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.


Strawberry Amma said...

Good to see you post so frequently.

Arse Poetica said...

Thanks, I'm glad you have become an avid but not rabid reader.

Arse Poetica said...


Some of your comments I appreciate very much. Thank you.

nir shabtai said...

very nice blog