The perfect blend of East and West

On my way to the East Village last night, I stopped by a store which is arguably ground zero for shameless Orientalism in NYC, East-West books.

This store is exactly as over the top and ridiculous as the name suggests. It’s the kind of place where one (White) salesman was dressed in a very handsome lime colored Chinese silk jacket while another (white again) had 3 sandalwood malas on one arm, several around his neck, and at least one on the other arm. Their list of books and other offerings is very left coast, the sort of thing I encountered regularly when I lived in the Bay Arya, but rarely see in skeptical, ironic NYC.

Soon after I entered, in the CD rack, I found Jaya Lakshmi’s “Jewel of Hari.” I love the blurb that introduces the album: Yoga! Mantras! Flamenco! Veils! It’s nearly a perfect listing of New Age clichés, it has everything except Zen, Native Americans and gnostic wisdom.

My favorite item on sale, however, was the image of Obama as transcendant being, his third eye of wisdom a glowing globe. You see, this way he’s both seer and seen, because instead of an eye, we have the world which is perceived by the eye …. no, I didn’t get it either but then I’m still working on one hand clapping so more advanced koans (and Cohens) are beyond my meager capacity.

Still, I know that somebody, somewhere has this up on their wall, perhaps garlanded and on an altar, and this thought provides me with an endless source of mirth.

p.s. apologies for the poor image quality, these were surreptitious cell phone shots, not photos from a real camera.

56 thoughts on “The perfect blend of East and West

  1. Wow again. First, it’s ignorant of you to say that because someone is a member of one religion that they must be ignorant of your religion. People study all sorts of religions, even if they weren’t raised in them. Second, I just re-read Ennis’s post and his comments, and he doesn’t comment on any religion. Third, I’m stopping here, because I fear I have let myself get pulled into responding to trolls.

  2. Oh blah, this has gotten way out of hand as usual. Ennis, Amigo, I apologize for overly cranky comments that probably only egged on the trolltasticness of this thread. I’m just going to ignore the trolling here; I also understand if you’ve left the thread, permanently, because of the trolling. The only reason my reply is so long is b/c I think you deserve a thoughtful response from me.

    First of all, I apologize for not saluting the funny jokes I found. Garlanded Obama? Awesome. Detailed and absurd imagery drawn from ephemera is a specialty of yours I deeply appreciate, along with the well Leviraged puns. I even found the description of the store itself potentially humorous, though I would have liked more riffing there. Was the many-mala’d cashier practicing the ancient Vaishya art of salesrack-salesman-two-in-one? What bugged me about this post was how skimpy it was–how little you actually said about, say, the CD. I wasn’t really sure what the joke was, there. The skimpiness itself, the ease of assuming that it would work, and your subsequent response all made me uncomfortable. Let me try to explain why a little better.

    In the post you wrote: “Yoga! Mantras! Flamenco! Veils! It’s nearly a perfect listing of New Age cliches!” Which puzzled me. The set of of four things (y, m, f, v) is somehow funny enough, just on its own, to be a joke? But (y, m) pretty much go together regardless. and (y, m, v) pretty much go together whenever a woman is involved–either she’s wearing a skirt or salwar with a dupatta or a sari with an achol. So the f, somehow, is the extraneous and gratuitous exocticism that makes it funny–except it just didn’t seem that funny to me without some sort of additional riffing. Classical guitar and Indian music fuse together quite well. Then you responded to Sameer’s comment with

    Because they mix yoga and flamenco on the grounds that all things “exotic” go well together (emphasis mine)

    That’s when I was really irked, and what I based most of my comment on. Why assume that these flimsy grounds were in fact the grounds on which the two were mixed? Well, b/c the set you’re mocking is, in fact (y, m, f, v, wf). And without an articulated joke about why this set (y, m, f, v, wfnd) is innately funny, it starts to feel uncomfortably close to a lazy joke about converts. The kind of joke that consists less of clever observations, and more of pointing and laughing at people who are different and weird.

    Am I projecting? Maybe I am. But there’s a reason for that: There is a consistent trend in Desi America of mocking converts—with cruelty, vitriol, and downtright racism–because of ignorance of theological diversity, because white people are involved, and because they seem like a safe target for mean humor. I don’t think anyone should be a safe target for mean humor, especially anyone who isn’t being mean and isn’t a truly public figure. I have always grumbled on this site when I think people are crossing a line and forgetting that Google can easily bring the subject face-to-face with hurtful barbs. But more importantly, when any community has a history of making a particular class of prejudiced jokes, I feel that it behooves the humorists of that community to be extra careful about non-specific jokes. When the joke consists mostly of laughing and pointing, it starts to seem like pandering to those prejudiced assumptions. (Please note–I still acknowledge the reality of white privilege and don’t think that racial situations are automatically symmetric under simple substitution. I’m not trying to join the trolls here.)I don’t think you were pandering, but you did seem to be less careful than usual about not trying to pander. That’s what irked me, since I think you’re more aware of this dynamic than most bloggers.

    Does this dynamic bother me particularly in this case? Sure. I freely admit that. For 25 years my ability to enjoy the rarely assembled community of South Asian Americans has been marred by how happily members of that community mock my religion and my co-religionists. I’ve always had to choose between bristling and marking myself as different, or grinning and bearing it while feeling like crap for “passing”. Since I’m proud of my many communities, however rare my combination is, I’m going to speak up for them. Since this is the exact same psychology that partially motivates me to read this blog, albeit with different communities in each role, I don’t see how I can drop it once I’m here.

    But besides issues of presumption and inclusiveness, lists as jokes are also unsatisfying. When I wrote “If you want to make fun of the sound, then go through the trouble of actually listening to a track and putting some thought into what you’re making fun of.She might not take cover art or marketing seriously enough for your taste” this was partially because I do think there is fertile ground here for meaningful critique and snark. I.e. you could listen to the sound and, I bet, make some interesting, specific and potentially funny musical judgments here. The cover isn’t very artistically thoughtful, but you could actually take the trouble to say why. And you could take the trouble to say why in a way that wouldn’t be totally awful for the artist if they show up (which they will). I disagree with your characterization of yoga as always calm and cool–but a riff along those lines would have been much more satisfying.

    And, for the record, I have grumbled in at least one of Manish’s orientalist-bashing posts. I really do appreciate people getting stuff out there, even if it makes me a humorless and curmudgeonly aunty before my time.

  3. Oh come on Sakhi, I would hardly call someone who posted alot of good links and info here to be a troll. But the rest of your comments make sense.

    And you could take the trouble to say why in a way that wouldn’t be totally awful for the artist if they show up (which they will)

    She already did here.

  4. oh dear, it appears that I’M a troll now.

    Well, let’s be clear, I suspect that the credibility of the blogger in question wrt commenting on the world-views of hippies is in question.

    I’m not agreeing with PG but it is a good practice to know the subject before asserting that the subject is made of green cheese sees the world through tinted glasses.

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  6. Flamenco is not “passionate” like the Tango, the dances are not connected in any way, Flamenco is a dance that is a fusion of middle eastern, gypsy and jewish music, and it’s not just a dance, but it’s also sung…and lamy, being that you are so ignorant of other cultures, flamenco has nothing to do with the “cucaracha” either, what a way to stereotype, the cucaracha is not even a dance, it’s a stupid song from the days of Pancho Villa, it was never a dance…the “stamping” in flamenco music is supposed to be a beat that goes with the guitars, and it sort of symbolizes the stomping of the bulls in the ring. Spanish and Latin American music is very different, there is little relation between Mexican and Spanish music. Flamenco goes back centuries to the days of the muslim occupation of Spain, and is only the music of Andalusia, not all of Spain. And Flamenco and Kathak have a lot in common, there are several videos on youtube of Flamenco and Kathak fusions, and they are quite similar. There are a lot of ignorant post on here…Spaniards are Europeans and their culture is still very European even with the middle eastern and gypsy influences.