24 June 2011

A Stranger Comes to Town...

Via Tempest Bradford I read the call for stories for a proposed anthology called Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations. The title and description are utterly screaming out for submissions filled with casual, ignorant, and textually-inherited exoticization and racism.

The "lost race / lost civilization / lost world" story derives from an imperialist history and view of the world, but at its most benign it's a version of the old "a stranger comes to town" story, with the stranger as the explorer and the town as the "lost" place. ("Lost" only to the stranger; to the inhabitants, it's been there all along and this "lost" talk is very odd, though maybe helpful if you're seeking to build a tourist industry.)

On Twitter, Cheryl Morgan wonderfully suggested, "What you need is an anthology full of brown people discovering the lost society of the USA. Gods of Mt. Rushmore?" David Moles said he'd already written that story with one of his Irrational Histories: "9th baktun, 9th katun, 2nd tun (AD 615)". I piped in suggesting Zakes Mda's Cion, a marvelous book about a South African who comes to the U.S. in 2004 and discovers it to be full of strange rituals and bizarre, fascinating people.

And then I thought of a few more such stories, and came up with a potential and vastly incomplete reading list for potential contributors to Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, should they desire to try to avoid unfortunate implications in their stories. So, in addition to David's story and to Cion, I would suggest...

Lists can get overwhelming, so I'll stop there, with five books of fiction and five of nonfiction. Any one of those books would be informative for somebody trying to write about strangers and towns, I think, and a few of them together might create some interesting resonances.

I'm pretty ignorant of Asian fiction and histories, so that's an obvious lack in the list.

Any suggestions to add to my list are welcome, and I'd especially love to learn about books that expand and complexify our understandings of civilizations we might otherwise consider "lost".

2 comments:

  1. Off the top of my head, I would add Kiran Desai's "Inheritance of Loss" to that list.

    There's a lovely story about an Indian coming to study law in the UK in the 50's, I believe.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Perhaps Europe and the People Without History by Eric Wolf?

    For Asia . . . perhaps not exactly what you're looking for but some anthropological work in the right ballpark . . . maybe something by James C. Scott. Weapons of the Weak, The Moral Economy of the Peasant or Domination and the Arts of Resistance.

    ReplyDelete