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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Saturday, June 25, 2011

rabbit, run

John Updike is one of those household names that I had never gotten to for one reason or another. I finally read one of his novels: rabbit, run and while it didn't blow me away, Updike is clearly a beautifully descriptive writer that I will in time return to. Rabbit is a young, working-class male leading a life corresponding to an - ill-defined - societal normalcy. Trouble of course ensues.

Rabbit, run is difficult to describe somehow because it's characters remain so bland, so type cast, their suffering is understandable and real, yet they somehow never retain any kind of individualistic identities. After reading close to 300 pages on him I am still far from certain who the main character actually is, what he believes and what he wants, but then neither does he and maybe that's the point. In either case, the beautifully written parts especially in the latter part of the novel are coupled with enough dramatic narrative to make for a captivating read - far from one I will cherish to the extent of a Faulkner or a Pynchon though.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Achat hasard dans ma librairie préférée à Paris, Désert de Le Clézio est le récit d'une jeune fille sans parente qui grandit dans la pauvreté en Afrique du Nord et qui émigre à Marseille seulement pour retourner dans sa ville d'origine. C'est en parallèle l'histoire d'une tentative vaine des tribus du sud (Mauritanie, Maroc voire Sahara orientale, Algérie & Mali) de lutter contre l'occupation française.

Le Clézio est un voyageur par excellence qui ne paraît pas d'avoir une propre Heimat (chez lui) - ce qui me fascine toujours évidemment. Ayant dit cela Désert offre une narrative triste, glorifiant la passée pré-capitaliste, pré-moderne de ces peuples ainsi que la principale protagoniste qui ne convainc pas complètement. Je comprends le sentiment, je suis même d'accord avec l'idée fondamentale derrière, mais je suis toujours suspicieux d'une telle glorification qui ne contient que peu de relativisation. Pour référencer mon grand idole - je suis désolé d'être si prévisible - qui Le Clézio cite comme influence importante aussi, Faulkner regrette aussi la morte d'une région, d'un peuple d'une certaine manière, mais il le fait en étant conscient des défauts de ce peuple et en les montrant au même temps qu'il y a cette tristesse d'une perte dans ces romains.

Le Clézio n'a pas cette distance pour être plus critique tout en étant admiratif, peut-être il n'en a pas parce que contraire à Faulkner il ne fait pas parti des gens qu'il décrit. Il parle d'un autre utopique pas d'un proche (ou de soi-même) aimé mais conscient de ce qui ne va pas. C'est cela mon grand criticisme d'un livre qu'il fait plaisir à lire, l'auteur se rend trop dans la nostalgie, le sentiment. Il ne décrit pas ce qui a été mais ce qui il aime bien regretter.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lebron, Dirk and race

Now that Nowitzki has for good established the relevance of European basketball that can compete (and sometimes beat) the best of the best (the Americans) at their own game, let's address an issue that is always simmering topic - even while most people like to pretend it isn't there - in the US in general and in the NBA in particular: Race. Most of my (white) American friends will disagree with me on this but I am almost as certain that most of my black ones would side with me. So here goes.

Everyone interested in NBA basketball of course knows about the infamous Decision, a bungled-up PR effort by Lebron James who in a widely publicized live TV session announced his signature underneath a free agent contract with the Miami Heat leaving behind in the dust his semi-hometown team of Cleveland. This was followed up by an even worse (especially in hindsight of course but even back then) PR stunt showcasing the Heat's three stars as future champions without them having even played one game together (for the Heat that is). Bad publicity all around, yet it caused a backlash absolutely disproportionate to the event. Fans in Cleveland of course and understandably felt betrayed but others all over the United States developed a hatred of Lebron that is irrational at least. After all, would they not prefer to work for a company with better-qualified co-workers, higher chances of being the best, paying no income tax and living in Florida weather? Yet, for some reason a humanly perfectly understandable decision prompted such massive self-righteous scorn.

My argument would be that race play a non-negligible, important even, role in this. The NBA is a - predominately - black league in a white-majority market. There is a reason the league has installed a dress code for its players and cracks down hard on - recreational not performance-stimulating - drug abuse. Still, the attitude, cornrows, tattoos of players at times is a PR problem for the NBA. Lebron's decision and the following smackdown is then related to his behavior as an 'uppity nigger.' His role was to resign with his (again: semi-)hometown team and pursue a NBA championship from there. For him to deviate from that role of a humble, servile professional athlete who through hard work and relying on his (white) front office's moves tries to bring a championship to Cleveland was taken as a personal insult by far too many people in consideration of the fact that they would do exactly the same in their daily professional setting. And to pretend that race and perceptions of young black males didn't play a role in this inordinate, national - I am excluding Cleveland for obvious reasons - outrage is closing ones eyes to reality. Note that there has been an important cleavage between white and black reactions to Lebron's decision, I read an article about this a few months ago that I cannot find anymore, but basically black fans tend to far less condemn his move. Think that's because they care less about the idealism their white counterparts decry so hard?

Which brings us to second race issue that dominated these NBA finals and this time its black on white racism. Lebron and Wade collectively engaged in some fake coughing in an infamous incident taken to be a mockery of Dirk who in Game 4 had played with a fever and intermittently sitting on the bench coughing his heart out. Now why does this matter? Mostly because it is representative of a more global (as in general) trend of black basketball player disrespecting white for being, for somehow not being 'real.' The New York Times hinted at this in an article but shied away from really addressing it.

As a not-too-muscular, white basketball player who has spent a decent amount of time on courts all over the United States where few white players show up, I am of course well-familiar with the basic difficulty of getting picked up by anyone simply due to my skin color. Further than that though even when playing there are always a few players who will disrespect me because of being white (consistently leaving me open, teammates not passing because of a lack of trust). Don't get me wrong usually the game talks for itself and I've rarely had negative experiences as a (racial and otherwise) stranger in these areas and on these courts, but there remains an undercurrent of disdain for a white guy who wants to compete with black players on their level. Lebron and Wade mocking Dirk is just that the way I see it, a refusal to accept that a white player - especially one without much attitude, athleticism and muscles - can be better (even if it is just for one series) than them.

The NBA, where race happens but with if any openly talk about it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Les Phéniciens en Méditerranée

Acheté à côté des ruines de Carthage (romain) l'idée derrière ce livre a été de développer plus de savoir sur l'histoire (ancienne) de la Tunisie. Globalement ce but n'a pas été atteint ce qui ne montre qu'un une fois de plus comment peu on (ou je) sait sur l'histoire d'antiquité et de la Méditerranée. Les phéniciens il paraît ont été une puissance venant de la région qui est le Liban/la Syrie aujourd'hui. Dès la ils se sont implanté partout sur la côte de la Méditerranée - en Turquie, en Grèce, en Égypte, Malte, Italie, France, Tunisie, Algérie même Espagne et Maroc. Les Puniques, les protagonistes des guerres romains-puniques dont Hannibal, ne sont que les descendants des Phéniciens, limités à la Méditerrané occidentale et avec Carthage comme cité principale.

Les Phéniciens en Méditerranée de M'hamed Hassine Fantar est un court livre qui offre une vue globale du monde phénicien sont satisfaire le lecteur (voire moi) avec plus de profondeur sur quelques sujets intéressants (soyons honnête, ce n'est pas l'idée derrière ce bouquin non plus). Le plus pertinent que j'en ai retiré ce que je réalise de plus en plus vivant en Tunisie et même en France avant déjà ce que la vanité européenne d'une société et culture continentale qui se serait d'une façon ou d'autre limité à l'Europe soi-même est loin d'être soutenable. Les Phéniciens n'ont été rien qu'une puissance méditerranée ni africain, ni européen, ni ce qu'on décrit comme arabe aujourd'hui. Il est fascinant en fait à quel dégrée les histoires des nations d'aujourd'hui ont été interconnecté il y a des milliers d'années déjà. L'isolation des développements nationaux ainsi que des génies nationaux ont toujours été des conneries et je suis content de m'en percevoir de plus en plus au fil de mes lectures, de ma vie même.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Mansion

What's that famous, corny line at the end of the movie Casablanca? We'll always have Paris? While that actually is true for me as well, I'll also always have Faulkner. I finally succeeded in reading the third installment of his Snopes trilogy, The Mansion. While clearly not up to par with the other two (The Town & The Hamlet) or his classics (Absalom, Absalom & The Sound and the Fury principally, but also Light in August et al), it is still a helluva book. I will not go into detail on the story, that is not what Faulkner is about for me. He's a master of speculation, of philosophizing, of life's misery, hope, vanity, and - in his world view in any case - inevitability. The contradicting thing about Faulkner is that his novels can only take place in the South, in the deep South, in Mississippi, Memphis, but that they are as universal as it gets at the same time. There is no one quite like him I believe.