Thanks to Colin Clout for his critique of our critiques of Nadeem Aslam's essay about...hmm, well, it's still unclear to me what it's about, because, as I argued before, Aslam never comes out and says it.
As you can see, we're going in circles of meta-critique already, so I'm going to try to keep this short and focus mostly on what Colin said. Two things:
1. I complained that Aslam embeds all kinds of political ideas in this text and doesn't say explicitly whether he accepts or rejects those values. All of us here at FWFL made a similar mistake in referring to those "problematic" ideas so let me take my own advice about nonfiction writing and just come out and say it. The core question of whether a woman's cooking really IS an extension of her body is predicated on a social system in which the female homemaker silently cooks and cleans for others, often does not partake in the eating, and certainly doesn't speak up at the table. In that system, women don't have the opportunity or the right to make alternative choices or claim independent identities. No place, even Pakistan, is uniformly like that anymore, and Aslam doesn't live there anymore, so to express nostalgia for this model reflects, to my mind, a certain flippancy about feminist issues that is pervasive these days, a sense that somehow the big war is over and it's now innocuous to dabble in these stereotypes. If the '08 election taught me anything, it's that the battle is so not over.
2. Why did I go through all the trouble to rant about some questions Aslam dismisses? Not just because I take issue with the political position I read between the lines of his text but because, unlike Colin Clout, I DO think Aslam had an obligation to take a more explicit stance himself. Fiction and nonfiction are not the same and even if Aslam is usually a fiction writer, he has chosen explicitly to write a nonfiction essay, and publish it on a page--the Lives page of the NYTM--usually devoted to pieces by authors who are not professional writers. The POINT of that page is not the stylistic merit of the prose but the expression of an idea; it's the magazine's equivalent of an Op-Ed column. Also, note that the NYTM doesn't publish literary fiction, though it does publish the occasional humor sketch. So it's code is the same as the main New York Times: in fact, they share a submission guidelines page, meaning that the credentials of appropriate content are the same for both: news-hooked, fact-based and with an explicit take-away point. If Aslam does not want to write such op-eds, if he doesn't want this essay to appear as literary journalism [because it doesn't meet those standards], fine, but then really shouldn't be writing in this venue at all.
Not only because it makes for what I consider bad writing [Colin: I found the fork thing cliche]. His essay is just a short story that is autobiographically based. Even if all the events are true [and I'm not convinced they are] it's fiction masquerading as nonfiction, by virtue of the fact that Aslam rejects the codes of journalistic practice. The more fiction writers and critics do this [and Colin, you're doing it when you lump non-fiction as a parenthetical after fiction], the more license there is for journalists to disregard the facts and be wishy-washy about the main thrusts of their arguments. As a journalist who, narcissistically enough, considers journalism to be a public good, I worry about essays like Aslam's as leeches on a social institution.