Saturday, January 02, 2010

Heidegger's 'Origin of the Work of Art'

I am currently reading an article by Martin Heidegger, entitled 'The Origin of the Work of Art'. Heidegger begins his discussion with three prevalent interpretations of 'thingness of things'. He also classifies his own quest for the 'thingness of things' into three categories, the thingness of mere things, the thingness of an equipment and the thingness of a work (of art).

Under the three prevalent interpretations, Heidegger notes that the first two are of less use in the study of aesthetics. Firstly, the a thing is (traditionally) defined as something carrying several predicates. A granite, for example, is hard, brittle and with many other properties. This schema of assigning the predicates to a thing is considered an anomaly that occurred when Greek thought was borrowed by Romans. Heidegger also delineates a parallel between the tendency of adding predicates to things in real world and the subject-predicate system used in language. This system of language, as it is derived from the Greek, is already a representation, he adds. What is exactly at work is a forcible act that claims to bring the thingness of a thing to light, which nevertheless is unsuccessful.

In the second interpretation, tradition has it that opening up the senses to the world of things will help us find the thingness of thing. However, Heidegger argues that even if we hear the sound of a door shutting down, it is not the door that is coming to our mind, but the whole image of a neighbourhood area. Further, it is not the thingness of a material that strikes us when we hear a Mercedez passing along the road, but the image of the Mercedez itself. While the first interpretation thrusts the thingness on us, the second interpretation keeps the thing at arm's length.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Kafka and the task of interpretation

Kafka might be the writer who is the most sensitive about the concept of interpretation. He interprets his own story, allows characters to interpret their destiny, invite readers to interpret his story by being themselves to be part of an interpretation. Consider his story, Before the Law: Kafka sketched the fate of the man from the country side at the gate of law only to invite a different interpretation from the part of the reader. He initiates such an interpretation with his character Josef K. who tells the priest at the cathedral that the ‘Old man deluded the gatekeeper’ – an argument which exists only in an interpretation of the story.

Consider his story The Judgment. Georg Bendemann’s life is subjected to the interpretation of his father who finally pronounces the judgment, ‘death by drowning’ at Georg. The protagonist of The Judgement had never been in conflict with his own self. But when Georg's life was weighed by his father, the former was delivered nothing but the capital punishment. Would the story of Hunger Artist have ever been successful had different interpretations about the art of fasting not been focused upon? Hunger artist was there to perform his art at any cost. But what makes the story more attractive is the way in which different interpretations – of spectators in the story, of we readers and of the author – construct the whole matrix at which the Hunger Artist finally perishes.

In The Castle too, K. faces several interpretations about various incidents in his life – his affair with Frieda, his attempts to meet Klamm at any cost and his befriending of Olga. Frieda has an interpretation about it, Pepi – the new barmaid who substituted Frieda – has another interpretation and the village council chairman has yet another.

More on this topic later.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Aram Kalam of Akbar Kakkattil

Read a few Selected Stories by Akbar Kakkattil (Olive Publishers). I started exploring the works of this author after reading “Aaraam Kaalam” (the problem of translating this title to English is discussed elsewhere in this article), which appeared in “100 years, 100 stories” published by DC Books. Like many other Malayalam writers Kakkattil is also a story-teller of country side. But many of his tales grow beyond such boundaries and “Aaraam Kaalam,” is a perfect example.
This story or rather incident sketches a true local setting: a few young friends in a locality hire a “trekker” (a vehicle resembling a jeep) to go to the marriage of one of their common friends whose house is a couple of hours' journey away. Many characters in the story have a local flavor: the ticket clerk in a local cinema talkies, the taxi driver, the local political activist and so on.

Kakkattil gives a narration of an incident. Though the story-teller is careful about maintaining a curiosity in the reader till the end of the story, the reader never knows that it was a story through which he was taken along all the way. When he reads the last sentence, he recalls all what happened till that time. The author goes silent here and the reader begins to realize with astonishment that suddenly everything measured up to become a story. The author might be saying: “You have been reading things like 'I did this, I did that, I went there, He didn't turn up, I waited, Then somebody else turned up, It rained, etc.' But at the end, see how everything became a marvelous story.” And rightly so.

There is more to say about this story. I also need to get acquainted with other famous works of this writers. Shall come back to this topic later.

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Dharmaraja of C.V. Raman Pillai

After a gap of sixteen years, I re-read C.V. Raman Pillai's Dharmaraja and was amazed to see that my mother tongue can be used so successfully to give shape to legendary works like this. I admit that many words in the novel went above my head. It would also have been difficult to follow the work completely without the help of those endnotes provided for each chapter (Many thanks to DC Books to bring out a reprint of this book with a scholarly guide attached to each chapter). Dharmaraja was the text book for Malayalam Second Paper in Class X in the year 1991-92.

On one hand C.V. extensively quotes from the important literary works that laid foundation to Malayalam literature: from Kalidasa's Abhijnana Sakunthalam to Unnayi Warriers' Nalacharitam and Kathakali poems (Attakkatha) written by various Kings of Travancore, the list is really long. Such quotes appear at the beginning of each chapter, giving a glimpse of events narrated in the chapter and setting the mood for the drama that is about to unfold. Even within the text, single line quotes from classic texts perplex a naïve reader if not with the help of a study guide. On the other, C. V. uses cultural and religious concepts and smilies of cultural practices throughout the novel. How many Malayalis know what Pathamudayam is, or what cultural practice was associated with this day? But see how Ummini Pillai uses it to make a false allegation about Kesava Pillai that the latter seduced and brought an unmarried lady to his house showing least respect to the custom.

Shall come back to you later with more on Dharmaraja.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

U.A. Khader - The fame of Thrikkottur

Completed reading UA Khader's “Thrikkottur Peruma” (The fame of Thrikkottur). Thrikkottur, in the work, is a village in northern Kerala. I'm not sure whether the name is imaginary. However, the characters and the events appear real in every sense. With old tales from countryside (Pazhamkathakal in Malayalam) Khader weaves his 'Thrikkottur Peruma', which won the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award in 1982. In the novelites that collectively make up this book, readers get introduced to characters from different caste and creed. Though the author appears mostly in first person, he would like to consider himself as just one among the onlookers witnessing the incidents narrated in the story. Hence the tag “We, Thrikkottur inhabitants” often appears in the narratives.
The caste surname of each character is significant for a lasting literary experience. Yakshi, often the ghost of a lady who had met an unnatural death, makes an appearance in most of the stories. In fact, the instances when Yakshis are actually seen by the characters are not many. On the other hand, Yakshi lives in the collective memory, tales and myths of the Thrikkottur inhabitants. And the myths are recalled more frequently than the actual appearance of Yakshi.

The slangs, caste surnames, dialogs of characters at decisive moments in the narratives and the raw human life depicted all throughout the stories leave a lasting memory in the reader. Thiyyan, Kurup, Kadungon, Thattan, Musaliyar, Haji, Kurikkal, Vaidyar are some of the characters which appear in the novelites. Rather than a caste or religious divide, it is the lust for life that divides them. Who can overpower whom in the fulfillment of desire, whose ego finally rules etc. have been the questions before men of all ages. The same concerns find another place in this literary work too. No one is found explicitly tormented by caste, religion or identity. Not even by poverty. (Recalling an incident from one of the stories: Kelappa Kurup, a powerful landlord of Thrikkottur, plans to hang a signboard infront of the serpent's temple in Thrikkottur, prohibiting the entry of non-Hindus into the temple compound. Kurup asked his Muslim accomplice to order for the signboard. The naïve Muslim asks Kurup, perplexed: “Who are these non-Hindus? We Muslims can, of course, come and see the festivals there. Can't we?”) They all live their roles in that part of the globe where they are born and brought up.

Hence a surrealistic conclusion: the one who becomes a victim to Yakshi - the one whose blood would be sucked up by her and whose lifeless body would appear in the bushes the next morning – would be equally satisfied as his supernatural killer. For, the victim also finds it gratifying to have played an active role in the incident.

Ayalkkar of P. Kesavadev

“Ayalkkar” (neighbors) is an award-winning novel of P. Kesavadev, one of the prolific writers of 20th century Kerala. In the “introduction” to this book, the author contemplates on the social progress to which Kerala was slowly waking up in the beginning of twentieth century. His analyses of these developments often give birth to his literary works, as what happened in this book too, the author says. Dev, as the writer has been popularly known in Kerala, recalls that there were three main aspects for the social progress witnessed by Kerala in the first half of twentieth century (the introduction written in 1963 takes into account half a century preceding it to make this inference). The destruction of matrilineal system (marumakkathayam), which had a tint of feudal character in it, the social mobility of Ezahvas, who had witnessed backwardness in a caste-ridden society, and the progress of Christian community in the economic and education front were the three aspects.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Rice Pudding and Birthday

Yesterday, I read two stories in Malayalam - "Neyppayasam" (Rice Pudding) of Madhavikkutty (Kamala Das) and "Janmadhinam" (Birthday) of Basheer. While Madhavikkutty was trying to create a plot for her story in which she cautiously found her way till the end, Basheer, on the other hand, was allowing the reader to fill the gap in his narrative (like he says in the story, during the midnight after his birthday he was scouting for a street light under which he can sit tranquilly and put down all that happened on the day). All that happened was that what was important to him, no matter whether his emotions lack sophistication, whether he stutters, whether there is inadequecy in everything around. Madhavikkutty is perfect at her story, but it is a success because of its methodical approach.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My Name is Red

As I finished reading a few chapters of 'My Name is Red' and I began to develop some serious reservations regarding the narrative strategy of the book. Pamuk, in my opinion, has violated the basic rule of 'being' and its representation. Is it philosophically, religiously, ethically, juridically or at any stretch of imagination possible for a single individual to give multiple first person accounts of a phenomena, given that phenomena are really perceived by 'many'. The world exists only because it is perceived by many. By going for multiple first person narratives of a phenomenon/phenomena, Pamuk has monopolized the scenario of interpretation. It amounts to saying that 'I’ am the interpretation(s) with several faces. Every interpretation ends in me or I am able to make sense of all the interpretations of the world.' How stupid. Hereafter there will not be 'History of Systems of thought' but only 'History of Ideas'.

See, for example, the essential similarity between the language of 'the Dog' and the language of 'Esther'. This similarity is made possible at the converging point called author. An author shouldn't be monopolising the scenario of interpretation by arranging, classifying and homogenizing the interpretations with his language. Utmost s/he can do is to make his own interpretation about them.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

When ‘I’ lead the story

Let this sentence be pushed to the middle of this description, this deceitful, vague opening, let it be ignored, overlooked or forgotten. Rather than the author’s self being labelled as an immature literary object around which his/her story is destined to revolve, better diffuse it to the already present; allow it to meld in the crowd.

Notwithstanding the sanctity bestowed to a story’s lead or opening paragraph especially by those who are in journalistic profession, a lead is often a treaty between the author and all the unexpected events that are yet to see light in the story. It is also an anticipatory bail taken by the author at the very outset against the expectations, often false, of a reader; “I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease…” begins Dostoevsky his Notes from the Underground. Leads also reflect the hesitance of an author to enter a discourse. S/he wants to be someone sitting at the rear of a hall listening to a lecture or who glides through the lines of a novel at his/her own ease. This hesitance can also be pursued as a literary strategy that gives life to the whole narration. But when the story itself begins to interrogate the author along his/her way, s/he has to voluntarily withdraw from the exercise, in the way Maurice Blanchot did in The Madness of the Day: “A story? No. No stories, never again.” Here, a series of events befell the writer who began his story in as humble a way as, “I am not learned; I am not ignorant. I have known joys. That is saying too little: I am alive, and this life gives me the greatest pleasure…”, reached the point when all what he said folded onto themselves before being concluded the way just mentioned.

Different is the case of an author who is unable to partake the experiences of his own life. This enigmatic zone of ‘the author and I’ is deliberately kept a no-man’s-land by many a writer. “The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to”- Jorge Luis Borges begins his brief text, Borges and I. But for a voracious reader, the only concern is a story. One spends time to read a book; s/he pays for it, takes the effort to carry it home from the bookshop or library. The author ought to give full value to all the efforts a reader takes. Can anyone in this era of intellectual property rights and patents digest the idea when Borges concludes his Borges and I with “I do not know which of us has written this page”? Cut to the Content Writer who is always held responsible by the editorial ballast for whatever s/he writes for his/her site.

Another fair comparison is possible between an apparently trivial incident in Franz Kafka’s real life and his literary intent. Once in his friend’s place, the writer accidentally barged into the room in which his friend’s father was sleeping. Fearing that the old man’s sleep might be disturbed because of the commotion, Kafka whispered to him: “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to disturb you. Consider me a dream”. But often the stark realties of life do not allow the reader to consider any piece of text as a dream collectively shared by him/her and the writer. Which is why Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk had to snipe his readers’ conscience with a mind-boggling series of narratives in first person beginning with “I am a corpse” by a dead man, cheated and murdered, and who now awaits inevitable decay.