A View from Partenia

Posted: 14 November 2004 - 9:14am

Like Ishmael, the narrator in "Sophie's Choice" invites us to call him by a nickname, Stingo, and this is the first thing we learn about the narrator. The second thing that he tells us in the film is that "I wanted beyond hope or dreaming to be a writer, but my spirit had remained landlocked, unacquainted with love and a stranger to death."

He nearly swoons as he says "hope," and behind him, as the camera watches Stingo through the bus window, a sailor kisses a woman. His face is lost in hers, reminiscent of the couple in Time Square on V-E day, and perhaps this other man is acquainted with love and knew death.

But Stingo's hopes are to find these things "in a place as strange as Brooklyn."

Marx supposedly told the workers to seize the means of production. For a writer those means are ways to set words down, and in 1990 I found those means in a place as strange as Silicon Valley. While browsing through a secondhand electronics store, a permanent yard sale under roof and glass, I saw an attractive second-hand computer in a display case and reached for my checkbook. Five hundred dollars later I had an XT, 8088, with a 10 MB hard drive, a 5-1/4 inch floppy drive, and an orange and black 14 inch diagonal Hercules screen, and I was in business!

Today as I sit before my 21-inch flat screen, failing as it is after five years of almost daily use, a R/W CD burner that holds 60 times more than the XT, and a hard drive that holds 27 GB. And three computers later, I struggle the same keyboard layout.

It has been pretty much the same thing since the typewriter was perfected and the first hammer keys banged against paper and inked lead put images onto newsprint. Today my cable modem seems to create great feats, while tomorrow it will show its feet of clay as some newer technology and tool sweeps it aside and into the dustbin of history.

It is tempting to think we are living at the end of history. Author, historian, and Harvard Business School professor Deborah Spar asks us not to be so ready to rush to any pronouncements along that line and I include a URL about her book "Ruling the Waves" that allows us to look inside electronically.


And we can read an article by her as well


When I heard her speak at a lecture, I vividly recall her first chapter and first words which were about the View from Partenia, a word it seems my spell checker just choked on and which I had to just now add manually to my dictionary of the weird words I use. It seems a troublesome bishop - they're always troublesome, just ask Henry II of England - was a thorn on the side of the Catholic Church. He was a French bishop named Jacques Gaillot, and my spell checker doesn't like his name any more that it did Partenia and which I have now manually rectified.

Gaillot's ideas were unpopular with the higher ups in the Church, so to silence him they moved him to Partenia where he now preaches?


Professor Spar explains that Partenia is a throwback - a name of a place somewhere in Africa. It was that uncharted, unmapped and unexplored area - a place yet to be Christianized and when Gaillot was sent to Partenia, he was sent into the vapor as all of Africa today is known, so there is no use for Partenia. Yet for all that, as we see, Gaillot in a brilliant flash of insight knew that he's just become the first Catholic Bishop of cyberspace. Instead of silencing him, they have him a fulcrum to uplift the dialogue of the world.

It is said, like children, women should be seen and not heard and while we hear from women these days, all too often its is ventriloquy with some ideological agenda that is not in the interests of women, but in this way those in power can point to a female and say "well a woman said it," so therefore women must be agreeing with things not necessarily in their best interests.

I am not sure that my views are reflected by today's media. Certainly it is shrill. Maybe it is because people feel they must shout to be heard about the din.

In my undergraduate introductory course in Anthropology, my professor suggested we were moving toward a post-literate world. My professor was amazed that her virtually illiterate housekeeper seemed to have a bead on everything and when pressed it was not that the housekeeper was mentally incapable, it was that she did not read, but television gave her a means of understanding. In "Fahrenheit Four Five One" and in "1984" we see how history gets rewritten and largely reduced to an oral tradition. Even our paper ballots, as we saw in the recent election, are now part of an oral tradition.

Yet the written word stubbornly refuses to die and I suppose that is because there is something so very organic about the printed page.

Like Stingo, beyond all hope and dreaming, I want to be a writer and hopefully one of those places will be Mediagirl.