Author: jdn305

Revenge in Nemesis

Goddess of Revenge and Retribution
A portayal of Nemesis: Goddess of Revenge and Retribution

Nemesis, the Greek goddess of revenge and retribution is the mythological woman who gives title to Philip Roth’s novel about Polio-stricken New Jersey. Set in 1944, our narrator tells us the story of Eugene “Bucky” Cantor, a 23-year old Jewish playground director whose life is filled with loss: his mom died at childbirth, his dad was imprisoned for stealing and was never present in his life, his grandfather — who took the role of father — died three years before the novel takes place to a heart-attack, his girlfriend Marcia took a job at a faraway camp in the Poconos, and at present, Bucky’s playground children are one-by-one contracting Polio and dying. Not only is Mr. Cantor stricken by the loss of people, he was also born with very poor eyesight, a factor that prevents him from joining the army and as he sees it, from serving the nation honorably, and helping his fellow generation in the battle of WWII. It’s hard to believe that a character struck by so much loss is still so devoted in preserving the well-being of others. What determines a person’s character? What factors define whether a person will turn out good-intentioned or bad-intentioned?

In page 27, we get a glimpse into how devastated Bucky was after being rejected by the army for his eyesight. “He felt the shame of someone who might by himself have made a difference as the U.S. forces in the Pacific suffered one colossal defeat after another.” One interesting thought here is that bureaucracy has no sympathy. The rules are the rules and it doesn’t matter if Bucky is better able than anyone else to join the war, his eyesight doesn’t meet the army’s requirements. His disability predetermines much of his life: the job he can get and the way he perceives himself. Partly this, and partly the unfairness of Polio stealing away the lives of the purest children, like Alan, are what cause Mr. Cantor to begin questioning God and religion: “How could there be forgiveness—let alone hallelujahs—in the face of such lunatic cruelty?” In Nemesis, Roth paints a picture in which the Jewish community seems to be the most affected by the outbreak of Polio, and in a way, this shows the historical persecution of Jews. At the time the novel is set, the Jews are still being persecuted by Nazi Germany. Not only is humanity striking against the Jews, but also contagion. This idea brings us back to the title, Nemesis: what is Roth trying to tell us about Revenge and Retribution? Could it be that the Jews are being punished by Nemesis for something they’ve done as a community? (It’s very unlikely that this is where Roth is guiding us; a Jew himself, Roth actually graduated from Weequahic High School, in Newark, around 1950.) Perhaps, the whole point of the novel is to challenge the idea of revenge and retribution. Can anyone fairly judge people and grant them the retribution they deserve? Is there an alternative to looking for a scapegoat, or for someone to blame? Is it possible for humans to find justice without blaming one another?

At the same time that Nazis used the Jews as scapegoats for all the bad things that were happening to Germany, many families in the book are looking for scapegoats, someone to blame for their children contracting Polio. One of these cases is the mother of the brothers who bullied Horace. When Mr. Cantor calls her to give her his support for her kids contracting Polio, she insults him, asking him how he even dares to call her, after causing the children of the neighborhood to get Polio. In this way, Nemesis shows us the inevitable human nature of seeking for the guilty one. Also, What’s up with Horace? What should we make of him? He’s described as an idiot, and a moron. Before learning that he actually has a medical condition, the description of Horace seems to be that of a very bad person, but when we readers learn he’s actually mentally disabled, it is striking the cruelty with which he’s described and treated. Could Nemesis be punishing this community because of their cruelty towards an innocent child? They even point fingers at him saying he’s a carrier of Polio. Why is the community so cruel towards him? Horace suffers of a collective discrimination because of his mental disabilities that makes him a pariah, an outsider, rejected by the rest. Likewise, Mr. Cantor’s eyesight disability causes him to be rejected by the army, however, with his strong build and charismatic personality, he is very respected in the neighborhood.

Towards the end of the section, we find that Mr. Cantor has taken up on Marcia’s offer for him to take the job close to her. Many are the reasons why he is finally convinced that leaving is a good idea, but are these reasons respectable? Mainly, his leaving is questionable because he’s leaving his grandma, an old widow who devoted her life to him. But can we really judge him? The typical quote about having kids is, “And just like that, they’re gone.” This raises the question, What’s a child’s duty to their parents, or those who raised him/her?


FDR and Polio, beginning in 1921

AIDS in China and Censorship


Check The Guardian’s article for an interesting review of the censorship process Yan Lianke went through to publish not only Dream of Ding Village but many of the other books as well. Dream of Ding Village was banned and publishing his texts cost Lianke many consequences: being forced to leave the army, forced to write auto-critiques for four months, unpaid despite being promised money…

In addition, take a look at this short video explaining China’s AIDS Villages and the spread of AIDS because of the blood economy. The video clearly points fingers at the Communist Party, specifically past governor of Henan and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, as the one to blame for the AIDS spread in China. We also get a real taste of what the reality portrayed in our novel really looks like.

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Welcome to our nostalgia

Witchcraft is a recurrent theme throughout Welcome to our Hillbrow. Looking over previous posts in the course blog, I stumbled upon this video from a 2015 post. I found it interesting because it does a quick summary of what witchcraft is like in a few countries of South Africa today. Laws are being passed according to witchcraft! The video is quite visual so beware, it’s not Halloween witches, rather real people exposed to insane violence because they’re believed to be witches.

In addition, I found this song called Hillbrow by Johannes Kerkorrel (1989) and although it’s not in English, the sound of the song says everything. Especially the cover by Elvis Blue. Jus by listening to it you’ll capture its nostalgic feel. It’s a sad song that seems to remember what once was. Somewhat like an elegy.

Welcome to our Hillbrow is a nostalgic novel. It’s everything our main character Refentse could have felt, said, done, thought, had he not committed suicide. Most chapters start with: “If you were still alive now, Refentse, child of Tiragalong and Hillbrow, you might finally…” Thus, there is an impotence that comes with the narration; Refentse could have gone through so many things, but he’s dead so it’s not possible anymore. In a sense, this impotence is the same impotence of Hillbrow. Had it not been devastated in the aftermaths of South African Apartheid, perhaps it’d have all the open possibilities that Refeltse would have had had he not committed suicide. Kerkorrel’s song, and Blue’s subsequent cover depict part of that impotence through the music.

I couldn’t find the translated song so I went with Google Translate, which is NOT GREAT, but sheds light on some of the song lyrics. For anyone who’s interested, here’s the translation (up to your interpretation):

Old man sitting at cafes,
And see all the people walking back and forth
Tramps rage at the Wimpy Bar
And Fontana is open until late in the evening
Barefoot children in the street, pointing to parking
And then keep the hand and then hold the hand
And hang up the hand? yes

Chorus One:
And give, give, give. Give, give, give
Your money, your dreams, your clothes full of holes
Give your heart to Hillbrow
Yes, give your heart to Hillbrow

In Quartz Street I hear? A girl called me,
There’s a Hare Krishna asking what I was looking
And I know Jesus? Ask? a man on the porch,
Between Hillbrow records and Estoril Books
And it’s long after midnight,
And send the Hillbrow Tower
She signals at night, its signal at night
His signal for the junkies waiting, O

Chorus One:
And give, give, give. Give, give, give
Your money, your dreams, your future full of holes
Give your heart to Hillbrow
Yes, give your heart to HillbrowEn the lights go on in the Chelsea Hotel,
And voices and music sound in every apartment.
We sat in the sun, drinking wine,
We survive with? a hell lot of pain in this country, so
Let’s drink to the one who survived his dreams,
On the one who gets what he wants, jaKoortjie:
And give, give, give. Give, give, give
Your money, your dreams, your future full of holes
Give your heart to Hillbrow
Yes, give your heart to Hillbrow
Come on, give your heart to Hillbrow

Romney vs. Obama… Now Trump vs. Clinton

Kushner wrote the introduction the day before those U.S. Elections!

For all who skipped the introduction, here’s the most interesting thing: when Kushner wrote the introduction to his new edition of Angels in America, it was just the day before the Mitt Romney vs. Barrack Obama elections. I’m curious: if at the time Kushner thought, “today the edge is sharper than it’s ever been, and the two worlds it divides, one of light, one of darkness, seem respectively more brilliant and more abysmal…” what would he write today with Trump or Clinton being elected in less than a month?