Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fantasy and the Doorkeeper

Recently, when I was contemplating on Kafka's 'Before the Law' two things struck me, two important dimensions that the story lacked. Firstly, the man from the countryside always live in the present. Contrary to what we expect from a suppressed soul, the man from the country side does not have a fantasy at no time in his life. This is absurd and unrealistic. A suppressed soul is very likely to fantasize about a life beyond. In this case the man is expected to fantasize a life where he is allowed to pass the door of Law. How on earth can is it possible for the man to live so long (the story says that he was very old to the extent that his vision was fading out) without fantasizing a life beyond? On the contrary, the man lives in the present, which is an unfaithful representation of the history of suppressed souls.

Secondly, the story says that the doorkeeper is very powerful. The third one is so powerful that the doorkeeper at the gate does not even dare to look at the former. But I say that the doorkeeper can even be a small fry who can be physically overpowered without much effort. This would have introduced a good contradiction to the situation the man from the countryside faces throughout his life. In the revised version the man from countryside would be asked to wait for days and years on end by a small fry who has the back up of Law. In the new situation, the Law is nothing but the words of the doorkeeper ('that you will not be allowed to enter at the moment'), while in Kafka's story Law is represented by the physiquè of the person.

I need a revision to this story because I want it to depict my experience. In several instances in my life I have identified with the man from the countryside. Here, I am waiting before the Law only because some small fry has been disallowing me for days and years to enter into it. I can easily overpower him. But I will not. Why? Why? For an answer to this we have to refer another short story by Kafka, "A Hunger Artist". Both these are complementary. The story "A Hunger Artist" begins when readers start questioning 'why' to "Before the Law". I have fantasies which one normally expects from a suppressed soul. I fantansize that I have overpowered the doorkeeper, that small fry who knows only to speak, and have finally entered the Law. My fantasies are unrealistic, with too much exaggeration. But that is what fantasy means, right?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

One Hundred Years of Solitude and my first air-journey

Sono a Perugia.

I am here in Perugia from June 29, 2006 onwards. This is the first time I am away from my country. I had many illusions about flying, and naturally had high esteem for it. I may not have many things to say about the beauty and antiquity of Italy, the country in which I am planning to stay for the next three months. Nor did I find anything exciting about the huge gathering at Centro di Perugia when Italy won the World Cup this year. There is nothing to say about them. The only experience I can recall about this trip is my air-journey. This experience, better than the experience I had visiting the museums and enjoying the recipes of Italy, represented the fundamental questions I had been facing for some time.

At the very instance I entered the flight, a whole repertoire of feelings rushed into my mind. I shall write about them now. The reason I have chosen this particular blog to write about them is that these feelings took shape from the world of "magical realism" created by Marquez, especially in his "One Hundred Years of Solitude". After my first air-journey I wrote in my diary: "Flying in an aircraft is a visual comedy." If one can capture the entire sequence of flying, even without any exaggeration, it can function as a comedy; a laughter embedded with our gaze at the primitive. An aeroplane cannot be compared to anything but to the "Pushpakavimanam" (Pushpaka aircraft) of Ravana in the Indian epic of Ramayana.

The comical nature of primitive magical acts was the primary thing that struck me during my air-journey. For me, to have flown six thousand kilometers in a few hours is more comical than real/magical. This might be the first time I have ever found it so difficult to differentiate between the three different concepts: the real, the magical and the comical.

Aircraft is primitive, despite our eagerness to highlight it as one of the biggest achievements of modern science and technology. Aircraft hardly has anything of its own, and what it has of its own is something to be laughed at. Two features - its wings and its round, pointed body - both of them are meant to overpower nature and geophysical forces. And the aircraft does this act of overpowering natural forces in a very primitive way. Think of a gigantic body moving (here, 'running' is the better word) at a great speed along the runway in order to get the momentum to fly. Nothing can be more innocent at the same time primordial. While flying, the wings were shivering like an incompletely conceptualized construction.

The reality that I have traveled five thousand or ten thousand miles in a few hours and the reality that I had been flying for sure, are both real as well as magical. While flying, what was real for me was nothing but an experience of being in the world of Melquiades, the gypsy with whom Jose Arcadia became friends so as to acquire some magical, quasi-scientific skills. The magical acts of Melquiades, especially when he brought along a magnet with him and when the iron utensils started moving, are in the same league of comedy as that of flying. But why do they appear comical to us?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Calvino in original

Last week I got a taste of Calvino in original. It was during the 12th hour preparation for Italian language exam when I got three stories by Calvino in Marcovaldo series. I had to study a story by Pirandello (La Patente) and Sciascia (Giufa) as well.

It seems giallo stories are very popular in Italian. We had a whole lot of them for our exam. Ironically in the grammar paper we had to create a plot for a giallo story with the given dialogues and characters.

Yes I'm getting the feel of another literary world muffled with the voices of 'criticism and analysis workers'; another industry, another business and another exigency.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Kafka's A hunger artist ends with the description of a panther put in a cage in substitute of the hunger artist. The author says that each and every muscle and movement of the beast was proclaiming the freedom it enjoyed. "The food he (the panther) liked was brought to him without hesitation by the attendants; he seemed not even to miss his freedom; his noble body, furnished almost to the bursting point with all that it needed, seemed to carry freedom around with it too; somewhere in his jaws it seemed to lurk; and the joy of life streamed with such ardent passion from his throat that for the onlookers it was not easy to stand the shock of it." A similar description of such an action is seen in Metamorphosis when the Samsas were moving to a new apartment. "And it was something of a confirmation of their (the family members') new dreams and good intentions when at the end of their journey their daughter got up first and stretched her young body."

Observing the freedom enjoyed by stretching muscles I feel the same.

A Hunger Artist


Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Law and the Guilt

I have always failed when I try put in words the meaning of two sentences from 'The Trial.' Perhaps I do not want the world to know what I feel about these sentences, or perhaps I have never met anyone who shares the same feelings with these sentences:

'There is always an attraction between the law and the guilt.'

'An accused person is always attractive such that he can be easily identified even in a crowd.'

I don't know whether the sentences are the same. But these are enough to feel guilty.

What is Language for Marquez?

I haven't read many of Marquez's work. Marquez's talent is better displayed in his works that are closer to 'Magical Realism'. However the objective of this post is to challenge the Magical Aspect of Marquez's writing; but from a different angle. By the end of this post you will see why 'Magical Realism' is a wrongly understood term to denote the insights of Marquez.

It should be a matter of concern for all the literary critics how to classify those phenomena in literary works which are beyond human comprehension. How can one categorise a phenomenon like a sleepless community which has been sketched in the beginning of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'? Calling it a magical phenomenon or something related to mysticism is only a shallow understanding. Depth of understanding such writings must be initiated from a different point.

I understand many of the magical elements in Marquez’s writings as having close affinity towards sleep (and dream as its essential by product), memory and meaning. The sketching of Macondo’s sleeplessness is a symbolic effort by the author to reveal his audience how he understands language and its function. For Marquez there is always a connection between sleep (dream) and memory. In the novel he says only if human can sleep he can have memory and can recall his past in any way. Sleeplessness of Macondo actually affects its language and memory. The people of Macondo had to write on objects their respective names. With sleeplessness all the relevance and ‘being’ of language was lost. Conversely, this also implies that human language has a function only in dream, or rather language functions as dream.

Blanchot and Writing

What is new with Blanchot’s writings? One of his important writings on which we can initiate this discussion is his short narrative, La folie du jour. I have read it in English, a translation by Lydia Davis. “Can such a story be narrated anywhere else other than in writing?” – this was my immediate response. Before reading it in full I had read a paper by Derrida in Acts of Literatrue. The paper was titled, Law of Genre. Derrida actually does a deconstruction of this story in order to state his point. Nothing but the text speaks in La folie du jour. And hence it was quite possible to find out how literature actually functions in tandem with the rules set by the discourse on literature as well as the rules set by the author. One needs to read this one story alone to understand many of the arguments put forward by Derrida in his texts.

Other blogs and sites of interest on Blanchot:

Long Sunday

Kafka and Imaginary Animals

Imaginary animals are very common in Kafka’s writings. Recall his famous stories Metamorphosis, Cares of a Family Man, Blumfeld: An Elderly Bachelor etc. I used to tell my friends, “Probably Kafka had been experiencing himself as an imaginary animal at times; like a gigantic insect, or like Odradek, an animal which is very insignificant in a familial context." For Kafka, an animal is always mischievous, unmindful of its own good intentions. Kafka’s narration is always from this angle: because animals are mischievous by nature, or rather humans consider them to be mischievous, they are destined to be tortured. Who ever sympathize with the ‘animal’ can join him. That is a minimum requirement and the least thing you can collect from his stories. But when we realize that the mischievous animal symbolizes human, the meaning implied calls forth a different sensibility. Hence animal is not the point of interest of Kafka. Instead his interest is to drive a point home using human’s perception of animal as a medium.

Future projects on Kafka

Nature of Writing

Let me present some of the problems in which I am interested: What was the nature of writing before the emergence of the 'phonetic alphabet' (I've seen McLuhan using this term for the first time)? With the emergence of the 'phonetic alphabet' has language undergone any major change in the mediational role it is supposed to play in communication? If you say that even after the emergence of the 'phonetic alphabet' language continues to play the role that it had played earlier, then it should be inferred that 'writing' is only an activity that supplements speech.

Author and his 'self'

At what point can I begin a discussion on writing? Will it be the same starting point for a discussion on 'author'? Can the term 'author' ascribe the complete 'authorial function' of writing a novel, or any other book to a single self (or to two, three persons in case of co-authored books)? To begin with, let's listen to what Jorge Luis Borges, the famous Argentinian author, has to say about the relationship between the self and the author.

Authors Speak

How can I ever speak without quoting an author? Understand my dilemma...