ww: challenge

11/08/2010 § Leave a comment

He made me think without me knowing it. His critique of M.I.A.’s music was creatively painted with his words. I found myself fumbling to pronounce names and enunciate sentences, finding thrill in the challenge of it. This is a writer, I thought.

In his piece titled, “News from Nowhere,” Chang explores the motives behind Mathanga’s — or “Maya” or M.I.A. — lyrics. She packs her barrels with politically charged soon-to-be sayings that catch on like dry kindling. Growing up in Sri Lanka — her father a Tamil Tiger affiliate — then moving to South London — her mother rhythmically sewing clothing — were the challenging foundations for her life, as Chang puts it, perpetually in motion.

There was one particular paragraph — or “graph” as Kate says it — that really blew my mind:

Like writers Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat and Rattawut Lapcharoensap, artists Nadine Robinson and Julie Mehretu, and cartoonists Marjane Satrapi, Adrian Tomine and Lalo Alcaraz, she found herself caught between roots and a desire for rootlessness, communitarian uplift and mainstream success, freedom and responsibility, exile and return. The languages of sald-bowl multiculturalism and authenticity-obsessed pop criticism (which labels everthing not from “here” as “world music”) couldn’t locate M.I.A. But pop culture could,

and, I noted: What does that mean about pop culture? Are we all just sitting on the fence? What will this challenge produce?

Later in the class, closer to nine, my head heavy, Kate said something to spark my attention. She mentioned the walls she faces when writing, saying “I think that’s why I like it so much.”

Growing up, I remember walking around with my dad, particularly on icy days, slipping around in a pair of Wellies. Looking back, I replay the scenes of jerky, awkward, two-step-forward-one-glide-back motion with a pang of nostalgia. “You know, Weavers wobble but they never fall,” my dad would say in a Monty Python-esque pitch.

Next week, our last assignment is to create a review, a critique of a piece of art or cultural piece. We are supposed to bring provocation and personality to the piece, paint an opinion, take a stance, be fired up about the criticism. For the first time since class started, I find it difficult to imagine creating such a piece. “Uh,” I stuttered, “what if you, inherently, are not particularly passionate or provoking about, well, most things. What if wobbling on the fence is part of your personality?”

“Yes. Feeling ambivalent towards mediocrity can be the biggest challenge of all.”


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