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.