the never-ending shock of arrival: some thoughts on meena alexander

excerpted from a discussion at another subcontinent (www.anothersubcontinent.com):

my experience in regards to alexander's work has been a very strange one, to say the least. i wonder whether anyone else has had a similar one. if so, i would love to hear from you. i first came across alexander's work as an undergraduate majoring in creative writing but only started to seriously read her as a graduate student in creative writing. in fact, she was one of my inspirations. what i liked most about her (and still do) is how she combined theory and the creative, packing a powerful punch in volatile issues of identity, language, origins, gender, etc. 'shock of arrival,' a book that combined both poetry and prose was wonderful to read. it was like a sock in the stomach that opened up my eyes to issues of language and poetry i had never thought about. but...without getting into specifics now (alas, time constraint), suffice it to say, the more alexander I read, a certain weariness descended on me, from reading about the same things/same images over and over again: a woman, confused, multiple identities, so many languages, yet silence. frozen tongue, the urge to find a voice among the cacaphony. all of this presented itself in a way in which it became a sort of grating, like nails being dragged across a chalkboard. It was as if alexander the poet, alexander the academic and alexander the immigrant were battling each other in the wrestling ring and the match wouldn't end. my disappointment peaked after reading Manhatten Music, a novel, which meandered and meandered and meandered....the point is that i really wanted to 'like' her. I hoped that 'illiterate heart' would be different, have more depth, but was disappointed with that too. i considered the fact that perhaps i read it wrong or that i didn't get it. but as a south asian writer with a somewhat similar background, i found it strange that i could not connect. then i started to wonder about issues of pandering to the west. by this i don't mean an explicit attempt to please the western reader, but a sort of literary academic trickle down, a 'manufacturing of literary consent' that is shaped by being a part of american academia for a long time. the need to feed the 'other.' the pressure of being the voice of the 'other.' could alexander possibly be a victim of this?

on further discussion:

i think all of you have hit on reasons why i have reacted to Alexander in the way that i have. i am glad to know i am not the only one that feels this way. arnab asked:

do you mean that her creative work seems to be providing the "evidence" for her theoretical interests?

in a sense yes. i think maureen said it well when she said:

the divides between theory and creative writing and autobiography are arbitrary and often illusory.

by examining her life as an immigrant in her writing, alexander has made the conscious decision to make her life a part of her work. in order to sustain her work, she draws from her own and others lives, although her own life seems to be the most dominant. self-indulgent (as sasainkudi mentioned in her reply)? you betcha! that's what bothers me as well. i think i believe maureen, knowing alexander better than most of us, that alexander is being honest in her writing, but i don't think she is being honest enough. and i think alexander knows this. perhaps that is alexander's biggest struggle/confusion as a writer and that is why we/I see so much of that self-consciousness. Clearly she is caught in a viscious cycle, but at the same time seems to enjoy/draw inspiration from the turmoil within that cycle. But like poorvi said:

it has a lot to do with where I am. There was a time when this was new to me, when I was hungry for it, but since then I have grown away from those themes.

i think that really explains why i initially loved alexander's work but then became disappointed. there aren't many diasporic writers out there who represent those who have moved on. by 'moved on,' i am thinking of someone who writes with maturity, humor and an awareness that comes with experience as well as an aerial observation of things. someone who can juggle with finesse;) maureen also used the term 'mimic woman' which i think is quite apt. as long as the mimic women and men are around, there will always be this sense of the 'manufactured.'