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February 21, 2008 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-02-21

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 3B

When the empire
writes back

he classic names of Eng-
lish literature may still be
Donne, Shakespeare and
Milton. But look at contemporary
bookshelves
and book-
lists and
you'll find
that names
of some of
the best
English-
language
authorsKIMBERLY
today sound CHOU
much less
Anglo-Saxon and, perhaps, much
more like your own.
Diaz, Jin, Hamid and Lahiri
are being read - and taught -
with increasing fervor, reflecting
an evolution of what one of my
professors calls "the phenomenon
when the empire starts writing
back." Let's say the first response
was post-colonial literature, often
tied to so-called Third World lit-
erature, with much of the Third
World having been taken over by
the First. Now, decades after most
of the colonial and imperial pow-
ers have let go the jewels in their
crowns (with varying degrees
of unrest as a result), powerful
writers have emerged who have
either grown up in societies
with the fading influence of the
old empire, or who have become
first- and second-generation
emigrants and expatriates.
In any case, these writers (as
well as those outside the tradi-
tional colonial sphere of South
America and south Asia) are all
dealing with a softer, but more
far-reaching power - global-
ization. This time American
movies and Starbucks have
replaced viceroys and Macau-
lay education plans. Compared
to the days of Shakespeare,
there's a much larger popula-
tion from which the next great
English-language writers may
spring.
But to make these asso-
ciations is to raise even more
questions. Must writers living
in a country still feeling the
effects of the now-defunct
empire - or even those whose
parents or who themselves
have immigrated to some West-
ern, white-normative state
- always be tied to their coun-
try of origin? Are we in some
period of post-post-colonial-
ism? And asa non-white writer,
do you have a responsibility to
write about issues associated
with your ethnic identity? You
can only write about double-
consciousness and crisis of
identity ("I'm Asian. But I'm
American. I'm American. But
I'm Asian!") in so many ways,
after all.
I'd like to answer "no" to
all the above. What true indi-
viduality is there if there are
requirements? (Although,
those considered the other or
the formerly conquered often
write better, with influences,
experiences and outlook that
the ex-conqueror has no match
for. And then they sometimes
512 E. Wliam t (734) 663-3379

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at bar only
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itzers.) the public sphere and it's going to
o focus on the last ques- have your headshot printed in the
's word it in a better way: book jacket (or above a column),
ople expect "the ethnic you represent the people you look
to address and acknowl- like whether you like it or not. So
e Dominican-American, or you better do it well - whether
born Chinese or English- actually writing about related
:g-school-raised-Indian issues (aren't all novels semi-
nce? Of course, and it's autobiographical anyway?) or as a
ential readership (re: those public figure.
your novels so that Harp- In terms of subject matter, sto-
ss will renew your book ries on the immigrant experience
at counts. resound cross-culturally - and
amans, we respond to sell well. (My Chinese mom loves
We like to classify and "The Namesake.") Even if readers
ize, and marking ethnic- aren't first- or second-generation
nationality is one of our immigrants, they've surely felt
! methods of stratifying like an outsider at some point.
her, be it on census cards One could even argue that the
e bookstore - I've always success of outsiders in English
literature started long before the
empires ended: Another profes-
sor recently pointed out that the
ighish Iit isn't legendary authors of early mod-
t ernism were all technically out-
ut the Englsh siders. Joyce and Yeats were from
Ireland. Eliot and Pound were
anymor'e Americans. Conrad was Polish,
but while serving in the French
and British merchant navies he
ed why there's a specific learned French and then English.
n-American literature" But this wasn't until his early
at Borders. twenties, and this man is con-
e it may not be necessary sidered one of the greatest of
m out your background on his era.

GRAFFITI
From Page IB

"Change has been essential to graffiti culture
since almost the very beginning," Curtis said. "The
fact that writers expect their work to be painted
over eventually creates an entirely different value
system around the work. It's not the finished object
that's important, but the act of painting it."
The website considers graffiti a social art form
- the graffiti on a building from three months ago
might not be the same graffiti that exists there
now, but there's often a dialogue between different
artists who approach the same canvas.
"Graffiti does have a social aspect to it, certain-
ly," S.H.R. said. "It's awesome to see what other
people are doing and take ideas from them, just as
much as any other form of art when you play off
other people's ideas."
Graffiti is controversial in relation to the dynam-
ics between legal and illegal, public canvas and
private property. The issues are subject to debate,
especially between the people who advocate graf-
fiti as a legitimate art form.

According to Dobkin, the difference between
graffiti being legal or illegal lies in questioning
the role of anti-graffiti laws themselves, and not
in questioning graffiti's role as an art form. "Obvi-
ously, graffiti takes a different view of property, so
it's not surprising that most 'upstanding' citizens
react to it with disdain," Dobkin said.
S.H.R. agrees that there are certain complexi-
ties put in play when people relegate graffiti to the
"art of the slums and ghettos."
Curtis, however, thinks differently.
"You can't separate the destructive component
(of graffiti) from the creative," he said. "But you
can choose to perceive graffiti as a gift, a piece of
free art done at no cost to you; or you can choose
to perceive it as theft, as the taking of public or pri-
vate space. It's all a matter of perspective."
Either way, the artistic, social and cultural roles
graffiti plays shouldn't be holed into preconceived
notions of the graffiti artists' intentions. Graffiti is
a charged art form with a charm that bridges the
concepts between "high art" and the perception of
"low art," between what's in the Museum of Mod-
ern Art and what's on the streets.
"In the end, I think all that matters is what's on
the wall," S.H.R. said.

I A

every page you write, as a minor-
ity writer I think there's a sense
that if you're putting a product in

E-mail Chou the expatriate
at kimberch@umich.edu.

------------- j

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f 0ci wo

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