Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Hanif Kureishi

Extracts from his excellent and intriguing essay, "Introduction: Sex and Secularity":

"To me, writing for film is no different to writing for any other form. It is the telling of stories, only on celluloid. However, you are writing for a director and then for actors. Economy is usually the point; one objective of film-writing is to make it as quick and light as possible. You can't put in whatever you fancy in the hope that a leisured reader might follow you for a while, as you might in a novel. In that sense, films are more like short stories. The restrictions of the form are almost poetic, though most poems are not read aloud in cineplexes. Film is a broad art, which is its virtue."

"I had been aware since the early 1980s, when I visited Pakistan for the first time, that extreme Islam (or "fundamentalism" - Islam as a political ideology) was filling a space where Marxism and capitalism had failed to take hold. To me, this kind of Islam resembled neo-fascism or even Nazism: an equality of oppression for the masses with a necessary enemy - in this case "the west" - helping to keep everything in place. When I was researching The Black Album and My Son the Fanatic, a young fundamentalist I met did compare his "movement" to the IRA, to Hitler and to the Bolsheviks. I guess he had in mind the idea that small groups of highly motivated people could make a powerful political impact.

This pre-Freudian puritanical ideology certainly provided meaning and authority for the helpless and dispossessed. As importantly, it worked too for those in the west who identified with them; for those who felt guilty at having left their "brothers" behind in the third world. How many immigrant families are there who haven't done that?"

"In Karachi there were few books written, films made or theatre productions mounted. If it seemed dull to me, still I had never lived in a country where social collapse and murder were everyday possibilities. At least there was serious talk. My uncle's house, a version of which appears in My Beautiful Laundrette, was a good place to discuss politics and books, and read the papers and watch films. In the 1980s American businessmen used to come by. My uncle claimed they all said they were in "tractors". They worked for the CIA; they were tolerated if not patronised, not unlike the old-style British colonialists the Pakistani men still remembered. No one thought the "tractor men" had any idea what was really going on, because they didn't understand the force of Islam.

But the Karachi middle class had some idea, and they were worried. They were obsessed with their "status". Were they wealthy, powerful leaders of the country, or were they a complacent, parasitic class - oddballs, western but not Pakistani - about to become irrelevant in the coming chaos of disintegration?"

"A child is a cocktail of its parent's desires. Being a child at all involves resolving, or synthesising, at least two different worlds, outlooks and positions."

"Like the racist, the fundamentalist works only with fantasy. For instance, there are those who like to consider the west to be only materialistic and the east only religious. The fundamentalist's idea of the west, like the racist's idea of his victim, is immune to argument or contact with reality."

"... And if we cannot prevent individuals believing whatever they like about others - putting their fantasies into them - we can at least prevent these prejudices becoming institutionalised or an acceptable part of the culture."

"Islamic fundamentalism is a mixture of slogans and resentment; it works well as a system of authority that constrains desire, but it strangles this source of human life too. But of course in the Islamic states, as in the west, there are plenty of dissenters and quibblers, and those hungry for mental and political freedom. These essential debates can only take place within a culture; they are what a culture is, and they demonstrate how culture opposes the domination of either materialism or puritanism. If both racism and fundamentalism are diminishers of life - reducing others to abstractions - the effort of culture must be to keep others alive by describing and celebrating their intricacy, by seeing that this is not only of value but a necessity."

Hanif Kureishi, November 8 2001

No comments:

Post a Comment