I have recently become enamored of a few choice reading blogs (eveningallafternoon.com and nonsuchbook.typepad.com are my favorites) and have been shamed to realize how infrequently and unthoughtfully I post. It has been over a week since my last post, (bless me father, for I have sinned) and I am feeling the pressure (the good kind, really) to remedy that situation. Thankfully, my grades have been submitted, and I have the beauty of a full summer stretched before me. And though I always read a great deal in the summer, I am issuing myself a real challenge this year: to make strides in the quality and quantity of my reading and my posts here. Of course, I have to get moved to the new apartment and continue work on the renovations to the new house, but reading comes next. Well, after the husband, the girl, the boy, and the job, of course. Actually, I think reading comes before the house. I won't tell if you won't.
I'm still reading and enjoying Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh. In particular, I am taken with the gender politics he is pursuing throughout. His women are so strong; his men so ineffectual; however, you would be remiss to read that imbalance as a feminist manifesto. The strength of the women is not wholly revered, and the men are not to be ignored. I've just gotten to the section where he discusses his father's hidden powers, and the picture is quite favorable. Besides, with a male narrative voice, and the sexual tensions surrounding motherhood and mother India and fantasy, you cannot take this book and its gender roles too much in one direction. This passage about his mother, Aurora, explains much:
. . .And we spent our lives living up, down and sideways to her predictions . . . did I mention that she was irresistable? Listen: she was the light of our lives, the excitement of our imaginations, the beloved of our dreams. We loved her even as she destroyed us. She called out of us a love that felt too big for our bodies, as if she had made the feeling and then given it to us to feel - as if it were a work. If she trampled over us, it was because we lay down willingly beneath her spurred-and-booted feet; if she excoriated us at night, it was on account of our delight at the sweet lashings of her tongue. It was when I finally realised this that I forgave my father; for we were all her slaves, and she made our servitude feel like Paradise. Which is, they say, what goddesses do. (172)
This passage could also easily be describing a sort of wild patriotism for a destructive and damaged country. Rushdie conflates so beautifully his women with his homeland here, and to follow this metaphor to its logical conclusion, you can read the men as the mass of patriots. Alternately adored and cast out by mother India, Abraham (Moraes' father) is described as "a rather colourless phantom hanging around the edges of tumultuous Aurora's court" (169), but Moraes also asks early on in the telling: "O, father, father, why did you let her do it to you, why were you her daily-nightly butt? Why were we all? Did you really still love her so much? Did we really love her at all in those days, or was it just her long dominance over us, and our passive acceptance of our enslavement, that we mistook for love" (90-91). Clearly, mother India's Moor is grappling here, and we are to grapple with him.
Lest you think I have pulled this metaphor from the vast echoings of my intellect, I will illuminate the source: Rushdie. He writes on page 137:
Motherness - excuse me if I underline the point - is a big idea in India, maybe our biggest: the land as mother, the mother as land, as the firm ground beneath our feet. Ladies-O, gents-O: I'm talking major mother country.
He follows this passage with a description of the 1957 film Mother India, which IMDB calls the Indian Gone with the Wind, and later this passage:
. . .the Indian peasant woman is idealised as bride, mother, and producer of sons; as long-suffering, stoical, loving, redemptive, and conservatively wedded to the maintenance of the social status-quo. But for Bad Birju, cast out from his mother's love, she becomes, as one critic has mentioned, 'that image of an aggressive, treacherous, annihilating mother who haunts the fantasy life of Indian males'. (139)
The Oedipal stuff actually gets a bit heavy-handed here. No subtleties for Rushdie in this area. He uses masterfully the real-life situation of the actress who played "Mother India" marrying the actor who played her son. Vasco Miranda provides a thoughtfully hilarious rant on the subject where he comments: "Sublimation . . . of mutual parent-child longings, is deep-rooted in the national psyche" (138). And who can deny the sexual titillation provided by Aurora's decision to breastfeed her only son and her sex-kitten-esque purr: "Yes, drink your fill, my little peacock, my mor" (147).
There has been so little predictability here, and I am grateful for the ever-thought-provoking, ever-engaging Rushdie. On a side note, a colleague recommended George Saunders to me the other day, so I picked up In Persuasion Nation from the stacks this morning and read the first story, "I CAN SPEAK." His humor and ability to capture a certain voice in this epistolary short story is deeply promising. I refuse, however, to check out the book. I will leave it on my desk and dip in periodically until I finish the Rushdie.