Stories we read

I submitted three chapters of my thesis last week — which, added up to the total amount of five chapters already submitted. That would leave me with at least two, at most three more chapters to go. The meeting with my supervisor actually went very well — we talked about submission month (4 more months to go!) and planning for oral defense (sometimes before summer next year!).

Then, what?

To be honest, I have no idea. I’d very much like to get back into the workforce as soon as possible (note: looking to work for organisations such as The Engine Room, Data & Society, Tactical Tech, or any other organisations that work on bettering social and cultural issues arising from data-centric and automated technologies) but I also would like to schedule a trip to visit my friends in Istanbul and Beirut before that. We’ll see how it goes.

I read multiple interesting things this week. I am currently reading Isabella Hammad’s The Parisian, a story about a Palestinian man, Midhat in the time of World War I who was sent by his father to read medicine in France to avoid being enlisted in Turkish conscription. Caught in a spat between his host and his host’s daughter, Midhat left the house to stay in Paris and enrolled in history in Sorbonne. When he returned to his hometown, Nablus, he found himself in between identities — he was the guy who returned from Paris hence ‘The Parisian’, or al-Barisi —but also caught between the regional skirmishes that left his hometown in the middle of it all. This is a 600-page book of Palestinian geopolitics and the question of identity — something of a new challenge to me. To complement the reading, I also checked out two books from Edward Said from my university, The Politics of Dispossesion and After the Last Sky to get more context and background on Palestinian politics and the question of identity.

I need to get up to speed with my reading (what’s new) because I am also currently eyeing Jenny Odell’s How to do Nothing. I’ve been reading her articles — which is weird due to the manifesto of reclaiming your attention that Odell has been advocating — have been popping up on my social media timelines many times. If you’d like to take a sneak peek of her brilliant writing, read her keynote talk at EYEO 2017, and this Medium post on why solely absenting from Facebook will not help with your social media addiction.

It may be that refusal is only available as a tactic to people who already possess a great deal of social capital, people whose social standing will endure without Facebook and people whose livelihoods don’t require them to be constantly plugged in and reachable. . . These are people who have what [Kathleen] Noonan (2011) calls “the power to switch off.”

I especially like her analogy of using any social media platforms on your own terms is akin to Diogenes conforming to the normalcy of the society by giving a caveat, “I will participate, but not as asked,” or “I will stay, but I will be your gadfly.”

Then this paragraph in this piece in praise of museum cafes, about picking up obscure, overpriced books in museum bookstores is an absolute personal attack!

Maybe there’s a bookstore attached to it that sells the kind of book that seems like it’s for the average lay reader called, I don’t know, An Incomplete History of Evening Through Danish Portraiture and then you shell out $32 for it because you think this is what smart, rich people do and then you get it home and you open it to find a sentence like:

The advent of nocturnalization displaced a certain hierarchy of perception that had previously, though selectively, moderated the tension found in early modern writings on divisions between light/dark, Heaven/Hell, inside/outside, mouth/book, custom/exigency, that were necessarily complicated as the approach to dusk fragmented from a court-mediated, locally-centralized sunset experience, to an externally-mandated structure out of sync with the countryside entirely.

I have also been wondering about the proliferation of people saying things like “She can step on me for all I care and I’d be so happy” (it started with me browsing tweets with pictures of Cate Blanchett). Turns out this masochistic tendencies is actually quite common.

Devotion, by its nature, tends to invite agony. “Love has brought me within the reach of lovely, cruel arms that / unjustly kill me,” Petrarch writes, in Robert M. Durling’s English translation of “Rime Sparse,” a set of poems written in the fourteenth century. Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis,” published in 1593, describes Venus as a maiden who “murders with a kiss.” In the early seventeenth century, John Donne famously begged, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.” (A degraded Internet-era version of the poem, “Holy Sonnet 14,” might involve the impassioned poet pleading with God to choke him.) But this language appears to be spilling over. It may originate in a sort of erotic consecration, but love and pain, joy and punishment, seem increasingly convergent, at least in the ways that people express themselves online. Love may be timeless, but the half-ironic millennial death wish has become an underground river rushing swiftly under the surface of the age.

I have always tried not to judge people who read books who are not in line with my moral convictions and beliefs, but I do believe that some people read them to understand something they are curious about at the time when they are still evolving as a good person. As people improve, they might look back and say, “I have read this book when I was younger, I found that it was good, but now that I am more aware of what sort of ideas it could exude and influence, I know better. Nevertheless, I am glad I read it and learned from it.” I am saying this as someone who used to read Ayn Rand 10 years ago, and I probably wouldn’t be caught dead with any of her books now! Why I am telling you this is because I caught this quote under the review for All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf in this list of 2019 books to read so far that made me still think for hours, which says:

Read it to conjure Woolf, yes, but also to understand how the stories we read pervade our intellectual DNA and set down roots.

“Stories we read pervade our intellectual DNA, and set down roots.” That is going to stay for the longest time.

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