I read some excellent passages in The Sympanthizer yesterday. The main character, the narrator, is a Captain in service to a South Vietnamese general living in L.A. The time period is the years after the fall of Vietnam. The Captain is facile in both the Vietnamese culture and US culture due to his education. He is also a spy for the North Vietnamese planted with the General to keep track of the South Vietnamese movement in the USA.
The scene that has so intrigued me takes place at a meal at a country club. Present are two people from Vietnam, the General and the Captain. Also present are Dr. Hedd, the British author of a book on Vietnam; the Congressman, who has brought these people together with other unnamed important businessmen and lawyers. The point is to raise money fo fund a resurgence in Vietnam from Thailand of South Vietnamese forces. The General and the Captain enter the room:
“Each of the attendees already had a drink in his hand, and it dawned on me that our lateness was prearranged. As the Congressman rose, I calmed the tremor in my gut. I was in close quarters with some representative specimens of the most dangerous creature in the history of the world, the white man in a suit.”
At one point the conversation is stopped by the Congressman’s tactless comment about how the Japanese occupied Vietnam: “Did you know that a million Vietnamese died of famine during the Japanese years?”
“… For a moment everyone squinted at his plate or cocktail, earnest as a patient studying an eye chart. As for me, I was calculating how to repair the damage the Congressman had inadvertently inflicted. He had complicated our task of being pleasant dinner companions by mentioning famine, something that Americans had never known. The word could only conjure otherworldly landscapes of the skeletal dead, which was not the spectral image we wanted to present, for what one should never do was require other people to imagine they were just like one of us. Spiritual teleportation unsettled most people, who, if they thought of others at all, preferred to think that others were just like them or could be just like them.” p. 253
And finally this wonderful passage:
“As a nonwhite person, the General, like myself, knew he must be patient with white people, who were easily scared by the nonwhite. Even with liberal white people, one could go only so far, and with average white people, one could barely go anywhere…. we probably did know white people better than they knew themselves, and we certainly knew white people better than they ever knew us. This sometimes led to us doubting ourselves, a state of constant self-guessing, of checking our images in the mirror and wondering if that was really who we were, if that was how white people saw us. But for all we thought we knew about them, there were some things we knew we did not know even after many years of forced and voluntary intimacy, including the art of making cranberry suace, the proper way of throwing a football, and the secret customs of secret societies, like college fraternities, which seemed to recruit only those who would have been eligible for the Hitler Youth.” p. 258
As far as I can tell, the writer of this article doesn’t every actually define “African American music,” but it’s still interesting to read about the intersection of museums and concerts.
Creating a virtual image from burnt scrolls.
At this point, I’m not sure how much difference it will make. But truth is always helpful.
James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe’s Forgotten Conversation About Beauty, Morality, and the Political Power of Art – Brain Pickings
These “Brain Pickings” articles can be annoyingly second and third hand. But this conversation interests me. I bookmarked this so I didn’t forget about it.