Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some Philosophical Propositions ( for a change)

1 The Real is what is meaningful.

1.1 Meaning is produced by thinking

1.2 But thinking is not produced by thinking.

1.3 Thinking is neither meaningful nor real...

2 Reality is distinct from existence.
The existentialist slogan, `existence preceeds essence', makes sense when we see that essenses are actually constructs of human thought and language.

3. `A Thing' becomes `Something'only because of human thought-language.

4. Being of being preceeds human thought but it is only through language that being can become something

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Journeys into the Invisible World: A Personal Footnote to my Poems

When I start messing around with words and the diverse kinds of effects the words are capable of producing, a poem begins like a beginning of an unplanned journey. My poems are excursions into the enigma of being in this world. The world I alone inhabit overlaps with other worlds. However, these worlds are neither concentric nor the same. Exploring the creative possibilities of the language and the self, the poems journey into the worlds not easily visible to others. In the following write up, I attempt very briefly, at the risk of sounding a swellhead and vain, to discuss to some of the contexts, and try to understand for myself how they have shaped my poetry directly and indirectly. I will think aloud about my poetics and creative process and how it is caught up in other social, cultural and historical processes around me.
Poetry is essentially an exploration and a journey. 'Accident’ and 'chance’ have a very crucial role in my poems. My poem cannot afford to take a preconceived pattern of ideas and emotion as a point of departure and 'express’ them. This is the reason why it often ventures into anti/a social and the darker regions of my being, and emerges with the things that often startle me. A dark undercurrent of anguish, nightmare, and asphyxiation flows under the involved and startling pattern of images in my poems. I discard the traditional and established notions of 'poetic’ in the context of Indian culture, and seek to stretch the definition of poetry itself. One of the frequent techniques I employ is of keeping my dark and startling discoveries 'open’ to multiple interpretations. This way I attempt to interweave the private and public, personal and political, subjective and objective, individual and universal contexts into composite textiles called poems. I want my poems to discover and create things that were unknown to me. I have often asked myself: what is the relationship between my poetics and politics? What is relationship between what I write and where I write from? Where is my poetry in the culture I inhabit, and where is the culture in the poems I inhabit?
Cultures are gleaned on geography: colours of the earth, trees, and animals, colours of people, smell of their songs, their food, and fascinating wilderness of our souls. The seashore, dense greenery and dark landscape of Valsad, a small coastal town in South Gujarat, where I was born is an essential part of my consciousness. I am second of the two children of a Maharastrian Chitpavan Brahmin who migrated to Gujarat in the sixties. Displacements and dislocations are really replacements and relocations. I call up the famous quote attributed to Hugo, Abbot of St. Victor, 12th century: "The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land [perfectus vero cui mundus totus exilium est]”. With due apologies to Rev Hugo, I am far from perfect.

Unlike Vadodara, where I live and teach today, and which is almost an island of Maharashtra in Gujarat, the environment in which I grew up was completely Gujarati. Marathi was the language we used at home and Gujarati everywhere else. I completed most of my schooling from 'English Medium’ schools at Valsad and obtained my BA from a local college in 1990. When you have English as a medium of instruction in India, you end up with inadequate knowledge of any language. The term 'English Medium’, is bit of a joke in the average schools of small towns, it means that your knowledge of English is 'medium’- neither good, nor bad.
Though Valsad is a semi urban town, it bears witness to the large-scale movements of globalization and privatization. It saw, like many cites and towns across the country, the extremely rapid process of unplanned urbanization. It witnessed how colossal industrial township of Vapi rose to its heights at one time and then underwent harrowing recession later. It also witnessed the Cola Wars and a wave of information technology in the form of the Internet and mobile phones. In the post-Emergency period, Valsad, Gujarat, and India have also seen bureaucratic corruption becoming a norm rather than an exception, a systematic and accepted arrangement rather than a clandestine act. We also witness how politics and public sphere are becoming deeply criminalized. Ironically, the land of Gandhi became the laboratory of politics of religious hatred. Gujarat witnessed unprecedented communal riots in the history of Independent India. How has this changed society affected my poetry? The sense of despair and helplessness that pervades my poetry is connected, not just with personal grief and frustration but also to this social predicament. Unlike others who believe in rhetoric of progress and enlightenment, in a truly post-modern sense, I harbour deep skepticism about all grand narratives and metanarratives of progress, equality, liberty, fraternity, salvation, and what not.
In school days, I developed a lifelong companionship with chronic loneliness, chronic asthma, and poetry -along with pubic hair. Poetry usually springs from such things. Suffering, as we all know, is the only true universal context of poetry. The physical and emotional suffering from my illness, and the resulting sense of humiliation, loneliness, and inferiority has played an important role in my writing. The chronic asthma and associated respiratory illness have encompassed my being to an extent that it touched almost all aspects of life. I coughed like a mutilated silencer of motorbike. Along with all these things began the anguish of a chain of one-sided crushes. Deep down within, I had fallen from my own eyes. I have lived inside a dark well, partly of my own making, and partly out of my destiny. 

School life for me was suffocation and a sort of nightfall. I found myself turning into a misfit, loner, and a shabby introverted boy with atrocious handwriting. My notebooks began from both the sides- on the back pages I doodled around and drew caricatures of the things I loved drawing the most- the dogs,  Mickey Mouse and a fat bald man with a cigarette in his mouth. When I was a kid I loved to draw. I remember drawing the scene from a movie called 'Mahabharata’ and to the amusement of people, the scene was of 'Draupadi Wastra Haran- The Stripping of Draupadi. I used to draw on the floor and the walls. I continued to paint up to my BA days and due to some unknown reason, I stopped painting and concentrated on poetry.
In 1985, for a year, I had been to Warora, a small town in the Vidarbha region of Maharastra, as my father decided to do honorary social work at Anandwan, a renowned organization founded by Baba Amte a noted social worker for service of leprosy patients and the tribals. I wrote some of my very early jejune poems in English and I remember Baba Amte’s comments on one of my poems: your son will not become a doctor or an engineer. Most of my poems were obviously juvenile and shabby.
In the school syllabus, for the first time I encountered what people call 'literature’. The English Canon, especially the Romantics- Blake, Shelley, Keats apart from Milton, Shakespeare and the rest of them, enthralled me. I don’t think this impact has worn out even today. Obviously, what I wrote was bad and some of my rather kind-hearted teachers went through it and even encouraged me to continue writing. I wrote in English because English was the language in which I first encountered 'literature’ and at the same time English was the only language I could write. I was also fond of translating and I even tried my hand at translating nothing less than Shakespeare’s soliloquies and Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri into Hindi! The choice of Hindi as a target language will puzzle many, but for me, then, it was a compelling choice. Hindi was the only Indian language, I could write a little bit tolerably in those days. Besides some sort of Hindutva ideology, which promoted Hindi as the true national language, did influence me. It was in air in those days in Gujarat. Retrospectively, I have seen how such 'airs’ are manufactured. Gujarat was 'laboratory of Hindutva’ in those days. I have witnessed how religious hatred is fanned and exploited for political gains. But the rhetoric of hatred thrives in a culture nourished on bogus and baseless values.
I went to Vadodara for my MA and I discovered significant twentieth century literatures and the philosophies of literature. The seminal Western modernist writers like Stevens, Eliot, Kafka, Holderlin, Yeats, Kundera, Dostoyevsky, Sterne, Brecht, Faulkner, and O Neil bedazzled me. I was baffled and wonderstruck by the audacity and rigorous scholarship of the influential critics of the later part of twentieth century. The continental and Anglo Saxon literary theory bewildered and captivated me. These years were crucial to the development of my sensibility. This experience modernized my creative writing and I experimented with very 'unpoetic’ images and pictures in my English poems. Many of my poems included in 'A Dirge for the Dead Dog’ belongs to this period. Vihang A. Naik, one of my friends and batchmates is a very active poet and used to arrange for poetry readings in the Department. My English poems in the collection are experiments to evoke my experience of bewilderment and astonishment of living in this world. They have a rather freakish and offbeat texture, and it is mainly due to my conscious attempt to capture the immediacy and freshness of this experience. At times, I allowed myself to indulge in the image, simply for the sake of image .In spite of the experimental nature of the craggy poetic language, each of my poems in 'A Dirge’ is a record of a distinctive type of pain- a pain that cannot be explained in any other terms. In many of my poems, Vadodara city with its university domes, old campus buildings, hostels, students, railways, bus stops, loneliness, despairs, and desires make their presence felt. This presence goes far beyond mere depiction of the places: it is an integral part of my sensibility. These are also poems of a small townie trying to come to terms with the city.
In Vadodara, I started writing in Marathi mainly out of curiosity, and due to influence of Dr. G N Devy, a reputed scholar and now a noted social activist, who taught us at the postgraduate programme. His book 'After Amnesia’ made me reflect upon the question of my identity and 'roots’- thankfully, I now realize that there is no such thing like 'roots’- all roots are inventions and constructs and even myths. One cannot appropriate one’s past completely, one can only do it strategically. Yet identities are 'package deals’, even if you select only a part of tradition/past, you bear the burden of the entire package. I have seen worst side of the politics of identity in the rise of communalism, casteism, regionalism, and linguistic chauvinism. But this idea made me turn to Marathi as language of poetry. I discovered to my pleasure that I could use Marathi more imaginatively and creatively than English. Even then, I don’t think I can agree with the dogma that one should write only in ones first language. But one has to agree that plenty of hype is associated with Indian writing in English, thanks to its metropolitan social base and colonial history. I am terribly bored of the hackneyed themes of exiles, diasporas and the NRI stuff that is staple of most of the 'reputed’ Indian writing in English, especially fiction. After reading Kundera, Grass, and Marquez, I have always wondered why a writer as derivative in style as Rushdie would be worshiped in India and abroad.
My Marathi poems were modernist right from the beginning and the conventional, clichéd and sentimental poetry repulsed me. Maharashtra, not unlike other Indian states, is a fairly large-scale industry of such hackneyed and stale 'poetry’ and its output is in tonnes. At times, I feel fortunate not to study Marathi poetry in school. Right from the beginning, I found that most of the celebrated poets in Marathi like Kusumagraj, Mangesh Padgaonkar, Indira Sant, and Vasant Bapat used Marathi language and poetics that belonged to Jurassic Age, of course, without its primitive splendour. Marathi as a literary language was an acquired language for me and I read whatever appealed to me in Marathi. I enjoyed Narayan Surve, Sadanand Rege and Dilip Chitre. Marathi that I used at home was the language, which came closer to the standard Marathi, and so I lacked a living contact with various rich dialects and slang. In short, my location and upbringing deprived me of language variety. Interestingly, the language, which I inherited, was a strange concoction: a potpourri of Ratnagiri accent/dialect (the region to which my Father belongs, southern coastal region of Maharastra) and strange lexical items Kannada language variety from Belguam (the city on the border of Maharastra and Karnataka), the place where my mother was born and brought up. Besides, many Gujarati-isms had also crept in over a period. The linguistic proximity between Gujarati and Marathi was more of a headache for me, as many a times I was unsure whether a certain word is Gujarati or Marathi.
I got a job as a lecturer in English in an undergraduate college at Navsari, another town near Surat. I completed my doctorate in translation studies from the South Gujarat University, Surat. I was extremely happy to get involved in the things that always fascinated me: translation and poetry. I translated around one hundred poems of Narsinh Mehta, the great fifteenth century Gujarati poet into English for my thesis-by-translation. This research had a definite personal and political dimension to it as perhaps all research has , in spite of the claim of unequivocal 'neutrality' and 'objectivity' usually associated with the term. As a Maharastrian, born and brought up in Gujarat, and into the profession of teaching English literature and language, I discovered that translation is a way of making intimate ties across languages, cultures, historical periods, and across regions. Translation becomes one the strategies of relocating oneself in the complex cultural and linguistic topography of Indian society. The research into the pre-medieval Indian literature, its poetics, its politics, and its sociology was also a quest into a very crucial phase of the evolution of the modern Indian languages, cultures, and identity. Besides, being a part of English Studies establishment, this research bore testimony to certain dramatic reorientation of academic values, priorities, and attitudes long associated with traditional 'Eng.Lit.' academia. The very recognition of translation as a valid area of research and that too of a medieval Gujarati poet into English is possible today due to the heightened awareness of historical and political contexts in which English or Western literatures and the respective canons were produced, consumed, circulated, and promoted. Multiple cultures, languages, ideologies, and socio-cultural contexts are in built in my small humble personal history. Translation comes naturally for a writer working in such a context. Translation became one of the ways I can relate various multiplicities creatively. In our country, I feel every writer is a translator. I don’t see translation as a necessary evil invariably involving the `loss’ of the original. Rather, it is a creative act-a metaphorical act as one sees one language, culture, and text in terms of the other. Translation is also a negotiation with a world that is many times invisible to the readers.
Later, after my post graduation, I continued reading the great Latin American writers, poets like Paz, Neruda, Marquez, and Borges (whom encountered first in my MA). I gormandized Michel Benedict's surrealist anthology. Surprisingly, not many people are aware that most of the seminal texts we consume are translations. During the years after MA, apart from plenty of literature on translation studies and the bhakti literature which was part of my Ph.D., programme, I read the Dalit poetry, lot of Marathi poetry. When I was about to visit the Great Britain in 2000, I read contemporary British poetry: Hughes, Plath, Dylan Thomas, the Movement, the Group, the Martians and the newer ones. I discovered that after Hughes there was very little striking poetry being written in the Great Britain. There was very little 'excitement’ and 'kick’ in the lines I read. Most of them lacked genuine inventiveness, passion, or vision and read more like drab verbal puzzles. This may be due to the overdose of `writing programmes’. Unlike Marathi where the poetry factory was run by amateur lyricists, creative writing programme’ wallahs ran the poetry factory in the UK. Therefore, the staple of poetry written in either country was terribly boring.
I also read the modernist Gujarati poetry and found Ravji Patel, Shitanshu Mehta, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Suresh Joshi, Labhshankar Thaker and Manilal Desai exciting. Yes, their poetry has influenced mine. Unlike Marathi, contemporary Gujarati poets don’t seem to cherish or appreciate this brilliant heritage. They seem to be carried away by the 'ghazal’ culture. The materials and contents of the ghazal form seem to be very resistant to change and an avant-garde shift in these things would mean the loss of 'ghazaliat’. Dilip Jhaveri , Kamal Vora and few others poets are writing good poetry, but over all the scenario of poetry in Gujarati does not appeal to me much.
I was also interested in science and we started Vigyan Vivek Vartul, a small informal club with friends to promote science and scientific temper in Valsad. I enjoy popular writers on science like Stephen Hawking and Stephen Jay Gould. All this reading emerges in my writing and many times in unrecognized and unrecognizable forms. I also attempted to generate some sort of interest in serious poetry among the young people around me by forming a short lived 'poetry circle’. I could arrange some poetry readings at Navsari and Surat. The enthusiasm of the people involved in these activities died down slowly.
Almost a decade of working as a college teacher, by no means a considerable period, I was fortunate to roll my passion, profession, and hobby into one. I could reread Shakespeare, Eliot, and Derrida and discover things that I had not discovered before. Besides, I also was paid for it. So many times it happened that the poet, critic, student of literature and lecturer grappled with same problem and the discovery or insight for one would benefit the other within me. I could interact profitably with a very intelligent minority of young minds and experience the social reality in the sea of inarticulate faces coming from rural areas.
I returned to the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in May 2006, this time as Reader and often feel that I have left my Navsari and Valsad years far behind. However, they are with me, they are in me. Most of my students and colleagues are urban and come from a different social space. Baroda has liberated me more than once from the stagnation and has given me wings.
The best thing, however, to happen during my teaching years at Navsari is the friendship with a well known and brilliant Gujarati short story writer and novelist Nazir Mansuri. I admired his sharp intelligence, his study, his passionate and single-minded commitment to his art. I saw him write thousands of pages of fiction in the college and revising his longish fiction seven to eight times. His understanding of the technique and craft simply amazed me. His ardent defence of autonomy of art is something of an inspiration to me. We have long and meandering discussions on the various aspects of a writer’s craft, writer’s place in tradition and society. Translating and publishing Nazir and Mona Patrawalla, his wife and a very accomplished short story writer, has been a very illuminating experience for me. What I learnt was that most of the publishers and the readers in English came from urban and metropolitan background and therefore could hardly identify or appreciate authentic depiction of distant rural ethos. The translations of such stories involved long glossaries and notes in English. Besides, I learnt that the high profile publishers of English fiction in India had appalling knowledge of literary techniques and the craft. They would change paragraph breaks, omit lines, swallow, and rewrite sentences so that they would `read better’ in English as if these things were arbitrary in the original text. They hardly realized that an image, a description, paragraph sequences had a significant function in a work of fiction. This is probably because other writers in Indian languages, hungry for fame, would compromise with these things or that they could hardly read English. This is probably also because the publishers and readers of English fiction in India belong to a class that has hardly anything to do with the real Indian society. It may also be so because this class of users of English are not yet out of the colonial mind set.
Along with Narsinh Mehta, I also translated contemporary Marathi and Gujarati poetry into English. What I translated, again, was determined by my personal location: that of a Maharastrian living in purely Gujarati ambiance and environment. I was not in touch with the younger generation of Marathi poets writing seriously and creatively until I came in touch with Abhidha Nantar group and Shabdavedh group only in December 2002. Before that, I translated whatever little I came across and whatever appealed to me. I translated poems of elderly and lesser-known poets whom I knew personally. I translated poems of a bahujanwadi colleague Narsinh Parmar `Ujamba’. Narsinh Parmar’s were politically committed until recently. Some of his poems were good and I translated them into English. Ideologically, he was a severe critic of the brahmanical establishment as well as Dalit literature. He considered Dalit literature as equally casteist. His personal history is very interesting too. He came from a poor family and he was affected with polio. He worked as porter on a railway station. He studied for MA with Gujarati on the railway platform. He loved to interact with major Gujarati writers of his youth like Suresh Joshi and used to meet them personally. I came into touch with another senior Gujarati poet Mangal Rathod. I translated some of his poems into English. I won Poetry Translation Prize for Gujarati poetry awarded by Indian Literature, the journal of Sahitya Akademi in the year 2000. I had come into contact a senior Marathi poet Gopal Redgaonkar from Nashik. I used to correspond with him regarding various aspects of poetry. In spite of the fact that he wrote sentimental lyrical poetry in the fashion of noted Marathi poets like Kusumagraj and Grace, he appreciated my works, which were so unlike his. I translated some of his poems, which I liked. I also interacted with the critics like EV Ramakrishnan and Sudhakar Marathe regarding poetry. Prof. Ramakrishnan commented on the excessive use of abstractions in my poems and Prof. Marathe found that my poetry somehow do not communicate. He said unless they are purely imagistic, which many of them were, they should contain at least a small hint about what they were about. He drew my attention to an excellent essay by TS Eliot -'Three Voices of Poetry’ regarding the problem of poetic communication.
I translated from English to Marathi too. I had a good fortune of being a part of team translating an anthology of contemporary British writing New Writing 7 published by the British Council into Marathi. I discovered that I could not do justice to much of the work due the fact that the resources of Marathi language I had at my disposal were limited. It was almost a second language for me. Thanks to the encouragement and the guidance of the veteran translators like Prof. Kimbahune, Prof. Pradeep Deshpande and Prof. Sudhakar Marathe, I improved as a translator into Marathi. What I admired about these senior scholars was the extraordinary insistence on precision of interpretation of English words and the meaning of Marathi. Prof Marathe, I remember, talked about the dearth of recourses for a person translating into Marathi: good dictionaries, thesauri, glossaries technical glosses and the like. As a translator I find that this indeed a serious problem I guess this must be a problem even in many other Indian languages. Marathi that I used at home was the language, which came closer to the standard Marathi, and so I lacked a living contact with various rich dialects and slang. In short, I was deprived, mainly to may location and upbringing, of language variety.
During the final years of the millennium, I ran into a very dynamic group of Marathi poets of my generation associated with Abhidha Nantar Magazine from Mumbai and Shabdavedh from Buldana. These periodicals ceased publication in 2009, after fulfilling a very important cultural function. These poets were struggling to come out the shadows of the modernist Marathi poets and trying to come to terms with the changed social reality that lay in front of them. I feel my mature Marathi poetry owes much to this group. It honed and fine-tuned my sensibility and allowed me to see what I should be doing and what I should avoid doing in poetry. This helped to inculcate a historical awareness of the context of Marathi poetry. My meeting with Dilip Chitre, our own 'renaissance man’, in Pune had a healthy effect on me. It helped me to clarify my own perspective about the contexts of contemporary Marathi poetry. I lacked all these things chiefly due to laziness, but also due to distance from Marathi society, culture, and literary traditions. Abhidha Nantar and Shabdavedh came from two different geographical and cultural locations: one is metropolitan, urban and the other rural-the categories so significant to any understanding of Indian culture and society. Abhidha was itself closer to the Euro American- modern and post-modern poetry and its emphasis on individual, and Shabdavedh was closer to post colonial quest for indigenous traditions (nativism), and the communal spirit. These poles were not always dialectically related. It was my fate to stand in between these two worlds like the amphibian fate of a translator. I belonged to both these spaces. The common point between the two magazines was the desire to do something different from what has already been done: both by the conventional 'popular’ poetry and the counter-conventional modernist poetry. Yet it is not simply the desire to be different for the sake of difference, but the desire to make poetry more relevant to the changed social and cultural environment we inhabit.
Like most of my fellow poets, I have often asked myself: What is the relation of 'tradition’-that is what has already been done- and our individual talent? I recall the well-grounded advice Eliot gave in his celebrated essay with a corresponding title in the beginning of last century to the poet: he should be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. The materials of poetry have changed. Historical sense- the sense of what has already been done and its relation to the individual talent remains the essential question for the poets writing today. I have used and abused terms like Spam, SMS, or Virus for my metaphorical and symbolic purposes. The grammar of poetry hardly changes, what changes is its timbre, texture and content. I have written a poem about archaic linkage between the primitive cave paintings, cyber-pornography, and graffiti on public urinals, and how I feel alienated from the entire temporal narrative that connects the drawing of fertility goddesses with cyber porn. The themes of sexual frustration, alienation, lack of self esteem might be eternal, but I realized how they are interwoven into the semiotics of contemporary culture.

 Globalization has altered what Yurij Lotman terms as ` Semiosphere’, we inhabit and if our poetry has to have any contemporary relevance it has to recognize its intertextual relationship with this semiosphere. This altered semiosphere was ubiquitous in the metropolis when the little magazines like Saushthav, Shabdavedh and Abdhidhanantar took off. Today, I think this altered semiosphere is unavoidable even in the villages. So when I translated and edited an anthology of contemporary Marathi poetry titled ' Live Update: An Anthology of Recent Marathi Poetry’ published by Poetrywala, the English imprint of Abhidhanantar in 2005, I divided the contemporary Marathi poetry into two visible clusters based on the location of the poets: those who were located in the metropolis and those who were based in non-metropolitan and largely rural spaces. I also commented on the 'digital divide’ and the `rural-urban’ divide in the introduction.
The relationship between the two clusters of contemporary Marathi poetry deteriorated after the publication of the anthology and resulted in a full-fledged mud-slinging match. The group of poets and critics based in non-metropolitan locations accused the metropolitan poets and critics of lacking in social commitment and celebrating globalization uncritically. I intervened often by repeating that the metropolitan poetry of as much a product of cultural and social crisis resulting from globalization and the accusations were not based on careful reading of metropolitan poetry. The great globalization wars in contemporary Marathi poetry reflected the biases and prejudices between metropolitan/cosmopolitan space and non-metropolitan/ 'native’ space. The senior critics were roped into the mud-slinging matches and they did an equally bad job by not substantiating their positions with actual reading of the specific texts of metropolitan poetry. New little magazines like Navakshar Darshan and Aivaji were started by the people who were once with the Abhidha and Shabdavedh. How was I located on the divide? I asserted my position by opposing the simplistic jingoistic poetry and by saying that the poets should primarily be committed to poetry. I also criticized the superficial fashionable '’ poetry and the 'breaking news’ school of poetry which used the buzzwords from the world of internet and cell-phones to appear 'contemporary’. Belonging to neither worlds, I saw that both the positions were reductive, naïve and even irrelevant. However, what I regret today, that in trying to make my position clear, I became too irreverent, vicious and contemptuous, which was uncalled for and today I apologize to the people and journals I insulted.
I have always believed that the creative act is a political and social act. Art is deeply political, not because it expresses a set political ideology or a party programme, but it because it interrogates simplifications, reductions, clichés, and the ossified ways of seeing and thinking. It involves risks that are not merely social or political but also emotional. The tinkering with words has its own dangers and pleasures. When one tinkers with words, one messes around with all the things that society has considered sacrosanct: ideas, images, worldviews, ideologies, cultures, selves, and others.
These are the personal, geographical, social, cultural contexts to my poetry and they have affected its materials and the worldview. These multiple contexts are interwoven into the fabric of my poems. However, I refuse to see poetry as a merely representational form of art. I believe that poetry does more than just reflect its contexts, personal or social. It is not merely a reflection of the world, either 'subjective’, or 'objective’, it is also a creation of a world. The world of my poems is the invisible world I inhabit, the world that is not simply my personal property, and the world which does it exist independently of me. But just because it is my world, it does not mean that I know its geography and my poems are the journeys that I undertake in search of my enigmatic destiny and destination in this world. And at some crossroads, I meet you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Man's Relativism : Relativism and the Aesthetic Criterion

Relativism, after all, is also an `-ism', a theory which claims to be universal. The logical contradiction lies in the statements such as these. When I say, `Everything is relative', I have uttered an absolute statement. I have problem with the absolutism in the argument that `the good and the bad are relative things'. Conclusion: Everyone is working with some absolutism and some criteria. Whether one is aware of it or not or whether one is honest enough to acknowledge it or not is a different issue.
My criterion is this: poetry with cliché, obvious turns of phrase, and usual content is an ordinary one. This I take as a working definition of interesting poetry.
The question would be `what is cliché or obviousness' when it comes to poetry? Well the answer would be largely empirical based on reading of a range of texts. If the phrases, images, rhetorical figures and ideas which recur in quantitatively large number of texts are found in a poem you are reading, the poem becomes an ordinary work. Bad poetry refuses to reinvent the language and move beyond its limits.
I am not sure if I agree with the idea that a good critical analysis would not change my view of the poem under consideration. A good critical analysis can do amazing things, and Oscar Wilde was unfailingly correct when he considered criticism as a form of art. I had never thought of Freud as a creative writer until, I read Harold Bloom's essay ` Freud: A Shakespearean Reading' in the Western Canon.( notice it is not Shakespeare a Freudian reading').People who dislike criticism are people who dislike art because good criticism is also an art: art of discovering, inventing, uncovering and moving beyond the obvious and the habitual modes of reading. In India probably due to the influence of medieval Bhakti movement, there is a tendency to consider criticism as an unnecessary evil. This is largely due to anti-intellectualism among Indian middle class. If anti-intellectualism comes, can fascism and totalitarianism be far behind?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Towards Poetics of Diary: Diary as a Literary Genre

This year, I am discussing Samuel Pepys famous diary with my Second Year BA with Major English students and it is interesting to research this area. Teaching of literature at college is fun when you end up reading things that have no apparent connection with your research interests. I enjoyed the books like the Pilgrim's Progress, Kanthapura, The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Chaucer's Prologue and what not. These books, I dont think I would have read had I not been a teacher of literature. Samuel Pepys Diary is the latest addition to this list and it is as fascinating as it can be. However, I havent been able to lay my hands on sufficient amount of theoretical literature on diary as a literary genre. Hence, I had to do a bit of theorizing on my own, and here I share it with you (Hey! is it the Pepys Bug that I am addressing YOU my fictional reader in a particular way?). Obviously these theorizations are not original and I am sure someone must have addressed these issues somewhere. I would love to hear about the books which deal with these issues.

1) The diary raises questions about what is meant by literature in the first place. It challenges the wide-spread definition of literature as ` verbal art'. If `exhibitionability' is the chief, if not the central, characteristic of art, then the diary is meant SOLELY for the writer. In fact, it can be the polar opposite of art. There are diaries, of course, written with the intention of postthumous fame and a certain audience in the mind, but then, can they be considered diaries at all?

2) The diary functions on the condition of the absence of any human reader and the only true audience and addressee for the diary is the diary itself. Consider, generic conventions like addressing the diary as ` Dear Diary' or Anne Frank's naming her diary as ` Kitty'. I think this is the definining characteristic of the genre.

3) The diary challenges the established hierarchy of literary genres which gives poetry and fiction the top slot ( which is the number one: poetry or fiction?). It can claim, even if the claim is not always legitimate, to be more `authentic', ` true' and ` subjective' than poetry and fiction. The diary, which is actually a very marginal genre, has the potential of challenging the very centre of the canonical order of literature. It does not mean that the diary is a `truer' form of writing, but it only means that its claim to truth is more than those of other two genres.

4) Historically, two conditions are necessary for the genre of diary: a) literacy and, b) a crucial distinction between the public and the private domains. This co-incides with the rise of print capitalism and rise of individualism as an ideology. The process of construction of self as an autonomous self is intertwined with the rise of capitalism. Incidently, both poetry and fiction fall more squarely into `public domain' as do the other forms of `self-writing' like the autobiography and biography.

5) The diary is the ancestor of the recent genre of `blog' , but blog is again in the public domain unlike the diary and hence cant be really considered as contemporary form of diary. Probably the relationship between the public and the private domain has collapsed, thanks to the Internet and the Newer media like the TV and the mobile phone. And probably, thanks to the rise of new media newer forms of self disclosure like the ` User Generated Content' on Youtube , social networking sites and blogging have come to replace the diary. But people still write diaries, dont they? If they dont, I am planning to start one for a change...

6) Though the content of the diary is `personal', language, the medium is very much social and public.

7) The diary can be considered as a Language-Game in a Wittgensteinen way. That is, it functions only if you accept its rules. What are the rules of the game called `diary'? The assumption of truth? The assumption of the diary as the sole audience/reader? And intimacy with this reader?

8) The diary as a confessional genre, a therapy and catharsis of writing diary....