I have some feelings about today’s readings, particularly the two web articles. Jen Percy writes about her encounter with Commander Pigeon, Afghanistan’s only female warlord, and then “Gary Brecher” writes about Jen Percy writing about Commander Pigeon.
There are many critiques one could make about Percy’s article. I hesitate to call these essays, based on my new experience with CNF, but calling it an article also seems strange, as if there’s a specific angle or purpose for this writing–but perhaps that’s another aspect to discuss.
What is Percy’s purpose for writing this essay? I can’t tell off of one reading, I definitely didn’t know when I first started reading it. Initially, I thought it lacked a point at all. I kept waiting to get to the thrust of what the writer/speaker/reporter was learning, what she was experiencing. By the end, I understood the intent to be just an exploration of a night things didn’t go as planned and the reporter found herself completely out of her own control. The prose itself was very detached–it seemed to want to give us some sense of detached, no frills, tell-it-like-it-is journalism that we readers could come to our own conclusions about. There’s rarely a moment where she actually gets involved intellectually with what she’s witnessing. The most emotion or acknowledgement we have of her outside voice is her fear of being alone with Commander Pigeon and her disgust (look at the details she chooses to pull out: the candy wrappers and food under her bare feet, the soiled pillow, the saliva and dirt on Commander Pigeon’s hands and then the turkey). It seems like Percy wanted it to be an expose on The Female Warlord, and the woman didn’t bite and give her the story she wanted, so it became a personal essay about experience. Yet, it lacks the reflectiveness one expects from a personal essay, what makes personal essays truly worth something as reading material (perhaps my bias is showing). Is it a pro-war? Pro-female-equality? Investigation in a situation she think subverts everything we know about gender norms in Afghanistan?
“Gary Brecher,” a writer for Pando and the pseudonym for John Dolan, however, takes her to task.
I did some research in the middle of reading Brecher’s essay because I was so dumbfounded by his cruelty and, for once, the internet failed me by not having comments on this article. John Dolan, who I don’t really know outside of this moment, seems to be known as a rabble rouser, someone who just likes to make people mad, who lives to critique those he thinks are less competent than himself yet receive more praise. (That’s something I read he said himself.) That discredits him a lot, in my opinion. Senseless critique just because you’re jealous or don’t like someone? Juvenile.
That said, I had some issues of my own with Jen Percy’s article, so I read through to see what his points were.
Some points I found valid:
-Percy does seem attached to seeing Commander Pigeon as a sensation, something strange to be oogled, especially through a physical lens. The fact that the woman is only called Commander Pigeon, not Bibi Ayisha, throughout the essay seems to show Percy’s attachment to the strange and outlandish, something that’s catchy.
-Percy spends a lot of time on Bibi Ayisha’s appearance, certainly lingering on what might be found unattractive in Western culture. At the very least, she certainly describes her features in an unflattering manner. (Frankly, yes, even offensive sometimes.)
-Percy doesn’t seem that interested in molding herself into anyone else’s culture or experiencing anything from her hosts’ point of view. It could be interpreted as rudeness, novice traveling, all manner of things, but we don’t have enough evidence in the text to really make a judgement call.
Some points I found invalid:
-Brecher tells us to go look at a picture of Jen Percy to invalidate her descriptions of Bibi Ayisha. As if picking on the way Percy looks will ameliorate any perceived picking on the other woman.
-What the FUCK is his lesbian vampire schtick?? He’s the one looking for lesbian vampires. And, to be honest, I like to find them wherever I can, too–but I don’t know where he found them here. It’s insulting and infuriating, frankly.
-His implication that an attention to visual and sensual detail is not important. I can acknowledge that this piece isn’t well written as far as an attempt to understand why something happened the way it did. It wasn’t an attempt to understand the woman Percy claims to have met. It’s certainly riddled with strange attempts to create fear (the title, for example). Yet, there are ways that the observations he dismisses can be important, even educational if used correctly.
He’s extremely harsh, beyond necessity for a simple disagreement, the way certain white men often are when they know they’re right and a woman is wrong, pointing out all the feminine things that make her writing/opinion/art invalid. He calls her materialistic and shallow and even homophobic. He insults her past work without even indicating a knowledge of it–calling it a “novel” (did he read it or any publicity at all, or does he just think it’s so “silly” that it doesn’t merit being called “nonfiction”?) and dismissing it without going into any analysis of his issues with the book. Especially since his column is called War Nerd, it seems like he’s styled himself an expert and he’s just another white male trying to crowd women out of the male dominated sphere because a woman’s observations are too “womanish” according to their limited male opinions.