Monday, June 10, 2013

reading: dangerous, unconventional stuff: Jane Eyre, Landeys from Afghanistan, The Sanctuary, and 100 Objects

This blog post is inspired by the general joy of global reading, a blog series, a new online lit course and a reading challenge. More, at the bottom of this post.

Some surprisingly controversial reads this week: The first is a classic that i wouldn't have picked myself: Jane Eyre. But as it is part of the new online literary course which started last week - here's more, including a reading list: The Fiction of Relationships - i thought i at least should read into the first chapters, and now i am amazed by it.

Jane Eyre
The book brought several surprises. Number one: the book is partly autobiographical. Number two: Charlotte Bronte published it first under a male pseudonym in 1847. And number three: it revolutionized the art of fiction: "Charlotte Brontë has been called the 'first historian of the private consciousness' and the literary ancestor of writers like Joyce and Proust". Of course, the consciousness wasn't all welcome, especially as it included "elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core ... , but is nonetheless a novel many consider ahead of its time given the individualistic character of Jane and the novel's exploration of classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism."

With growing recognition, the discussions about it got heavier, too. The preface of the second edition includes this rather telling note:

"Having thus acknowledged what I owe those who have aided and approved me, I turn to ... (those) who doubt the tendency of such books as "Jane Eyre:" in whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong; whose ears detect in each protest against bigotry—that parent of crime—an insult to piety, that regent of God on earth. I would suggest to such doubters certain obvious distinctions; I would remind them of certain simple truths. Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns."

If you want to read into the book, there are various free online versions, including one with a cover that looks romantic, but might be seen as problematic in some regions of this world: a woman reading...

Which leads to the next controversial read of this week  - i blogged about it already, but to have all in one place, here's the blog post:

Landeys from Afghanistan, or: Jane Eyre, now
Even though Jane Eyre might feel like a book from the past, describing a society that has changed by now - this article from poetry foundation is a reminder that there are still many Jane Eyre's living in this world, raised to be a good girl: quiet and obedient. and like Charlotte Bronte, they opt to rather remain anonymus when putting their words on paper. I am still stunned by this moving and fascinating article in great and unusual format, in poetry foundation.

Reading through the page, I thought: I am so glad someone took the time and energy and risk to create this. I guess with an issue like this, you also risk threats to editors, authors and the magazine. It also made me think of Herta Müller, the noble prize winner of literature, when she was young, living in totalitarian Bulgaria, and risked being persecuted for her words. And hid them in the soles of her shoes, hid books in secret places (more about that, here: Herta Müller). But back to Landays:

Here's a bit from the introduction:

"In Afghan culture, poetry is revered, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet — a landay — an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Usually in a village or a family one woman is more skilled at singing landays than others, yet men have no idea who she is. Much of an Afghan woman’s life involves a cloak-and-dagger dance around honor — a gap between who she seems to be and who she is. ... the subjects of landays are remixed like hip-hop, with old words swapped for newer, more relevant ones."

here's the whole article:
Poetry Foundation: Poetry of the Women of Afghanistan


Unsettling Archeology

Another theme of this week is: Archeology. This, too, is inspired by a new Coursera course, an introduction in lectures, talks and videos: Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets

It's a theme that sounds a bit dusty, but so far, it's one of the freshest courses i've seen - the lectures are given by an archeologist who doesn't fit stereotypes: Sue Alcock, who isn't into digging dust, but into interesting questions like this one: "What do archaeologists know about the past that most people would never guess – and why aren’t we telling you?"

Here's an example of recent archeological findings of the kind that don't fit into the established picture of things, in a freely accessible article from The New Yorker. Do you know where the world's oldest temple ist standing? 

The Sanctuary - The world’s oldest temple and the dawn of civilization

"There are a number of unsettling things about Göbekli Tepe. It’s estimated to be eleven thousand years old—six and a half thousand years older than the Great Pyramid, five and a half thousand years older than the earliest known cuneiform texts, and about a thousand years older than the walls of Jericho, formerly believed to be the world’s most ancient monumental structure.. Mysteriously, the pillars appear to have been buried, deliberately and all at once, around 8200 B.C., some thirteen hundred years after their construction.

The idea of a religious monument built by hunter-gatherers contradicts most of what we thought we knew about religious monuments and about hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers are traditionally believed to have lacked complex symbolic systems, social hierarchies, and the division of labor, three things you probably need before you can build a twenty-two-acre megalithic temple..."


A History of the World in 100 Objects

The archeology course finally brought me back to one of the books that i started in 2012 - it's amazing, but also overwhelming: "A History of the World in 100 Objects" (and in 100 chapters).

I reached chapter 86 now, and with it, "The Age of Exploration, Exploitation and Enlightment (AD 1680 - 1820)". (I just checked, this also connects to Jane Eyre, published in 1847).

One of the iconic objects for this time is: the "Akan Drum", made in West Africa, and found in Virginia, USA - brought there most probably by a slave ship.

The drum is the symbol for music, of course - for the culture and beat  the slaves carried with them, even though they weren't allowed to bring anyhing. And like the women in Afghanistan, they formed their own song. This is the startling line of chapter 86 of the world - a perfect round-up quote for this medley of books and reads:

"The true spirit of jazz is a joyous revolt from conventions, custom, authority, boredom, even sorrow - from everything that would confine the soul of man and hinder its riding free on the air.. - These are the words of the black American historian J.A. Rogers, writing in the 1920s about the nature of jazz.."

The 100 Objects project also has a website, here's the overview: A history of the world - the 100 British Museum Objects, and here's the book at Goodreads - A History of the world


Book Links, Previous Reads & Finding Books

Previous reading blog entries are collected here: bookshelf: currently  reading... there also is a visual bookshelf, just click it to get there.

Reading around the world - i really enjoy this literal discovery-tour of the world, and it now made me go and pull some useful links together in a blog post: Finding books by country: helpful links + resources

More monday reads from other bloggers: link list at book journey

And my own book... is Worl(d)s Apart. True.


Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader said...

I would really like to read History of the World. I love little historical tidbits and I think that book would be right up my alley :)

Have a great week and happy reading!

Elizabeth said...

Great titles. THANKS for sharing.

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