Monday, February 13, 1989
The Michigan Daily
Harb crosses literary borders
BY JAY PINKA
PROBABLY every student has felt it: that sense
of confinement, of being penned in by the con-
fines of campus and the structure of academia.
The urge to hit the road, to travel to distant
lands, to live a life unformatted by class sched-
Most of us will never give in to the urge. But
you can do so vicariously by listening to the
cosmopolitan fiction of ex-student, artist and
traveler, Marcella Harb.
Harb, who published her short stories "Sotto
Voce" and "Cambiare" while staying with a
sculptor in a 16th-century Italian farmhouse,
rebels against traditional fiction writing and
Her dislike of formal education "all started
when I got kicked out of (a Metro Detroit) high
school," said Harb. She defined school as "very
didactic - a heavy-handed way of imparting
something to someone."
"I'm really more curious than anything," she
Harb's experiences demonstrate her strong,
Renaissance-like nature. Not only did she create
stories in Italian, a language in which she had no
previous training, but she sold her paintings and
sculpted works to support herself while in Italy.
Her interest in "abstract expression and figurative
work" is reflected in both her art and fiction. For
example, she is presently working on a series of
stories with "non-meaning" in which "the people
will be irrelevant." Thematically provoking is
the "denial of self-denial" in her current Princess
of Abignation, from which she will read this
Though Harb doesn't "like to listen to male
authority figures," she continues to grow with
others who share her talents and interests. An
example is her development of "a new form of
dialogue" with New York author Fielding Daw-
son. Dawson recently dedicated several stories to
Harb in his book Crazy Cat and Seventy-Six
The writer chooses not to trace her inspiration
to any particular artist or author; her literary
tastes are as transitory and revolutionary as her
"Every two months I'm into someone new,"
Harb, a Palestinian, resonated certainty in dis-
cussing her plans for next August to go to the
Israeli-annexed West Bank "to write about the
culture." The fact that she finances her travels and
experiences through grants reflects her ambitious
"I'm confident about my future," she said. "I
feel very strong as my own person, as a woman."
MARCELLA HARB will read from her works at
8 p.m. this evening at the Guild House. Richard
Terrill will also read.
BY MARK MAINE
IT is an archetypal story in the
American cinema: An American
man, dissatisfied with his shallow
life in America, puts his life on hold,
and goes to live a carefree, simple
life in Paris. He meets a naive young
Frenchwoman, whom he captures
with his fun-loving American charm.
She falls in love with him, but, in
the end, he returns to his former life
a new man, leaving her heartbroken
The cinema has created culturalj
myths to go along with the story,
myths about Europeans and women
especially. The Last American ini
Paris/Le Dernier Americain a Paris,
which made its world premiere here
Thursday, takes aim at these myths,
confronts cinematic myths
and the cinema's role in perpetuating
them in an "avant-garde" production
at the Trueblood Theatre. The play,
directed by Travis Preston and written
by Preston and dramaturge Roy
Coppenger, was created here.
The play certainly looks
experimental. There is almost no
dialogue, and the characters move
about the stage with a slow, mea-
sured pace, performing actions with a
flowing, dance-like quality. It pre-
sents visual and aural images, one
after the other, creating a montage
effect, and is bound loosely by the
relationship between The American
and The Frenchwoman, following
them from meeting in a caf6, to a
frenzied consummation on the stage
floor. Most of the text is in mono-
logue form, and some of it is even in
Visually, the production conjures
up some striking images. The deep,
bare stage is selectively lit, making
the space seem even larger with
undefined areas. A movie camera
keeps the connection with the cin-
ema alive as it is lurks around the
stage taking in the action, creating a
sinister presence throughout the play.
The actors also projected shadows on
the rear wall, which often distorted
their shapes and sizes -just as film
can do to life.
The events on the stage are, on
the outside, a representation of the
myths we expect from these films
about Paris, but with a twist that
examines them in a new context. A
good example of this technique was
the American's monologue about
how he picked up the Frenchwoman.
A film would show us only the
exterior charm of the scene, but
through his cynical monologue, we
see his true motives under the sur-
face, which are not very charming, to
say the least.
Much of the play works on these
lines, using, at various times, words,
music and visual images to get us to
re-examine our film-created attitudes
toward the situations presented. It
certainly succeeds in doing that, es-
pecially by casting a male character
with a female and vice versa. The fi-
nal sequence confronts sexual atti-
tudes head on, reversing our ex-
pectations as the Frenchwoman exits
arm in arm with The Director, now
revealed as a woman.
That reversal effect succeeds - at
first. However, the play relies on it
too much, and by the end, it loses its
power. It left a certain confusion as
to what was the stereotype and what
was not. Perhaps that uncertainty is
part of what the play was crafted to
create, but it clouds the overall im-
The final impression is somewhat
fragmented. While the individual im-
ages in the production are often quite
arresting, they lacked connection to
one another. Film presents visual
images in a sequence, and while the
play was perhaps trying to duplicate
that, the resulting collage made it
hard to say whether any point was at
the beginning, middle, or end. No
single image in the eclectic col-
lection was essential to the whole.
An example of this was the use of
French text, which some of the audi-
ence could understand, and some
couldn't. It didn't seem to matter.
For an "avant-garde" production,
the play relied on convention a good
deal. Especially in the last decade, the
blank-faced actor moving slowly
through actions, often speaking text
unconnected to the action, has be-
come an "avant-garde" cliche. That
type of slow movement also tends to
give the play a serious, weighty
tone, which stifles much of the real
humor in the production. The audi-
ence became almost reverential in the
presence of "real art," as I found
See Myths, Page 9
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Honduras: The Making of a Banana Republic
By Alison Acker
South End (1988) $10.00/Paper
Alison Acker begins her dismal tour of Honduran history in the company
of Donald Duck as he travels through the tropical paradise of Hondurica - a
land where all the inhabitants speak English and gladly give Donald and his
entourage all the native treasures they are too "uncivilized" to appreciate on
their own. She ends, many lugubrious chapters later, confronting the
possibility that the U.S. militarization of Honduras since the mid-'70s
leaves the country with no hope of escaping a dismal history of political
corruption, military repression, and economic underdevelopment.
It is no accident that Acker confines her story of Honduras itself to the
space between incidents such as these. As her account demonstrates,
Hondurans have repeatedly watched the U.S. determine the shape of their
history and culture, from the days when Eugene O'Neill referred to its
citizens as "human maggots" who would have to be "exterminated" through
the dark moment when President Azcona was ordered by the U.S. Embassy
to "invite" U.S. troops to Honduras as "protection" last March.
Acker devotes considerable space to the still increasing U.S. military
presence in Honduras, where, this year, close to 20,000 U.S. troops will see
duty. Furthermore, she demonstrates, the economic benefits for Honduras
that were supposed to follow upon this presence have failed to materialize.
Instead, unemployment has risen 61 percent and the minimum wage in the
non-agricultural sector has fallen 25 percent since 1980 - even as the
defense budget has climbed 50 percent.
But U.S. "security" interests alone cannot explain Honduras' sorry
economic state. U.S. business interests contributed their fair share too, as
the subtitle of Acker's book might suggest. As late as 1870, the banana was
grown exclusively for domestic consumption. Within half a century, thanks
to the efforts - and swindles - of banana moguls such as Minor Keith and
Sam Zemurray, the banana company United Fruit owned an astounding
3,000,000 acres of Honduran soil as well as most of its railroads. It
constituted a private fiefdom, aptly symbolized by the intricate web of rail
lines connecting its numerous Atlantic coast holdings while, even today, no
railroad connects this coastal region with the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
Acker claims that Honduras could have been Central America's success
story. Rich in minerals and land, it has the potential to not only sustain
itself, but flourish. And yet as Acker demonstrates, Honduras' riches have
no more benefitted the native population than they did in the Hondurica of
Donald Duck fame. Today U.S. transnational corporations own Honduras'
five largest corporations outright. They control 88 percent of the 20 largest
and 82 percent of the 50 largest companies.
See Books, Page 9
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