“AMIT CHAUDHURI is an unlikely radical. He dresses conservatively. His hesitant delivery is of one who weighs each word carefully before committing it to speech, as though language came to him in a box labelled “Handle With Care”. His four novels, A Strange and Sublime Address, Afternoon Raag, Freedom Song, and A New World, are slim and sensitive — a bit like the man himself.” Anita Roy on Chaudhuri as a “fiercely intelligent and non-conformist critic”. The second article in Chaudhuri’s five-part series on disowning and recovery, exile and homecoming in Indian writing is out. (Read Part One.)
Chaudhuri’s insistence on practising crisp and incisive criticism in an uncongenial milieu might be seen as his protest against the cult of mediocrity. Michael Ventura has a nice riff on ‘Mediocrity’s vengeance’. “[Nelson] Algren wrote, “Mediocrity is never passive; it avenges itself for its deprivation.” Tape that on the fridge. It’s all about the United States today.”
Got my very own copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s memoirs yesterday. The Babu found himself a quilt, a flask of coffee, some cats and settled in for the winter, ignoring the distant screams of people to whom he owes vast quantities of work. Instead, I listened as Garcia Marquez told the story of a friend he knew in Sucre, Cayetano, knifed by two brothers who caught up with him at the door of his house. Cayetano’s mother had hurried to lock the door, believing that her son was already inside: “And so he was the one who could not come in, and they stabbed him to death against the locked door.”
Most of you will recognise the embryonic seed for Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which Garcia Marquez wrote thirty years after the incident took place. His mother did not read the book: “Something that turned out so awful in life,” she said, “can’t turn out well in a book.”
* In the NYT, Francisco Goldman sums up this instalment of the memoirs very neatly: “To one familiar with his novels and stories, these pages are uncanny: Garc?a M?rquez reveals the real-life people and incidents underlying even his most fantastic fiction, until it becomes hard to think of anything he has left out.”
I have just reached the part where the book he believed he was going to write–La casa–has turned into the book that will be Leaf Storm. For those of you who haven’t found a copy of Living To Tell The Tale yet, the Washington Post has a brief excerpt.
Githa Hariharan’s argument sounds important, even interesting. The Babu offers a free Coke (what the hell, it’s the ultimate symbol of globalisation, right?) to anyone who will dejargonise this for the unwashed masses. Meaning himself.
“We spend a great deal of time commenting on the context of the texts we create and read and write about. Simply, we spend a lot of energy working out the diverse and universal frameworks of a text. The complex coexistence of the particular or diverse and the universals not only allows our texts to travel and endure; but they also give rise to a range of criteria that helps us judge the value of a text.”
Peter Carey on the best and worst day of his writing life: “But with this book, no matter how I worked on it and tinkered with the sentences and worked on this and that, all I seemed to be doing was digging myself deeper into the ground. I knew I wasn’t going to fix it up by sandpapering it or refining it anymore. So at the end of one day I came to the conclusion that this could not work. As you can imagine, that’s a really bad feeling. I had a horrible night. The next day I woke up, and I decided there was a good idea here and there was a good story, and I asked myself if there was another way to do it. All that day I worked very energetically. By the end of that day, I had discovered a totally different way into the material. So it went from one day being probably the worst day of my writing life to the next day being one of the really thrilling ones.” From The Atlantic.
The Babu still remembers the time a distant cousin of his announced she was going to join a creative writing course. “Why not do something useful instead?” asked her mother, one of those redoubtable Calcutta matriarchs. “Like…I don’t know…ikebana? Handkerchief trimming?” The cousin became a lawyer instead. Perhaps she should have read Charles Johnson on the subject; in his hands, creative writing courses lose every bit of their artsy-craftsy stigma and begin to sound like, well, real work.
“In the period of identity politics and Kulturkampf that swept over American colleges in the ’80s like a tsunami, students’ imaginations cratered; their stories became depressingly less imaginative and daring, but they were oh so politically correct. Furthermore, I began to notice that some students timidly waited for me to analyze and dissect the fiction we were discussing that day or let a handful of the more vocal class members dominate our discussions. That, of course, would never do. This class was demanding, yes. Students worked hard for their professor and themselves. But what I needed to ensure was that they worked just as hard for one another.”
The Complete Review has an interesting essay on translation, with an eye on the perils of ‘twice removed translation’: ie a translation not from Language A into Language B, and then perhaps from Language A into Language C, but directly from the translated version, B, into Language C. In Indian terms, this might mean translating Rabindranath Tagore’s Chokher Bali not directly from the original Bengali into English, but using an extant translation from Bengali into Hindi as the base.
“Given his success as a cyber-prophet, I was curious to find out why Gibson is so stern in decrying the predictive abilities of science fiction. ‘I knew when I started that science fiction wasn’t about the future,’ he insisted from his Vancouver home when I spoke to him by phone. ‘Science fiction is a very good tool for getting a handle on an unimaginable present. Forget the unimaginable future, the present is damn near unimaginable this morning.'” The Babu cannot believe this; you get hold of William Gibson, and then you ask him the one question that makes serious science fiction writers grit their teeth in anguish, the one about whether SF writers don’t spend their spare time entrail-gazing or checking out crystal balls…