Starbucks in the Middle East

It’s interesting how many McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks signs we see in the Iraqi streets in Shooting War.  This focus on American food outlets says something about economic globalization and “international integration” in the Middle East.  I won’t delve into this much, but a quick note on the attitudes towards globalization the Middle East: although some Middle Eastern intellectuals welcome the idea and note the benefits of economic globalization for its offering better job opportunities, others have expressed negative attitudes toward globalization in general, and cultural globalization in particular.  It’s been considered an equivalent to “Westernization” and also as a form of imperialism, since the ideas, cultures and institutions that are being spread around the globe are largely originated in the western part of the world.

Starbucks has large presence in Shooting War (after all, it is the “Frappucino” note that saves the day). The story opens with an explosion inside Starbucks in Brooklyn city by a Syrian named Al-Taheri.  Golden seems to have made a deliberate choice of making Starbucks the target of the bombing, considering the demonstrations against Starbucks coffee company held in some Middle Eastern countries.

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I remember a few summers ago in Beirut, I was walking back to my hotel as I bumped into an Iraqi/Kurdish girl that I’ve gotten to know during my stay.  When she saw what was a tall Caramel Frappacino in my hand she was infuriated and went on a long rant about Starbucks supporting Israel and donating a part of its profit to US troops in Iraq, and explained that by merely buying this Frappucino I was contributing in the killing of innocent civilians.  That was when I learned about the campaign against Starbucks that called for boycotting its products. It was a reaction to what Starbucks chairman Howard Schulz had said to a crowd of American Jews on Seattle’s Capitol Hill that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is fueled by anti-Semitism:

“What is going on in the Middle East is not an isolated part of the world. The rise of anti-Semitism is at an all time high since the 1930’s,” “The Palestinians aren’t doing their job they’re not stopping terrorism.”

This was the response of Yousef Al-Yousef, chairman of Global Peace:

“We are concerned that his [Schultz’s] statements exude Islamophobia and only seek to maintain the myth that the Palestinian struggle is against the Jewish people as opposed to being against an illegal occupation of land and an onslaught of aggression.”

http://www.muslimtents.com/aminahsworld/boycott_starbucks.htm

After sales dropped in Arab countries because of its pro-Israel rep, all six outlets in Israel were closed in April of 2003, while it continued to operate in other Middle Eastern countries. Starbucks spokesperson states that the decision was due to “operational challenges” and was not for political reasons.  This is the link to the full Starbucks article:

http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/pressdesc.asp?id=976

Adams Article

I do not agree with Rachel Adam’s assertions that postmodernism is somehow over, or that Tropic of Orange represents some sort of seismic shift in American literature that we will all inevitably follow.

First, a little defense of The Crying of Lot 49.  Yes, I can understand that students respond to the text as if it is some sort of cruel hoax.  That is because the novel is cruel in a way; it cannot be neatly wrapped up in a bow, it does not have a conclusive ending.  The problem does not lie in the novel, it lies in the students, and also in the education system in the era of N.C.L.B. (I’ve been trying to get everyone to call it “Nickelby”, but it does not seem to be catching on).  I do not want to go on an extended rant about education, but basically, the emphasis on standardized texting has led to a generation of students who are only interested in issues that are clearly black/white.  Students today cannot stand ambiguity, it makes them nervous.  To me, that is even more of a reason to continue teaching Pynchon, to take students out of their comfort zones.  If I decided that every novel that my students did not like was no longer relevant, then I would be stuck teaching Twilight and that book by the  Jon & Kate Plus Eight parents.

Also, if her students are unable to identify “the sharp polarization of the globe, fears of looming nuclear apocalypse, and … a government enmeshed in secrecy and conspiratorial activity,” then they are just not paying attention.  What have we been doing for the last 8 years if not polarizing the globe? We are so entrenched in an “us vs. them” narrative that we felt the need to change the name of our fried potato treats.  As the number of states that have nuclear weapons grows we should worry about a nuclear accident now more than ever.  Pakistan, North Korea, and soon Iran are all unstable states that have nuclear capabilities (I just found out that South Africa is one of the 10 nuclear armed states, seemed pretty random).  We went into Iraq under the assumption that Hussein was attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.  Also, it is not just nuclear annihilation we need to worry about, there are plenty of other ways that humanity can kill itself off (See: environment).  The Bush Administration was incredibly “enmeshed in secrecy.”  Look at all the shady stuff that is coming out: the US attorney firings, torture memos, secret prisons, roving death squads, illegal wiretapping, chupacabras, detaining prisoners illegally, not to mention the sweet, sweet bribes.  The Bush Administration was a paranoid person’s dream (or nightmare, not sure which).  I think it is hard to say that the main ideas behind postmodernism are no longer relevant.

I agree that “globalization” literature is an interesting field, and one that is very relevant to our current society.  However, as Susana pointed out, I feel that it points in a new direction for postcolonial or transnational literature.  And why does it have to be one or the other?  Why does Adams feel that the rise of one type of literature automatically leads to the demise of another? Why can’t we all just get along?

I just want to add that I enjoyed Tropic of Orange very much, my beef is with the article, not the novel.

Cold War and the Net, and 9/11 too.

This is the third of fourth time I’ve read through the Adams article and I’m still really hung up on the open vs. closed system idea. At first, I think I pretty much bought her argument, although cautiously. I was thinking particularly about the flow of information and how in Pynchon’s world it is overwhelming and intrusive – this leads to paranoia and chaos; yet in Yamashita’s world it is “designed less to entrap both character and reader in a postmodern labyrinth than to evoke the dense networking of people and goods in an age of global interconnection.”

The more I considered this idea, the more I began to agree with Adams’ assessment. The concept of, let’s say, the Internet, would have seemed incredibly threatening to someone like Pynchon in the 60s, through the end of the Cold War. Consider the earlier reception of Sputnik – an informational satellite perceived as everything from spy to death-ray – instant and global information-sharing must have been a terrifying prospect to those alive during the Cold War. Flash forward to the 90s, after the Cold War, and in the heyday of the early Internet and society had a completely different attitude towards information-sharing networks. The paranoia was gone and people, for the most part, saw the approaching global interconnectedness as a positive, rather than something to be feared. People sought out information, and instead of information being chaotic and cryptic (Oedipa), it made lives easier (Wikipedia!!!).

My main issue with/question for Adams, originally was concerning the effects of 9/11 on the ‘new’ era of literary postmodernism. I originally figured that it would have been a Cold War redux situation…in that it would have increased paranoia and a fear of global information sharing. However, while paranoia was on the rise immediately following 9/11, I think people actually embraced technology and information sharing EVEN MORE. Sure there was some techno-fear (and considering the amount of fear-mongering…I think we all did pretty well..), mostly of the shoe-bomb/exploding shampoo bottle variety, but consider the boom of the 24hr news networks, the talking heads(not the band), the marketing. And here

We, instead of developing a legitimate fear of spies or technological home-invasion (at least not from the enemy…possibly our wire-tapping govt though), sought out every piece of “news” that we could get our hands and ears on. Information (the open system) was our friend, it was comforting, even when it was scary, to know that we knew as much as we could know. And the Internet was the biggest, most instant-gratificacious (not a word) tool at our disposal. We were not, as Adams says “entrap[ed” in any kind of “labyrinth,” but rather we reveled in our interconnection. So, indeed, it seems that the end of the Cold War WAS a major turning point, not just in literary postmodernism, but in societal understanding/comfort with information-sharing and global networking in general. Not even a trauma like 9/11 could make us turn our back on technology/information.

Sure, even Yamashita illustrates that “California (or the Net for our purposes) is a nodal point where globalization threatens to erupt into environmental and human catastrophe…..But she also hints that, as Adams says “[It can] also [be] where people find themselves creating unlikely coalitions that might work to remedy these problems.”

Horray.

Globalization & Transnational Studies in Tropic of Orange

In reading Adams’ explanation of the distinction between postmodern and contemporary literature, I felt the following quotation best aided my understanding of her argument:  “Although Tropic of Orange is similarly complicated in terms of plot and narrative construction [as The Crying of Lot 49], its formal difficulties seem designed less to entrap both character and reader in a postmodern labyrinth than to evoke the dense networking of people and goods in an age of global interconnection. As Yamashita represents it, California is a nodal point where globalization threatens to erupt into environmental and human catastrophe, but also where people find themselves creating unlikely coalitions that might work to remedy these problems.”

If I understand this correctly, Adams suggests that while both books depict an interconnectedness (among people, events, things, and places) that is both complex and ambiguous, Pynchon depicts this interconnectedness as a conspiracy which ensnares both Oedipa and the reader, whereas Yamashita’s book uses interconnectedness to display humanity’s potential to work together to achieve solutions. 

I agree with Sarah that Adams has helped me to understand postmodernism better, but I must also say that it brings to mind a conversation we have been having in my other class this semester, ENG 551: Literary Criticism.  We have discussed a smorgasbord of critical views of literature, and more recently, we have discussed the section in our textbook entitled “Colonialism, Postcolonialism, and Transnational Studies.”  I researched the distinctions and connections between these terms for a recent presentation on a Jamaica Kincaid piece called A Small Place (in which Kincaid suggests that the tourism industry in postcolonial tourist destinations like the island of Antigua exists as a sort of secondary colonialism in which the binary between tourist/native creates a tension not unlike that between colonizer/colonized).  Interestingly, Adams references the following statement by Michael Denning:

a central task of a transnational cultural studies is to narrate an account of globalization that speaks not just of an abstract market with buyers and sellers, or even of an abstract commodification with producers and consumers, but of actors: transnational corporations, social movements of students, market women, tenants, radicalized and ethnicized migrants, labor unions, and so on.

Of course, my “ears”/eyes perked up when I read the term “transnational,” and I found myself considering the economic reading of Tropic of Orange as largely important to understanding (anything about) the text.  In my used book, I have notes in the margins from a previous owner that are, by and large, not useful to me except one which reads: “Traded goods, but not people–people do not get in” (scrawled on p. 230 beside the following underlined pasasage in the text: “Cuz is staring at her new Nikes.  Made in China.  Nikes get in.  But not the bro.”)  What hypocrisy!  We will exploit the developing worlds for its goods and its services, but we gawk at the idea of transnational experiences which will allow people in the developing world the same liberties we have in the United States.  Of course, immigration is a very complicated and heated issue, but why isn’t commerce and consumerism more of an issue?

Transnational studies, I have come to understand, considers the effets of the spread of English throughout the colonies of the British empire, as well as what Adams considers the “globalization of American literature.”  We cannot deny that the United States has been equally successful in creating some kind of empire that has spread the culture and language we speak across many parts of the world.  That said, our job as contemporary critics, I am coming to understand, is to not only incorporate varying cultural perspectives, but to purposefully consider the ramifications of a postcolonial world and a world affected by the United States’ hegemonic status.

Yamashita’s contemporary novel Tropic of Orange brings together multiple cultural identities, with particular attention to the minority groups often left out of American literature before postmodernism.  I feel strongly that her choice to incorporate the perspectives of seven main characters over a period of seven days relates directly to the cohesive quality of the number seven: not only are there seven days in the week, but there are also seven continents in the world.  As Adams points out, despite a very organized chart entitled “HyperContexts” at the beginning of the book and “although this map locates the central characters in time and space, [this chart] also provides a deceptive sense of order to a narrative that ultimately refuses to come together in any coherent manner. ”  That, I gather, is part of Yamashita’s message here: there is no coherent, cohesive, or perfect way to mesh together a variety of people and cultures, but it is certainly necessary and reasonable (and even unavoidable) to do so.

Tropic of Orange and Cognitive Mapping

Tropic of Orange was a very accessible read for me, so right away I knew something was wrong. The use of magical realism was charming, but that didn’t seem to jibe with what I thought I knew about postmodernist style. Adams’ article was very helpful to me in defining postmodernism by defining what it is not. She made a good point that the label of postmodernist loses any meaning it had when it is applied so liberally. Part of the reason I think we all feel so confused sometimes about what constitutes postmodern (aside from the fact that no critics can really agree either) is that the adjective is applied to such different-seeming texts. One thing I liked about Adams’ article was that she framed both postmodern fiction and contemporary fiction in more positive terms. Not only did she define postmodernism by what it’s not, she defined it by what it is. The “post” terms for schools of thought are somewhat troubling to me because they seem to define the wave only as a reaction to what came before, not as something in its own right. Of course all trends in intellectual thought are reactions to what came before, so it seems as if postmodernism should be able to come up with a descriptive definition for itself the way that other waves have done, instead of a temporal placeholder of a name. Adams terms postmodern fiction as Cold War literature, and contemporary fiction as the literature of globalization, which seem useful definitions to me.

Although she says it would be premature to label aesthetic and thematic trends in the literature of globalization (Is that a cop-out?), she does identify multivocalism as one stylistic trend in Tropic of Orange. I found myself reminded of House of Leaves’ multivocalism, but when I stopped to think about House of Leaves in terms of her definition of a postmodern text, it did seem to have the requisite “preoccupation with paranoia and conspiracy, radical skepticism about foundational truth and authority of all kinds, deft mixing of genres, distrust of received historical knowledge, and confrontations with the sublime and apocalyptic” (Adams 3). Tropic of Orange does mistrust the government, the army, the police, the newsmedia, but at least there does seem to be room for change. In a world where such acts of magical realism are possible, attitudes and ingrained cultural processes can surely also be extraordinarily transformed. What’s more, I did believe that the characters in Tropic of Orange themselves believed in the possibility of change.

It would be interesting to view Tropic of Orange, The Crying of Lot 49, and Adams’ article in terms of Jameson’s cognitive mapping. He decribed the alienated city as “a space in which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the urban totality in which they find themselves” wherein cognitive mapping should work to “enable a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole.” It was the beginning map of the character’s voices throughout the novel that reminded me of cognitive mapping, in addition to Adams’ focus on the geographical spaces in the novel. But in Tropic of Orange, at least some of the characters seem to have both psychological and metaphysical maps working and intact. Excluding perhaps Emi and Gabriel, Buzzword, Archangel, and even Bobby (with his barrio surfing) seem to be sure of their literal and figurative place in the world. Buzzword in particular seems to be an activist on behalf of cognitive mapping, wanting people to get outside and walk to connect themselves more intimately to the places they live in. Archangel as well was establishing a place for his people. Manzanar perhaps is with his symphony establishing cognitive maps for those who can hear, integrating the different voices of the city into a coherent living, functioning whole.

Help.

I found Adams’ article, “The Ends of America,” really helpful in my (still feeble) attempts to form a working definition of postmodernism. She seems very confident in her definition of what we’ve admitted is a slippery category: postmodernism as the “dominant form of avant-garde literary experimentalism during the Cold War, a period marked by the ascendance of transnational corporations, the upheavals of decolonization, fears of nuclear holocaust, and the partitioning of the globe into ideological spheres” (Adams 2). Here, Adams is referring to the sixties through the late eighties (I would say it coincides with the formation and then fall of the USSR). However, stuff like the “upheavals of decolonization, fear of nuclear holocaust, and the portioning of the globe into ideological spheres” is sounding an awful lot like what’s going on today (I asked someone who lived through the Cuban missile crisis why they thought we don’t seem particularly concerned about the prospect of countries like North Korea or Pakistan getting nuclear weapons, and they said they think it’s because our generation has never had that much faith that the world wasn’t going to end, so there didn’t seem a point to panicking. I think they’re right.).

 

So anyway. If Adams is arguing that postmodernism was a reaction to the “containment culture of Cold War America,” (Adams 1) it would seem that the postmodern “moment” is over, as the particular historical moment that postmodern was a reaction to is more or less over as well. If so, I’d have to say that postmodernism seems to me to be the quickest-passing literary “moment” I’ve ever studied. (Is it possible that literary eras are speeding up? Why do I have to use so many parentheses?) Anyway, Adams argues that books like Tropic of Orange (and I would say also The Magical Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death-there I go again with the goddamn parentheses) are not postmodern per se but post-postmodern, or, in her terms, a reaction to the globalization of American literature. But do we agree that postmodernism has passed as its historical moment has passed?

 

But moving on, I thought I’d write a bit about my final paper and the issues I’ve been having and hopefully elicit some opinions and comments from other people. I wanted to take the discussion about Beloved and sort of run with it-I’d have to say it felt like the one book on the list that had the most to quibble about whether or not it was postmodern. But now I’m starting to feel like Oedipa, because it seems that each article or book I read just sends me ping-ponging from one position to the other. I’d like to make the argument that Beloved is a uniquely postmodern book. Here, Adams gives her list of what makes a postmodern work postmodern: “dark humor, themes of paranoia, skepticism, and conspiracy, preoccupation with close reading and textuality, and complex formal experimentation…[postmodern works] can be historicized as a response to and reaction against…the containment culture of Cold War America” (Adams 1). Given that Beloved has nary a nuclear reactor or conspiracy theory in sight, and it takes place in a history as yet untouched by the Cold War, is it still a postmodern novel?

 

Well, Adams goes on to write of Pynchon as the definitive postmodern author, citing his “preoccupation with paranoia and conspiracy, radical skepticism about foundational truth and authority of all kinds, deft mixing of genres, distrust of received historical knowledge, and confrontations with the sublime and apocalyptic” (Adams 3). Leaving out the paranoia and conspiracy part, I think a case could be made that Morrison’s work exhibits the same characteristics