The Narratives We Like

PlotmountainGun fights, political intrigue, and a race against time. Reading fiction is one activity that provides a little excitement. While I enjoy a range of authors and styles, my favorites are the pulp espionage and legal thrillers from authors like David Baldacci, John Grisham, and Steven Martini. The exciting plot keeps me highly engaged and turning the pages to see how the hero or (sometimes) heroine fight off or outwit the dangerous, enigmatic threat. Like many people, I appreciate a good narrative, and that desire for a manageable, linear plot is not limited to reading novels.

Reading in Hayden White’s Tropics of Discourse (yes, I also read some academic works during the summer) has prompted me to reflect on these preferences and their connection to my own writing. White argues that the construction of a historical narrative has important similarities to fiction writing, as the historian selects data from the range of sources she peruses and pieces them together into a narrative, choosing particular “modes of emplotment” (such as romance, comedy, or tragedy) that generally correspond to particular explanatory approaches in the field of history. Continue reading “The Narratives We Like”

Supporting Jihadists

575px-Kalashnikov_AK-47_assault_rifles_lay_stacked_in_a_warehouse_in_Bosnia_and_Herzegovinia_awaiting_transportation_to_a_steel_works_for_smelting_MOD_45148207When Sam Harris argues that we need to “defend them [nominal Muslims],” he fails to realize that the way he constructs Islam actually defends the ideas of those he labels “jihadists”. On Bill Maher’s HBO show a few days ago, Harris joined Ben Affleck and others in a robust discussion about representations of Islam, which followed Maher’s controversial comments a week earlier (which were the topic of Reza Aslan’s generalizing critique of generalizations on CNN which I discussed on Friday). While Harris and Maher both employed the language of “facts,” assertions like the following reflect their choices more than any facts. Continue reading “Supporting Jihadists”

The Politics of Representation

BSPflagsDuring the ongoing campaign for India’s Parliament, a leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Mayawati, reportedly asserted that Dalits are not Hindu. The BSP, whose name itself identifies those outside the upper castes as the majority of the population, receives its primary support from Dalit communities and advocates for policies that promote the interests of the disempowered, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that Mayawati was criticizing is generally connected with Hindutva movements commonly associated with upper castes. Continue reading “The Politics of Representation”