A poem: Hello Edward

This week I was invited to recite a poem among a community of Indian progressives, on the theme of resistance. After searching for a poem already written, I decided to scratch an itch and compose something originally.

That itch occurred because I had been reading Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism at the same time. It is a book that devotes some attention to the matter of resistance against imperialism, after deftly dismantling how culture promotes imperialism. It advances ideas about the metropole and the periphery, the voyage in from the Global South to the North, contrapuntal analysis, and orientalism. Much of the theme of resistance is negative advice, however—cautionary notes about nationalism and nativism. Although Said begins developing a notion of liberation as an alternative strand of resistance, I found the book nevertheless left me with more questions than answers.

Largely, that may be due to the book's age. It was published in 1993, after the first invasion of Iraq under the first Bush. Said died ten years later around the time of the second invasion of Iraq under the second Bush, tragically. A lot has happened since then—Facebook, Trump, Modi, COVID, etc. Like so many people, I often wonder what Said would say about our time today—what would be the same, and what new analysis there could be.

So for the poem, I decided to call Edward Said and ask. The audience is invited to eavesdrop on my side of the call, performed with a prop phone and all. Here is the poem:

Hello Edward

Hello Edward, long-time fan, first time caller, I have a few questions if it's no bother. If you were here, what would you make of our absurd theatre? Take Culture and Imperialism, or imperialism minus the culture—

If imperialism was built with culture, what then of imperialism today? No more than thuggery, raw power, and profit—for some, anyway. There are no great authors here, no imagination, that's passé. What would you call that, Edward? Vultures and Imperialism, say?

(By the way, do you remember an upstart called Modi? You won't believe what happened to that toady— But that's for another time, that story, Or another place, if you want, sorry.)

And what of Orientalism, that grand venture? It's stripped bare today—I said there's no more culture— All we have is capitalism in its pure structure. (Yes, with Chinese characteristics, to be sure…)

Thing is, Edward, I see what you mean about becoming resistant. But how do I decolonize my bank account and my rent? How did you do it? I mean, getting paid to dissect and dissent, I want to know that contrapuntal argument.

I'm just a part-timer on this beat, We protest on public holidays, when there's time off work to meet, But nevermind finding the time to march on the street; My question is, how do we make new public holidays, with a tweet?

Ah, you don't know Twitter! What would you make of culture coded into NFTs, I wonder? NFTs? Well, I don't know how to explain it, I'm not a grifter. Soon I'll be a cryptocurrency conscientious objector.

Tick tock, TikTok, so where did culture go? Do you really want to know? Facebook reduced it to an algorithm, just ones and the odd zero. Artificial intelligence tells whom to love or lynch—the author is no more.

Isn't that novel? We count everything in binary. We did away with the Third World, you see. Now there is the First World, and then the world of zero, mostly. We deprogrammed culture to save imperialism, without irony.

What does resistance look like, then? Here we encrypt every message we send. I wonder, Edward, if you would use Signal, Telegram, or another trend? We hide words, faces, pasts, selves, friends and lovers—end to end.

To what end? I thought you might tell us that. If not nationalism, nor nativism, then what's not bad? If not the capitalist, nor the technocrat? Did you say liberation to equal the colonizer is where it's at?

The final anthem might be like your liberation soundtrack. Yet, after my “voyage in” to the metropolis, I want my money back. Twenty-two years since arrival and I have not even begun to unpack— Is that simply a slight setback?

You know that I can't go home—like yours, mine too has gone yonder. Distance, not time, makes the heart grow fonder—or does it founder? Fondness alone can't stop the plunder by a pretender. Can a voyager into the Heart of Whiteness stand to be a bystander?

The voyage in takes us to strange places. In a strange colony, I find history does not repeat, but paraphrases, Resistance here and resistance there start to resemble a coin's faces, Heads or tails, the struggle never ceases.

But if we must equalize the colonizer, Ed, we've taken a wrong turn. Liberals have allied with the state for the freedoms we yearn— Carceral, military, surveillance state—they say, how else to govern? Well, that's what I've seen in my sojourn.

My point, Edward, is we are as far away as ever from an answer. I am starting to wonder if we even need to get closer. Can one be a resister without becoming an explorer seeking closure? What if, maybe, not knowing is better?

If you know better, then let us know, Ed. Some things can only be answered by the dead.