Monday, February 13, 2012

Junot Diaz Can Save Your Mind!!

I just started reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz. Right away, two brilliant and immortal things occur.

First, Díaz realizes that the "discovery" by Columbus in 1492 initiated the anthropological equivalent of a Big Bang. We all dwell, heavily and irreparably influenced, in the aftermath.

The very first sentence of the novel presents this blood-red ruby of wisdom. It is an insight so vast and terrible that we shallow denizens of materialism, in inverse proportion, vastly and terribly deny it.

They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that is was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú--generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.

(Note: The Taino people were encountered by Columbus on Hispaniola, and the island of Hispaniola is part of the Antilles)

We are all inheritors and victims of this Grand Curse, or great fukú, as Díaz goes on to say when discussing his homeland, the Dominican Republic.

No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fukú on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. Santo Domingo might be fuku’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not.

(Note: The Dominican Republic is one half of what was once called Hispanola; the other half is Haiti)

The megabrutality and continuous influence of this Euro-Indian contact is absolutely true, in deep, depressing and dangerous ways. Díaz demonstrates one of the consequences of the fukú americanus through example--

And that brings me to the second brilliant and immortal thing at the beginning of this great novel: it slams the United States for supporting dictators in Latin America. It does this by focusing on the incredible monster we supported in the Dominican Republic for over 30 years, Rafael Trujillo.

On Page One of the novel, the Curse and the Doom of the New World. On Page Two, the indictment and embodiment of US stupidity in the form of an evil puppet:

For those of you who missed your mandatory two seconds of Dominican history: Trujillo, one of the twentieth century’s most infamous dictators, ruled the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961 with an implacable ruthless brutality ... [he] came to control nearly every aspect of the DR’s political, cultural, social, and economic life through a potent (and familiar) mixture of violence, intimidation, massacre, rape, co-optation, and terror; treated the country like it was a plantation and he was the master ...

Díaz goes on and on. The condemnation of Trujillo takes up many hundreds of words; and be sure, the United States is thoroughly implicated, from the original occupation by US Marines through the whole of Trujillo’s rule.

Díaz doesn’t go into the sick details, so here's a little: the US provided support of all kinds to Trujillo, including CIA-backing, military funding and also covert training in how to torture (provided by the infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia).

Every citizen of the United States should know and grapple with the two brilliant and immortal things on Page One and Page Two:

(A) Those of us rooted in the US have thrived off the slaughter and hatred of Natives across North, Central and South America. When two worlds came together, Spain and Taino, the fuse was lit for a Big Bang of anthropological horror. You and your future ones will live in its wake, surrounded by its hissing static, forever. You are cursed by this, and you have to deal with that curse, or it will own you.

(B) The United States, in the wake of the Big Bang, continued on a despicable path, installing puppet dictators who tortured, oppressed, and terrified their people on a national level. Genocides and massacres included for no extra charge. If the US manages to survive into the far future, some President, hundreds of years from now, will stand stiff and teary-eyed at a podium and announce to the world a profuse apology. “We are sorry for vast evil we inflicted on our Latin American neighbors, dreadfully sorry.”

Page One and Page Two of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” are a Grand Philosophy in themselves. They show you a force that inflicts atrocities on the world like a Satan or an Iago or a Darth Vader. Or as Díaz says, describing Trujillo:

At first glance, he was just your prototypical Latin American caudillo, but his power was terminal in ways that few historians or writers have ever truly captured or, I would argue, imagined. He was our Sauron, our Arawn, our Darkseid, our Once and Future Dictator, a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up.

Awake folks! These are the dystructive forces that surround, herd and needle us until we are numb. Awake and live aware, in the light!


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