Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poet & Martyr

My love affair with poetry is an old one and one that I don't regret. From this position, one gets rewards, sometimes after much waiting. And one of the poets I must not forget to mention is Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Passolini is famous, mostly for his cinema of poetry, but here I must talk about his poems.
I read his Roman Poems first, a few years back and I would like to draw some attention to these. Passolini always considered himself a Poet...first and foremost. His fame and reputation in Italy are legendary. To quote Ben Lawton, in his preface to Pasolini's Heretical Empiricism if Norman Mailer, Capote, Gore Vidal, Paglia, Madonna, Scorsese, Spike Lee, Michael Moore and Chomsky were rolled up into a single person, one might begin to get the idea of the impact Pasolini had on Italian society. But then, Lawton is writing for an American audience, America, a place which Pasolini only visited once and was amazed to find no Marxists in.

The title's of his Poems are worth mentioning. Memories of misery, The privilege of knowing, The desire for wealth of the roman lumpen proletariat and Sex, consolation for misery, to mention a few. His poems reflect what he saw, the ugliness and the displacement of people, a passionate depiction of those who are dispossessed and desperate. In other words, Pasolini is a real poet because his theme is important. There is no mystery as to who he was.....he called himself a Catholic Marxist, if one can be that. Pasolini wrote with candour, openness, fearlessly and then paid the price for doing that.

I think that pasolini's art is well expressed in The weeping of the excavator. The Poet begins thus:
It is only loving, only knowing that matters, not having loved, not having known. He finds that the soul doesn't grow thus. After this image, Pasolini finds a river strewn with lights echoing mystery, misery. This vision, this knowing makes him an enemy of the forms of the world. The truth is that he sees dark market places, sad streets by river docks. And the silence he finds is deadly. inspite of this desolation, this poverty, the poor are spurred on by a festive excitement, gossiping with loud voices. But to survive, one must be tough and ready in the confusion of the streets. Yet, Pasolini does not resent living in this street but finds in it the eternal colour of summer, to have the world before my eyes and not just in my heart, even though a moon dying in the silence that lives on it. After this we have images of boys and men returning home, counting wages with sweaty hands under festoons of lonely light, towards their alleys choked with darkness and garbage. It is this light step that pasolini really loves.
The imagery in this poem is at once bare, dark and conveys despair, a weeping. That sinister effect is his forte. For Pasolini, the world doesn't possess even a consciousness of misery. The poems reflect the poverty of the surroundings he saw and grew in. Thus Pasolini is not just a great poet but an important poet. To see and describe ennui, Pasolini , unlike say Eliot does not need to go into rooms where women come and go. We are talking of a social, a political act and in this scheme of things, Pasolini is the master. Perhaps, one can only be Pasolini in Italy or on more fertile earth unlike somewhere say in America or even England.

However, Pasolini is not always politics though he usually is. His poem prayer to my mother, sung by Diamanda Gallas is extremely tender. You are the only one in the world who knows what my heart always held, before all other love. you are my mother and your love is my bondage. i beg you, don't desire death. i don't want to be alone. i have an infinite hunger for love, for the love of bodies without souls.

When one reads his poems, one finds all of life's colours portrayed equally, within the space of that necessity.

I find it difficult to narrate the power of his other writings. A very good beginning is his Heretical Empiricism, a collection of critical essays on Cinema, Literature and Politics. I will end with these lines, from the day of my death, a short poem in which Pasolini describes an image stunningly and also perhaps foretells his tragic death.

under a warm green linden i will fall into my death's darkness
scattering linden and sun.
the beautiful boys will run in that light that i have just lost, flying from school
with curls on their brows.

Pasolini is an important poet, one who wrote against the forms of this world, after having recognized those, forms that many don't, ever.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On Smoking

Smoking is one of those afflictions that one keeps close to one's heart. In fact, I often wonder whether it is more a reward than an evil. Cling as we do to opinions that are mostly facile and often useless, I am not writing a defense for smoking. I am not even trying to eulogize smoking. I am trying here to recapture a sunset, some snow, a swing of memories, smoke that rises from burning cigarettes, sand that falls, tears that dry.

Smoking cigarettes is nothing less than art in itself. From the moment when a cigarette adorns ones lips till it is lit up, everything that happens is as rewarding as poetry or as useless as words on sad paper. Each act of lighting a cigarette is an affirmation, an act of rebellion. It is nothing less than philosophical speculation, nothing short of asking questions, always stretching the point.

The act of smoking is an act of solitude. After midnight, near break of day, when night has just died and the sun has won, when vain attempts at sleeping have given in to a kind of dull acceptance, the act of smoking is an enactment of a primeval urge, a returning back to acts of selfishness, of Adam and Eve, of a kind of war, a kind of peace.

Certain cigarettes are symbolic acts, of revenge against the self and another. Some relieve pain and so much suffocation while some kill off silence, that unjust silence. The glowing end, the smoke that rises and rises and then fades, these are outwardly equivalents of a dew inside that has dried, a beating that is getting fast, a noise, a ridiculous attempt to express.

Since there is waiting and no end to that, since there are distances and no end to those, since at best poetry is without edge and nights are without end and long forgotten faces have started to make a comeback in dreams, that enemy, that friend, that cigarette calls.

It is thus when night has spread unjustly, when all our lights have dimmed and died down, when the snow that is falling is returning us to innocence, that a solitary cigarette lights up a familiar world. It is on these edges, outside such memories that hope lingers and burns while lips fume.
Smoking a cigarette is an act of memory, of unselfish pride, of love.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Rupture Of Language

Tonight, I have been told by a dear friend, that language must rupture, language must end. language is the problem, language is everything.

Since neither this night nor any language is showing signs of any such thing, I must end here.
But I have promised to try.

The Illusion Of Release

I have felt like waves washing over me,
releasing me from doubt, from the tidal
pain of moon.
I have felt washed at shore, left, abandoned
from the hum of doubt, never before has
loneliness seemed so sweet.
I lie limp but awake, these ripples in my mind
no longer seethe.
All my questions have been answered, my loves
rewarded, the pain of each seperation erased
from memory.
What was it that hung on me, carried me to this shore
so dark?
What stung the moon and drove mad those waves?
This silence is no reward, again these doubts!
Take me back, take me to my ledge
of words and thoughts, where the tides fall back
and recede and rise again.
I want forgiveness for asking, even for writing.
Give me night that lives me, uncertain action.
Give me reasons that I shall heed or drive me deep
into that deep rictus, which the moon prepares
for all these dark imaginings, for those who love
to simmer in the fires of doubt, of unreason
and so much haste for love or unreason.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thomas Bernhard And The Monotony Of Repetition

It seems to me, after reading Correction, that Thomas Bernhard only wrote one novel. I have read his yes, old masters too and intend to read a few others. But if I start comparing the loser with Correction and with yes, then I am actually forced to come to this conclusion.

The Benhardian oeuvre, if there is something like that, is repetition - the style, the substance, the theme, the story. There is almost no difference between Correction and The loser.
In both novels, Bernhard's themes are suicide, a destructive, repetitive obsession and an unhealthy lack of perspective on the protagonist's part. The suicide has happened before the story begins. If in one it is Wertheimer, in the other Roithaimer. Notice the almost similar name. Both these men are almost in incestuous relations with their respective sisters. Wertheimer even kills himself in front of his sisters house, while Roithaimer kills himself inspite of her.
In the loser, the obsession is with the Goldberg varaition whilst in Correction it is with the cone. The style of both novels is similar,the repetitive pattern the same, so Wetheimer, so Roithaimer, so.

The narrator is a friend of the supposed hero, now dead. The narrator speaks to us, so we can assume he is alive or chooses to be so.
I think the major difference between the two novels is in that while the loser is infinitely more funny and makes one laugh, Correction is not so. Both books are well written but similarly written.

My other point is this: how is the reader supposed to know that to know the loser we must know who Glenn Gould is and we must know Wittgenstein to try to understand the cone in correction. Why should the reader bother so much? Are not our lives convoluted enough without these games?
What then is the purpose of Bernhard's obsessive style?

As a way of writing, it is fantastic. But what is the message? That Bernhard did not end his own life means that the suicides in his novels are acts perhaps of men without hope, lost in their unhappy unhealthy obsessions, detached from the opinions and rules with which others want to live.The main characters fail to inspire confidence. They do not even pretend to be metaphysically ill. Their rhetoric is nauseating. They are narcissistic. I do not trust them.

As caricatures of society, the novels will definitely live. As everlasting art, I mean really great literature, I fail to understand how and why. There are usually comparisons between Kafka and Bernhard. Kafka's heroes are usually perplexed because they cannot understand what is going on, while in Bernhard, the hero thinks he knows too much. In Kafka, the problems arise from the surroundings into the protagonist, whilst in Bernhard the problems arise from the heroes into the surroundings. Apart from the fact that both wrote in German, any other comparison is superfluous.

Bernhard is a great novelist, poet. But one must ask I actually know any Wertheimer in real life?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Manuel Puig : Pop Art Or Pain Unlimited

Serendipity gives pain and pleasure, perhaps not in equal manner, but it gave me the blood of requited love, many restless hours, sleepless nights, heart pain and such wondrous delight that, for once, I thought I was lucky.
I am referring to the blood of requited love, this masterpiece that makes me want to re -read it again and again. Written by the Argentinian novelist Manuel Puig, it cemented his reputation as one of the best writers in any language, in any world.
This novel is a Socratic dissection of a love affair, told from the perspective of lovers from the distance of time in a dialogue form. It is simultaneiusly a deconstruction, a relentless dissection of this same love, again from the same lovers perspective but now, with a different slant. The result is a new fiction of love, about their love and new explanations for not taking the right steps. The book is in questions and answers, written in a prose that borders on the sublime.
This novel is not just an exercise in the craft of writing, it is a parody of language, of the language used by the main actors. It, to me, was also a parody of their love or their efforts to call it so. That there is sometimes an adolescent clamour for dandy love is effectively parodied here. Our hero Josemar, having high ambitions, gets involved with a blonde of middle class sensibility, called Maria. I am not sure whether Josemar loves her always, but he does love her. Maria, we are told, has lost her senses and thus all love, either for josemar or because of him.
There is no doubt that Josemar is ruthless, twisted, selfish, a kind of a brute. But Josemar is a lover too. In the end, one wishes that the story should have ended differently, because this love seems real, because they speak of a love.
The language as I mentioned earlier is exceptional. However, the over riding effect is of an elegy but not a dirge. It is moanful but not a wail, it is sad but not depressing. The genius of Puig lies in elevating Josemar's love to a complexity, of such beauty that one feels sorry for love and lovers in general. There is a common or unintelligent impression that the protoganists convey, about their haste, their animal instinsts and so on. The beauty of the prose elevates their animal coupling to enviable high art.
At the same time, the style mimics the language and sentiments of a person that I would not want to know in reality. Yet, the heartache that this love gave me and the new language it celebrates is Puig's success.
When was the last time you saw me?
This is how it begins and this is how it ends. My impression of this book is of enormous sad love, fullness of heart in its fullness of heartache, unhappy love, unhappy fun. After each lusty selfish thought, Josemar reflects and his reflections are sad, unhappy.
The book ends where it begins, with construction and deconstruction of similiar questions.
This is the work of a supreme artist, of such excelling quality that it makes other great fiction look feeble and weak.
Most of my impressions about writer's I read or have read so far are actually informed from prejudices that are native to me. Readers of these posts can make that out. One tries to single out sorrows that one likes, leaving brilliant pain untouched. Such is life, often. Yet, one tries to leave such weaknesses behind, albeit unsuccessfully most times. I don't often investigate the lives of writer's i read, or scholarly works about them. Life doesnt permit that and anyway, I am too lazy. Though, if a writer loves murder, loves genocidal mayhem or undoes recorded facts, then I prefer to not hear those words.
However, in this instance, I tried to know more about Puig after reading this novel.
Puig has been called as a writer of pastiche, combining dialogue with B-grade movie scripts, and sometimes footnotes to challenge the authority of narration. Puig challenges memory, the authority of memory. A critic felt that Puig uses Lacanian psychoanalysis in his narrative fiction, but I am mistrustful of such analysis, always. Puig is Latin America's first great writer. Puig invented a new art form, one that gave language to street love and makes it admissible to discuss it in the same breath as bourgeious art.
Rene campos calls Puig's novels the poetics of bolero, and equates his style to this dance form. Well, I am not an expert in bolero, suffice it to say that in the end, Puig trivializes what I call street junk love, movie-given wisdom, cinema acquired vanity and makes us hear that language with such vitality that one sighs for the man, wretched though he is.
Even though Puig is better known for his kiss of the spider woman and betrayed by rita hayworth, I read the blood of requited love first, it was star given reward. The other two novels are really fine as well but I decided to mention this one as it was my first Puig.
Perhaps Puig is not for readers who like this now boring alienist fiction and nicely worded sentences, who like descriptive chaos, Freudian jingoism, existential angst as intellectual food and Post modernist surreal phoney art.
Puig is for those whose nights require words, whose beaches are littered with coke cans, whose love is suppressed in letters half written, in the language of manic unrest, in every unrealizable promise, in every undone ambition.
This fiction is for those who live the melodrama of movie stars, who live that phoney love, that cheap five pound movie ticket. This novel is for people who like elegies written on the back of movie tickets, poems in public places and love notes hidden in cheap toffee wrappers.

Mempo Giardinelli: Sultry Moon

It had been my intention to talk about this great novella for a while, and since there has been a flurry of interesting observations about more famous Latin american writers, I thought I should discuss this novel here.
Mempo Giardinelli is an Argentinian novelist. His opinions are well respected. But, my interest is in his sultry moon.
sultry moon is written at a break-neck speed. It is an opiate dream. It disconcerts, it hurts, it amazes. Seemingly written like a thriller, it is not a thriller. The events unfold at such a speed, with such fantastic vigour that one has to finish the novella in one reading. That the language is terse, tense, poetic and so economical is a lesson to the accumulating wastes of other fiction everywhere.
Normally, one sympathizes with the protoganist or hates him or her. But not here. The feeling after reading the book is a kind of unsettling confusion, a psychotic daze. The main actor, Ramiro Bernandez commits a crime. Then he is on the run.
The title, quite brazenly, suggests that the moon was perhaps responsible for his act. Yet, in a more mesmerizing manner, Giardinelli does not reveal his sympathies. If there are allegories or metaphors here, they are obvious. The events unfold against the backdrop of the military junta ruling Argentina in the eighties.
However, the writer does not suggest the innocence of Ramirez or the brutality of the Police as obvious elements in such times. The most obvious lesson is that anyone can commit an atrocity, not just monsters. Battles of conscience, morality, love, lust, moon's heat or pure aggression, you have it here.
Thriller as an allegory, detective genre as a technique of subduing words, yes, this book succeeds, it wins. This novel is not what it seems it is. It glitters, it shines, it lights up desolations at night. For those unfamiliar with Giardinelli, what better baptism, what better fires?

I must end by quoting this passage, one of the many gems in this book.
Hell, on top of it all to become melancholy at this stage of the game, forever, into an outlaw, Who would have thought it? But why should he think any more. The heat was to blame, that heat that enhanced the possibilities of death. It imparts variety to its forms. The heat, it seems, searches inside of you without your realizing it. But it causes death, that old thing that is always renewed like the great rivers.
He sat on the bed and took a gulp of the coke they had......................

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Moment Of Poetry

A feeling of old has returned suddenly,
one that often meant, in the past
the birth of a poem.
These waters rise, like now,
but out of tune with the moon.
These waters simmer too and spill over
on pages, bare like skin.
Words hang around, some consistent with my ill's,
some not so,
and some desert me, like now, as I was almost on the verge
of poetry.
I have recognized this moment of unease and it's
unhappy jazz many times,
and many times too, like now, I have sung harsh odes.
I have lost the fizz of this water, right now
I feel my date with words went suddenly wrong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pale Fires And Other Deceptions

Pale Fire, that fantastic novel written by Nabokov, should perhaps be the first novel that students of literature must read. Though there are many reasons, the most important one is that it will prevent us from over -analyzing or over -interpreting any work of art.

The fantastic paraphrase that Charles Kinbote, John Shade's friend and biographer indulges in, is nothing short of a diatribe, a rhetorical allegory of the poet's life. The constant self references, the almost paranoid explanations of the I, I and the me , me is a reflection of the attitude that we so often take when we read novels or poems or watch movies.

How could Kinbote actually know what Shade was thinking of, when he wrote that particular line or this one. The steely almost comical way he suggests so is Nabokov at his scathing best.
We have been forced to accept not only the greatness of certain writers but we have been told who not to read.This suffocating cultural imperialism , nothing short of a malaise of the intellect is an overwhelming force in literary circles and outside of those.

How can we assume to ever get under the skin of any writer when we don't even know who we are........from time to time, we change from childish monsters to poetic freaks, from sad eyes to happy thoughts.......from hapless chimeras to absurd dreams.

And yet, we claim to have understood this writer because we have read him extensively, because that translation was great, because I liked his words, because he is considered a great writer and so on. Novels written ages ago or now cannot reflect but a mood, a phase, a concern or at best, an attitude. Most novels that are considered great have become greater now, after having been made so by the Kinbote's of this world.

I am not trying to even think of questioning any work here, for I leave that to serious students of drama and art, one of whom considers this blog as an exercise in dilletantism. But I do find that one cannot actually comment on the worth of any novel or poems because to do so would be a brave man's job.

In this respect, Pessoa deserves credit as he wrote from four different perspectives and yet, it was he who wrote. Any misdemeanour on the others part is his mistake.
It is also important to remind oneself that most great writers took puny selfish positions when it came to taking political stands, people like Sartre and so on, who revelled in arm chair humanism and promoted confusion about their views.
Isn't it just plain delusional thinking to actually thus interpret and understand any book? I mean we can try to, we can live that music, hum that tune, but

It is in this context that I was reminded of Pale Fire, and perhaps I should end by saying that I admire it without understanding any other motive on the writer's part, apart from the most obvious one which I just mentioned.

Having indulged in such rhetoric myself, we sufferer's from words must go on and read more. I will end by quoting from Correction, this monster masterpiece by Bernhard, reflecting my Bernhard phase, which too will pass.

At certain points in our existence we break off the nature of our existence and proceed to exist only on books, in written stuff, until we again have the opportunity to exist in nature, very often as another person, always as another person. we take refuge in reading, and live for a long time in our books, a more undisturbed life. i have lived half my life not in nature but in my books as a everything we think and fill our own life and that we hear and see, perceive, we always have to add: the truth, however is that uncertainty has become a chronic condition with us. When we think, we know nothing, everything is open, nothing, so Roithamer.The nature of the case is always something else, so Roithamer.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Nizar Kabbani: Poetry Of Love

Old fashioned love poetry has its own merits, even if love doesn't. we must learn to celebrate love or talk about its blindness. In a world of haste and existential angst, fashionable writers and their avantgarde readers, who pack avantgarde cinema halls showing black and white movies, the odes to love and of love are being forgotten. Thank heavens for the voice of the Syrian Poet Nizar Kabbani. Even though he was not always a poet of love, he took up love poetry as an independent poetic theme.

I love you but I do not play the game of love , writes Kabbani. His love is unselfish, for Love's sake. I am only a poet, all my wealth is in your beautiful eyes. The love he loves attacks me like a wild animal. He suffers thus, drinking the water of his sadness.
If I am asked for papers, I show them your eyes. However much he might suffer, he will not complain. The cups do not complain of holding too much wine. He keeps on loving, because I wrote your name on the notebooks of rain.

Kabbani will not teach us how to love. Love has no notebooks, the greatest lovers in history did not know how to read. He longs for his lover, for a kiss. His love is jealous too. Everyman who kisses you after me will discover above your mouth the small grapevine that I planted. But he does not hunt his lover. He is not a stalker, an obsessive lover. He is the lover.

But he writes, to undress myself. When Kabbani writes, he separates from history. Yet he suffers and pleads release. Let me live, give me a chance, to meet a new woman, to cut the braids of your hair, wrapped around my neck.
My love for you is a law I wrote. your task is to remain my lover. But, he understands that it is poetry that will bring release. Follow him without hesitation, it is not important that you belong to me or him, but that you belong to poetry.

Kabbani is a great poet, a poet who talks in a delectable, artistic and surreal language. There is some Neruda , some Lorca there. One discovers a fantastic gift of expression, of the art of inventing mirages out of dust, of rivers from falling rain.

My poetry and your face are two pieces of gold. I am still confused, who is the prettiest?
Kabbani the political man wrote Bread, hashish and moon, but he hated to be classified into a genre. He liked being called a mixture of freedom.

The excellent translation of his love poems, by Frangieh and Brown help in understanding the voice of this great Arabic poet, one who wrote....
Nothing protects us from death
except woman and writing.

I return time and again to his poems, after I return from a tussle with other words. For those who haven't discovered Kabbani yet, I envy the joy of that first reading.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Sadness Of Distances

Distances, wrote Marina Tsvetaeva, have disbanded us.

I am talking about geographical distance, the politics of seperation, the aesthetic of parting, the pain of distances. Tsvetaeva is talking about political exile, while I refer to the ordinary or a different separation from those we love, on this odyssey called life or deathward existence as Bernhard wrote.

Separations have reasons, and unbeknowest to us, they lead to distances so irreconcilable that even the epic efforts of Ulysses won't help. We prepare nights of parting, in the centre of that night, we lie down, restless, justifying reasons, reasons to leave the one's we love, justifying false justifications. The soft wound that we leave behind, the softness of that wound, that wound that we just created, becomes difficult to heal as we put more nights between us.

Then in a place far away, far away from that familiar music, those songs, that music, we hear another drone, not music but silence, for this is the speech of silence, the noise not music of distances, the sullen silence of this new noise, but not music.
Partings have no shame, they are shameless affairs, unhealthy, malignant, shameless affairs, just too sad, too dangerous, without justifications, without any music. Partings are sad affairs, so unashamedly sad, so dangerously unmusical.
Then the days become nights into days, we grow into different people, under the difference of new music, there being less snow here than there, less snow, more wind, less music, more night, more dark, less snow, more silence.

And they have changed too, under a different sun, under a different skin, with more distance upon distance, with no reason to justify these false justifications, these unmusical separations, this loud distance, these long nights.

Tsataeva says that distances have disrupted us, disbanded us......and dispersed, dissected and displaced us. These distances, or the reasons might be different from the more ordinary, more romantic ones that I have in mind, but physical distance nonetheless.
The smile and face of a familiar place is like an extension of one's own self, like a finger, a hand, the throbbing of an eyelash, the beating of a heart, it melts into the iris like a warm promise, like a sunny day. And we lose all this after we lose all that.

Distances heap thickness on the eyes, they harden hearts, they make us languish at desires edge, at tomorrow's dawn. Distances thicken hands and lips, making tongues lisp, throats lose music. Distances give sorrow and pain.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Pianist at Istanbul Restaurant

The Pianist at Istanbul restaurant
sits in her corner, surrounded by candles
and light guffaw, laughter and dim lights,
as I look at her from my table
as she begins to play her notes,
that fall on my ears, ears unmusical and deaf.
The music she plays scatters everywhere,
as I look at her neat blonde hair and her sad eyes,
as she plays her music that falls on my ears,
ears unmusical and deaf.
And I wonder why she is so sad and what is she thinking about
as I sip my bitter lemon and as she plays her music
that falls on my ears, ears unmusical and deaf.
And I think I will never know why her eyes are so sad
as the candle on my table burns to extinction.
As she plays and I sip my bitter lemon,
and I think why is she so sad and why won't I ever know that.
And why is it always so that my candle burns to extinction
as I sip my bitter lemon and she plays her music that falls
on my ears, ears unmusical and deaf.
How beautiful she looks and how sad her eyes are,
I think I know that I will never know why her eyes are so
sad as I sip my bitter lemon and she plays her music
that falls on my ears, ears unmusical and deaf.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Beautiful Mad Music : The Loser, Thomas Bernhard

I find it difficult to describe the feelings I had while reading the loser, that monster novel by Thomas Bernhard. It is like being in a pincer grip, only one doesn't want to be released from this strangle. I actually wanted to suffer while reading this book, thinking perhaps that I had failed to comprehend that my deterioration process had started a long while ago.

I struggle to describe a work like the loser, phenomenal as it is in every aspect. Now, if the aim of a work of art is to stun us with its technique or seduce us with its charm and sadden us with its beauty and inform us with its music, then this moving, highly engaging novel does all that. It is very rarely that one finds these qualities in one book and it is very rarely that unhappiness seems a reward.

the loser is a technically stunning book. The one monstrous monologue, typical of Bernhard, is a relentless, unending exercise in self mocking exorcism and a fascinating portrayal of the constantly changing positions that we take in life. Since nothing is permanent and life is futile, Bernhard's narrator annunciates the answer in a very literary way. He knows because he has lost. He knows that the journey is useless.

We can always analyze stories from our own perspectives unfortunately. I thought that the novel reflects the futility of all ambition because life is useless. At one point, the narrator blames every thing on death. However, such a task is accomplished in a way that can be described as musical. This type of position is the literary equivalent of Rashomon but then Kurosawa's poetry is the cinematic equivalent of Akutagawa.That the narrator discovers new position's from new angles because of this relentless exercise is a reflection of the futility of taking any position. The novel is the story of failure, with the narrator shifting his position constantly, revisiting each position that he and the protagonist of the novel Wertheimer had taken.

I didn't know who Glenn Gould was before I read this novel. Yet i was reminded relentlessly by
the narrator's method of a monstrous, scathing, unending, fantastic, outre and almost diabolical repetition of the same words and the same theme page after page as to who he might have been. The effect it had on me was that I didn't for a moment want the novel to finish. I let Bernhard's words flow and cover me, a privilege that I give to very few writers.

I read many sentences again and again in order to enjoy their odd and mysterious music. I haven't given the story away here. I will end by saying that the loser is a novel that should be read by those who want to suffer the atrocity of words, of sadness and the most dark melancholy, of sheets of rain, from palpitations, from insomnia and from a strange love of words.
The loser is a great novel and Bernhard a writer whose distinct voice must be heard louder.

Monday, March 05, 2007

On Espresso

Like other afflictions that one has to put up with in one's life, from sadness in the eyes to disappointments in the way we choose one unrequited love after another, a fascination for un caffe must be at the top of my morbid lists.

I once thought that I had a penchant for collecting stones and dying sunsets. I was even in love with different types of the sky at night, sometimes black, occasionally black blue, and so on. In these collages, I had space for existential and confessional poetry, rebellious hairstyles and unhappy love stories. I also thought that the best books and the most beautiful faces were the ones I had either seen or remotely touched.

My segue for afflictions is so difficult and tiresome. And then, inspite of all this sometimes tiring and sometimes rewarding affair with words, I fell in love again. Only this time it was with espresso.
I find a single shot of espresso is a complete poem. The brown foam, the froth that covers the coffee is the title of further delights. Then in one go, like an arrow or an unkept promise, the cup touches the lips and viola, the molten liquid goes down the throat and one feels revivified, as if all other things had existed in a haze. Now the senses clear up and reality seems sharper, more real.

The various cups that one romances with an espresso is important too, so too the locale. If it is foam swept Venice or one of the gelaterie's in Italy, the romance just fuels up. There, the mention of caffe is enough. Any other coinage would be iconoclastic. The smaller and more whiter the cup, the greater the delights. Now for instance, a double shot of espresso is a rarity on the continent. There, coffee is generally considered as an espresso. But in the old country, one must qualify. Here, it assumes a colossal task to specify what one means. I find a double shot of an espresso as an inability, on the part of the server and partaker both, to understand or acknowledge that apart from poetry, dark nights and espresso most other things are quite unimportant.

I find mutants like mocha, cappuchino and monsters like frappuchino as cultural monstrosities, as imperialism of a new kind.
Of course, one has to be aware of the taste of every other person. Yet, the huge mug's in cafes that people carry, with names like latte, americano and so on leaves me cold. How could a coffee be americano and then how could one drink that?

Coffee drinking is just like another of those melancholic arts. It grows on oneself, I mean the espresso love. To partake of one, especially without sugar, never sugar, is a trip to the dark side. Sugar spoils life as we know. Espresso's need to be drunk on their own, with one flourish to the dregs.

If bitterness is an acquired taste, then the love for espresso is one of those strange yet rewarding loves for bitterness, only that one finds that, in this deity, there are no promises. Just rewards.

W. G. Sebald : Rings Of Saturn

It was with a heavy heart that I finished reading the rings of Saturn, written by W. G. Sebald.
While it is occasionally difficult to distinguish this work, and label it in a particular genre, it goes without saying that it stands on its own as a cultivated exercise in the dark art of melancholy. The book, which starts as a ramble across the English East Coast turns into a reflection of many things past, of the ravages of time lost, of the nonnegotiable loss of all memory and times gone by. It is a meditation on loss, of people who have now left this mortal coil. It does not ask for sadness to be harnessed. This book is only sadness.

The last passage, about silk and mirrors, references to writers and weavers in the same breath and the persuasive air of gloom that this work conveys, tightens the heart, leaving it sighing but silent.

Sebald employs a narrative that is so disconcerting and so fragile with the reminder of every impermanence that man has to ponder, that one is left asking why the effort.....the eccentric arts that Thomas Browne was a master in, urn burials and phosphorescent fishes brought a smile to my lips. I felt that this is what I should have read years ago, as if all the melancholy in this world is not enough.

Constant references about destruction and the decay of old houses, the geographical description that he employs matches the pensive reflections he has to offer. I was absolutely rivet ted with the images of Catherine and her sisters sewing and unsewing, the ghostlike apparitions in her house and the almost apologetic face that the writer has to bear with when he departs from her house. It is as if he was responsible for her sadness, her sad life and after having read it, I felt an overwhelming sadness cross my heart, having been a part of her unspoken tragedy, responsible for her silence, responsible as we sometimes feel for all dark crimes committed everywhere, especially those that find access from the heart to ones lips and from there to the fading world of paper and ink.

The book ends with a detailed account of bombyx mori and other associated species and the constant , unhesitant almost aggressive attempt is made by the writer to assume a moral responsibility for crimes against all fishes, trees, and silk worms.

The rings of Saturn is perhaps how novels must evolve from the stranglehold of conventional fiction, from the boring metaphysics of the stream of consciousness, from Freud and Post -Freudians, from Postmodernism and other such evils.
This is a very important work, one that lashes and hits with all the sadness in the writer's mind. It is a way of writing that defies description, to say the least.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sweet Helen, Make Me Immortal With A Kiss

I have always remembered this line, having read it for the first time at an age when I could not distinguish between violets and roses. And then, as the similarity between flowers and chains became more obvious, the imagery of these verses has always remained with me.

I will not discuss Marlowe's play here. My aim is to talk about Helen, Sweet Helen. For those like Paris and mortals like me, the imagery of the verses found resonance with the gloom and doom of adolescence.
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?

The affairs of the heart, that hearts know of, are secret and dark. They are bred within chambers where the merest stir of meaning and reason spells the end of spells. It is within this tight and taut room, where no light enters, that faces that launch ships create storms that drown even waves.

One searches for the woman of dreams but what dreams are these? Who knows, what one dreams, what even one searches.........these marble white thoughts are so delicate. The face that launches, the eyes that call, oh, the enormity of that search.

Then sometimes, near a river, by a tree, under a rain shelter, by a cafe, near a graveyard, one sees that this lady could be the lady of flowers, for she has flowers. She could be the one called Suzanne, only she feeds tea and oranges that come from china?

When I first read Cohen's dirge for Suzanne, I thought now that adolescence is over, she has always been my lover could take my hand and feed me oranges was the same who could launch a thousand ships too. That this woman could feed even though not reach the topless towers of Ilium was compensation for being a mortal.

However, when the lady wearing a red ribbon walked past my eyes, under many December skies, I felt that Helen give me my soul again was reaching an end. I could wear thy colours though I had no crest and had found beauty clad in a thousand stars.
Many waters have risen and fallen since then, many words having left their morose, melancholic stains on lips and hands, smoke and fire. Yet, that image, of Sweet Helen reappears, reminding of further crimes against a heart of stone, many stones.

This Helen is brighter than jupiter, and one prays for innocence, for being given one's soul back again. There are now no more oranges and the distinction between one and the other has become apparent.

The search for that face of faces, of long hair and eyes that have stones and roses in equal measure, of slender fingers, of prose and poem, of dull and raging fires is restored again.
Come, Sweet helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Jean Genet : Prince Of Thieves

The prose of Jean Genet is the closest that any writer can or could hope of coming to poetry. Genet is the archetypal writer's writer, the poet's poet. With him, dull and familiar words appear kinder and one lets oneself be blissfully slaughtered by the dizzy music of his prose.

My first baptism, so to say, with his words was his the thief's journal, perhaps his best book, one that has been called his dichtung und wahrheit. Here Genet tells us all......his foibles, his fears, his music, loves sacred and not so and his real and surreal occupations. Genet was a thief, a convict, he begged and stole, he smuggled, he raved and raged.

He begins the book, his own story by saying that there is a close relationship between flowers and convicts. Then, the language of his life is whispered into the ear at night in a hoarse voice, it is not written down. Genet goes on telling us that he walked along dangerous shores, heard the sea.

Genet's language is never ordinary. It is breathtaking, it is lush, it is green. The language is one of love because he is always in the throes of love. Throughout his oeuvre, we find acts of rebellion, of real resistance for that is what he does. He does not defend his homosexuality for that is sacred eroticism. He is hot for crime. The thief's journal is his poetic testament, the homoerotic temple of words. The language hypnotizes, it weaves a curious garland of roses around ones sense's.

Tragedy, says Genet is a joyous moment . He doesn't want tragedy, he is tragedy and more. He becomes a saint, that is his goal and when he is sacrificed, the blood flows and becomes a tuft of primroses. For Genet stealing flowers to cover coffins is a gesture. Genet ends his adventures and his book by declaring his lyricism, his inner prison. He has discovered one by one the heights he has attained.....through stages of saintliness.......beggar, lover, thief, convict, saint, writer, poet.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Politics Of The Outsider

Albert Camus' novella, The Outsider is generally regarded as one of the great novels ever written. When I read it first, years ago, I felt it was a great work of literature. Having read it subsequently again, I felt an immense vacillation, a dysphoria, and this increased on my third and last reading.

As a well written, well crafted book, it has few parallels. The fame of the opening sentences is legion. The depiction and the quality of some images is surely amongst the very best in literature. The economy of the book is well matched by the spare expressions of the protagonist Mersault, if he can be called that. His taciturn, almost stylish silence is the resounding theme of the novel, for it is an answer to the absurdity of life, as seen from his eyes.

That he constantly maintains that mood is the success of the first part of the novel. Mersault clearly carries out defiantly the philosophy Camus propounded so eloquently in his famous essay the myth of Sisyphus. His sbsurdist philosophy sees us to the end of his story. However, it is to the murdered Arab man that I must draw attention to, for he is not mentioned after his death at all.
And it is to this that I object most, for it is this lack of sensitivity on Camus' part that the novel, now seen through new eyes, lacks worth.

There is a complete negation of the murdered man, of his importance, his existence, of who he is. That the murder, for that is what it is, is attributed to the glaring sun is a failure of sensibility on the writers part. This is an imperial attitude, of the conqueror's towards the slave, the strong towards the weak, towards the vanquished, the forgotten. That the act is a part of his mood, his headache is important. It is not premeditated and that is important too, signifying that the Arab man is not even worth killing.

It is Mersault's story but is it? If Camus shows the absurdity of life and death, he succeeds but while Mersault dies lyrically, the Algerian dies unannounced. It is this failure, this taking sides in a political drama, this imperial attitude that Camus settles for that the outsider fails as a document of a coherent philosophy.

I find it sad that Camus fails the very land he loves so dearly, its sun, its beaches, its beautiful people. However, in neither this book nor the plague does the native figure at all. It is as if the natives dont exist, for their world, their land and their sun is not so material.
I admire Camus as a novelist, philosopher and essayist. Some of his essays, especially in the notes are so lyrical. Yet, the cursory manner in which the colonized man is dismissed is a reflection of a failure and the harshness of an era of oppression, making it look like a defence of colonialism.

That Camus can live despite this novel is his real greatness. That he can live inspite of the outsider is his failure.

The Melancholy Of Spring

While perhaps it may be premature to say that spring is around, there is a distinct feeling that spring brings. The air feels different, the bare trees less threatening with a hint of blossoms and new leaves and new hopes.

Although i feel that bared, desperate trees and dry brown grass has its own poetry and own story, the expectant air of spring brings a metaphysics of hope, of desire, of memory too.
Years ago, when i first read the waste land, the very first lines in that poem seemed to me to reflect the same feeling that I have just mentioned.

Eliot finds April cruel, the cruelest month as he says, days that spring forth metaphorically a mixing of memory and desire. Now this is not word play but a depiction of a mood. And then instantly he reminds us that winter was warm because it had brought forgetfulness which is medicine for memory. The woman speaking these lines finds summer surprising and prefers winter as she reminds herself of what she did one summer and what she would usually do in warm winter.

I am not critically appraising Eliot's poem as i feel inadequate in doing so. My main concern is with spring and all that it gives or doesn't. There are endless references in both classical and modern including Romantic poetry about spring and poets, writers having waxed lyrical too.
However it is this very opening up of the earth, the glamour of new flowers, the turning afresh of new grass that I find disconcerting.

And it is here that the cruelty of April or all spring bursts like a tiger on the prowl. Everything opens up, the very senses seem to clear leaving more ground for fresh wounds. Then spring becomes a fertile ground for all inhuman, unvoiced desires, emotions and memory to resurface and remind us of the frailty of our fingertips, the drying moisture of our lips. Spring goads and burns with a persistent hum that drowns the indifferent tune of desire.

It lights up the sorrows that the earth had sustained, giving the illusion of merry prancing around indifferent green. Spring brings cruelty to thoughts that had thawed with forgetful snow.
Spring is a sinister season, a dark time of the year and brings days wherein all that one had forgotten or presumed so, lights up on the skin of the soul. The swing starts to swing, old ghosts, unrequited passions, half-voiced loves simmer and burn again.
Memory or if you prefer desire brings a yearning for winter, for long nights, for dark days, for snow, for respite.

I prefer winter to spring.