Cultural Values

Louise Erdrich’s Novel, Shadow Tag

Shadow Tag
Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins, 2010
255 pp

Reading theorists have told us many times that readers take an active part in creating the very narratives they’re reading. A text is not static, no matter what the intention of the writer. Once the story goes out there, we, as readers, begin a kind of paint-by-numbers process of reinventing the narrative to fit our psyches. The broad outline of the story is there, but we color in the personal textures to suit ourselves.

Louise Erdrich’s novel, Shadow Tag, certainly opened up my own politically-correct notions of what I want to read or see in a fictional work about another culture. It continues to be difficult for me to shift out of a rather rigid belief that indigenous cultures should exist in this rarified world of innocence, that they should not accomodate themselves, in any way, to a dominant, sometimes oppressive culture—Japanese art should be pure “Japanese”; Chinese literature should be untainted by Western values; Indian film should always be driven by the country’s Hindu heritage.

Although I have evolved to having made my own accomodations, I find myself sometimes becoming a kind of politically-correct tourist who doesn’t want any ancient culture to change. I am sometimes particularly hard on writers and artists who produce assimilationist works, hybrids that have their sensibilities in two cultures. Continue reading

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Christianity and Mammon

Poverty of Spirit

I grew up in a religion that preached “poverty of spirit.” It was a high-church Christian religion with lots of rituals, pomp, icons, and incense. As a child and an adolescent, I was told that poverty existed on a higher, more spiritual plain than wealth because, if I were poor, I would not be distracted by the material world.

I was taught, in no uncertain terms, that just as it would be impossible for a camel to thread its way through the eye of a needle, that it would be a cold day in hell before a wealthy person would ever enjoy eternal bliss. From that small kernel of a moral presumption, I learned to be suspicious of wealth and to pursue “higher,” more spiritual goals. I saw no contradiction between the poverty message and the comfortable, sometimes extravagant lives of the male messengers. Continue reading

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Bliss, Honor Killing, and Turkish Cinema

Demonizing the Enemy, the Old Battle Between East and West

Those of us who are cultural-diversity followers continue to be intrigued by the global verbal battle going on between the conservatives on both sides of the “which-culture-is-superior” topic.

In the West, the Berlusconi followers continue to rant and rave about the superiority of Western Civilization. On the other hand, Islamic fundamentalists and militant jihadists believe that the infidel West is going to hell in a hand basket. Both sides have reduced their enemies to demonized objects. Continue reading

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Health Insurance, a Crapshoot

Nothing in life is certain, as the saying goes, except death and taxes. We live in a world of profound arbitrariness. No one has any control of where they’re going to be born, what kind of parents they’re going to have, and what economic and social status they’re going to born into. We don’t come into our lives with a warranty even if our parents are wealthy and live in the Hamptons. Life, in general, has an arbitrariness that few teleologists are comfortable with.

When it comes to Health Insurance in America, the crapshoot world of arbitrariness becomes even more transparent. If you just happen to be employed by an employer who pays 60% of your premiums, you’re one of the chosen. If your employer pays the deductible, then you’re one among the few. If you just happen to have a health-insurance policy that has dental, you are definitely in a minority, unless you’re willing and can afford to add dental to your basic coverage. And if you can afford a gold-plated policy with all of the medical amenities,including face-lifts, then you are, indeed, among the rich-and-famous.

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