rushthatspeaks: (Default)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
A present from [personal profile] sovay. This contains the final-draft shooting script for the 1985 movie My Beautiful Laundrette, written by Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears; note that I did not say it contains the actual script of My Beautiful Laundrette, as it was one of those films where the writer dashed frantically around the set scribbling new dialogue "before," as he says, "the cast could make it up themselves". At any rate, it's an interesting script, though I would want to have the book open and the film playing in front of me before actually comparing the two too thoroughly, as otherwise I would be bound to misquote something somewhere. The film this script would have produced is I think a good one, a resolutely non-commercial look at the tangles of class and race and money and identity among a large family mostly from Pakistan and mostly living in an English city; it's also (the reason I first heard of it) one of the first movies I can think of containing a gay romance that does not also contain massively depressing amounts of internalized homophobia leading to externalized ranting, suicide, etc. on the part of the people involved. (This couple's depressing circumstances tend to center around one of them being Pakistani and the other ex-National Front, which is a giant social problem for them in all conceivable directions, including internally.) In these elements I consider the script to match the actual film. Closer comparison I will not attempt.

The book also has several of Kureishi's essays, including one on the Beatles and the British class system, one on attending a Tory press summit during the height of Thatcher, and a travelogue through Bradford focusing on racial, class, and religious tensions. The highlight, though, is the long piece 'The Rainbow Sign', which is a really interesting quasi-autobiographical look at the sixties in London and the eighties in Pakistan and the intersectional tangles of repression, freedom, art, dictatorship. Kureishi is, and I appreciate this, the sort of person who notes how one form of brutality can cause another, the ways money intersects with racism, sexism with class. He talks about being Pakistani in Britain despite never having been to Pakistan and then going to Pakistan and discovering himself to be British; he knows he will never be truly comfortable in either country. The essay was written at a point when Thatcher's power was growing and Pakistan was, under Zia ul-Haq, becoming more of a theocracy daily, and Kureishi sees this as twin sicknesses, two intertwined countries making symmetrical and opposite errors. I've seen similar theory before, I don't think this essay introduced concepts (refined and applied, rather), but it's very well written, very clearly argued, bitter and optimistic together. His major name-checks are Fanon and James Baldwin, which is an interesting combination.

Of course the entire book does suffer somewhat for a reader now because it is, as it should be, focused on specific things of the time in which it was written, minor politicians, things which have not quite passed into history, but I did find it mostly penetrable.

It is also, to an American reader, one of those books which is very useful because the social structures surrounding race in Britain are different than they are here-- there are a lot of things about the way racism works and the way people think about it that are very similar, and I'd be hard put to it to pin down a lot of the differences in a way I could explain, but reading books like this makes it very clear that those differences exist and are sometimes major, which of course is intellectually obvious, but sometimes one does not remember that on an emotional level. And also the fact that there must logically be a difference doesn't tell one what it is. I can best summarize the major one I saw as an American by saying that Kureishi repeatedly calls himself black. I do not think that would happen in an essay written by a person of similar background in the U.S., though I may be reading the wrong essays.

I have no idea whatsoever how this book would read if you haven't seen or haven't heard of the movie, or don't already read post-colonial theory. I really don't, I can't tell you whether this actually requires background reading to be intelligible. Sometimes I can figure that out about a book, but not this time. I do recommend the film, fairly highly.

Date: 2010-10-17 12:44 pm (UTC)
veejane: Pleiades (Default)
From: [personal profile] veejane
This sounds like most of the same content as in London Kills Me, which is likewise the MBL script, the Beatles essay (which I particularly liked), and assorted other works. Although London Kills Me includes some of his later scripts as well.

I read it in college, and 15 years later it is still confusing and head-spinny to hear/see ethnic Asians call themselves black. (A recent Bollywood historical I just watched included a white soldier calling an Indian soldier the N-word, to my utmost contextual startlement.)

Date: 2010-10-17 01:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] papersky.livejournal.com
I read this after seeing the film (several times), but a long long time ago when it was new and the essay was new, and it profoundly affected my thinking on British racism/xenophobia.

Kureishi's other books are very good too.

Date: 2010-10-17 11:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com
I should look up some of his other stuff. I was very pleasantly surprised by the awesomeness of these essays.

Date: 2010-10-17 05:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] enleve.livejournal.com
I can best summarize the major one I saw as an American by saying that Kureishi repeatedly calls himself black.

I live in Canada, and the commonly used term is "black", regardless of the race of the person speaking. It often gives me a small surprise for a split second when I hear Americans use the term "African-American", until I remember.

Date: 2010-10-17 05:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] enleve.livejournal.com
Oh, I missed the part of the post where you said he was Pakistani. Ok. In that case, usually I hear people calling themselves "brown".

Date: 2010-10-17 05:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jinian.livejournal.com
Lots of people in the U.S. use "black" for people of African descent, but I would be startled to hear it in reference to a Pakistani author.

Date: 2010-10-17 11:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com
It gives me pause mostly because I would in the U.S. expect Asian or Pakistani or brown or whichever religion his family follows (they moved from India after Partition so I would expect Muslim, but he doesn't go into it). I would not expect black. Kureishi expresses solidarity with the Black Power movement to a certain extent, especially the time with the salute on the Olympic podium, and talks about the Black Muslims as sharing in trends that concern him about Muslims in Pakistan-- and this genuinely surprised me because in the U.S. there is a lot of training that people from Asia are not black and have a different social niche, somewhere under white and above African, and that Asian issues and black issues are different; I have learned to think around this training with my rational mind but not my reflexes.

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