Monday, 23 April 2018

23 April 2018, World Book Day


23 April is a symbolic date for world literature.

It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K. Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo.


It was a natural choice for UNESCO's General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. With this in mind, UNESCO created the World Book and Copyright Day.

World Book Capital for 2018: Athens, Greece

Each year, UNESCO and the international organizations representing the three major sectors of the book industry - publishers, booksellers and libraries, select the World Book Capital for a one-year period, effective 23 April each year.

The city of Athens was chosen for the quality of its activities, supported by the entire book industry. The aim is to make books accessible to the city’s entire population, including migrants and refugees.

Source: UNESCO 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Etty, Cissy and Kitty!



Well, it was quite rhyming, so! But wait…! there’s quite a reason for that too!

Guess what! Initially, Frank wanted her diary to be an entirely private work. She looked upon her diary as a friend, and hence she named it Kitty after a character in a popular series of children’s books by the Dutch author Cissy van Marxveldt.

Etty Hillesum, is often called the “adult counterpart” to Anne Frank.

Born fifteen years before Anne, Hillesum also lived in Amsterdam during the Holocaust, keeping a journal and writing letters that would be published posthumously in 1981 as An Interrupted Life & Letters from Westerbork.

But, sadly, very few have read Etty’s work or even know her, beyond Holocaust scholars and some literary connoisseurs!

Hence, she’s a lovely read for a full-time research!

Well, Hillesum uses her Journal not only to discuss her daily life in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, but also to explore religion and spirituality, ideal love versus sexual attraction, mental and physical illness, even existence itself!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

'Flashbulb' Memories: An Overview

Introduction

Many of us may have vivid memories of the recollections of the 21-month Emergency declared across India in 1975. Many of us may also have vivid memories of the Sino-Indian War in 1962.

The 90s generation may be proud witnesses to ‘Operation Shakti’ at the Indian Army's Pokhran test range, after which India declared itself a major nuclear power on May 11, 1998.

However, a great many of us, who may not have been visibly present at the site of the ‘event’ on that eventful day, we do also have vivid, realistic memories of how we get ‘to know’ and ‘learn’ or ‘recollect’ about these events.

These recollections that we have, especially, vivid recollections pertaining to dramatic events - be it in the realm of the personal or the political -  are called flashbulb memories.

A study of such 'flashbulb memories' is called a flashbulb study.

Characteristics of Flashbulb Memories

Not all historical events lead to flashbulb memories. An event must attract or capture our individual attention and be identified as something significant before the memory is intensified.

More details, but not necessarily accurate details

Compared to ordinary autobiographical memories, flashbulb memories include richer sensory, picturesque detail to the event. But, at the same time, in a flashbulb memory, we are able to recall the experience of learning about an event, NOT the factual details of the event itself. Hence accuracy becomes contentious in 'flashbulb' memories.

There are also instances of false recollections, which are called, ‘Phantom flashbulbs,’ on the recollection of an event from the past. Hence, flashbulb memories include errors of omission and commission, as with autobiographical memories.


Therefore, according to Hirst, now, almost 17 years down the line, after the September 2001 tragedy happened, intense research has revealed that, we tend to forget much, or falsely remember much more than we realize; and it is more likely that we tend to get our facts wrong!

Many flashbulb studies indicate that, over an extended period of time, people’s memories of learning about the events—and of the events themselves—eroded, which challenges the contention that flashbulb memories are more accurate.

A very interesting primer on flashbulb memory is the book Affect and Accuracy in Recall: Studies of 'Flashbulb' Memories (1992). [I’ve got a copy of it myself, which rather inspired me to write this post!]. The studies and findings of this book had been widely cited for measuring flashbulb memory accuracy by comparing people's immediate recollections with later recollections.

The book emphasizes on the importance of dates to the study of “flashbulb memories.”

It also discusses the implications of flashbulb memories for an understanding of the relationship between emotion and memory, by discussing salient arguments like, Do emotions and arousal strengthen memory?

The book has an interesting conclusion, which avers that, in a study of flashbulb memory across times and climes, especially in classical examples in which people recall "reception events" (i.e., hearing some piece of important public news), 'flashbulb memories' are found to be less reliable than other kinds of emotional memories.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Bombal and the ‘Boom’


The 'Pablo Neruda' Connect!


María Luisa Bombal is a highly-regarded Chilean author, who has incorporated themes of eroticism, surrealism and feminism in her works!

Interestingly, she had the great privilege of being mentored by Neruda himself!

In 1931, Bombal became a member of the thriving literary group often nicknamed The Boom which included legends as Jorge Luis Borges.

It was at this point of time, that, she shared an apartment with the poet Pablo Neruda and his wife, composing her first fiction at their kitchen table.

Then, Neruda, who became a Nobel Prize winner, was the Chilean consul in the Argentine capital. Inspired greatly by him, Bombal finished her first novella, The Final Mist, which met with much critical acclaim in 1935. Then, in 1938, she published her second novella, titled, The Shrouded Woman.

There are quite a lot of converges between Bombal’s writings and Neruda’s, which has immense scope for a dissertation on their oeuvre!

On Neruda!

Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair (1924), is a collection of poems by Pablo Neruda, that made him very famous at the young age of 19. It contains his heartrending reflections on the passing of love, ‘‘Tonight I Can Write.’’

The Spanish Civil War that raged between 1936 and 1939, had a profound effect on Neruda’s work, politics, and personal life. Therefore, it influenced quite many writers who were also impacted much by the Spanish Civil War!

They are –

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a novel by Muriel Spark, and also the best known of her works. The story is set against the backdrop of fascism and the Spanish Civil War. It is the nineteen-thirties, and in addition to teaching her students about the Italian Renaissance painters, the benefits of cleansing cream, and the word “menarche,” Miss Brodie also expresses her admiration for Mussolini, and her support of Franco's fascist regime, in the Spanish Civil War.

Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom is a novel that’s set at the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Madrid lies ruined, its people starving, while the Germans continue their relentless march through Europe. Britain now stands alone while General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war. Into this uncertain world comes Harry Brett, a traumatised veteran of Dunkirk turned reluctant spy for the British Secret Service. Sent to gain the confidence of old schoolfriend Sandy Forsyth, now a shady Madrid businessman, Harry finds himself involved in a dangerous game - and surrounded by memories. A vivid and haunting depiction of wartime Spain from the bestselling author of the Shardlake series.

Homage to Catalonia (1938), is a nonfiction work by George Orwell. In this work, Orwell gives a firsthand account of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), is a novel by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s novel tells the story of an American working with an anti-fascist guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War.

And No Man’s Wit (1940), is a novel by Rose Macaulay. Its view of the possibility of heroism and honor during the Spanish Civil War stands in sharp contrast to those expressed in Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

To conclude, Geoffrey Barraclough calls Neruda ‘‘a one-man Renaissance . . . who has modified the outlook of three generations of Latin Americans. His roots are firmly planted in Chile; his appeal is to the whole continent.’’

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Well-designed! There's something for everyone, here!

VISIT TO A CITY LIBRARY
by
Megha P.S, II M.A. English

A library is every bibliophile's dream, one’s paradise. There is nothing like heading to the library on a cool, breezy morning. On one such day, I eagerly searched for a bus that would take me to my fantasy land of dragons, mansions and enchanted forests. As the patient wait came to an end, I quickly hopped on the bus (21G from West Tambaram), and to my surprise, found an empty seat during rush hour. Looking out the window, one could see the lush green hills and the clouds, as it turned grey from a clear light blue.

A crowded bus with the conductor shouting at the passengers to get tickets to their destinations, or children tightly clutching their parents’ hands, to young adults with blank expressions, thinking about the monotony of their work, occasionally hatched into a forced smile when nudged by a co-passenger: this bus was a world of its own. With no friends for company, this travel had more to offer, from observing my co-passengers to reflecting on life as the bus drove past the cancer institute in Adyar.

After an elaborate travel on a rickety bus for about forty minutes, I could see the library, the building gleaming as the mild sunrays fell on its windows. Anna Centenary Library, located in Gandhi Mandapam road, Kotturpuram, spreads across eight acres of land, in the heart of Chennai city. The enclosed library has a parking area. Inaugurated on September 15, 2010, on the occasion of the 102nd birth anniversary of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr. CN Annadurai, the library is named after the former Chief Minister popularly and fondly remembered as 'Anna'. Anna Centenary Library has a hand carved statue of Perarignar Anna, surrounded by a fountain with lighting.

As I made my way into the main gate of the library, there were a few people walking in the library premises, breathing in the fresh, morning air.  As per the library rules, except valuables, books and water bottles, bags were to be deposited at the bag counter in return for a token. Walking up to the glassed, palatial, automated entrance, one could find the reception on one side with comfy couches, the other side opened into an airy space with potted plants and a miniature garden. A small Aavin counter had opened up early to serve the people with sleep stirred faces, a hot cup of coffee with freshly extracted decoction.

Monday, 19 March 2018

On the 41st Chennai Book Fair

A Detour for Books
by
Divya Lekshmi M S, II MA English

It was a Saturday evening when we went for the Book Fair at St. George’s Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School grounds. The event was organised by the Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI). Since it was a weekend, the entry was itself exciting because we followed a huge crowd of visitors there. The school children derailed their queue in excitement to see the exhibition. The visitors included the elderly to the little ones on their mothers’ arms. I went with my friends, Joy and Evangeline. And we’re thankful to Joy’s aunt, who had taken the tickets in advance for us. So we saved time instead of queuing for the tickets amidst the crowd.

The Book Fair featured 10,000 new books, displayed in stalls put up by over 700 different exhibitors. Each stall had its own specificity. The fair had the presence of a computerized index named ‘Bhavishya’ which could identify specific stalls and books for visitors. I found the stall of  Malayala Manorama, having their publications-  magazines, yearbooks etc for the exhibition. There were so many stalls for children’s books and we found kids enthusiastically searching for books. Some stalls were decorated with hanging paper birds and creative objects. There were stalls for environment protection and pollution control, exhibiting posters with titles ‘Save Water’, ‘Save Environment’, ‘Save Earth’. . . . There were also audio books available there. To catch the attention of the voracious readers, there were T-shirts for sale with designs by portraying the logos inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet and also of H.G. Well’s Invisible Man. People might have bought more of the merchandise than books. There were 100 T-shirts with six designs and almost 50% of the Shakespeare collection was sold out.

There was a 10% discount for all books to catch the buyers. Books were on offer - 3 books for Rs. 100 and Children’s books were available for Rs. 30, Rs. 20 and Rs.50. For kids, there were also colouring books, image-intensive alphabet pamphlets and collections of nursery rhymes and word games to choose from. Tamil literature was rather well represented too. There were over 400 stalls dedicated to regional language books. There was a special stall for visually challenged readers too. There was a provision to order the Braille version of their favourite books and the copy would be delivered to their address within a few days.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

On Travelogues and Travel Writing in Literature - VI


Thinner (1984), is a novel by Stephen King. In this thriller, an overweight executive appears to get away with vehicular manslaughter of an old man. The man’s surviving son, a traveling gypsy, touches the killer’s cheek and utters a curse: ‘‘Thinner.’’

Moscow 2042 (1986), is a dystopian time-travel novel by Vladimir Voinovich. Time travel reveals the bleak future of the Soviet Union, in a dystopian parody written during the glasnost (openness) period.

Lawrence Durrell’s island novels, or landscape books, are drawn from the Greek world, but they are far more than travelogues or catalogues of places to visit. Much like the travel literature of Norman Douglas and D. H. Lawrence, they recreate the ambience of places loved, the characters of people known, and the history and mythology of each unique island world. Bitter Lemons of Cyprus in special, takes the icing on the cake on Durrell’s oeuvre, describing the three years (1953–1956) he spent on the island of Cyprus.

Along the Ganges is an exhilarating travelogue by Ilija Trojanow. Ilija Trojanow is a German novelist and travel writer. Trojanow, being well-versed in Hindi, is the perfect mix of insider and outsider, who can see for himself, what makes India tick! In this gripping travelogue, Ilija Trojanow travels along the River Ganges, right from its originating source, where it breaks free from the eternal ice in the Himalayas, meandering its way to the great cities; he follows the river alternately by boat, by bus, and also on overcrowded trains.

Arabian Sands is a 1959 book by explorer and travel writer Wilfred Thesiger. According to Sir John Glubb, ‘Wilfred Thesiger is perhaps the last, and certainly one of the greatest, of the British travellers among the Arabs . . . The narrative is vividly written, with a thousand little anecdotes and touches which bring back to any who have seen these countries every scene with the colour of real life.’

Not getting accustomed to the monotonous drudgery of everyday life in the West, and repulsed by the softness,  and rigidity of Western life, especially ‘the machines, the calling cards, the meticulously aligned streets,’ Thesiger, (in the spirit of T. E. Lawrence,) sets out to explore the deserts of Arabia, traveling among peoples who had never seen a European. His now-classic account is invaluable to understanding the modern Middle East.

The Aura of Regency Romances - I


Regency romances have seen a sudden spurt in recent years, thanks to the ‘writing back’ strategies and the ‘re-reading’ strategies, coupled with a desire to escape into the strangest and farthest of wonderlands of yore, that have helped make this rejuvenation of the Regency possible.

Well, a regency is described as a period of time when a country is governed by a ‘regent,’ because the king or queen is unable to rule over the country.

I thank Prof. Sharon for giving me a lead to this wonderful genre. Inspired much, I started delving deep into the various regency readers that have oft been bestsellers, and milor’ – I got myself impulsively hitting upon the idea of doing a series-feature on the Regency.

So here we go…

In the United Kingdom, the regency refers to the regency decade  between 1811 and 1820, when the Prince of Wales (George IV at a later date) acted as regent during his father's inability – bouts of insanity – that made it impossible for him to govern the nation.

Ever since, there have been a host of regency writers and generations of avid readers who have been addicted to the charm and the aura of the regency. The bestest known regency novelist who caps the cream, is Georgette Heyer, who has written the most novels in this ‘regency’ genre. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that, she pioneered the genre of the Regency romances.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Inclusivity is our strength!

‘Diversity is a source of our strength not weakness! But inclusion is a choice,’ said Jennifer Daubeny, Consul General for Canada, at a programme organized by the Research Department of English, University of Madras. Quoting statistics, she added that, ‘As much as over 50 per cent of Torontonians have been born in other countries, while 22 per cent of all Canadians have immigrated to the country.’

She also highlighted the Canadian attitude towards sustained inclusivity, stating that, ‘the Canadian approach is to embrace all people irrespective of their differences.’

The Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen had recently said that Canada has set a target to admit nearly one million immigrants over the next three years, she said, adding that, the Canadian government has always extended an open arm to Syrian refugees.

In this context, the Immigration minister had also stated that, by the year 2036, 100 per cent of Canada's population growth will be as a result of immigration, it stands at about 75 per cent today.

Ms. Daubeny was all appreciation for a team of students from Loyola College, Chennai, who had come to the embassy to give a petition commending the welcoming of refugees to Canada. Stating that, around three million Canadians were Indians, Jennifer said that, Canada just has a population of a little over 36 million, and proclaimed the government’s resolve to embracing diversity.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

On Travelogues and Travel Writing in Literature - V

Hari Kunzru is yet another vibrant travel writer with a love for all things adventurous! The son of a man from the Kashmir province in India and a British woman, Hari Kunzru was honoured by 'The Observer,' in 1999 ,  with their Young Travel Writer of the Year Award

Kunzru’s familial background inspired him to write The Impressionist about an Indian-English young man, Pran Nath. Kunzru told Richard Alleyne of the London Daily Telegraph, ‘‘At Oxford, I noticed how much people play out a comedy of Englishness, which made me very interested in identity role-playing in post-colonial Britain.’’ Kunzru’s The Impressionist revolves around the efforts of a young man of mixed heritage to make a place for himself in the world. Travel as a theme becomes apparent as the protagonist sheds his identity and his belongings in each country.

Part of what motivates The Impressionist is the openmindedness Kunzru gained from his mixed heritage. In one interview with the London Independent Sunday, he stated, ‘‘I’ve always been very scared of people who are certain. . . .Nothing terrifies me more than a religious fundamentalist who really knows what right is and is prepared to do violence to what they consider is wrong. . . . I wanted to write in praise of the unformed and fluid.’’

The Road (2006), is a novel by Cormac McCarthy. This book, one of the most violent novels ever to win a Pulitzer Prize, is the postapocalyptic survival story of a father and his son traveling across a wasteland populated by desperate marauders. McCarthy foregrounds only the very basics of physical human survival and the intimate evocation of a destroyed landscape drawn with such precision and beauty. He makes us ache with nostalgia for restored normality. McCarthy uses these vividly described, amoral villains as points of contrast with human instincts for decency and civilization.

Alphonse de Lamartine’s The Fall of an Angel (1838) reflect his travels in the Middle East and his fascination with reincarnation and pantheism.

Monday, 5 March 2018

On Travelogues and Travel Writing in Literature – IV

Travel gave fresh impetus to the writer the ‘illusory option’ of flight from their wearied present. As such, the traveler doubled up as a writer and an adventurer seeking the exotic or the wild, as an exemplar of the exotic, a connoisseur of fascinating landscapes, and an observer of strange habits, rituals and customs.

Hence, it goes without saying that, a successful travelogue carries with it, a great sense of curiosity and a sharp sense of humour – which were both part of the travel writer’s narrative strategies.

However, there is also the charge levelled against travel writers, particularly from the West, that they were much biased in their portrayals, depictions, and representations of the ‘Other’ or the East.

In this regard, studies in Postcolonial Travel Writing takes cudgels against such representations, and seeks to vehemently challenge such distorted prevailing representations of travel writing that emanates from the West as biased, lacking in truth value, and Eurocentric in its tastes.

Again, Debbie Lisle, in her recently published book titled, The Global Politics of Contemporary Travel Writing problematises or rather politicizes the authenticity of the bestselling travel books, such as those by Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, Bruce Chatwin and Michael Palin, by telling her reader that, there’s more to it than meets the eye! To Debbie, there IS a lot of identity-politics, geopolitics and cultural politics at play in contemporary travel writing! Therefore, despite the powers of globalization and multiculturalism on the one side, common stereotypes about ‘foreignness’ continue to shape the experience of modern travel.

In addition, Mary Louise Pratt deems such coordinates of these travel texts of Euroimperialism as, “Redundant, Discontinous, and Unreal!”

Well, this is meat for another whole series altogether.

To sum it up, the reader should bear in mind that, Travel Writing per se, is not an objective rendering of explorations or journeys that happen across countries, climes, peoples and places! undertaken. They are bound to contain preconceptions that affect representation to a great extent. Moreover, travelogues are heavily impacted and influenced by the narrator’s gender, race, caste, age, cultural standing and educational levels too. Hence, all travel writing is to a considerable degree ideological.

Now for a continuation on the slew of travelogues –

The Crossing (1994), is a novel by Cormac McCarthy. In this novel, young Billy Parham captures a wolf on his farm in New Mexico. He decides to return the wolf to Mexico, where he thinks it has come from, and in crossing over into Mexico, his life changes forever.

The plot of the novel takes place before and during the Second World War and focuses on the life of the protagonist Billy Parham, a teenage cowboy; his family; and his younger brother Boyd. The story tells of three journeys taken from New Mexico to Mexico. Although the novel is neither satirical nor humorous, its realistic portrayal of an often destitute hero taking part in a series of loosely connected quests in a brutal, corrupt world lends this book many of the qualities of a picaro.

The Pilgrimage is a 1987 novel by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. It is a recollection of Paulo's experiences as he made his way across northern Spain on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The novel serves as part adventure story, part guide to self-discovery.

The story begins in 1986, when the author fails his initiation into the order Regnus Agnus Mundi (RAM). He is informed that in order to get accepted into RAM, he must embark upon a spiritual journey along the Way of St. James in search of a sword, which symbolically will mark his acceptance into the order. The author sets off on this quest alongside another RAM member who is known as Petrus. He learns that the objective of this quest is to learn the simplicity of life and the nature of truth. Petrus guides him the entire way, showing him meditation techniques and delving into philosophy and Western mystical thought. The meditation exercises he teaches him include the RAM Breathing Exercise, Blue Sphere Exercise, Cruelty Exercise and many more. On this legendary road across Spain, the author learns that sometimes the most extraordinary, can be found in the simplest of things. The Pilgrimage has been translated to thirty eight languages all over the world.

Friday, 2 March 2018

On Travelogues and Travel Writing in Literature - III


Travels with My Donkey (2004), is yet another nonfiction work by Tim Moore. It is a humorous nonfiction account of the author’s attempt to follow the five hundred-mile pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, with a donkey.

Having no knowledge of Spanish and even less about the care and feeding of donkeys, Tim Moore, Britain's indefatigable traveling Everyman, sets out on a pilgrimage to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela with a donkey named Shinto as his companion. Armed only with a twelfth-century handbook to the route and expert advice on donkey management from Robert Louis Stevenson, Moore and his four-legged companion travel the ancient five-hundred-mile route from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela which houses the remains of Spain's patron saint, St. James.

The Amber Spyglass (2000), is a novel by Philip Pullman. In this last book of the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, the young heroine Lyra (seemingly named after the lyre, the musical instrument Orpheus played) travels to an underworld drawn from Greek myth and leads its inhabitants out. His Dark Materials is an epic trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman which follows the coming of age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a series of parallel universes.

Jack Kerouac is rightfully called a ‘road novelist.’ One of the leading lights of the Beat generation, Kerouac wrote On the Road in the year 1957, a stream of consciousness  travelogue of America in the early 1950s. On The Road is considered to be a seminal post-war work, and its setting and theme make for an engaging read. The novel captures the author Jack Kerouac and his friends’ travels across North America. The author is the main protagonist in the story, and it is set against the backdrop of music, poetic literature, and drug abuse.

Jules Verne was a French writer who helped pioneer the genre of science fiction; novels such as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea explored underwater and space travel before either was technologically possible. Along with writers like Mark Twain, Conrad was able to incorporate traditional story forms—such as travelogues or journey stories—into novels with a more contemporary sensibility.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea also known under its longer title, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: An Underwater Tour of the World, is a classic science fiction novel In the story, Captain Nemo pilots his vessel, the Nautilus, on an adventure in search of a sea monster that was sighted by a number of ships in 1866. The American government sponsors the mission. This great adventure story is notable for being more scientifically accurate than some of Verne's other novels. In particular, the description of the Nautilus is rather prophetic and a fitting description for modern submarines. While there were submarines in existence when the book was written, they were primitive affairs and it took a feat of imagination for the writer to produce his vision of what an underwater craft would look like in the future.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o in conversation with Gita Hariharan

Every thought, every memory, every emotion, has a landowner! Things that happen are meant to belong, to you, or to me. Like a privilege acquired at birth, a litany made up of, “this is mine, yours, ours.”

Nations and powers that be, appropriate entire histories, lives, other nations, people, writing and rewriting of things that later become our truths – yours and mine – living under the keel of collective ownership can be crippling.

How does one free the event of one’s life from the clutches of possessive, dictatorial memory, and turn it into a literature of resistance…

Presenting the legendary Ngugi wa Thiongo, in conversation with Gita Hariharan, 23 February 2018, New Delhi.

The Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, was seated to capacity, brimming with a throng, which literary events rarely boast of. Well, literary minds from far and wide started trickling in from three pm on, for the event which was to begin at 7 pm.

“Let me tell you a secret,” Thiongo began.

“You know something?”

“I met Spivak first in the year 1996 at UCI.”

“No, Thiongo. You got it wrong!!! We met first in the year Nineteen Sixty Six!”

“Oh yeah! I remember!”

“And back then, Gayatri was an Assistant Professor at Iowa”

“Right!”

Soon, Gita Hariharan gently interrupts, and starts, on the interactions!

“This is my second visit to India. My first visit was in 1996, when I came to New Delhi to be part of the Nationalities Conference to talk about the national question among and within nations.”

Excerpts from his colloquy –

Education, to Thingo, is “where we are!”

It is simply, “where we are”.

So it’s not the subject alone, that matters in education, but also a place! The wonderful space or place, where education takes place.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Of 'Relational Strivings' and 'Archival Silences...'

The concept note for the Seminar, ‘The Textuality of History and the Historicity of Texts,’ spelt out the great relevance, vitality and germaneness of the Two-day National Seminar hosted by the Research Department of English, of the highly renowned St. Xavier’s College, Palayamkottai, on 19 & 20 February 2018.

The Seminar was indeed quite a rewarding and a fruitful endeavour aimed at altering our perspectives on “How we look at literature today.”

At the outset, Professor Joseph Albert outlined, with finesse, the eight broad themes of the Seminar. He also reiterated his trademark, ‘tried-and-tested’ formula of 2 + 8 + 2 for presenting papers.

1. Citing the interplay there is, between historicity and textuality, Prof. Albert quoted from Montrose’s famed liner, on the poststructuralist orientation to history which is now fast emerging in literary studies, which he characterizes chiastically, as a reciprocal concern with the historicity of texts and the textuality of history.

Hence, Art is NOT created in vacuum. It emerges out of a social milieu – a ‘relational striving.’

2. Words exist within a Context. For example, Fire is very much denotative, meaning ‘it burns.’ At the same time, there are numerous connotations or meanings to it. We say, ‘The heart is full of fire,” etc.

3. Thirdly, history is not 100% objective. Hence, even Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India is his version of history, and speaks to how a historian translates into a writer. Moreover, to Hayden White, it is not history as such, but metahistories. [In his masterpiece, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in the Nineteenth Century, White is very much concerned with historizication and discontinuity. The historical profession was not formed in a vacuum; and historical practice was not a matter of a priori rules. Rather, as one of White’s teaching assistants put it, ‘what I got from it all was that history had a history.’]

Even Stephen Greenblatt argues on why the historian selects some and omits some from his purview.

4. Focus on Relational Striving related to Intertextuality.

5. An outline of New Historicism and Cultural Materialism.

6. The paradigm shift from Comparative Literature to Cultural Studies.

7. Archival Silences and Liminal Spaces.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Takes on Zadie Smith's Thoughts!

A lovable, and a much adorable manual on Creative Writing - Adele Ramet has given us all!

And so has Hazel Smith!

And so has Patti Smith!

And so has Umberto Eco!

And so has Stephen King’s wondrous book On Writing, born out of decades of trial and error on the field, from which he gives budding writers his TOP 20 Rules for Writers.

Yet! Zadie Smith stands out tall’est from amongst ‘em all! and how!

Thanks to a brilliant lead by Dr. Aparna on Zadie Smith, which gave me an impulsive inspiration of sorts!

This feature takes for its point of departure, from off Zadie Smith’s insights. I have divided the feature into three parts, basing ‘em all exclusively on Zadie’s impactful observations.

Well, here goes…

Zadie Smith on Massive Cultural Currents: “We forget that our particular moment, with all its tribulations and triumphs, is not neatly islanded in the river of time but swept afloat by massive cultural currents that have raged long before it and will rage long after.”

Well, John Corner’s observations merit a citation here. To him, this cultural current is “energetic & dynamic” and something that’s always on the flow – on the move! It never ain’t static! Says he: “In any period of human history a culture and society are partly sustained by the tension between that which is thought to be of value, inherited from the past, and that which is the product of energetic, dynamic, and deliberate innovation.”

Honore de Balzac too merits a retell here: And well, he wanted to be called the ‘Secretary of his Age,’ and his realist novels and plays have intensely focused on the milieu of French society after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte!

His masterpiece La Comedie humaine (1842–1850), a multivolume work involving about one hundred interwoven novels and stories, has had a tremendous influence on big names in the publishing industry - like Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, and Henry James!