Abe Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi Get Drunk in Heaven:
Al-Exie Poses a Question
A "Mini-Crit" by E.
The new work by Charman Al-Exie demonstrates once again the incessant
orientalization of the contemporary literary regime. A transvaluation
of hegemonies takes place as the great emancipators square off over
a case of Merlot in a white gazebo in the Elysian Fields. Nearby, a
group of Vikings on an outing from Valhalla spar on the grass:
"`Whyr ye gehen, Olaf?'
`Tye murther the', auild sperit'" (48).
The barbarians bandy about in the author's own interpretation of a proto-skandic
dialect. Our confusion is their confusion: seen through the eyes of
the besotted freedom fighters, we are forced to the world as othered,
a hellish reminder of the real world made indifferent by the novel's
setting in heaven. The author risks, here, destroying suspense, but
seems not to care: such lineralities are unbecoming the silenced; he
has created his own feminalities, displayed by Gandhi and Lincoln's
drunken disorientation, the feminization of all rule breakers historically.
Honest Abe's dream of being raped by Uncle Sam drives the point home:
Uncle Sam lifted Abe easily onto the roof of the
school. The cool chat felt rough against Lincolns'
distended facial mole. Uncle Sam removed Abe's pants,
pulled down his long, woolen underwear.
"This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt
you," Uncle Sam said gruffly; patriarchally, he swayed
slightly on his huge stilts as he entered Abe's lanky
Uncle Sam maintains his patriarchy while at the same time having his
way - indeed, because he has his way.
Lincoln's innocence, his bestial purity, just like the nation's, is
lost through this single, violent act. It can never be undone, and it
has established the ancient dictum of racism in the womb-like rectum
of that symbol of the nation's progress. Al-Exie determines the nuances
of the deepest recesses of American life and explodes them, leaving
no crevice unchecked here, no motion unrebutted.
Gandhi, meanwhile, is orientalized by the Viking's football match.
They play in their full armor with a cowhide for a ball, throwing the
appropriation of the oriental game back into the face of the devout
south asian. This time, Al-Exie pounds it into his reader's brains when
the ball spins off the impromptu court and into the gazebo, smashing
Gandhi in the head and giving him a slight concussion. Western colonization
temporarily wipes out the short-term memory of the colonized; as culture
is appropriated by the colonizers, the colonized forget themselves,
othered by the colonizer's brutality into cultural nonentities, unable
ever to defeat the Western hegemonic ruler since self-sense is itself
a function of socio-cultural structuralism(s).
As usual, the Vikings resume play, leaving Gandhi disoriented and in
pain. In order to set his mind right, he'll have to recreate all that
was, but it will never be the same as blurry vision, a lack of concentration
and bouts of severe self-hatred will haunt him the rest of his time
The novel's ending poses some problems. Gandhi and Lincoln are banished
from heaven for drinking. Instead of winding up back on Earth, where
they might do some good and threaten Americo-Christian hegemony, they
are sent directly to hell in a scene reminiscent of Cotton Mather. Rather
than continue to burn in eternal hellfire, though, Gandhi and Lincoln
conclude that heaven is a Western-Imperialist construct anyway, developed
primarily to keep the oppressed in their place. Because of this, the
distinctive duo are able to live happily ever after despite the cacophonous
torture of all the lost souls around them.
The problem, of course, is that the narrative de-mythologizes the illusion
of heaven and hell, and the former's assumed superiority, and replaces
it with another: that of the pat, upbeat Hollywood ending - right down
to Lincoln and Gandhi riding hellhounds off into a sunset of molten
sulfur. Is Al-Exie trying to suggest the inevitability of Capitalist
appropriation? Is he trying to intimate that we're not there yet, or
does this represent simple backsliding on an otherwise uncompromising
Al-Exie, Charman. Abe Lincoln and Gandhi Get Drunk in Heaven.
New Haven: Viking, 2000.