On My Disappearance from Photographs (unfinished)

I realized one day that I had ceased to appear in photographs.  Naturally, when you are traveling alone it’s difficult to set your camera down, frame a photo properly, and rush to pose before the timer sets the shutter off.  Of course too there’s the worry that someone may run off with your camera once you’ve set it down.  But if you can get beyond all that — and after all you’re traveling in lands strange to you, which should indicate that you have accepted a certain amount of risk in your life and besides, it’s just a camera, right? — if you can get beyond all that, why not just ask a passer-by to take your photo?  It seems simple enough, but somehow out of my reach.  So I instead have albums worth of photos of inanimate objects and environments, few containing me.

Many of these settings are lovely in their own right.  Inside the terminal at Abu Dhabi International, for instance, with the glittered tile in greens and blues, and yellow flecks that remind you of the desert outside and the gold of your mother’s jewelry.  There the curve of the pillars, built in 1982, almost speaks to you as you sip espresso to wake up after an overnight flight.  The flight attendants, happier to be on the ground than in the sky (unexpected, but understandable), pulling their personal luggage trolleys from gate to gate.  All these things in a location as mundane as an airport!  Small wonder that I focused on my surroundings and forgo to include myself in the picture.

But was it really that?  I began to disbelieve it the more I considered.  Where had I gone and why was I never there? It seemed a strange thing to choose not to be present, but that was in fact what I had done.  I was playing a part in my own disappearance from the earth, from memory including my own.  Worse still, such behavior made me dangerous.  I began connecting unrelated ideas and theories and grew bitter.

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That’s How It’s Done

For the number of non-fiction books and essays I’ve read by V.S. Naipaul, I hadn’t tackled any of his novels.  Having just finished A Bend in the River, I simply have to say that the man, whatever you think about his personal life and actions, knows how to write.  After all the dross conatined in much of what passes for fiction today, it’s clear that standards do remain, and that the bar is set high.  It’s amazing in particular to me how he maintains a balance between his characters’ personal narratives and the outside world.

In many of his essays he writes about immigrant Indians inability to look, to see the world around them.  I’ve traveled to many places, lived among a variety of cultures and people, but I have this gnawing feeling that I don’t know how to look either.  It’s a skill, for sure, and sitting behind a laptop at a cafe isn’t the way to develop a real sense of seeing, let’s be honest.  I’m not sure what it takes…writing down observations? Learning names and details? Having an opinion about the small things around you?

Book Review: Netherland

If there’s anything that 9/11 offered us, it was opportunity for self-examination. Not that all of us need such a thing, but I’m confident that from Sept 12, 2001 till date, American introspection has grown significantly.  And it’s no surprise that we find a novel written within that post 9/11 introspection.  What’s a little surprising is that it’s written by an Irishman who writes for the New Yorker occasionally.  It has been short-listed for the Booker Prize and Netherland, to be sure, is a viable candidate for the award, but what’s more interesting is figuring out exactly what kind of novel it is.  In fact, its most serious flaw is arguably that you’re not quite sure exactly which story forms the narrative’s heart.  Continue reading →