I’m looking for a quiet moment to clear my thoughts here in the lobby of Seattle University. A quiet moment to give the twister of paragraphs of books, ideas from writers, reflections from colleagues, seminars from professors and all the impressions of my senses, some space.
Our second week is almost done. Thinking and reading also gives physical fatigue, I guess. I have planned to meditate this afternoon. We are treated with different genres and all kinds of philosophies in American literature. Definitions of what post-modern literature means, writers with their specific style, analysis on anything that passes by. The stack of 22 books is added with links from videos via a digital bulletin board in PADLET, a special app, which I didn’t knew existed. We get handouts to scratch on with our markers, trips to different locations that has some link to literature and culture of the people in Seattle and America. It is a pleasure to digest it all.
Just like the diversity of the group of 18 representatives from different countries, the literature is also diverse. The dominance here is, sadly to say also defined by the white majority. Whites determine what is defined as ‘literature’. We’ve had read the play DISGRACED by the writer Akthar who won the Pullitzer Prize in 2013, that deals with Islamophobia. The Indian professor Nalini Iyer, got me out of the illusion that the issue of ‘White guilt’ also plays a major role in the Committees of these prizes. Recognizable, right, for my ex-colonizer?
‘Politics’ is the word you hear often in our seminars. Anyway, it is a country full of bizarre contradictions. We are surrounded by this wealth of access to knowledge, but at night you see people of all kinds of colors sleeping in tents, looking for food or themselves…
I have wondered what the typical culture is of America. ‘Grotesque’ is the word that came to mind. A ‘small’ cup of Starbucks coffee (which is totally overrated) is to me excessive. I made that comment (and that was allowed, there is certainly democracy in the group and the group leaders of this program) at a seminar when I read the poem ‘The howl’ from Ginsberg and compared it with the visit to the Space Needle. In 41 seconds we were up the elevator at a height that I’d rather not look up at the moment. We got some nice shots. It was a breathtaking experience to see the city in front of your feet, against the painting of the clouds and the sky. But on return as you ended up in a gigantic souvenir shop where you could buy all sorts of kitsch at abominably high prices. An elderly man walked very proudly by with a replica of the Space Needle in his hand, that certainly must have cost 150 US. Such a souvenir can only be used as a murder weapon to end the 54the wedding anniversary of his wife… Yes, stories like Roald Dahl’s ” Lamb to the slaughter ” will go through your imagination. I mean, why would you want to buy such a big replica, just to be reminded that you went to the Space Needle? Um…ok.
When we look at the history of brown and black people here, you see many similarities in our countries. It is a lot to process; the pain feels universal; the experiences are shared. I also detect some lack of knowledge in the group of non-black / non-brown participants. Just to give an example: one of the colleagues just did not know that Indians lived in America and the whole genocide that had taken place. The history books have the same characteristics as ours; the history books written mainly by the Dutch, and our literary canon, which is predominantly dominated by the Dutch perspective. It is also understandable, of course. This is not a accusation, but here in Seattle I do realize more then ever that Suriname is too much focused on the Netherlands . Too bad, because in the meantime there is so much messed up with our identities.
The director of the SUSI program, Charles Tung, together with his team is doing everything he can to give us the full SU-Experience. We had some delays with our passes that allow access to all those facilities on campus. But hey, Everything is free for us, breakfast, lunch, dinner, access to the printer, email addresses created, files, the library, gym, discounts at the University store; safety in the evening hours, if something happens to you on the site; you name it, everything is perfectly organized. WE ARE NOT COMPLAINING. The program is tight, the only thing we have to do is start on time, read, walk to all those different corners of the gigantic campus and let our thoughts go over the texts and share them with each other. I would like to tell you so much more, but that is impossible. I feel really privileged and I will certainly do something with American Literature when I am back in Suriname.
The following week is promising as well: an academic Seminar on Drama, an Anthropogenic Reading and Octavia’s Butler Parable in the Shower, a play and much more.
I am going to turn on NETFLIX now, just to take it all in.