Jessica Hagedorn Reads Dog Eaters

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

Here is a great video of Jessica Hagedorn reading excerpts from Dogeaters. Also spliced throughout the video is an interview with Hagedorn where she talks about becoming an author. She begins reading Dogeaters at the 10:30 marker. What i also found interesting was that she called the novel her “Love letter to her homeland.” I must also say that she is a great reader.

The final chapter

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Can we talk about the last chapter? Because I’m a little in love, and I really want to hear what everyone else thinks.

I think that all the Catholic imagery is fabulous. Even though religion is not a major portion of the book, it really turns a lot of Christian ideas on its head. I especially love “Our Lady of Cobras, Mournful Lizards, Lost Souls, and Radio Melodramas,” because there probably is a patron saint of radio melodramas (I assume, since Saint Claire is the patron saint of television). It’s so funny but  very sad at the same time.

When I first read the last chapter, I thought that it wasn’t about a specific woman, or if it was, the Mother that the speaker prayed to was the Philippines. While I still think that the latter is the case, I thought while rereading it that the Mother may be Daisy Avila. The lines “There are serpents in your garden. Licking your ears with forked tongues, poisoning your already damaged heart” and “Our mother who art, what have those bastards gone and done now?” both reminded me of Daisy’s experiences in the book. I think that the final chapter posits that there is a mother to the Philippines, and it’s much more likely to be someone like Daisy who has been through tragedies and has had the world against her than someone like the First Lady.

What do you guys think? There’s so much here that we could probably analyze it for the next year.

The Cover.

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I would like to say that this post is a combined effort of me and Stefany Guido attempting to puzzle out this bizarre and fantastic cover. We have compiled a list of interesting things about the cover in bullet point form:

  • I think the most obvious thing to point out is the position of the woman. She is posed in the crucifix position, her hands stretched out to the sides, and her feet hanging down and crossed. She is also draped with a robe, similar to the way crosses are draped with (generally) a purple robe during Easter. However, this robe is orange.
  • Her head has been cut off (we presume it is her own head that is being held in the woman’s right hand) and replaced with the head of a statue, which appears to be male. The head has been placed on badly, the slash wound very clear.
  • Her arms also appear to have been slashed, maybe even cut off and then reattached. They also look too muscular to be her own hands; Stefany has suggested that maybe they are the hands of another person who has beheaded her and they have placed their hands on her arms.
  • The fetus that is visible in her open abdomen is anatomically incorrect. The fetus is placed in her rib cage, not anywhere near her womb.
  • She is holding a sword in her left hand, which she presumably used to cut off her head, as it is stained with blood. It is pointed downward, in a non-threatening position. We were wondering if the style of sword was possibly significant, but we aren’t very familiar with swords so we’re not sure.
  • Above her are two angels. One is covering its face, the other has its hand raised, perhaps in fear. They are both holding on to a Catholic bishop’s hat, seemingly lowering onto the statue’s head.
  • The backdrop is separated into two landscapes. The foreground is filled with snapped timber, while the background is almost Eden-like. There are mountains, and a picturesque waterfall, illuminated by the sun rising over the tops of the mountains, and back lighting the woman.

While we’ve been able to pick apart the separate elements of the picture, it’s been much harder trying to analyze them as a whole (much like the novel itself….). The angels are lowering the bishop hat onto the head of this Frankenstein-esque man-woman. They seem to be fearful to give holy recognition to the disfigured person below them. The woman’s body is preventing us from seeing the idyllic paradise in the background, and hovering over the chaotic and broken foreground.  There is a fetus, but it can not be growing inside of a womb; it is unnatural.

Perhaps the cover art can be seen as a metaphor for the entire novel. All of these separate elements, which appear to be unrelated at times, are all intimately connected, but the overall picture is not pleasing or even logical. I think there are ways in which we can more intimately connect the cover to the story; the disfigured woman could be symbolic of the Philippines. Since we often code countries as feminine, the woman’s body is representative of the Philippines. The head seems to be functioning in two ways. It at once could be seen as a literal interpretation of “figure-head,” which the president and the first lady in many ways appear to be. The second is the westernization of the Philippines. The head is similar to a Greek statue, and is made of stone. Within the novels, we see the many ways in which western culture and capitalism has pervaded the country. This is the visual depiction of this. Even the way that the original head is being held, as if it is on display, gives the sense of conquering.

Since we’re both still puzzling through the end of the book, this is basically as far as our joint analysis got. Anyone else have any ideas on this?


Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

I read a good chunk of Dogeaters on the bus back from a cross country race we had in Greensboro, North Carolina last weekend.  It’s always hard reading on the bus because everyone is still on a pretty big running high from the race – plus, the boys team always puts in some kind of loud and distracting action movie to watch.  This trip, one of the girls on my team stood up to the boys and suggested watching the movie she had brought along: Love Actually.  It’s one of my favorites, so of course it was equally as difficult trying to read with it playing in the background.  But for those of you who haven’t seen the film, it’s a multi-vocality story just like we discussed in class today.  We meet a large number of characters in different walks of life and social classes, eventually discovering how they’re lives all intertwine with one another.  When we were talking about the structure of Dogeaters in class today, I was reminded of this episodic method of telling the story in Love Actually and how successful it is in suggesting that no matter your social status, gender, race, etc., lives will collide with one another in even the smallest of ways.  This is often due to their strands of common themes that tie together so many lives.  While the primary theme in Love Actually is (you guess it) love, there are a number of themes in Dogeaters that can be traced through each of the narratives: gossip, power, manipulation, sexuality, just to name a few.  I think that the multi-vocality structure of Dogeaters is successful in suggesting that no matter your status in Manila, lives will intertwine even in the smallest ways due to the strong connecting themes that dominate and twist through each sub-story.

“We might exterminate you, but we’ll be sure to put your pottery in our museums.”

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I was really excited to see McKinley’s speech in Dogeaters because I’m already very familiar with it. Part of the speech is featured in the McKinley chapter Sarah Vowell’s book Assassination Vacation. I wanted to type up some of what she says about the US invasion of the Philippines because I think it provides an interesting perspective.

After God told McKinley to “annex” the Philippines, our former allies the Filipino rebels fought back in a nasty guerilla war that dragged on for years in which both sides commited torture (the famous “water cure” in which dirty water is poured down a person’s throat until he drowns) and atrocities (such as setting buildings on fire with people asleep inside).

Many of the American soldiers and officers who were torturing the Philippine rebels (who then tortured them right back) were veterans of the Indian Wars on this continent. On the island of Samar, for example, American troops fought under the command of Wounded Knee alumnus Jacob Smith, who applied skills in the pacific he had learned slaughtering the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. After a cunning but brutal ambush by the Filipino guerillas, Smith ordered his troops to retaliate by shooting to kill every Filipino capable of bearing arms. When asked to pin down a minumum age, Smith decided on ten. If it seems distasteful and condescending to read that then-governor of the Philippines William Howard Taft referred to the loacl citizenry as his “little brown brothers,”  that’s downright sweet compared to what the soldiers called them–“n*****s.” As one US soldier stationed in the Phillipines put it, “The country won’t be pacified until the n*****s are killed off like the Indians.”

Mark Twain had supported the 1898 invasion of Cuba because “it is a worthy thing to fight for one’s freedom; it is another sight finer to fight for another man’s.” But he called the Philippines situation a “quagmire,” writing an editorial in the February 1901 issue of North American Review called “To the Person Sitting in Darkness.” He wrote, “We have stabbed an ally in the back,” going on to suggest that a new American flag should be sewn especially for the province “with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.”

Leon Czolgosz [McKinley’s assassin], confiding in a fellow anarchist not long before he shot McKinley, said of the war in the Philippines, “It does not harmonize with the teachings in our public schools about the flag.”

–Sarah Vowell, Assassination Vacation (204-205)

I found this really interesting for a lot of reasons. First of all, I find it really telling that the invasion of the Philippines was one of the reasons Czolgosz shot McKinley (besides trying to impress Emma Goldman). The United States is often presented in Dogeaters as this unified, globalizing force, so it’s interesting to see that 50 years before, people were divided over the subject. And it wasn’t just wannabe anarchists like Czolgosz; Mark Twain was a well-respected thinker (not that he was the most forward-thinking. In the same essay, he says that the Japanese “are but partially civilized as yet.”) In “To The Person Sitting in Darkness,” Twain notes that if the war with Spain in the Philippines had gone according to “American rules”, Dewey and his fleet would have left as soon as it was over. However, “everything is prosperous, now; everything is just as we should wish it. We have got the Archipelago, and we shall never give it up.” Because Dogeaters takes place fifty years later and is not from the American point of view, it would be interesting to find out if all Americans by that time had taken on the perspective that Twain accuses people of having in his article.

I was surprised, but not that surprised, to learn that soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars were also fighting in the Philippines. The Native Americans were the last ‘threat’ against total domination of the United States, so it made sense that once they were taken care of, the US started to move towards a global empire. Before this, the United States entered its first interventionist war, the Spanish American war which was ostensibly to free Cuba (which, as Vowell points out, since Cuba doesn’t even make it into the name of the war gives you a sense of where it stood on our priority list). I think it’s ‘hilarious’ that the Native American wars were all about fights over land while the foreign wars of the late-19th/early 20th century (…and 21st century) were all about freedom. It says a lot about how the US decided to present itself when it moved to a global scale.