Friday, August 18, 2006

A beautiful confusion

There are a few artistes who have this uncanny ability to disarm you of your ever conscious egotistic self. You are instantly drawn right into the whirlpool of their craft while you are not given anytime to conjure up your defenses, intellectual or visceral.

The absurdist and obscurantist among modernist writers though sincere in their efforts, used their craft to communicate their primarily reductionist and nihilist philosophies, albeit with world wars in the background. They managed to drive away vast sections of readers. That was when a few post modern writers and artists unveiled a middle stage where they sought to push the contexts of art to the backdrop and engaged the reader directly.

The result has been a delightful entrée of literature and art bringing in the full force of physical, philosophical and life sciences to the table. Anything that a symbol, alphabet or word can construct are adapted to create a context for the dialogue between the writer (artist) and the reader (viewer). The historical aberrations from painting schools such as Cubism, Surrealism and Dadaism etc where formalists applied their reductionist view of structuralism where considered by these writers to enfranchise the readers by providing resources to catch up or ride past.

The master craftsmen:

Italo Calvino addresses “you” the reader in his book “If on a winters night a traveler...”. He engages you straightaway, cleverly suggests the circumstances in which you picked up this fashionable book to flaunt an image you have given yourself or you’ve just found it from the chaotic township library. What follows is Calvino’s craftsmanship of story telling while revealing a delightful discourse about the semantics of reading, author-reader relationship and deconstruction of social and political dynamics of reading and eventually a realization of what’s important in everyone’s life. The tone of the book is satire.

His experiments took him to write another book titled The Castle of crossed destinies. It is a semiotic fantasy novel where you find the characters attempting to communicate through tarot cards. A narrator is interpreting them since the characters have become mutes due to past traumas. The structure of the book is laid out after crossword puzzles with horizontal and vertical progressions while any given order of the tarot cards defy the patterns you think you understood. The gimmicks Calvino employs go beyond its natural confines.

George Perec is another wonderful writer who messed with structure and content like Calvino. He wrote a fiction titled “A void” that spanned about 300 pages celebrates the banishment of the alphabet “e”. His magnum opus Life: A user’s manual is a visual and conventional literary master class built around the physical and narrative probabilities of written forms. If you read the book you would know that the book is not just clever but a deeper attempt to quantify the history of literary forms and genres while revealing a beguiling charm of whimsical life.


Luigi Pirandello’s play “Six characters in Search of an Author” was the prototype for all the meta-fictions to come. Borges is another meta-fiction powerhouse who took on and toyed with readers’ comprehension of reality and fiction. He brought forth the concept of collaborative reading and equipped readers to learn the rules of engagement as the act of reading progresses. He adapted all kinds of structural inventions at the time and beyond.

Fellini’s craft:

There is no better practitioner of post-modernism than Federico Fellini. His absolute command of the medium led him to deconstruct the creative and thought processes in making cinema while establishing a parallel channel of communication with the viewer.

His 8½, originally titled as “A beautiful confusion” is a riot where he peels off each layer in the process of movie making while unreservedly displaying the other side of self indulgence and dysfunctional routines of an artiste who at the moment is in a creative crisis after past successes.

Camera is an active member of his films. It hovers right above the shoulder of the protagonist’s (Guido - Marcello Mastroinni) to signify his point of view in no uncertain terms. Guido’s dreams, inspirations, infidelity, fantasies, debauchery, self promotion, vision, confusion and eventual reconciliation to be among his actors/characters for redemption are perhaps just the threadbare view of his art. Fellini is ever aware of viewer’s presence. He unveils not just the ambience of film making but idiosyncrasies and ego of actors, producer and critic.

In the film, Once the French (of course) critic savaged Fellini on his bid on catholic theme as naïve and inadequate attempt to counter the cultural apparatus of Catholicism with childhood memories and unintelligible dreams. Another instance when the critic began his monologue, Guido nodded his crew to hang him.

Fellini like Calvino, Perec, Borges and others wanted share his beautiful confusion with the viewer, no holds barred.


Italo Calvino: Italian Writer
George Perec: French Writer
Federico Fellini: Italian director
Links: Metafiction primer , 81/2 Review in Guardian


Ubermensch said...

Thats an encompassing post Rajesh, have saved a copy for myself. I gotto watch 81/2 again. But somehow this week with all the european OD was yearning for some bollywood chicks;)
Perec has been half-flicked through but one of my friends has borrowed it for the time being so not completed yet.

Rajesh said...

Save the post to its momentary immortality, brother.

81/2 is like an enchanting text book that we never probably had in school.

Perec needs time and space dude. He is going to be back, for sure.

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