Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fassbinder's "disordered thoughts" on Schygulla

One of the characteristics of Fassbinder's prose is the clarity of what he wants to communicate, in a way that is neither wantonly sentimental nor profusely incriminating of others. He writes with the same edge that he shows in his movies, only here the medium being different, the manifestations of his thoughts are laid bare in numerous ways. In this delightful piece on Schygulla called "Hanna Schygulla.... Not a star, Just a vulnerable human being like the rest of us, disordered thoughts on an interesting woman", Fassbinder traces the development of his relationship with the great actress, the up and down course of their relationship and the way it affected his relationship with other members of his Theatre Action group and its eventual dissolution.

It is clear that Fassbinder was a dedicated team player and he respected the opinions of other people like Raban and Ursula Stratz, who was the manager whilst always being mindful of their shortcomings, for it is apparent that compared to his genius, they did falter and eventually succumb to his magnetism, passion and fervour and his physical energy. Fassbinder never let his repertory feel how different he was from them and in the same way, never allowed Schygulla to feel that it was he who was directing her and not Schygulla who was taking control. Schygulla was, to quote Fassbinder, "convinced that she was not submitting to the imagination and will of another and that the conception of the role was exclusively her own.............the other actors weren't in a position to see through this stratagem of mine........ they saw nothing more than my seeming deference to Hanna Schygulla......." About Stratz he was clear that she had few lucid moments when she was not drinking while Raban would keep his mouth shut. It was Stratz who gave Fassbinder his first break, we must remember.

Fassbinder met Schygulla at drama school in Munich and it was only when Marite Greiselis was badly injured by her lover ( she was paralysed from the waist down) that Schygulla was offered the role of Antigone, in which she shone. Schygulla did not participate in the activities of this theatre group, refused to belong to the group creating persistent acrimony between the group members, a kind of political activity was being thwarted and in Fassbinder's opinion, the group ethos was being decimated. However, he was always impartial towards her acting genius but she was sensitive towards being directed, he let her believe she was a free agent while it was Fassbinder who pulled the strings. Eventually the group broke, it was smashed to pieces by Ursula Stratz's husband, who thought Fassbinder was too close to his wife and ultimately, Fassbinder took on new people and went in a different direction.

Political correctness and Fassbinder have nothing in common, theatre and later on cinema was a vehicle for his ideas, on issues relating to women, racism, the power of the state, minorities within Germany and other power plays between individuals, a theme that he so craftily explores in various ways, in one form in Fear eats the soul and in another way in Petra Von Kant. Schygulla was interested in these issues too but in a passive manner and Fassbinder recollects that he spent too much time on fruitless discussions with Schygulla on issues like the meaning of life. Schygulla was more interested in "personal development", an idea that Fassbinder finds ridiculous though he never mocks it. Hanna Schgulla was university educated, which set her apart from the Action Theatre group but for Fassbinder, her reluctance to march on the streets for an idea was eventually unacceptable to him. To Fassbinder, Schygulla was concerned with her own vanity, but he quickly adds that, "she was no more splendid than most human beings, no matter who or where".

Fassbinder finds it strange that Schygulla gave her very best in the major roles he offered her but was below par in the minor roles and when Cartensen was chosen as the leading lady (as in Petra Von Kant). However, he remembers her fondly, from the days of Katzelmacher to later on, but eventually the gulf between them grew wider, with Fassbinder claiming to preferring the job of a streetsweeper in Mexico to that of being a film director in Germany. This piece from The anarchy of the imagination is delightful with interesting anecdotes, asides, gossip and rumour but also very clearly shows the great director's ambition and the adroit way he played his role in his repertory, a balancing act considering the widely different ambitions of his actors, managers and other film professionals. This book is important reading for those interested in Fassbinder as it contains interviews, essays, prose pieces, his ideas on cinema, on other directors, novels, theatre, poetry and more importantly on politics.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dostoevsky's brother

It came as a surprise to me that Fyodor Dostoevsky had a brother who he describes as "a gifted writer, an expert on European literatures, a poet, a translator" and the founder and publisher of journals like The Epoch and Time. Mikhail Mikhailovich Dostoevsky had died by the time Dostoevsky wrote this feuilleton piece in his diary, defending his brother's name against allegations of financial impropriety. Called On behalf of one deceased, Dostoevsky's tone is that of an offended brother, eager to clear his brother's name, worried that such allegations might tarnish Mikhail's name.

It follows that one Shchapov, a writer presumably and a contributor to Mikhail Dostoevsky's journal was refused financial payment as promised, especially that Shchapov was in dire financial need. According to Shchapov's obituary, the man was desperate for warm clothes as the winter was severe and to his surprise, Mikhail said....."I know a tailor who will give you what you need on credit." He was given very dubious clothes to wear, for which he was billed dearly. It seems he never got his promised roubles.

Dostoevsky goes on to suggest that the incident was fabricated, the whole affair ridiculous and in this piece he goes on to prove otherwise. Dostoevsky distances himself from the financial dealings of his brother, even though the literary journals were co-founded by the brothers themselves. Dostoevsky goes on to claim how large hearted his brother was, sending cheques in advance for scripts not yet sent to the journals, citing evidence in a case when his late brother's family had to claim back an advance through a law suit. Dostoevsky is also upset in this piece about the tone his brother is depicted as spoken in, saying that his brother was "extremely decent and a gentleman".

It also transpires from this piece that Mikhail Dostoevsky too was a member of The Petrachevsky Circle, having spent a few months in prison like his famous brother. However, Dostoevsky says that his brother was innocent, even though he knew Petrachevsky, attended his evenings and borrowed books from him. Towards the end of the case, Mikhail was released, without incriminating others, though Dostoevsky claims his brother "knew a great deal". This proves the high ideals of his brother and Dostoevsky rubbishes any claim otherwise. How could Mikhail have allowed the poor writer to die of the winter cold!

The reason I wrote this post was that I found this piece quite amusing and funny, for one expects the great writer, any great writer to have risen above the foibles and other delirious desires of this life and yet how ordinary everyone actually is. I do not doubt that Dostoevsky was writing the truth about his brother but was also surprised by the vehemence of his defense. At the same time, it reveals his affection for his deceased brother which is quite natural. The whole incident reveals the jealous attitude of various publishers at that time and this attack on Mikhail could well have been fabricated, as Dostoevsky claims.

What I felt was more interesting is that of two Dostoevsky's writing at the same time, what a luxury of riches, considering that Dostoevsky claims that Mikhail was gifted. Even if Mikhail was only half as good as the great writer himself and even if Dostoevsky was being a bit carefree with praise, it will still take something to beat Mikhail. I wonder if there are any published pieces from Mikhail Dostoevsky? Did he write a great masterpiece that lies hidden, that is lost? How much did Fyodor borrow from Mikhail, how much did Mikhail contribute to the Dostoevsky canon? Did Mikhail approve of Fyodor's writing? All these are questions, one thinks however that two Dostoevskys might have been two much!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dostoevsky & the Nechaev affair

In what Dostoevsky calls a feuilleton article, one of the essays in A Writer's Diary, Dostoevsky explains his own understanding of the infamous Nechaev affair, his affiliation with The Petrachevsky Circle and the influence of the Nechaev affair ( a good link here) on his important work The Devils. This article called One of today's falsehoods opens with an indictment of those who have tried to explain away the causes of the Nechaev affair by analyzing the impact of political activism amongst Russian students. Quoting this article, Dostoevsky takes umbrage at the writer saying that "an idiotic fanatic such as Nechaev could find proselytes only among the idle and underdeveloped and not among young people involved in studies".

To Dostoevsky, this is a distortion of reality, for to him the Nechaevs ( a link) of this world are not weak willed or uneducated or lazy or ill but are on the other hand quite well educated and motivated. Any attempt to give their political or moral ideology a cover or any attempt to explain their politics amounts to a betrayal of ancient and time tested values, which to him basically amounts to ignore Russian- ness, the very moral fabric of Russia. This attempt to explain how some students could be swayed by a persuasive ideology tantamounts to exonerating an entire society of its moral culpability and laying blame, in a very perverted way on young people.To Dostoevsky, this article in The Russian world absolves young people of blame and does not permit critical attitudes toward the youth.

It is indeed unthinkable for Dostoevsky to consider the possibility of the planners of the Nechaev affair to be other than diligent and ardent, who might incidentally possess good hearts. Not all Nechaevs are idiots or fanatics, yet among the Nechaevs "there can be creatures who are very shadowy, very dismal and mishapen, with a thirst for intrigue and power of most complex origins, with a passionate and pathologically premature urge to exprress their personalities". It is not always that these people are monsters or have had a complete education in a university. Even after all this, such people might be only scoundrels. Dostoevsky reminds here of what Pyotr Verkhovensky says in the devils that I am a scoundrel, not a socialist.

In the article, Dostoevsky enumerates his involvement in The Petrachevsky Circle, his imminent death at the hands of a firing squad, a miraculous reprieve and subsequent exile to Siberia ( one that he wrote as Memoirs from the House of the dead). Dostoevsky rationalizes the existence of this circle, tracing his own influences, particularly Belinsky, the orientation of the entire group and the ideology of not just a Russian Utopia but one that is universal. He is however quick to remind himself and the reader that he was only infected and not possessed of this visionary raving and was able to save himself of this illness. After the sentencing, Dostoevsky says that what liberated him and like minded people from the circle was the direct contact with the people, the brotherly union with them in common misfortune, the awareness that we themselves had become as they, equal to them and even placed on the very lowest of their levels. The real harm is any ideology that does not recognize the Russian tradition, in the legacy of ideas, "in the notion of a high status of a European, unfailingly with the proviso of disrespect to oneself as a Russian".

One of the bad influences on youth, one that can ultimately lead them to become Nechaevists is the complete disregard for their traditions, lack of respect for Christ and Christianity and a mocking intonation and indifference for russia's cause. Another aspect is the desire to emigrate, to work to turn into a common European man and work in a free country( here he points towards America). Towards the end of this article, Dostoevsky warns against the tendency for callous behaviour and forgetting the real direction and cause of Russia. All in all an interesting piece but one , as I keep reading the diary , I find less and less surprising.

The Devils, barring a few hundred pages and on second reading now, seems so listless. As Nabokov rightly says, it is bereft of any real beauty that can mark it as a great novel though it has great possibilities as a play. The Verkhovensky-Nechaev character is easy to understand now and the whole ruckus that is raised in the devils is easier to fathom. I personally think that Dostoevsky might secretly have modelled Shatov on himself though Kirilov is another possibility. But one must concede that by creating Stavrogin, Dostoevsky essentially saves his novel from becoming another pamphlet novel. The character of stavrogin is deliberately obscure and yet by ascribing hallucinations in clear consciousness to him, Dostoevsky absolves him of much blame.

It is indeed bewildering that Dostoevsky writes what he does in this article in a way that smirks of an ideological insistence, in a belief in the superiority of his country and people and values which later on in Europe took messianic proportions, lead to holocausts and the uprootment of millions and in the nineties saw his Slavs create torture and concentration camps. Dostoevsky takes a moral viewpoint and denies his opponents of theirs and in this competing ideology dehumanizes his opponents. He creates weak characters for them in his novels, gives them indefensible positions and also makes them ill, hysterical and usually epileptic, which in his grander scheme perhaps negates even the little good that they might have done in the past.

It is not enough to read one or two works by Dostoevsky but his entire oeuvre and see the thread of an inner passion run through all of his novels. It goes without saying that he has as much of a right to espouse an ideology as the Necheavists have. Through the medium of his novels and what Bakunin claims to be Dostoevsky's unique creation, the polyphonic novel, Dostoevsky has created a great assembly of characters who voice different opinions and espouse numerous ideologies. These competing political creeds are for all to see and think and yet where Dostoevsky fails sometimes is in the insistence of the moral superiority of one ideology over another unless of course one is simply calling for the extermination of another.

Perhaps Dostoevsky was a prophetic writer and foresaw much of what convulsed his dear country and in a way he created in his novels a unique atmosphere for dialogue, for an ideological debate, for those considerations which perhaps the Russian and indeed no other literature had seen or produced. In that we must stay hushed for it is easy to criticize. Dostoevsky's involvement with politics, an active one, is indeed credible no matter whether he adopts a Shatov. To understand his real politics, reading his diary is essential. More later.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bela Bartok

Darkness, the stealth and murder of that dark thing sometimes called music. After this, death would seem easy. maybe.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

So What : Taha Muhammad Ali

Khalid, a young boy in an unnamed Palestinian village has great dreams......his dream is to have and own and wear a pair of shoes, for all his life, he, Khalid, has walked barefoot, subject to ridicule, an internal torture, an external liquidation, bereft, solitude his essential companion, for he has no shoes, he fears his peers, their ridicule, their derision, for his feet are the only feet that bear the atrocity of the land, land that is hot and cold, land that burns, that burns him. Then one day, a Moroccan travelling merchant decamps in his village, selling among many goods, some shoes too. This is more than he can bear, this is more than he can see, this shoe he must have, otherwise his heart will explode. And then soon, this Moroccan man has only one pair of brown shoes left to sell.

Khalid enquires and understands that they are worth 20 piastres. He implores his parents that unless he has these shoes, he won't be able to live for he cannot walk barefoot, he will jump into a well. His parents beg and borrow and soon Khalid runs to buy his shoe. But he discovers that the shoes are both meant for the right foot only. So the merchant tells him. So what?, Khalid says. So what. He buys the shoes against the merchants advice, buying two rights. And on reaching home, when he tries to walk in these new shoes, he falls down and hurts himself. And he hurts himself and bleeds. Khalid is asked to return the shoes and that night Khalid can't sleep, and sometimes when he does sleep fitfully, he wakes up, crying and screaming, just asking So what?!, So what?!, so what ?!

This story from a collection of poems called So What by the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali might be a metaphor for the larger Palestinian experience, but I wonder what it is a metaphor for. This story can be found at the end of this collection of poems, from a poet who is basically an autodidact, a man to whom poetry has come with open lips, without much toil, Compared to Barghouti or Darwish, Taha is a different experience altogether for in him the dual nature of the poet alternates rapidly, swinging from one extreme to the other, in an unforgiving language, in a language that is so subtle it makes your solid indifferent heart palpitate, so tense and so sad that you, the remote reader wishes the end of poetry itself. Taha's Arabic is not the classical one that is generally taught but the one he speaks, the one he learnt in a Palestinian village called Saffuriya, now renamed Tzippori by the Israelis.

Taha sells touristic mementos in Nazareth, the place where his family fled to and where he has lived for the last few decades, selling totems and when not, then writing his great verses or the odd story, in a small shop now managed by his sons. In classical Arabic and later on in Persian, Turkish or further on in Urdu, the concept of saying something, conveying something difficult in a simple and eloquent manner is called sahl il mumtanaa. This requires genius and is not easily done. To Taha Muhammad Ali, this seems to come quite naturally. The rhythms of his poems, the rich images, the simplicity of style, short lines, sometimes longer, the relative simplicity of the ideas themselves and their usual surprises, all these heighten the sense of hypnotic charm that one encounters whilst reading these poems.

It is easy to dismiss all poetry from Palestine by saying that one knows what to expect. But for the undiscerning reader, that might be a fatal error, for now that Palestine is lost in a swamp of road maps and post post colonial barbarism, subject to the whims of republican and democratic masters, subject to the harsh reality of their own impotence and the servile impotence of their neighbours, those casual charlatans, in a mix of blood and sweat and loss of hope, this very man can only write poetry, for it is only in poetry that the Palestinian land can live, for future generations of the Palestinian diaspora to know and to remember that there was once a place called Palestine.

And it is here that Taha steps in, has already left a mark, even if it is only poetry, because Palestine, as the walls rise higher and longer, will seemingly never ever be an independent land, even as part of a two state solution for even that would be to ask too much. Writes Taha....

"Our traces have all been erased, our impressions swept away..... and all remains have been effaced...... there isn't a single sign left to guide us or show us a thing.
This land is a traitor
and can't be trusted.
This land doesn't remember love.
This land is a whore
holding out a hand to the years,
it laughs in every language
and bit by bit, with its hip,
feeds all who come to it.
its newcomers
sailors, and usurpers,
uproot the backyard gardens,
burying the trees".

But here in Taha's poems, anything is possible, the entire land with its harsh realities, its olives and its seas, its men and proud mothers, even revenge. For though Taha is ready to forgive, he will never forget, he remembers, he versifies, he passes on to another generation of his people the scent and the wind of a plundered stolen country. He remembers how his people were forced to flee as he says......

"We did not weep when we were leaving..... for we had neither time nor tears, and there was no farewell.
We did not know
at the moment of parting that it was a parting............. "

In this collection there are great and beautiful poems translated with such verve, such magic and so much care and love that the translation dignifies the original Arabic ( I have a bilingual edition) the translators, Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin have done an excellent job.

Some of the poems deal with general and personal issues, with a wedding, a failed love, the destruction of a village, meeting at an airport, on the interval between sleep and waking and a most delicately beautiful poem on tea and sleep. There is one called Thrombosis in the veins of petroleum, one called The fourth Qasida and so on. His poetry has received recognition, translations intoHebrew among other languages. He has travelled with Peter Cole reading his poems worldwide, gained a bittersweet recognition for a land that reminds one of Atlantis. The introduction to this volume is extremely helpful and tells us a lot about his passion and his language and his essential anxieties as a poet. I have in the recent past copied two of his poems in this blog. At this link here, you can find him reading his wonderful poem called Intiqaam or Revenge, translated immediately after by Cole. Though almost all of his poems are worth posting here, for now I am copying one called Twigs, which is a good example of the melancholy bitterness of Taha Muhammad Ali and his land, his people and the remotest memory of that memory.

Neither music,
fame, nor wealth,
not even poetry itself,
could provide consolation
for life's brevity,
or the fact that King Lear
is a mere eighty pages long and comes to an end,
and for the thought that one might suffer greatly
on account of a rebellious child.

My love for you
is what's magnificent,
but I, you, and the others,
most likely,
are ordinary people.

My poem
goes beyond poetry
because you
beyond the realm of women.

And so
it has taken me
all of sixty years
to understand
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless
unless it plants
a measure of splendor in people's hearts.

After we die,
and the weary hear
has lowered its final eyelid
on all that we' ve done,
and on all that we've longed for,
and on all that we've dreamt of,
all we've desired
or felt,
hate will be
the first thing
to putrefy
within us.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vittoria : an extract

All politics is Realpolitik," warring

soul, with your delicate anger!
You do not recognize a soul other than this one
which has all the prose of the clever man,

of the revolutionary devoted to the honest
common man (even the complicity
with the assassins of the Bitter Years grafted

onto protector classicism, which makes
the communist respectable): you do not recognize the heart
that becomes slave to its enemy, and goes

where the enemy goes, led by a history
that is the history of both, and makes them, deep down,
perversely, brothers; you do not recognize the fears

of a consciousness that, by struggling with the world,
shares the rules of the struggle over the centuries,
as through a pessimism into which hopes

drown to become more virile. Joyous
with a joy that knows no hidden agenda,
this army-blind in the blind

sunlight-of dead young men comes
and waits. If their father, their leader, absorbed
in a mysterious debate with Power and bound

by its dialectics, which history renews ceaselessly-
if he abandons them,
in the white mountains, on the serene plains,

little by little in the barbaric breasts
of the sons, hate becomes love of hate,
burning only in them, the few, the chosen.

Ah, Desperation that knows no laws!
Ah, Anarchy, free love
of Holiness, with your valiant songs!

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Monday, July 14, 2008

Herzog eating his shoe

In an interview with Alan Yentob, aired on Imagine on the BBC some days ago, Werner Herzog took umbrage at being called German, not Bavarian. Amongst other things he spoke about, including Kinski, there was also a clip shown on Herzog eating his own shoe several years ago. The brilliant director talks about it in this clip below which is insightful about this man and the passionate industry he brings to his craft.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I quite like this score from Vertigo by Bernard Hermann.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Poetry hides
behind the night of words
behind the clouds of hearing,
across the dark of sight,
and beyond the dusk of music
that's hidden and revealed.
But where is it concealed?
And how could I
possibly know
when I am
barely able,
by the light of day,
to find my pencil?

Taha Muhammad Ali, 2004

Daniil Kharms link

Some time back, I posted an extract from Incidences by Daniil Kharms. Amongst the great Russian writers, his voice is the most distinct and different. There is a link to a few Kharms stories, exceedingly witty and brilliant in a charming way, at this link here, which I found at Three percent.

All attempts must be made to read Kharms and then re-read him. The reward is ample. Kharms' literary genius is being discovered, albeit late.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Your photo

Your photo, now out of my eye's ken,
in its new transparent glass frame,
sits on Shakespeare The complete works.

I am so scared, I avoid your eyes,
I can see, reflected, its numerous voices fall
on my listless hand.

I who framed you
escaped you, leaving you behind
in a wilderness of waiting.

I don't want to hear its frozen words,
near this pointing finger, the cauldron of accusation,
near this merciless truth.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Dostoevsky and Turgenev

Dostoevsky's relation with Turgenev can at best be described as turbulent. It is fair to say that both were brilliant but dissimilar writers and had different political ideologies, with Dostoevsky adopting a more slavophilic stance. Their meeting outside Russia was fictionalized in The Devils and Turgenev's character was lampooned unfairly perhaps as Karmazinov in the same work by Dostoevsky. In fact, Cherneshevsky, considered as the real ideologue of the Russian revolution was not spared either, with his great novel What is to be done satirized and lampooned as Merci in The Devils. Turgenev was aristocratic and his political ideas, it seems to me were more euro centric and mature, in contrast to Dostoevsky who had more nationalistic fervour and saw in Russia a possibility of grandeur, based on the cultural and moral superiority of the Slavic people. Dostoevsky was not the only exception. Those were turbulent times in Russia, political winds were changing and yet, Dostoevsky was more in favour of autocracy and the Russian church, hating socialists, disbelieving God but devoted to Christ. Both writers wanted change, albeit in different ways and this is clearly reflected in their important and lesser known works.

Turgenev's break from Dostoevsky was complete in his work Smoke, which Dostoevsky attacked vehemently. The question of emigres, especially political emigres, their life and opinions and their various stances were beautifully reflected by Turgenev in a way that represents such people in all ages. It is important not to get carried away with the fervour of one's opinions and that was something that Turgenev did not allow to happen in his works. On the other hand, Dostoevsky let the characters in The Devils literally run amok, with the work ending in numerous murders. Dostoevsky had a deep suspicion of revolution, seeing as he did in it a reversal of passionate Russian nationalism, for he was more inclined towards the concept of Mother Russia, as an object of worship in itself. The character of Pyotr Verkhovensky is dealt with very unsympathetically and Dostoevsky, it seems to me was unsure what he should do with Stavrogin, who remains enigmatic, unapproachable and vastly more unknown than Ivan Karamazov.

What Turgenev would achieve in a few pages, Dostoevsky would take hundreds to do. Of course, Dostoevsky was brilliant in building up a characters and other numerous unimportant characters and their intertwined relations and his morose, morbid and psychological insights and those are without comparison , but It seems , on second or third reading of his novels that some of his more favourite characters are actually quite confused, ready to throw away their whole life's work or ideology at a whim. We must never forget that these novels are novels of ideas and the inner motives are mostly political and psychological and some characters are driven by various motives. Dostoevsky however, as cleverly pointed by numerous critics and by Nabokov also, gave multiple dimensions to his characters, making them look and feel physically unwell also, which sometimes absolves them of blame partly blame. Some of his famed creations were epileptic, melancholic and morose and he makes them organically ill, a distinction which Turgenev clearly maintains in his work.

Turgenev's Bazarov for instance is a more stable ideologue for in the end, he is not much of a nihilist. He calls for negation but not more annihilation, a departure from the grand inquisitor. Bazarov's friend settles for family life, Bazarov could have got married and so on. There is a climate of doom that surrounds the Dostoevsky hero or heroes and it clearly reflects his own preoccupations. Turgenev's Sketches, a great work on its own, even in the desperate situations that he finds the serfs in, Turgenev gives them a sense of hope, and in the landscape he describes a possibility of change but he never subscribes to a religious dimension or hopes that a religious falling back on could lift his country out of that morass. Turgenev is truly anti-iconic but not icon breaking while Dostoevsky strives to let say even a Verkhovensky sit stupefied in the Devils when a half-wit mystic solves problems by making people drink sugary tea!

Turgenev's Virgin Soil, in this respect is a true masterpiece. In this novel he achieves in a few hundred pages of exquisite brilliance a sum total of his aesthetic, moral and political philosophy and nowhere do his characters appear lazy, shallow and uncertain. To them he imparts hope and resonance and they are never fanatical. Yes, Dostoevsky's characters are fanatical for it appears that he might himself have been of a less tolerant nature, especially with regards to Europe, the Caucasian questions and other minorities within Russia. However, to be honest, Dostoevsky's characters bring with them more than a whiff of what being Russian meant then and what it might mean now. Who would not want to know Smerdykin, Lebyatkin or all the other people who all play a part in the intrigue that one finds the novels mired in. In his brilliant Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics, Bakhtin introduces the concept of a polyphonic novel, one that he argues did not exist before and one that was born with Dostoevsky.

The present political climate in Russia, with an autocratic democracy, political opponents languishing in jails or as emigres, journalists being killed in Russia or outside, the driving force seems to be the same kind of slavophilic nationalism, Russian superiority, xenophobia that brings fascism and intolerance. It is a moot point how the two great writers would react now. The purpose of this post is just to reflect on these issues between the writers and not make a case for either one as that is an academic and frankly facile job. Both the novelists are great in their own ways and if one employs the criteria of a writer who is actively political, as I think writers should be, then they are a cut above the rest. Their fiction is an indicator of how they reacted to the Russia of their times and produced works that will never die. It is my desire to write more about what Bakhtin so beautifully describes in the work mentioned earlier as it enhances one's understanding of not only what the writers were in their essence but also allows the dilettante reader to form some ideas. I am reading Dostoevsky's A writer's Diary these days which prompted this post and have also been revisiting Turgenev's timeless Sketches. More to follow soon, I hope.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Stavrogin's speech

"I can understand a fellow wanting to shoot himself, I have thought of it myself sometimes, and then always some new idea occurred to me: if one were to commit some crime, I mean, something shameful, that is something really disgraceful, something very mean and - ridiculous, so that people would remember it for a thousand years and remember it with disgust for a thousand years, and suddenly the thought came : One blow in the temple and there would be nothing more. What would I care for people then or that they would remember it with disgust for a thousand years? Isn't that so?

Let us suppose that you had lived on the moon, Let us suppose that you committed all those ridiculous and abominable crimes there. You know from here that they will laugh at you there and think of your name with disgust for a thousand years, for ever, for as long as the moon lasts. But now you are here and you are looking at the moon from here: what do you care what you have done there and that people there will think with disgust of you for a thousand years? It is true, isn't it?"

from The Devils, Dostoyevsky

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Unwritten, Unvoiced

The unwritten poem and the unvoiced love don't really exist, even if the instigators of such violent acts will make us believe otherwise. Anything that is written is only written to be read and it is the fervent desire of any writer to have an audience, for without the act of reading and listening, any poem or for that matter, even brief prose only exists in a dark abyss, in the sultry corner's of one's heart, in those regions of the mind where misgivings, pain and desires simmer and ultimately die. Unless, and yes unless the written word does not see the light of day, it does not exist.

Any act of writing for itself does not really mean anything, for if writing is an act of catharsis, the cathartic effect is not complete unless it works on a distant reader, in whom it kindles a state of mind, a feeling, a mood. The identification of kindred states between the writer and the reader is part of the drama of creation. It is a moot point as to which of the two acts is more rewarding but writing exists in a nether state unless the reader adds more than thumb marks to the crisp or fading page. It is reading that saves both the written word and its author from oblivion.

And love, when it lies uncertain in the arc of the brow, when it lies trembling on lips and fingers, when it has not yet known what dawn brings, when it has not suffered the atrocity of sunsets, when it has not demonized itself, when the earlier part of coarse evenings and the latter part of merciless nights have not heaved their jungle of mysteries, when it is still if and when, when it only lies nearer me and farther away from you, when I have not released it yet and you have not sensed it still, till then it is only inside, dull, fatigue, odd and just so very dead.

And then something shifts. It is as if the plates that hold the continents from murder have shifted, the word itself blooms, the world too. Any undeclared love is sullen torture, it does not exist, it only perpetrates mayhem. It links in its magical pattern primeval thought and primeval memory. It is neither sweet nor happy, neither gray or dark. The act of loving is the greatest treason against oneself, it blinds the hapless victim, it overpowers the receiver and yet, if not declared or voiced, it is nothing in itself, it has no place, it does not exist, it dies so quickly.

All the injustices in this world must be catalogued. Any unfinished or unremembered torture, any unknown holocaust has not taken place. God would not have existed if man had not been created.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The dark of his death

The dark of his death was mixing
with the salt of my tears.
I thought, life, stopped, stopped,
and then the same again.

The last image suffers you fatal pain,
the body's surrender, of waste,
the indecent torpor that afflicts the mind.

Then, the same again, melancholy strains,
profuse sentiments, that void,
that missing, that sullen hissing,
and then the same again.

The time of burial is the cleansing act,
laying down the simmering sheet of memories,
and of one's own mortality. How unbelief stares
at the calling chasm!

You have gone but you have given
the reminder of future holocausts, of a similar pain,
the uncontestable stamp of oblivion,
the definitive song of death.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bolano's 2666

Bolano's 2666 will be available in English soon. For the few who visit this blog, I must announce my enthusiasm for Bolano again, he being the only writer to whom I have devoted a few posts, under the general rubric of Literature, though I feel now that I should have created a label for Bolano!
It seems that a few people are already on to the new book and there are a few reviews too. A comparison to Delillo has been made but with all respects, that is far fetched, for the languages and the world views that the two writers have bear no comparison. I feel any such comparison is an affront to Bolano but one that does not matter. It also stems from an inadequate understanding of the clever craft of this type of fiction, which blends romanticism with practical fictive and unconscious emotional stances, reflecting a life that is lived on the edge, near posthumous desires, under a sky that is never benign, always changing, near the din and hovel of frenzied love, love for ideals and sensitivity, for drama and the detachment that only words can offer. Bolano's fiction is the fiction of visceral realism, of a kind of attitude that only a few can relate with. One has only gratitude for this kind of writing.

I hope that more will be written about this novel and Bolano's poetry will be published in English soon too. A link ( Perhaps the writer of this review should not read Bolano!) here.