The power of mestizaje
As often happens, e-mails to my friends serve as drafts for the blog notes I've been putting off writing. Don Monkerud asked if we has seen the The Aztec Empire exhibit at the Guggenheim.

Yes, we have, and I 'd been meaning to put a commentary on my blog ever since we attended the symposium last Saturday. It's a very good show -- different from the one at the Royal Academy in London ( "Aztecs") organized by the same curators last year. That one was all about one great city, Tenochtitlan, and had enough space to reproduce some of the feel of the Great Plaza in its heyday, and a large-screen demonstrations of the stages of building of the Templo Mayor, the pyramid with the twin temples to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. But this show at the Met has a different emphasis and also has things that they didn't have in London. Here the focus is on the great mix and reciprocal influences of very different cultures in ancient Mexico: Mexica ("Aztec") v. Mixtec v. Zapotec, etc. They were all learning from one another, while working the borrowed ideas into their own traditions and using local (quite different) materials to create things that were quite novel. Some Mexican archaeologists are beginning to refer to pre-Hispanic forms as parts of an "international style" -- which is a sly reference to the usual meaning of that term, and a recognition that these peoples were in fact separate, and often hostile, nations. And despite their differences, they were aware of and keenly interested in each other's art and architecture.

While you're in New York, be sure to see the show at the Met on Andean textiles and silverwork of the colonial period. Fascinating syncretism of ancient Andean techniques and Spanish and even Chinese models (Spain's trade with China passed through Peru, and Andean craftsmen were quick to pick up on new ideas from anywhere -- amazing Andean versions of Chinese lions, which are themselves fabulous representations of European lions, since neither the Chinese nor the Andeans had ever seen a lion).

We also were blown away by the show China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 250-750 AD, on the same floor as the Andean show. Here you get to see how many different cultures within what is today China, and contacts with India, Iran and Europe, all produced much more dynamic forms, highly differentiated by region, than we usually imagine in China. All three shows in effect celebrate the creative energy that comes from the meetings of disparate cultures. I don't know the Chinese term, but in the Americas we call that "mestizaje."

Whitey, go home! (Kicking oneself in the shins)

In Caracas, Venezuela, demonstrators pulled down a 100-year old bronze statue of Christopher Columbus and dragged it through the streets to protest the Oct. 12 commemoration of Columbus' 1492 arrival in the Americas, which they described as the start of the biggest genocide in history against the continent's indigenous peoples. Caracas police recovered the pieces of the statue and arrested five people in connection with the incident. Earlier, President Hugo Chavez Frias had presided over an official event paying homage to indigenous chief Guaicapuro for his resistance to the Spanish invaders. The leftist Venezuelan government marks Oct. 12 as a day of indigenous resistance. [La Jornada (Mexico) 10/13/04 from Reuters, AFP, DPA; El Diario-La Prensa 10/13/04 from AP] In an Oct. 14 statement read by Chavez's minister of communication and information, Andres Izarra, the government condemned the trashing of the statue. The Chavez government "decidedly and totally rejects anarchy and any action of vandalism which attacks national heritage," according to the statement. [Communication and Information Ministry (MINCI) Press Release 10/14/04 via Colombia Indymedia]
It's really too late for Guaicaipuro. Venezuela is partly Amerindian, and to a larger part African, but most of all it is Spanish. It has developed the only history it has as a nation, since the first explorers nicknamed it's lake-dwellings "Venezuela" ("Little Venice"), in Spanish. Trashing the statue can't hurt Columbus, but it can hurt Venezuelans if it means attacking part of who they are.


Derrida on film
We caught this flick last night: Derrida. It is laughably stupid, as Derrida himself obviously thought but was too polite to say. He looks perplexed, like he can't believe they are asking him such stupid questions, like "Que pensez-vous sur l'amour?" What? What about "l'amour"? Posez une question! Sometimes the interviewer can't think of any, perhaps just awed to be in the presence of the dapper little man. There are long moments of silence, as he waits for some question or thought to come from "l'autre," in this case the filmmaker, that he can grapple with. Elvis Mitchell of the NYT is quoted as saying it was "Blissful -- a delight to watch," which I guess means he wasn't paying any attention to the dialogue. (Read the whole review to see how far Elvis was in over his head -- he has no idea what Derrida was about.) Oh, well, for all its inanity, the film was still fun to watch, because little Jacques is quite charming. He was a self-declared narcissist who fussed over his long white hair and was delighted and embarrased to see his image in a portrait; he dressed in outlandish patterned suits, patterned shirts and patterned ties (all different patterns), and was especially delighted by all the attention of film crew with lights, booms, cameras, and all the rest, who followed him for months, in Paris, New York and South Africa. But he was a generous sort of narcissist, too courteous to put someone down. Except maybe in this very funny scene: A British journalist asks him if "Seinfeld" wasn't an example of deconstruction. He stares at her. She tries to explain to him what "Seinfeld" is. He frowns harder. She explains that it is a popular television comedy. At last he takes a breath and says, "If people think that a television comedy is deconstruction, they should turn off the TV and start reading." Right!
Random celebrity
After months of unavailability, I now can view the page showing number of visits to my website. Amazing. With no promotion whatever, and without even updating this weblog more than sporadically, I've been averaging 355 hits a day. That's not a lot, I know, but it's a lot more than I expected. Without making the least effort, anybody with e-mail or an Internet connection can become notorious! For a more or less grievous example, see Laurie Garrett of Newsday's very frank report on Davos and commentary by Shaun Waterman.
Personal update
My friend and fiction-writing colleague R. D. Larson asked how things were going & how our trip to Spain went, so I told her:

Spain, good. World, not so good. Get well. My little story, "From a Trolley Stop in Amsterdam," has just come out in a second Ink Pot anthology, which seems awfully nice and extravagant of them.

Busy with tasks as co-chair of our New York chapter of the National Writers Union -- we have a major event tonight. Also working to finish draft of chapters for our editor at W. W. Norton, on history of Latin American architecture & urbanism. Also, I just got a surprise note from an agent apologizing for the many months without responding and asking to see my novel -- I'm not quite ready to send it, though. I have to finish the Latin American draft first, so I can focus on making the revisions I think will make it stronger. Also, I'm writing articles on minority careers for Monster.com (supposedly two a month, but not always possible to get the interviews as quickly as needed, so there's been a gap since the last one). I also have an essay in, of all the surprising places, the inaugural issue of the Journal of Turkish Literature (I know next to nothing about Turkish literature, but I did discover a charming old manuscript about a woman poet of the 15th century, which the Journal has now published, and I wrote the intro).