The reason I booted up today is that I wrote a poem, and have an idea for another. First the poem (it is a continuation of the one about zen-ization of apartment sounds):
The quiet clatter of bamboo chimes
Are better suited to richer lives
Whose cars, closets and lawns
Cover up the working dawns
All the feng shui,
And acupuncture leaching
Only work when
Money lets you run
To the wooded country
That favors trees over WE.
I was mugged by my muse again this morning: Here is the poem that I wrote and the ideas that it spawned
My Zen Retreat
Quite feng shui wind chimes tinkling
Compliment the babble gurgling
Gentle breeze like trees’ leaves rustling
That whoosh is from the radiator
The dribble, a missing toilet bobber
And clatter, a ghetto-licious chandelier
So what I’ve been thinking about with this whole poetry thing, and I guess that this applies to any theoretical fiction writing also, is that I need to elaborate on the right details. I have to explain, describe or elaborate on the part of the story that brought the whole thing up in the first place. So I was turning on Choi’s (my wife’s Mother, with whom I was living when I wrote this) lamp in the living-room when it clattered and tinkled and I thought how it was like wind chimes, and then I noticed the hissing of the radiator. These two reminded me of the people (like my Mom) who coo and go-on about that commercialized, Orientalist Zennishness.
I reckon that the western ideal has been doing this as a sort of “Other-Mania” for at least 150 years (More the French Impressionist painters then Joseph Conrad), but it is the last 30 or so that has the burr under my saddle. I think that I wanted to lampoon the phoney hypocritical zen-mania of the hippy generation best exemplified by Ram Das and the Harvard Square Gurus that marshaled cults from the 60s and 70’s onward.
So the poem, on one level, is perfect the way it is. On another level it is just a beginning on the ideas I just wrote in the last paragraph. How do I write a poem, or extension to that poem, that captures the othering of the harmless oriental. Which I think is in direct inverse proportion to the absence of subjectivity. What are the details I want to focus on? Wealth, power and race are all obvious signs of this phenomenon, but I need more concrete details. What is as real as “a ghetto-licious chandelier?”
I have been thinking about the love of the American middle class (over-class, upper-class, meddling-class?) to adopt causes with no local subjectivity. It is OK to be pro-Tibet because there are no Tibetan ghettos in their ken.
It is like the ardor that America felt for the civil-rights movement of the 50s and 60s, when, since there was near absolute segregation, there was very little actual expression of Negro subjectivity outside of popular culture. Once Blacks got a piece of the rock, were mixed into the local culture as much as the popular culture, you had the same people saying (advocating, instigating, silk-screening t-shirts) “disco sucks,” because this was an actual hybridization of pop-culture. When “disco-sucks” was the rallying cry they would play dance hits from across the spectrum on “disco stations” and in discos like Boz Scaggs, and John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Once the “pitiable other” started dancing with their sons and daughter, having palpable impact on their own culture, the Negro was no longer a worth cause célèbre: roll out the Vietnamese.
Once the South Vietnamese were too real, that is when the boat people showed up in California public schools and opening nail salons and restaurants, attention, again, shifted. Next it was the Cambodians whom Pol Pot was massacring who fell in and out of Orientalist vogue. They are still the most ghetto-fied Asians in California, living in projects and generally under-performing in myriad ways (because of their subaltern position in Asia?). I heard something on NPR on Sunday about some white southern do-gooders who were intent on rescuing the Bantu of Sudan, who had been enslaved about the same time as the niggers amongst whom they live in South Carolina. For some reason the fact that it was an Arab (Orientalist) power structure that has been marginalizing them for the last 250 years kept them from being the garden variety blacks whom they seem unconcerned about helping. All this is why vegetarianism and animal rights have stayed in vogue, animals have no real subjectivity because they are not sentient (which is the same reason we’ve always eaten them): they’ll never date your precious pink daughter.
So what are the details that will make the meddling class concrete? If I call them “the meddling class” it will be a tired didactic exercise worthy of minister Farrakhan and the coked up remnants of the Black Panthers. Perhaps the distance of the television would clarify it.