Wednesday, March 14, 2007

what's in a name?

My environmentally soft heart often leads me to recycled aisles, but I like to feel like I am not being treated like a recycled thing. So, last week I went to re-stock on toilet paper and found that Tesco had redesigned the pack; it now read ‘TESCO recycled toilet tissue.” I didn’t pay it much attention until I was sitting in that thinking position then I started toying with the possibility that they mean tissue made from recycled toilet – of course, I know I’m being silly, but language is such an abstract thing isn’t it? Lends itself to loading with images, meanings, attitudes... right? Precisely the point of this post…

I swear, I am of a peaceful demeanour 98% of my life; it is the oddest things that get me going – I can get apoplectic in 2 seconds flat sometimes. One of those odd things is the marketing of books – especially books about the supposed ‘other’ (that means anyone who didn’t invent the idea of races or the English language) – and I’m not just talking about those silly typefaces that have come to symbolise different peoples although my Ghanaian blog-brother deals with it in some fine detail on his post Types and Faces, I speak of entire ideas and book blurbs that toy with the very notion of justice in the quest to perpetuate the idea of the roving hero (read WMOMS - white [english, french, spanish, portugese, danish, dutch - important detail; apart from queen vic I have no beef with english women, and I certainly didn't see any Lithuanian's trying to steal my diamonds in 18**] man on a mission somewhere). I usually ignore these things; I have become thick-skinned with the years BUT I saw the cover for Allan Mallinson's Company of Spears and I had a hard time stopping myself from tearing all the copies in Waterstone's to shreds. I admit I haven't read the book, and I am told that Mr Mallinson handles the battle prose as battle prose, no prejudices, BUT the cover's tag line is 'on the plains of South Africa Matthew Hervey [the hero] confronts the savage Zulu' - I mean, wait a minute! One party gathers men, gets on a ship, travels halfway across the world to pick a fight, and it's the person who is protecting his homeland who is labelled 'savage'? Yes, we all know that the Zulu were/are renowned warriors, but can't they just be brave? Why is it that South American, Native American and African warriors are always immortalised in writing as fierce, savage and brutal? Who is it that invented concentration camps against the Boer and African populations in South Africa (let's not even get into how that affected the psyche of the Boer and indirectly perpetuated apartheid)? Who is it that decimated native Central & South American populations in the bid to convert them to Catholicism? Who is it that considered castration and the removal of eyes as legitimate forms of interrogation against the Mau Mau in Kenya? I could go on... but I'm not asking for a revolution, I'm asking for these things not to be accepted as norms anymore - otherwise, who are we to turn around and complain that cultures can't co-exist? The truth is, the twin constructs of borders and race have always bothered me, but that is a huge battle that must be fought in stages. For now, I don't think it's too much to ask that we start by fixing our language use.

In nicer, warmer anecdote on the appropriation of words/names, Ike Turner (who I mentioned in a previous post after he won a Grammy) apparently has a song on his album having a dig at Tina. He renamed Eddie Boyd's Five Long Years as 18 Long Years (which is how long he was married to Tina) and dropped the beautiful line 'I've worked 18 long years for one woman/And she had the nerve to kick me out ... and do a movie.' (full story here)

That's my fustian done!

what i'm reading/listening to

Shame & a Sin - by Robert Cray

Robert is a bluesman's bluesman. His lyrics are IT and his guitar playing is incredible. I was lucky to see him at the Jazz Cafe in London last year and was struck by the odd fact that his face shows more emotion when he's strumming than when he's singing. But, man, that voice! He could look as stone-faced as a Trafalgar Square lion and you'd still feel the emotion. My favourite album of his is actually Sweet Potato Pie (cover on the right) for the songs Nothing Against You, Do That For Me, The One in the Middle and Little Birds.

Turner by David Dabydeen & A Wedding in Hell by Charles Simic

After close to a year of self-imposed novexile, it is with a rare animal-like pleasure that I have turned back to poetry, devouring line-breaks like Kit Kats. I am also aware that soon I will be in the San Gabriel Valley in California as writer-in-residence running poetry workshops - I have to come correct :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

my heart ached for you, for us as I read your description on words and word usage. I've noticed I ask people "Can you turn the light off" instead of the proper and more respectful question "Would you turn the light off". One questions ability, while the other offers a choice. I am my mother's daughter and find myself manipulative that way too.

Some of my family meets once a month at M&M's in Leimert Park for Spoken Word to uplift, enlighten and encourage one another. They're meeting there this Sunday at 4pm. It would be an honor.