Can the Neo-Colonialist Writers Shut Up? Thank You in Advance – Eunsong Kim
Answer 1: Where is your proof? Show me one complicated line. Is it “With flies in their nostrils”? Is it the compelling description, “The poor women at the fountain…”? I dare you. Find me this line.
Answer 2: The idea that this poem is both satirical and serious is pretty absurd. Computationally impossible. Poetically possible? Perhaps. But then the “poor women” would not be a distant, forgetful other, spoken for and guessed upon. If this poem was a complicated conversation about the possibility of laughter amidst everyday violence and necropolitics, the poor women wouldn’t be stand-ins, they wouldn’t be in the corner under the watchful eye of a white male travel writer. If this were a poem that mimicked and set the possibility for a defense under the voice of a capitalist lawyer, but wanted to do much more then there would be other speakers: some women might ask questions. Some might respond. Some might stand up and burn the current defense, some might attack the white speaker. Some might free the tiger and invade the waterfront. Does anything happen other than a white man giving his sad little speech about a topic he clearly knows nothing about, using caricatures as his proof? No. Then it’s not satire; it’s ignorance.
Answer 3: The proof is in their abusive past (think “Passage to India,” think “White Man’s Burden,” think “Jane Eyre,” think of all of those 19th and 20th Century novels about the East and colonial projects). Global north poets and writers cannot be trusted to write anecdotes about poor people or the global south ever again.
Accusation 2: The poem espouses the logic of the global north & utilizes the global south as its caricature. It tries to appropriate the lived experience and bodies of the global south as a crass “poetic” image for the global north. There is a tradition of this, but the continuation of a custom does not make it sacrosanct or any less violent.
There’s an entire field of study devoted to problematizing this practice. Chandra Mohanty has written about this, Toni Morrison has in Playing in the Dark, Grace Hong, so forth, if you’re interested.
Question 3: Maybe he travelled to India? Maybe he had an Indian girlfriend? Maybe he really cares about the people there. And poverty! He cares!
Answer 1: No.
Answer 2: No.
Answer 3: We’re discussing representation and its consequences. No one cares about what he cares about or his sincerity, because what gets passed on is the writing, the poem the representation.
Answer 4: And all he could come up with was “poor women,” “flies in their nostrils”? Maybe he should’ve just stayed home.
Answer 5: No.
Question 4: Trying again, lines like “To make injustice the only /measure of our attention is to praise the Devil,” ARE SUPPOSED to be complex and satirical. Don’t you see?
Answer 1: Hey, complexity is not a binary system. It isn’t good or bad. This is not Sunday school: it isn’t because of bad that we have good. It isn’t because we concentrate on injustice that justice cannot be served. That’s like those crazy white people that are more offended at being called racists than actually thinking about how they might’ve behaved in a racist way towards someone. This is really sad. It is so sad that we have to be worried for racist people’s feelings because being called racist, or questioning someone’s white privilege is now somehow more “hurtful” than being the recipient of systematic, global structures of oppression and violence. Which is Gilbert’s line. In this “defense” it is potentially more problematic and dangerous to spearhead our focus on injustice… versus what? Sorry Gilbert fans and yoginis out there, but dismantling global injustice is not some twice a day breathing exercise that can be managed into a more positive and uplifting schedule. If you think that we can dismantle our current structure of racialized and gendered violence in-between other ‘things’ then violence is still not a structure for you; instead violence is particular, exceptional, and solvable through Western inaction – which is your ignorance and your guilt talking. The right kind of recipe for more propaganda…
From watching people who are altering the world and from learning about people who have, I’ve seen that the minimum requirement to shift structures of violence and to disrupt systematic oppression is to be constantly aware of their changing existence. Does this mean social justice activists don’t throw each other birthday parties or smile? No, but this is not the point and it is ludicrous to put the two on some world scale. Becoming a witness and comrades against oppression is step one, but there are so many other, complicated, all-consuming motions and rhythms involved.
Answer 2: This line (as well as this poem) also postulates that the world is a tipping scale.7 Like, this is all the bad, but look at all the good! Or… maybe because we still have “music” the bad is also there? This scale of justice is an amazingly deluded fantasy for Western justification. We do not have music because we have iPhone factories filled with indentured servants or privatized prison systems. We have the capability to listen to music on laptops and cellphones and other devices BECAUSE we fill factories with indentured servants and prisoners who take their lives in protest. The world is not a tipping scale of good vs. bad. It is a world where the constant flow and acceptance of injustice creates what we have come to define AS livable and fun. We have learned to accept it (but this cannot be the end!!!!). Jacob Wren explains it in Families are Formed Through Copulation. Grace Hong wrote about this in The Ruptures of American Capital. And even Russell Brand (through the gaze of a misogynist) understands it.
P.S. There is no merit in making this world a universal scale of suffering and joy. Joy and suffering are being put on the same scale by Jack Gilbert and Eat Pray Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert. These are fictional experiments that we must reject as colonial fantasy.
Answer 2: The bizarre thing is that in a strange, almost accidental way, this scale does acknowledge the connections between global north pleasures and global south disparities. But the poem thinks that we should move past the scale, or past these connections. The poem suggests that these connections might be too much of a burden for us in the global north, that these connections might ruin the way the global north understands and experiences pleasures. It’s almost like, since babies are always dying someplace, let’s continue living the way we wanna????
Answer 3: Or it’s a manifesto of white guilt. But as the poem accurately understands, white guilt solves nothing. It gives nothing back (Decolonize land, water, language, history. Decolonize narratives!!!!) and holds onto everything while feeling sad for 7 poetry lines.
Answer 4: “[A]ll the years of sorrow that are to come.”
The white male speaker in this poem already sees an expansive life, filled with emotions, objects and people. This is a speaker from the West. From comfort. Shielded from material war and extremities. He will live long. Arguably there will be some adversity, but he will be able to overcome it using his bullshit appropriated Zen logic. And when he passes away, we will glorify him forever and remember him as a saint who could see things exactly as the other imperial white men before him always have.
Eunsong Kim is a writer, researcher and educator mostly residing in San Diego. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in: Minnesota Review, Iowa Review, Seattle Review, Tinfish, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, The Margins and others. Feel free to tweet her @clepsydras. For more: www.eun-song.org.