Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

RIP: Eco and Lee

February 20, 2016

Harper Lee passed away; and so also, Umberto Eco. I have to reread To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Name of the Rose. At some point, I should also read Eco’s book on writing thesis.

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Age of participation in Indian literature

March 16, 2010

A piece by G N Devy in the Hindu literary review:

Throughout the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, drama and theatre had been very powerful genres for creative expression. During the last 60 years, Indian languages have witnessed a decline in these genres, particularly in ‘ sangeet-nataka’. Its place is now occupied completely by cinema and television.

One can mention the names of Mahasweta Devi, U.R. Anantha Murthy, Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, M.T. Vasudeva Nair, A.K. Ramanujan, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, K. Satchidanandan, Nirmal Verma, Ashokamitran, Salman Rushdie, Qurtalain Hyder as the great names in literature during the last 60 years. Fortunately, their writings have not been merely the narration of a nation. Indian literature’s concern for issues larger than nationalism, the multi-lingual character of Indian creativity and the participation of wider section of society in literary creation make the last 60 years of Indian literature an important literary era. It has been the Age of Participation in Indian literature.

Link via Literary saloon.

By the way, I recently heard Prof. Devy on A Nomad Called Thief: Social Stereotypes and Violence in India — a deeply moving lectures in four parts (or, in four stories, as he called it), which taught me, among other things, that we can never understand India and her colonial history unless we closely follow what happened in contemporary England. What is more such an understanding even help us understand the current day Indian society.

Defending the act of immersing oneself in the liquid, frothy, language of literature

August 25, 2009

Poirier beautifully defends the act of immersing yourself in the liquid, frothy, language of literature as an act of freedom, an act of resistance to the ordinary, sometimes bullying language of assertion and proposition and point-making that can wall us in.

From this tribute.

A bookseller, Darwinism in nonsense literature and depictions of Dodos

March 26, 2009

Few links from Telegraph:

[1] Shyam G Menon on T N Shanbag of Strand Book Stall:

He was also sure that since Strand’s core strength was books, he would be happier with customers who came for books than for a cup of coffee. I doubt the longevity of this faith in a world ruled by business models, but I admire that man for having devoted his life to the printed word and making it accessible to more and more people. Visit the Strand website and you will know what I mean. After a mention of its founding in 1948, the highlights are on its discounts. Strand was the first in the world to offer 20 per cent discount; it now offers up to 50 per cent. The world’s biggest book chain in comparison was late to offer discounts and still does no better than 20 per cent. For me, such an approach, plenty of books and a store owner like Shanbhag, are all that matters. The cappuccino can wait.

Just this morning I was discussing with a colleague of mine about the service, sincerity and the discounts at Strand, Bangalore which made book buying such a pleasure (not to mention Kadambam next to it, as long as it lasted — which was not for too long).

[2] Somak Ghosal on Sukumar Ray and his depictions of Darwinism in his nonsense literature:

… the true force of Darwinism in nonsense literature comes through in the works of Sukumar Ray (1887-1923), the poet, printer, humorist and illustrator from Bengal. From his early poem, “Khichudi”, Ray disclosed a playfully witty, yet empathetic, understanding of the inner lives of animals. He not only created a menagerie of fantastic creatures here, but also endowed each of them with a fantasy life. In the poem, the duck (hans) fuses with a porcupine (sajaru) to become hansjaru, the caterpillar chooses to merge with the goat for mysterious reasons. Some of these strange meetings are self-conscious, as if out of some evolutionary design the best of two disparate worlds have conspired to become one: the lion with horns like the deer or the giraffe with the torso of a grasshopper. Such a mix-up, of herbivore and carnivore or winged and terrestrial beings, hints at — and parodies — an evolutionary process (like Darwin’s natural selection) that allows only the best features to endure by coming together.

The Darwinian urge in nature to favour the fittest is also explored in the figure of Kimbhut, another bizarre assembly of body parts giving rise to a hotchpotch animal. In the poem, “Kimbhut”, a sniffling, disgruntled creature longs for the voice of the cuckoo, the tail of an iguana, wings of a bird, the elephant’s snout, and the kangaroo’s legs. The end product is so fearfully ugly that it only inspires jeers. That Ray was deeply fascinated by Darwin is evident from the mini-biography he wrote for the young readers of the Sandesh magazine, which he edited. In that article, Ray explained the scientific premises of Darwin’s theories — why weaker species, unable to adapt themselves to changes in the environment, become extinct, how bodily features evolve through use and disuse.

The rationalism of this piece also pervades the origins of Ray’s nonsense animals, even though wish-fulfilment need not always bring a happy ending.

Reminds me that I should get that Rupa published translation of one of Sukumar Ray’s books (about some owl or something, if I remember correct).

[3] S G on the depictions of the Dodo:

Like the search for the most authentic portrait of Shakespeare, the debate over what the dodo looked like is yet to be over. A Dutch illustration going back to 1598 shows a gawky little creature with tiny wings like stumps, looking like a Walt Disney cartoon. In 1651, Jan Savery painted the dodo as an obese, smug bird with ugly, beady eyes. George Edwards painted it as a colourful, glamorous bird in 1759.

These striking disparities were not due to artistic errors alone. In its natural habitat, on the island of Mauritius, the dodo may have been a slim, even unremarkable, bird. When explorers started taking dodos to Europe, the birds lost touch with their natural diet. As their eating habit changed, so did their body structure. Still the bird proved inedible for humans because of its coarse, tasteless flesh. But dogs, cats, rats and pigs ate up its eggs, leading to its extinction in the 17th century.

Happy reading!

The relevance of Snow

March 26, 2009

And his Two Cultures ideas — Peter Dizikes at NY Times Book Review (link via John Hawks):

There is nothing wrong with referring to Snow’s idea, of course. His view that education should not be too specialized remains broadly persuasive. But it is misleading to imagine Snow as the eagle-eyed anthropologist of a fractured intelligentsia, rather than an evangelist of our technological future. The deeper point of “The Two Cultures” is not that we have two cultures. It is that science, above all, will keep us prosperous and secure. Snow’s expression of this optimism is dated, yet his thoughts about progress are more relevant today than his cultural typologies.

After all, Snow’s descriptions of the two cultures are not exactly subtle. Scientists, he asserts, have “the future in their bones,” while “the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.” Scientists, he adds, are morally “the soundest group of intellectuals we have,” while literary ethics are more suspect. Literary culture has “temporary periods” of moral failure, he argues, quoting a scientist friend who mentions the fascist proclivities of Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats and Wyndham Lewis, and asks, “Didn’t the influence of all they represent bring Auschwitz that much nearer?” While Snow says those examples are “not to be taken as representative of all writers,” the implication of his partial defense is clear.

Snow’s essay provoked a roaring, ad hominem response from the Cambridge critic F. R. Leavis — who called Snow “intellectually as undistinguished as it is possible to be” — and a more measured one from Lionel Trilling, who nonetheless thought Snow had produced “a book which is mistaken in a very large way indeed.” Snow’s cultural tribalism, Trilling argued, impaired the “possibility of rational discourse.”

A very interesting piece!

Telling lies, not listening to advice and being on the side of the eggs

February 18, 2009

Haruki Murakami’s Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech has some gems (Thanks to Jayan for the email pointer); here is the first sentence

I have come to Jerusalem today as a novelist, which is to say as a professional spinner of lies.

And a few paragraphs down:

Finally, however, after careful consideration, I made up my mind to come here. One reason for my decision was that all too many people advised me not to do it. Perhaps, like many other novelists, I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me – and especially if they are warning me – “don’t go there,” “don’t do that,” I tend to want to “go there” and “do that.” It’s in my nature, you might say, as a novelist. Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands.

And then this

Please do, however, allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: Rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

which reminded me of that Dostoevskian sentence:

More than that — if someone succeeded in proving to me that Christ was outside the truth and if, indeed, the truth was outside Christ, I would sooner remain with Christ than with the truth.

Murakami ends the speech with an explanation of his wall-egg metaphor (in addition to the obvious one, of course):

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically.

Take a look!

Psychoanalysis as literature

February 16, 2009

Not the first time I am hearing this idea though — Hanif Kureishi in The Independent (in a piece full of what some of you might think very foul language):

Psychoanalysis is more like poetry. It’s more like literature in its deepest sense: this is where we think about who we are. It’s not a mathematical thing.

Link via Amitava Kumar.

Solzhenitsyn: RIP

August 4, 2008

NYTimes reports on the passing away of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful works of the 20th century, died late on Sunday at the age of 89 in Moscow.
His son Yermolai said the cause was a heart ailment.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn outlived by nearly 17 years the Soviet state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” The book, a mold-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly he was being compared to giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoevski and Chekhov.

Over the next five decades, Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s fame spread throughout the world as he drew upon his experiences of totalitarian duress to write evocative novels like “The First Circle” and “The Cancer Ward” and historical works like “The Gulag Archipelago.”

“Gulag” was a monumental account of the Soviet labor camp system, a chain of prisons that by Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s calculation some 60 million people had entered during the 20th century. The book led to his expulsion from his native land. George F. Kennan, the American diplomat, described it as “the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.”

Mr. Solzhenitsyn was heir to a morally focused and often prophetic Russian literary tradition, and he looked the part. With his stern visage, lofty brow and full, Old Testament beard, he recalled Tolstoy while suggesting a modern-day Jeremiah, denouncing the evils of the Kremlin and later the mores of the West. He returned to Russia and deplored what he considered its spiritual decline, but in the last years of his life he embraced President Vladimir V. Putin as a restorer of Russia’s greatness.

In almost half a century, more than 30 million of his books have been sold worldwide and translated into some 40 languages. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

I have never read any Solzhenitsyn myself, yet. However, what I read of him and his works in a piece by Tatyana Tolstaya has convinced me that he might be a writer worth pursuing (and, it had also convinced me that Tolstaya herself is worth pursuing too). In any case, the NYTimes obituary is fairly long and detailed. Take a look!

Developing taste and critical judgment

August 2, 2008

For the past couple of days, I have been reading T S Eliot’s On poetry and poets, and am enjoying it a lot; I have finished the later sections dealing with the poets, and am reading the poetry part now. The essays are very enjoyable and are full of quotable lines, paragraphs and sections. I particularly liked the following paragraph in the essay titled Goethe as the sage:

In the development of taste and critical judgment in literature — a part or an aspect of the total process of coming to maturity — there are, according to my own experience, three important phases. In adolescence, I was swept with enthusiasm for one author after another, to whichever responded to the instinctive needs at my stage of development. At this enthusiastic stage the critical faculty is hardly awake, for there is no comparison of one author with another, no full awareness of the basis of the relationship between oneself and the author in whose work one is engrossed. Not only is there but little awareness of rank: there is no true understanding of greatness. This is a standard inaccessible to the immature mind: at that stage, there are only the writers by whom one in carried away and thsoe who leave one cold. As one’s reading is extended , and one becomes acquainted with an increasing variety of the best writers of prose and verse, at the same time acquiring greater experience of the world and stronger powers of reflection, one’s taste becomes more comprehensive, one’s passion calmer and one’s understanding more profound. At this stage, we begin to develop that critical ability, that power of self-criticism, without which the poet will do no more than repeat himself to the end of his life. Yet, though we may at this stage enjoy, understand and appreciate an indefinite variety of artistic and philosophic genius, there will remain obstinate cases of authors of high  rank whom we continue to find antipathetic. So the third stage of development — of maturation so far as that process can be represented by the history of our reading and study — is that at which we begin to enquire into the reasons for our failure to enjoy what has been found delighful by men, perhaps many generations of men, as well qualified or better qualified for appreciation than ourselves. In trying to understand why one has failed to appreciate rightly a particular author, one is seekign for light, not only about that author, but about oneself. The study of authors whose work one fails to enjoy can thus be a very valuable exercise, though it is one to which common sense imposes limits: for nobody has the time to study the work of all the great authors in whose work he takes no pleasure. This process of examination is not an effort to enjoy what one has failed to enjoy: it is an effort to understand that work, and to understand oneself in relation to it. The enjoyment will come, if it does come, only as a consequence of the understanding.

There is also at least one essay (the first one in the book), which I found quite revealing in a very personal way: it brought to me the significance of the fact that the only poetry that I am able to enjoy at its fullest are those written in Tamil (barring some religious poetry in Kannada and some simple verses in English) — a fact, which I never bothered to think about, leave alone its implications, till I read the piece.

An online Mark Twain project

June 26, 2008

About the site:

Mark Twain Project Online applies innovative technology to more than four decades’ worth of archival research by expert editors at the Mark Twain Project. It offers unfettered, intuitive access to reliable texts, accurate and exhaustive notes, and the most recently discovered letters and documents.

Its ultimate purpose is to produce a digital critical edition, fully annotated, of everything Mark Twain wrote. MTPO is a collaboration between the Mark Twain Papers and Project of The Bancroft Library, the California Digital Library, and the University of California Press.

Via Maud.