Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Postmodernism - Amok

Running amok, sometimes referred to as simply amok (also spelled amuck or amuk), is derived from the Malay word amuk, meaning "mad with rage" (uncontrollable rage). Although commonly used in a colloquial and less-violent sense, the phrase is particularly associated with a specific sociopathic culture-bound syndrome in Malaysian culture. In a typical case of running amok, a male who has shown no previous sign of anger or any inclination to violence will acquire a weapon and, in a sudden frenzy, will attempt to kill or seriously injure anyone he encounters. Amok episodes of this kind normally end with the attacker being killed by bystanders, or committing suicide.(wikipedia)

So there is this article in the Feb 11 New Yorker talking about a murder case in Poland. The story is a bit like the plot of Basic Instinct. An unsolved murder. A connection is made to a writer, Krystian Bala, who happens to write a sadistic, violent book, Amock, with events strikingly similar to real life. The writer is a bit of a boundary tester, a philosopher, an anti-establishment figure.

What struck me as ironic about this story is that this Bala guy fancied himself quite the postmodernist - he was very clever, all Derrida and Foucalt. What does anything mean, blah, blah, blah... Until he was sitting in a cage in the courtroom and the prosecution was using postmodernism against him. "The author has no more clue about the text than anyone else." Boy, did he flip out when he heard that statement. He was screaming "Bullshit - I am the author, I knew what I meant when I wrote it!" (I'm paraphrasing)

I guess a murder trial is a good test of the strength of one's convictions... ;)


Blogger evanstonjew said...

A similar situation occured some years back, when Derrida had some copyright fight I think. The entire comedy was aired in the NYRB, but I forget when.

OTOH when they confronted Paul deMan with anti-semitic articles written before the war, many Jewish intellectuals stood up in his defense. Examples are Derrida, Hartman, and Harold Bloom. I can't remember all of the apolegetics, but I walked away thinking there was something to what they were saying that wasn't defensive b.s. Besides the books on the dissemination of deconstruction in English departments, I think Shoshana Felman's book Testimony is relevant.

Clearly any defender of the idea of multiple interpretations of texts is going to have to show how this can't be used as a way of avoiding the obvious reading. You know the joke about sixty eight positions for sex, which forgets to include the missionary position.

February 26, 2008 12:47 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

I don't know, perhaps I am just too much of an engineer...

Did you see the story about how they just figured out how to film an electron?

That's something you can point to... Heisenberg be damned!

February 26, 2008 1:10 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Running amok is nowadays called going postal or doing a Columbine.

Much the same psychological issue. Odd that it occurs so often in Western societies nowadays.

During the colonial period it was often conflated with parang sabil (juramentado, juramentar) and seen as the natural result of injured pride among the uncivilised. Rather than as a form of trailer-park madness.

February 26, 2008 4:36 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Hmm, according to this website, parang sibil is something quite different from trailer park madness:

A concept often misunderstood is parang sabil or holy war, which later developed into "ritual suicide." The term derives from the Malay words perang meaning "war" and sabil, from the Arabic "fi sabil Allah meaning "in the path of God." It refers to a jihad (holy war) against those who threaten the sanctity of Islam. It is resorted to when all forms of organized resistance fail. Those who die in the struggle are pronounced shahid (martyrs) and automatically gain a place sulga (heaven). Failing to understand this religious dimension, the Spaniards and the Americans have reduced the concept into a psychological disorder, have referred to the shahid as juramentados and amock, respectively.

February 26, 2008 6:12 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

I guess a murder trial is a good test of the strength of one's convictions... ;)

I am reminded of reading reports of Oscar Wilde's trial (well, his testimony in one suit and then his criminal defense) for homosexuality. The man honestly talked like one of his characters, spouting pithy aphorisms about art and criticizing the prosecuter's poetry reading skills right through to the end.

February 26, 2008 11:56 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

One possible reason for the conflation could be that parang sabil presented a marvelous method to restore one's honour and reputation when all other attempts to be a righteous man or responsible individual had failed. Precisely, in other words, what motivated the amok - a sense of permanently damaged regard and tarnished image. Coupled with stress and pressure to meet societal expectations.

Before amok became common in the Malay world, it was sometimes motivated by a Hinduist shahidism (in pre-Islamic times). Nowadays, when nice innocent white trailerleite go postal, it is motivated by vengefulness toward those who disregard the perpetrator. A greater sense of self-worth than is reflected by the treatment of others seems to play a role. But I would hesitate to get too deeply into these comparisons, as they may hold better superficially than at any depth.

February 27, 2008 7:14 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Oh, and by the way - I used to be able to speak Tausug. I was in Sulu back in the mid-eighties, when I was younger and stupider.

Lovely place. Lovely people. Insane times.

Tausug differs significantly from both Yakan and Badjao in that it does not present a dialect-overlap with versions of Malay (Borneo-Malay), but instead is more closely related to Bisayano. The Tausug headed into Sulu from areas to the north-east, whereas the Yakan came from the south-west, and were later followed by the Badjao from the southern coast of Borneo and Celebes (although they claim they are actually from Johor). There are, however, a substantial number of cognates shared by these three languages - both of Malay-Polunesian orign, and outside borrowings.

For some odd reason, I know precisely how Moros circumcise their boys (bamboo strip under the foreskin as a block to the bamboo blade - bamboo has sterilizing or bacterostatic properties).

Girls are 'circumcised' too - but not nearly as brutally as among other Muslims. Female circumcision in Sulu is a light scraping of the dotdotdot untill a drop of blood comes out (the blood is dabbed with a whisp of cotton, which is then folded into a container and buried out back under a banana tree). Both male and female circumcision occur at around five years old, and are considered Islamizing - but incomplete without a tooth-filing in the early teen years (also considered a form of circumcision).

February 27, 2008 7:36 PM  

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