If you pay attention to the info notes at an archeology museum, you’d notice most items were acquired before 1970s. After the UNESCO Convention on Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export of Cultural Property of 1970, ancient treasures have rarely crossed borders to become part of the permanent collections of world museums.
It seems like a great thing. After all, isn’t it disturbing that the most important museums in the world are venerable institutions founded around the time their countries were significant colonial powers. Their roles, beyond geopolitical conquering, was to rescue ancient treasures of civilizations past from their ancestral lands, where they weren’t appreciated enough, to the metropolis of the current cultural dominant.
The concept of museums was invented in the Enlightenment and developed during the Romanticism. While previously just erudites collected ancient artifacts privately, now collections were public. There was a specific ideology behind museums. They played a role in colonialism’s conscious drive to take on the baton from ancient civilizations. Conquering a land included also the intellectual conquest of its discovery for humankind. Continue reading
A friend of mine recommended the 1960 classic Never on Sunday (directed by Jules Dassin, starring Melina Mercouri) as the film that introduced foreign cinema to the larger American audience. In fact, it won several Academy Awards nominations and was a huge success. It also caused uproar in Hollywood with the fact that a foreign film, featuring a prostitute as the protagonist, would be so highly acclaimed. According to one source, it “kicked off the foreign film rage” in the US.
It is ironic though that this film would be such a high icon for foreignness. It is a subtle, but non-ambiguous commentary on the futility and the folly of the American civilizing project. With the United States emerging as not just the most powerful world leader in the West, but also the moral and cultural standard bearer after World War II, this film questions its claim as a new civilizing model. And it is funny that this is achieved through the old Pygmalion narrative, in which a cultured man (an American) tries to educate a lower class woman (in this case, a Greek prostitute) to give her new life with a new social status. Continue reading
The tradition to celebrate a New Year is perhaps universal, although not the precise date of its occurrence, which can be the winter solstice, the end of harvest time in the fall, the beginning of spring.
But what about that special moment announcing the actual arrival of the New Year? Is it important, how is it chosen and how is it marked? How do people actually ring it in? After all, it is the culmination of the festivities, the moment the New Year is considered to be officially here. It is the threshold dividing the Old from New, marking the transcendental step into the new and unknown.
So, it is only logical that special attention be given to that particular moment. The beginning of the New Year in different cultures may be at midnight, for cultures that rely on the clock. Or it can be at sundown, the coming out of a new moon, or perhaps even at sunrise, in cultures that mark time through natural phenomena. Continue reading
Speaking of monsters, as well as Frankenstein, I was thinking about how we define monsters in everyday life and popular narratives and how we give them meaning. I happened upon this story about a man with a peculiar deformity that makes his skin turn into tree bark and roots. The question is, is he perceived as monstrous? And what makes him appear monstrous? There were some comments that make him out to be horrible, repulsive, there were even people who decided not to read the article out of disgust. I didn’t think he was monstrous, though. I think his deformity has an interesting symbolism. Continue reading
I recently had the chance to see a 1973 film which I had been long looking for, The Spirit of the Beehive by Victor Erice. I recommend it to every fan of last year’s Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro).
In July, I had the chance to visit an interesting store in New Orleans, Oh Susannah Doll Shop – all things doll, but, alas, with little time to peruse thoroughly and decide which of the precious items I was most in love with so that I would purchase it. The collection was outrageously varied, ranging from tiny plastic babies in a carriage to large, upsettingly realistic representations of girls as dolls in poses totally incompatible with what normally is perceived as “dollness”: dolls that express emotions (of fear or boredom), in awkward positions, in highly personalized clothing. These dolls can’t be really dolls in the traditional sense, because they are not blank, they are not the tabula rasa a girl wants to project onto it her own self-representation. They are an individual artist’s rendition of a girl idea, a sculpture to be admired rather than a toy to be handled and integrated into someone’s life. And that brings the question of what a doll really is and what dolls do. Are they age-limited, in terms of representation and user? Are Grandma Claus real dolls, if they do not reflect any girl’s identity, the way a Barbie may do? What about a boy-doll? Dolls are also a fertile terrain for feminist inquiry. What do men mean when they call a woman “doll”? Continue reading
This article on charitable giving, published in The New York Times recently, gave me some new food for thought on charity and how much of an emotional gesture it is. I already wrote on how an impacting photo can influence people to donate and mitigate the tragedy expressed in it. This article now says that the US domestic giving is just as emotional, a way for an individual to distinguish himself or herself and affirm a relationship with a cause important to him/her; basically, to feel good, important, powerful. Continue reading
Yesterday, I got a surprise amazon.com package in the mail. It wasn’t a mistaken order sent by amazon.com, it was a recycled box in which a dear friend was sending me some old books from a local antiquarian she thought I would find “fun.” They were three fiction books published in the early XX century in the US, by Spanish authors nobody is interested in today. And a fourth one, First Spanish Course from 1917, essentially a Spanish textbook for US college students. Wow! We’ve gone a long way in teaching languages since then. Continue reading
Ironically, this blog is to be inaugurated with notes about a real website I am building. With the support and collaboration of Leo I started a project to document Orthodox churches in North Texas. Why Orthodox churches? The idea came from a challenge to find a beautiful church to attend on Christmas. Not being Catholic, I decided to still attend the most interesting Catholic church I knew for Christmas mass, and that happened to be the this church that looks a lot like a nice whipped cream cake. Why not an Orthodox church, I was asked? Continue reading