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But why should original sin alone, among core Christian doctrines, have the power to do that? What about the other powerful idea in Genesis, that we are all made in the image of God? Doesn’t that serve equally well, or even better, to bind us as members of a single family?

The answer is that it should do so, but usually does not. Working against the force of that doctrine is the force of familiarity, of prevalent cultural norms of behavior and even appearance. A genuine commitment to the belief that we are all created equally in the image of God requires a certain imagination, an imagination that Agassiz, try as he might, could not summon: “it is impossible for me to repress the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us.” Instinctive revulsion against the alien will trump doctrinal commitments almost every time. Black people did not feel human to him, and this feeling he had no power to resist; eventually (as we shall see) his scientific writings fell into line with his feelings.

By contrast, the doctrine of original sin works with the feeling that most of us have, at least some of the time, of being divided against ourselves, falling short of the mark, inexplicably screwing up when we ought to know better. It takes relatively little imagination to look at another person and that, though that person is not all he or she might be, neither am I. It is true that not everyone can do this; the Duchess of Buckingham couldn’t. (“It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth.”) But in general it is easier for most of us to condescend, in the etymological sense of the word – to see ourselves as sharing shortcomings or sufferings with others – than to lift up people ourselves. If misery does not always love company, it surely tolerates it quite well, whereas pride demands distinction and hierarchy, and is ultimately willing to pay for those in the coin of isolation. That the doctrine of a common creation in the image of God doesn’t do more to help build human community and fellow feeling could be read as yet more evidence for the reality of original sin.

  • Alan Jacobs in Original Sin – A Cultural History

“Anna Arkadyevna read and understood, but it was unpleasant for her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other people’s lives. She wanted too much to live herself “(100).

But what am I ashamed of?’ she asked herself in offended astonishment. She put down the book and leaned back in the seat, clutching the paper-knife tightly in both hands. There was nothing shameful(100).

And just then, as if overcoming an obstacle, the wind dumped snow from the roof of the carriage, blew some torn-off sheet of iron about, and from ahead a low train whistle howled mournfully and drearily. All the terror of the blizzard seemed still more beautiful to her now. He had said the very thing that her soul desired but that her reason feared (103).

She had to descend into reality to enjoy him as he was (107).

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Life, The Source of All Creations” – Paintings by Huang Zhou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Produced by Communist China, 1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice how pockets of red are spread across the page. The Grandfather figure in the middle is the center. His right thumb is pointing in the general direction of the well organized fields in the background. Everyone is in a jovial mood, for what could go wrong when our Communist industriousness has produced the grapes of Canaan (on upper right)?

Arkady Plastov - Elections to the Committee of Poor Peasants

This is a Soviet painting from the 1930s I believe. Does this painting feel the same as the one above? They both seem to share the general theme of the idyllic, collective farm life.

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This is from the grandfather painting above. Do I spy a Han Chinese seamlessly mixing with his minority brethren?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes – I will study my alphabet in the freezing cold with hungry, bahhhing sheep in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

woman reading book

Couldn’t find the source for this one, but it’s an obvious propaganda piece from the Soviet Union. Seem familiar?

 

 

 

 

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I love this one the most. Even though I know it’s artificial, I think the artist has captured some of the essence of Central Asian life here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I randomly chanced upon this book on a dusty shelf in my living room. I took a cursory glance through the book and it is amazing. Will update with more information over the weekend if I remember!

Initial thoughts: Communist propaganda looks and feels the same, even when painted with ancient painting technique. Still trying to decide whether I respect the artist or absolutely distrust and loathe him for selling out and succumbing to political pressures for him to produce untruthful paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

“The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life — not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.”

– Preface to The Complete Poems of Robert Frost

Since the children had been present at the fumigation, Ursula figured that Fernanda had put the ring in the only place where they could not reach it: the shelf. Fernanda, on the other hand, looked for it in vain along the paths of her everyday itinerary without knowing that the search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them (265).

Instead of going to the chestnut tree, Colonel Aureliano buendia also went to the street door and mingled with the bystanders who were watching the parade. he saw a woman dressed in gold sitting on the head of an elephant. He saw a sad dromedary. He saw a bear dressed like a Dutch girl keeping time to the music with a soup spoon and a pan. He saw the clowns doing cartwheels at the end of the parade and once more he saw the face of his miserable solitude when everything had passed by and there was nothing but the bright expanse of the street and the air full of flying ants with a few onlookers peering into the precipice of uncertainty. Then he went to the chestnut tree, thinking about the circus, and while he urinated he tried to keep on thinking about the circus, but he could no longer find the memory. He pulled his head in between his shoulders like a baby chick and remained motionless with his forehead against the trunk of the chestnut tree. The family did not find him until the following day at eleven o’clock in the morning when Santa Sofia de la Piedad went to throw out the garbage in back and her attention was attracted by the descending vultures. 287

I just finished reading Daniel Alarcon’s “Lost City Radio”. I blazed through it in a matter of days, though I probably should have finished it earlier than I did.

I picked up this book because I found Alarcon’s name listed among Wikipedia’s page of famous Peruvian authors and artists. Alarcon, though born in Lima, actually grew up in Birmingham, Alabama since he was three. I wonder if this fact undermines his writing on Peru or Latin American issues since his personal history lies rooted in the US. Nevertheless, we live in times where borders and nationalities blur more easily and national distinctions are becoming more and more artificial – what makes an American an “American”? What makes a Chinese person actually Chinese? Who gives a @(#*$^?

Although the book evoked emotion and empathy from me, its reporter-like style of writing did not agree with me. Alarcon paints beautiful images and captures sentimental details that evoke an internal smile from me at times, but for the most part I found his style boring, dry, and not creative enough. It reads like a New York Times article, which, although everyone loves and treats as manna from heaven, I find boring and too pedantic in its fancy verbiage. That’s just me though. I have no evidence to back my claims.

All is not lost, however, I actually really appreciated some of his abrupt scene changes. Alarcon jumps from scene to scene, sometimes zipping through 2 or 3 different flashbacks on a single page without prompting the reader. These hyper jumps has the potential to frustrate readers since the method disrupts the natural flow of traditional reading, but I felt the flashbacks were not too difficult to digest.

I wish I had copied down some passages that I found eloquent or poignant, but I never did. I usually jot down some nice quotes from books that I enjoy to keep for future reference, but, I guess this book didn’t have enough to compel me to draw out a pen and paper.

I don’t really like Victorian lit, but I think this quote aptly responds to my previous rantings:

“I fear you are a heretic about art generally. How is that? I should have expected you to be very sensitive to the beautiful everywhere.”

“I suppose I am dull about many things,” said Dorothea, simply. “I should like to make life beautiful – I mean everybody’s life. And then all this immense expense of art, that seems somehow to lie outside life and make it no better for the world, pains one. It spoils my enjoyment of anything when I am made to think that most people are shut out from it.”

“I call that the fanaticism of sympathy,” said Will, impetuously. ” … Enjoyment radiates. It is of no use to try and take care of all the world; that is being taken care of when you feel delight – in art or in anything else.”

-George Elliot, Middlemarch.

I am no longer an Asian American book virgin. I found this book among stacks of classroom book sets at the bottom of a lonesome cabinet drawer in my classroom. The title, “Rice Room: Growing Chinese-American from Number Two Son to Rock’n’Roll”, caught my eye, and made me question the previous teacher’s taste in books. The title reeked of warm-fuzzy multicultural mediocrity, so I snatched one up to assuage my nagging desire to first, read, then rip it to pieces (figuratively).

Asians. We pay so much deference to others but transform into a hypercritical tiger-mom when it comes to scrutinizing our own.

After reading the book from front to back, however, I realize that I can’t tear into the book as I would have liked nor can I easily dismiss it as modern multicultural sludge. Although I was bored at parts and was left wondering about the direction of this book at times, the short memoir unearthed some bits of history of early Chinese immigrants to the U.S, which was fascinating to me because it’s a story often overlooked, and shunned.

For some odd reason unbeknownst to me, I’ve always contained an unexplainable aversion towards all things Asian American: Asian American studies courses, AA books, AA movies, etc., yet at the same time ‘Asian Americanness’ and all the attendant problems with that identity has always been an interesting topic of discussion with my friends and something I naturally mull about. I think a part of me abhorred anything that explicitly self-promoted itself as “Asian American” since I felt embarrassed by the attempts to gain attention. Why talk about it? Can’t we just integrate? It’s like a self-aggrandizing politician who zealously brandishes his own reputation rather than humbly accepting the praise of others. It’s sleazy. It smacks of desperation.

Well, thankfully this book doesn’t go on a long diatribe on how Asians are underrepresented in the media or detail some petty racist encounters. Instead, it just plainly tells a short history of his parents’ coming to America, their hardships in eking out a life in Oakland, and his siblings’ and his own difficulties in growing up with one leg in one world and one leg in another. Yoked with the heavy burden of his parent’s (and thus, by extension, China’s) expectations for him, the author tells us story after story – some comical, a few tragic – about the difficulties in navigating an individualistic, free flowing, “American” life. At the end of the day, I find myself identifying with a lot of the same problems he faced, though probably with less intensity since my own parents are more Americanized than most Chinese parents.

I did find one gem in the book that I think I might carry with me, especially in dealing with my own parents. In an episode where the author is telling his older brother about his latest argument with his parents, the older sibling gives wise, albeit very “Asian”, advice:

“It’s pointless to go crazy over how they are. They are the way they are, and they’ll always be that way. There’s no point in arguing. If you want to not talk with them or see them for awhile, go ahead and argue. Otherwise, you might as well just give in. Just tell yourself that you know you’re right. But for your own  peace of mind, compromise. The bottom line is that they’re our parents, and they’re the only ones we have.”

Ah, the Confucian filial piety that preserved the nobility of Chinese people for generations still runs deep in our Asian AMERICAN veins. One generation of American living can’t simply purge that away in one go.

I’ve neglected this blog for far too long. I might as well resign myself to write a short, imperfect piece rather than let a fantastical thoughtful post stay put in my imagination. Isn’t that how most things go? The things we really want to do just never happen to get done?

Nevertheless, I finally got around to reading “Things Fall Apart”, by Nigerian author Chinhua Achebe. While I wouldn’t classify it as a literary masterpiece, I also don’t think it should be relegated to that bland category of “multicultural” books which are usually full of exotic spice but devoid of literary quality (i.e.- Kite Runner). Things Fall Apart reminds me more of the classic historical book, “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck, a novel that chronicles the rise  of a prominent, noble Chinese family over three generations, giving us a neat insight into the historical change taking place in China at that time. However, I’m not sure if Achebe would appreciate the comparison to Ms. Buck, since she was a white missionary kid in China – Achebe depicts white missionaries in his book as cultural colonizers that ruin the indigenous customs, religion, and ultimately, their way of life.

Similar to “The Good Earth”, “Things Fall Apart” also follows the life of a Nigerian family caught in the middle of a historically tumultuous time in Nigeria. It mainly details the life of Okonkwo, who must learn to fight against his childhood poverty, earn the respect of his tribe, appease capricious tribal gods, and manage a complex family life complicated by having three wives with three different sets of children. He manages it all by wielding the hard-earned tools that he has used since he was a boy: a superhuman work-ethic and absolute adherence to tradition. These two principles have guided him from abject poverty to a spot in the inner circle of the elder council, and so thus rules his family with his militaristic approach that has served him so well in life. And while his piety does not rely so much upon his faith in spirits and gods, his belief in rigid tradition rests upon its ability to create a semblance of order in a chaotic world. His absolute principles form the foundation upon which he has built his life, and to deviate from them or to even consider other ways of doing things would have been perceived as an existential threat.

Indeed, the encroachment of white (and powerful) missionaries into his community forces him to confront the foreign threat with the same militaristic violence that has served him well throughout his life. However, his community, intimidated by the flashing guns and confused by their gods’ lack of vengeful action on the irreverent white men, ultimately disappoint Okonkwo by not confronting the new threat with force. This disappointment ultimately crushes his spirit and belief in his community’s ability to uphold the traditions, the culture, and the way of life of the tribesmen.

Reading this story of Okonkwo also made me question my own identity as a “Chinese” and how lost and distant the culture is to me. In some ways, I am the product of that weak community so unwilling to fight for its way of life, selling itself wholesale to capitalism, individualism, and Western culture. In a way, the adoption of these Western values is a recognition of the failure of the indigenous values to produce wealth and happiness. Even the grafting of Christianity – a Judeo-Greek (WESTERN) religion – onto our personal lives feels like an attempt to merely “catch up” with the modern world. I have heard laments from my own parents, and other Chinese parents about how sad it is for Chinese people to have to immigrate to the US to get a “real education” or to eke out a “prosperous life”. I guess one could say that it doesn’t have to be an either/or type of acceptance, but an amalgamation, a salad bowl that picks from two different cultural harvest (excuse the imagery, it’s lame) , but I don’t know, that sounds like a 2nd place “everybody wins” type of argument. Orhan Pamuk said something about having to be on the ‘periphery’ of history these past few hundred years, and how hard it is to deal with that knowledge. Anyways, enough of that.