Sunday, February 7, 2016

Myths, Pogroms, Power and Scatterings. An excerpt

This is an excerpt from my novel "The Longest Tweet," which explores contemporary Sri Lanka.


Speaking of cities, cities infamous for their pogroms, Kishinev comes to mind. Its many sounds and pronunciations. Romanian, Russian, Yiddish. There in the early 20th century under czarist rule, several days of rioting by civilian mobs, unchecked by any government authority, left the town's Jewish community with dozens dead, hundreds displaced, and an economy in ruins. It's the first pogrom I know of in modern times and it's worth a look. It "set off" a wave of similar pogroms in what was known as the "Pale of Settlement," those areas at the edges of Russia proper where Jews were allowed to reside. It also triggered a mass migration of Jews from Eastern Europe, at least we are told. I wonder. How much are stories of migrations, even modern ones, part of a myth? Remember to ask me about "Yetziat Europa" (Exodus from Europe) street I saw in a town in Israel. But. 1882. Over a million people left over the next tweny years or so---seems paltry compared with today's hundreds of thousands per month leaving Syria doesn't it?--mostly bound for the United States, the UK, and Ottoman Palestine. 

The word pogrom is derived from a Russian root meaning "noise" or "explosion." The result of an explosion is a scattering, and you could say that people were scattered by these events. Scattered and un-settled. Unsettle people and there are consequences. Has any scientist looked at the results of the Brownian motion of displaced peoples over the past few centuries? Are there patterns we can discern? Consequences we can pin to these displacements? A predictive formula we can derive that tells us what we can expect from events like this? How are mythologies made to explain emigration and what myths are woven to clothe a popular denial by the expellers? This is where my interest in Matale comes in, if you'll forgive me, because Europe has, kind of, in an oblique sort of way, sort of, could be? turned from denial of what it did in 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945. Hard to escape. 

Pronouncing Kishinev in as many ways as I can doesn't teach me much about the events there. Though it might help recall a word by a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle, once when I was six or seven, that provides an almost olfactory sense of knowledge. A molecule of data. My Armenian friend took Russian in college for the same reason I did. To unlock secrets of her past. It was a long shot but unlocking secrets is a long shot, and a crooked road that no one can map out for you. I suppose that's why I'm after a kind of guide to how our ideas shift. How did I stop looking at village tanks as magnificent sustainable ecosystems and start seeing them as instruments of power, ownership, and hegemony? Don't get Foucaultian on me please. I don't know the first thing about Power. 

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