Another Treasure-Trove of Lectures

Listening to these lectures on critical theory and reasoning by Marianne Talbot has been so much more enjoyable and enlightening than any of the standard textbooks on the subject that I have read.

https://mariannetalbot.co.uk/critical-reasoning/

The site contains the podcasts of a number of other lecture series by Professor Talbot including philosophy for beginners, formal logic, causation, and ethics. I have only gone through the critical theory lectures so far, and recommend it to anyone who wishes to get a clear understanding of the basics of the subject. I wish someone had pointed me to this page much earlier.

Fiction as Panacea

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. I repeat this to myself whenever I fall sick. Which is worse, a physical malady like a painfully sore throat or a bout of food poisoning that renders one unable to speak and function normally, or the darkness that descends upon the mind and shuts everything else out, rendering it cold and numb? It is easy to say that physical illness is easier to manage compared to clinical depression but when I fall sick, I find that unpleasant, long-forgotten memories tend to return to the mind, which then makes it susceptible once again to the chilling darkness. Somewhat like the sentiments that Rupert Brooke expresses in this poem on seasickness.

The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing—you!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice—heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ’Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ’twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.
Rupert Brooke, A Channel Passage

Out of the many ways to heal, literature is the best of all, perhaps; to write, and to read good fiction.

On Heroes

I was talking to an elderly lady whose late father had been an officer in the British Raj. In his library, she had come across a book about a certain Indian politician of the past century. She spoke highly of this man and assumed that he was still regarded as someone on a pedestal in India. Now I had grown up listening to several school speeches on his many virtues. The teachers composed and sang songs about his greatness. As idealistic undergraduates, we had once celebrated his birthday in the hostel. Roads around the country are named after him. My great-uncles named their houses after him. I had been repulsed reading the vitriol spewed on him by a foul-mouthed leftist poet who sang the praises of his contemporary leftist politician in the same breath. Then I had chanced upon the truth about both of these politicians who had been hailed as leaders in their time and wasn’t sure who was the worse of the two.

Naturally I did not mention any of this to the lady. I merely said that notwithstanding the ideals that fake historians had attached to his name and his many statues, everyone now knew who and what he really was and the chap who once had something of a halo about the very mention of his name, had very few fans left in the country. At which she looked nonplussed.

Reminded me of a poet who had been one of my heroes in a past life. I never cared much for his pedestrian prose, but his poetry had once connected to me like nothing else had. Through the influence of my Professors and classmates, I had come to see this poetry too for what it was. A few years ago, I used to attend literary festivals across the country just to hear him speak, though I stopped after the third one, having found that his interviews focused more on personal anecdotes rather than literary discussion, besides being tediously repetitive. Recently I was sitting in a pub with friends and someone mentioned that this poet was speaking at a venue a few hundred metres away. It didn’t seem relevant anymore, after being exposed to the work of a hundred other writers, better and greater than him.

It appears that there can be no heroes in the age of the internet.

Reading Thomas Pynchon

I was delighted to come across this essay by Nick Ripatrazone in which he says that Pynchon is ‘difficult, dated, and frustrating’, with sentences that ‘are labyrinthine and recursive: full of noise. As his sentences become paragraphs, and his paragraphs span pages, the novel becomes a whirlwind of paranoia; a test of a reader’s endurance and patience.’ Having been eager to read The Crying of Lot 49 based on McHale’s critique of the book, I had nearly wept with frustration when I had to put it away, right next to Ulysses on a shelf of books that I mean to return to, someday.

http://www.themillions.com/2015/04/difficult-dated-frustrating-prophetic-teaching-thomas-pynchon.html

‘The Crying of Lot 49 makes students consider what happens when a work of art might not have any traditional secrets to reveal’, says Ripatrazone, adding that ‘Pynchon’s fiction is like a literary workout that forces them to build from the ground up as readers. When students read easier works of literature, they might become deluded into thinking that all language is employed in the service of clear communication. Pynchon’s paradoxes make them return to other, non-literary texts with a bit more skepticism and independent thinking.’

Yet another book on that shelf is the verse novel The Distance Between Us. As I look at the shelf, a pattern begins to emerge. Art created for its own sake, that rejoices in itself and somehow remains at a distance from the reader.

The Lightworker’s Song

When this came up on my playlist today, I was reminded of M, a dear friend from Jordan with whom I share a mutual affinity for this song. We call each other lightworkers, though I have a long way to go to be called one, yet. As an empath, I tend to enclose myself in a bubble and block out the world to protect my energy. While she is an open, friendly soul radiating positivity and good vibes. Who warms up to everything and everyone around her, reaches out naturally to pick up and cuddle babies when she sees them, and who wouldn’t think twice before walking up to a stranger in trouble to offer help. She is a supremely talented writer and though her poetry does not rhyme it still feels like music, the words gushing forth like water from a spring, and reminds me of pearls scattered across the page.

I wish there were more people in the world like her. I wish I were a little (just a little) more like her. One of them real lightworkers.

Pagan Melodies

The music of this band is one of the many beautiful things that I encountered while searching for information about the ancient pagans. Both earthy and ethereal, it transcends language and touches the heart – like classical music or pure folk music does, whether it is the song of new beginnings for the spring festival of Beltane or the peaceful celebrations of the harvest during Lughnasadh. Such a joy to listen.

Four Crores of Poems

Recently I found myself explaining the meaning of the word crore (Indian term for ten million) more than once in course of conversation, which reminded me of a classic Tamil poem from primary-school days, by the poet Avvaiyar whose quote:
What we have learned is as much a handful of earth
What we are yet to learn is as much the entire world
is exhibited at NASA.

Avvaiyar was an enigmatic poet who is said to have lived a thousand, two thousand, or three thousand years ago, no one knows for sure. Very little is known about her, including her real name. Like the name Lao-Tse (who is alleged to be an ancient Tamil mystic) implies ‘Old Master’, Avvai is a generic term for a woman with the suffix ‘yar’ indicating respect. She is believed to have been a wandering minstrel who travelled by foot through the realms of Tamil Kings of yore and blessed, praised, counselled, and even saved them through her poetry. What has survived of Avvaiyar over the millennia is her poetry, among the most famous of it being a set of alphabetical aphorisms for young children that impart moral lessons through terse phrases. And some interesting stories about her trysts with the Kings of the age, fellow poets and citizens, all of whom celebrated her erudition and wisdom.

One of these stories is about a competition in which all the poets of the land were called forth to submit four crores of poems. As an impoverished poet who was desperate to win the prize struggled to write as many poems, it is said that Avvaiyar composed these stanzas in a few moments and gave it to him. I have attempted to translate from the Tamil, but the beauty of the original verse is elusive to translate, as is the rhythm of the words and the way they blend together to create meaning at multiple levels.

Them who do not respect you –
To never set your foot
upon their threshold
Now that is worth a crore

Those who do not urge you
to dine beneath their roof –
To avoid eating at their home
Now that is worth a crore

To expend a crore, and more
to be in the company of
those who are noble-born
Now that is worth a crore

Even when offered crores,
To sway from the truth –
To stand firm by your word
Now that is worth a crore

Avvaiyar (Ancient Tamil Poet)

Footnotes in Fiction

Enjoyed reading this essay on how the technique of using footnotes in fiction has evolved over the years. Another example is Book: A Novel by Robert Grudin, a work of pure metafiction in which the footnotes try for a while to dominate and take over the main narrative.

“In fact, what all of these works show—from Nabokov and Wallace to Danielewski and Boully—is that experimentation quickly stops being experimental when it works well, and gives way to progression … Footnotes, once the hallmark of pedantry and pretension, have now entered the realm of craft. More than a trick, footnotes can be technique. We’ve seen how they can be used to comment on a narrative or to create a new one, to overlap separate narratives, to evoke character in new ways, and to dig into difficult parts of who we are. Footnotes, in other words, no longer merely support a story; now, they can be the story.”
Jonathan Russell Clark, ON THE FINE ART OF THE FOOTNOTE

Source: http://lithub.com/the-fine-art-of-the-footnote/

On Metapoems

Metapoems are almost as alluring as metafiction. Perhaps even more, considering that poetry is said to be the purest of all art-forms.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50986/paradoxes-and-oxymorons

“I think you exist only
To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren’t there
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.”
John Ashbery, Paradoxes and Oxymorons

Novels too.

On Teaching Creative Writing

“The problem of the writer is not to produce writing; there is plenty of it. It is – and this is the heart of my message – in one sense to suppress writing, to defeat facile expression, to control the verbal abundance most of us generate, to be, fundamentally, a critic. It is to become not a writer but a re-writer, sifting, challenging, revising and questioning one’s own expression until what is produced becomes inescapable, the thing that, in all authenticity, it is necessary for this writer to write.”
Malcolm Bradbury

Source: https://literaryreview.co.uk/should-we-teach-creative-writing

Enjoyed reading this essay that is all the more relevant in present times. To think that Bradbury wrote this in 1979!