30 September 2009


To Geetika Sinha


I wonder. I really do wonder if I don’t overdo it at times. Perhaps I do. But then, do I? And who’s to say if I really do or don’t?

Ah yes, life’s hard. Real hard. So many choices, so many options; this or that, now or then, thinking and thinking and thinking…

About what?

About what would be the correct response to a cultural performance.

Yes, yes, I can see you roll your eyes. ‘There he goes again’, you just said to yourself ‘rambling on about something as obvious as that! Really, what kind of bugger has these kinds of difficulties in figuring out something as simple! Response indeed! Respond any which way, it’s a free country after all!’

Exactly. Agreed. It is a free country. Theoretically, we’re all entitled to react in any which way to just about anything, and not just a cultural performance. I’m not questioning that, at least not here.

No, what I’m talking about here are the semantics of a viewer’s response to a performance, not as much as the response per se but the type of response: whether, to put it simplistically, it is intellectual, focusing more on its semantics and dealing basically with the varied philosophical ramifications, or whether it is superficial, willingly suspending disbelief to predominantly take note of material realities, sensory delights in all their magnificent multitudes.

Heck, what I really want to know is how can someone come out of a two hour long performance to just comment that the lead male was cute!

Yes, I mean, fine, agreed one notices such things-I in my turn thought a certain female character good looking-but to say just that and nothing else?

Is it possible that a performance should evince just such a response? Can a person really have nothing else to say about an excellent dramatic feat? To observe nothing but the looks of the actors on stage?

Even if one was extremely besotted with a particular person one would take in some amount of the dialogues of that particular character…would these not stimulate mental activity? Can the mind really be so completely turned off as to affect a total shutdown of the intellectual faculties?

I don’t think so.

But even as I say that, even as I deny the possibility of a complete shutdown and argue instead for an orientation wherein enjoyment supercedes analysis, what I’m concerned about here is the comparative worth of the two: which is more worthwhile and which should be given greater weightage, enjoyment or analysis?

As literature scholars, we’re conditioned to never accept a text unquestioningly. There’re always issues and motives, hidden or otherwise, and it is of paramount importance to identify and engage with them. To analysis a text-performance in this case-in our context is to actively seek out the politics of the artist, critique it from your own ideological standpoint and then apply the criticism to the larger social milieu, thus establishing its relevance to the present social structure. In doing so, in thinking about those issues, one goes forward onto other things, and other things, and so the chain goes on and on till one reaches a conclusion ostensibly far removed from the original topic but nonetheless linked to it by a series of interconnected ideas- which, interestingly, has also happened in this article right now!

However, even focussing on just the visual, sensory aspects of a performance too is criticism. If you like an actor, if you think s/he acted well, and say just as much, even that is passing judgment. In any case, saying just as much doesn’t really mean that you didn’t think of those issues or ideas: it implies, as I hinted earlier, that you choose to focus more on these visual aspects more than those analytical ones, and that they are, in the immediate context of your comment, more important to you than those latter ones. Perhaps you might go back home and think about them; perhaps you might not- perhaps you’re never really struck by these things.

And what if you aren’t? What if you always think of these so-called visual aspects, the sensory delights, and are never ever perturbed by avalanches of ideas? Don’t you become a lesser mortal? Doesn’t your incapacity, or refusal, to identify and critique make you backward, some sort of a retarded creature with stunted mental growth?

I would say it doesn’t.

After all, what ultimate end does analysis serve? You understand things more, you can see through artifices and constructs, look at them as they are, but then what? Few of us possess the power to actually affect any tangible change just through the dint of our criticism and even if we did, what is it for? To build, as it were a better world, a safer, happier place for us and the generations to come.

And is not the person making the most of the situation and enjoying the here and the now to the fullest abundantly more happy than the analytical critic arguing the nitty-gritty’s?

13 September 2009

Observations Upon Romanticism: Or Reasons as to why the Poetry of Mr. Wordsworth Sucks

Commending his verse to the reading public in Great Britain, Mr. Wordsworth emphatically emphasised its novelty: the motif of ‘low and rustic life’ supposedly put it in a league altogether different from that of his predecessors and peers. He made an elaborate case for his poetry, dexterously arguing the advantages poets stood to gain by versifying ‘the manners of rural life’, those ‘elementary feelings’ which, from ‘the necessary character of rural occupations’, ‘coexist in a state of greater simplicity’ with ‘the beautiful and permanent forms of nature’: the closer one moved to Nature, the more one threw over the ‘language used by men’ a ‘certain colouring of imagination’, the better one’s verse became. This was a ‘mark of distinction’ worthy of the serious reader’s scrupulous attention: indeed, ‘twas a veritable revolution in poetry, the strong herald of a new dawn for art and humanity.

This, of course, is what Mr.-Monsieur-Wordsworth would have us believe. The disjunction betwixt truth and reality is such, however, that one cannot but wonder at the credulity of his peers in believing doctrines as na├»ve as Mr. Wordsworth’s: simultaneously, one cannot but marvel at the contriving cunning of Mr. Wordsworth himself in convincing entire generations of the supposedly worthless worth of his worthless poesy.

Consider, for example, the poem ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’. In the misguided pursuit of an imagined ‘overbalance of pleasure’ Mr. Wordsworth stresses excessively upon ethereal intangibilities-imperial palaces ablaze with celestial lights-with the unfortunate consequence of degrading the material, tangible realities of human existence into fond folly. A parent’s doting encouragement of his/her child’s playful mimicry of the adult world is to him foolhardy indulgence, succeeding in naught but accelerating the process of the child’s departure from his/her native innocence.

Not fully satisfied with thus demonising parental affection, Mr. Wordsworth further rambles upon his airy arguments. Beneath his/her ‘exterior semblance’ the child is actually a ‘Mighty Prophet’, a ‘Philosopher’ who has all the knowledge in the world. Of course, the reason why we-or the blessed child for that matter-never get a taste of his/her ‘Immortality’ is because the poor child is himself not aware of his ‘heritage’- and since in growing up he/she gradually looses sight of that heavenly light, any parental intervention to affect the same merits unequivocal condemnation.

Mr. Wordsworth’s worldview is patently exclusive. Been from an early age besotted with the supposed virtues of ‘low and rustic life’, Mr. Wordsworth, himself a well-travelled Cambridge man, zealously thrusts his blinkered vision upon his readers. Going by the gloriously befuddling evidence of his poetry, it seems there were no children in the world besides shepherd boys, farm lads, amateur woodcutters and lonely peasant girls - this, or that the others are not worth mentioning at all. His narrow classist mindset is clearly laid bare through the constant elevation and glorification of these children.

Be that as it may, the idea of a troubled childhood seems totally alien to Mr. Wordsworth’s skewered conception of society. It seems he was so busy running for inspiration-and Nature knows what else-after children in lonely woods and mountain valleys that he lost sight of all reality: all children did was innocently play in ‘endless imitation’ of the adult world. Victims of war, hunger, manual labour and sexual exploitation just did not exist- or if they did, they were best dealt by being pushed out of consciousness into, as it were, the ‘eternal mind’, the great memory…

Interestingly, inspite of remembering so much about his life before he was born, Mr. Wordsworth seems to have had no real memory of flesh and blood children- even humans for that matter. One might excuse him for forgetting the earthly needs and nature of children-who, like Celia of yore, puke, pee and poop-but considering he’d already had a daughter through Mademoiselle Vallon his mystification of children is not in the least justifiable. Even if one were to argue that he never met his bastard Caroline till she was ten, one still has the evidence of his boy John who was born in 1803, a year after Mr. Wordsworth started composing this Ode.

In light of Mr. Wordsworth’s personal life, his poetry is hard to explain, leave alone justify. If children came ‘trailing clouds of glory’, then how were his bastard and John born? Did Mr. Wordsworth, like those famed Spanish stallions, direct his clouds of glory into the respective French and English receptacles from afar, and was later, in a state of ‘tranquility’, inspired to imaginatively recreate the scene and thus arrive at the metaphor? One can really not think of any other reason than this for an experienced, married man to thus romanticise such a crucial, life-giving activity, though, of course, it’s possible that searching for the child within he forgot those around him, forgetting not just parenting his children but also the fact that, after all, he alone had fathered them- or perhaps even that might’ve been done under inspiration, a trance induced with Coleridge’s expert guidance: Mr. Wordsworth humping away to glory, totally unaware of either the act or its shackling consequences, thinking only rapturously of ‘clouds of glory’…

Any sane reader of Romanticism will, therefore, recognise the same as the greatest artifice thrust upon Literature- and that too by a bunch of insignificant, frustrated zealots who fondly imagined themselves heralds of a new dawn while being in actuality messengers of a dark, dull night. Indeed, it is a bane upon the Academia, throttling novelty and encouraging instead single-minded devotion to dubious dogmas. It is the sacred duty of all Literature scholars to consciously overthrow these dogmas and so liberate Literature from the clutches of Romanticism: to this we must devote our combined energies, to this dedicate our collective acumen!

Yes Mr. Wordsworth, as for Dorothy, you live on with us as well-and in unison do we sing you this solemn ode-Wordsworth sucks!