Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Twtty Orientalism" in the New York Times

" She had so much." "But Will it Make You Happy?" The overwhelmingly popular column in the NY Times about a woman who stepped off the earn/spend treadmill and whittled her belongings down to 100 items hooked me. I still like it though I agree the article does oversimplify the "simple life." Among those who took odds with it was Adam Weinstein in "The New York Times' Twitty Orientalism " who criticized the Eastern religion references Hinduism, Sufism, Yoga, and other "eastern" paths that people flit in and out of in oversimplifed form when convenient (I see myself in that list). Weinstein is right in many regards. We're so mired by consumer society that sometimes our winnowing down of items ends up in buying more in the long run. Purge, binge. We use these other belief systems when convenient (and trendy) and just as easily take them off again. Spirituality is hard; commitment isn't popular in our society. Weinstein then moves into more serious territory that results from this winnowing down of that classic "Other." Orientalism exists, he says, with terrifying results though we live in an age that tries to educate ourselves away from it.

Also relevent to this Orientalish thing, Weinstein mentions his own youthful travels to Uzbekistan that made him a suden "expert" on Uzbek culture by local media when he returned. As I read Flaubert's 19th century travel accounts in Egypt, that point struck me as so much of what I'm reading seems Flaubert, Flaubert, Flaubert and very little Egypt. What also strikes me in this 100 items plan is the homes I saw in my last trip to Egypt where the economic situation is dire in the small towns. Some people would kill to own 100 things.

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