London Feb 2012, Day Two: Behold the Man

“My name is Karim Amir and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost.” –The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi

Continued from Part 1.

On Saturday, February 25, 2012, my gf and I attended a conference at the University of Roehampton in London featuring the works of British author, Hanif Kureishi. The conference took place on Friday evening and all day Saturday. We arrived very late Thursday night, and then ventured out into Peckham on our own the following Friday—all of which I wrote about here & here. After those harrowing hours away from one another, we decided never to part again while I was visiting and spent the entire day of the conference glued to one another.

My gf presented her paper on Saturday morning, so we had the rest of the day to watch others present their papers, discuss novels, philosophy, literary criticism, etc., and chat with people from all around the world. In addition to the photos below, I wanted to highlight two interesting phenomena that occurred while at this conference.

First off, are you familiar with Hanif Kurieshi? I have only read The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), and I thought it a wonderful piece of fiction that I will not attach a label of ‘postcolonial‘ ‘immigrant’ ‘British migrant’ or any other lovely epigraph critics attach to  successful, yet subversive, novels. The thing is that this conference was focusing on one man. One singular author. What an amazing thing! Two days of people form Germany, America, Australia, England all joining together to talk about and discuss words one man wrote on a page. Brilliant. You should read The Buddha. It’s good & damned entertaining.

Later on during the Q & A session, when the moderator asked “Are there any other questions…?” and no one responded, I raised my hand. I’m not qualified to ask a question about Kureishi’s work. Let’s face that fact. Every other person who posed a question had at the very least published an article about one of Kureishi’s novels. I have not read much British migrant fiction, nor have I studied a great deal of postcolonialism—I focused on Marxist cultural theory, aesthetics, and feminism while studying Lit. So, I asked him something I thought would interrogate and yet illicit a generally interesting answer.

I asked, “How does it feel to come here tonight knowing that we have spent two days discussing, criticizing and (mis)interpreting you and your work?”

He replied that he found it very humbling, and that he doesn’t like to be thought about too much. He likes to sit at the side of the room. And if anyone focuses on him too much, then he is worried he’ll start to believe all the good things they say about him. He also mentioned that he wished his kids could see him, so that they don’t think he’s just a bum who sits at his computer all day while wearing pajamas. I liked this answer more than any others he gave that evening. Mostly because he was exposing his humanness. I like that.

My other quick anecdote was something my gf & I shared, and I don’t think others may have caught. When Kureishi first arrived that evening, it was in a grand room (seen from the outside in a photo above) with floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful wood floors, and massive drapes, along with bountiful foods such as sandwiches, cheeses, fruits, etc. But he arrived for a spoken word performance piece that evening that was, apparently, an interpretation of Kureishi’s works. It was interesting. As all performance pieces, and this post, it went on a bit too long for my taste. I was sitting down near a window eating some cheese, blissfully ignoring the decorum which bespoke a social need to stand for the performance, and my gf was standing to my right. Around ten minutes into the seemingly endless performance, as we are all standing, except me, and gazing at this man on a slightly raised stage performing spoken word poetry and making what seemed random hand gesticulations, Kureishi reaches into his pocket to check his cell phone. It was glorious. Just beautiful. My gf and I seemed to be the only two who noticed, everyone else was focused on the performance. We looked at one another, opened our eyes wide and almost burst out laughing!

That one simple gesture cut through all the pretension in the room. Ecce Homo, behold the man. Behold the man checking his cell phone during a performance piece dedicated to him; behold the man, bored; behold the man, not a god, but a human who is conscious of time and the pretension of that performance piece. From then on I knew Kureishi would rather have a beer in a pub with a few of us then sit here and listen to some dudes Neo-Freudian interpretation of a novel Kureishi wrote when he was 22 years old, and brimming with lust for life and a fervent desire to understand his place in the world.

I remember one more thing Kureishi said. He said that living the creative life was the most fulfilling way to live a life. And that he wished it for his kids, and that if anyone has the opportunity or the moment to grasp a creative life for themselves, then do it. It is simply wonderful. I can see why.

Continued in Part 3: Zurück zu Deutschland

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2 thoughts on “London Feb 2012, Day Two: Behold the Man

  1. I haven’t read Kurieshi, but you can be sure I will be after reading all the above. He sounds like my kind of writer/person. I think I would be horrified if my work were turned into bad performance art…fortunately I don’t write fiction so it is highly unlikely.

    My pick for post-colonialist fiction in recent years is Londonstani by Gautam Malkani. Have you read it? The whole thing is written as a first-person narrative in thick Hounslow dialect. Once you get the hang of reading it, it’s quite impressive!

  2. Kate,
    I keep passing by Londonstani at bookshops and it always catches my eye–blame it on the very lout cover art, or that I read a praising review some time ago. I don’t think I’ll pass by it again without picking it up now! 🙂 Thanks for the rec!
    As for Kureishi, if you like ZSmith’s humorous approach to the English and immigration, then you would def like Kureishi.
    Thanks for the comment Kate!

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