The Homebody’s Hats

“There are shops full of merchandise of wonderful things made by people[…]who believe, or used to believe, in magic[…]before colonization and the savage stripping away of such beliefs[…] All much be touched.  All touch corrupts.   All must be corrupted” (10-11).  This passage referring to the touch that corrupts is viewed negatively by the Homebody, because of her identity as a consumer in the U.K.  Her thoughts on the postcolonial world, though romantic, do carry some insight.  The hats she purchases for her party become emblems of the primitive lifestyles that existed before it “washed up upon our culpable shores, [their] magic now shriveled into the safe container of aesthetic, which is to say, consumer appeal” (17).  She is, at least, aware of the consequences that come with being a consumer.  She resents this identity at times and acknowledges her own lukewarm domestic life, though, she is not too hasty in changing it if that change is even in her power.
I am still perplexed by her statement “all must be corrupted” and its implications.  To say that the magic of older civilization (which also implies superstition, terse ritual, and fear) was not corrupt would be blindly romanticizing the past, especially since it is in the history of a foreign land.  I think both extremes, the magical and the modern, have oppressive natures built into them.  I’m not trying to support the acts of colonizing by any means but I think by saying all touch corrupts she is implying a pure state of being before the contact, which is naive.  In this modern age of information the “touch” should lead to more empathy between peoples, not to the lonely-in-limbo-state in which we find the Homebody.

As a side note, I couldn’t help but think of this song while reading of the pillbox hats:

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The Politics of Language

There is a distinct though often overlooked connection between language and politics. In our world of post-colonialism and globalization, the inherent bias of language and the rift it creates among us all becomes more and more clear.

In Homebody/Kabulthe character Khwaja talks about learning Esperanto. When I read this I was skeptical that this was a real thing and not just something that Kushner made up, but it’s not, www.esperanto-usa.org

He says “It was created by a Polish Jew, Zamenhof,” (Kushner, 58). By designating him as a “Polish Jew” he is lending cultural and social implications to him, and he loses all neutrality. Esperanto is supposed to be a “mother tongue which draws from us our common humanity” (58). There are two main problems with this language. The first is that almost no one knows what it is or how to speak it. The second which is highlighted in the description of the creator of the language is the ethnic, racial, and (most importantly) cultural groups that we place each other in.

There are some dangerous implications for not being able to communicate. There are two general examples of the inability to communicate in Act 1. The first is the Homebody’s inability to communicated with her daughter, her husband, or her audience. Early on in her monologue she apologizes to her audience. “My parents don’t speak like this; no one I know does; no one does” (13). Alienating her audience is not her worst problem, it simply sets up the tone for the discussion of language. We need to be apologized to for not understanding her, not the other way around, because we are a majority. Language therefore turns people into others. It is more obvious when their is the cultural and geographical element involved, but the disassociation of language can exist anywhere to create others among those we could consider being a part of the collective “we.”

The other example of the dangers of language barriers is a more violent one. When Priscilla almost gets beaten in the street by the Munkrat, the confusion and terror is highlighted by the fact that it is impossible for them to communicate with each other. The sense of otherness between them is born out of their collective ignorance of each other, their ignorance born out of the inability to communicate ideas. This is the politics of language. This is how language turns us into the feared and hated other.

Kushner, Tony. Homebody/Kabul. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2007. Print.

Hardships, siroccos and strife, battle scars

My attention was instantly grabbed when I reached page 23.  I started imagining myself listening to this man speaking to me rather than the narrator.  How would I react to this seemingly never ending dialog?

After Homebody puts down the guidebook she starts to think about how little the country of Afghanistan has.  The one thing she is sure of is that there is what seems to be a never ending cycle of terror.  She is attempting to put herself in the position of living in these circumstances and merely thinking about the attire she would be demanded to wear daily. This is until her conversation with the man behind the counter.  “What happened to your hand?”

“Look at my country, look at my Kabul, my city, what is left of my city? The streets are as bare as the mountains now, the buildings are as ragged as mountains and as bare and empty of life, there is no life here, only fear, we do not live in the buildings now, we live in terror in the cellars in the caves in the mountains, only God can save us now, only order can save us now, only God’s Law harsh and strictly administered can save us now”. (23)

This makes the audience of this story realize how none of the pain and suffering of these people can be understood by simply reading about it.  There is no way to comprehend the circumstances in which these people live in, unless you are thrown into the shoes (or lack there of) of these people yourself.

Kabul, Afganistan

The opening scene of Kushner’s play Homebody/Kabul is an extensive monologue spoken by The Homebody, who is an eccentric, middle-aged London housewife who remains seated in her reading chair as she explains her obsessive fascination with Afghanistan. But her knowledge of Afghanistan comes from a skewed perspective, an outdated guidebook and snippets of news stories every now and then. Still, she is obsessed the Hindu Kush land, because of it’s ancient history and a practically erotic desire to travel to an unknown land.

What struck me was her name and relation to where she was when giving this monologue. She is referred to as Homebody which is used to describe someone who is attached to home, doesn’t really like to venture too far from home that often. More importantly, they are certainly not someone who has the desire to travel to a point where it becomes sexual. When I think of a homebody I think of someone who is very comfortable staying at home because it is familiar and nonthreatening, one has control over who and what goes on in their home. But for Homebody, home is distant, cold, and unfamiliar and she identifies with the mystery that surrounds Afghanistan. For her, the “foxed unfingered pages” and “forgotten words” of the guidebook contain a representation of a Kabul that reflects its “sorrowing supercessional displacement by all that has since occurred. So lost; and also so familiar. The home away from home” (27). Thinking about all of this reminded of the idea of the uncanny (something repressed within us that unwillingly resurfaces), and the concept of heimlich, which is the familiar, like home, and unheimlich which is the strange and unfamiliar. For Homebody, it is the heimlich which is frightening and strange, and the foreign country, with all of its bloody history, which is intimate and comforting. All of this ties into her lack of identity, which then explains her fatal desire to travel.

 

 

Voice of Kushner

I’m having trouble identifying the opening narrator of the play. Is it the author, or are we as the audience supposed to understand a deeper cultural voice, which is undoubtedly filled with angst and sorrow. In addition to my trouble identifying the narrator’s voice, I’m having a hard time relating the past day ramblings from the history book on afghanistan to the modern commentary on marriage and life and psychoactive drugs meant to control depression and anxiety. Kushner is no way a comfortable read, yet she seems to be pretty comfortable with her condition, as to the characters of the play, minus milton – who still takes minimal action in preventing his only daughter from walking the streets of Kabul immediately after the death of her mother. Is the marriage reflected in Milton’s dead wife pertinent to the failing pill filled marriage on which Kushner’s opening ponders heavily? In conclusion, the opening segment of the play completely put a sour taste into my mouth. Kushner’s “woe is me” attitude comes off as pretentious, and completely takes away from her attempt to ostracize past historical atrocities and current one’s, amidst the city of Kabul, to which we find the violence resonating in that place today to be focused on women. The play is so far completely dissasociative and way too nostalgic and wish washy. Part of me feels like Kushner is really taking all the pills in real life which she mentions in her play. I would however like to see how this story in Kabul pans out, hopefully we don’t begin time traveling.

Priscilla’s Denial

Kushner hits the “coping” mechanism hard in “Homebody/Kabul”. This is most obvious through the interactions between both Priscilla and Khwaja. Toward the end of Act 1 Scene 5, the conversation between the two gets heavy, at least a lot heavier than it was before. Khwaja reveals a bit about his past, stating the crimes he’s committed and a juxtaposition of thoughts/feelings about his crimes. He learn that he misses his family very much and have obvious regrets about his past decisions. Through his statements about his past, we see that he’s looked at his crimes and the consequences of his crimes from every angle; it’s obvious that he has coped with his crime since he is so open about them with a complete stranger.
Priscilla on the other hand is not quite at that stage in her grief.  Her wounds are fresh, and she’s learning how to cope with them. Priscilla’s relationship with her mother is not revealed to us this early on in the novel (Act 1), but we can imagine at least for a moment how she feels since losing her mother. The conversation between her and Khwaja (pg. 60) reveals her state of denial.

“I can’t believe this day. It’s as if there’s more room suddenly, and air to breath. Something snapped, or sprung loose. I can’t tell you how uncharacteristic this is. Me, trudging about, She really would be surprised. It’s wicked to…enjoy this view, I should be back in the hotel room grieving  but….I’ve done that. Years of that. Still…she’s dead. And considering what it’s a view of. It’s wicked. If she was dead there’d be her body. You can’t lose her body” (pg. 60)

We don’t know yet how she and her mother functioned. The statement “Years of that”(grieving) makes me think that they had somewhat of a broken relationship, but I can’t be sure at this point. Either way, Priscilla does not want to accept the fact that her mother is dead. Is her mother actually dead? I don’t know for sure, but at this point in the play it’s all I can assume. It’s interesting that Kushner paired these two characters together who are so different in their stages of grieving.

Homebody/Kabul has a lot of focus on the hardships of women in Afghanistan.

“One of six newborn babies die here. One in every six. About half the remaining Afghan children die before they reach the age of five. And thirty-five percent of those hardy survivors are drastically malnourished, I mean little potbellied skeletons, starving slowly to death. On the Human Index Rank this place is 169th of 174 countries, it’s not really a state at all, it’s a populated disaster. The only reason it’s not considered the worst for women is because the Afghans don’t do genital mutilation. Most of the arable land is land-mined” (Kushner 51).

I find it interesting that after Homebody tells us how much she loves the world, she ends up entangled in and part of the most repressed culture for women. As an Englishwomen she had boundless opportunity to learn and explore the world, whereas in Kabul her Frank Sinatra CD is described as “Impious music which is an affront to Islam, to dress like so and then the music, these are regrettable” (Kushner 34).  But she actually has the desire to join the “drowning” instead of “watching others perishing in the sea” (Kushner 28).  The way she sees it, as a homebody, she isn’t a part of the world.

I think this photo (from 2010) of Afghani women passing by a German soldier speaks a lot about the position of Islam women, especially when thinking about some points Kushner brings up in his play.  My Global Literary Landmarks class focuses on the Arab world and one of our texts describes “the virtuous woman.”  Malise Ruthven quotes Qaradawi in saying “The Muslim woman is chaste, dignified, self-respecting and modest, while the woman who is ignorant of the divine guidance may be vain, showy, and anxious to display her attractions” (Ruthven 108).  It is considered insulting for another male to even look at a married woman, regardless of their intentions.  It’s the woman’s job to take care of the children, to take care of the household.  It’s the husband’s job to provide for his wife and children.  “Thirty thousand widows live in the city with three thousand children to feed, and they’re not allowed jobs!” (Kushner 86).  When a woman is widowed and prohibited from employment, how can she fulfill her duties?  As a widow, being a burden to the society seems unavoidable.

Works Cited: Kushner, Tony. Homebody/Kabul. New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 2000;  Ruthven, Malise. Islam A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997; Photo: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/02/09/uk-afghanistan-casualties-children-idUKTRE7181D020110209