April 30, 2008

fogo demas (too much fire)

I just finished the brief wondrous life of oscar wao by junot diaz - pick it up from the library from the bookstore whatever. you have to read it. I haven't been so sucked to the core of a novel since I read the power of one (by bryce courtnay and probably my favorite book) for the first time, and that was all sorts of different. or maybe not, come to think of it. more on that later.

I always get crazy thoughts at the end of a great novel and because it's so difficult to share that kind of moment with another person who hasn't just emerged from the soul of that particular novel, many of these thoughts are lost. but I'm curious about these ones and I want to process them more - later. so I wanted to share them with you and let them simmer a bit before thinking through them more.

sometimes, maybe too often, I find myself envying the educated oppressed - I know that's not remotely a politically correct or perhaps even linguistically correct term, and even just writing it out makes me feel like an asshole, but I'm resting on the hope that you understand a bit of what I mean and won't hate me. It's not envy of their suffering or their un-freedoms (as Amartya Sen, the author of Development as Freedom, the other book I'm reading right now, would call them) - but for their anger. Anger that's directed, focused - at those who created the Diaspora, who benefited from slavery (I always wonder if this is my family and then I think it must be, and if it wasn't, it is now); anger at a loss of place, a confusion of identity, at a language that narrates the western world but still can't figure out the words to articulate their past and story to define them now (African-Americans, Black, Latinos, Hispanics, Caribbean-American, Bi-racial?)

In Brazil everyone would talk of having African heritage as having a fire in your soul (literally "fogo d'alma") - and they say it as the cause of all the trouble that Afro-Brazileiros get into in Brazil is because of this fire in their souls (the social forces that provoke it and the racial context of the country's role in creating it aside), but it's also seen as something to be proud of - because as much as its a source of trouble and temper, it's a source of anger and passion -- of a kind that us lame ass white people just cannot comprehend even if we do learn to speak la lingua.

and it was true - and is true - I'm mostly just in awe of such passion, but what's more striking is that when I think about it, I'm more in awe of the anger. because while I've felt passion - serious passion - for serious - I've only felt anything close to that kind of anger once, maybe twice and only for fleeting situations, just a taste of what anger at being wronged feels like.

and while I understand conceptually the unbreakable link between this anger and oppression, my desire to feel the former, to empathize to the point where I can feel the start of a burn - carries me too close to actually feeling like I could accept the latter with it.

Maybe that's part of why I want to be a doctor - or at least a fear of mine about why I want to be a doctor - because a physician is rarely an object of this anger, and is most logically aligned with the oppressed, to the point where she can actually feel the anger because of their oppression. which I know is at least partly problematic, but what I can't sort out is how much.

I'm exhausted and slowly coming back into the world I'm in instead of the world of Junot Diaz and going to try to slip off to sleep before I try to work through these thoughts too much more. But I'd love to hear any thoughts, on this or the book (when/if you read it) or both or neither.

I don’t want words to sever me from reality.
I don’t want to need them. I want nothing
To reveal feeling but feeling – as in freedom,
Or the knowledge of peace in a realm beyond,
Or the sound of water poured in a bowl.
-Henri Cole

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