Friday, August 31, 2007

The Dictionary Of The Khazars



The Dictionary of the Khazar's, a novel in hypertext, is one of the most original, bold, daring, brilliant and wonderful piece of writing that one could come across. I read it last year and have read it in parts again since then. I got to know this novel by chance, what gifted chance!

Written by the Serbian novelist Milorad Pavic, it has been brilliantly translated by Christina Pribevic-Zoric . Milorad Pavic is quite well known, beyond Serbia. He is a poet and literary historian too. He has published numerous novels and essays, but my first encounter was the Dictionary, and it is a rarity, a pleasure and acutely sensational. The novel is about the historical ethnic group of the Khazar's, a nomadic group of people who disintegrated and seem to have disappeared by the 10th century. The Khazar's, ( Turkish Hazer, Persian Khazar, Tatar hazer, Latin Gazari ) converted en masse to Judaism perhaps but had alliances with numerous dynasties. This is known historically. However, Pavic then constructs his novel and weaves story upon story, myth upon myth.

The khazars were powerful once, warlike and nomadic who came from the east and settled in the caspian. They fought against the Arabs and after that vanished. They converted to one of the three monotheistic faiths but which one? and after they converted, the state collapsed. This is told in the beginning by the writer. But much before we read.......we are warned......
here lies the reader who will never open this book. he lies here forever dead. The writer has instructions on how and when to read this novel and only if one has to. It should be read the way one catches leap-fever, an illness that strikes only on feminine days of the week.

Fundamentally, the novel is written in the form of a usual dictionary. The book is divided into three sections, each section devoted to Christian, Jewish and Islamic versions, named after the three religious colours respectively, Red, Yellow and Green. Each item, word or character has a different story attributed or a different text in each of the three sections; for eg, the princess Ateh has sections devoted to her in the three sections and in each of these, you get to hear a different person, thus what you believe depends upon which source, which history and which fable you might want to trust. You can read it like a dictionary, from back to front or start in the middle for instance. It hardly matters what you do so long as you look up a word, event or person. Each section can be read linearly or not, depending on your whim. The most intriguing thing is this......the novel has a male and a female edition, and the difference is one paragraph!

This is hypertext at its amazing best. The prose is Arabian nights like, stories told so delicately, words flowing so effortlessly that one gasps in wonder. Pavic has such fertile imagination, such powers of invention that it seems this is the work of a wizard. However, this effect just lulls you, for this is a deeply symbolic work and it is so unabashedly allegorical and reflective. I thought the novel is a response to two things.....a deconstruction of conventional history writing, wherein most people fail to recognize how history is not just facts but facts plus myth plus fiction. Also, it tells the reader the importance of recognizing and believing your interpretation of history, of events, both new and old and thus the inherent bias in understanding history. Thus we have facts but we also have the interpretation of those facts.

The whole book can be quoted. I am not getting carried away here. The Times called it phantasmagoric, surrealistic; the N Y Times ebullient, and the Sunday Times simply a masterpiece. The influence of Borges is evident but Pavic has his own style. Consider this..............
.Ku- a type of fruit from the Caspian sea. the Khazar's cultivate a kind of fruit that grows nowhere else in the world. It is covered with fish scales, it grows on very tall trees, and the fruit on the branches look like the live fish innkeepers hang up by the fins above the doorway to indicate that they serve fish chowder. sometimes the fruit releases voices that sound like a chaffinch. it has a cold and somewhat salty taste. it carries a pit that pulsates like a heart, the Khazar saying goes the Arabs will eat us thinking, like the hawk, that we are fish but we are ku. the word ku was the only word the devil left in the memory of the Khazar princess Ateh after she forgot her own language. sometimes at night you can hear ku-ku! that is the Khazar princess uttering the only word she knows and weeping as she tries to remember her forgotten poems.

Coming from a Serbian writer, this novel is politically important too. Even though it was published in 1988, much before mayhem was unleashed on Bosnia, it could be seen as a symbol or totem for the disintegration of Yugoslavia. I think that this might not have been the writers point however. His sweep is broader, more fantastic, for by talking about the Khazar's, he wants us to question the aspects of history that we are witnessing everyday, events like the Iraq war now, where debate still rages as to why the war actually happened, after millions have been displaced and thousands killed. Thus this sordid convulsion can have numerous histories depending upon your political persuasion or your area of origin. The real lesson must be however for the objective reasoner to discern as to the actuality of facts, if facts are true too.

Notwithstanding its concerns, the novel has unending literary merits for it is the dream child of fable married to a modern novel, allegory weaved with facts, drama and surreality merging with a prose of hypnotic, alluring and magnificent charm. I own the female version of this novel, but have been reassured that the male one is not different. For those who are martyrs to literature, Milorad Pavic is the writer to read.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Moon: Lover or Demon?

During nights of unrest, which are not infrequent, one gets up, opens the usual window, and balancing one's chin on the ledge, lights up another cigarette. And then, out of a primeval habit, One looks up and tries to find out that round of light, that halo of mystery. If one is lucky, we find the Moon, sometimes languidly flitting across thin and bare clouds or racing across a carbon paper sky, for a rendezvous with an estranged lover. The Moon is so fascinating, so bewildering, so deep and disturbing, so secretive and beautiful, so uncomplaining, yet so ethereal and charming, so blase, but so bright and giving, so near yet so far away. Throughout the ages, men have written odes about the moon, comparing it to lovers, love or despair itself.

Poets have often complained about moonlight, declaring it harsh and cruel, like some ungiving mistress or some unrequited love. The harshness probably reflects nights spent away from the lover, in a barren state, devoid of sexual pleasures. Quite often, the cycle through which the moon goes, from newly born to a crescent to that full roundness has been likened to the stages of love, of murmuring of vows, of assent, of the declaration of faith, of the maturity of love itself. And an uncompromising or harsh lover is oft compared to the innate scientific barrenness of the moon, to perhaps like an infertile woman, of a woman bereft, a woman lost, sad.

There are many poems and popular songs wherein references are made to the moon, some joyous and some not so. The ordinary one is usually lovers finding bliss under a tree covered by moonlight, exchanging kisses and lives. In his Rhapsody on a windy night, which comes to my mind now, Eliot finds the whole street held in a lunar synthesis, whispering lunar incantations and thus dissolving the floors of memory. La lune ne garde aucune rancune, quotes Eliot from Laforgue ( the moon holds no grudges) and later he tells us that the moon has lost its memory. Even though it is a poem about urban ennui, by bringing the lunar symbols, Eliot equates the moon with an existential dread, emitting boredom and suffering or so I understand.

My other favourite Moon poem is called Elm by Sylvia Plath. She calls the moon merciless.........she would drag me cruelly, being barren. Her radiance scathes me. Or perhaps I have caught her. Here the poet is perhaps recuperating, though this is a poem about lovelessness. The barrenness equates probably with the Moon having no light of its own, though the Moon is still actually radiant.

A very famous Pink Floyd album, (reputedly 1 in 13 households in Britain has one) is called The Dark Side Of The Moon. We are reminded in a song that the moon has no dark side really, matter of fact it is all dark.The song called Brain Damage, has references to a man piecing his life together, considered a lunatic, waiting for release, perhaps bewitched by the moon or possessed by it. The lunatic is on the grass, Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs............ And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, And if there is no room upon the hill, And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, Ill see you on the dark side of the moon.

I
n ancient times, the moon was worshipped as a Deity and perhaps now, through many lunar missions, the moon has been demystified, stripped of its mystic appeal. However, the Islamic calender is a lunar one and the crescent is a symbol of the Muslim religion, and throughout centuries, the cross, the crescent and David's star have fought each other and still do.The moon is also regularly evoked by ancient and modern witches for spells, witchcraft and sorcery. There are many Arctic, Siberian and Native American myths about the moon man and the moon woman. There is abundant literature on this subject, and years ago, one of my close friends wanted to become an official witch, having started reading an Indian text on this subject. She however felt it was too easy to bewitch without any spells and I have not heard of her as a Wiccan since then.

Various Epileptic phenomena have been attributed to the moon, with the moon noted to have an effect on the subject through its various phases. An interesting variety of Epilepsy, called Catamenial Epilepsy occurs only in women, and is related to menstrual cycles. It was generally assumed to correspond to the cyclical nature of menstruation, with each cycle causing new attacks and each attack occurring because of the moon. Galen, the ancient physician, vehemently believed so but it is easy to deconstruct this and assume it as the usual male domination, a consistent pattern that dis empowers women even today.

This brings one to ask the question, why is the moon a symbol for a woman or has been considered so? Is it because the moon is just too near to be dominated by earth, meaning men or is it because it lacks light, is not luminous and is thus dependent, vulnerable? I doubt whether ancient men of reason would know that. What is it about the moon that is so mysterious and yet so much a subject of lunacy, of disease, of barrenness, of even widowhood, of loss of memory, of loss generally? I find it puzzling that lack of sexual pleasures have been blamed on the Moon in Romantic Poetry, though romance needs the moon, night, shadows, shade.

But I know, on particular nights, after the useless images of day have been spent, after sleep has gone and fled, after the printed word has lost colour, after the window ledge has just turned a bit cold, after stars have started to melt and fade, the moon still lingers there, against a dull carbon paper sky.



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thomas De Quincey's On Murder

On Murder is a unique and brilliant work, a collection of essays and a story by Thomas De Quincey,
the 19Th century British writer and essayist, most famous for his Confessions of an
English Opium Eater.
Born in Manchester in 1785, De Quincey won a scholarship to Oxford, though he did not eventually get a degree there. He published extensively for London magazine and then for Blackwoods, the magazine that was the undoing of Keats. De Quincey was an opium addict and wrote on opium addiction. He contributed to other leading magazines and his essays were penetrating insights into various literary, cultural and philosophic aesthetics of his times.

I have not read Confessions but I chose to read On Murder, for as a genre, detective stories have always been a weakness, having grown up on the exploits of the great detective myself. On Murder includes his famous essay called On murder as one of the fine arts, second paper on murder and a postscript and the short story called The Avenger. In addition, there are manuscript writings, a note to Blackwoods editor and another paper on murder as a fine art. However the first essay is called On The Knocking at the gate of Macbeth, a fine piece of literary criticism.

The short story the avenger is a tale of revenge, of a series of murders in a German village, where young and old are mercilessly murdered, without any care for robbery. For months, the main actors wonder at the reasons till finally we find out that the culprit lives within, an esteemed young man, who has carried out these acts for personal reasons, wreaking havoc at the people who had broken his family apart. His mother being Jewish is cited as a reason for having suffered, and thus we have religious persecution followed by a kind of terrorism, a revenge, apolitical but with motive. De Quincey says that this tale has moral lessons and deserves deep attention but I must admit I could not find any moral lesson here, apart from the brilliant prose.

Knocking at the gate of Macbeth refers to Macbeth, wherein, after the murder of Duncan, Macbeth asks" whence is that knocking? how is it with me, when every noise appalls me?" This is De Quincey at his best, from philosophy to black satire, and he equates the Eastend murders to nothing less than the work of a supreme artist, liberating the audience from painful ennui. The murderer has hell within him, and we must look into this hell. The interest must be with the murderer, a sympathy of comprehension, not a sympathy of pity. After the London murders, De Quincey warns that the next crime must be spectacular because the amateur auteur will be dissatisfied with a paltry one. I found this essay to be really brilliant as it fore runs much Criminal and Forensic psychology and actually allows it to be discussed as a separate discipline, away from purely social constructs.


The essays On Murder are an aesthetic consideration on murders from antiquity, preferably in the Western World. De Quincey traces murder to its first roots, that of Abel by Cain down to the 19th century. It is not the ordinary murder that entices him, but one that has a bizarre, an outre aura attached to it. A murder done for material gain is dismissed outright. It has to be the work of an artist, a sketch, a painting, for it must draw the interest of the connoisseurs of crime, like De Quincey himself. He evolves for us the personality of the ideal murderer, for the murderer must be an artist, an auteur, a romantic. He must play to the gallery, to the club that De Quincey was a member of. the result of murder should be to improve and to humanize the heart; Any person who did not have the sword of Damocles hanging on his head, even if he was a philosopher is not worth his salt. He talks us through the dark ages, to The old man of the mountains, the secret sect of the hashishi, from where we get the word Assassin, the Arab Syrians, who were a scourge of their fellow people.

Writes De Quincey" if a man calls himself a philosopher and never had his life attempted, rest assured there is nothing in him; He traces a connection between philosophy and murder and we are in the 17th and 18th centuries, Hobbes and Kant having eluded their murderers. Then we have De Quincey talking about the qualities of a murderer. He should be a good man, and not kill to save himself, and the murdered person should not be a public person, for that would be an assassination and not murder.Tthe pope is not suitable, for he is never seen, I suspect most people regard him as an abstract idea. The subject chosen should be in good health.


De Quincey writes extensively on the artistic aspects of a series of murders in London's East end in 1811. He devotes two essays towards unravelling the psychological profile of the supposed murderer, besides alluding to other sensational murders of his day. In particular, he writes about the murderer John Williams who in 1811 killed 7 people brutally in London's East end. He builds up the killers profile and while he wants to be on his side all the time, he does sympathize with the victims and also constructs the psyche of the witnesses. He also allows the reader to understand the role of a solver of crimes, a detective.


The reading is aided by the excellent introduction and notes in the Appendix, for there is a profusion of literary references and Latin quotes. De Quincey was enormously well read and he adds to the newspaper stories of his day in addition to punning on the major works of his predecessors, especially Coleridge and the romantics. He quotes Shakespeare extensively and his quotes are a wicked humorous take on him. The style is witty, the prose smart and there is a toying, a playfulness in his words. De Quincey assures us that I never attempted any murder in my life and for the higher departments of the art, I confess myself to be utterly unfit.

Nowadays we have Forensic psychologists who build up criminal profiles and personality characteristics and let us know the possibility of future offending. But here we have De Quincey pioneering this art itself, drawing us into the metaphysics of murder, the philosophy of cleansing the heart by means of pity and terror.

This is a strange but brilliant collection of essays. It is dark and morbid but it allows an insight into the 19th century here in Britain, a public wanting to read sensational literature. De Quincey gives that and more. He romanticizes crime unlike anyone and places it on a philosophic pedestal, an aesthetic throne. To me he sounds much like Ivan Karamazov and Bakunin, the Russiann nihilists like Vera, who romanticize political homicide. I endorse this work unreservedly for those who want a psychological insight into crime and murder besides some fantastic literary critiques. And, it is so well written too.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Julio Cortazar And Hopscotch






Even though it may sound arbitrary, I have always judged most fiction keeping Latin American writing as a benchmark. It is the works, as they say. It has the Rings Of Saturn and Cupid's arrows, it has things concrete and things abstract, and its influence notwithstanding, it has won new converts to reading.

Of all great Latin American writers, it is Julio Cortazar who is the most daring, the most poetic, for with him, writing reaches those rarefied heights wherein the missed arc of his thoughts notwithstanding, the sheer delight of his prose is unending. With Cortazar, prose becomes proxy for love, proxy for the usually unattainable bliss, for surreal heavens, for shade, for light, for magic and honey and colour, for near revelations, for heartache before and after pain, for new music, for old love. Cortazar's prose has a hum, it has music which of course some other prose too has, but it has jazz which is usually different, played on a rainy night, near a burning fire. Cortazar lifts the clouds from a dull page and gives it colour, gives it sheen, gives gloss, gives the page love, a different song.

And all these qualities can very confidently be found in his Hopscotch, a novel that has mesmerised me for long, ever since I saw the femme fatale on its cover, ever since I read the lush translation of Gregory Rabassa. I think the whole of Cortazar's fiction is one Hopscotch after the other, and as you get familiar with his methods, there are further surprises, more hops and further jumps.

Hopscotch is usually considered as an example of the genre of Hypertext, and even though I am more fond of conventional story telling, I have found Hypertexting as more suitable to explore the subtle and not so subtle psychological ways in which human beings interact with each other. In other words, this becomes a very good method for exploring memory and then attempting to differentiate it from desire, which has always been my own undoing, one obsession. To read and analyse any story randomly needs an act of faith from the writer, and once the reader is invited to participate in this exercise, in this game, the demarcation between figure and ground disappears, from the read and unread, from the character writhing on the pages to the reader struggling on it, from desire to action, from memory to desire, from longing to pain.

I wish I could read Spanish, just for this book, for La Rayuela, as it is called. Set initially in Paris, and then later on in Argentina, I have been a victim of the symbols of this novels, of the shimmering claws of the memory it evokes in me, of my own life, of my own La Maga, my own club. It will be pointless to paraphrase or summarise this novel, for even if I wanted to, I feel incapable of just doing that. Suffice it to say here that this novel tells us the story of a man who lives by indulging in intellectual myth making. This novel is an account of his stories but it is also about La Maga, his lover. He lives with his friends in Paris, involved in intellectual, poetic, musical and political solutions for the world. After his lover disappears, he returns to Argentina, looking for La Maga in a different person ending nearly insane. The novel can be read whichever way you want, from chapter 1 to 56 or from 73 to 1, though Cortazar has provided a table of instructions, in case of confusion or forgetfulness. He also advises the reader to ignore these instructions, if the reader so decides.

This novel is filled with literary references and with jazz. The prose is jazz like and the style extremely rich. This novel is Literature itself, abundant with style and it conveys a certain approach, a style of living, something which I was incapable of doing in a certain time, words, days and nights that just came and went, superficially touching the fingertips of poetry, and leaving behind only ash, only regret, only promise, stale aftersmoke. Hopscotch is a dream when you read it, and one wonders at the genius of its style. One can quote chunks of it, any time. The great Pablo Neruda wrote about Cortazar............"Anyone who does not read Cortazar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder...........and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair".

One must not hurry while reading Cortazar, for everything is turned upside down. We must sing or try to hum a bit of his song, his jazz. Hopscotch is a fascinating novel or text that one could read for years and never tire. How many books could you say that for?


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Soma : Drink Of Gods?

The Gods have usually had superior drinks for themselves, the secret ingredients of which have generally not either been revealed to humans or even hinted at. For if everything was revealed, then the very source of such delights would get ravaged, as humankind bears testimony to such acts. One such drink that ancient Gods favoured in India was Soma.

I was surprised that a recent BBC documentary, ( The Story Of India, Michael Wood) traced the origin of Soma to Ashkhabad in Turkmenistan, where the tree or leaves that ultimately produce the drink were found millenia before. It seems that following a wave of migration, this tree might have been or its seeds transported first to Northwest Hindukush mountains by people who started calling themselves Aryans. After sometime, the Aryans moved eastward, down and along the great Indian river Ganges and the plant seems not to have survived, because of humidity. Thus some origin of certain practices like drinking Soma might have originated elsewhere, in Central Asia and adopted or taken away by migrants.

The great Rigveda mentions it and it seems its writers or those who collected the hymns actually would drink good amounts of soma, for it would allay anxieties, heighten perception and improve more intelligent thought. The Hindu God Indra, God of thunder and rain, was used to drinking huge amounts of Soma, but being a God, it seemed to affect him less than other ordinary mortals. The Greek Ambrosia might be the Indian Soma, though interestingly, Soma does not seem to have survived in later day Hindu culture. It is interesting to note the more Central Asian origins of Soma and its migration westwards, giving the entire region a common Godly drink, something for its present day sons to mull over! Soma also has got aphrodisiac qualities. It seems to contain poppy, cannabis and ephedrine, and the latter will naturally lead to more sympathetic effects, for I understand it has cardiorespiratory effects. Others claim that it contains amanita muscarina, deadly mushroom.

Soma seems to be hallucinogenic and no wonder it was needed for more delicate and heroic thought. The whole history of mysticism is one unending convulsion followed by another, perpetuated by deep thought and spurred by Ambrosia, Soma, hallucinogens and so on. I am not sure if intoxicants are allowed in the Hindu faith but it would be a paradox if it was not so, for awareness of Gods was enhanced through mediums like Soma in more godly times. I am not sure what Manna was composed of, God granting it to Moses and Moses to his puerile disbelievers. The mention of manna is there in the Quran too, as food providing sustenance for the Israelites in the morning and Quails in the evening. More modern research has suggested that manna might have contained magic mushrooms or be akin to Soma. These are however pure speculatory ideas. Imagine many a King or sage refusing a heavenly drink! It would refute the very idea of benevolent shadow hood of God on earth.

The partaking of Soma was generally led to lead to the flowing of the rivers of poetry and deeper understanding of the heart; making it known as the God of speech, the elixir of life. Substitute it for inspiration and we have the same theme, minus ephedrine, minus palpitations and minus real poetic worth. We all do need intoxicants from time to time, of ego, of pride, of money and little useless fame, of the jingle of youth and the promise of sun, of worth, of ambition, of sterile desire. It seems that the primeval Gods were cleverer, for they knew the source of inspiration, and being perhaps politically incorrect, they snapped at it and drank it. How interesting it would have been to live then!

To end, I was just wondering where the sources of strength and inspiration come from, and more celestial powers need them too. A poet needs rhythm and beauty in verse, a writer of prose needs besides inspired talent, patience. Writing thus becomes a heavenly kind of trade. And it is then that man, sundered and thrown down, guilty and helpless, looks at the moon, fills the cup brimming with Soma and picks up the pen.

Friday, August 24, 2007

An Extract From Juan The Landless: Juan Goytisolo

I haven't read this book yet but cannot resist to convey the magic of this prose. This is the beginning of Juan The Landless, part 3 of the Marks Of Identity trilogy by Juan Goytisolo. The first sentence is 6 pages long and I am quoting just a short extract. The splendour of this long sentence will convey the lush richness of Goytisolo's oeuvre and the complexity of its psychological motives.

***************

according to Hindustani gurus, in the superior phase of meditation the human body, purged of its appetites and desires, abandons itself with delight to an ethereal existence, freed from passions and vices, attentive only to a gentle flow of a time without end, as light winged as those soaring little birds of passage seemingly obeying only the soft and melodious inspiration of an invisible breeze and musically absorbed in remote contemplation of the sea: sensory stimuli and sensory excitations no longer have any effect on it, and immersed in the beneficent languor of an eternal present, it loftily disdains the absurd slavery of lustful pleasures, pure, svelte, airy,weightless, with the delicate fluidity of those clouds which at eventide enhance the majesty of autumnal landscapes, far from the world's feverish, frantic hustle and bustle: rising above the tyranny of pretty contingency and hence offering to the devout admiration of the vulgar the solemn and tranquil demeanour of the ascetic purified by his acts of penitence and his fasts, the smiling indifference of the Brahman martyr face to face with the preparations being made for his own death, the serene composure of the fakir gracefully reclining on his bed of nails: but the body that observes you from the corner of the table, from the bright coloured jacket of the Hi-fi record, appears to be proclaiming violently, in a shriek almost, that never, absolutely never, will it attain, even in the improbable case that this might have been a deliberate goal that it had set itself, to the superior phase of transcendental meditation, the austere but ineffable pleasures of the beatific contemplative life: neither an anchorite nor a fakir nor a Brahman: merely a body: an extension of matter in space: an offspring of the earth, to earth forever united: united of a tight neat line, a carefully confined surface, a lissome slenderness, a plethora of flesh, baroque splendor, an opulent and fruitful, bountiful, fertile body, solidly rooted in the inferior world that to a pair of feet which, though left out of the artistic composition of the portrait, give one every reason to believe that they are the equal of the rest in grandeur, prodigality, and excess: naked feet, doubtless, seeking the direct, symbiotic contact that draws forth from the primordial substance the life-force, the powers of generation: for a rich sap nourishes this body and sustains it, generously helps it to thrive, invents fabulous convexities: the confining edge of the low cut neckline can scarcely contain them and favours a vast unfurling of waves which, although concealed beneath the velvety suppleness of the fabric, nonetheless prove appetizing to the eyes of the judicious spectator: roiled, towering surfaces which, from the imposing chin line downward, descend with windmill-like fury to the frontal apotheosis: a double crest, a supreme sea swell that the fearful Antillean hurricane has catapulted to the dizzying heights of an incredible prominence: the fatal wave rising in awesome splendor moments before crashing down upon the disaster area and sweeping away with wrathful provision the habitations, chattel, towns, industries, crops of an area teeming with life, transforming it, in the wink of an eye, into a dreary and desolate quagmire, abandoned to the moans of the victims, the barking of dogs, the hovering of vultures, sacking by looters and the starving, and the eager though tardy zeal of well-intentioned international charity organizations.............................

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Photograph

We fixed between us
to imprison a sunny sky,
a shimmering lake and a heedlessly dizzy afternoon.
A photographic memory that could
scatter my collection of silences.
Some paper that I could stick to my favourite wall,
some faces that stick to my soul,
like a primeval memory, Adam, sin and tree.

But a photograph is awfully untrue
and hopelessly facile,
saying "Yes" the faces smiled together
but set the sunny day free.
A sky, lake and an afternoon
that cannot be trapped on paper or drawn on stone,
memories that dispatch time into oblivion,
giving memory not time, claws
to rip open this seemingly peaceful night.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Juan Goytisolo

There are times when one, searching in vain or after howling at the moon in vain or after having discarded the poem that was written the previous night, searches again for words that come from a region that might be haunted, might be unreal or even deliriously sane or insane. And after such ethereal nights and days, after absinthe dreams, after vague notions of literary intoxication, after humid nights, cold days, surreptitious hours, minutes longing for hours, hours for days, after nights of boredom, days of torpor, after many many such existences, chance or design gives you new words, a new writing, a new writer. I am referring to a writer I just discovered 2 weeks ago, and having decided to read him, I immediately got hold of his trilogy called Marks of Identity. I am referring to the greatest living Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo.

Goytisolo is the quintessential writer. He lives in exile, he is an exile, he lives in the most fabulously named place called Djemaa el Fanaa in Marrakesh. He is a rebel, he writes novels, he writes like a poet, like an angel. He is not afraid of writing, he has written. Writing is not just an exercise, a craft, a literary activity for arts sake. Here writing is an affirmation, an act of morality, a position, a stance, a political act, a serene not always gentle act. It can mean violence or limpidity or both. But never correctness, never doublespeak, never facile dolor.

Goytisolo is described as being a poet and a prose writer, but to me he writes like a poet. He writes a poet's prose. However, I am just beginning to read the first part of his trilogy and will write in great detail after I finish this brilliant novel. Suffice it to say here that he writes in, believe me, sentences of such beauty, such matchless quality that I thought ...." he writes like Genet" and was surprised to know that he considers Genet a personal hero and a mentor. It was his encounter with Genet that might have led to his self discovery as a bisexual, even though Goytisolo was married, interestingly to Proust's neice, and refused to live in their home after her death, calling it a tomb. His attraction to Muslim culture could, like Genet be traced to political activism, anti-imperialism and his own sexuality.

At Guardian Books, Maya Jaggi has written an excellent review of his major works besides providing biographical details including his present living style, habits. Goytisolo left Spain and its political climate after Franco's dictatorship was in power because of his political and moralistic stands. His brothers are writers too. Thus he is at once a rebel living a rebellion. He is against the climates that foment dictatorships, consumerism, wars, sexual repression and homophobia. He has adopted Morocco as his abode and has fiercely celebrated Islamic culture.

As being loyal to both literary concerns and social ones, the commitment is both for craft and creed. An interesting study of his fiction has been done by Stanley Black, in his Goytisolo and the poetics of contagion. Black finds Goytisolo' encounter with Saussarean linguistics as an interesting phase of his stylistic development, something I am not conversant with or understand. However, Goytisolo's literary work is to be seen in conjunction with his critical and journalistic essays. A novel must concern itself with the reality of the national context in which it is written. Hence, the writer is not just an artist but an activist too. Apart from his trilogy, Goytisolo has written extensively, his memoir is considered a classic besides esssays, newspaper columns, war reportage and a collection of essays called Landscapes of War and a meditation on Love called Makbara.

A note of caution here.....Goytisolo is tough reading. There are monologues, third person narrations, poems and prose of ferocious intensity. This sort of fiction, writing is not meant for a cosy read or for getting acquainted with a new writer. It demands participation, as Black says...shaking the bourgeois reading pattern. The sentences run over pages, without any stops, just colons, occasionally semicolons, no capitals, paragraphs of, honestly, fantastic prose.

I will endeavour to quote him in these posts here but can only say that reading him is to invent a new language for oneselfIt is punishing but rewarding. A good review here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I think that Edinburgh is perhaps the most captivating city in Britain and the reasons are not just architectural. Every year, usually in August, thousands of people descend into the Scottish capital for the most important cultural activities of the year, namely the Edinburgh fringe, the theatre and International film festival, the book festival, music, jazz and other literary and performing arts.

The weekend gone by, I was in Edinburgh to try and witness this phenomenon and partake of as many delights as I could. This was my second Fringe. For those unfamiliar with the city, Edinburgh has a more central European feel than other British cities. The castle nestles on the hill, and the famous buildings including the old assembly look like pictures from a wizard's painting. Down the hill, on the other side, runs the main artery in the city and adjacent is the Scott monument, my favourite Edinburgh monument. It is however the mile or so of cobble stoned street, called the Royal Mile, in the old city, that is the major haunt of tourists and festival buffs. It looks unreal, surreal, out of fiction even when you walk its famous walk and during festival times, it is besieged by artists doing free shows, revellers, rude performers, teenagers, lovers, musicians, beggars, and some serious art students looking for a deal or two in the numerous theatres staging known and not so known plays and dramas.

The main problem during the fringe can be what to watch and see. The major shows can be
prebooked, some are usually sold out and some not so. One has to solve the logistic problem followed by the problem of torpor that can settle easily at times. It rained while I was there, making me and my choices sluggish but I did actually enjoy a couple of things I watched, including a play called Escape Routes, at Usher House. The lone actress forgot her lines once but I thought the play was well written and the references were topical. I watched a musical volcano played by the Lady boys of Bangkok, men dressed as women, very attractive women indeed. I did not feel squeamish when I thought some 'women' looked very attractive indeed. The next day I was at The Zoo, watching The belly dancer diaries, which was disappointing, as it included the usual cliches about Egyptian heat, culture, dust, flies and stereotypes. My worst choice was the circus of horrors, which I watched to relieve my self after I had seen a different take on Macbeth.

Edinburgh fringe is a cultural activity the likes of which is seldom doable in other parts of Britain. It has something for everyone, from raunchy, risque shows to arty plays and movies, a festival of music, stand up comedy, the famous and not so famous musicians, popular and underground culture, writers and academics, writers on the fringes of celebrity, not to speak of the real shows on the streets, corners and closes of Edinburgh. The town wears a festive look, notwithstanding ominous clouds, the usual rain and grey skies. The mist comes down from cal ton hill and seems to touch the rooftops. You look at the skies, the rain, and somewhere you see a piper playing his mourful dirge. There is an Ionesco play nearby, A Rosencratz and Guildernstern. You decide, throw the soggy cigarette down and rush to the nearest theatre. You are in time.

I
could not attend The Book Festival, which this year included unknown and famous writers, including workshops about writers from Asia, a group of Bengali writers, including Joy Goswami from India and Selina Hossain from Bangladesh. there is ongoing focus on Indian and Chinese fiction, writers from around the world including John Pilger, Ian Rankin, Margaret Atwood and so on. The major themes are Slavery, War and Media, East and West, Genes and Society. The atmosphere at rain soaked Charlotte Square Gardens is quite bookish. The movie festival has its share of good movies too, featuring Bela Tarr, Judd Apatow to Gus van Sant. There are novel adaptations, controversial memoirs and so on. The retrospective has been dedicated to Anita Loos, a famous Hollywood screenwriter. Also showing this year was the whole of Berlin Alexanderplatz in its 15 and more hours of beauty.

This time around, by putting my palm on the outline of a hand on the Love test machine, I took the Love test. I was expecting a cool, clammy 2 out of 10, but scored a Hot 8! However, this is one test that I advise to be skipped.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Susan Sontag

The abiding quality of Susan Sontag's critical work is her interest in virtually everything. That she was so well read is obvious from her constant references to writers and other literary genres. However, what make Sontag's essays readable is her lucidity. In other words, the essays are approachable and not intimidating, and what is more interesting is that Sontag does not become vehement or shrill in her opinions. She voices concerns but does not preach.

I have very recently finished reading Against Interpretation , followed by Where the stress falls. I think I liked the latter more than the former. Also perhaps, the former belongs to a time and interests that I find too dull, inspite of hip-hop, drugs, Presley and The Beatles. In Against Interpretation, Sontag sounds too sure, too clever. In her own thoughts on Against Interpretation, she acknowledges a certain naivete, a certain lack of guile. Writes she in Thirty Years Later...'I was a pugnacious aesthete and a barely closeted moralist....my pedagogical interest got in the way of my prose' However, Sontag writes crisply and some sentences are eminently quotable.

In Where the stress falls, we read her reviewing Barthes, Walser, Pedro Paramo, Sebald amongst others, followed by a sweeping review of Berlin Alexanderplatz that I found very helpful, an essay on cinema, on dance and dancing, photography and amongst other essays her Sarajevo essays called Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo and 'There' and 'Here'. Included also is A letter to Borges.

The great stories are not only told in the past tense, they are about the past, writes Sontag. We see in these essays her yearning for reading and creating from the past, a tender prose and a melancholic vein. However, while I admire her prose which is simple and cautiously erudite, Sontag's prose never rises into the poetic, the breathless, the sublime. In her essay, A poet's Prose, Sontag differentiates between a prose writer and a poet. She calls a poet as a titre de noblesse. The prose of poets is typically elegiac, retrospective. It belongs by definition to the vanished past. Since she differentiates it so well, Sontag however eludes the definition herself. After reading these two collections, I admire her prose but find very little poetry. However, that is unimportant.

Sontag has an admiration for Europe, witnessed in her self-declared Europhilia, especially in her earlier writings. In the Sarajevo essays, she laments and points a finger at the French and British covert support for Serb aggression in Bosnia and declares the UN forces there as pro-Serb. She tries to answer the reluctance of writers and other intellectuals to take sides in Bosnia and cites reasons for those, pointing out the easily known fact that Bosniaks, being Muslim, were subject to prejudice. She declares that Europe has yet to be born: a Europe that takes responsibility for its defenseless minorities..........Europe will be multicultural, or it won't be at all.

Sontag writes great essays, whether you like her assertion that Naipaul's The enigma of arrival could even be compared to Sebald's style. By her own admission, she declares herself as being Jewish for two millenia and yet, she appears interested in writing and pointing out the carnage's that the Bosnian Muslims suffered. However, I am yet to come across any essays that she might have written in defense of the Palestinians, who have and are suffering the same holocausts that she writes against.

I do not know if I will read her fiction, but I won't mind reading her eminently readable essays.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jorge Luis Borges

I must admit that I am a Borges fan. Cynical that I am, I won't say that for other writers. What didn't Borges write and what didn't he read! To be honest, his scope is baffling, the range of his interests immense, his erudition vast, his writing brilliant with that sadness, that sense of ever present loss that lifts greatness to sublime.

It has been 3 years now since I picked up his Selected Non-Fictions followed by his Selected Poems. To literature Borges brings that fundamental knowledge of the transience of things. He never raves and rants, there is a philosophical undercurrent in all his writings. People have come and gone, sometimes leaving something worthwhile, like literature, like an epitaph. Borges is the metaphysician for the senses, patient healer with words. His prose is never angry, often serene, mostly melancholic, generally concerned with metaphysical matters. From essays on the history of angels to the postulation on reality, from a defense of the Kabbalah to Muslim sufism, from detective fiction to Ulysses, Borges writes all. His film criticisms elevate this genre to an art, and his immense erudition is visible from his book criticisms.

Borges was a wide reader. In this book are includes his reviews on Meyrink, Faulkner, Huxley, Tagore, Lady Murasaki to his Library of Babel, which introduced me to his favourite authors including Cortazar, Lainez and Akutagawa amongst others. Borges stuns you with a lyrical essay on the history of the Tango and next comes Kafka, Pascal, Attar the Persian mystic genius. Borges' poetry is the refinement of the senses. The tone is one of a tranced rhythm, of speculative whispering, almost magic, nearly mystical.

Borges was born in Buenos Aires and is generally regarded as a 20th century literary genius. His fame grew outside Latin America and by the time of his death, he was a literary phenomenon. In 1955, he became blind and then mostly wrote poetry. He won numerous awards including the Alfonso Reyes prize. The translations by Esther Allen, Weinberger and other contributors are extremely brilliant.

Borges is a true universal writer for he read everything, from Western to Eastern Literature including religious and mystical texts. His creed was universal as opposed to pure nationalistic credo. This is easily reflected in his writings. Borges doesn't frighten with his literary zeal but works his magic in a hypnotic way. If only everone would read Borges!
I end this post with a few lines from his poem called Parting.

Three hundred nights like three hundred walls
must rise between my love and me
and the sea will be a black art between us.
Nothing will be left but memories.
Nights hoping for the sights of you,
................................, firmament
that I am seeing and losing........
Final as marble
your absence will sadden other afternoons.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Arcades Project : Walter Benjamin

The Arcades Project is unlike any book I have read before but then it is unlike anything that one is likely to read. It has been over a year since I purchased it and I have read it intermittently, for this book needs attention, which is not always easy and concentration that is so hard sometimes. Such is the magnitude of this work that I find it hard to even describe it. I have not finished reading this work yet for after all, it took more than a decade to write it. It is Walter Benjamin's effort to write and critique, it is such an immense effort in academia, it is a towering achievement, a magnum opus.

Benjamin started this work in 1927 and carried it on till 1940. The present English edition runs over a thousand pages. published as Der Passagen-Werk in German, this fantastic work is a history, a study of 19th century Paris. It is a posthumously published work. The book is comprised of Convolutes, arranged alphabetically, followed by essays, additional files. He arranged the work in 36 categories like boredom, fashion, photography, catacombs and so on. This book defies categorization for it is actually a research project and I find it monstrously intelligent, unlike anything one can read. Thus this book is a challenge but an intelligent one. There are references to Baudelaire alone that run over 100 pages, in addition to his other contemporary writers like Proust, Adorno and so on.

An arcade in English is a passage in French and a Passagen in German. For those who have been to Paris, a passage basically connects two parallel streets and the passage has shops, cafes and other establishments that face each other. The passage is thus open at both ends and covered with glass and iron. Although arcades are found in other European cities, the arcades were invented in Paris and thus remain a Parisian phenomenon. Benjamin reads into the other a dialectic that suggests both oppression and liberation. For Benjamin, history is Janus, double faced. Since the arcades were created for profit, for economic purpose, they do not tell us of their underlying story. For Benjamin, this is nothing more than promoting commodity fetishism, the only interest being in the goods, at their face value. However, the arcades served the purpose of a burgeoning economy in the 19th century, reflecting the vision of some pioneering minds. He thus wants to offer the true history rather than the surface one.

The arcades also offer refuge from rain, cold, noise and give the passerby a chance to look at a dream in the shop windows, something distant, something that could be attained. The book itself is not a straight forward narrative but a collection of quotations, drafts, commentaries, mosaics, interpretations, ideas, discourses and passages of political, sociological and aesthetic and philosophical nature. Hence, it is not easy to describe this work. Benjamin quotes history to write history. Therefore, this book can only be read in short stints, for the enormous amount of literary references prevent the reader from more natural forays. This therefore becomes an encyclopedia of literature and philosophy and a minefield of variegated knowledge.

To understand Walter Benjamin's works, one needs to be more erudite and more patient than usual. For not only is he a genuine philosopher, he is too well read, like others from the Frankfurt school. His Marxism and his relation with Jewish messianism is not yet clear to me. It seems that he was quite close to Gershom Scholem, the Jewish theologian. Susan Sontag advises us to avoid giving Benjamin any ideological position while in Illuminations, which Hannah Arendt has forewarded, she thinks that Benjamin was a peculiar Marxist. At one time, he did contemplate emigrating to Palestine.There are so many allusions in this work that one finds some as Benjamin's own obsessions at times. This work thus asks for a more learned approach and a discipline while reading, for the text is obscure at times and not readily accessible.

I will endeavour to read this work occasionally for I sometimes wonder if I should but such is the fantastic allure of Benjamin's scholarship, the wide canvas of this work, the amazing literary quality and the unending knowledge in these pages that it would be unwise to not possess this book. I will try to quote excerpts from this work on this blog whenever I can. However, those familiar with Benjamin's other works and essays must understand that this is a truly phenomenal work unlike say his Hashish In Marseilles or other essays.

Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia

Even though Theodor Adorno was a philosopher, yet he wrote like a poet. It is a quality that few philosophers possess. Most philosophical writing is very arm-chair, erudite and tedious. Philosophizing and writing philosophy are thus different issues. To write is to affirm in a different medium while to speak and thus teach allows you to explain.

Adorno writes in a language that is accessible but not mundane, beautiful but not ineffectual, wonderful at times but never superfluous. Adorno co-wrote the Dialectic Of Enlightenment with Max Horkheimer and perhaps the language in that book is not entirely his. Yet his other works published as the Culture Industry, Negative Dialectics and Aesthetic Theory might occasionally present difficulties to a lay-person like myself, who bravely ventures into the intricacies of the Frankfurt School. However, after the initial difficulties are dealt with, one finds Adorno rewarding, particularly when you allow yourself to follow him.

However, I would like to draw attention to this great collection of reflections on a damaged life, wherein Adorno writes like a tragic poet, occasionally far away from the hassles of Marxism and Commodity Fetishism. Dedicated to his friend Max Horkheimer, the book begins with an epigram, life does not live. The book is in three parts with small chapters, the first of which is called For Marcel Proust. The book was written in America, when Adorno was in exile, when he became known as Teddy. The book has numerous anecdotes, parables and aphorisms and mostly reflections on exile, on damaged lives.

The tone of this book is definitely pessimistic for Adorno feels that in this capitalistic chaos, life is permanently damaged. Writes Adorno in the dedication..........The melancholy science from which i make this offering to my friend relates to a region that from time immemorial was regarded as the true field of philosophy, but, which, since the latter's conversion into method, has lapsed into intellectual neglect, sententious whimsy and finally oblivion: the teaching of the good life. With insights and reflections on marriage, divorce, on fish in water and on the dialectic of tact, this book is filled with aphorisms.The basic anxieties of his oeuvre are addressed as usual but the intensity of an argument is matched by the beauty of the prose.

It is well recognized that most of what Adorno wrote can be quoted or each sentence generally is a quotable quote and nowhere is it truer than this book. This is an unforgiving and an unforgettable book. And if all philosophy were written like this, I might consider a change in trade.
Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar, writes Adorno but then Minima Moralia has more.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Voice Imitator : Thomas Bernhard

Of all Bernhard's novels that I have read so far, The Voice Imitator is perhaps the most unusual. For here, the ranting and raving is not as obvious, as relentless but somehow the spectre, the shadow that lurks in this short book is never less sinister, never less haunting.

Described as short stories, the voice imitator is more of a collection of anecdotes, reports, gossip, hearsay. Underneath, one gets the feeling that something more sinister than what one has understood lurks, as the stories or conversations, ( each never more than a page long and some just a few lines) work like parables, like scattered drops of bright wisdom. Those familiar with Bernhard's oeuvre will however recognise his usual acerbic wit, his acidic sarcasm, the subtle and unsubtle bite of his prose, and his usual themes. The stories concern 13 acts of lunacy, 20 surprises, 4 disappearances, 2 instances of libel, 18 suicides, 6 painful deaths and so on.

The beauty of these short stories is the thumping effect that they produce within a few lines. In other words, what an ordinary writer will do with a big tome, Bernhard achieves on a Page, and this is no exaggeration. As Peter Filkin writes, the voice imitator works as a mini-anthology of Bernhard's obsessions with murder, madness and the inability of language to capture, or relieve, the absurdity of life. The other characteristic of these stories is the way the events are narrated, for what is revealed in a few lines is not as important as what is kept hidden, which is not annoying but disconcerting.

Although I liked most of the stories, I will quote this one and enthusiastically recommend The Voice Imitator, especially to those who are well versed with his other works.

This story is called Moospruggers mistake

Professor Moosprugger said that he had gone to the west station in Vienna to pick up a colleague whom he did not know personally but knew only from correspondence. He had expected a different person from the one who actually arrived at the west station. when I drew Moosprugger's attention to the fact that the person who arrives is always different from the person we expect, he got up and left simply and solely for the purpose of breaking off and abandoning all contacts he had ever established throughout his life.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Poetry Is Like Water

Poetry is like water, colourless, it
leaves no space, no edges to touch
after the most recent pain has left, just left
me alone, just left me to think, of how common,
how dull, how alone my pain was.

Poetry is so dull, so listless, so deaf
to the hours I have, alone with words and
fathomless with memory, leaving no space, no edges to touch
after the most recent pain has come and left, just left
me alone, too thoughtless to complain,
a carbon paper sky.

Poetry has no speech even when it rises
like fever, like love, when it recedes
like fever, like love, leaving no space, no edges to touch
after the most recent pain has left, just left
me alone, amongst words too dull
to climb from the pages.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Weekend: Jean-Luc Godard

The word that best describes this movie is riveting. That it is such utter captivity, such immense satire is what makes this a cinematic experience worth remembering, a tour de force for the senses. We are aware as we watch it that this is a movie of ideas, one after the other, like chapters in a book, thrown incessantly at your face, relentlessly, savagely. That there are so many of them, with so little warning, that it becomes a trifle difficult to watch it, to follow it sometimes.

An almost anarchic couple, who would not mind killing each other, leave Paris on a weekend to claim inheritance by shady, almost immoral means. They get trapped in a traffic jam, almost a vision of hell. There are cars lying in heaps, bodies by the roads, blood on the roads, a couple playing chess and all these things seem to be going on inspite of themselves. we watch this couple flee armed people, french revolutionaries, immigrant Arabs delivering speeches till they get caught up in a revolutionary militia that cannibalises , ending in the woman eating a bit of her husband too, after the mother has been murdered for money.

This movie is a ferocious response against bourgeoisie values. only a new horror can spare us from bourgeoisie horror, we hear. Marx equated with Christ, Engels and Morgan and we understand that this is not satire for satires sake but a revolt, an artistic attack against commodity fetishism, against not the usual dreary montage of existential angst but a profound indictment of social anarchy against a background of consumerism.

With Godard, one knows that we are watching a movie made not just by a great artiste but an intelligent man, a director making a movie of ideas, like a Russian novel of ideas. It is a phenomenal movie, a great movie, one that lingers in the retina, and one that can be made sense of long after having watched it. It is nothing short of brilliance. It must be watched a few times to grasp its luminosity.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Code Unknown: Collage Or Art?

I was bored by Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher where the moment of suffering never comes. If Haneke creates characters that cannot or will not communicate, then one must suffer from boredom, because he is a fine film maker and we must learn to suffer. However, if the attempt is to existentialise alienation, make it an art, showcase it to show cultural and racial isolation, depicting difficulty in communication also, then Code Unknown, Haneke's deft collage movement is actually quite good.

There are some powerful scenes or movements in this movie. My favourites are the Boulevard scenes, the metro scene and Juliette Binoche in the theatre. Of course, this movie can only exist in its deft style but the characters are actually caricatures for if, if they actually tell their stories, then the facade of pseudo-communication, the ghetto existence of most European cities will simply explode. If Haneke strikes a kind of balance between different racial subtypes in this movie, he does not allow his characters to speak, for speaking would involve politics, politics to do something. The artists aim is not just to showcase suffering but to take sides and we do not know whose side he is on.

Any person worth his salt can have an opinion. All opinions, even relating to what coffee one drinks could be political. Most European cinema, under the guise of Art, has escaped from attempting to answer, to speak. To highlight all this xenophobia, racialism, boredom is to stultify the subject matter, for the crisis must be lived, the love torn to pieces, the tumour touched and then, only then can this heartache be led to its proper denouement. Otherwise, this movie is only poster pain, a moving collage.

However, to be fair, this movie has its moments too. It takes courage to stick a poster to a city wall in Europe these days. And Haneke, after all, is quite brave.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ordet

It is hard not to think of Ordet without thinking of the end. For it is the end that most matters in this movie or so I think. To say that it is an extraordinary movie is to say the least. The images from this movie stay with you for these are not supposed to be ephemeral or even abstract but realistic, hard and sombre.

The movie is about a miraculous resurrection, set against religious doubt and hypocrisy in a farm house in a village in Denmark. The scepticism, religious fervour and lack of it is reflected in the principal household where the tensions simmer from frank disbelief to an almost insane religious grandiosity, somehow well played by an actor portraying a detachment from everyone, including himself and finally rescuing everyone, even from themselves, in the final scene that resurrects the daughter-in-law, the most affable person from the coffin, when she is about to be buried. The supposedly insane Johannes, the person who proclaims he is Jesus, claims reason in the end and magically breathes life into his sister-in-law. The last scene also brings together the other remaining jigsaw, that of the neighbouring tailor, who acknowledges his hypocrisy and his fanatic understanding of religion.

I was rather mystified by the ending but somehow not surprised for I thought I was watching not a movie about faith but a religious movie, a kind of toned down evangelism, a hushed preaching, a sophisticated call to arms. In the father figure, the head of the household, we behold a kind of a bibilical patriarch, with his unflinching and sometimes dour faith in God and yet who also has his doubts and drinks his cafe. He is waiting for a miracle and when he has nearly given up, after the resurrection he proclaims that this God and the God of old are the same.

I do not know what Carl Theodor Dreyer wants us to understand from this movie. If it is about faith, hope, belief in endless struggle, toil, and being truthful and good, then it is admirable. If this movie is about that sentimental belief in one's sin, redemption and all that never ending hypocrisy in man's ultimate destiny, then this movie simply crashes.

Apart from the ending, I believe that the interiors and the landscapes in this movie are breathtakingly melancholic, beautiful, subtle and understated to the point of oppressive brilliance. There is humour too, for when the pastor wonders whether Johannes' malady is due to love, his older brother immediately answers........."No, Kierkegaard". The hard outdoors, the wind, the menace of the interior of the house, the minimalist lighting at times and the constant pacing in and out of the rooms somehow matches the fervour in the souls of the main characters. Ordet is a great movie but the ending, miraculous that it is, and attractive as it seems, reflects despair rather than hope.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lesson From The Kama sutra

I have never quoted any poem or any prose extract in great length, but I find this poem too irresistible not to do so, and it would be miserly not to share it with those who don't know Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet, the voice of freedom and a major world poet.

Wait for her with an azure cup.
Wait for her in the evening at the spring, among perfumed roses.
Wait for her with the patience of a horse trained for mountains.
Wait for her with the distinctive, aesthetic taste of a prince.
Wait for her with the seven pillows of cloud.
Wait for her with strands of womanly incense wafting.
Wait for her with the manly scent of sandalwood on hor
seback.
Wait for her and do not rush.
If she arrives late, wait for her.
If she arrives early, wait for her.
Do not frighten the birds in her braided hair.
Take her to the balcony to watch the moon drowning in milk.
Wait for her and offer her water before wine.
Do not glance at the twin partridges sleeping on her chest.
Wait and gently touch her hand as she sets a cup on marble.
As if you are carrying the dew for her, wait.
Speak to her as a flute would to a frightened violin string,

As if you knew what tomorrow would bring.
Wait, and polish the night for her ring by ring.
Wait for her until the night speaks to you thus:
There is no one alive but the two of you.
So take her gently to the death you so desire,
and wait.