Imagine that you have a superpower for accelerating time at whim, for making decades pass in the span of hours. Imagine now that your superpower is actually just extreme diligence, and that you are the director Richard Linklater. The product of this is Boyhood, a languorous dip into the formative years of a young boy in suburban Texas and a feat of filmmaking stamina. Its innovation was to film the same cast for a few days out of every year for twelve years, and for a time after seeing it I wondered whether its power rests solely in its gimmick. After all, The Boston Globe had gone so far as to declare that it “may be why the movies were invented.” And yet, what it has to say about boyhood, or parenthood, or generalized personhood, resides squarely in the banal. It is the opposite of Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which situates its portrait of Texas boyhood in the context of nothing less than the incipient universe and the beginning of life on Earth. That film opens with a quotation from Job 38:4, 7 (“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? …”) set to John Tavener’s “Funeral Canticle,” and ends with a surrealistic beachscape of the dead. Boyhood opens on a little boy cloud-watching to the strains of Coldplay’s “Yellow,” and ends with him, twelve years later, getting stoned in a national park.
The devotees sit crosslegged in the tomb not eating the food laid before them, plates glossy pink and turmeric yellow with papaya and daal. The tile is khichri-slippery, and I have forgotten it is Ramadan. The Dargah of Sufi saint Nizaamuddin Auliya, a labrynthine complex open to the sky, shivers with a crowd: disciplined worshippers at a feast uneaten, as though laid out for ghosts. But they are vibrantly fleshy, minding babies and gesticulating as they wait for the siren signalling iftar to tumble down. I snake into a bulging queue with a combination of elbows and sweet talk, half propelled by the crowd and half propelling, until I am spat out, salty and sweating, at the tomb of Amir Khusrau.
I am crouched on the edge of Port-au-Prince rooftop, a hooded figure with a blunderbuss and a rusty machete strapped to my back. A throng of white men in frock coats and silk stockings bustles by below, some on their way to a nearby slave auction. There, a line of shackled men stands on a platform, under posters reading “Nègres À Vendre”—“Blacks For Sale.” It’s broad daylight, and my rooftop ledge stands only a few feet off the ground. Yet the men below don’t seem frightened. It’s possible they can’t believe their eyes: Black assassins aren’t quite commonplace in colonial Saint-Domingue. Whatever the reason, their loss is our gain. Continue reading
“To be human means above all to bury.”
- Robert Pogue Harrison, The Dominion of the Dead
Three articles this July have underlined a growing concern about the function of the archive in contemporary society. Previously relegated to the dark, climate-controlled labyrinths below universities, federal buildings and private collections, the archive has emerged into daylight. The repositories of the everyday now interact directly with the everyday, to unusual effect. Continue reading
American Innovations is a concept book, which makes it a good gift. The person opens the wrapping paper and says, excitedly, “Oh, what’s this?” And you say: “It’s a collection that reimagines famous stories from the perspective of female characters.” And then, to give it a little weight, to prove its not merely a gimmick, you give a quick list of Rivka Galchen’s accomplishments: One novel, Atmospheric Disturbances (2008), excellent reviews; professorship at Columbia; one of the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 (2010). Et voila: the gift-receiver is thrilled about their new book. Continue reading
Even when we put down the windows, my family’s 1998 Toyota Sienna minivan still smelled like a basement. Maps that we used to rely on before we had iPhones, old faded copies of National Geographic and Cooking Light, and a couple of packs of gum that had long lost their crisp shape, were all crammed into the pocket behind the driver’s seat. Squeezed behind these obsolete artifacts was a book, lovingly crumpled from a combination of wear, and, later, of neglect.
882 ½ Answers to Your Questions About the Titanic sustained me through most car rides, long and short, throughout early elementary school. Each section in the book was short and manageable, introducing me to facts about the steerage, and the bow and the stern every time I turned the page. Some passengers brought their dogs on board. The kitchens were equipped with twenty-five cases of olive oil, and the three hundred cases of shelled walnuts. Supposedly, thirteen couples traveling were on their honeymoons. Some scholars speculate it would have been safer to hit the iceberg straight on. All eight members of the ship orchestra lost their lives. I learned that April 15—tax day—was the day the Titanic sank. Engrossed, I didn’t mind the mild nausea I felt as I read in the backseat.
In our second installment of pieces exploring The Harvard Advocate‘s spring issue, Jacob Moscona-Skolnik ’16 and poetry editor Colton Valentine ’16 discusses Jacob’s poem, “Ruth Thalia writes to the poet,” which you can find in this recent edition of the magazine. Read the abridged transcript below.