‘White Teeth’ Synposis

From 2002 BBC adaptation

White Teeth is the 2000 novel by British writer Zadie Smith. We’ll only have time to read a relatively short excerpt, the second section “Samad: 1984, 1857” (pps. 103-217). I think this passage works well on its own. Nonetheless, since we’re skipping part one (which I invite you to read if you’d like to and have the time), I thought it would be useful to provide you a quick summary of what leads up to this section. Without further ado:

White Teeth, set primarily in London, follows the relationship of two families, the Joneses and the Iqbals. Broadly, the novel engages themes of migrant and British identity.

The novel opens on New Year’s Eve 1975 with middle-aged Englishman Archie Jones’ failed suicide attempt. Saved by a Muslim butcher (who believes a suicide in his parking lot would not be “halal”), Archie is given a new lease on life. He wanders into a New Year’s Eve party and meets Clara Bowden, a young woman of Jamaican descent. Archie is smitten by her beauty save for one detail: her missing front teeth. Nonetheless, the two quickly marry.

The novel then moves backward to give us Clara’s backstory. Raised in London by her mother as a strict Jehovah’s Witness, she rebels by carrying on a relationship with Ryan Topps, a “mod” with a scooter whom Clara regards as exciting and “dangerous.” After the two are involved in a scooter accident (which knocks out Clara’s front teeth), an ironic reversal takes place: shocked by the near-death experience and believing it a sign that he is one of “God’s elect,” Ryan becomes a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Clara, by contrast, completely loses her faith and takes up with hippies and bohemians. Amongst this company at the “End of the World” New Year’s Eve party (named so because of a Jehovah’s Witness belief that the world would end in 1975), Clara meets Archie. They eventually have a child, Irie, who remains troubled by her dual identity as she grows throughout the novel.

Unlike his daughter, Archie is completely uncurious about his origins and sense of identity. Indeed, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to describe Archie as the most boring man in the world. Strangely for a protagonist, his only distinguishing characteristic is his inability to make decisions: he always, instead, flips a coin to avoid taking any solid positions.

The novel contrasts Archie to his best friend, the Bangladeshi immigrant Samad Iqbal, the both of whom met serving in Europe during World War II. When we meet Samad, he is working as a waiter in a British Indian restaurant, a job he detests because of his educated upbringing. Samad also believes that he descends from a great lineage of Indian patriots dating back to the 1857 Mutiny against British rule. Unlike Archie, Samad is obsessed with knowing “where he comes from” and maintaining a “pure” sense of Bengali and Muslim identity despite residing in Britain. He and his wife Alsana (who were wedded in an arranged marriage) have twins, Millat and Magid, whose lives go in two completely different directions. We’ll learn more about Samad, Millat, and Magid in the assigned section.

You’ll be able to fill in the rest from here!

Emily Audible Artifact

The song I chose that relates to “Vietgone” by Qui Nguyen is called “Hit em up” from Tupac, on page 11 Quang starts rapping his freestyle he entitles “Blow em up”. When I first read the title it automatically brought me back to one of my favorite diss tracks of all time called “hit em up”. The resemblance between the two names are uncanny, especially when you start to listen to what the two songs are about. It was hard not to choose “hit em up” as the song that reminds me of this part of the book. In Tupac’s, “hit em up” he starts to rap and diss Biggie Smalls and the whole east coast. Tupac held a grudge against Biggie because of a shooting that Tupac believes Biggie was behind, so he goes after him in the best way he possibly could by expressing himself through music. Quang also talks about going to his adversaries with death in mind, for example, Quang expresses his patriotism in this passage “.. Shot up by the Viet Cong they stole my peeps freedom so I’m coming to kill them call me their arch-villain can’t stop me I’m willin to die for this vision..”, he describes his feeling towards his enemies and also gives insight into why he hates them, very similar to how Tupac speaks about his. Tupac speaks about bringing drama to the city of New York and he does not care who stands in his way as does Quang. In Quang ‘Blow em up’ freestyle, he does not hold back in admitting that he wishes to bring harm to his enemies including shooting them up. Quang has his sidekick as Tupac had his outlaw posse. The Viet Cong is Tupac “Biggie Smalls/Bad boys”. Both “Hit em up” by Tupac and “Blow em up” by Quang part from the book have too many similarities and there couldn’t be a better song that fits with Quang’s description from his freestyle in my opinion.

Serena’s audible artifact

KISS’S song “Detroit Rock City” reminds me closely of Qui Nguyen’s play “Vietgone” Qui’s parents always told him they fell in love at first sight—but really, it was just a hook up. After the fall of Saigon. In a refugee camp. In Arkansas. A kinda-true love story with a hip-hop heart.  Time Out New York called it “Exuberantly youthful… a punch-drunk mash-up of hip-hop, road movies, sex farce and Vietnamese-American history. Oh, also kick-ass fights.” I associate this play with this specific KISS song because when i hear it i think about being on the road with my friends, the person who im in love with and having the time of our lives. Its the perfect road movie song, with kiss ass scenery. The whole vibe of Vietgone is that these two characters hooked up with each other and fell in love later on along the lines. That is what KISS’s song “Detroit Rock City” is all about, getting up and going every single day, and not being worried about what IS gonna happen tomorrow.

Sam’s Artifact

The song “Glory” and the video that goes along with it reminds me a lot of the readings in the book “When Rap Spoke Straight To God”. Throughout the book Erica Dawson refers to life as a member of the black community. Whether she is mentioning struggles or commitment to a better more fair future. This music video depicts exactly that through the song. In the last class we were asked to break down page 44. This page specifically brought me to this song. In the passage on page 44 Erica Dawson speaks to pride, that one should be proud of being black, proud of the history of the black community. Later, further down the page she reiterates her message by saying one shouldn’t be afraid of being proud of their history.

This music video shows clips from the movie Selma, a movie about black history. More specifically about the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery to raise awareness for black voting rights. The song by Common and John Legend sing about historical moments in the black rights movement. Rosa Parks sitting on the bus and the march on Ferguson Missouri.

Throughout the book “When Rap Spoke Straight To God” Erica Dawson refers to life as black man or women, and this specific passage was about how being a member of the black community is something that should be honored rather than frowned upon. I feel that this song and music video go hand in hand with that message.

Neyda’s Audible Artifact

A song that I chose that relates to “When Rap Spoke Straight to God” is called “HeKnows” by Jeremy Camp. This song is a Christian/Gospel song the reason that I chose this song is because the book/ poem talks about the navigation of different belief it also talks about black lives, the tragedies of Trump, and the boundaries of being a woman, and basically the song states “he knows”, meaning that God knows everything. He is watching you, and watching every move you make, and every word that comes out of your mouth. A line that stood up to me was “how hard your fight had been” to me this shows how hard women and black people have fought against people that criticize them for who they are. For example Erica Dawson describes how a man sees women through the eyes of a man a woman is seen as a bloody new moon. This relates to a part of the song when Camp says “ We may faint and we may sink, feel the pain and near the brink, But the dark begins to shrink” to me this relates to what Erica Dawson said because as he says we may faint, we may sink, feel the pain and bear the brink, woman may feel like they may faint, they can feel the pain of all of the bad things that men may say about them but they as a women may be on the edge but they will never break down. We as women many not break

Tyleshia’s Audible Artifact

The song “Power” by Little Mix is mainly about celebrating and encouraging woman empowerment and how a woman has just as much power as men do in relationships and everything else in life. The song expresses how women are just as strong as men are and we won’t surrender without having to fight for our “control” or independence. This relates to Erica Dawson’s poem “When Rap Spoke Straight To God,” because constantly brings up topics regarding woman and how they should and shouldn’t be perceived by sharing stories with Trump as well as Eve. For example, Dawson uses the imagery of celestial objects such as skies and constellations to portray how powerful and strong a woman is. The song and poem both show strong examples of woman empowerment as well as female independence and are trying to shine a light on something that at this point should be known by everyone.

Justin’s Audible artifact

Angélica Negrón

Angélica Negrón is a composer and musician based in Brooklyn New York. She trained classically in piano and violin at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico. She then switched her degree to composition followed by a masters from NYU in musical composition. She’s composed for orchestras, chamber ensembles and incorporates various non-traditional instruments that range from hooking up electrodes to vegetables and water to music boxes she finds at flea markets. Currently she’s the artist in residence at National Sawdust composing an opera Chimera; an opera that melds drag queens that lip-sync to prerecorded opera with a chamber ensemble.

Angélica Negrón’s composition Gone—the video below—is one of her more recent pieces. It highlights her unique combinations of traditional and contemporary sounds with new technology. Gone was commissioned to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the So Percussion Summer Institute. It uses custom-made robotic instruments, traditional percussion instruments and non-traditional percussion instruments. It’s not immediately clear what exactly is creating all the sounds but as the video unfolds the process is slowly revealed. This mystery and the constant shifting rhythm creates an unease for the audience while drawing them in. By the end they’re not exactly sure what they saw but aren’t left completely the dark.

Angélica Negrón’s work dovetails with Erica Dawson’s in that they both draw from and classical forms to create new work.

Rowan’s Audible Artifact

This part of the reading really reminds me of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “the Last Prayer.” While the first part of the reading was full of visceral sex, this portion feels much more stark and full of dread. “The Last Prayer” (Prayer hereafter), has that same kind of stark feel to it, even though it is being delivered a rock concert. The absence of sound behind the speaker evokes the stark horror in the poem itself, which I very much felt in our reading. It is interesting that the speaker of Prayer is a white man, and I don’t think he has the same life experience of horror that we find in the reading, and that he speaks to in the Prayer itself, “give us this day our daily dread, at least three times a day…” In our reading, there are so many instances of “daily dread,” horror that is not only known but also expected. The juxtaposition between what is holy to the author and the real world is also mirrored in both places, although it doesn’t stay long in this passage, nor does it stay long in Prayer. There’s a bitter tone that comes into Prayer, that I felt very strongly in our reading, that said, I felt like the bitterness in our author comes from the expectation of dread and horror as described in the experiences of our reading; it’s not just the author going through harassment, her father was beaten by police and she and her siblings knew it. This lived experience of the dread and bitterness that pervades our reading, while it reminds me of Prayer, also illustrates how different it is when a poem has authenticity to back it.