My friend Kaitlin Cordes is a Research Fellow in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, and is responsible for that report you may have heard about which was published last week and made the front page of the New York Times. Kaitlin's report revealed that most of the manpower behind South Africa's wine and fruit industry, worth about $811 million a year, lives in squalor– literally in pigstalls with no electricity, toilet, or protection from frequent flooding. Working conditions can be extremely dangerous, and wages are nearly nonexistent. The wine growers have been slow to address these dismal working and living conditions, and the government has done little to ensure that labor laws are respected.
When shopping for wine or fruit, consumers should ask the merchant where it comes from and under what conditions it was produced. They also should explicitly ask for products that are grown, harvested, packed and bottled by producers who are subject to ethical audits. This will send a clear message throughout the fruit and wine supply chain – up to the corporate buyers and down to the farmworkers in the field – that consumers want to enjoy South Africa’s agricultural products with the confidence that they were not produced on the back of abuse. Knowing that the wine we savour is not tainted by abuse is something we can all toast.
There is an amusing clip on YouTube, in which Dawkins confronts Rowan Williams. Dawkins asks the archbishop of Canterbury if he really believes in miracles such as the virgin birth and the resurrection, happenings in which the laws of physics and biology are suspended. Well, not literally, says Williams. But, says Dawkins, pouncing, surely Williams believes that these are not just metaphors? No, says the archbishop, they are not just metaphors, they are openings in history, “spaces” when history opens up to its own depths, and something like what we call a “miracle” might occur. Dawkins rightly says that this sounds very nice but is surely nothing more than poetic language. Williams rather shamefacedly agrees. The scene is amusing because both men are so obviously arguing past each other, and are so obviously arguing about language and the role of metaphor. Dawkins comes off as the victor, because he has the easier task, and holds the literalist high ground: either the resurrection happened or it didn’t; either these words mean something or they do not. Williams seems awkwardly trapped between a need to turn his words into metaphor and a desire to retain some element of literal content.
France is getting blurbs! Lire Magazine reports. Never before has such a sneaky marketing concept sullied the covers of French books. And the blurbs still won’t be on the cover, but restricted to the red bandeaux (like a skinnier version of a dust jacket) that are wrapped around new publications, sometimes to announce prizes the author has won, or that the book has been nominated for, but sometimes to reproduce the name of the author in larger letters.
Did you know that the blurb was invented in 1907, and was named after the heroine (Miss Belinda Blurb) of Gelett Burgess’s novel Are You A Bromide? (Subtitle: The Sulphitic Theory Expounded And Exemplified According To The Most Recent Researches Into The Psychology Of Boredom Including Many Well-Known Bromidioms Now In Use.)
Lire Magazine looks into the “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” aspect of blurbing (Hmm, Jonathan Coe will blurb any book whose author shares his agent!) and is astonished at the number of Anglo-American writers who do it regularly. “Even Thomas Pynchon, the great recluse of American lettres– the most recent photo we have of him dates from 1960!– is an inveterate ‘blurber’!”
Francis Geffard, editor of American literature at Albin Michel, points out why the “blurb” system hadn’t taken on in the past (and why he’s wary about it going forward): in France, authors are identified as belonging to a particular publishing house, and for a Gallimard author to blurb an Albin Michel author would be unthinkable. “Whereas on the other hand,” he said, “in the US the blurb is a tradition which comes out of a mentoring relationship, or from the collegiality of the university system [NDLR: in the US many writers teach in MFA programs, whereas France doesn't offer a degree for creative writing, at least not as far as I know] (….) For some writers, it’s like accompanying a young writer who they believe in to the baptismal font.”
The incessant Catholic metaphors are part of the charm of living in France. And now, so is le blurbing!
The poet Saeed Jones has called for the word "fierce" to be reclaimed from the likes of Tyra Banks (who "throw[s] it around like used fake eyelashes") and reinvested with queer, "menacingly wild" energy:
Fierce is Helene Cixous demanding in The School of The Dead that, as we write, we ask ourselves honestly “Am I writing? Am I burning? Or am I pretending?” Fierce is the urgency in Essex Hemphill’s voice in “For My Own Protection” as he declares “All I want to know / for my own protection / is are we capable / of whatever, whenever?” Fierce is the look I imagine Zora Neale Hurston had on her face when she said “I love myself when I am laughing and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” It is Audre Lorde taking her seat for her panel at the Second Sex Conference in 1979, adjusting the microphone in front of her and calmly stating “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Fierce is the work of bloggers like Rod McCollum, Pam Spaulding, and Andres Duque whose coverage of LGBT news relevant to queer people of color is absolutely brilliant and crucial. Fierce is Sarah Schulman’s Ties That Bind. Fierce is Kai Wright’s Drifting Toward Love. Fierce is Jericho Brown’s Please. Fierce is Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw. Fierce is the first queer Latino winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize.
Fierce. Read more here.
After I gave birth, I threw a chunk of placenta in the Vitamix with coconut water and a banana,” she adds. “It gave me the wildest rush. You know the feeling of drinking green juice on an empty stomach? It’s like that, but much more intense. It was definitely physical.
from Atossa Araxia Abrahamian’s article on placenta-eating in this week’s New York Magazine.
Both of your novels are set in Paris. What about Paris interests you as a writer? Is your Paris different from the “written Paris” you have inherited?
Remedy, Patsy Boone and The Baby of Belleville comprise my Parisian trilogy with Remedy and Patsy Boone working as mirror narratives, the first written in English, the latter in French. All three novels depict Paris as a city of overlapping, multiple worlds where Muslim matriarchs, French aristocrats, immigrant plumbers, Catholic nuns, American expats and a host of others entwine destinies in unexpected ways, and this fictive world, as strange and “whimsical” as it may seem to some, does in fact reflect the “real” Paris where I’ve resided for many years. In Remedy I play with stereotypes of the American in Paris and displace them, so that they are no longer quite recognizable. The romanticized Paris played up in books like Adam Gopnik’s beautifully penned Paris to the Moon, simply does not seem real to me. I often think the myth of Paris is held too dear and to the detriment of seeing what is really going on here. I wonder how one can write a book about Paris and France in general without exploring its colonial past or lending an ear to its immigrant populations which have largely brought the country to its current prosperity. My imagination has been naturally drawn to these immigrant communities in the north-east of Paris, perhaps because I am an immigrant as well, and the question of exile and how it places one at the crux of myriad contradictions interest me: how can one make a home where one is not at home (and constantly harassed as with the sans papiers)?; what does it mean to be oneself, when one is perceived as other, particularly as an unwanted Other?; but also because in a city so groomed and polished, it is through the cracks and fissures of these more neglected neighbourhoods that my imagination has been able to make its entry. Right now France struggles to uphold its ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité against the winds of a growing xenophobia. My novels are not political in any obvious way, but they touch upon these current realities of French life.
Via Elisabeth, who is writing her masters thesis.