Odra: The River Parable

Marilyn Silverstone, lotus head bent over by snow in Srinagar, Kashmir, 1968. Source: magnumphotos.com

Before a river stands a peasant.

Earlier he had the simple objective of traveling to another village. He was a man of plain speech, for him to be “overwhelmed by a river” simply meant drowning, but there he is, standing, stunned, gaping at a river, overwhelmed by some ineffable attribute.

He passed other rivers before, never had he stopped and felt so enthralled by one. “Only booze can make it any better,” he thought, so he camped near the river bank.

That night he drank to excess: he accumulates hubris and greed in his inebriation, and merely observing the river was not enough for him now. So he waded through the river. Then he realizes what he has done when the water slushes his jaw; he has grimed the river, he couldn’t bring but filth to it, he panicked. At first, he thought drowning would be the only resort from the overbearing remorse that awaits him. But that would only defile it more, leaving a decaying bloated corpse for the river to deal with. He floundered helplessly out of the water, and ran as far as he can before trembling and perching in his place.

He slept. And the next morning he couldn’t resist going back to the river, this time making a pact with the gods: “O gods I shall only observe.” But this can only last for a week before he misjudges his capacity to control the urge to drink, and he falls for it again, and he staggers in panic out of the river again. Only this time he tries to cripple himself by jumping off a cliff nearby, and that only added blood to the filth he brought to the river after.

The peasant wondered why the river seemed so inviting, he’s so certain it was only his imagination when he’s sober, looking at all the filth he brought and still bringing. “Only if the river stopped me,” he consoles himself.

Now the peasant keeps wading through the river begging it to rebuff him.

Youssef Rakha: The Importance of Being Lars

Nymphomaniac’s Message for the Arab Spring

 

As an Arab you’re probably expecting me to lay into Nymphomaniac. It’s a film that must seem, if not offensive to my cultural sensibility, then irritatingly irrelevant to the poverty, underdevelopment, and upheaval that surround my life.

In most cases dropping the word “white” in the same paragraph as “Islam’s respect for women” is all it would take to slam Lars von Trier in this context. It would be a politically correct slur, too. I could even draw on Edward Said’s hallowed legacy to point out that the only time non-Europeans appear in over four hours of action, they’re portrayed as dumb sex tools. Not only self-indulgent and obscene but also Orientalist, etc..

But the truth is I actively delighted in Nymphomaniac, and I didn’t have to stop being an Arab for that to happen. To be accurate I should say I would’ve welcomed a von Trier film anyway, but this one showed up when it was needed—and it duly exploded on arrival.

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