Thursday, 22 March 2012
Was it in Virgil that I had first stumbled upon the name? I forget, one has better memories of the age of eighteen. I remember feeling Laocoon need not have gone and told the Trojans about the Greeks: my edition had a page long commentary on his famous warning. Equo ne credite, Teucri / Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes!
At an early age, one learns to distrust the Greeks (just like a good Roman.)
Laocoon of course was killed, it is argued, by Poseidon/Apollo/Athena for his presumption. He and his sons were devoured by snakes. I cannot think of a more unpleasant death. However, to turn to a more aesthetic appreciation of these grisly events needs a neoclassical mind, which is when we remember Lessing and his comparative analysis of the verbal and visual arts in Laocoon: an Essay on the Limits of Verbal and Visual Poetry.
It is interesting to see how Lessing deviated from ut pictura poesis to argue that which seems intuitively obvious now: literature is a function of time, painting is related to space. However, this is not what I remembered when I saw the sculpture at Ashmolean. What struck me was how much pain the face expressed. It was a face experiencing pure agony, I had never seen such an expression of pain before. It struck me afresh that being eaten alive by snakes must be one of the ugliest ways to die.
Inherent beauty? In a man being devoured by snakes? Aha! Now Lessing's dense prose (and terrible outdated translation) finally made sense. The artist/sculptor has to retain the beauty, the aesthetic enjoyment that all mimetic art commands. I took another five photographs out of sheer horror and ecstasy at Laocoon's pain.I was falling in love with one who, as I have emphasized enough number of times by now, was eaten alive by a snake and hence a dubious candidate for such amorous feeling.
The Ashmolean sculpture is merely a cast, the original resides in the Vatican. The sculptors have never been determined for certain, and Sophocles wrote a tragedy about him, which of course like most Sophoclean tragedies, is now tragically lost. I find Laocoon fascinating, and I would like to examine in greater detail, the Neoclassicals' obsession with Laocoon. However, I don't want to.
I don't think that the beauty and the suffering are incompatible or one gets precedence over the other. They are practically indistinguishable. Perhaps that is the greatness of the Hellenic world, the level of sublime to which the Romantics strove so hard to achieve. Shelley even said that he was Greek. I wouldn't trust Shelley, though I'd nod vehemently to anything Sophocles or Aristophanes would say. It is indeed hard to trust the Greeks, but it is also impossible not to.
How does one react to ecstasy outside religion? Painful pleasure which is the prerogative of not faith, but art itself-since there is no higher truth.
One becomes Platonic, and makes a copy of a copy.
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Saturday, 17 March 2012
I had this strange realization today. I realized that when I was younger, I loved mathematics. However, I did not give enough time to it because I would read novels all day (and all night.) After that, mathematics became a chore. In high school, we were not taught the beauty of mathematics, and I remember certain topics made my head ache (trigonometry, calculus, probability.) Anything which made me think too much, I shied away from. I just did NOT want to think. This was a fundamental flaw in my character.
Not loving mathematics and not trying to get into its depths made me an irrational and undisciplined person who looked towards literature as a means of escape. Today, trying to be a successful academic and scholar means that I have to question everything. This is where my irrationality and neurosis helps me to define my analytical self better. From Monday I sit down with mathematics, and start right from the very beginning.
Monday, 12 March 2012
I have often wondered what the source of literary greatness is. Is it dazzling originality in affect or intellect? Is it audacity? Is it depth? Is it that self reflexive awareness, the sense that what we are doing is literature? (That is why I love Umberto Eco, or Borges-or even Shakespeare.)
I have often wondered where the split between the affect and the intellect is, and whether the two are incompatible. Of course, when you read Marquez or Neruda or Rulfo, you realize that there is no essential split. This is through the sheer powerful daring of Magic Realism: by evoking the supernatural and the whimsical, it recalls to you the human.
I have often wondered what it is to be human.
It is true that to be human, you must embrace the mediocre and the mundane, and make it part of your life. I never wanted to be anything less than dazzling, and beautiful, and audacious-yes, audacious. I wanted to always (always) speak in poetry, speak in verse, and live a life of utter, utter desperation. This kind of desperation you feel when you first read Ginsberg, and realize that words are not words, they are fireworks across some night sky, or the bluegreenredsparklylight in the nightclub which shines across your sweatingmadcreaseddrunkenforehead as you are dancingprancingchancing your life away on weekends.
This kind of desperation you feel when you have read Horace in Latin for the first time, "I will build a monument more lasting than bronze"-you think Shakespeare read this too, and he loved a Dark Lady, whose breasts were grey and whose hair was wiry. He loved a man too. And you feel this strange tenderness towards the man who wrote Hamlet. How many times has Hamlet made you cry? How many times have you looked at your sons and friends and lovers and brothers and haters and enemies and people, and thought
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba
That he should weep for her?
I have always been obsessed with Horace. Why not Sophocles (who heard things on the Aegean), or Plato(because he was a poet despite himself), or Seneca(who can believe in his stoicism after the madness and anguish of his plays?). Why Horace? (Don't say it was because he was funny, because then you would worship Aristophanes, but you don't, it has always been Horace with you.) Though I worshiped Byron, I did not agree with him when he hated Byron not for Horace's faults, but his own-because Horace made him look unsophisticated in comparison.
Stupid Byron! For once in his life, he was unbelievably smug. I can forgive him for incest, but I cannot forgive him for not feeling Horace, for not understanding that we (we who have strung together a few words, phrases, sentences together) have this terrible habit of actually wanting to shout: Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei vitabit Libitinam. How can we altogether die, when we can write? Byron, who was my favourite literary siren, completely misses the point here.
Speaking of literary sirens, of course what I love about myself is my androgyny, my sleek and sharp jawbones that I am sure Virginia Woolf would have loved, would have wolfed down for breakfast, though even this would not make me forgive her for The Waves, which seems like a wrong kind of Joyce, reJoyce in the fact, Mrs. Woolf, that you wrote Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, if I were you I would always try to look into the next room, the next person, the almost gender, the half class, but not embark on a doomed project of impossible poetry. Sometimes the way we wonder, what if Eliot wrote a novel, what would have happened? I don't know, I don't know what would have happened if Tagore and Yeats had not met, Modernism is counterfactual enough without branching off into impossibilities...and I don't know, when I think of literature, I really don't know.
And this brings me to the end, I always wanted to learn French, and wept when I saw a print of George Sand and Chopin(or was it Musset?), because I loved George Sand-who dressed like a man despite being so feminine, who was a boy despite being stout with a double chin. I always thought she was compulsively heterosexual, but impulsively homosexual, or perhaps (like Peter Pan) she was not sexual at all. And this is what brings tears to my eyes, how judgmental we can be without knowledge (for the path to knowledge is a cul de sac, the voice of Billie Holiday singing "I am a fool to want you!")...and then I wanted a joust with Proust, but it was really George Sand and Berthe Morisot, never Balzac or Monet, never, never! Just as it was always was the little Apu who had to grow up, but who never grew up, to whom the path whispered, "Let us go on", but he never went on, and traced the eternal seasonal cycle, for time is not linear, time is not endless and relentless march, time is not Tagore, time is something else...
...and I am not very sure what it is. Perhaps it is the obnoxious audacity of a drunken Shakti rolling about in the sewer shouting "I can go but why shall I go?" Perhaps it is l'etranger having his last epiphany as the crowds cheer on his execution, and at times I am convinced it is the final moment of The Tale of Two Cities, when two characters die heroically in a moment of anaphora and empathy. ("It is a far far better thing to do than I have ever done, a far far better rest to go than I have ever known.")
I don't know how to end this. Everything ends. I don't like endings. Do I like closure? I will ask Kafka, and get back to you tomorrow.
Sunday, 11 March 2012
What is there to say? I have new ways of looking at sunshine, I should be happy, I have been experiencing epiphanies.
There are five different kinds of sunshine, the last and most beautiful is pure epiphany.
So basically it shines on you-warm and mellow-and gradually it sparkles and dazzles until your head starts pounding with beauty. However, it's the sun-it's bound to set, and it sets. Then you walk away, down the long road which leads nowhere, because every path to knowledge is ultimately a cul-de-sac, the voice of Billie Holiday singing, "I'm a fool to want you."
I don't understand why this particular kind of sunlight is orange all over the world. In the hemonto understanding of November that I once I had, orange sunlight was a strange, melancholy sorrow when light would fall slanting, obliquely through those dazzlingly green leaves. I shall always associate it with hot,milky, gingery tea and cigarettes and the absolutely still water of the JU jheel, which would seem to be strangely animated by the sparkling, slanting light. I remember a conversation with Sunrita, "Hemonto hurts me", she said, "What is this tightening of my guts that I feel? Look at that sunlight. It speaks just one word, one idea, one thought."
That is when I understood that for us Bengalis, there were two kinds of autumn- a happy autumn (Sarat) and a sad autumn (Hemonto). The former means carnival, worship, peace, life. The latter means orange sunlight.
This winter, in frozen crazy Oxford, I witnessed a moment of Hemonto. Now it is Basanto, but let not spring make us forget the values of autumn. Autumn, in the parlance of us literary people, is the periodic memento mori in our lives.
Cowley Road is a strange street. It is diverse, and bustling, and multicultural. It stretches on and on, but I haven't walked down it ever, to that part of Oxford. That day, I had Max's camera and I wanted to capture the sunlight before it went away, and so I walked down Cowley, but I couldn't go very far, because of the cough and it was cold. This wasn't warm sunlight, this wasn't warm...
Two men walked past me, they looked so happy. One was animated and was laughing, but a little too much-and the eyes of the other were glistening, strangely. I thought their faces were very interesting, and I wanted to speak to them. That was a very lonely period of my life, but how does one approach strangers? "Hello, I would like to find out why your eyes glisten with unshed tears?" "Hi, I like stories, and you and I-we both have stories-like everyone else in the world. Maybe we should share a few over coffee?"
But the real world is not like that. You want to help old women and carry their shopping, but they defiantly hobble on and you never ask, you want to play with little children and pull long faces at them and giggle like you're five again, but you just resolutely walk on to the library.
I pulled out the camera to capture the glistening eyes, but they moved on, and walked away in the oblique sun, and I got a picture of their fading silhouettes. I never saw them again, and would not recognize them if I did. I don't think it matters really, because the tears of the world are a constant quantity.
I hope Cowley Road is not a cul-de-sac, I would like to walk down it soon.
Thursday, 8 March 2012
This post has nothing to do with Zsa Zsa. The title is a red herring.
I come back to this blog only when I am stressed out, or tired, or ill.
This means I have grown up sufficiently and am not excited about comments anymore. This then means
1. I don't have readers.
2. I don't care about readers.
There was a time when I was obsessed about the comments my readers would post on my blog. I would savour each comment and think about it.
But now I don't.
There are many reasons for this.
1. A lot of people talk shit about me. So I have stopped caring about what people say. If they say bad things I am indifferent, but this has a reverse side to it. I don't expect or care about good things either.
2. I am scared of growing old and I am growing older, if not old. My contemporaries are getting married. This is scary. Marriage is what happens to older and usually taller people.
After finally doing a BA and MA, it is only now(after weekly bouts of binge drinking and dancing alone at nightclubs) that I can read theory like a professional and understand it in a very short span of time. I can separate the grain from the chaff, the shit from the pee, the champagne from the dry white in academic writing. This means that
1. I really am old.
2. Perhaps I should get married and have babies before I become a feminist-marxist-deconstructionist-hedonist-sadist-masochist-critic.
I have a lot of pizza and burp comfortably in my room. Again, impending old age.
Wanted: a non-vegetarian, bespectacled, broad-shouldered, narrow-minded, orthodox, cow-eating, bullshitting, theory-spouting, rules-flouting, smoking, drinking, low-thinking but not slow-thinking, sexy man. Has to be essentially but not really Bengali. He has to accept that I am a Byronic hero, that I will always be cleverer and more charming than him, and on no account must he write poetry.
If you find him, leave a comment.
If you find him, leave a comment.
Well, leave a comment anyway.