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Shakespeare’s life is equated with the Elizabethan Age. Such is his genius. One might wonder how can a young lad with modicum of education, -typical grammar school syllabus with its devotion to Ovid, Bible and Prayer Book , unlike his contemporary Marlow who went to the University, surpass all others to be the representative man of the Age. It is such a serious question that defies a rational answer and many scholars have hazarded a theory to aver Bacon as the real author. As with every theory it has its supporters but literature is not respecter of class or scholarship. It has to smell life in its naturalness, even coarseness has its part. Scholarship can make a horse run to win the Derby but cannot make it fly like Pegasus. Here is the difference between Shakespeare and his rivals. His line trots and when flies it takes our breath away.

So what was the secret of William Shakespeare? I shall come to it by and by. Beginning as a player he became the most celebrated playwright of the Age. It was a time when poets were considered a cut above the players similar to the subtle social distinctions that marked a composer than a flautist in the Baroque Age. He made wise career moves in taking shares of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company at its inception in 1594 and his star rose as with the fortunes of the Company. Its popularity was such its players were elevated to be regarded as the King’s Men on James I accession in 1603. He ended up as part owner of the Blackfriar’s theatre. In short his sound business acumen made him as the Stratford lad who made good in the City of London.

Intelligence he had aplenty as his life in bare essentials would prove. His imagination was of such ethereal quality that he could put words in the mouth of Mercutio and we feel we know Queen Mab as though from direct experience. Never has any one excelled in poetic fancies as shown in the plays like Othello or Antony and Cleopatra. One can imagine it coming out like a single sweep of imagination, theme and coloring adding to the line- richness and vibrancy as the Renaissance palette of a Tintorotto or a Vernese. In the latter play especially ‘his language reaches heights and depths never reached before or excelled since.’

Not poppy, nor mandragora,

Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,

Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep..” (Ot.AcIII sc.3: 330)

Negative capability as defined by John Keats explains the ability of Shakespeare, whose academic credentials were merely rudimentary, to have excelled himself in writing plays that bear his name. The Bard of Avon despite his negative capability made up by exercising his imagination. Such is imagination and it belongs to the inner world.

ii

How rational mind may lay bare our world in terms of use and purpose is like putting together a newspaper which once read is outdated. Mere facts help one negotiate his world adequately. Shakespeare’s King Lear or Hamlet and Macbeth hold freshness that is beyond fads and facts. Works such as these are drawn by imagination,- or in a manner of speaking, lay bare the truth that animates human soul. Imagination ranging through inner world can give human experience various shades of meaning and reveal them to others. The Bard surpassed himself and his lines consequently acquired beauty and truth to delight great many.

benny

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Balzac in Art

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Aint it dandy if our misspent youth

Writ for no other reason than the crack cocaine,

Has work’d its magic over loathsome days

Into an undeniable bestseller?

Hopped up with coke in our clogged veins

Not even truth may be found in our blood-

But we have sign’d deal for seven digit

This much truth even the coke will admit .

But did truth come anywhere near our lives

Not for all the stuff we mainlined we say!

Truth be said for the world that imagines

What it reads for its crudities as real!

Who is hopped up but the prosaic world

To swallow this drivel coke has penned:

In a manner of speaking coke killed us

And used us to make this whole stuff up 

benny

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‘A  novel that opens well has gained its own momentum,’ is my credo. So I try to give my best shot at the opening line. It so happened one morning the line came unbidden, that was in itself remarkable. I knew I was onto something. I read the line as though it were a magical formula. I might have read some ten times varying my tempo while clearly enunciating it syllable for syllable. The line came by itself, did it not? So I was dealing with a genie within. How can you write anything worthwhile without some pact with your inner self?

I read the line once again as though I was looking at my own reflection in the clear water of consciousness.

 

A- died one morning not leaving instructions what to do with him.’

 

 I was in a dilemma. My writing had some plus points but to be fair it didn’t wake the dead. Here was my protagonist dead! How to keep my writing going? I wrestled with it for a week and then fielded my readers for a suggestion. In a week I had a- plenty to choose from. They all were settled on one point: ‘Late A- could have some flashbacks’. I would have gone along with it but I remembered all his flashbacks were tied up with my other novels.

Another week passed and yet I was stuck with a dead man, my hero in my hand. My ego as a writer of pulp fiction was beginning to smell. So I called in my wife whose down to earth advice could always be relied on.

 

My wife suggested with a laugh. ‘A- could not have died without a love life of sorts. Why not give A- a love interest and take the readers to follow her for some 50 pages?

 

I brightened up and a few hints were meanwhile kicking me on the shin. So I asked,’Name?’

 

‘Call her Daisy.’

 

‘ Why would I want to call her that name?

 

Because you love Lil Abner and you wanted to write Samson and Daisy a take off on the Bible story. Only I talked you out of it. Here name Daisy will fit here.

 

Daisy was a good hunch and my wife knew all readers loved girls to be luscious and in a pulp fiction Daisy was as good as Delilah in the Scriptures. I put off my wife saying I need time to think over. There was too much of my wife in the story and I didn’t like it. So I said one morning her suggestion would not do. She wanted to know why. ‘The book would move but not me.’

 

She knew me well so she left me a clear field.

 

Now I was left with late A- and it was an embarrassment. Vulture of a literary agent was hovering about. I had to make A- settle on something. Cremate him or bury him, whatever. The air was stifling!

 

Luckily my son the mortician dropped in for the weekend and he sensed something awful was in the air especially around the hearth. He insisted that he be told,’man to man, as he put it. ‘Every time you write the air gets a little twitchy’ as he put it.

I told him of the novel that refuses to get up and go.

 

My son gave a whoppee and assured me it was so easy to handle. ‘We will embalm A-, ‘ Ignoring my gasp he said chuckling over his ingenuity he said,’I shall give you solid fifty pages blow by blow account to give the book its verity. The way I looked at him must have given him a boost that he said like a professional critic, ‘A book that has specific gravity shall be read Pop’, he was certain My boy had a point there. My fatherly pride was roused. Seeing me mellowed he said how his mother was let down by not having a love interest in the new work.

 

I didn’t think my writing had raked up some underground hiatus and no one had idea if it were germane to writing or about human relationships. I let him talk and he said in the end, ‘Give A- a love interest. What is pulp fiction without a gunmoll? We can insert a flashback to delineate her character. ‘May be we can bump her off while she is trying to lay hands on the earthly possessions of A-‘ My son was confident of another thirty page filling in the police procedures of victims coming to violent ends. He closed his peroration by saying that ‘no one wants your imagination pop. They have a keyhole interest in what goes on between sheets. this is what best sellers cater to.’

 

In the end he was seeing infinite possibilitis with disposing A- and it was getting on my nerves. I cut him short. ‘Bad,son, It would leave me no option but give title ‘Book of the dead.’

 

On Monday morning a sudden flash of inspiration hit me. I decided to write the interior thoughts of A- as he lay there dead. ‘It would ring true!’

 

I added my second line: ‘Am I dead as nails?’A- asked even as rigor mortis set in.’ I showed it and my wife looked at me rather strangely. When pressed for an opinion she said I was being facetious with death..

 

I thought with a writer’s block I was merely transferring my interior life on to A-. Luckily my daughter the grammarian was present. So I asked for her opinion. My wife was relieved that burden of killing my work of imagination was taken from her hands.

 

My daughter read it slowly and said,’dead as nails, hmm’ She looked at me and said as though she was born to correct the slovenly speech around her,’dead as nail – subject singular, so nail.’

 

‘I never knew the dead cared for grammar; for that matter writing his interor life as a subject fit for pulp fiction.’

 

I thought I would leave the story untold. All that my interior life could come up on its own was not good enough for me.

 

‘ A- died one morning not leaving instructions what to do with him. Am I dead as nails?A- asked even as rigor mortis set in.’

benny

 

 

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If the works of any man could make his biographer write in exasperation as thus:“All the while I was writing the biography I had to fight off a revulsion that kept rising within me,” we know it has to be that of Fyodor Dosteovsky. Leo Tolstoy was in full agreement with Nicholas Strakhov, who was the biographer. Such classics as The Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and Brothers Karamazov have passed into our treasury of literature as supreme examples of the Russian genius.
Tolstoy a great author himself, ridiculed Dosteovsky’s exaggeration, his implausibility, inchoate style, his grammatical errors, his mania for peopling his imaginary universe with epileptics, alcoholics and paronoiacs. Tolstoy never did experience such ups and downs and sordidness as he did. Dosteovsky was sick in himself, who thought of himself noble and happy and yet lacked courage to see any further than himself. To quote his biographer again,” He was vicious, envious, depraved and spent his life in a state of emotional upheaval and exasperation that would have made him appear riidiculous had he not been so malicious and so intelligent.”
Where Mozart rose above the immediate circumstances over his disappointments and misery the Russian writer sank under, into lower depths. How much more sickening one can get than his boasting about his encounters with little girls and not having any repugnance over them? Once Turgeniev, the author of Fathers and Sons bristled at his confession and asked rather angrily why he was telling him that. “ I just wanted to show how I despise you,”was his answer. He rearranged his life however scabrous or demeaning it might have been, into works something that still have universal appeal.
Our life is real, transient realty to be precise, while such works as that of Dosteovsky or Kafka fall within the realm of supra-reality that we can accept as self-evident. Can we explain reasonably why a bright child of three suddenly fall victim to cancer? Or a child, an apple of the eye of its parents see before their eyes fall a victim of hit and run case? Try explain it in a way its parents can understand. (Reprint)
benny

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Jane Austen died in 1817 at the age of 41. Experts haven’t been able to come up with an exact cause of death, though most attribute her early demise to either cancer or Addison’s disease. But the crime novelist Lindsay Ashford now contends that the beloved author may have died of arsenic poisoning.
Three years ago, Lindsay Ashford moved to Austen’s village of Chawton to write a new crime novel. After she arrived, she started examining old letters of Austen and found a sentence that struck her as particularly suspicious.
Austen wrote: “I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.” On one sentence taken out of context Ashford intends to reconstruct the demise of our beloved author in lurid colors so her theory may ride roughshod over facts (for one who lived a life of anonymity far from media glare, facts are mostly conjectural) and her proposed crime novel may hit the bestseller list. In the Upshot Yahoo News of Nov. 14 I read thus:
‘Ashford contacted the Jane Austen Society of North America with her newfound hunch–and the society’s president told her that a lock of Austen’s hair from a different museum was tested for arsenic and came up positive.’

Theories must be supported by facts and scholarship is sweat and tears piecing together in a cogent manner the progress of a life lived so distant as revealed through letters, diaries and newspaper tidbits of the age she lived. Accounts by contemporaries, family members often play larger part than those whose knowledge might come from hearsay.
If the social mores of Austen’s day permitted use of arsenic in medicine, beauty products and clothes well it is likely ingestion of arsenic is quite possible. It would show in the hair under test. Among the landed gentry and upper classes arsenic was a favorite form of disposing the old it also would explain the high level of arsenic in a body. Arsenic in olden days was called ‘the inheritance powder’ since it mimicked many symptoms stomach cramps,vomiting etc., which could be mistaken for many diseases. Then forensic science was not developed as today. Death of Napoleon was at one time attributed to it. A Swedish dentist had advanced a theory a few decades ago, which I believe has since been discounted for something else.
According to the Guardian, Lindsay Ashford is currently writing a historical thriller that poses the question: What if Austen was murdered?
But in Jane Austen’s case what we need to ask is, what is the motive if we were to go by Ashford’s theory? Who benefited by murdering one who had no wealth other than her intellect to bequest? All that her intellect was capable of had gone into some novels that she could not even own up publicly because she was a woman.
benny

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William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) British
Dramatist and poet

The colossous who bestrode English literary scene with his immortal plays so diverse in subject, unrivalled in brilliance and depth, ironically remains still an enigma. Even its authorship has been doubted by scholars and critics who have analysed his plays – confronted with works of such grandeur can not attribute their authorship to who had such a humble beginnings.
It is true that all known facts of his life would fill only a page or two; He was born at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire in the year 1564, probably on April 23, the son of John Shakespeare, a yeoman who later became an alderman at Startford.
William courted Anne Hathaway (1582), daughter of a substantial yeoman, who was eight years older to him. At the age of eighteen he married her. Later we hear him making a name in London as a playwright and actor. In those days and times a playwright was a mere play – provider – a man of the theatre, a master of the company, whose sole duty was to provide text. It was unheard of printing a mere playwright’s story, especially one who was not even of courtly status.
So little is known of his career in London. He appears to have been a handy man and a play provider rather than an actor at the Globe and other theatres. It was not until seven years after his death that two of his old friends and fellow actors saw to the production of the First Folio of his play. Similarly it was not until nearly a hundred years after Shakespeare’s death that his first biography appeared. We may have to rest content for want of better proof in the adage, “the life of an artist survives not in his biography but in the products of his art.”
But if his plays tell us little about himself, they reveal a mind rich in the knowledge of his fellow creatures with their greatness and their faults. He was a warm, pleasant and unassuming companion, the local boy who made good by his sharp business sense, was a boon companion as vouched by many of his contemporaries.

Anecdote:
One day Burbage who played Richard III in the Bard’s Company made a tryst for the night with a lady and the password for her chamber was Richard III. Overhearing this the Bard knocked at the lady’s door and gained admission using the password. While they were making merry the actor knocked at the door. In response the Bard sent word to Burbage that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.

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William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Faulkner intended to create ‘an intact world of his own’ like Balzac and his imaginary Yoknapatacopha County is not at all a fictional picture of his native Lafayette County, Mississippi, but a realplace where he set his universally human legends. His characters apart from the idiots are all manically wilful and individualistic;moreover his characters are normally too proud to explain themselves. Excelling at dark descriptions of physical experiences he is ominous and dramatic without revealing some essential fact straightaway so the effect may come at the end shatteringly. He was uneven and sometimes pretentious writer and paternalistic about Civil Rights but he wrote five very good books,’As I lay dying’, The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom! And the Hamlet.’

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Descriptive Passages in the Opening chapter of Béatrix
Balzac has often been criticized for going off into a tangent instead of tackling the story directly. While taking up Beatrix the reader has the prospect of wading through the minutiae of the physical reality of hotel du Guaisnic. Was it really necessary? We see time and time again how in Balzac’s vision the narrow world within which a character lives stamps on him certain characteristics. Think of all those characters whose lives crossed in the unforgettable Pension Vauquer. ‘It was not one boarding-house in particular but of many as the Baron du Guénic was an epitome of all Breton noblemen’. Balzac stressed certain physical features of the world while throwing others in shadows in order to heighten the mood and inner state of the character. Thus the faded wallpaper of the boarding house will resonate with the ravages of a father’s passion pursued to madness.
Most of the characters Balzac employed to keep his story moving are composite part of himself and those whom he knew and observed from close. Some are transformed in order to keep their identity from being blown. These belonged unlike the physical world to his inner world. In Balzac’s creative vision the recurring characters made their entry and exit and also would become gradually more fleshed out as their models in real world. Insights into them also vary. Rastigniac is largely uncorrupted in Pere Goriot ( He has a minor role in the Wild Asses Skin) and in another he has already arrived and learned to make use of the system to his advantage.
Subject for stories caught up up by his memory and imagination, like the pull and push of tides also brought the stock characters along. On one hand his need for wish-fulfillment and on the other need to avoid pain in his case mountain of debts that were in the offing made his world of imagination and life experience trade off to give his works their force and integrity. One way was to make his characters to the fore or set them in the background according to the exigencies of the work where their physical world had a hand on them as in his case. In this context the stagnation of the fortified town and the feudal home of the Baron was essential to his purpose. ( Let me digress here: the grand design of La Comédie humaine was already coalescing in his mind as he became sure of his vision and craft.) One key to understand and appreciate Balzac’s writing is to accept the dictum, ‘ man as the creature of his environment’.
The novelist in Beatrix lays out the theme of an antique world of Guérande being destroyed by the modern world by using a number of metaphors. A trefoil as an architectural feature is much more in the hands of Balzac‘…the mansion was built by a Venetian architect…the trefoils of the hotel du Guaisnic have four leaves instead of three. This difference plainly indicates the Venetian school depraved by its commerce with the East, …, give four leaves to
clover, while Christian art is faithful to the Trinity. In this respect Venetian art becomes heretical’. By pointing to the crisis of faith owing to the influences from the East, Balzac points a parallel between Venice and the ancient city by the onslaught of Industrial Age. ( Also noteworthy is a number of references to Venice in the opening chapter.) ‘Modern industry, working for the masses, goes on destroying the creations of ancient art, the works of which were once as personal to the consumer as to the artisan. Nowadays
we have products, we no longer have works
benny

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His School Days

While Balzac inherited from his father vitality and joy in telling stories it was from his mother that he inherited his sensitiveness of feeling. At the age of seven he was packed off to do a six year stint in a miserable boarding school of the Orotorian Brothers. Not a single one of these harsh priests of Vendôme gleaned an iota of genius in this chubby boy suffering already physically and spiritually by his mother’s total unconcern and her preference of her love-child to him. This precocious boy who could learn a page by heart merely by scanning it once was saved from his predicament by a nervous breakdown. At sixteen the boy was haggard with large scared eyes came out to face his parents who were shocked at his appearance. ‘So this,’ Grandmother Sallambier observed, ‘is how the college returns the healthy boys we send them.’

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