Saturday, November 10, 2007

On Writing

Ironically words are the last thing that comes to mind when thought happens to be on writing. I’ll end up thinking about everything but how it was written. May be this explains why books originally written in languages I can’t hope to learn in a lifetime have a fascination for me.

How can Borges speak through a language he didn’t write while lending that eye to see the constructs of mind of matter in a new light? How about reading Calvino leave a half-begun chuckle on me as I attempt to surmise my own impressions of the cities I thought I’ve lived? How much Russian was Fyodor’s English which I read and found myself aghast at the ways of human mind? How about V.K.N who wrote about contemporary decadent living and politics in India steeped in dynasty and feudal order in the subtext of linguistic and culture setting similar to the baroque of seventeenth century?

Writer as a reader

Derrida while speaking about the analogy between structuralist obsession and the anxiety of language not being accidental, unleashed the force within the act of reading a book. The anxiety of writer is recreated as an event every time when his or her book is read, which is why the readership of creative writers and their take on others’ writings reveal very special and unique sensibilities. Calvino’s ‘Literature machine’ and ‘Why read classics’? come to mind. M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s literary jottings on writers reveal an acquired sensibility that are out there waiting for the seeker. A well read writer carries the spirit of past, present and future, notwithstanding the clever ones who have their hands and designs on the forces of market and socialites.


“But there is more to Art than the straightness of lines and the perfection of surfaces. Plasticity of style is as large as the entire idea… we have too many things and not enough forms.” – Flaubert.

The most important thing for a writer is to have something to write. Cliched as it sounds, there are any number of us simply love the idea of being a writer. Sometimes one may even find what he could write in the process. But we are talking about the intangible in the act of writing. We’ve had too many instances of losing it in style and pop genres while the most unconventional writer who is the toast of the time being forgotten in a few years. James Joyce and Faulkner infuriated unsuspecting readers no end, yet those who persisted with them had their personal epiphanies. Hermann Hesse’s prose was simple and as clear as a flowing stream, yet he made deep impact on readers world over. Mobydick and Don Quixote were discovered in a new light much later. What makes the books and their writers matter and alive, long after they were all gone?
The stylists among writers may enjoy immediate success. But time will test the real worth of their work eventually. The ones that stood the test underline the fact that craft would be invariably get dated, but not the insights.


Vision is that rare occurrence in writing. However the visionary writer is not an anomaly or an accident. He or she is but an inheritor of his ancestors’ collective consciousness and pointer to the direction of our future. One can easily delineate the thoughts of Thoreau taking shape in Lawrence Durrell’s art which is outgrown by the Indian writer O.V. Vijayan to write his eco-science fiction ‘Madhuram Gayati’.

Durrell wrote - "Hellenic worlds are replaced here by something different, something subtly androgynous, inverted upon itself. The Orient cannot rejoice in the sweet anarchy of the body - for it has outstripped the body. I remember Nessim once saying - I think he was quoting - that Alexandria was the great winepress of love; those who emerged from it were the sick men, the solitaries, the prophets - I mean all who have been deeply wounded in their sex."
(from Justine, part one of the Alexandria Quartet)”

Written during the fag end of eighties, Madhuram Gayati’s germinal could be unmistakably found in Durrell. Vijayan’s book spoke about the earth in an apocalyptical conflict between a submissive feminine hemisphere and a predatory androgynous hemisphere . The references of multinational companies as the only functioning entities, while states were all withered and the greed and fatal spasms of the northern hemisphere seething in unbearable hot weather resonated on many levels as some of them have become much more obvious to us than it was in ealry nineties.

True visionaries are those who care and fear for us, the thoughtless lot.

Writer’s contrivances

If Derrida’s biggest contribution was extending the writer’s paradigm in interpretational and philosophical reading of the text, the next big thing was OULIPO writers’ foray into forms that were nothing but a literary response to the google world of our times. They tore into the everyday and exotic realms alike - architecture, cosmology, word plays (lipograms, crosswords, anagrams, travel notes etc) statistical physics, tarot card reading etc while acutely aware of the vocation of literature. The wild successes of George Perec and Italo Calvino as the rightful inheritors of Borges underline the fact that being clever could never be an option but be and that the knowledgebase of humankind has exploded the average reader’s sensibilities. These new writers have waded in and out of genre writing and experimenation with gay abandon as they mischievously led the unsuspecting readers into grander spectacles. The fa├žade of adapting constraints to build their artifacts didn’t faze their readers’ from recognizing their value.
Perec wrote an 300 page novel devoid of the letter 'e'. His magnum opus, Life A users's manual adapted the literary form's equivalent of the art and science of creating and solving jigsaw puzzles. Italo Calvino wrote If On a Winter's nithgt a traveller artfully crushed and recast the very structure of novel where plot, style, author, ambience, tone and even the reader undergo several mutations that one could easily see that this single book was out to trigger multiple neural response from its reader.

Any or a combination or all of the above strengths may be found in a writer. I would however think that the real strength of a writer shows when he or she stays away while his or her book is read. And When as a writer, you've shed your inhibitions and the clever, egotist and erudite 'You' break the flimsy coordinates of your time and space and appeal to the universal sensibility of a reader, then you will have exercised your strength as a writer.

* On a prod by Amit, I ended up writing a bit of haphazard thoughts. Now, I would hope to see Sunil's take :)

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