“We are the subjects of our own narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience, and, in no way coincidentally, in the experience of those with whom we have come in contact. We are not, in fact, “other.” We are choices.”

~ Toni Morrison, Unspeakable Things Unspoken

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The Quiet Violence of Words

I recently went through one of the most traumatic experiences of my life at the hands of a book. Yes, a book. I read it cover to cover reluctantly, only persisting because I was compelled to write an essay on it as a course requirement at the end of term. Before that words had always been wonderful things; always associated with catharsis, creativity, spirituality, relaxation and at the very least escape. Never did it occur to me that words could be vile things.

Duiker (1974-2005) is also the author of The Quiet Violence of Dreams. Source: http://www.randomstruik.co.za/

Enter the accused, that little book by K Sello Duiker, Thirteen Cents. The book is about a homeless boy, Azure, trying to survive on the streets of Cape Town. Each time I discussed the book with friends and peers, I would stress how depressing the book was: “EVERY moment is depressing,” I’d say, “and the moments that aren’t depressing are not less depressing because they are in and of themselves not depressing, but because they are less depressing than all the other depressing moments within the book.” Yes, you get it, the book was depressing.

When I read, I am at that moment held hostage by the words on that page, restricted to what the book describes, the world the book invites me into. As I read I must involve myself in the world of the book, partake of its experiences as though they were my own. It had never occurred to me that reading is, by that description, a violent experience only because my emotions are captive and at the mercy of the author’s pen. It’s a quiet violence because it’s a hostage experience I’ve entered into willingly.

Azure is a young, black male, and Duiker’s description of his experiences raises some compelling questions about identity, history, trauma and its effects on individuals and groups, the representation of violence and reality, and so on. My contention with the book was its graphic nature: Azure is molested, raped and abused physically and emotionally, and far from glossing over these facts, the reader is forced to experience his molestation step-by-step as Duiker takes us through each act in detail. It was difficult to read, to say the least. Because of this, the book alienated me, I recoiled from putting myself in the focaliser’s shoes, and so for the first time, I was repelled by words.

Thirteen Cents is not for the sensitive reader. Source: http://www.sashaarms.com/2010/11/thirteen-cents/

I am not sure if I was more disturbed by having to engage with such violent imagery or with the fact that there are young boys in Cape Town for whom such violence is part of their every day lived experience. I felt at once ashamed to be human in a world where other human beings perform such atrocities on other human beings, and at the same time I felt angered by my helplessness. At the least Duiker managed to get me thinking about the human condition from a new perspective.

On this, the first ‘birthday’ of theDustySoulDiary, I am able to look back on my growth as a writer, how blogging has helped me gain confidence in my craft, and how it has improved my skill. There’s still a lot of growth I need to experience as a writer, but I’ll get there. I am grateful, at the least, for the freedom to write without restriction, and for that I thank the great freedom writers whose words were penned by blood and pain for me and my country. My experience with Thirteen Cents has shown me anew the power of words, of literature… Viewed as a violent act, the power words have take on new meaning in that old adage: the pen is mightier than the sword, for although the wounds of a ‘sword’ may heal, words stay with you forever.

**To mark a year of blogging, DustySoul adds a category to the four theDiary already has: “Look”. As times goes by, the idea behind this new category will be more apparent. For now, happy Youth Day.

Yours,

DustySoul

“When writers die they become books.” – Jorge Luis Borges

The Words & Magic of Kahlil Gibran’s “Prophet”

When a new year dawns so do fresh hopes and dreams for our life’s journey. Sometimes we renew old vows with ourselves, and establish them not as resolutions but as permanent laws to govern our worldviews and so on. Other times, we choose a different path.

I have decided to do things differently for myself this year. I have set no resolutions. I usually do see them through, (unlike the 30% odd Americans who are said to abandon theirs by the end of January, according to a study done recently by some uppity folks over there) so my decision is not based on fear that I will not fulfil them. Rather, it is because I have one main wish for this year: words and magic.

"The Prophet" has been in print since 1923. Gibran lived in America for the last 20 years of his life.

I have been blessed to be able to read many books this summer. I will be doing short reviews for many of them this month, if all goes well. The first I point you to is Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. I find it appropriate as a first post for this year, as it has so many words and magic that have blessed many generations since it was first published in 1923.

"Jesus the Son of Man".

The book begins with the introduction of a prophet, Almusafa, “a dawn unto his own day” (9) and a man who had dwelt amongst the people of Orphalese sharing his wisdom. In this introduction he has his heart set for other lands, but before he leaves, the people of Orphalese approach him with a request to share his pearls with them for the last time. These pearls of wisdom are the focus of The Prophet.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

Gibran (1883-1931) was born in Lebanon, and in addition to having the gift of writing, was an artist, philosopher and poet. His words are more than poetic: they are so spiritual in the manner that they are expressed that one cannot but conclude that they are Divine – the soul’s own poetry.

 

The Prophet is a masterpiece for its timeless wisdom on everything: love, sorrow, time, children, freedom, crime and punishment, just to name a few. Who can forget his beloved words taken from the chapter on children: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you,” (23) ?

The book also includes drawings done by Gibran. They are as mystical and spellbinding as his words are. I highly recommend it. It deserves a rating of 5/5. One of the most beautiful passages within the book is that on love. It is included below for your reading pleasure. I pray for you to receive your heart’s desires as much as I hope for my own.

To words and magic, words and magic, words, magic, words, magic…

Dusty Soul

‘When love beckons to you follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north winds lay waste the garden. For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth. Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself. He threshes you to make you naked. He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant; And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred for God’s sacred feast. All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart. But if in your fear you should seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears. Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.” And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully. Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving; To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy; To return home at eventide with gratitude; And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.”

                                         – Khalil Gibran, The Prophet