Message board no longer active
This forum is no longer active. Please visit for her new forum
All Forums / Poetry / Politics / Music / Film-making / Religion / Other topics / Write a Review /
Forums  >  Other topics  >  YES in a US undergrad class on the Arab world
Author Post
at 19:07, 14 Apr 2006
Posts: 2
YES in a US undergrad class on the Arab world
Dear Ms. Potter -

I love this film!! and tango lesson is how I propose to make use of this film along with Amin Maalouf's In the Name of Identity, in a term paper assignment....I would love to write more and be in touch more. next best thing to being in cuba, I reckon...

in great appreciation and with great delight

Michael Scott (an american born raised and married in (and to) Beirut...) now living in
Gettysburg, Pa. (another battleground...)

(If the Arabic additions to the following don't come out except as gibberish, I can always fax the thing onwards.)

The Arab World العالم العربي
IDS 2235-02
Mr. Michael Scott
BMH 116 (tel 410 857 2563)
April 17, 2006
ABOUT THE FILM “YES” by Sally Potter
“I started writing YES in the days following the attacks of September 11 in New York City. I felt an urgent need to respond to the rapid demonisation of the Arabic world in the West and to the parallel wave of hatred against the United States. I asked myself the question: so what can a filmmaker do in such an atmosphere of hate and fear? What are the stories that need to be told?....”

Final Essay Topic (in lieu of final exam and/or a Country Profile paper)
due: on the last day of class.

Please consider and respond, in carefully organized and thought-out statements (3-6 pages, typed for the total), to each of the questions posed below, after reviewing your own thoughts and feelings as a result of your engagement with both:

 Sally Potter’s YES (the movie), and
 Amin Maalouf’s In the Name of Identity (the essay)
In your exposition of your responses to the questions, don’t hesitate to draw upon any other sources we have made use of in the course, or discussions we have had, should you consider elements of them to be relevant to or supportive of your main points.

Why do you think the question of identity is so central to the contemporary Arab world? (focus your response to your thoughts after having taken this course, read Maalouf, and watched “Yes”.)

Many people in the United States (and the Western world more generally) now unthinkingly associate the Arab world with violence on the one hand, and immense wealth and corruption, on the other. Arabs seem all-too-often to be viewed as being some kind of “other” people, people who somehow do not belong. Try to describe the impact you believe perceptions and attitudes such as these might have upon the cultures and society of both the Arab and the “western” worlds: theirs and ours. If you consider that these impacts are largely negative, perhaps even tragic, what would be your recommendation for altering the prevalent perceptions and attitudes in both worlds, so as to improve things overall.

Amin Maalouf spells out some criteria for what he calls “special” or “peculiar” people: persons in the world today who have “allegiances in violent conflict with one another” and who can play a special role “as bridges, go-betweens, or mediators between the various communities and cultures”. To what extent do the characters “he” and “she” in “YES” meet these criteria? Do they in fact carry out the tasks Maalouf calls upon such people to undertake: namely, to “forge links, seek compromise, eliminate misunderstanding, or smooth out difficulties”?

What is your interpretation of the significance of the way the film “Yes” ends its narrative in Cuba, and what do you imagine this would say to Amin Maalouf (or perhaps along with Amin Maalouf) about the subject of “violence and the need to belong” which he writes about in “In the Name of Identity”? What kind of “spin” would the young cleaning lady whom we see in the film in London put on the people and lives she sees the traces of in Cuba, were she employed in “her” hotel?

Amin Maalouf, writing about the process of world history over the last few centuries, starting in Europe, sees it “as a kind of fertilization – the only comparison that comes to mind: a lot of spermatozoa make for the ovule and one of them succeeds in piercing the membrane…” (pg 70). He then observes that “the question is not so much why Aztec or Islamic or Chinese civilization did not manage to become the dominant one…what matters most is what comes next.”

For extra credit, write a brief screenplay, or a screenplay outline / story board, for “the day after” the last day shown in the film’s narrative:
What happens next, after the “Yes”?

Have fun!!
... ماذا يحصل بعد نعم، يا ترى

أمعنوا وأتمتّعوا في أجوبتكم، أيها الأعزّاء!!

و ما التوفيق الا بالله

sally potter
at 13:16, 28 Apr 2006
Posts: 193
Your students are lucky. The questions you have set them are imaginative and pertinent and enjoyable. I wish I could be a fly on the wall and listen to the class discussions.
I am very glad that YES can be used in this way, and that cross-references with other work can be made.
Thank you for telling me about it.

at 14:20, 3 May 2006
Posts: 0
fly on the wall / a us undergrad class considers yes
Dear Ms. Potter / Sally,

I was of course thrilled to have you share in my excitement about presenting Yes to my "Intro to the Arab World" class.

We had our last session today and I left them with the following reading - a brief translation of excerpts from an op ed by Elias Khoury in May 1st's al Quds al Arabi (which as you know carried a full and very favorable review of Yes last August...). I think you will recognize the relevance of this thought on May Day to the ending of Yes in Cuba...

Elias Khoury's masterpiece, Gate of the Sun, a novel spun of real stories of Palestinian exodus, exile and memory since 1948, has recently been translated into English by Humphrey Davies, an Englishman with whom I studied Arabic in Berkeley many years ago...YOu will find great stories there too no doubt, perhaps worthy of your attention as a film maker, I only hope. Some of those stories appear to have been screened, through a narration from memory, in a recent palestinian-Israeli film collaboration Route 182... (or something like that as the title)

This weekend I will be reading my student's papers on Yes and Amin Maalouf's In the Name of Identity. If I find things I feel you would like to read I will obtain the student's consent and share them with you...they were very interested to know that you have a blog and could be reached in this way. I guess they don't think it possible for kids in a small US college to talk with film directors. Perhaps they were a little chuffed (is that still a current expression in the UK? I used to work for Oxfam and Save the Children, and remember it from those days when I had so many British colleagues...), I mean honored, to have been connected to you as the director of the film in any way...They certainly liked Yes, and I can guarantee you that there is no way they would have come to see it if I hadn't said it was a requirment. It is nice to have just this little bit of power as a teacher, sometimes!

Last weekend I was in Florida standing upon the mangrove swamp traces of the once-flourishing riverine civilization of the Calusa Indian nation on the Gulf coast, who most certainly traded with nearby Cuba. We wished for the ability to get a boat ride to Havana, which looks so much like the Beirut I knew in the crazy years of civil war which Simon evoked so well in the film, as well as the years of my adolesence in the pre-war period. Also, having lived in Pakistan and worked in Karachi, I was struck by the similarity of the flora and fauna there to that of the Indus valley civilization, another riverine culture. Karachi is also a sister city of Beirut, and therefore Havana, I am sure. The architecture, the sea, the humidity, the fecundity, the sexuality, the presence everywhere of death undisguised, the decrepit buildings, the wild mix of languages and cultures, the ebb and flow of civilizations and invasions, the raw beauty of the land, sea and sky and the edgy horror of the looming crisis that always seems to be brewing...

I could ramble on and on, as you see. While in Forte Myers, the place Thomas Edison escaped from it all, having invented his inventions, I watched Tango Lesson with a person who is very dear to me; together we have behind us years, no decades, of leading and following, pulling away and coming together. How eloquent and beautiful this film is - the fourth time for me to watch it. My feet ached just watching the dancing, my eyes and heart at beautiful and poignant moments we had watching the film together. She remarked at one point how the film maker in Tango Lesson looked so much like the photos of my recently deceased mother more than half a century ago when she was a young graduate student working at Duke U in North Carolina....on Virginia Wolf...and I ached and ached all over again. We then watched Black Orpheus, which seemeed a perfect combination, with the little girl dancing to the little boy's guitar bring the sun to rise over Bahia.

Anyway, I am looking forward in great faith to your next film, or project. I love the post I read f rom you about the preparations with Simon and Joan for scene 54, the incredible coinciding of the production of that amazing scene with the launch of America's horrible last gasp (as I am fairly sure history will eventually record it) as it invaded Mesopotamia, the people who invented the zero, who mean nothing to us, science, mathematics, irrigation systems, scholars, cradle of civilization (references to Patti Smith's wrenching anthem of rage "Radio Baghdad" on her CD called Tramplin'). I just cried thinking of how you all must have cried and cried over that scene at that time. And to think that the horror in Iraq only gets worse these days...even my undergraduates feel the weight of depression as we monitor the god-awful current events.

yallah, khalaas! basta. ca suffit. bas teek hai.

Here is a little bit of Elias Khouri, translated from the Arabic of al Quds al Arabi, by yours truly.

May She Give You Strength.


Just memories…

Elias Khouri May 1, 2006-05-03 al Quds al Arabi

“Has revolution become a mere memory?...

“…The photo of Che Guevara lying killed in Bolivia no longer stirs our soul or transports us to dreams of revolution in the jungles…

…Revolution today is a complex operation of re-writing the values of justice and equality. It involves resisting the prevailing discourse with a new language freed of the chains of the past. Revolution is not a linguistic matter, but it does require filling the spiritual gap left by the absence today of a new revolutionary and humanistic discourse, or language…

….We have to remember the importance of literature – the poets and writers who guard the treasure of language, and bathe it in the values of humanism – they are really all that remains of those whose voices have been veiled and silenced.

Revolution today finds its refuge in the relationship between memory and imagination that is brought to life by literature…The written word mobilizes the fragile human body to resist, and the body awaits a new text and a new target, a new destination, to forge a new dream of justice and equality.”

Brian Young
at 08:18, 4 May 2006
Posts: 28
important books, important class
Thanks for bringing these two important authors into my world. The works you mention are available at Barnes & Noble, and I have ordered them. I was not familiar with them before. I can hardly wait!
Also, your class sounds great, and I wish every college would offer similar classes, where the intent is to learn and understand with an open heart. There has been a huge increase in so called "Arabic" studies, and Arabic language offerings. But the bulk of it seems to have been motivated by the military's needs: i.e. to grease the wheels of the invasion and occupation. If the soldiers can learn to say hello in Arabic, and hand out a candy bar, then the people will accept being trampled on- so the military thinks.
We need more than ever to reach out with our hearts and minds to learn about Islamic and Arabic culture. Classes like yours are so important. I would love to hear more about how they work out for your students.
Brian Young
Page: 1