separated into what translates into what. It’s almost as if neither can be apart from another.

Why might Noel do this? And how does this have anything to do with deterritorialization? Well what I believe, that the reason why Noel used so much space and separation between the translations of the stanzas of poems to create commentary on the separation of American and Mexican culture. So saying many of the stanzas in the novel that are so far away from each other on the same page are like islands isn’t too farfetched. We may be on the same continent as Mexico, but U.S. and Mexican relations have also been extremely fragile, criminalizing and isolating any person of Mexican and Chicano cultures, especially in this day and age. Noel uses the process of deterritorialization by decreasing the amount of separation in the stanzas of poetry, to argue that both cultures are necessary to create a better and stronger system, and for anything to make sense, as we see that many of the sentences in Fake Flowers don’t seem to make sense without taking in the context of the Spanish that was before and after it.

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Unfinished Political Structures

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What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase: “Do you have the time?” or “Tip?” If you answered that the thought of prostitutes came to mind, congratulations, you live in the world of Tram 83Tram 83 is a novel written by African writer Fiston Mwanza Mujila, originally published in French and translated by Alain Mabanckou. The book doesn’t follow the typical novel placeholder, it’s more of a series of events that happen to our main characters, Requiem and Lucien, rather than a narrative with a rising action and terms like that. The book is more about how and why it happens rather than what happens.

The events of the novel have multiple signs and phrases that explain why these events happen. Mujila cleverly uses the concept of tremolo in his novel, a form a repetition that’s often used in music.  The continuous use of the phrase: “Do you have the time?” and “…whose metal structure is unfinished…” (Mujila, 15), are actually symbolic messages of the heavily damaged political and social structures of the setting. The setting of the novel is representative of present day Congo, one of the most populated and corrupted places in Africa. Mujila clearly presents this using this form of tremolo.

The phrase: “Do you have the time?” is basically the calling card for the dozens upon dozens of prostitutes and sex workers that Requiem and the others encounter. At the bar, “Do you have the time?” (Mujila, 9). At the train station: “Do you have the time?” (Mujila, 2). Even the very last line of dialogue of the novel was “Do you have the time?” (Mujila, 210). This constant repetition of phrases is set up as a constant reminder of the nearly destroyed social infrastructure.

Not only is the social infrastructure severely damaged, but the physical structure is as well. Tram 83, the actual physical nightclub that Requiem and company visit frequently throughout the novel, is constantly described with the terms “whose metal structure is unfinished” or a form of said phrase. Tram 83, being basically the center of everyone’s lives, is seen as a representation of the country of Congo as a whole. “Whose metal structure is unfinished,” could be seen as a descriptor to how their country is like that of the Tram itself. “It was the only place on earth you could hang yourself, defecate, blaspheme, fall into infatuation, and thieve without regard to prying eyes.” (Mujila, 1).  This is an even more in dept description of how everyone sees the Tram, or rather, how everyone sees their home country. Stripped of resources, governed by corrupt men, and seen as a “tourist attraction” is what Congo is being described as in this context. Unfortunately, it will be no easy task to clean up this amount of damage to this society, and if things keep gong the way they are, it’s only a matter of time till things really start looking from unfinished to completely destroyed.

Utopia: A World Without Humans

“These people had turned into creatures as far removed as possible from humans. The cerebral cortex no longer plays any role with them. They are only driven by sex or violence.” (Towfik, 95)

Reverse Evolution http://nextgap.com/2014/06/reverse-evolution/
The above quote could be described as a main theme of the novel. A theme that would be very common in the genre of a dystopian society, the theme of dehumanization. Utopia, the novel written by Ahmed Khaled Towfik, was published in 2009 originally written in Arabic and translated to English by Chip Rossetti. A dystopian society in Egypt separates the entire population into two very distinct factions, the very rich, who dwell in the near ‘perfect’ colony that is Utopia, and the extreme poor who live in scum of the earth areas outside the the walls of the Utopian city.

Now, a dystopian society is a complex genre. So many effects that a nihilistic, elitist and nearly hopeless society could have on any one person. Or rather, an entire population of people. What I will be covering, is the nature of dehumanization and how Towfik uses it in his novel. Dehumanization is described as the stripping of a person or group of people of any positive human qualities. Take it as a non-biological ‘Reverse Evolution’ where the mental and emotional state of a human person starts to deteriorate into a lower form. Though, we must figure out what makes each and every one of us human. We as a species aren’t that much different from any primate or mammal that’s a part of the hypothetical ‘Animal Tree’. Though we create for ourselves certain guidelines and questions on what separates us from non-humans. Could it be the way we think and act that make us humans, could it be the morals and ideals we set for ourselves in life that make us more human? Is it the empathy, or connectivity, or our sense of reasoning that make us seem more human? Or could it be the identity we set ourselves as. Well, whatever it may be, staying ‘human’ is a difficult thing to be, especially in the setting of the novel.

Throughout the novel, dehumanization is present in mostly every circumstance, in both the rich and the poor factions. Alaa, the narrator of the Predator parts of the novel, is a patron of the dehumanization principle of this society. “I know them by heart in the way that you know the taste of chicken by heart. No chicken is different from any other and you can feel that you have eaten this chicken before.” (Towfik, 88), quite the patron of woman this Alaa is, isn’t he? Throughout the novel, Alaa continues to vocalize how inhuman the people around him are. Alaa is an advocate of the violent culture that Utopia stands for.  The ‘no-consequence’ culture has an effect of invincibility on him, giving him an undeserved sense that he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. And he does.

One of the scenes nearing the ending involves Alaa raping an already sick girl, continually calling her a ‘thing’ and blaming her state of poverty on her own people’s actions (Towfik, 132), despite the novel telling us this wasn’t the case. Alaa also shows us, the reader, that dehumanization works both ways. He carries himself all high and mighty, and yet many of the actions, such as the rape just covered, all non-human to begin with. He acts like he’s on top of the world and yet acts like a disgusting animal in heat that tears away at anything he can get his hands on, who betrays those that helped him, such as his murder of Gabber (Towfik, 143), and the random shooting at the upcoming revolution at the end of the novel (Towfik, 156).

It is through this dystopian society that these people become dehumanized and animal-like. The lack of resources make the poor desperate, completely forgetting their human morals and doing anything, no matter how horrid or beast-like, to survive. The rich however, they are dehumanized for different reasons, as their ideas that they are invincible make them feel like they can do anything, as does Alaa, which excuses them from taking part in rape, drug abuse, murder, and death-worship. Then how do we, in our present day society, prevent dehumanization? Well, I assume the only way we keep us from becoming savages like Alaa and treating others in that same way, is by remembering where we all have come from. We all struggle, but I believe our experiences and how we deal with our stress makes us as human as we can be. We stay human because we stay “human”, or rather, we stick with the morals that don’t cause ourselves or others harm; well at least most of us.

Yuri Herrera, Makina, and the Failure of United States Identity

It had hardly been more than a few dozen yards, but on staring up at the sky Makina thought that it was already different, more distant or less blue. (Herrera, 40)”

This quote from the novel Signs Preceding the End of the World by Mexican author Yuri Herrera could be described as the core view of many non-U.S. cultures on the rest of the United States. The novel, originally written in Spanish of course and translated into English, which is the novel I had read, is set up as the classic “heroes journey” style, where our main character Makina, resident of the fictional city of Little Town in Mexico, goes on a journey to the U.S. to find her brother, and also on a journey of her own self discovery.

While the story itself is indeed a classic, one of the many themes and messages Herrera covers is the idea that the United States (you know, the country that’s supposedly the ‘land of the free’, a country filled with opportunities to create a better life in the ideological system of the capitalist, nationalist regime) has become a place that is dreaded to go to by immigrants from across the world. Throughout the novel, Herrera presents us with many examples of the narcissistic nature of American ideals. Whether it’s some old white woman that steals Makina’s make-up (Chapter 3, page 34) or a loud and obnoxious cop with a superiority complex (Chapter 8, page 97), the message becomes clear.

The United States has become a cesspool of hate, racism, greed, and cultural insensitivity. The U.S. citizens keep believing that they’re the only “civilized” country in the world, and yet they see themselves as superior to any person with a slightly darker skin tone as them.  Cultures are destroyed because they are frowned upon the moment they come into the country. And it’s not like the U.S. is barely acting like this, ever heard of slavery? Or colonialism? Herrera helps us see the harsh truth that the United States isn’t very united with the rest of the world. People here are seen as so horrible that people, like Makina, dread to come here, knowing that they’ll be treated so harshly.

And it has only got worse. We’ve elected corrupt officials, men that only wish to fill their bank accounts and men that only want to create barriers, separating ourselves from the world even more. And people are legitimately surprised at how American’s are seen by foreign countries. The U.S., as Makina puts it, is a place that is “less home” and “more distant”. She’s not saying it’s physically far off from her home in Mexico; she’s saying that it’s so far off from a true livable country, that anyone, even those born here, are treated like outcasts.