Monday, December 31, 2007

And Time Passed Somehow

The perfect poem was not written
nor was the perfect book read.
It swayed between choices and fury.
At the beginning of spring and at summer's edge
and in melancholic autumn too, word's hung
and slipped like dry sand.

Distances were crossed once, eyes met faces that
met eyes, weathered by time, silenced by
silence. And words hovered there too,
some witty and plain but always very near
the centre of pain.

The perfect journey should end in staying. Not
seek edges and distances, words and meaning.
It should slip through the net of poetry
and ride the riptide to meaning, to break
the strangle of afternoon heartache.
The swollen tides must recede.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

When Poetry Is Sung

Ewa Demarczyk, Karuzela z Madonnami

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A year In Books

I have included not just novels but essays and literary criticism in book form. The list is chosen randomly, in no particular order. Because of laziness, I cannot describe each in great detail. I managed to write a few posts on some of these books in this blog. The list below does not include every book I read this year but all the notable ones and also does not include re-reads like Turgenev, Goncharov, Nabokov, Proust and many others.

Mourid Barghouti: I Saw Ramallah
A poetic paean to ending an exile, very lyrical and melancholic.

Roberto Bolano: The Savage Detectives, Amulet
The former is on every important list. I wrote many posts on it. It is a savage prose poem. Amulet is a wonderful novel. Bolano is easily Latin America's best writer of the last 25 years!

Magda Szabo: The Door
Hungarian novelist. A restrained evocative creation of sad desires, sad memories. A rewarding book.

Thomas Bernhard: Gargoyles, Extinction, The Voice Imitator, Yes, Old Masters
Much said, much unsaid. I am reading his Gathering evidence. Bernhard is a word nihilist. And entertaining and scathing.

Abdulrazak Gurnah: Desertion
Altogether the first section was better than the second. The writing has wit and charm.

Gabriel Josipovici: In A Hotel Garden, Goldberg: variations
The latter is really a good novel, the first disappointing, but easily the best writer in Britain.

Italo Svevo: Zeno's Conscience
I picked this up after reading Alok's post. Not disappointed at all. A wonderful novel, bursting with humour, sarcasm, wit and occasionally tenderness.

Jose Eduardo Agualusa: The Book Of Chameleons
Angolan and Portuguese, poetry and style.

Jean Genet: Querelle of Brest, The Screens
Words are not enough. Genet is the best prose stylist in any language. I usually read Genet aloud and then think I am lucky. Genet is a writer's, prose poetry, politics, honesty, integrity and living his words through acts. He is thus the only true philosopher in this list, because he was there.

Witold Gombrowicz: Ferdydurke, Cosmos, Possession
The discovery of the year personally. Never self indulgent, always wise, always brilliant.

Juan Carlos Onetti: Let the wind speak
Not as great a novel as I had expected, but easily very good.

Juan Goytisolo: Count Julian, State Of Siege, Landscapes Of War, Makbara
Reading him is to physically destroying chains. inventor of languages, of passions and feelings. intellectual, poetic, surreal, sarcastic, political, mystic. Only reading him would suffice too.

Raymond Rousell: Locus Solus
Magical and other worldly, Witty and fascinating, a novel to be read many times.

Guillermo Martinez: The Oxford Murders
Murders, numbers, intrigue. Slightly disappointing but not boring.

Enrique- Vila Matas: Bartleby& co, Montano's Malady
The first far better than the second, both dealing with a particular disease called literature sickness. A kind of neurosis, but linked to real love of the same.

Robert Walser: The Assistant, Jakob Von gunten
I think that he is the mystical Kafka and pre dated him. To read Walser is to understand the success of failure. Walser is a great writer and unforgettable.

Adolfo Bioy Casares: The Invention Of Morel
What a novel! I am still baffled by its memory, its sheer inventiveness, subtlety and originality.

Laszlo Krasznahorkai: War& War, The Melancholy Of Resistance
The first a poor rehash of America, the second a really good novel, even great.

Laura Restrepo: Delirium
Well written, the author shows Saramago's influence clearly. The sections without his influence, sing song gangster literature are the best portions of the novel.

Georg Buchner : Complete Plays
Perhaps the best German writer of a particular kind. Lenz is certainly remarkable, in fact everything he wrote.

Wilhelm Genazino : The Shoe Tester Of Frankfurt
A brilliant novel. Influences of Bernhard yet an original writer. Some passages are remarkable.

Ghassan Kanafani : Men In The Sun, All That Is Left To You
The style is dense and needs effort. However, he was an experimental writer and so important for Arabic fiction. I think his stories are immensely important for the Palestinian experience.

Sandor Marai : Conversations In Bolzano
Anyone who has read Embers will not recognize this novel as Marai'. Brilliant, revelling in style and farce. Essential.


The philosophical and literary writings named below cannot be described in haste. I tried to read Deleuze earlier but struggled. Two regimes is more accessible. Edward Said is so keenly intelligent in both the books I read, always demanding and questioning. Adorno is my favourite poet- philosopher. Baudrillard is so inventive with language, so sheeny, and so mercurial but Adorno's melancholy is nearer home.

Sontag's essays are brilliant, in addition introducing so many writers like Gombrowicz. The Josipovici essays do him justice, he is really an essayist but his essays lack the poetic charm of Sontag's. Eqbal Ahmad and Pankaj Mishra's essays and writings are easily the best from south Asia, even though the former is purely a political writer. Negri- Hardt and Agamben books did not try me so much, though Agamben's style is not so easy. I have not read the entire Blanchot book. The style is unlike I am used to but I aim to plod.

Many books remained unread, some half finished, some deserted near the end for unknown reasons. This pattern will continue. I have not mentioned all half read or partly read books. I think the number of books read and unread is not a reflection of anything apart from a virulent chase after words, a melancholic and despairing attempt to find a voice in the voices of others, like Bolano's Savage Detectives. I find this list by Alok here as another wander lust. I wonder what Antonia's would be?

Edward Said: On Late Style, Culture And Imperialism

Theodor Adorno: The Stars Down To Earth

Gilles Deleuze: Two Regimes Of Madness

Susan Sontag: Where The Stress Falls, Against Interpretation

Negri- Hardt: Empire

Eqbal Ahmad : The Selected Writings

Pankaj Mishra: Temptations Of The West

Claude Addas : Quest For The Red Sulphur

Agamben : Potentialities

Daniel Varisco: Islam Obscured

Jean Baudrillard: Cool Memories vol 1,2 & Simalucra and Simulation

Michel Focault: Power, vol 3

Negri- Hardt: Multitude

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Heretical Empiricism

Maurice Blanchot: Fiction And Literary Essays

Gabriel Josipovici: The Singer On The Shore

Irwin Yalom : Love's executioner and other tales of Psychotherapy

Thomas De Quincey : On Murder

The worst read of the year......War And War by Krasznahorkai.
The best read of the year..........that's always tricky. I don't want to be held hostage by any writer, even Bolano.
And so, continues this love, these yearnings, a fire, funeral pyres, nights of unrest, days of images, and more so, the always important comments of my fellow travellers, without whom there is no blog.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

After Many Pauses

This is an attempt to sketch a mood or event, a feeling without the constraint of words. I wanted to write of silence, about silence.

And then, after many harsh words, many cigarettes and many pauses, he rose and turning his back on her, opened the window. He leant out, his elbows resting on the ledge. It was night but not dark. The moon hung in the sky, distant in a distant sky. The stars were scattered all around, bright confetti. The sky was like carbon paper, blue-black, an abstract sky. He felt his own breathing and himself being slowly stretched against the sky. And then quite suddenly, he felt all his previous rage dissipate, leave him slowly. It seemed as if he was noticing the sky for the first time. He realized the impotence of his anger and the inconsequential failure of his misplaced love. He wanted to be out of himself, besides himself, detached. He didn't feel anything anymore. He wanted to join the stars, in silence. He wanted to break free from words. And then he heard her rise and the flourish of finality in her Bye but he did not turn to see her. He heard her footfalls down the stairs and the gentle sound of the shutting door. He felt peaceful and almost happy. He did not even feel the need to light another cigarette.

Wails For A Demon Lover?

"A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!"

Monday, December 24, 2007

State Of Siege

It seems serendipity has decreed that State Of Siege shall be the last novel that I read this year, for the year runs to its end, though when one thing ends, another begins just as it has done before with a new name. This short novel, written by Juan Goytisolo and published in Spanish in 1995 is perhaps easier to read than his other works, for Goytisolo murders the conventions of how novels or for that matter anything can be written. Earlier this year, I waxed lyrical about him, and I completed Makbara but was unable to finish Marks Of Identity, his trilogy, a project I have left for the future.

Goytisolo is a difficult writer to read for he writes with many voices, in many ways. He has, as remarked by someone, "laid siege to the Spanish language" and in the final process, liberated it and given it a new aesthetic. It is unlikely that I will read him in Spanish ( there is an Oblomov in me) but Helen Lane's translations are masterpieces in their own right. Goytisolo's language ranges from long, never ending sentences, few pages long to delirious fragments, poetry stretching and shivering till words break into explosions. His writing celebrates language but also gives expression to voices that are tired of oblivion, for these voices exist at the margins of two worlds. Goytisolo is known for his love and celebration of Islamic and Arab culture and he lives in Djemaa El Fnaa, a place he has described with not words but ecstatic mysticism in Makbara.

State of Siege begins in Sarajevo and describes the siege of this city, a siege wherein a mysterious man dies when mortar shells strike his hotel room. The man's body disappears, his identity is assumed to be Spanish, he is called by the initials J. G, ( the author?) and a major is assigned to look for clues. This is described along with a siege of a district in Paris, which is mostly home to immigrants. The chapters are interspersed with dreams, fragments, voices. It is revealed later on that JG does not exist, never did but was a Moroccan man, a saint who wanted to die in Sarajevo, to redeem a medieval siege. His identity was carved up by unknown people, but he has left behind poems, homo-erotic mystical fragments and laments. The novel ends with a chapter called Astrolabe, which has these mystical fragments, written by this Moroccan holy man.

This novel is a description of European apathy towards Sarajevo and its Bosnian Muslims, for the apathy is described clearly, the waiting for some outside intervention, as snipers claim civilian victims, and a city is ravaged and devastated by an army that had sworn to protect people it was killing, mercilessly, ruthlessly. Goytisolo's parallel descriptions of the Paris siege seem prophetic, considering the events of recent civil unrest in Paris, the xenophobic passages and the anti-immigration and racist stances are well captured ( one can see the same strains in Sarkozy, France's president who called rioters scum) It might seem outlandish, a district in Paris under siege by unknown forces but not incredible.....the parallels with Sarajevo are drawn....

Goytisolo has dedicated this novel to Sarajevo's residents, European intellectuals and to Susan Sontag, whose staging of Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo was an act that hugely impressed him. It is clear whose sides his sympathies lie with but that is besides the point. "God or Godot never turned up", he writes, as Sarajevo's library is destroyed, "its soul....deafening collapse of the walls and ceilings of archives and reading rooms housing thousands of ottoman, Persian and Arabic manuscripts. The object of the leave no trace of the historical substance of this country so as to build on it a temple of lies, legends and myths"...... The last days of the siege are described too......"people gulping air after urbicides, as cafes open and the besieged gather in cemeteries to pray and place flowers on the graves of their relatives and friends".

There is some humour as nicknames are invented for the main players....."Slobe globe Milo Venusevic, Elevnus Milo-Chechnik, the Bardobomber Kara schtick" and so on. It was a way of lumbering up their brains, stretching the muscles of their humanitarian tourists came on sightseeing trips to pity our sufferings and photograph them". As we move from the "Kristallnaght" of a besieged Paris district, directed against foreigners to a real siege elsewhere, from a Moroccan holy man to Sotadic poems, Goytisolo reminds us of the barbarity and the inhumanity of a situation which Europe tolerated because the sufferers, like those a few decades earlier belonged to a different religion. In writing this novel, Goytisolo's lyricism and imagination deconstruct mythical overtures and stances and exposes the cruelties that are too obvious.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Si La Muerte

If Death

If death should come asking for me
do me the favour
of telling him to come back tomorrow
because I still haven't paid my debts
nor finished my poem
nor said goodbye to anyone
nor prepared clothing for the trip
nor delivered that package I promised to
nor locked up my desk drawers
nor told my friends what I should have
nor sniffed the fragrance of the unborn rose
nor laid bare my roots
nor answered an overdue letter
because I haven't even washed my hands
or known a son
or gone hiking in unknown countries
nor do I know the sea's seven sails
nor the song of mariners
If death should come
please tell him I understand
and wait a bit
because I haven't kissed my sweetheart goodbye
nor shaken hands with my family
nor dusted my books
nor whistled my favourite song
nor become reconciled with my enemies
tell him I haven't yet attempted suicide
nor seen my people freed
tell him if he comes to return tomorrow
that it's not because I fear him but because
I haven't set off along the road.

Miguel Huezo Mixco, Translated by Claribel Alegria and Darwin Flakoll
Si La Muerte, sung in Spanish by Diamanda Galas

Another Bolano Poem

This is called My Life In The Tubes Of Survival.

Because I was a pygmy and yellow and had pleasant features
And because I was smart and unwilling to be tortured
In a work camp or padded cell
They stuck me in this flying saucer
And told me fly and find your destiny. But what
Destiny was I going to find? The damned ship looked like
The wandering Dutchman through the skies of the world, as if
I wanted to flee from my disability, from my particular
Skeleton: a spit in Religion's face,
A silk stab in the back of Happiness,
Moral and Ethical support, the forward escape
From my executioner brothers and my unknown brothers.
In the end, all human and curious, all orphans and
Blind players on the edge of the abyss. But all this
Inside the flying saucer could only make me indifferent.

Or remote. Or secondary. The greatest virtue of my traitorous species
Is courage, perhaps the only thing that's real, palpable even in tears
And goodbyes. And courage was what I needed, locked up in
The saucer, casting surprising shadows on peasants and drunks
Sprawled out in irrigation ditches. I invoked courage while the
damned ship
Flicked through ghettos and parks that to someone on foot
Would be enormous, but for me were only pointless tattoos,
Magnetic indecipherable words. Scarcely a gesture
Hinted beneath the planet's nutria cloak.
Had I become Stefan Zweig and seen the approach
Of my suicide? With respect to this, the ship's bitter cold
Was indisputable. But still, I sometimes dreamed
Of a warm country, a terrace and a faithful, desperate love.
My falling tears would linger on the saucer's
Surface for days, evidence not of my pain, but of
A kind of glorified poetry that more and more often
Clenched my chest, my temples and hips. A terrace
A warm country and a love with big faithful eyes
Approaching slowly through my dreams, while the ship
Left smoldering trails in the ignorance of my brothers
And in their innocence. And we were a ball of light, the saucer and I,
In the retinas of poor peasants, a perishable image
That would never adequately describe my longing
Or the mystery that was the beginning and end
Of that incomprehensible artefact. Like that until the
End of my days, submitted to arbitrary winds,
Dreaming sometimes the saucer was smashing into a sierra
In America and my corpse, almost without a scratch, was rising up
To be seen by old highlanders and historians:
An egg in a nest of twisted shackles. Dreaming
That the saucer and I had finished our ridiculous dance,
Our humble critique of Reality, in a painless, anonymous
Crash in one of the planet's deserts. Death
That brought me no peace, so after my flesh had rotted
I still went on dreaming.

Roberto Bolano. Translated by Laura Healy. I found it here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Passenger

Perhaps the only concerns that this movie can raise are existential. And to it are added the strains of a thriller, elements of a detective story, suspense and deceit, then we are witnessing great art. To be bold, I am suggesting that this may be Antonioni's best movie, even better than L'Eclisse or L 'Avventura, for here the major themes that are the subjects of his oeuvre generally are brought to fruition in The Passenger.

A man by profession a Journalist, played by jack Nicholson in Saharan Africa is in search of rebels involved in a civil war. Failure to meet them and his vehicle breaking down in the desert frustrates him. At his hotel, he discovers a casual acquaintance called Robertson lying dead in his room. Nicholson decides to assume his identity, after staring into Robertson's eyes for a longish time. He leaves everything behind, a succesful career, wife and loses himself into Robertson's persona. He then starts living as Robertson, who he discovers is a gun runner. Thus begins his clandestine meetings with African rebels and his chance encounter with the girl, played by Maria Schneider. However, Nicholson's wife wants to meet Robertson to ascertain her husband's last moments and across Germany and finally in Spain, we run up to the final denouement.

Why does Nicholson assume another identity? It seems to be a response that stems from a sudden development, that of Robertson's death. It is clear that he is escaping throughout the movie but it is quite obvious that he is escaping from himself, which means his career, life and his wife too. When his vehicle breaks down, he screams and breaks down, and after that he looks different. It is not relevant whether he has had a sudden conversion in the desert, for through flashbacks we see his not really acknowledging the beauty of the desert. However, afterwards, he seems to behave like a man convinced, convinced of the futility of his actions, debating to settle down as a waiter or writer. This man is thus aware of his actions and is clearly understanding his actions. His travels are not part of a fugue state, for he is conscious of his memory.

Schneider, nameless, plays an intriguing role for she is his ready helper as they flee his wife and the contacts from Africa. She is too friendly, too reliable and even at his insistence does not leave him. And yet when he checks in the hotel in Spain, she has checked before him as Mrs Robertson. It is thus apparent that she might have been Robertson's wife, no, she is Robertson's wife and when we witness the last shot, long-tracking for 7 minutes, we witness the girl talking to the contacts and finally Nicholson lies dead in his room, on the bed, almost like Robertson himself. Nicholson's wife arrives to say that she doesn't know who he is, presumably suggesting that now, she doesn't know him now.

The Passenger is a great movie, because it does not assume to tell us what it actually does. It is not a dull, boring, drawn and listless existential tale but a sustained suspenseful account of a man who decides to lose it, throw it away, all, everything because of a crisis, a real crisis and confirms the alarming futility of it all. It is evident that his marriage too was crumbling and his wife, played by the beautiful Runacre, is having a lot of guilt, thus necessitating a search for her dead husband's last contact. The performance by Nicholson is superb, for he plays a man detached, alienated from himself and lost in losing himself. I also think that Maria Schneider's performance is really good though she seems to be generally dismissed by film critics after her Last Tango thing. Her restrained salvo is rightly in tune with this middle aged man, and she adds a certain menace to Nicholson's furious rage, but this rage is more metaphysical than physical.

The camera work in this movie is the subject of numerous discussions including the last shot which is incredible, especially the camera breaking through the window. The background score is minimal, almost non-existent and one does not notice that for it seems to be not required. This movie is the work of an artist who is accomplished, confident and sure of his craft. It amazes me as to why this movie is so under rated. In spite of that, this movie has everything and demands more than one viewing for the camera tricks are so deft that I missed a few things that were only visible when I read about what I had missed.

Friday, December 21, 2007


These memories,
What noise
making me wish I was living without
a life with memory.
In warmer times, wanting and rushing,
without thinking and nothing else.

And then sudden dispersion,
no secrets, no magic,
a hidden useless pain, serene emptiness
that was memory too.
rewinding tapes, untiring fingers
opening page after page.

Then nights together, of strange love,
and tears sometimes, faces, thoughts
behind indecent fences of bravery.
rid of thinking, and joyful hours
playing at the hour's edge
next to sleep.

Memory should be straight, not crooked
forcing itself off track
into corners dark where forgetfulness
and shame reign.
There should be ways of stopping
this chain grinding me into night.

I would be a willing slave to
sweet amnesic solitude, resting
after calm impotence.
I would regress to cold winters
and sweet summers and warm fingers
unruffling my long hair.

Useless Words

Profound melancholy, unrest,
and the chance, no way will it let
me see anything.
I am losing words, for the feeling is more subtle
and so pitiless, how do I say anything?

At a familiar place, surrounded by another silence,
I see another melancholy, unexpressed,
not even daring to write.

These words are useless.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Abel Et Cain

Race of Abel, sleep, eat and drink;
God smiles on you complacently.

Race of Cain, crawl on your belly,
Die in the mire wretchedly.

Race of Abel, your sacrifice
Delights the nose of the Seraphim!

Race of Cain, will there ever be
An ending to your punishment?

Race of Abel, see your sowing
And your cattle thrive and flourish;

Race of Cain, your bowels
Howl with hunger like an old dog.

Race of Abel, warm your belly
At your patriarchal hearth;

Race of Cain, shiver with the cold
In your cavern, wretched jackal!

Race of Abel, love, pullulate!
Even your gold has progeny.

Race of Cain, with the burning heart,
Beware of those intense desires.

Race of Abel, you browse and grow
Like the insects of the forest!

Race of Cain, along the highways
Drag your destitute family.


Ah! race of Abel, your carcass
Will fertilize the steaming soil!

Race of Cain, your appointed task
Has not been adequately done;

Race of Abel, your disgrace is:
The sword is conquered by the pike!

Race of Cain, ascend to heaven,
And cast down God upon the earth!

Charles Baudelaire, from Fleurs du mal. ( Translated by William Aggeler)
This poem has been sung in her characteristic Gothic style by the unique Diamanda Galas in French, and it is one of the many superb "Songs" in the album called Malediction and Prayer.

Monday, December 17, 2007

In A Hotel Garden: Gabriel Josipovici

Having finally decided to read Gabriel Josipivici, I got hold of his essays called The Singer On The Shore and a few of his novels. He is the only British writer that I have chosen to read in a long time, as personally I feel that there is a dearth of good writers here, even though that opinion might appear biased, as fiction here exists in a vacuum, in a kind of grip that isolates the real and brings forth the topical, which is bad taste and celebrates a kind of celebrity cult that has no connection with the reality of life, the true concerns of literature, the seething politics of life, of fiction.

I chose to read In A Hotel Garden, published in 1993 and his compilation of essays in the Singer collection. Josipivici remains perhaps unknown in mainstream literary circles which is not surprising, for he is considered experimental and outside the general realms of so called literary fiction. He is a literary theorist and a critic and remains an example of the writer-critic. In many well read blogs in this country, Josipovici is highly regarded and most British bloggers are somehow in awe of him. He has published a substantial amount of work, including literary criticism and The Singer collection includes his best essays.
A fine website for his works here and a post on this novel at RSB.

In an essay called This Is Not Your Rest, Josipovici finds his identity in being a Jew, though he asks himself what it might mean, in the same way we might ask what being human might mean. In his own self, he does not find himself belonging to any country, nor France where he was born nor England where he lives. In short he feels uncomfortable in belonging and also cannot define himself as an exile, for an exile has a country to return to, somewhere to go. This rootedness is central to his concern, for that seems foreign to his conception of a literature. In this permanent displacement, Josipovici finds his identity as a Jew more enhancing, for he thinks of their displacement as his own, in a way. There are other essays too, a tribute to Aharon Appelfeld, on Kafka and Kierkegaard which are good reading. His writing style is not pretentious at all even though we know he is well read. His style is confident and self possessed but not shrill and rhetoric at times is balanced with a sense of uncertainty. I will try to write about his essays another time.

Coming back to the novel, in a hotel garden however. This short novel is written entirely in a dialogue form and figures a narrator called Ben, telling his two close friends of the details of his short trip to the dolomite alps where he met a Jewish woman called Lily. It seems Lily has made the trip before and after a few walks around the mountains, lily reveals her earlier trip to Siena, to a hotel garden, where her grandmother, before the holocaust had met and fallen in love with a young man who later perished in the holocaust. Lily is making the trip to understand and Ben is trying to understand that. It is however clear to Rick, one of the two friends why Lily might actually have wanted to do so and not to Fran who wonders why. Ben thinks it is evident to those who can understand it or try to. The novel ends with Ben debating as to whether he should meet Lily again, now that they are again in London, now that he has separated from his Partner Sand and Lily is thinking of doing the same with hers.

That is the rough plot. I must admit that I am disappointed after having read this novel for it baffles me as to why the writer should go to such painstaking lengths of inventing a plot that even though realistic is so crushingly boring in the way it is written. Ben meets Lily and then pesters her with questions and it seemed embarrassing to me to hear him, asking her relentlessly about her grandmother. What of British reserve! The dialogue nowhere rises above the mundane though that is its saving grace. There are realistic touches, especially the kitchen scenes where he talks and behaves naturally. The dialogue is interrupted by Fran's son Robert who asks them irritating questions. The concerns that Lily has about her grandmothers unsuccessful love affair with a man who died in the pogroms are understandable but Ben's preoccupation seems obsessive.

Perhaps Lily is trying to live through her grandmother's love, maybe not, maybe she is remembering what cannot be expressed through words, but Josipovici seems to stretch the forgetfulness aspects of the holocaust to tedious lengths. One can understand the main concerns he has, the dispossession of Jews and their sufferings and the blurring with memory of such events but through his narrator Ben, he has chosen a character who seems to be least equipped with that concern, and specifically not to his two listeners. As a piece of fiction, I think it is exaggerated, the style is dull, the characters lack an emotional resonance and Ben frankly is a bore. The language is common and there is neither prose nor poetry though I must admit it seems realistic. I do realize his experimentation with words and language and his admiration for Blanchot etc, and that this might be his considered ploy whilst writing this novel. However, it is a trifle disappointing though I haven't given up yet, for I intend to read Goldberg: variations and his longish essay on the Bible called The Book Of God. However, a writer who pays a tribute to Appelfeld in such lavish terms does not inspire much confidence.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ya Rayah

Rachid Taha defies genre. This is a good example.

Pedro Paramo

Now that the year rushes to an end, like everything else, I thought I should write about Pedro Paramo, a novel that I again read quite recently. It is one of those novels one must read a few times, one has to. I will not repeat what has been said by everyone great and small about this novel. Suffice it to say that it occupies a space, a niche in Latin American literature that few other works have. Its influence was far reaching, it helped shape a new literature or gave old expression a new name, namely magic realism, albeit unfortunately.

Juan Rulfo is an intriguing writer. One book famous writers are anyway. I sense in him the same hum as one does in Walser, though Walser wrote more. Rulfo's tone, his prose has the quality of timing and rhythm that sets it apart immediately. It is the pace, the delivery and the narrative style as also the limpidity of thoughts, thoughts loose that are set and worked in together in a coherent fashion. As Sontag points out, "With the opening sentences........we know we are in the hands of a master storyteller" However, this novel is not an easy read.Although only 122 pages long, it demands of the reader what perhaps life or death wanted of Juan Preciado, the narrator.

At the outset, the narrator is off to a village called Comala because "I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Paramo, lived there". He promises his mother that he would "go and make him pay, for all those years he put us out of his mind". But his arrival in Comala is the only straight forward thing that happens in this novel, for as we realize, we are in the midst of a village that is deserted, peopled by ghosts, ghosts that are actually living, alive, moving here and there. As Preciado settles in a house for a night, it seems that his host too is dead, a friend of his dead mother, a woman who knows his father Don Paramo too. In fact, from that point on, the reader struggles to follow till one gets in tune with this village and its principal ghosts. The rest of the story, a discovery of Pedro Paramo and his history is told backwards, through dialogues, interspersed with other characters, all dead and all waiting in a way to tell their story, for having given up their souls, they seem to be lingering, on the plains of Media Luna, where all this action takes place.

"The great stories", wrote Sontag in her fine preface to this novel, "are not only told in the past tense, they are about the past". "In my life", wrote Rulfo, "there are many silences. In my writing, too". It is with these silences and all the stories and memories of the past that one has to contend with as we read on, in a prose that is hypnotic, to say the least. We recognize three main characters.........the narrator Juan Preciado who is looking for Pedro Paramo, his father. The other character of importance is Susana Juan, with whom Pedro Paramo is madly in love with. But all this has already happened and I was unsure whether Juan Preciado too was dead, whether the journey he was undertaking had already happened and his narration was the voice of his ghost, as he himself heard and saw other ghosts, what is constantly referred to in this book as murmurings, stirrings. Pedro Paramo is a feudal landlord, petty criminal, mafia boss who has fathered many a child and has never been in love, not with his son Preciado's mother apart from Susana Juan. His other illegitimate son, Miguel dies in an accident and this is a time of social change in Mexico as revolutionaries on horse backs start hunting down the oppressors of the common peasantry.

The silent villages are signs of change themselves as people leave and immigrate for cities leaving behind everything including their most precious belongings, their identities and their memories. It is one such village Comala that we are in, but one where the only things stirring are the dead, speaking and breathing their hypnotic trance like dreams, weaving one sad memory after another, hanging and leaving behind a trail of tears and melancholy. "You will hear the voice of my memories stronger than the voice of my death.....that is, if death ever had a voice", we are told early. Or later, "the day you went away I knew that I would never see you again. You were stained red by the afternoon sun, by the dusk filling the sky with blood".

Pedro Paramo is a novel that I have sought to love and read and understand many times before. It is not an easy love nor is it sullen but it calls for an understanding of the entire social milieu of rural Mexico , of changing times and of an intersection of life with death. It is quite a rewarding book, unique in its own way and more haunting than poetic, or more poetic than haunting. There is considerable rain, much dust, many memories and so many loves scattered on these few pages that it stands on its own as perhaps one of those novels that are true masterpieces. We finish the novel remembering noises and stirrings, rain mixed with sobs, "sobs mixed with the sound of the rain".
A brilliant essay on this novel here.


In order to understand this movie, perhaps one must know how to see it. May be, one need not even think of making any sense of it but sink into the deep mysticism of this movie or lack of it. This movie, called Teorema is regarded as one of Pasolini's most transparent and difficult movies though it is not as shocking as Salo. It is not just enough to watch or read something but to make sense of an experience, to construct out of a series of emotional movements some pattern that we can label as representative or symbolic of a particular emotion. The lack of clarity, after watching a movie like Teorema is not the director's fault but ours.

A beautiful stranger enters a factory owner's house, seemingly uninvited. In the beginning though, we are shown a factory and the owner questioned about the suitability of the factory being run by the workers. There are questions raised about bourgeois expectations and capitalist barriers. When we are introduced to the family, we see an apparently happy one. The handsome stranger, whose arrival is announced by a telegram, settles in, reading Rimbaud. However, there are no surprises evinced at his arrival.Then the stranger, played by Terence Stamp, goes on to seduce each family member, the parents, son and daughter and the maid too. The man's presence is welcome and not unusual. He then leaves as suddenly as he had arrived but not before each family member acknowledges their individual debt to him. The family then tries to cope in his absence, each in their own way.

The second movement of the movie is perhaps more important than the first or more meaningful. Now that the stranger is out of the way, a sense of dissolution has set in, in their inner selves and for this, the outer landscape must now play a part. The maid leaves, arrives in a run down commune and eating nettles, settles down on a bench and performs miracles. The daughter becomes rigid and goes into a stupor, eyes open and is stretchered to a hospital. The son paints on window panes but in a brilliant monologue suggests that artists can or should say or do anything and even suggests that art is akin to madness. The mother, finds solace in physical love with unknown young men, though not without physical tension. The father, owner of a factory gives it all away, and in a scene of remarkable surprises, strips and walks into a wild almost biblical landscape, screaming his heart out, at which note, the movie finishes, apparently.

After each seduction, we find the willing seduced thanking the stranger for he has filled them with something that they did not have. In the case of the maid, she becomes illumined, for after her spiritual experience through this physical Union, she has become almost like a saint, and in one unforgettable scene, she is shown suspended in air, above a rooftop. While she grays, the villagers around her realize her saintliness, bowing down in deference. In her end, she chooses to be buried to cry but not to die. The son achieves a meaning in his previously useless artistic efforts for he realizes the efficacy of art only in experimenting through stretching beyond the acceptable, beyond the generally seen. The daughter's homage to the stranger is quite explicit for she has discovered a man besides her own father and her catatonic stare is a result of finding something which perhaps has been her undoing. In other words, her medicine is her poison. The mothers position is clear in a speech to the handsome alien, for she has found love and a new zest, an interest that she was previously lacking.

The factory owner's position and his response, his almost near death physical illness and his later moral response and a renouncement of his material position is the direct result of his encounter with the stranger, and his naked flight into the brown desert is his final leap.

Pasolini was a Marxist catholic, an impossible position in itself but not absurd. There are possibilities and in fact seeds for socialism in all three of the revealed religions though catholic industriousness has reduced it to a facade of moral imperialism. Pasolini's stance, in my view, in this movie is to show the thinness of a bourgeois position yet allowing us to understand a certain receptiveness there, ready made for a revolution, a waiting that seems inevitable for a love, a spiritual rain, that once unleashed, is ready to fall and in its deluge, take with it not only the partakers but every surrounding bit and piece. The establishment, which is the playground of immobility, has a yearning, but this yearning is kept at bay. It needs a stranger, maybe Christ like to dissolve his essence into the elements that are seething with a restlessness for change.

I would like to see this movie as one with some sexual connotations but failed to be convinced there are. Of course there are sexual scenes but they are stilted, almost cardboard like. They seem to lack the rush and roar of passion, for this is not passion but barrenness, a dry earth waiting for rain. There is thus a fusion of things in this movie, a mix of socialism, religion and sexual imagery. From time to time, within scenes we see a brownish dull and dusty landscape, and a mountain which perhaps seeks to remind us of a final preparation for the finish, for its characters too. The imagery is thus starkly realistic and surreal too, from a busy train station to a mystical field. The musical score is brilliant and the performances are all praiseworthy. This is a great movie by a great artist who was besides a film maker a poet, a novelist and an essayist but more importantly, a revolutionary, an artist and a political man. Maybe we must remember to read his Sex, consolation for misery, which could be another theme of this movie.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Interesting Links

The brilliant blog The Sharp Side on The Guardian's "long history of supporting western state violence and on suppressing the truth of its consequences" here and again, an interesting post on Malcolm Lowry at the Sharp Side.

A Noam Chomsky interview with the BBC's smug Andrew Marr here, reflecting on the almost unbreachable opinions of certain mainstream journalists, who unwittingly play for the establishment, reporting news and reflecting on affairs with the conviction that "what they are saying is the uncompromised freely expressed truth. The real genius of the modern system of thought control is that its greatest victims are not often the deceived but the deceivers themselves".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What Is Love?

What is love if it isn't
to think of you and smoke
one insomniac cigarette after another,
blowing my breath against
the silent ungiving silence of my room?

What is love if it isn't
to imagine a miracle might just happen
and the soft falls of the new lodger upstairs
might be yours?

What is love if it isn't
to think I might, just might
run into you, outside Le Cafe, near the gift shop
that sells one pound paper hearts?

This is not love at all though, I know,
this unrequited monster, this "pale fire"
these "forty-five hundred heartbeats per hour".
But it might just be.

I Will Not Forget

I will not forget
I will not forget
that day, that summer
when we sat close
surrounded by the promise of years together,
the scent of untouched love
that your fingers had,
that swoon in your eyes
in their brown and white,
beyond your words, besides my hesitant heart.

He saw her wet in a dry summer
drenched with love,
the purple print on her shirt
stuck, glued, fixed to her skin.
It was all he wanted
and all that nature could offer.
What mattered life? distances?
and the "moon's rictus"?

I will not forget
I will not forget
that hour that minute of silence
when the petals fell from your printed shirt
into the dust of my world,
and a blood red sky, yet pale softened
melting melting like fresh snow.

He rose and left and did not
dare to look back again.
But he still thinks if
that was love?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Out Stealing Horses: Per Petterson

This novel was widely acclaimed last year and in fact won a few prizes, including the IMPAC prize in 2007. Written by the Norwegian writer Per Petterson, the novel has been hailed as lyrical and stunning, with an excellent translation by Anne Born. I don't remember reading anything ever before by a Norwegian novelist and I must admit the title seemed discouraging. However, I have been much impressed by this novel, and the translation is perhaps one of the real highlights.

The narrator of the story is a 67 year old man, living in remote Norway, almost in a forest, of his own accord. Trond, as he is called, introduces himself and the elements of his story in a slow, deliberate and seemingly realistic manner, and it is his chance encounter with a neighbour that sets into motion his reverie or his memories of the past. Perhaps Trond has escaped to the inhospitable winter of Norway, away from the very memories this man, also nearly as old, has evoked inside him. What then follows is a narrative that is interspersed with his past recollections as he tries to explain his present motivation to live in harsh circumstances. Trond is a widower, having lost his wife in a crash in which he survived. Now all that he wants is to live alone, away, buried in a way, free perhaps and keep himself company. Trond thus doesn't have a TV, though he has a radio, and he tries in going about his activities in as unfussy a manner as possible.

Trond tells of his past, his friendship with a boy called Jon, with whom he once went stealing horses, his relationship with his father or sometimes lack of it and his desire, even though subtle for Jon's mother, who is called Jon's mother throughout. He reminisces about the time of the German occupation, his father's cabin, their work in the forest, as lumberjacks, log running and so on. In between, there is tragedy at Jon's house, which sees Jon departing forever.

One of the important aspects of this novel, without which it doesn't stand, is the atmospheric description of this lonely and cold landscape, near the border with Sweden. The descriptions are detailed, almost sketch like and it perhaps also allows the interplay of the weather, geography and surrounding elements weave on to the participating characters, who are not only close but also far from each other, held and hemmed in by the arc of their lives, weather, professions and so on. The descriptions of the lumbing work are elaborate and sometimes tedious and difficult to follow but I believe much is revealed of the inner psychological motives of the people involved, in a drama that has far reaching consequences for almost 2 different generations.

The style of narration is that of wistful, almost tender melancholy, as if remembering the past is unmanly, and remembering it poetically is unmanly too. However, the true merit of real narrative fiction lies in the poetic qualities that should not be too obvious and here Petterson has really crafted a work that is worth reading from that point of view. One does get the feeling that perhaps the pace could be a bit more slick, fast, but then I thought maybe Trond doesn't want to tell a story that way, and maybe I might have to slow down myself. There are elements of suspense and real drama in this story and at times it works well as a thriller, with German soldiers casually shooting bullets at amateur poetic spies in Norwegian forests.

This novel is not about stealing and hardly about horses. It looks at this man who wants to live on his own, away from his past. In other words he is escaping, which is not possible and perhaps might be in psychological denial which is always easy. I am not sure if he achieves the end in the fashion that he wants, for memories can visit us anywhere and we too can never end searching them. But, it is an attempt nonetheless. As a story and as a well written one, this novel stands out. What this novel actually achieves in the end is debatable, or maybe it is not supposed to do that at all. May be Trond would not like us to see it in that light. As I said earlier, the landscape descriptions are the key in this book. For instance:

"There was the scent of new-felled timber. It spread from the track-side to the river, it filled the air and drifted across the water and penetrated everything everywhere and made me numb and dizzy. I was in the thick of it all. I smelled of resin, my clothes smelled, and my hair smelled, and my skin smelled of resin when I lay in my bed at night. I went to sleep with it and woke up with it and it stayed with me all day long. I was forest".

Trond weaves and weaves the reader in and out of the swing of his memories, of harsh loves and strange decisions, of un-understandable acts of fate ( he does not believe in destiny) of losing and coming together, of coincidences and accidents. The secluded respite he chooses is his way, his answer. I think this novel is extremely readable and quite melancholic, and in the descriptive passages, reminds one of Sebald. Trond tells us in the end that "we do decide for ourselves when it will hurt". Apart from disagreeing with that observation and with his choice of reading Dickens at night, I found his narrative quite compelling.

A good review here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Self-Portrait At Twenty Years

I set off, I took up the march, and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead
I don't know. I set off, I thought it was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don't, and I listened
and almost burst out crying a terrible sound,
born on the air and the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite my fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death's cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all of us,
brushing cheeks with death.

Roberto Bolano, Translated by Laura Healy.

The above poem (found here) is typical of his style, and resembles his prose which is only poetry. It also is quite autobiographical, especially the self-references and "baby-faced". Roughly speaking, a real gem.There is another Bolano poem, called Godzilla in Mexico here, and New Directions are publishing a collection of his poems next year called Romantic Dogs.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Best Book Cover Of The Year ?

I like this one, and here there are a few more. The above is The Collected Poems by Zbigniew Herbert.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Small Town Weariness: Pankaj Mishra

My reading of Indian writers has sadly remained very limited, and I don't remember reading anything apart from Rushdie in the recent past. Over the last year or so, I have come across various articles and literary reviews by the Indian novelist, literary critic and essayist Pankaj Mishra and have just finished reading his brilliant collection of essays called Temptations in the west: How to be modern in India, Pakistan and beyond. These essays have been published over the last several years in various international magazines and papers and have been compiled here as a book. The essays are not chronologically arranged, as Mishra criscrosses over the years, apart from the first chapter where he speaks about himself.

This book is essentially a record of his journeys through a few countries but these impressions are mixed with part history and part memoir, a continuous reflective process, flashing on the things seen and heard previously, re-appraising, reevaluating. Mishra makes it clear that the essays are "not abstractions on democracy or religion and do not offer any solutions but are an attempt to confront bewildering perplexity", in countries as diverse as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Tibet. However, there is politics here and history too, but it is from the view of an insider and a foreigner, with a subtle deeply wise understanding of the cultural context of various issues.

Towards his native India, Mishra brings an approach of self examination, allowing an insight into his world, what he calls small town India, a land of poverty, corrupt officials, criminal politics, unemployment and open nexus between the rich and powerful at the cost of the disadvantaged. As he moves on, from a provincial town in North India to Delhi and then London, he casts an eye on the troubled divides and history of his country, pointing out that the general malaise of northern India was not unlike any other post colonial society, wherein a new class had emerged to fill in the spaces left by the British. This is evident in his extremely poignant descriptions of the divide between the clutter and mess of old cities against the civil lines, an inheritance from the British, with each person dreaming to cross the line somehow. As a student, he reflects on the student gangs employed by Hindu extremist parties, and his personal knowledge of a few, keeping to himself, reading Edmund Wilson and Sentimental Education among other books.

As we read further, Mishra dwells on the policies and predicaments of India's modern leaders, with not much written on Gandhi but some attention given to Nehru and his dynasty, clearly culminating in his daughters brutal repression of civil rights and her subsequent demise. He allows an insight into the Hindu extremist parties, comparing one of them to the Nazi brown shirts, with their similar styles, codes and agendas against what Mishra calls the helpless minorities of India, especially the Muslims, whose presence is described as tokenist, with falling employment levels and in modern times, a community that is targeted as the foreigner within. Mishra quotes a senior minister as saying that "let Muslims understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority". He blames the extremists for engineering souls and hurtling India towards fascism.

One gets an impression of two things simultaneously..........of a country emerging from poor economic policies and yet, hurtling towards fascism, religious extremism and a deepening chasm between the so called upper castes ( Mishra is one he reminds us a few times) and the lower caste Hindus, with the latter organizing their own parties, politics and creating further divides. the impression of a country in a relaxed siege is given, the minorities like Muslims described as thin, gaunt, angular faced men in prayer caps who stood idle before lightless shops and gazed warily at the passing cars. His reflections on Kashmir, a flash point between India and Pakistan are perhaps the best part of this book, as Mishra remembers his stay there, graphically describing the persistent heartbreaks of the kashmiris as a young boy sits near a newly dug grave, sprinkled with irises, "surrounded by mist-hazy mountains, memories of massacres contaminating the landscape that had once been a revelation of beauty".

He ends his section on Kashmir by startlingly saying that "you can't hope for much justice in the subcontinent, where fulfilment comes to a very few among the needy and restless millions, and where aspiration can itself be a luxury. in Kashmir, isolated and oppressed, more people have been confronted with this awareness in the last ten years than in all of its tormented history. the Kashmiris want a relative stability even if it involves living with the humiliation of continued Indian rule over the valley: the same private uneasy accommodations that keep the deprived millions elsewhere in the subcontinent from exploding into rage and destruction".

Mishra travels on, into Pakistan and Afghanistan, then Nepal and Tibet. I felt that his essays on India and his reflections on Kashmir are more well written than the other ones. His style is neat, measured with no hint of shrillness. There is an atmosphere of gloom in his writings, in his descriptions of his university hostels, villages, the country side in small town India and the impression is of melancholy, of a useless, being used to impotence at the unchanging nature of things, with this being no better than in his lyrical descriptions of Kashmir. The refrain seems to be the same, his emphasis on unequal development, criminalization of institutions, a powerless unemployed youth finding refuge in extremist religious discourse. He draws parallels between extremists in India and Pakistan but finds Hindu disaffection more accommodating towards the west and the current closeness between India and America as a result of their "sly materialism and this pragmatic relationship" leading to economic booms and the "Indians writing in English", which he finds as "related aspects".

Affluence is still a rare achievement, reminds Mishra for the vast majority of the subcontinent; but the gloss has got shinier and deeper, with small cities restored to wretchedness and cruelties that were probably there under the gloss of temporary affluence". His descriptions of Peshawar are similar to his on Indian cities, with "weary looking policemen, carts, trucks, cars.....the romance of Peshawar probably an invention of jaded westerners........relief only in the British created bungalows, whitewashed trees and flower beds and the lone guard standing stiff before long smoothly gravelled driveways". Compare this with "calf-deep floods, tin shacked roofs, rain battered villages, low caste women paving tiny courtyards with cow-dung, the men spinning rope for the string cots, the sky low and grey over the flat fields and the tiny huts and the buffaloes placid in muddy pools-the long drive through a world that belonged to itself as it would have done two centuries ago and was a reminder of how far even the superficially good things of a global economy were from this heavily populated and impoverished part of India".

Mishra writes on Bollywood or Bombay, speaking of films that are "long and unreal", containing "songs and dances in swiss meadows, plump action heroes saving their motherland and watching these movies was to shed briefly our deprivations, aimed originally at a small town audience, which is bemused by its pseudo-Indian setting and detachment from corruption and poverty".

All in all, this book is extremely readable, with the author speaking in a voice that is calm, sensible and measured and nowhere is there a betraying of any judgement; far from it, Mishra's voice is sane, filled with pathos and grimness, with some sections very lyrical, especially the descriptions of the countryside in North India and one gets the impression of his battling with his own self as he tries to make sense of a world changing against all odds. This is as good a description anywhere of any post colonial country, with high rises against shanty towns, an elite living in a world that is alien to the silent other majority, and escaping, as Mishra says he did but in a different way. He moves from "unquestioning submission ( for Hindus and Muslims alike) to one creed and philosophy to redefining himself and entering complicated affiliations with the larger world".

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Nabokov On Dostoevsky: Biased?

I would like to quote this passage from Nabokov's Lectures on Russian literature first before I present the main points in this post.

"Let me refer to one more method of dealing with literature- and this is the simplest and perhaps most important one. If you hate a book, you may still derive artistic delight from imagining other and better ways of looking at things, or, what is the same, expressing things, than the author you hate does.The mediocre, the false, the poshlust-remember that word-can at least afford a mischievous but very healthy pleasure, as you stamp and groan through a second-rate book which has been awarded a prize. But the books you like must be read with shudders and gasps.Let me submit the following practical suggestion. Literature, real literature, must not be gulped like some potion which may be good for the heart or good for the brain-the brain, that stomach of the soul. Literature must be taken and broken to bits, pulled apart, squashed-then its lovely reek will be smelt in the hollow of the palm, it will be munched and rolled upon the tongue with relish; then, only then, its rare flavour will be appreciated at its true worth and the broken and crushed parts will again come together in your mind and disclose the beauty of a unity to which you have contributed something of your own blood".

How well written and as he always did, how stylish! This extract is from Nabokov's essay on Dostoevsky, which I have always found strange reading. Nabokov begins by saying that Dostoevsky "is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one, with wastelands of literary platitudes". This opinion is based on the point of view of "enduring art and individual genius". And then, Nabokov claims that his views on Dostoevsky can "only be understood by experienced readers".

As is the practice in these essays, Nabokov paints a short biography of Dostoevsky, including his political and social world view. It is widely known that Dostoevsky was a Russian nationalist, who also believed in absolute monarchy, resentful of western domination. I think Dostoevsky is not alone in this. Perhaps that assertion is quite common in Eastern European writers, and I find the theme of Slavic superiority almost as a given in Eastern European and some Russian writers. This is in contradistinction to their general attitudes towards the events of the major wars, and this paranoia and attitude of permanent victim hood is manifest in modern slavophiles like Handke though not in a similar way in Gombrowicz.

Nabokov clarifies further the distinction between a sentimental and a sensitive writer, and banishes Dostoevsky to the legion of sentimental writers, saying that by this is meant "the non-artistic exaggeration of emotions meant to provoke automatically traditional compassion" in the reader. Again, "Dostoevsky lacks taste", with his characters tricking, "sinning their way to Jesus". Nabokov laments Dostoevsky's lack of natural backgrounds, with the novels focusing mainly on a landscape of ideas, a moral landscape. Perhaps, Nabokov misses the almost painting like sketches which Turgenev has achieved in Sketches From A Hunter's Album, which Nabokov and everybody else loves.

Nabokov's main criticism comes later, when against three characteristics that he believes an artist must set out, he finds Dostoevsky lacking in one way or the other. The first is the logical and natural development of events in the plot. Now Nabokov finds it easy to believe that Hamlet could have heard his father's ghost, but finds the plots of Dostoevsky lacking in the "combination and interaction of the forces the artist has set into play".

Secondly, art he tells us "is a divine game and it is only art if we remember it is make believe", that in a Shakespeare play, people are not actually murdered while he finds the reality of the same occurrences in Dostoevsky as too hard to shrug off as just art! Nabokov says that "there is less balance between the aesthetic achievement and the element of criminal reportage in Dostoevsky's other novels". Thirdly, the reactions of some of Dostoevsky's characters are not valid because they were "raving lunatics, or characters from a madhouse, poor, deformed, warped souls, often no longer human"! Then he goes on to list certain clinical conditions with which some characters suffer from, namely epilepsy, senile dementia, hysteria and psychopathy.

I find the above three assertions slightly absurd. Firstly, The ghost theme in hamlet, otherwise nearly perfect, is so contrived, so mean to the reader that even if one believes in ghosts, that particular ghost seems to ready to talk. And how can art remain art if it is make believe?. Do we only visit literature for diversion? Is poetry only an escape from reality? I think that literature, real literature is just the opposite, it is the affirmation of our hidden lives, the bringing to lips of songs that we dare not sing usually, or melodies that we yearn to hear, for these are to us truer than life for they are life, for this literature is not an escape from reality into make believe but an escape from make believe, into the reality of so many worlds, through words, through which, to a certain extent, we are able sometimes to make sense of a melancholic, cruel and sordid world.

And even though the clinical conditions mentioned can lead to altered mental states, they are by no means insane states, even with our present knowledge notwithstanding. Yes, post epileptic confusional states are common and altered consciousness in dementia's, but Dostoevsky , in my opinion, uses these diseases to absolve his characters of flaws, mistakes and sins and attributes those to these states, so that his firm belief in the general nobility and moral superiority of his hero or heroes remains intact. It is intriguing how Nabokov unhinges all the absurdities of Dostoevsky plots on psychopathic characters is hard to understand, for forensic criminology is not an exact science and any psychoanalytic explanation w'd seem superfluous. Nabokov also asserts that Dostoevsky's characters do not develop as the stories progress. This is not the case as Ivan Karamazov and Alyosha, if we only think of The Brothers developing, through not a natural background but through discussion, through ideas that are circulated freely. Dostoevsky's novels are novels of ideas and to call him "a mystery writer", as Nabokov does, seems an injustice.

But Nabokov's essays are brilliant, and only he can write the way he writes for he is the stylist par excellence. I intended above to reflect on a few pages from his Dostoevsky essay, and considering that I wrote the above, I find myself in the category of inexperienced readers, those who claim to know the difference between true and pseudo-literature! But, fabulous though Nabokov is as a writer and as a literary critic, maybe he too might have been wrong once in a while!