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A Blank Page and the Battle of the Pyramids

Hello. I thought I would check in with you before I finish my last paper before Spring Break.  My job is to prove to the professor that I understand where the Modern Period terminology in the Middle East comes from and what it means. The first part of my essay is actually a look at the year 1798 as the beginning of the “Modern” period in the Middle East – but strickly according to European standards. 

            Of course, the essay had to get tedious to show an understanding that the term "Middle East" is based on a Eurocentric point of view, and indeed “Modern” is a European term as well.  Many historians claim that a "Nation-State" (another European concept) becomes “modern” when they become Europeanized. So, one breaking point in the history of the area is in the year 1798, when Napoleon defeated the Egyptian Mamluk forces at the battle of the Pyramids. He was basically fighting in the interest of disrupting the British route to India. (as you know, the British were utterly obsessed with India, and wanted a safe route to what they claimed was their jewel and their crown.) So, Napoleon found a way to at least complicate British passage to India. 

          After that, Egypt was heavily influenced by European military and technological advances – Europeanizing Egypt —  bringing it into the “modern” period.  After a semester in a famous Middle East professor’s class (Rashid Khalidi) about the entire region we’re now invading, it becomes apparent that we Westerners will probably never leave the Middle East alone. It’s not about passage to India anymore (or cotton or wheat) as it is for our oil that somehow got under their sand.  

            So as I sit with the last page of my paper still blank, with the fear that my professor might tear my essay into shreds, cast me off as a dunce and instruct me never to set foot on Columbia campus again, I thought I’d check in with you. And, behold. It works.  I’m feeling calmer already.   

            Although I’m not the writer in the family (that was Hunter’s job), all this staring at the page today makes me think of one of my favorite, wretched characters from Fire In the Nuts, Harrison Fieler.  The character wants to be a writer, and has been working on a novel (off and on) and decided that it wasn’t any good (he hadn’t touched it in four months anyway).  So, once again, he tries to start a new one:


            He felt intensely literary, sitting there in his underwear, all alone in the middle of Greenwich Village.  How many others had trod the same path?  Wolfe? O’Neill? Who else? Well, there was Bodenheim.  Jesus.  Anything but that.
            He forced Bodenheim out of his mind, trying to concentrate on a plot, even a subject.  The army?  He’d always wanted to write a story about the army, really blast the bastards.  Maybe satire; he had a flair for satire.  Yeah, that was it – pit an oddball against the system, and rip the army to bits.
            Now he could see himself in Andre’s.  Casually mentioning the story he’d just finished.  They probably wouldn’t believe him – he never paid any attention to those bums who were always talking about the great novels they were writing, the fabulous paintings they had in the works – but when he came in flashing the check, huge and beautiful from one of the slick magazines, they’d fall all over him.  He could see it now: discussions of his work in the quarterlies, himself back home on vacation, parties in his honor, soft lips spilling secrets into his ear – he’d have it made.
            The page was still blank, as he forced himself to concentrate…
Hunter S. Thompson, Fire In The Nuts


You may have read that story in the limited edition that was printed before Hunter died – there were 176 copies printed by steam press. This summer, I published it  in the The Woody Creeker birthday edition.  Ralph did the drawings for both the book and the mag.  Yep, they worked together ‘till the very end.  And they are still working together.

 I’ll check in when I get home, provided my flights take off as planned.

Until next time, your friend, thinking about the Egyptian Mamluk forces being defeated by Napoleon in 1798,

Anita Thompson






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