Stick to your Polish, Joseph Conrad! … Whoa, Cleopatra!

A few questions and some leftover thoughts from the last entry in this blog, Ruth Padel and the Presentation of Intelligent Pulchritude in Everyday Life … in ascending order of frivolity:

Why is Derek Walcott the focus of such vicious animosity in sections of the transatlantic literary community – more than the combinination of jealousy about his Nobel prize and gossip about sexual intemperance would explain?

The high watermark for the nastiness about him is surely a 2007 review of his Collected Poems in the New York Times Book Review. Most startling are its omniscient pronouncements about Walcott’s relationship to himself by the reviewer, a poet called William Logan. Since Logan’s harshness as a critic is well-known and the NYTBR is usually moderate and careful in its criticism, it is impossible not to wonder whether his editors weren’t trying to get across a hidden message in choosing his assessment for a lead review.

‘[W]riting,’ Logan wrote with the presumption of a hanging judge revealing a heinous crime — but not reasoning very well — ‘was Walcott’s escape from the islands. The metaphors whisper their quiet acknowledgment of guilt.’

At times [Another Life, Walcott’s autobiography in verse] reads like “The Prelude” by a writer far more elegant than Wordsworth, though almost every line about the poet himself sounds false:
[F]or the exile, language is a daily form of betrayal. Walcott has remained a figure of divided loyalties and a double tongue — his grandmothers were descended from slaves, his grandfathers white. Though he “prayed / nightly for his flesh to change, / his dun flesh peeled white,” like any young man of parts he was somewhat enamored of himself. Even the late verse can seem shallow and narcissistic, beauty seized in his own beautiful eye — he treats women (“O Beauty, you are the light of the world!”) in a manner closer to lechery than to old-style courtesy. Caught between two races and two worlds, he has sometimes succumbed to pride or self-pity, or to that pride indistinguishable from self-pity.

[How does merely worshipping female beauty add up to lechery?]

Letters from outraged readers took up most of the letters column in a subsequent issue of the publication:

Joseph Cuomo complained, in part:

Logan asserts that “the rhythms and intonations of English verse were a passport to the elsewhere; but they came with a burden — the language of the colonial masters was not the one caught in his ear at home.”
First, anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Walcott’s life knows that “the language of the colonial masters” was indeed “the one caught in his ear at home,” most particularly the language of Shakespeare and the Bible, both of which were read to him as a boy by his mother.

Logan only compounded his presumptuousness in his mostly incomprehensible attempt to justify his hatchet job:

The poet manages to sound like an exile wherever he lives; but mastery of English and immersion in the classics have estranged him from the island of his birth, no matter how often he returns or how long he stays.

Walcott’s conflicts are played out within himself — his vanities and even his self-pity erode the imperial manner of his verse.

The gist of Logan’s case against Walcott: he writes beautifully; in fact he writes too well – not least because by failing to do so in the patois of St. Lucia, where he was born, he has betrayed the half of his heritage that’s West-Indian for the sake of his English genes.

What business did Samuel Beckett have writing in French — or Conrad, Dinesen and Nabokov scribbling in anything other than Polish, Danish and Russian, respectively? Those Chinese and Indian engineers in Silicon Valley, how dare they code in western programming languages when it’s obvious that they should be working in the scripts of their Taoist ancestors, or of Sanskrit metaphysics?

There’s a great deal that we haven’t been told about the story of Walcott and the literati, I feel sure.

The real Cleopatra -- digitally recreated from the most reliable facts about her

The real Cleopatra -- digitally recreated from the most reliable facts about her

Didn’t Ruth Padel have a glimmer about how much damage she was potentially doing professional women last week with her bald-faced lie about her role in spreading rumours about Walcott’s past? About her failure to explain that, rather than her motives for exposing his reputation on some university campuses? Given that most working women have a hard enough time already with society’s ancient uneasiness about women and power — what was she thinking?

The drama of her resignation just nine days after her election as Oxford’s Professor of Poetry recalled a recent opinion piece on Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, an outstandingly acute and meticulous biographer. (Read Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (1999), for a superb sample of the biographer’s art.) Writing on this site about Padel’s confident projection of sexuality, I was reminded of just how remarkable that is, given Schiff’s reminder that

… Cleopatra puts a vintage label on something we have always known existed: mind-altering female sexuality. […] She does not so much bump up against a glass ceiling as tumble through a trapdoor, the one that dismisses women by sexualizing them. As Margaret Atwood has written of Jezebel, “The amount of sexual baggage that has accumulated around this figure is astounding, since she doesn’t do anything remotely sexual in the original story, except put on makeup.” In Cleopatra’s case, the sheer absence of truth has guaranteed the legend. Where facts are few, myth rushes in, the kudzu of history.

Padel, denying that she had used her connections to discredit Walcott, unwittingly recalled the female reputation for scheming that goes at least as far back as a first century BC marriage contract in which

a woman promises to be faithful and attentive — and to not add love potions to her husband’s food. Clever women, Euripides had already warned, are dangerous women.

In fact, as Schiff notes dryly:

Before she was a slot machine, a video game, a cigarette, a condom, a caricature, a cliché or a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor, before she was reincarnated by Shakespeare, Dryden or Shaw, she was a nonfictional Egyptian queen. She ruled for 21 years, mostly alone, which is to say that she was essentially a female king, an incongruity that elicits the kind of double take once reserved for men in drag.
She was self-reliant, ingenious and plucky, and for her time and place remarkably well behaved. Having inherited a country in decline, she capably steered it through drought, famine, plague and war.

The ages-old controversy about Cleopatra – the subject of Schiff’s biography-in-progress – has an echo or two in the opposition to Judge Sonia Sotomayor, whom President Obama nominated last week to replace a retiring justice on the US Supreme Court. Once again, a woman had to be defended against criticism of behaviour that would have attracted virtually no comment, had she been a man:

Judge Guido Calabresi, a former dean of Yale Law School who taught Ms. Sotomayor there and now sits with her on the Second Circuit, said complaints that she had been unduly caustic had no basis. For a time, Judge Calabresi said, he kept track of the questions posed by Judge Sotomayor and other members of the 12-member court. “Her behavior was identical,” he said.

“Some lawyers just don’t like to be questioned by a woman,” Judge Calabresi added. “It was sexist, plain and simple.”

Could there really be such a thing as a ‘collective unconscious’?

… and if there isn’t, how else are we to account for the phrase ‘thinking women’ turning up in The Independent (‘Can an ex-civil servant finally persuade women to buy erotica?’) ten days after I linked to Pauline, the sculpture I think of as Thinking Woman, in this space? I’m still waiting for someone to prove I’m all wet to suggest that the sculptor, Harold Francis Bell , has scored a coup for the ages.



What advice does Doris Lessing have for this premature case of Droopy Corners Syndrome that I found floating on the net a few years ago?

It is not given to every circle of bloggers to have a comrade posting not just one but two intimate anecdotes about a household name on every continent. @ISA, also known as Philip Hall – who should be hard at work on a memoir about his freedom-fighter family’s South African history this very moment – told us about the only anti-ageing cosmetic advice I have ever heard of Doris Lessing giving. Why she should have given him any advice at all after his ferocious evisceration, in her presence, of The Grass is Singing — that I, like many others, consider her finest work – surpasses all understanding. But it certainly says a lot for her.


Filed under Poetry, Psychology, Social trends, The blogosphere, Visual art & artists

144 responses to “Stick to your Polish, Joseph Conrad! … Whoa, Cleopatra!

  1. elcal

    that’s the thing about Logan’s hatchet job, he didn’t really kill Walcott’s poetry, but rather his failure as a colonized writer to do what Logan thought a colonized writer ought to do. I like Logan at times because he’s a curmudgeon, and sometimes curmudgeons have good things to say by virtue of their anger and willingness to destroy conventions. Unfortunately, not one of Logan’s better contributions to reviewing/criticism. It gave the impression that he was “re-evaluating” Walcott’s actual work, when he wasn’t really doing anything of the sort.

    Also, I’m surprised that people don’t level the same criticisms at VS Naipaul, Aime Cesaire, or other Caribbean writers who don’t use patois. Perhaps it’s because Walcott uses a literary English while not ever being educated in the UK or US. He’s a paradox.

    My own personal disclaimer on Walcott, re: his various “muses”, ahem, is that my good friend and English professor at college was a playwriting student of Walcott’s. This professor happened to marry one of his former students (not his first romantic relationship with a former student). It’s a strange world, academics; and it has been for thousands of years, just read the Phaedrus.

    And re: Sotomayor, have you heard what Watergate alum G. Gordon Liddy had to say about her? Astonishing, the ignorance.

  2. To lower the tone there’s a story about the making of that grisly film “Blues Brothers”. The guest stars like Aretha Franklin all wanted to sing disco tunes because that was the happening music in the early 80’s. John Landis told them to stick with R+B and their old hits because then they would be more “authentic”.

    Whatever you might think of disco and the superiority of the earlier tunes it’s another case of an outsider having a fixed idea of what the artists actually are about.

  3. @elcal,

    === rather his failure as a colonized writer to do what Logan thought a colonized writer ought to do. ===

    Yes. . . and then there’s the mystery of why the NYT eds let Logan pontificate to that effect at such vast length. . . surely means that they agree with him, or they’d have run a short version and hidden it inside? …Which review of his would you recommend as an example of good work? … I went to wiki for some idea of his own contributions to literature and found him described as the ‘most hated poet’ in America…

    === Also, I’m surprised that people don’t level the same criticisms at VS Naipaul,.. Perhaps it’s because Walcott uses a literary English while not ever being educated in the UK or US. He’s a paradox. ===

    Good point …perhaps Naipaul is thought of as being really Indian, as I’ve always thought he sees himself, since there was no dilution of his Brahmin genes in Trinidad. . . But Walcott had two English grandfathers … And then of course there’s no indigenous _textual_ literary tradition in the West Indies. . . So I don’t see any paradox.

  4. === another case of an outsider having a fixed idea of what the artists actually are about ===

    Don’t know about those musicians, @Alarming, but I do agree with your objection to second-guessing an artist’s judgment.

  5. Also, @elcal, re:

    === Perhaps it’s because Walcott uses a literary English while not ever being educated in the UK or US. ===

    The wiki says that Le Clezio, who spent most of his childhood after the age of eight in Nigeria …. and first went to uni in England (Bristol) … and earned his doctorate in Mexico as a specialist in Mexican history … was voted the finest writer in French by a significant percentage of readers of a French literary magazine … So do these distinctions of origin matter any more? That really is a question — they don’t make the slightest difference to me, but what about everyone else?

  6. There’s also the spectre of globalisation to worry about I feel. A certain aspect of it is fantastic – one can’t help but be inspired/stimulated/challenged by points of view and art from other cultures. But methods of expressing those views, mainly the internet, have allowed aggressive hyper-capitalism to flood in and try to control those methods plus make sure their corporate brand is dispersed world-wide. So rap music is a dominant world-wide force and every young teenager everywhere seems to have the same teen role models.

    I’m of the dualist persuasion – things are both fantastic and awful simultaneously – but without wanting to be nationalistic the erosion of differences can be troubling.

  7. elcal

    hi wordy, no specific Logan recommendations, but check out the New Criterion, where he regularly reviews. That’s where I’ve read him most…And I read some bits from The Undiscovered Country, a collection of his essays. Now, he’s no godsend to the poetry community. As gadflies go, I like Kent Johnson a lot more (he’s like the Logan of the experimental crowd). He’s just different than the average mainstream poetry reviewer. (Quick disclaimer: the New Criterion is rather conservative politically, though it is an arts journal.)

    I see the NYT thing, it is a bit of laziness all around. I tend to think of the editors there as not really being much of any sort of editor. A few things go into play with that piece. One is that Logan is a brand, well-known for his hatchet jobs. So, the NY Times will just run a negative review by him simply to sell copies (or spark parlor conversation). Another is that he wrote an anti-sacred cow screed, and everyone loves to take Nobellers down a peg (he did the same to Heaney’s last book in the New Criterion). Finally (at least my final observation), no one cares enough to call the Times on it, LttE’s aside. Real poets don’t care about the NYT and people who don’t care about poetry can feel educated by Logan without engaging in the wars of the poetry world (or write letters to the editor of a publication that doesn’t care much to read them). The letters simply prove to the eds that they’re selling and/or supporting the life of the middlebrow literary salon.

    Interesting re: LeClezio. The only difference is that he’s actually genetically a Gaul (hell, he’s British, too, that’s like double French, wink), so the French don’t need to dress him up. Naipaul is the ideal post-colonial: Oxbridge, grumpy, anti-ethnic past, went to London instead of the US (let alone Boston). He put on his post-colonial suit without the help of the sahibs. LeClezio is a reverse post-colonial, and not in the Orwell sort of way, which is an interesting point of view.

    anyways, i think what Walcott does in English is different than a typical response to colonized language. Rather than use the language of power within English to undermine it, he uses the literary idioms almost exclusively. And he uses quite a bit of patois, especially in political moments in his work. But it’s like he dreams in that canonical English.

  8. @Alarming, I’m a hundred percent with you about this being the super-villain:

    ‘aggressive hyper-capitalism’ …

    but how can we avoid ‘globalisation’ — which has so many causes more fundamental than a style of economic organisation and its progeny, such as multinational companies? …. the new forms of travel, mass immigration … and now this internet …

    … I mean to say that since globalisation is unavoidable, I can’t let myself think of it as a spectre.

  9. … also, …

    === one can’t help but be inspired/stimulated/challenged by points of view and art from other cultures. ===

    … is the way you’re leading your life — and enriching the lives of others because of that …

    And yet I do see exactly what you mean here:

    === without wanting to be nationalistic the erosion of differences can be troubling. ===

    It’s become increasingly pleasurable and fascinating over the years to visit intensely homogeneous societies preserving ‘pure’ cultures. But I suspect that there will always be people fiercely protecting and preserving such pockets.

    … Also, in trying to explain behaviour in an increasinly hybridised world, strands of ‘original’ cultures — contributors to the mix — can be quite helpful.

    … as in another sphere, not as different from the human one as we like to imagine …. I discovered that the answer to the riddle of why my semi-Border Collie was untrainable, even though she had the classic brightness of that breed, was that the Australian Shepherd in her other half was responsible for her monumental obstinacy.

  10. @elcal,

    === But it’s like he dreams in that canonical English. ===

    Just so. . . and the result is talent far, far, off the scale we use for virtually all the poets of our day.

    … which, I think, accounts for a strong impression that the jealousy is a lot worse than mere resentment of his Nobel prize. Many poetry critics … eg. Logan (okay, I’ll go looking for him in the New Criterion … if I can read it online and free) … are writers of verse themselves. . . It’s reassuring for them to read someone like Szirtes who, as far as I can tell from his blog, is an awfully nice man and delightful blogger-diarist who, when supposedly versifying, actually writes prose with stunted line breaks . . . That he can’t do much more than that reassures fellow-versifiers … since it means that they rate, too.

    I don’t know that Clive James – McCrumble’s fresh horse in the PoP race — is all that much better, … an incisive and often brilliant and peerlessly funny prose writer, yes, but a poet who could possibly be a substitute for Walcott? …. Inconceivable.

    … Would love to know more about Walcott teaching playwriting. . . a treat to see proof of the six-degrees-of-separation – actually much less – theory in the posts of our fellow-bloggers. Eg., @ISA on Doris L.

  11. I think both positions are problematic. There was a fantastic programme about Hungarian rural farmers a few year’s back. When you see the society in action the whole routine fits like a glove, working on the land, growing their own food, wedding ceremonies with dances and wild music, communal meals etc. The sort of thing people in the west aspire towards.

    Yet the young couldn’t wait to leave – no money, a suffocating lifestyle and you could see your future stretching out before you. Having left they ended up living in a hangar in the Paris suburbs, being bullied/exploited by Latvian gangs, the women were forced into prostitution if they had not already found themselves having to turn tricks to pay off the forged paperwork and so on. Inevitably the police caught up with them and they were deported home with less money than before and faced with the fear that the gangs would come looking for their repayments.

    Is it purely hyper-capitalism that has caused this dissatisfaction or is there something deeper in the desire to follow a different life to ones parents? When I was 16 I couldn’t wait to leave home – rural Somerset. Luckily I landed on my feet eventually but if I hadn’t been born into the middle classes things could easily have been tougher.

  12. elcal

    I like that Szirtes theory. makes a lot of sense (esp. with verse-poor Logan). Yes the New Criterion is free and online (even archives).

    If they’re gonna do a Ricks-style PoP, I’d at least like them to come out and say they’re looking for a professor not a practitioner. Ricks is a great mind, not a poet, but has enriched the study of poetry (these PoPs are lecturers after all). Clive James may be a perfect Ricks-style PoP.

    global trade has been around for millennia. so on that side of this discussion, i think it’s sometimes quite reasonable for cultural cross-pollination. however, the multinational corporation is a lot different than the Venitian “empire” or the Spice Road. it’s more hypercapitalism than it is globalisation. though the latter makes the former easier.

    i’m interested in the small town syndrome. I saw it myself in semi-rural coastal California. i have a feeling that the moribund economic states of small regions (like in Hungary or the US Midwest) leads kids to find better work outside their immediate cultural surroundings, as in Paris and New York. As communities become affected by outside technological progress, things like drops in infant mortality and other diseases leads to overpopulation even without overly encroaching on a community’s immediate progress with respect to the larger entity they belong to.

    Sometimes it works in reverse. In the coastal farm country i grew up in, migrant families from Mexico created a completely different economic situation. the parents were, in many cases, Mexican citizens with working papers, maybe naturalized, but the children were US citizens. The parents could only get so far in terms of earning power, and the children ended up supporting the family as well as the parents once they reached their mid-teens. It was very hard to escape the economic pull of multiple earners. Even the successful local businesspeople had to employ their kids in their workplaces. It creates micro-communities where there is indeed work for the kids and they don’t leave (or do so to escape the mind-numbing plateau of provincial life). But the second cycle, the third generation may not be so lucky.

    and beyond that, there’s the lure of capitalism-fueled youth culture that is a distinctly Western, post-war phenomenon and draws more people from the provinces than work did in previous generations. I also wonder how much hype-rags like newspapers and lifestyle mags can have an effect.

  13. @elcal,

    === I’d at least like them to come out and say they’re looking for a professor not a practitioner. ===

    I’ll second that.

    But maybe Oxford, too, is becoming enslaved to hyper-capitalism … (there have been other signs of that, there, far more frightening, if you remember the fight about the controversial vice-chancellor from New Zealand) … and wants someone charming with a ‘marketable personality’.

    Will have a think and return to reply to you and @Alarming on the flight from the land, etc., … short of blogging time today …

  14. ISA

    Did I ever tell you about Toloache, Wordy?

    It’s a well known herb in Mexico. It is used as a love potion.

    Typically, young servant maid goes to town (and we are talking millions from Indonesia to the Gulf to Angola) and at the age as young as 13 she starts to work for a rich family – half the soap operas on Latin American TV are about this – and in the family there is the young man or the young husband, who she gets a crush on.

    And she fantasises about escaping her situation, because the poor thing has seen the same TV series, and he ignores her and so she makes up a potion of Toloache and mixes it in with his coffee.

    Only Toloache is not a love potion, but a Zombie potion. It is the same drug, or a drug along the same lines as the drug they use in Haiti. And the young man is stupified and in his increasing simple childishness begins to forget his class and dote on the maid.

    Of course the truth is that a vast majority of all young maids get abused by the hateful fathers and sons of rich families and they have little or no protection. (My mother worked on projects to help them for the ILO in East Asia.)

    So Toloache.

  15. I’ve been thinking about this and, of course, it’s patently absurd to criticise an artist for a perceived lack of ‘authenticity’. That these calls seem to come from critics, analysts, admirers and lesser artists, illustrates – for me – the superiority of the artist’s position. And whilst I don’t think the r-word is appropriate, isn’t this attitude towards Walcott (about whom I know nothing) a little condescending? As if he should be toasting from a sound system or keeping quiet.

    Someone can correct me here, but wasn’t Dante criticised for using Florentine dialect, Goethe for writing in ‘low’ doggerel? There is a painful recording of the (usually rightly revered) John Lomax trying to coax a song of hardship and cotton fields from bluesman Blind Willie McTell rather than the playful blues and folk ballads McTell had been playing; basically, what to Lomax would be a ‘blacker’ song. The custodian and quantifier seeks an imagined purity that, in the boiling pot of creativity, must never exist.

  16. A wonderfully thoughtful post and beautifully written all the way through, @exitbarnadine …

    Like you, I only ever trot out the ‘r’ word reluctantly and with great care — which is why I haven’t used it here at all.

    Readers of this paragraph of mine will have drawn their own conclusions … I’m sure you’d agree, though, that it _is_ interesting that no one ever has any complaint about the Chinese and Indian engineers working in English and technical languages … outside their indigenous philosophical traditions … to add economic value in the west:

    What business did Samuel Beckett have writing in French — or Conrad, Dinesen and Nabokov scribbling in anything other than Polish, Danish and Russian, respectively? Those Chinese and Indian engineers in Silicon Valley, how dare they code in western programming languages when it’s obvious that they should be working in the scripts of their Taoist ancestors, or of Sanskrit metaphysics?

    I agreed especially warmly with this sentence of yours:

    That these calls seem to come from critics, analysts, admirers and lesser artists, illustrates – for me – the superiority of the artist’s position.

  17. @ISA, the mere thought of Toloache makes me shudder … but those poor young women your mother used to help reminded me of this moving article in last Sunday’s NYT, … One Night in Villa. It has a touch of Reader’s Digest about it, but never mind:

    … will reply about Ars Notoria after others have had a chance to respond. Thanks for explaining — it was the possibilities you’ve alluded to in your fourth point that made me hesitate …

  18. i have challenged WB Logan to a debate at dawn on the Harriet blog, calling him all the names under the sun:

    …two-dimensional ditty maker with little in the way of poetic talent and lots in the way of attitude, who fell into a safe comfortable number as the jolly pit-bull critic sneering at all and sundry – eventually becoming spent grump who got finished off when a younger wit entered the ring and knocked them out with the first blow.

    I have stated before, i am keen to debate, with or without gloves, with Logan anywhere at all, but i do not think he has the courage to face me, because he knows i am far superior in both intellect and artistry than he.

    WB Logan is a joker, a fake, no more a poet than i’m a tree who’s a planet or a moon fully Spanish, more, he’s a weedy armchair Rambo who’s gob dribbles for the Pop Idol generation of second rate ditty readers.

    William Logan. Critic manque, forgettable ditty maker:


  19. @exitbarnadine/BaronCharlus

    You said:

    There is a painful recording of the (usually rightly revered) John Lomax trying to coax a song of hardship and cotton fields from bluesman Blind Willie McTell rather than the playful blues and folk ballads McTell had been playing; basically, what to Lomax would be a ‘blacker’ song.

    And here’s dead-on confirmation of the point you’re making in a post on @Suzan‘s site. An extract from her interview with an Indian writer:

    People like Jumpa Lahiri write Green card misery memoirs. If they hate it so much why don’t they go “home?” I think Indian diaspora writers are expected to write a certain way, the men will always be compared to Salman Rushdie, the women to Arundhati Roy although in reality both were one-hit wonders. What people like Rushdie do is make a joke out of degraded civilisations. I don’t think that it is funny, I think it is sick.

    “Why should we be dictated to about what we can write? Why should we produce simply formulaic books?

    … But writers themselves must bear some of the responsibility for this — in their meek acceptance of the formulae. Astonishingly, a second (very interesting) Indian writer interviewed by Suzan — Leela Soma — supplies an excellent illustration:

    Q: Do you have any author you’d like to aspire to?

    A: I have no great illusions that I would be good enough to reach such heights but Arundathi Roy’s prose in the ‘God of Small Things’ rose out of the page and assaulted all one’s senses and Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight Children’ when you could almost smell the pickle factory.I would love to be able to reach that standard.

    … Has John Lomax ever explained why he was forcing Blind Willie McTell to do that?

  20. @Des, thank you for tipping us off about your Logan post on the Harriet blog … I really did laugh all the way through it.

    Have also replied on your site, where everyone should go to see what the wonderfully named
    Gerhard Gschwandtner (_really_!) has to say.

    This is how @Des‘s post begins:

    Sunday, May 31, 2009
    Mad Mad Knobheads
    I just received an e mail which is both laughable and interesting as it raises a fundamental question about Freedom of Speech:

    Dear Background Artist:

    I just ran across your article entitled Guest Poet: CAD Laureate, posted on May 6, 2009,, and I would like to raise an issue that is of concern to Selling Power magazine, which is the use of our trademark.

    [ … you will want to read on: ]

  21. [ am putting this here, @Suzan, since this is where we’ve been discussing critics’ ideas about what subjects and language are legitimate for authors, starting with Derek Walcott … no worries, I’m sure you just forgot where you were ]

    Submitted on 2009/06/05 at 2:12pm

    Forgot something, Wordy

    Here are my thoughts on Twice Born, the novel by Leela Soma, that may provide a clearer glimpse of her story.

  22. @elcal … you’ve inspired @Des to go after William Logan, as I hope you’ve noticed … I expect to see this anti-Heaney in a taxidermist’s shop window very soon.

    @Alarming and @elcal,

    … going back to points made about people leaving behind their cultures of origin — with @Alarming mentioning formerly rural Hungarians and @elcal Californian farm workers leaving the coastal town where he grew up (a gorgeous place, btw) …

    … Does anyone ever really leave anywhere any more? Perhaps the American habit of hyphenating identities is a sign that they don’t? … So eg., many ‘Hispanic-Americans,’ ‘Chinese-Americans’ and ‘Indian-Americans’ in the US sound American and behave like Americans outside their homes but — from anxiety about losing their culture, like @Alarming’s — live in a Little Mexico or Little China or Little India at home?

    … I would say that as writers, they’d be entitled to go either way, depending on their subject — sound American or not at all.

    Similarly Walcott, with whom we began, should be entitled to dream and write in the canon, as @elcal says, … or in patois … and mix the two as he pleases. . . without being found wanting by the likes of Logan.

  23. i have sent you an e mail to the wordrious one

  24. elcal

    an interesting thing about hyphenated Americans (yes, i suppose there might be some British-Americans out there…) is that America was “supposed” to be that great melting pot, but when the sieve of racisim, nationalism and ethnic hierarchy blocked all the ingredients, they started their own stews. Identity politics, such as the lovely hyphen, are in direct response to the lack of access and connection to the general culture. Not just that, but immigrant behavior has always tended toward following those that went before. The emigrating Mexicans in California follow family members or fellow former residents of a given state or city. It’s the same in London or Paris. Where I live now has a strong history of West Indian immigration (probably why Walcott came here). Local bodegas and shops cater to the people who are accustomed to such shops and products as existed in the Caribbean. If I were emigrating to another country, I’d find where my American contingent was so as to feel a sense of foundation beneath my feet. (So, Prague anyone?)

  25. Would always defer to your expertise on your own country, @elcal, ; ) … but are you quite sure about ‘British-Americans’? In my experience, residents from the small damp islands in the US have either become American – … not just because they acquire citizenship but sound, write, look, etc., indistinguishable from any other melting pot creation – or remained nearly indistinguishable from other islanders, even after decades (not least because islanders who’ve never left have been steadily Americanised).

    Also, I think you might agree that there was a time long before the hyphenating began when some ingredients stubbornly resisted the melting and joining. I was once astonished to read about someone’s grandparents in Wisconsin living in a community of German farmers who had since their arrival from the old country – and for a couple of generations afterwards — refused to speak anything other than Deutsch … intermarried, and so on …. Only when they were forced to choose a side in ww1 did they begin to speak English. . . Still didn’t completely believe that this could have been possible until I was at a wedding in Iowa farm country a few days after Sep the 11th an found myself in a coffee shop/diner being inspected by colossal Germanic farmers downing deep bowls of oatmeal as big as their faces with no trouble …

    … Your question about whether they want a professor or practitioner for the Oxford PoP … more of the first with a bit of the psychologist thrown in, …. for this TLS commentator, anyway:

    the Chair of Poetry has for the moment been smeared by association, as though it were just another prize to be fixed, meaningless in itself except insofar as it is a symbol of power in the literary world. In recent decades, the post has been one in which things of substance are said about the art of poetry, by figures whose work as poets, or as critics, or both, has earned them respect, and generated real interest in the arguments they may develop over the course of five years and fifteen public lectures. The holders of the Chair are not there to proselytize for poetry, or indeed for themselves as poets, but to try to say things that matter about the art itself.

    “Reaching out” is not required; but reaching within certainly is. Not everyone can do this; and many very good poets do not possess the critical powers required to articulate and pursue the necessary arguments.

  26. ISA


    The picture you have up looks like a picture of Teresa when she was a baby. So, so serious and responsible.

  27. ISA

    In fact where did you get that photograph Wordy, it looks exactly like Teresa in the very early 60s looked in her photographs.

    I made prawn cream spaghetti for my teenagers today and used a little mozzarella. Didn’t wor that well but I realised that queso Oaxaca is a riff on mozzarella. A rather successful version. Oaxaca cheese, even when it is fresh and wrapped in banana leaves, unravels like a white strapped ball.

    Go to Holland and you’ll eat very good Indonesian food. Go to London and you will eat “Chicken Phall” which was designed as a revenge dish. Football supporters trying to prove how tough they were. And very rude with it, asked for the hottest curry and the curry houses obliged.

    Now in France, Paris, there is good Russian food. Paris is the home of the Russian exile, of the Irish exile.

  28. ISA

    I find it quite upsetting that my children don’t like beetroot borscht with lemon and sour cream. A dish of my childhood.

  29. Hi Wordy,

    As per the formulac writing, so swiftly dismissed by Farah Damji and innocently surpassed by Leela Soma who would appear to disagree with Damji but only by the latter’s own aspirations, I have a few thoughts of my own to offer, Wordy.
    Forgive me if somewhere along the line, my words slip right out the radar. I have broken these up into 3 comment boxes.

    2 years ago, I felt exactly as Damji did on Indian writers tackling nothing but immigrant identity until it had well turned into a bored subject – I used to pronounce this rather openly, bravely and foolishly all at once, on the Gu Bks Blog. I incurred the wrath of many especially Selvon, whom I suspect to be a traditional Indian poster from Birmingham.

    At the time, I would prophetically if you like (no spooks intended here) echo Damji’s words. All we did really was to have shared the same perceptions especially that I had read one multicultural fiction title too many from about 2002. I discovered that several Indian authors in the West had penned in terribly pained prose (no exaggeration) and this being a mournful nostalgia accompanied by a hopeless longing for the homeland.

    Lahiri was one of these but she composed her plots masterfully, puppeting each one into an art-form that reminded me of a ballet performance, locked in a closed book. Her stories seemed ethereal and almost translucent…you felt there were angels and light in every sphere her North Indian characters trampled on…and they who in turn while settled in the States, grandmothers and young men, while knitted together in powerful communities, all appeared like ghosts, brooding and haunted in everyday life; tormented by their own emigration risks and searching endlessly for peace. In these way, her stories appeared open-ended and signalled excitement.

    Today, I would disagree with Damji, Wordy.

    I found later on, that everywhere I went from the fishing villages in Hong Kong up the high hills, to a little peasant village, say in Jordan, the natural traditions, customs, way of life, speech, manner, dress, family ties etc.…in the way of something beautiful, ornate, sensuous and priceless could be sacrificed or compromised immediately in this age of instant gratification by the sudden appearance of the worldwide web, the use of cell phones and satellite televisions as a few examples. All elements designed to jar the senses and blur the charms of a rural heartland – from where a culture inherits its trademark.

  30. It is the effects of globalization that make us feel we don’t really go anywhere at the end of the day. Which is how I felt.

    This gradually led me to a love of world cinema and a wider love for world literature where I craved any kind of distinct folklore tale…villages, peasantry and so forth that would reveal a specific identity purported to heritage and not yet scarred by the darker effects of modernism. And then I realized why those stories of immigrant identity…formulac or not are so important and why too, they would always have a market.

    They shape us, tell us who we are inside of ourselves. They spell an innovative history text.

    Soma’s Twice Born is heralded widely in Glasgow if anything for its slice of emigrant history in the Seventies when a way of life was drawn up to be more respectful and so very different. Which of the younger generations bent on a visual age would know any of this today?

    The fascinating thing is that her plot is not inspired in any way by research as it is by having experienced the real thing. I can well see Glasgow embracing her story as a literary heirloom in the years to come, if the overwhelming response at the moment, is anything to go by.

    This is a little of what Leela Soma said of her Borders launch:

    @LeelaSoma: The Borders book launch was a resounding success. Lots of people turned up, standing room only. The event’s highlight for me was the fact that Ron Grossett of Geddes and Grossett introduced me to the audience with wonderful words, that revealed his deep love for India. He related some funny incidents in Madras/ Chennai and concluded by reading my poem ‘This is my ain land’ It sounded perfect in his Scots accent. I loved the phrase’ ‘Twice Born in her tartan sari’ , an apt description of my dual identity.

    There’s also Manju Kapur, agented and published in London but very much the Anita Brookner of Delhi with her band of solitary characters from numerous quieter plots on the domestic front, content to study life from the sidelines.

    Recently, Kapur published The Immigrant.which is Damji’s idea of formula writing and it described a couple going to Canada in the 70s. Kapur’s present plot – even if it may be argued as a rehash of older immigration stories – was precious as it talked about the largely forgotten pain of an emigrant to the West in the 70s. Not just the pain, but also the isolation and superficiality that comes as a clinical procedure to the idea of any emigrant’s hopeful assimilation in this case being Canada.

    It was a different world and I was mesmerized once more, of what I may have missed of an old lost world, had I not known of such a story.

  31. What Damji may not know too – as she has since abandoned newer fiction by South Asian authors – is that Lahiri has long moved to a newer level of approach for plot and characterization and her stories these days hold very little nostalgia.

    I describe myself as Malaysian-Indian. I love the definition because it shows I no longer take my heritage for granted as I did, for so many years.

    With this little declaration, I feel grounded with a greater sense of well-being designed to keep me rooted in reality. It’s self-explanatory. And that is essential when someone like me, held beloved to an open universe and ever-ready to embrace any foreign soil anywhere, simply for its love of peoples and cultures, may forget sometimes, in the great passion of things who I am, or where I came from or where I should be at a certain place or time of my life. My identity helps me remember.

    Little Chinas and Little Indias make for superficial minor consolations…certainly they are necessary, if I now hunger for my roots and history lost, what more, the old, frail and weak who suddenly remember dangerous forgotten things in a strange land and need a crutch of some kind just to stay afloat.

    I think it’s harder for those who balance East and West; they may find themselves hanging somewhere in the equilibrium.

    But literature – the contemporary fiction that so beguiles some of us and irritates others like Damji may help us question our inner selves…allow us to toss about hard questions for introspection and reflection. I have become a better individual for such a humble gift granted me. And art and music like the ghazals and ragas…they offer companionship and solace and may at the darkest times, hold out their hands with grace, as silent friends.

  32. Reading,comparing and the discussing my novel ‘Twice Born’ and Damji’s work on this blog is fascinating. My basic premise is write from the heart, feel the passion. The question of identity is a topic that is so relevant to this globalised world. On my website given below you may have access to some of my poems on identity.

  33. elcal

    well, i was trying to poke a bit on the British-American thing :). I’m surprised your choice of Californian locale wasn’t Huntington Beach or some such Orange County beach front. All the ex-pats are down there.

    Read a NYT article a while back about a small pocket of New Jersey folk who still spoke a bastardized Dutch well into the 1930s or something. It’s amazing what inbreeding can accomplish.

  34. wn In terms of the Hungarians – they seem to leave and then, if they don’t fall into a successful life of crime abroad, they get deported back to where they came from. A generalisation obviously but when you’re an “illegal” the chances of work beyond casual labour are pretty slim so the possibilities of integration within the host society are slimmer as you’re working unsociable hours to make ends meet.

    Watching that programme was odd – we can’t understand why they think life in the West is a “better” option and they can’t understand why we don’t seem to see the drawbacks of a peasant economy/ agrarian life ( if agrarian is the right word! )

  35. Welcome, @glascot — Leela Soma — and I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to liberate your 9.22 pm post from the new commenter approval queue … Congratulations on your debut, and the very best of luck with Twice Born! (doesn’t that mean Brahmin? … so a kind of pun, … perhaps also referring to your dual allegiance … to Glasgow and South India?) … A rare treat indeed, for us to have a new author at the start of her career for company.

    Really, @Suzan is our only comrade able to discuss your or FD’s books, since none of the rest of us have read either, so far — as far as I know. . . I was only struck by seeing the point one of you made in your interview with @Suzan _apparently_ supported by a remark by the other.

    I do agree that identity seems to have become hugely important in this globalised world — somewhat paradoxically, yes? . . . Perhaps writers, broadly, are either rooters or transcenders. Questions of place or uprooting being something that members of the first group focus on. . .The ones in the second group write beyond place or national identity — and I’d put many futurists or science-fiction writers in this category, eg., Ballard or Le Guin.

    Both kinds are tremendously valuable in their very different ways, … but can have curiously similar effects …. since another paradox for this post is the one about the supremely accurate observers of the particular, working on the most restricted canvases, being the most universal in their appeal. . . I’m thinking of R. K. Narayan writing about his beloved Malgudi, or Jane Austen about the ins and outs of mating and marrying, or Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

    … Anyway, this thread began with a consideration of whether Derek Walcott should have been attacked in a lead review for the NYT books section for writing superbly in English, rather than West Indian patois — and I’d be most interested to know what you think of that.

  36. @ISA … prawns and cream — … ahem … very high cholesterol in each of those …please be careful on other fronts, too: an identity thief could be scrabbling through your rubbish bins, filchng old pictures of Teresa. . .

    … like that one, which I really did find — as I said — drifting on the web. One day, I happened to type into a search box a rare, old-fashioned surname that has all but disappeared from the world, and up came two pages of photographic portraits of a startling variety of people of all ages, from eras going back to the early 20th c. The poster was asking for help in identifying the subjects.

    I’d had another reason for remembering the wee pudding-face, a few days earlier — so when I saw your mention of Doris Lessing’s advice about droopy corners … I wouldn’t say that the face looks serious as much as it does suspicious and indignant. I’ve seen the identical expression in photographs of dogs and cats annoyed about having one of those hideous camera things pointed at them.

  37. @Suzan,

    === Recently, Kapur published The Immigrant.which is Damji’s idea of formula writing ===

    … not just hers — and I’d never heard of her before I read your rather disturbing (earlier) blog posts about her. . . There seems to be a backlash, even among members of the diaspora, against publishers’ over-exploitation of the category. It’s discernible between the lines here, for instance:

    Love in the Time of Diaspora
    Published: June 5, 2009

    By now, you recognize the Indian novel. Every week, it seems, there are new additions to the subcontinent’s thriving subgenre of immigrant literature, all of them sharing a few tell-tale elements: lush language; the vitality and musicality of India’s crowded gullies; its ancient spirituality counterpoised against a crass new materialism; its émigrés’ struggles to balance tradition and modernity.


    … Nor does Sekaran compensate for this lack of interior life with a corresponding exterior gaze — …

    To be sure, “The Prayer Room” has its pleasures. But because it remains more interested in the colorful cross-cultural manifestations of human motivation than it does in human motivation itself, it goes down like a five-course repast of gelato.

    … Categorising readers and writers is certainly useful for marketing people, but it doesn’t do much for me. . . When the writer is first rate, I’m nearly always saddened by seeing him or her boxed — eg., Hollinghurst as a ‘gay’ author, when The Line of Beauty is first and last just a very good novel.

  38. === well, i was trying to poke a bit on the British-American thing 🙂 ===

    What, humour-less you? I’d never have guessed!

    === choice of Californian locale wasn’t Huntington Beach or some such Orange County beach front. All the ex-pats are down there. ===

    Careful how you go, now, @elcal. I’ll have to see if I can’t rouse @MassSpectrometer to give our comrades a pitch-perfect rendition of your echt Fresno accent. . . Honestly, if I spent my weekends perfecting my boiled prawn look playing golf … or bridge … with equally boring imports from Blighty bleating, ‘Luvly weather, isn’t it? … I’d never go back, could you? … no … no ..never .’ …..etc. ………..[yawns] ………… do you suppose I’d know what a book is — and where would I ever find the time to blog??? ………. [shakes head despairingly]

    Btw, I meant to ask earlier, do you ever run into Derek W buying pencil-sharpeners — or perhaps plantains in those Caribbean markets you mentioned? … Also, what was it like for your friend to be taught playwriting by him when he isn’t, by many accounts, a particularly thrilling presence — outside his poetry?

  39. @Alarming,

    === if they don’t fall into a successful life of crime abroad, they get deported ===

    🙂 ………………. I once crossed an exceedingly powerful Hungarian by writing a wicked, mocking review of his book … not only did he threaten to do me in with my employer — a friend of his, or so he thought — but he said he was going to report my landlord to the appropriate authority for the lovely but illegal cottage I was renting. . . which, curiously enough, this Hungarian had never seen. It offended him, you see, that the cottage made it possible for me to live in the same exclusive semi-rural place as he did.

    … Not hard to believe, therefore, that a criminal underclass has emerged among Hungarian immigrants in England. . . Must quickly say that some of the most spoiling people I’ve ever met were from that country — passionate, funny, warm, … above all … _intense_ …

  40. elcal

    Alas, i have never run into Walcott. I highly doubt he runs with the Carib crowd when in town (during Fall semester, i think?). My professor told some good stories (sorry, can’t remember any) and, since he is an actor, would constantly impersonate DW and his lilt. So, most of us thought Walcott would be fun to study with by virtue of the impersonations and stories. And we weren’t quite wise enough to view him through a critical lens. Also, my friend does like the Walcott plays, so for him I think it was good. I also gather that Walcott is a decent director. I’ve never read or seen his plays, so I can’t speak to that. I used to want to write verse plays of a time, and Walcott was going to be my inspiration. Never got around to it…

  41. Riveting stuff, @elcal … suggests what they’ve missed at Oxford, oh dear …

    === since he is an actor, would constantly impersonate DW and his lilt. So, most of us thought Walcott would be fun to study with by virtue of the impersonations and stories. And we weren’t quite wise enough to view him through a critical lens. Also, my friend does like the Walcott plays, so for him I think it was good. ===

    … No one else has had anything so personal and affectionate to say about him here or on any newspaper site devoted to books. Nothing else I’ve ever read conveys any impression of the kind of presence he makes in a room …Virtually all you read about Walcott the man is the nasty rumours … and even if those are true, why such a shortage of anecdotes, accounts of personal encounters, etc, etc. . . ?

    Where is the worshipful McCrumble profile, like the one on Naipaul?

  42. This blog entry and the last one are mostly about identity politics and sexual politics.

    Sonia Sotomayor — the judge being vetted for the US Supreme Court – naively ignited fiery discussions in both categories with her remark about the supremes needing a ‘wise Latina woman’ like herself for company. . . N.B. There have been only ever been two women justices on that august panel since its creation: also, there has never been a Hispanic one.

    I’m on the side of all those who think that neither identity nor sexual politics should have any place in assessing someone’s competence for a job not specially tailored to serving one sex or the other – or, … since that’s been our topic, … evaluating literary talent and attainments.

    In fact I think that it’s detrimental verging on destructive to introduce those hornets’ nests into any such conversation. . . So it’s been stunning to see the extent to which Sotomayor’s intelligence and judicial acumen have saved her – so far – from self-sabotage.

    It’s all the more interesting that these extracts are from a column by David Brooks – especially good because he doesn’t allow his broadly conservative affiliation to get in the way of fairness … Eg., at the very end of the last US presidential campaign, after he’d been poking holes in Obama for weeks, he conceded that he was, actually, precisely what America needed.

    About Sotomayor he said on Monday:

    … she has given a series of speeches that have made her a poster child for identity politics. In these speeches, race and gender take center stage. It’s not only the one comment about a wise Latina making better decisions than a white male; it’s the whole litany. If you just read these speeches you might come away with the impression that she was a racial activist who is just using the judicial system as a vehicle for her social crusade.

    And yet her history and conversations with her colleagues suggest this is not the main story. If you look at the whole record, you come away with the impression that Sotomayor is a hard-working, careful-though-unspectacular jurist whose primary commitment is to the law.

    When Sotomayor left Yale, she didn’t take the route designed to reinforce her ideological dispositions ….[despite] ….“a tremendous amount of pressure from my community, from the third-world community at Yale. […]”

    In the years since, she has not followed the easy course. More than any current member of the Supreme Court, she worked her way up through the furnace levels of the American legal system. And when she reached a position of authority, she did not turn herself into an Al Sharpton in robes.

    She is quite liberal. But there’s little evidence that she is motivated by racialist thinking or an activist attitude.

    Tom Goldstein of Scotusblog conducted a much-cited study of the 96 race-related cases that have come before her. Like almost all judges, she has rejected a vast majority of the claims of racial discrimination that came to her. She dissented from her colleagues in only four of those cases. And in only one of them did she find racial discrimination where they did not. Even with what she calls her “Latina soul,” she saw almost every case pretty much as they did.

    When you read her opinions, race and gender are invisible. I’m obviously not qualified to judge the legal quality of her opinions. But when you read the documents merely as examples of persuasive writing, you find that they are almost entirely impersonal and deracinated.

    Then he makes a fascinating comparison … and it says a lot for Obama that he nominated her to join the supremes despite this disagreement – where he’s resoundingly right:

    It’s interesting to compare Sotomayor’s thinking with Barack Obama’s. On the grand matters of race in America, they are quite different. Sotomayor has given a series of speeches arguing that it is not possible or even desirable to transcend our racial or gender sympathies and prejudices. During the presidential campaign, Obama gave a speech in Philadelphia arguing for precisely that, calling on America to move beyond the old categories and arguments.

    Sotomayor sometimes draws a straight line between ethnicity, gender and behavior. Obama emphasizes our multiple identities and the complex blend of influences on an individual life.

  43. @wordnerd7 Sorry I did not expect a reply, I guess to my very short comment on the two novels. I realise the blog has moved on.
    Re DW I confess I have not read any of his work yet(defintiely on my list) but my position is simple. An author writes in language that gives him/her the satisfaction that the words have relayed exactly what they want the readers to get. In my novel there is a chapter where two characters speak in broad ‘Glaswegian’. It was right for that scene, it suited them, that’s how they would converse. DW may have not written in patois for reasons that only he could tell.As long as the author feels it is right, it must stand. James Kelman writes in colloquial Glasgwegian deliberately to give validity to a particular section, the voice of a marginalised(in his opinion) class of people. Anne Donovan has made a superb contribution with her book ‘Buddha Da’ in the vernacular. The English language is wonderful in that it absorbs words from all other languages. This morning the discussion on the fact that ‘Jaiho’ from India is the millionth word in the lexicon was discussed and argued about. Writers who are admired often write with passion and that’s what counts.

  44. @glascot, this strikes me as spot-on:

    === An author writes in language that gives him/her the satisfaction that the words have relayed exactly what they want the readers to get. In my novel there is a chapter where two characters speak in broad ‘Glaswegian’. It was right for that scene, it suited them, that’s how they would converse. ===

    You’ll be too busy with the launch of your book for me to twist your arm about returning soon — and often. .. or ask you whether it’s true that they deep-fry Mars bars in Glasgow (‘But have you seen this done with your own eyes?’ etc. : ) Thanks for an outstandingly thoughtful comment — and again, good luck! … I will read your book. . . and with any luck we’ll see you here again when you take breaks from writing your next novel.

  45. @wordnerd a quick reply – I have not actually seen the Mars bar deep fried in front of my eyes but heard from friends that it does happen and people do eat it. I am a veggie so don’t go often enough to the chippie, though my daughter loves a fish supper the food that she misses most from Uk when she is in USA.
    Please send your comments once you have read my book.It would mean a lot to me.
    re reviewing Classics, Penguin India has launched a ‘’ -interesting and whets the appetite to read the worthy classics.

    Your blog is so interesting that it has become a ‘must read.’ Thanks to Suzan for leading me to this blog.

  46. They’ll deep fry Mars Bars in the chippy around the corner from me in Clapham, and that’s got a signed photo of Paul McCartney (and many others) on the wall.

    When I’ve worked the Edinburgh festival, it’s common enough. I never partook; the deep-fried haggis called even louder.

    Also, Wordn, here’s a self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi that, I feel, can be added to your call for representations of female intelligence.

  47. Hello Wordy,

    Here’s something on Nigerian fiction which I find beguiling for its fascinating use of the English Language, managed in a form I’ve not heard elsewhere.

    It was Helen Oyeyemi, one of Britain’s youngest writers who first took me to this strange new world. She published Icarus which discussed a fictitious British family returning to visit their roots in Lagos. The title sold well in London.

    It was just the sing-song way English was spoken as character dialogue, that held the novel to its completely original format.

    Later, through a glorious relationship with Nigerian cinema, I began to understand as I mentioned in Marginalia.

    Of how many, especially in the countryside would value strict ownership of property involving animals, farmland, crops etc. Or even of family and goodwill ties.

    In this way, I always thought that Nigerian cinema
    was excellent for anyone cradling a low self-esteem. Even a chicken could sound like a gem from the hearty English words of its owner. Still, such a simple show of materialism and smug possesion of one’s own belongings, often created rivalry.

    A simple dialogue in English but commonplace:

    “I am butter tharn you because I am in my husbarnd’s house…But why are you roaming about here and there? Because your husbarnd chased you out, that is why. So I am butter than you.”
    “I AM listening. Can’t you see? My ears are open.”

    Far from fantasy, I saw a recent documentary which featured a slum dwelling outside Lagos. Many of the populace just got by. But their use of the English Language was beautiful to hear. They all spoke English eloquently even the children. The grammatical technique as shown through the Arts, was perfect and and on being interviewed, the residents rendered the same sing-song fashion that was a delight to hear.

    Never saying my hometown but instead:
    “I come from Igbo state.” Or “The Yaruba are her people.”
    And never saying like the rest of us “What’s happened?” or “It’s not the end of the world,” but often always speaking in times of tension “What’s happened now?” or “It’s not the end of the world now.”

    And even in modern-day city life, Nigerians would hardly if ever, mention their hometown but say instead, “I’m going to the village.” It’s always the village.

    Such a folklore approach to the use of English in Nigeria is apparent in the same rich way in the 21st century.

    I have just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s The Thing Around Your Neck. In this collection of short stories, she captures quite as vividly if not as deeply, the mannerisms and dialogue I sometimes see in film. I’m pleased too, that Oyeymi has a new novel out in White is for Witching. I can’t wait to get down to it. Adichi’s prose is refreshing although I think Oyeyemi makes it a point to be slightly more distinct and intricate, even with her fiction. The latter is more industrious in capturing the natural flow of her country’s language.

    I feel the English language colours the rich myriad of real intense emotion through and through and wears Nigerian culture like a skin amidst its tenses and nouns.


    By the way too Wordy, recently RTE – Ireland’s main channel featured a one-hour television documentary on Seamus Heaney to celebrate his birthday. One of the longer scenes included the poet’s conversations and time spent with Derek Walcott in New York. They are best friends.

  48. Delighted by your return, @glascot, … apologies for being so slow to reply … Very glad that you like this eccentric blog — which is of course made by its regular visitors, whom you can get to know better by clicking on their screen names, when they appear in blue.

    This should work better as a link for the terrific Penguin India blogging site. What a very clever idea someone had . . . I’m sending curious readers straight to your review, which I found most interesting …

    … not least because the description of Valluvar’s style you’ve quoted supports the idea that Tamil, like Latin, stands out for the exceptionally stringent logic and consistency of its grammar. . I once got a proud and charming Tamil chauvinist to admit that there were many Sanskrit loan words in her language – after she’d made it clear that she was proud of the language’s purity . . . Since she lives in Paris, I asked if the contemporary gatekeepers of the language (who would these be, I wonder?) were more or less xenophobic than the Académie Française. . . Being a model of good sense, she did not venture a guess.

    I enjoyed considering this point you made along with South Indian dominance of the ranks of computer geekery … :

    The first couplet of the Kural by Tiruvalluvar, translated by P.S. Sundaram is ingrained in the DNA of most Tamil children:

    “A begins the alphabet

    And God, primordial, the world.”

    And of course this is absolutely true … even if it seems as if it was his grandfather tongue that made Walcott:

    The cadences, inflections and richness of the mother tongue become part of our heritage, of who we are.

    … On a more serious note … … No words could convey how disappointed I am in you and @exitbarnadine for being close enough to have sampled an enhanced Mars bar, yet depriving this blog of a chance to scoop the Blogosphere with the first account of the experience I would certainly have read. . . ahem … @exitb: does your chip shop deep-fry terrine de porc au lard? Seems to fit with haggis as another victim.

  49. @Suzan, … lovely stuff, this has been a treat to read and consider:

    “I am butter tharn you because I am in my husbarnd’s house…But why are you roaming about here and there? Because your husbarnd chased you out, that is why. So I am butter than you.”
    “I AM listening. Can’t you see? My ears are open.”

    … I haven’t forgotten you teaching us ‘idi-yacht‘, a variation I now silently pronounce to myself about deserving candidates, sometimes.

    … If you are tempted by the idea of a second career, consider Linguistic Anthropology. You have all the right instincts for it – and the requisite xenophilia, … and immunity from all the variations of traveller’s tummy. 🙂

    one-hour television documentary on Seamus Heaney to celebrate his birthday. One of the longer scenes included the poet’s conversations and time spent with Derek Walcott in New York.

    A very big sigh, as I read that … Would take a lot of trouble for me to get hold of it. Did you and @Des watch? … And did he, btw, tell you I’d asked for more of his friend Addy’s music?

  50. @exitbarnadine,

    B_R_A_V_O_! … how did you think of her?

    … A real discovery for me, thank you … Everyone else has come up empty-handed, so far. I even emailed an old friend I fell out of touch with years ago – an artist with a brilliant feminist scholar wife. He couldn’t think of anyone immediately but promised to keep trying.

  51. I saw Gentileschi’s Judith & Holfernes in Florence last year and it made quite an impression.

  52. Hazlitt

    Yes EB.It made a big impression on me,too.
    I have hidden my wife’s two-handed great sword and sleep with my bedroom door locked..

    Powerful unsettling picture.It has a clinically violent aspect to it out of kilter with the usual role of the female in western art.Gentileschi was raped by her tutor Tassi:

    ” During this tutelage, Tassi raped Artemisia. Another man, Cosimo Quorlis had helped Tassi with the rape. After the initial rape, Artemisia continued to have sexual relations with Tassi, with the expectation that they were going to be married. However, Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Artemisia after he heard the rumor that she was having an affair with another man. Quorlis had threatened that if he could not have her, he would publicly humiliate her. Orazio pressed charges against Tassi only after he learned that Artemisia and Tassi were not going to be married. Orazio also claimed that Tassi stole a painting of Judith from the Gentileschi household. The major issue of this trial was the fact that Tassi had deflowered Artemisia. If Artemisia had not been a virgin before Tassi raped her, the Gentileschis would not be able to press charges.

    In the ensuing 7-month trial, it was discovered that Tassi had planned to murder his wife, had enjoined in adultery with his sister-in-law and planned to steal some of Orazio’s paintings. During the trial Artemisia was given a gynecological examination and was tortured using a device made of thongs wrapped around the fingers and tightened by degrees — a particularly cruel torture to a painter. Both procedures were used to corroborate the truth of her allegation, the torture device used due to the belief that if a person can tell the same story under torture as without it, the story must be true. At the end of the trial Tassi was imprisoned for one year. The trial has subsequently influenced the feminist view of Artemisia Gentileschi during the late 20th century.” (Wicki)

  53. atf

    when i was doing hist art at uni we discussed the painting susanna and the elders and the lecturer was asking us where it was; i said it was at nottingham castle and he seemed sceptical and to think i was joking. but i was there again recently and saw it. i’m sure I did and checked the name on the plate. there are a lot of susanna’s about as it’s a popular theme with artists. i wonder if the attribution is an uncertain one.

  54. Wellkom Wardee, Wellkom, 🙂

    (as they would greet you traditionally in Lagos, never hello or hi but welcome.)

    A very big sigh, as I read that … Would take a lot of trouble for me to get hold of it. Did you and @Des watch? … And did he, btw, tell you I’d asked for more of his friend Addy’s music?

    Yes, Des and I did watch it. Des is keen on any telly documentary by the way, that features Irish poets.

    It’s such a pity because RTE was running the documentary or parts of it rather, on their website video but it’s gone now. If you come across it on the web, it should be an Irish production of an hour long documentary to celebrate Seamus Heaney’s birthday earlier this year.

    However as a consolation, I have found a link, this glorious interview on Walcott – have you seen it? –
    and on page 81 – hopefully, my link would get you straight into it, the interviewer asks the question:

    “When did you first become friends with Seamus Heaney?” And Walcott answers brilliantly.

    In the documentary Heaney appeared bashful on many occasions even after all these years, but he was thoroughly comfortable with Walcott. They meet often in New York. There’s a lot of banter that goes on between…they laugh a lot together, crack jokes and seem to understand each other perfectly well, like brothers.

    Des says he hasn’t any more except for Addy’s music. He did mention your email but of course, I don’t know the contents. He’s been off the web for a few days, should be back on soon.

    Alright then, Wardee… 🙂

  55. @exitbarnadine,

    that must have been quite a trip to Florence … though perhaps there have been several. Has triggered more than one illuminating train of thought, I’ve noticed.

    … Do you mind if I ask you one more question about your chip shop …. what does a deep-fried Mars bar look like and how long does it take to sleep it off?

    … Now if you’ll please excuse me,

    John has a long moustache.

    John has a long moustache.

    … Sorry @eb, that isn’t meant for you but might just help us with these delicate culinary enquiries. Can’t explain … no, not mad … not any more than usual, anyway …

  56. Er, … thank you, @Hazlitt, I suppose [shivers] … educative in the highest degree, …hmm, … but what a perfectly horrible story. . . fascinating, alright.

    === It has a clinically violent aspect to it out ===

    Yes, but does it seem anatomically correct, to you? Am I being a nitpicker in wondering whether Judith’s left shoulder is at entirely the wrong angle?

    Also, in this very good reproduction …the scene has been reversed from l to r when compared with this version … in the wiki entry explaining the narrative in the painting:

    Does anyone know which way round the actual painting has it?

  57. @atf, … interesting, … but why do you doubt the attribution? A woman brutalised as a girl becomes obsessed with brutal themes and stories. Not all that uncommon, wouldn’t you agree? … Catharsis and all that …

    Eg., wasn’t Alice Seybold — The Lovely Bones — raped?

    And then there’s this perfectly accurate comment on someone’s blog:

    === The story of Kathryn Harris’ incest gets sold one time as a novel, another time as a memoir. ===

  58. Wellkom yourself, @Suzan! : )… how do you say that in Nigerian, btw? Sohzhee … ?

    === Des is keen on any telly documentary by the way, that features Irish poets. ===

    You do mean our @Des, do you? … Surely not!? … honestly, I had no idea …

    THANK YOU for that link to the interview … just the kind of thing I’ve missed being able to read about Walcott, and what a very different character emerges … compared to the prejudicial, two-dimensional blur we’ve had from William Logan and the fanatical Padelians. You see in that q&a precisely how big a buffoon Logan was to pronounce,

    === no, I fear the poet is all too much the man. Walcott has been taken up by academics with no ear for his verse but devout sympathy for his themes ===

    … funny how everyone denigrating Walcott’s talents as a poet hardly seems to merit any such (self-affixed) label himself — for instance, the über Heaney-hater in the place where most of us comrades met. ‘Here kitty, … here jealous puss, …’ I find myself wanting to call out.

  59. atf

    i should have put the painting ‘Suzanna and the Elders’ which is the one I saw in nottingham gallery; when i saw it first i thought it was attributed to Gentileschi but I think the name is in gold lettering and probably there was an ‘after’ in there I didn’t notice at the time. it was a popular theme with artists and like the Judith has a story with strong feminist interest, but not involving the artist but probably a good reason for her choosing the subject.

  60. @Wordy
    You do mean our @Des, do you? … Surely not!? … honestly, I had no idea …

    Hi Wordy & warmest regards too, atf

    Indeed, yes I do. When I first met him in that Ovid Yeats era, Des was a closed-up person. Often distrustful, terribly moody…very introverted.

    I am worldy by comparison.

    I guess he has struck a better balance now between the real world and his art, although he remains faithfully dedicated to the craft of mastering poetry and too, the subject of ancient Irish bards.

    On the books blog in 2007, as OY, he said he hadn’t watched television for 6 years. That was true. Now, he does but is very selective.

    Mostly, world news channels BBC, Al-Jazeera, France 24 and Des loves documentaries on Ireland’s rural heartlands & poets and also David Attenborough, National Geographic etc.

    But not at all dramas or Hollywood films, not soap operas, he considers the lot shite.

    He likes Obama and enjoys his historic speeches, the latest one being on the Middle-East in Cairo.

    Wordy, if I come across anything that shows up more of Heaney & Walcott’s friendship in a clearer light, I’ll let you know first thing. So pleased you liked the interview and judging from Walcott’s matter-of-fact comments, he appears to have a clear picture of the way cynicism sometimes dogs his vocation but he also seems to have triumphed over his adversities by facing facts well.

    Your blog rocks Wordy baby. 🙂

  61. No worries, @atf, I think I did understand you the first time. . . Both pictures support the idea of Gentileschi working through what Tassi did to her, even though Susanna is a victim and Judith a warrior-avenger in disguise.

    I suppose that paintings of the drama have had to be called Susanna and the Elders to be allowed into galleries over the centuries. Susanna and the Lying Old Lechers would be more accurate.

    Artimesia’s posing of her Susanna is so unflattering – can any being of either sex, however attractive – look good in a quasi-crouch? But that must be the point – the body language must convey humiliation. … At first I thought that no man-painter would have put her in such a position, because his wish to depict beauty would override dramatic accuracy. That’s true of this version by Allori … but not this one, by Guercino … none of them (I’m including AG) painters I’d ever heard of, so I’m indebted to @exit-b and @Hazlitt, as I believe I’ve already said.

  62. === Des was a closed-up person. Often distrustful, terribly moody…very introverted.

    I am worldy by comparison. ===

    You may be worldy but you seemed such a fragile tiny flower before @Des toughened you up, @Suzan, that I used to hold my breath, noticing that you’d posted a new comment. That hasn’t been true since a mere few weeks after you found yourself living in Dublin. . But what you say about him also rings true … Fascinating to see how we’ve all evolved in such a short time – but none of us as much as you two have.

    === and Des loves documentaries on Ireland’s rural heartlands & poets ===

    Well, see, that’s the bit I don’t understand. Suggests he might like poetry. What brought that on? … 🙂

    About Walcott,

    === he appears to have a clear picture of the way cynicism sometimes dogs his vocation but he also seems to have triumphed over his adversities by facing facts well. ===

    Yes, the interview shows that he has a lot to teach people of any age – isn’t the mumbling gnome you’d expect from some remarks that have been quoted.

    === Your blog rocks Wordy baby. ===

    That’s really generous, @Suzan, … – but as I told @glascot and you know perfectly well – it’s them as come here who are responsible. … Could you please make that Wardee, though, if you ever say anything so kind again? … Of all the names I’ve been given on these blogs, I think I like my Nigerian one best.

    … Since @Des has gone missing, .. why aren’t there any more recordings of Addy singing? Does no one else admire his voice as much as I do?

  63. atf

    the nude is fairly central to the western tradition yet the male guilt seems to show itself in always having to have an excuse for it in depicting mythical figures. female artists generally aren’t so inclined to do it but more interested it seems to me in representing the relationship between mother and daughter. it was Manet who liberated the nude it seems from the mythical and painted them as real as in Le Dejeneur Sur L’herbe and other impressionists followed quickly in his path. in l’dejeneur the women is naked with two clothed men and that caused uproar, particularly the provocative look of the woman looking out at the spectator. the composition for it was taken from a pediment of a Roman public building of about 100 ad, which I think is still preserved in an engraving. it’s difficult to be sure how much ‘feminist’ feeling there is in paintings and how much is owed to the period. the baroque went in for much more dramatic poses in the human body and the way figures are lit.

  64. @atf,

    … the painting you mentioned — a puzzle full of wonders — for anyone else whose memory needs refreshing:

    The utterly extraordinary John Berger says that the first nudes in western art were painted in depictions of Adam and Eve and the Fall. He is _funny_ on this subject:

    The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of women. The moralising, however, was mostly hypocritical.

    You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.

    The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.

    … I do dearly wish that we could drop that word ‘feminism’ — since the mention of any ‘-ism’ makes my skin creep. It tends to cut off all objective thought and makes people argue reflexively. . . produces a dialogue of the deaf.

    This is _not_ something I’d accuse you of, since I’ve noticed you arguing both for and against what would be standard ‘feminist’ arguments or objections. You are full of surprises, @atf.

  65. Hi Wardee 🙂

    Sorry about Des. Sometimes, he becomes very moody. He hasn’t been his usual rollicking self at all, as he’s had to deal with a certain situation. Everything is alright but it’s left him a little tensed. He’s hardly been on the web in his normal usual way.
    He’ll be alright after awhile.
    He said that there’s only one recording of Addy’s music. He had recorded it himself and he did just the one.
    Feel free to drop him mail. You know, Des. He will just turn up as and when. I will remind him for you.

    You may be worldy but you seemed such a fragile tiny flower before @Des toughened you up, @Suzan, that I used to hold my breath, noticing that you’d posted a new comment.

    Oh dear…oh dear…was it that bad. I do apologise sincerely for any past mishaps.

    At the time in 2007, it wasn’t a very good year. I had left London and gone back to Malaysia to sort out a crisis. It took me several months to triumph over this. I enjoyed the escapism on the books blog.
    As soon as I could, it was my intention to return to London directly but at the time, OY was censored and all that, and Des wanted to see me so I went to Dublin first instead of London. By then, I was already out of the woods and could look forward to good things.
    Des helped reduce my vulnerability over certain issues – I was in the right frame of mind for this & your friendship and so too, others like atfhas helped heaps.

    It’s always a joy to meet with you on the web, Wardee! 🙂

  66. For anyone in need of a giggle, see the last set in Google’s batty list of search terms that ferried people here today … was that Sam or Eloise, I wonder? 🙂 (Who else could possibly have wanted to know?) ……………. It fits, appearances being partially the subject of this thread, thanks to @ISA and Doris Lessing … heh … :

    cleopatra face
    test vote themes
    “farah damji”
    cleopatra biography
    “sam jordison” handsome

  67. … tell him that Wardee is missing him, @Suzan … yes, I’d guessed about 2007 and we’re all partially using the blogosphere for similar reasons, to different degrees. . . Before this ethereal getaway zone, there were only books, films and gardening for me — not counting embodied people, of course.

  68. I’ll tell Des for sure but he will read this at some point definitely.
    You know, I do feel strange calling you, Wardee don’t you, Wadi Rum… 🙂

  69. With something like Dejeuner sur L’Herbe and Olympia too we can look at the tradition and classical influences but I’d also say that photography with its ability to capture a more direct less idealised reality played its part in Manet’s decision to paint a more up-front, strident nude.

    He was a keen photographer so I wonder if the fact that he couldn’t always control his model’s expressions ( as you can’t in photography where 1 image in 20 is maybe useable ) pushed him towards a less classical approach. I wouldn’t be surprised if photographic pornography had an effect as well.

    Photography had plenty of things for an intelligent painter to learn as Degas’ work shows – only the stupid ones saw it as a threat.

  70. But I don’t find it strange, not in the least, @Suzan …


    === He was a keen photographer so I wonder if the fact that he couldn’t always control his model’s expressions ( as you can’t in photography where 1 image in 20 is maybe useable ) pushed him towards a less classical approach. ===

    I like your suggestion, which is most unexpected, but I’d have thought it would be easier to get someone to hold an expression for the duration of a click than for the hours — months, in some cases, a painter would have to coax a model into making the same face. . . Isn’t it only because professional or art photographers were so wasteful in their use of film — the nonstop clickclickclick in Blowup was the first time I saw that — and now, ‘free’ digital memory …. that we think that the usability average is (intrinsically) just one in 20?

    … But the biggest problem I have with other interpretations of DslH is that the nude doesn’t look at all bold and provocative to me. She looks perfectly at ease and on the same level as the painter — not like a long-suffering, patient odalisque enduring his fantasy. . . And the men look respectful, as if they find _her_ decision to wear no clothes perfectly natural. . . It would take too long for them to take off all theirs and put them back on again, … because this is just a lunch break, and they’re due back in the office. . . The photographer from the Sun meant to be finding something for the front page story on the heat wave is running a little late , but he’ll get there, soon enough …

    As you can see, I know nothing about the painting or its narrative — if it has one.

  71. WN your interpretation is as good as mine. I think it’s among, if not one of the first eruptions of a sort of disrespect towards classical tradition anda desire to depict contemporary life rather than something from history.

    Photography in Manet’s day involved them having to sit still for 10 minutes – I imagine there are endless plates of sitters grimacing/wincing/frowning in displeasure or attempting a battle of the wills with the photographer. I find DslH a bit like the latter – she’s not cowed by the artist’s will.

    My feeling is that photography fixed facial expressions in a more objective way than those who drew or painted them and so offered some new possibilities for what the artistic model could be or mean. I think in painting ( and photography ) it pretty quickly went back to woman as sex object/muse but there are exceptions to this

  72. Hi Wordy.

    Unfortunately i don’t have any more recordings of him, but you can see some videos here Naked Lunch myspace.

    He is on two videos, one 51 seconds with Mike Willow, which has dire sound quality, and a snippet on the other video on the left side of the page, from 21 March 2007 – a montage of performances from the night.

    I have been out of circulation as i got sick of myself, and have took it to America now, posturing for a to-do with Logan.

    I am catching up on some reading and think i have reached that point when all the reading has been outed, clarified, and the basic Poetic, premise of philosophy in some sort of structured shape, basically after teasing out a theory which posits the Minoan poetic of pre-Iron Age Greece is the 50/50 geneutral unimprovable original.


  73. Ah, so we’re not so far apart in thinking on this, after all.

    === one of the first eruptions of a sort of disrespect towards classical tradition ===

    That I do see with no trouble.

    === I imagine there are endless plates of sitters grimacing/wincing/frowning in displeasure ===

    Wouldn’t it be great to have what ended up on the cutting-room floor.

    === or attempting a battle of the wills with the photographer. I find DslH a bit like the latter – she’s not cowed by the artist’s will.===

    Yes, but wasn’t it about the time of the Impressionists that artists stopped being financed by patrons (why?????) and began to use their own wives as models? Then the painter’s side of the argument must have changed from, ‘But surely you would not want to displease le Duc d’___ , chérie,’ to ‘Well, do you want that house on the Avenue Foch or don’t you, chou-chou’ … opening the way to …

    === …. in painting ( and photography ) it pretty quickly went back to woman as sex object/muse ===

    … though as a Playboy centrefold, she was finally paid well for her trouble – or so I’d imagine. .. Rates have probably gone down again, with all those freebie porn videos apparently whizzing about on the net – the daughters of millionaires, like Paris Hilton, ‘acting’ in them for nothing.

    … Wellkom back, @Dessie! … will look in my next break and answer after that.

  74. Hazlitt

    E Manet was and remains one of my favourite artists..I was surprised to see he wasn’t included in the Times Top 100 Artists List,selected by the readership,which I recently came across.
    Manet was anti convention and a moderniser who reacted to the decadent treatment of the female nude so well described by J Berger.Male lust and voyeurism carefully packaged as classical myths etc with all those tasty Sapphos,Venuses,Dianas and various nymphs etc,etc.plastered over the Paris salon walls.
    Whereas there isn’t anything inherently wrong with accepting our sexuality in art…..dressed(sic) in prudery it stinks.
    Dejeuner was taken from an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi,which was derived from a lost painting by Raphael,of the Judgement of Paris.
    The nude in Dejeuner is Victorine Meurand one of M’s favourite models,who also appears in Olympia.
    I expect that Manet must have been more or less influenced by photography,but not so obviously as Degas.
    Most early nude photography followed the conventions and heritage of traditional painting.
    Wasn’t photography a rather clumsy affair in those early days and not really conducive to multiple snaps?
    Technically,Manet reacted to the prevalent “brown-soup” school of painting,with his use of brushwork,spontaniety and elimination of half tones….dragging painting back to the canvas surface,and away from a photographic finish.

  75. Hazlitt I agree that early photography followed the tradition but that it also allowed for the unprepared to happen and, as it were surprise the photographer who may have aimed for a classical pose but in getting there, if he was alert , would have noticed the accidental both in framing and body positions.

    You see it in Degas where early horse-racing paintings depict the horses running in positions they imagined were true but which in fact anatomically impossible. Degas rectified this error post Muybridge so his later work has horses in the positions they could actually manage.

    I think Manet would have picked up unguarded expressions on photographic plates to help emhasise his more earthy approach.

  76. … just noticed that the link dear @Des put up for us is called Naked Lunch … : ) …. perfect for the discussion naughty @atf started …


    Wasn’t photography a rather clumsy affair in those early days and not really conducive to multiple snaps? ===

    Yes, I see that you’re agreeing with @Alarming about that — and of course I’d trust your opinions on that over mine. We all have group family portraits from the era in which the rigours of being photographic subjects have made all the ancestors look as stiff as stuffed owls. . . though I can do that even now, with no trouble, with a camera pointed my way.

    Fascinating about the story behind the painting. . . I agree about the wonderfulness of Manet, but he was mad if he thought anyone — or certainly a 21st-century nerd — would be able to make all the connections you’ve pointed out. … I don’t know why the men look like highly intelligent Orthodox Jews from Hatton Garden, to me …

  77. @Alarming,

    I just noticed your comment before my last one … sorry, I was trying to read and post with a plumber buzzing in and out here, asking questions …

    === I think Manet would have picked up unguarded expressions on photographic plates to help emhasise his more earthy approach. ===

    Really interesting, that. Seems reasonable, to me, but couldn’t a painter do something of the kind from memory, rather than an expression on the face of an actual sitter — in real time, as we say, now? . .. Hmm, plates not film … … of course … had forgotten … thank you for the reminder …

  78. Hazlitt

    I take your point Alarming.Photography does influence no doubt of it,but don’t forget the modernising zeitgeist of the time especially in French literature.Emile Zola,who’s naturalism was admired by Manet was a good friend.He even painted his portrait.I love those Muybridge photo’s,but always found it amazing that artists never really “looked” at how horses gallop.
    Wordnerd7: The male figures included Manet’s son Leon and another relation(brother in law?)
    We are all mad to a degree…ping…..I’m back¨!!…..I don’t think any painting should be entirely unambiguous do you?
    I have heard rumours that you live in the wild and shoot rabbits and dress in Muskrat skins!!!
    Apparently your only concession to modern life is the Internet?Would you like to sit for a portrait?

  79. Hazlitt

    “The two men are Manet’s brother Eugene Manet and his future brother in law, Ferdinand Leenhoff. ….”..(Wicki.)

    Apologies.I don’t think Leon was even born when Dejeuner was painted.

  80. @Des, eyes can’t cope with purple-on-black home page for the videos, at present, sorry … will try again later. . . Can’t for the life of me understand why Addy isn’t better known. @Sean Murray might be able to explain, but he’s gone missing, the wretch. . . forgivable only if he’s hard at work on his next book.

    … I see, you’ve been busy licking Logan’s doorknobs. Just make sure no one sees you, please.

  81. @Hazlitt,

    We are all mad to a degree…ping…..I’m back¨!!

    Wonderful! … but shouldn’t we be allowed to speak for ourselves? … [ahem].

    …..I don’t think any painting should be entirely unambiguous do you?

    I agree, and try to introduce the same touch of mystery into my comments here.

    Please don’t say things like this to @Alarming, Hazzy, you’ll only drive him away if you give away secrets you learn through your common art world connections:

    I have heard rumours that you live in the wild and shoot rabbits and dress in Muskrat skins!!!

    It’s mice that are being shot where he lives, I believe that others are doing the dirty work, and he hasn’t said anything about showing off in mouse fur — yet.

    Apparently your only concession to modern life is the Internet?Would you like to sit for a portrait?

    If he does that, how will he ever have time to come here and talk to us?

    … Which work by Degas shows how photography influenced his paintings? . . . I hope you realise that you and @Alarming and @exitbarnadine could charge for all you’ve been teaching some of us dumbkopfs.

  82. anytimefrances

    exposures in photography were long at that time, relatively…some of the early pics have street scenes in which the streets appear empty but were full of traffic, pedestrian and carriage. only things staying still would appear which is why you sometimes see a shoe polisher in a street but no one else.

    the dageurotypes nearly all have very solemn and seriour faces because its difficult to hold a laugh or a smile for long enough. the picture in the bar shows just the legs i think of an acrobat swing through the air which is an idea about reality taken from photography. there’s a female figure in the background of D leaning over and lifting her skirts i think in a stream which is ‘taken’ from a Raphael and other painting are alluded to. i think it’s message is a sea change in consciousness a due a lot to the wealth created when old Paris was mostly demolished and the wide boulevards built, there was a fad for the countryside around paris at weekends; being the newly rich they wanted self display and the picture shows this new Parisian consciousness; it may have been hot on the day and the nudity probably reflects a new sense of sexual freedom; the Olympia shows this too, the commodification of sex. Zola is very central to the new consciousness as is Baudelaire.

  83. WN I think the “Fixing” of images be it drawing,m painting or photo gives them a significance that they just don’t have in the memory. Possibly a reason why people go to the trouble of painting.

    I picked up on this because I think it’s important to also note that around this period the classical influence starts to fade and artists become influenced by popular art forms as prints, caricatures, Japanese woodcuts. If we concentrate too much on classical influences we lose the context in which this work was created and it becomes too much like “high” art which certainly wasn’t the case in this period. It has since become high art but I don’t think it was created in rareified ivory towers.

    re: Degas if you look at his ballet paintings – the cropped compositions with half a figure or just the legs show the influence of photography – mixed in with the triptych compositions of Japanese prints which tip the ground dramatically upwards or turn a potentially clumsy perspective into something daring and exciting.

  84. @atf,

    === which is why you sometimes see a shoe polisher in a street but no one else. ===

    Lovely, thank you, I’ve never seen all that explained so clearly — and this particular example is really funny.

    Thank you also for taking us off on that most enjoyable DslH tangent, with generous help from @Alarming and @Hazlitt.

    … Speculating about the motives of painters of nudes over the centuries, this thread seems to have lost sight of the possibility that some of the artists really were in love with their models — whatever that means precisely. . . I was reminded this of this when a ten year-old copy of The New Yorker (from Tina Brown’s era, oddly enough) fell out of a bookshelf at the weekend. This was in it and called a poem — rightly, I think, even though its words aren’t lined up in the usual way, to merit the label. It survives translation very well, I think, even without the music of its own language — because the thoughts in it are so vividly poetic.


    Tomber amoureux. To fall in love. Does it occur suddenly or gradually? If gradually, when is the moment ‘already’? I would fall in love with a monkey made of rags. With a plywood squirrel. With a botanical atlas. With an oriole. With a ferret. With a marten in a picture. With the forest one sees to the right when riding in a cart to Jaszuny. With a poem by a little-known poet. With human beings whose names still move me. And always the object of love was enveloped in erotic fantasy or was submitted, as in Stendahl, to a ‘cristallisation,’ so it is frightful to think of that object as it was, naked among the naked things, and of the fairy tales about it one invents. Yes, I was often in love with something or someone. Yet falling in love is not the same as being able to love. That is something different.

    Czeslaw Milosz

    (trans., from the Polish, by the author and Robert Haas.)

  85. Have only just seen this, @Alarming … yes I understand what you cognoscenti mean about Degas, now.

    === I think the “Fixing” of images be it drawing,m painting or photo gives them a significance that they just don’t have in the memory. ===

    But haven’t you got images of expressions on people’s faces frozen in memory, … eidetic, as if you were re-living the scene … the smallest details, down to the way the light struck their features? (Just being as difficult as possible … 🙂

  86. WN yes I have but it doesn’t mean that I’m blind to new possibilities or having those mental images jiggled around by another technique.

    I’ve recently “discovered” the i-phone camera and have spent much time snapping faces and places in extremely low-light. The results aren’t spectacular but they are interesting in view of how little you need to have in order to get a likeness ( in terms of shape and marks ). Which feeds back as to how to approach a drawing.

    I’m not sure I’m ever trying to make something based exactly on a mental image. For me putting it on paper or in performance is the important bit. So the methods transform the initial idea. If idea is strong and the method is well chosen and carried out then the idea comes to life.

  87. @Wordn

    Florence had a huge effect on me, yes. There’s a malady known as ‘Florence fever’ (or somesuch), where the first time visitor is overcome by the sheer abundance of beauty and history. I think I came near to succumbing on the first day. Carefully-schemed plans for a full day were abandoned by mid-afternoon in favour of a lie-down at the campsite.

    I was aware of the Gentileschi court case and, whilst the conclusions one must draw regarding the effect this had on her work are clear, perhaps it’s a shame that once again a woman artist’s work is studied and defined largely in terms of her relationship to men. Coincidentally, I saw a novel about her life at the weekend. Anyone know if it’s any good?

    Susanna and the Elders is a particularly creepy excuse for painting an alluring nude (there’s a great one in the National Gallery!). At least Franz Von Stuck makes her appalled exposure (and she seems to draw the viewer into the elders’ voyeurism also) the focus of the moment.

  88. @Alarming,

    === If idea is strong and the method is well chosen and carried out then the idea comes to life.===

    Agree — that’s what matters most.

    @exitbarnadine, … yes, I know about the Florence fever… and accounts of the crowds have always put me off, so it’s the only great Italian city I haven’t visited. … Some things are better experienced second-hand — by me, anyway — and I do hugely enjoy learning about what you’ve gleaned from going there.

  89. ‘the crowds’

    We visited in in late September, so the crowds had thinned out. More importantly, they seemed never to venture outside a very tight zone around the western side of the Piazza del Duomo and between Palazzo Vecchio and the river. Everywhere else was empty; Santa Chiara, Santa Maria Novella, Palazzo Pitti, the Duomo Museum (on the far side of the piazza – full of Donatellos, Michelangelo’s Pieta etc. No one seemed to have found it or be bothered to walk that far from the tour guides).

  90. @exitbarnadine,

    When I do go, perhaps I’ll let you and your lady design my visit, in exchange for a list of favours as long as you like. As long as you leave out that tent bit. Camping in Florence … ha!

  91. @exitbarnadine, @atf, @Hazlitt and @Alarming,

    I thought this an interesting life to compare with Artimesia’s … has anyone seen the film? … Will be keen to see if this critic, A.O.Scott, is right about the sentence I’ve highlighted.

    The Vision of an Uncanny Painter

    Making a film about the life of an artist is a risky proposition. The paint box arrives full of clichés and unexamined assumptions about the creative temperament, and these grow more assertive if mental illness is part of the biographical material. You are likely to end up with a lot of huffing and puffing and mystification, rather than any real insight into the mysteries of the work.

    There are exceptions. Maurice Pialat’s “Van Gogh” (1991), one of a slew of movies about that unhappy genius, is one, and “Séraphine,” Martin Provost’s new film, winner of seven Césars, including best film, is another. Maybe French movies about painters with a special gift for rendering flowers are exempt from the usual banal biopic logic. Not that “Séraphine” escapes entirely from the genre’s default settings. Still, its energies are devoted, for the most part, not to dissecting childhood traumas or recirculating stale cultural gossip, but rather to examining the alchemy by which perception is transformed into vision.

  92. I find the “accurate” biogs about artists as flawed as the Hollywood melodramas which at least have absurd scenes in them to compensate for the cliche. There’s one about the Strauss’s in Vienna where they wave to fellow composers in the cafe – “Hello Ludwig”. As per usual I can’t remember the title.

    The problem is, I think that the artistic process is pretty uncinematic. Rather like films about computers which involve a lot of tapping at the keyboard – a bit limited. No car chases – although the Pollock one with Ed Harris may feature one as he died in a car accident.

    The best films about perception I think are the Quay Brother’s short animations where depth of focus, rapid camera movements and shifting light patterns replicate the act of looking and are the subject of the films. They are opaque to the point of obscurity but very beautiful.

  93. === which at least have absurd scenes in them to compensate for the cliche. There’s one about the Strauss’s in Vienna where they wave to fellow composers in the cafe – “Hello Ludwig”. ===

    But what’s wrong with that, @Alarming? … It’s not as if it were, ‘Yo Ludo, how ya doin’ bro!’ — with a high five — which, from what you’ve been saying about local taste, would go down far better in Vienna. . . And nearly all proper historical docu-dramas are actually scrupulous reflections of contemporary taste, aren’t they?

    === I think that the artistic process is pretty uncinematic. ===

    Yes, but the reviewer is usually pretty sharp, and he knows that — so if he claims that the film surmounts the obstacles … I imagine I’ll end up seeing this one, even though it will probably be depressing.

    The list of films you’ve seen that I know I never will makes me sigh deeply, sometimes … The first time I ‘spoke’ to you, it was to ask about some (I think) Czech films you mentioned. I carefully saved your reply and meant to ask for the titles you recommended at my library, which specialises in cinema …. rare films, books on the subject… (they believe in specialised branches in the local network — my nearest one in another phase of my life concentrated on horses). Now the Quay Bros are on my never-never list …

  94. The Quay Brothers are a VERY aquired taste. The 2 feature films mix intense beauty with extreme wilfull pretention ( Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is an impossible title to defend ) but the short films – often a camera flitting over a dusty scene with the lens being refocussed constantly to show distance and foreground, set to a Czech composer’s dissonant orchestral score – are beautiful. Very much about the science of looking but done in an entirely artistic fashion and often linked to mittelEuropa books and themes.

    They made a version of Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles which, for once, was a perfect example of a good adaptation.

  95. It’s Ken Russell who is impossible to defend, @Alarming. . . after I’d posted about Seraphine, it occurred to me that I’d give almost any biopic a chance, unless it was directed by him.

  96. I promised to return here to exchange for a hugely enjoyable – and as far as I can tell – accurate, lesson about daguerreotype photography, …. this contrast … one last quotation from Julian Barnes’ irresistible A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters …. (see the next blog entry after this, The rafts of the unwelcoming print journos).

    As I read the excerpt that follows, I thought of @atf’s description of nothing left on the street but the shoeshine boy, as the image develops and everything that was moving in the scene vanishes … Wonder if anyone has ever thought of using it in a title sequence for a film. . . Could easily be like the greatest ones I can remember … for The Sting, My Fair Lady, The Pink Panther …

    A photograph develops in a tray of liquid. Previously it’s been just a blank sheet of printing paper shut up in a lightproof envelope; now it has a function, an image, a certainty. We slide the photo quickly into the tray of fixer to secure that clear, vulnerable moment, to make the image harder, unchippable, solid for at least a few years. But what if you plunge it into the fixer and the chemical doesn’t work? This progress, this amorphous motion you feel, might refuse to stabilise. Have you seen a picture go on relentlessly developing until its whole surface is black, its celebratory moment obliterated?

    … yes I have … celebratory indeed … in spite of the fearful stink … And brilly Barnes is using that to make a point about the fear of love ending …

  97. Hazlitt

    [ … Hello Hazzy, _thank you_, a most welcome comment — the best sort of bizarre that you were posting (in the wrong place 😉 )… even as I was typing on the same subject — wordnerd7/ acciaccature … have added links for the paintings ]

    Submitted on 2009/06/23 at 10:41am

    Atf,Alarming,Exit B,Wordnerd7,all…………..
    I was looking into Alarming’s point about how dependent Manet was on photography and came across his Girl Serving Beer,of which there are apparently two versions,one in the d’Orsay,the other in the National Gallery London.”It is not known which painting is the earlier….the London version is itself,the right side of a larger picture which Manet cut in two(the left side is in O.Reinhart collection,Switzerland).A comparison between the two works suggests that Manet has,to use a photographic term,”zoomed in on the original shot,” stripping extraneous detail for a more revealing close up.”
    The writer(Linda Bolton) points out that Manet’s Girl Serving Beer,prefigures the frontal gaze of the waitress in the Bar at the Folies-Bergére,a personal favourite of mine.As atf points out,the dangling feet in the top left hand corner is a typical photographic feature.The Bar is in the Courtauld Institute,Somerset House,off the Strand.I have often gone in there just to see the Bar.
    The trick is ,Exit B,in order to avoid oil paint indigestion,is to walk through the gallery as if you are late for a train,until you arrive at the chosen painting..:)The waitress has been described as melancholic.She’s probably looking at us..:)

  98. @atf and … @Hazlitt, in case you ….ping! back here soon,

    I’ve put links into Hz’s last post to make it easier for others to understand these most interesting points you’ve been making. . . especially the dangling legs.

    @atf, … not sure why you think the background woman in DslH is polluting the stream. . . which would be far more outre than someone merely soaking her ankles for relief for the heat wave I sense in the story, I mean I really do.
    : )


    === prefigures the frontal gaze of the waitress in the Bar at the Folies-Bergére,a personal favourite of mine.===

    …prefigures Ruth Padel with what you’ve now characterised for the ages as her ‘on yer bike! look’. . . and perhaps @Atf was thinking of the connection when she introduced DslH into the conversation.

    === The waitress has been described as melancholic. ===

    … on the basis of a moment in a single scene? . . . Which twit of a critic said that?

  99. anytimefrances

    @ wordy I don’t think i said that she was ‘polluting’ the stream, i’m pretty sure I didn’t because i havn’t thought that, but without looking back I think what I merely said was that she was ‘taken’ from a Raphael, and was standing in a stream lifting her skirts, only meaning that she was keeping them out of the water.

    The bar, and particularly the face and expression of the girl behind the bar, came in for a lot of laughs at the time from the clever ones in the press, there were many interpretations of the expression but I think the most likely one is, again, that she represents the commodification of sex. Unlike the reclining figure in the Olympia she is not complicit in any form of sexual trade and is dumbfounded at the idea that her prettiness makes her suitable for presentation to clients of the bar who are out for that service. I think Manet is revealing the sad plight of a young woman emerging into a world of consumer values, leaving behind all the moral ones of home and school. It seems to me she is clearly feels anxiety at being the ‘object’ of the male gaze.

  100. Terribly terribly sorry, @atf … scrambled head has been my problem for the last few hours …

    === I don’t think i said that she was ‘polluting’ the stream, i’m pretty sure I didn’t ===

    You should have been perfectly sure, because of course you didn’t say that at all.

    … Blame the effect of the mad and wonderful chapter in A History of …

  101. anytimefrances

    not to worry; just lie down for a bit!

  102. Hazlitt

    ” on the basis of a moment in a single scene? . . . Which twit of a critic said that?”

    Well Wordnerd7.I happen to agree with the “twit.” The waitress seems ill at ease in this Parisian nightclub where men went expecting “refreshment and love,” from the waitresses.I agree with others who have interpreted her as a symbol of alienation in a burgeoning,consumer society.Now come on Wordy you can’t look at that bloomingly innocent face and plaintive gaze and think,demimondaine, can you?Or even an assertive Ruth Padel?
    Of course,paintings generally contain multiple interpretations.I suggest we meet in front of the painting in two weeks,for a seminar..:)

  103. Dear oh dear, this must be Confucius Confuses day at acciaccature … after the virtual boxing matches I never asked to be held here in the first place!… Never mind, we have a soaring click count from people who must have heard cries of … fight! fight! …

    I think, @Hazlitt, that we are referring to different pictures. I meant that the Girl Serving Beer looks like your on-yer-bike Ruth Padel … and then separately, was referring to the poor Bar at the Folies girl being described as melancholic — just because Manet put her in a bad mood by making a pass at her when he’d promised he’d behave if she would only pose for him.

    Now you see, I’m obviously a raving philistine loon since I’m far more inclined to believe an explanation like that about most paintings and am both awed and baffled by you and @atf being able to state with such complete assurance what Manet’s ‘message’ was.

    Eg., @atf: === I think Manet is revealing the sad plight of a young woman emerging into a world of consumer values, leaving behind all the moral ones of home and school.===

    What if the girl had simply run away from a cruel punishing martinet of a father on a farm. . . ………………….? : )

    … So anyway, … yes please, to === Of course,paintings generally contain multiple interpretations.I suggest we meet in front of the painting in two weeks,for a seminar..:) ===

    … as soon as the Foundation for the Redemption of Hopeless Uncultured Nerds comes through with my airline ticket, and thank you, @Hazlitt, that’s a kind offer that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

  104. Hazlitt

    ” as soon as the Foundation for the Redemption of Hopeless Uncultured Nerds comes through with my airline ticket, and thank you, @Hazlitt, that’s a kind offer that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.”

    Mon cheri,it’s all arranged.The Queen’s Household Cavalry are polishing their breastplates as we blog, and will meet you at Heathrow.Sorry couldn’t arrange the fly past.The Red Arrows are already booked for my Dover Ferry arrival…:)

  105. [reeling]

    Don’t mind if we skip the cavalry and flypast, @Hazzy (as a cost-saving measure) as long as @atf helps you run this seminar and answers my witless questions in her paper specially written for the occasion titled, ‘Po-Mo: Is It All It’s Cracked Up to Be — and What Is That Exactly?’ … since she hasn’t (yet) replied about JB’s style on The rafts of the unwelcoming print journos thread … Can only blame my own hopelessness, but after her masterly evisceration of an attempt at an argument in the latest Marginalia bun fight, I expect great things of her.

  106. anytimefrances

    I’m trying to get this book finished, a history of Indian Literature in English. My year ticket to the university library ends in a few days and it’s leaped up from £15 to £25 so won’t be renewing as I only go there every couple of months but will miss the access to the sort of reading i admire. They must be very rich now, the university, as they bought up the duke of devonshire’s stables in Buxton, rather magnificent round building, a gem really, and recently took on the Derby Playhouse after it lay closed and defunct for ages, since the Arts Council stopped their grant. They say inflation is running at about 2% but it conceals the monstrous rises in prices we see every day so another source of decent books cut off – i’ll be back to Meave Binchy soon, the shelves are falling over with her at the local.

    I read a history of Indian poetry recently and it was very interesting. all I’d known about it before that was Tagore but the modern poets write about contemporary life and individual experience. This deals with both fiction and poetry and goes over works by Narayan and others; I read and like his The Painter of Signs and want to do a few more if I can get them now.

    Here’s what he says about modern vs traditional:

    “Genuine Indian poetry in English really began in the nineteen-fifties, and the reader of today who is strictly interested in poetry can ignore, except for historical purposes, earlier versifying. This is true of the English version of the Bengali poetry of Tagore admired by Yeats…[…]… and some 24,000 lines, is a vast onion of a poem of which the layers gradually pull away to reveal nothing.”

    Here’s a little of Ezekiel who is the acknowledged founder of modern verse of India in Eng, a little to Indians as Pushkin is the Russians,

    You breathe the bitter air of loneliness,
    Pretending that it does not matter when
    You close the door and switch the wireless on,

    Your sad and thoughtful love I heard
    Above the tumult of despair.
    You bent your head, I touched your hair,
    The sign was timed without a word. . (‘Love Poem’)

  107. anytimefrances

    This is a fascinating piece of ‘minimalist’ poetry, not something I took much notice of til I came across it because it always seems to be tainted with a meanness to the reader but here it makes perfect sense, and the argument I think is clinched that it is absurd to say that one needs to write in the ‘mother’ tongue to write well,

    “…has to create the space in the poem and Kolatkar does this by blending tech-niques of dispersal, widening the scope of reference by contrast and analogy, and concentration, by foreshortening and telescoping. For example in ‘The boatride’ space is dispersed across the sea by the contrast between a pair of knees streaking down the mast and the clarity of the air or between the wave of a boy’s hand and the bulk of the sea; again the melancholy of farewell and loneliness is concen-trated in the boy’s unanswered wave to a sailor, the relations between humankind and the sea telescopes into the two sisters looking past the boatman’s profile

    the wrinkles
    of his saline

    and the finality, the absolute conclusiveness of the voyage’s and man’s end by what faces the boat as it sidles up to land,

    and expanse of
    unswerving stone
    encrusted coarsely
    with shells
    admonishes our sight”

  108. anytimefrances

    (sorry, I left out a couple of lines in the above)

    “sisters looking past the boatman’s profile”,

    the wrinkles
    of his saline

    and loose ends
    of the sea

  109. === This is true of the English version of the Bengali poetry of Tagore admired by Yeats…===

    Weirdly appropriate, @atf. India is intensely tribal — a collection of regional cultures. Bengali verbosity and literature are viewed by the other sub-cultures much as the English do the Irish way with (spoken) words and literature.

    === a vast onion of a poem of which the layers gradually pull away to reveal nothing ===

    Yes, much like the English view of Joyce — much ado about too little.

    I looked up the writer of your book — A. K. Mehrotra. Does he say he can read Tagore in the original? … I would doubt it, since I think his name is Punjabi.

  110. Forgot to say how sad it was to read about the subscription to your uni library going up so steeply in a single increase.

    I feel about libraries the same way as Ray Bradbury does — even though, unlike him, I also obviously love this net.

    Here he is at 88, fighting to save the temples of bookworms — and chasing Bo Derek:

  111. anytimefrances

    “I looked up the writer of your book — A. K. Mehrotra”

    What a coincidence…I’d just finished the piece on Mehrotra before looking at your post. This book isn’t by him though, it’s by a William Walsh, professor of Commwealth lit at the university of leeds. Here is a bit about M:

    “Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, born in Lahore in 1947, must have been a tempestuous young man. As an undergradute he edited a magazine called Damn You which ran for six issues. He also founded the Ezra-Fakir Press. In P. Lal’s Modern Indian Poetry in English he heaps Laurentian abuse on his contemporary poets: ‘Indians writing in English have made no mark when it came to poetry because still the town-men are its practitioners. Nissim, you, Adil, people living in a dead, closed, soil-less world, craving for attention in the far west. Selling their little talent to see their name in print and they all dried, melted. You have turned to translation, Nissim, to writing poems about swans and editing and running after foundations begging. Adil to staying in London “close to things”. And yet there is little of these adolescent fireworks in his poetry which is serious, controlled and methodic. Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets quotes Mehrotra citing Manifesto of Surrealism, published twenty-three years before he was born as an influence on his poetry and attributing to it what Mehrotra himself described as his ‘intolerance and passionate use of the thing which is the image’. For my part this gives too much credit to the Manifesto, too little to the poet who used a surrealistic technique but was never the prisoner of it, whose gift of imagery was spontaneous and personal and whose use of it was neither passionate nor immoderate but rather measured and effective.

    In his brilliant poem, ‘The Sale’, Mehrotra takes a single image and elaborates it, through the length of a substantial poem. But all the generation of energy is from within, and there is no sense of accretion, or softness or pointless extension. Life is seen as a vast saleroom crowded with natural and human products, the genuine, the fake, the odd and the ordinary…”

    I liked his tempestuous scorn for poets running after the West!

    Interesting article on Bradbury. good to see him being so well and fighting. It’s years since I’ve read him. I could never relive the joy of reading his novels, and short stories. always remember those lovely stories.

    yes, i don’t use the uni library often enough to pay up any more, particularly since they invariably bombard the place with loud music which is always a pain. i’ll find another way, order through the central public but usually have to wait long for them to come, but paying for the interlibrary loans makes more economic sense, though it’s a lot easier when you see the books in front of you than having to order without.

    i’ve never been to India but would love to go. maybe someday!

  112. Back soon to continue properly, @atf, … am enjoying this immensely, … is there any part of The Sale you can quote for even a sample of AKM’s work? I found it odd that none of it was posted anywhere in the great PoP debate.

    === by a William Walsh, professor of Commwealth lit at the university of leeds. ===

    Seems unlikely that he can read in the Bengali original — and since most of us agree that sounds are of the essence of poetry, I don’t trust his judgment.

  113. anytimefrances

    I’ve found a piece of that poem, Saleroom, for you wordy, but the two mentioned in the latter part of the text will have to wait as my scanner seems to have failed me for the first time…

    I think he’s only interested in poets who write in English, of whom there have been many since independence. English it seems has been having a field day in Indian literature since then and one of the things they feel indebted to the English for, along with administrative science and rail transport. There’s a similar book by Bruce King, English again, but it goes into more detail as he covers only the poets and gives loads of contextual information, but this one covers non fiction writing in one section, auto/biography – of Ghandi and Nehru amonst others – and history; prose fiction, novels and short stories, poetry, all in English so not so detailed, and a section on novels set in India by English writers, like E. M. Forster.

    here is the poem and a few words of commentary to give you an idea of the syle of the critic/historian. I hope my scanner is better in the morning, otherwise, well, i’ll just have to dump it – i thought it was bad enough last week when I found a whole cartridge of large sized black ink had dried up before I’d a dozen pages printed.

    “…of subject, verb, predicate in the progression of the poem which leads the listener on in his accustomed ways. (It is significant, a tribute to
    the naturalness of the idiom, that one says listener but not reader.) But another economy, a wholly different argument is pitched against our
    expectations. The disconcerting, the utterly unexpected predicates, undermine our comfortable assurance about what is to come and leave us facing strangeness and danger.

    Here is the second section of the poem.

    Would you mind if I showed you
    a few more things now yours?
    Be careful, one river is still wet
    and slippery; its waters continue to
    run like footprints. Well, this is a
    brick and we call that string.
    This microscope contains the margins
    of a poem. I have a map left, drawn
    by migrating birds.
    Come into the attic
    That’s not a doll – it’s the
    photograph of a brain walking
    on sand and in the next one
    it’s wearing an oasis-like crown.
    I must also show you a tiger’s skin .
    which once hid a palace.
    On one roof you’ll see
    the antelope’s horns,
    on another the falling wind. These round
    things are bangles and that long one
    a gun. This cave is the inside
    of a boot. And here
    carved wheels turn through stone.

    This and other moderately surrealistic poems (by moderately I mean to imply that they are supported by a clear, rational structure) bring home to us both the dramatic presence and the mystery of existence, both the force of its impact and the maturity of its identity. These -‘Remarks of an Early Biographer’ and ‘Between Bricks, Madness’, for example — are in a strict sense existentialist poems, but unpretentiously, genuinely so.”

  114. anytimefrances

    i’ve just found the reason for the scanner not working! i’d taken the book out to delete spurious characters and check the text and forgot to put it back in again! it seems you might not be the only one with head problems, wordy!

    anyway i’m not doing any more now but going to bed; if you have an appetite for the other two i’ll take a look in in the morning.

  115. === moderately surrealistic ===

    Yes, … funny, but in my first spontaneous reaction I thought of substance-mediated Beatles lyrics (Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds) etc., … Perhaps he’d rather I was reminded of, say, Xanadu, but the ‘music’ in the lines so far isn’t powerful enough for that. I’m sufficiently hooked to look for more by him, though, so couldn’t thank you enough for your post.

    … I’m having to make up for the time I spent putting up the latest entry on the blog, so will have to answer in detail later.

    Interesting, don’t you think, that we all got so caught up in Walcott vs. Padel for PoP that no one bothered to put up _any_thing by the third candidate — at least, not on the site of any newspaper I read.

  116. Hello you two Wardee and AnytimeFrances,

    What er… a very pleasant, pleeeeasing tea-time conversation.
    Any scones about?
    🙂 🙂 🙂

  117. anytimefrances

    pleeeezed to see you Misss Suzeeeee

    I have brought you cappuchino and croissant!

    yes @wordy, the poor chap was forgotten amidst the melee! v. British that. the beatles achieved their dreamy effects through substances. lsd was all the rage at the time, but there are some strong ideas in these. here’s one of the others,

    In his keen memory he stored
    His silence like mistresses
    And it isn’t my intention
    To disturb that symmetry of holes.
    As I turn the pages of his notebook
    A few characters come apart;
    I once more prod
    The shallow vessel filled with ash
    Then return my guides to their frontiers:
    The spider to the trellis,
    The rat to the cupboard,
    The lizard to the brick.
    As a child he divided words
    With a blade, or turned them
    Inside out like caps; at death
    His mouth was open, his right hand warm
    As if it had never written.

  118. Tea and scones, @Suzan, you do surprise me … I’d have guessed that vintage bubbly was more you.

    Thanks – heaps – for the bonus Mehrotra, @atf. . . . I’d guess that virtually all the best of the best writing in a language is by people writing in their mother tongue – but I wouldn’t dream of discouraging or criticising anyone who feels a special affinity for another language, and writing in it.

    Once, long ago, a friend got me interested in Goa and the work of a Goanese writer, Dom Moraes, and gave me DM’s autobiography. Does your Walsh book mention him – and specifically this passage from it, in which he’s a very young man whose early poetry has been praised by Stephen Spender:

    ‘It’s very influenced by Rimbaud.’ [Spender] said, ‘isn’t it? And the symbolists? You’ll write a different kind of poetry when you’re older.’ And, reflectively over his coffee, ‘What do you want to do? Besides write poetry, I mean?’

    […] I had always imagined that I would live by poetry, but this, he said, was impossible. There was no money in it. However money, for me had always been something that was there, quantities of it lying so thickly in the bank that nobody knew what to do with it all […] I told Spender this. Also I said I wanted to settle in England. […] England, for me, was where the poets were. The poets were my people. I had no real consciousness of a nationality, for I did not speak the languages of my countrymen, and therefore had no soil for roots. . .

    … Hmm … I wonder what @Des will have to say about _that_. ; ) I nearly suffocated from laughing about the horrified reactions to his rewritten Potw.

  119. anytimefrances

    The Walsh doesn’t mention him but I’m sure I’ve been reading about him recently, the Goan origins triggered a recollection, so it must be that he’s given some treatment in the King book which is much more comprehensive.

    I’ve looked up an article on him in the G by Alan Brownjohn who writes on him and visited him in India and had an Adil with him, (“When the soothing mixture prescribed for me arrived, I swallowed some, while Dom and Adil drank Bloody Marys. It made no difference. Then our muttered, three-cornered conversation was interrrupted by a high-pitched voice in the street outside.”) who must be the one mentioned above in the passage from Walsh by Mehrotra, scolding those poets who wanted to be in London. I remember also that they were dividing into two groups.

    Yes, I was astonished too at that ‘wasting your time and ours’; couldn’t believe my eyes, it’s very poetry_workshop, isn’t it? but he was back again unabashed soon after. quite unputdownable…

    just last night I was reading a passage from a novel by jennifer johnston, in which she is in an eds office facing the man who had his back turned when she entered the room, now sitting facing her across the desk on which her typescripts waits for a verdict in a red plastic case: he says,

    “You have a small talent. Quite an original eye. To be quite blunt Miss…Keating…erm…is it?…Keating…there is no point in us publishing a marginal first novel if we don’t feel strongly that a second will come along, and a third. Growth and development. No point at all. We are not a charitable organisation. No.”

  120. Don’t know this J Johnston, @atf, … a delicious snippet … Doris Lessing, as I’m sure you remember, exposed editors like that when she had a pseudonymous submission … a test of the system … rejected long after she was famous all over the world.

    A new post with an unusual argument by @ISA/Phil about her:

    === And studying Russian together with Doris and her son Peter, getting to know her a little as a friend, I realised that Doris was a visionary outsider, like one of her aliens.

    In other words, she was well matched to Science Fiction. ===

  121. anytimefrances

    her father – denis johnston – was very influential and was close to Yeats and the Irish revivalists but didn’t share the patriotic sympathies. whereas they were developing the Abbey as a theatre particularly for works that dealt with the national character not as a figure of fun for english audiences, he was more at home in the Gate theatre which represented the more liberal bourgeoise consciousness.

    yes, i read ISA’s piece about Lessing; i used to read her a lot and thought her ‘in search of the english’ a perfect read and her ‘briefing for a descent into hell’. one of her autobiographical novels Martha Quest was quite interesting dealing with a girl’s coming to womanhood and her political consciousness in Africa developing.

    she was very popular in the 80s when women’s political consciousness was growing; i think the universities did a lot of extra mural courses – i know Manchester did – on her and got their spaces filled. she was almost forgotten until recently.

  122. atf

    I got this book this morning of Mehrotra’s which must be the one I think you were referring to earlier. I thought it interesting the way you said about M’s poems seeming like the song lyrics of some ‘psychedelic’ beatle’s work because here M is taking issue with Ezekiel for his poems being so easy; so much so they seem almost pointless to him. They seem therefore to be at extremes in the way they handle themes/subject…Ez opting for the very straightforward, with language as M says under no ‘pressure’. Here’s what he says as editor and a short poem by Ez.

    “My own appreciation of Ezekiel’s poetry has been slow in coming, and even now I cannot always read it without reservation. Often the writing seems purposeless (‘At twenty-seven or so /1 met the girl who’s now / my wife. As bride and groom / we went for what is usually called— /1 don’t know why—a honeymoon.’); the language under no pressure (‘You arrived / with sari clinging / to your breast / and hips.’); and if one may shift the poetic reference from context to author, the man himself hopelessly priapic (‘ “Is this part of you?” she asks, / as she holds it, stares at it. / Then she laughs.’).

    I want my hands
    to learn how to heal
    myself and others,
    before I hear
    my last song. “

  123. @atf,

    === I thought it interesting the way you said about M’s poems seeming like the song lyrics of some ‘psychedelic’ beatle’s work because here M is taking issue with Ezekiel for his poems being so easy; so much so they seem almost pointless to him. ===

    Yes I see what you mean. . . But for someone under consideration for that poetry prof. post, …. I’m sure he’d far rather be seen as a successor of Coleridge’s and would find the Beatles comparison annoying if not insulting. . . Hard to say without seeing more of his work, but he isn’t remotely in STC’s league — who has no real rivals, as far as I’m concerned, in _any_ century. . . Of what you’ve posted of AKM’s verse for us — a true boon — I do like a scrap here and there and wish I had time to go looking for more. Won’t ever happen, I suspect.

    Last week I heard for the first time for over fifteen years from a wonderful friend who’d insisted that I _would_ care about the arrival of multi-media software for personal computers, an event suddenly moving closer. I stubbornly persisted in pooh-poohing this all the way through our lunch, but suddenly saw what he meant in a flash, as I was driving home.

    … In the most embarrassing voicemail message I ever left anyone, I told him that I’d realised how thrilling it could be to design a multi-media composition about the genesis of Kubla Khan … you could have actual footage of the famous walk STC took with Will and Dorothy Wordsworth! … a great actor’s voice reciting the poem! … splice back and forth between the walk and some artist’s (a symbolist, perhaps, like Odilon Redon) imaginings of the ‘sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice,’ … ‘his flashing eyes, his floating hair!’ …

    … The ideas kept coming thick and fast and suddenly I realised that the message must be at least fifteen minutes long and that there was no way to erase it … oh, the horror! ……………….:)

    … Hope that makes it clear that that’s the gold standard for mystical poetry, for me — with The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner close behind.

    Who wrote the lines about the healing hands? — I can’t tell … forgive me if I’m being obtuse.

  124. atf

    Those lines were Ezekiel. I’m not sure but am beginning to think that he is seen as the ‘founding father’ of modern poetry in India because he might, like wcw and steven wallace be taking poetry away from its traditional preoccupations – with religious figures etc – and just using the plain simple language without much rhyme, much like those trifles (plum and wheelbarrow), mho, of the two westerners; although just glancing through now for something else to put up I see he does use rhyme and metre; but it’s these simple free forms that I liked him for at first, he says of himself, [I’m]

    …a drug addict
    whose drugs are work, sensuality,
    poetry, and the dance of the self…

    he’s of jewish parentage, born in bombay, educated at higher level at Birkbeck London and became Professor of English at Bombay university. some of the simple free verse is more enjoyable than his measured. here’s a lovely cut from a longer poem,

    This is the place
    where I was born. I
    know it
    well. It is home,
    which I recognise at last
    as a kind of hell
    to be made tolerable.
    Let the fevers come,
    the patterns break
    and form again
    for me and for the place.

    yes, C is very dramatic and visual, but maybe the words and imagination are sufficient; getting net artists to summon up worlds in paint pixels might not be the best way to appreciate…what did you have for lunch if that’s not to nosey a query – always interesed in the dining habits of people; in fiction they tell a lot. This is from the same piece by Jennifer Johnston; she’s with her father some time after the interview with the editor (but it comes immediately after in the story)

    ‘I cannot imagine why a restaurant of this calibre gives its customers commercially smoked salmon. Taste it. Taste it.’
    ‘It looks lovely’ said Constance
    ‘It’s poor.’ Peevishly he pushed his plate to one side.
    ‘It’s delicious, Father’
    ‘Poor, London has changed.’
    “Well, I think it’s delicious.’

    “The waiter poured a few drops of wine into his glass and waited, bottle poised, beside him. He took up the glass and looked at the wine before touching it briefly with his lips. He nodded to the waiter.”

    After she’d left the editor’s office she’s stuffed her m/s in a rubbish bin outside:

    “Bloody fucking bastard,’ she said inelegantly and walked on.”

    Fathers and editors!

    It’s like what they say on the net ‘submission rules: don’t tell us what your family think of your writing’

    talking of Coleridge, I’ll be going again to Lord Byron’s place this weekend as i’m having a visit from my siter; i’ve been there before and enjoyed it. it’s in lovely surroundings with an amazing wall attached to it of an old abbey. lot’s of interesting things there in glass cases. i think i remember a skull he had set in silver and drank from, and his set of pistols. and his bedroom, where i think the local beauties from nottingham used to go for those wild parties he was famed for…

  125. @atf,

    I’ve been slow to answer here not because I thought the question nosey, but because I don’t know how to answer it. . . I’m strictly a breakfast and dinner eater nowadays, and lunch hasn’t been part of my life for years — except when travelling or, on increasingly rare occasions, as a relaxing frame for seeing friends or a work-related meeting. . . In my years of working in London, there was always wine — and in the American years of being employed by some organisation or other, no alcohol at all, unless I felt like shocking some particularly puritanical work associate.

    . . . If you insisted on taking me to lunch, say, tomorrow, I’d ask if we could find the freshest piece of fish, have it grilled lightly and served with steamed spinach. . . and then just good coffee for a close. So, just a small meal — not least because I wouldn’t want eating to get in the way of talking — eg., doing a nose-dive into pidgin and asking you all about Derby, about which I know nothing, and how you know so much about painting as well as literature, and what you’re doing about moving somewhere quiet and lovely to get away from the noise polluters.

    Wish I could tag along on your Byron expedition. Read about a new biography the other day — will dig out the review for you if you’re interested. . . A pretty horrible man — impossible to understand how he could have written some of the most ravishing and profound poems in the language. . . and _so young_.

  126. @atf,

    === getting net artists to summon up worlds in paint pixels might not be the best way to appreciate… ===

    Agreed, but remember that that was when most people only had texts on their screens and computer graphics for the masses were still only a gleam in programmers’ eyes.

    … I found myself wondering how many chapters your Walsh and Mehrotra have given Rushdie. There was this mischievous postscript to a letter Penelope Fitzgerald wrote to one of her editors in 1989:


    Poor S. Rushdie, or rich S.Rushdie, whichever you like, that was a publicity campaign that went dreadfully wrong. I don’t think he ought to go into hiding, though. My local Patel grocery on the corner tells me that it is not a dignified act.


    … Did you ever finish The Blue Flower?

  127. atf

    ‘If you insisted on taking me to lunch, say, tomorrow, I’d ask if we could find the freshest piece of fish, have it grilled lightly and served with steamed spinach. . . and then just good coffee for a close.’

    I’ll keep this in mind @wordy!

    I think suzan would have some interesting ideas on dining what with her travels and hotels, where they usually provide the most interesting dishes with local interest. i’d like to hear here views and tastes on food. me, i’m usually too stingy to eat anything but what i get from the supermarket and my biggest treat is a tub of prawns pressed between the halves of a buttered baguette and eaten on the banks of the Trent.

    yes, if it’s not too much trouble put up a review. i’m going to try to get out today as it’s another scorcher. i think des has been swallowed up by that Harriet blog, like jonah… I might take some pictures of Byron’s place and put them up on a site to which I can provide a link here. it’s in lovely surroundings with a lake and a piece of an old abbey. i’ll be glad to get away from the computer for a bit til i get a flat screen as the radiation from this old crt makes my head feel muzzy. Derby i think you wouldn’t like much; it’s quiet, as cities go, and safe generally to walk about, but people seem a little grim and unsmiling. Buxton would be your place i think wordy and i might get some pictures of there and put them up; a lovely opera house and gardens, tropical plants in the covered part of the gardens; a hotel with lovely sandstone erosions that Mary Queen of Scots stayed in during her travels; spring water baths that made it a post roman settlement and drew a wealthy clientele in Vict times for the ‘waters’ Georgian elegance like Bath but on the smaller scale – the Wonders of the Peak!

    people are more cheerful there than derby. people do laugh in derby – though they never smile, except they are Indian – but only when they see some little misfortune happen, when i was on my motor bike a car erupted as i passed it by and i wondered what the hell’s gone wrong? i found that my sliced pan, for my breakfast/lunch, had fallen out of my pannier bag. i was relieved when i got home and discovered this as, judging by their hilarity I though it must have been much worse – my head fallen off.

  128. re: Byron

    It isn’t, @atf, the barbarians of this world but barbaric behaviour by the supposedly civilised that is truly shocking.

    I didn’t realise, when I read this review of the new Byron biography, that the book is by Edna O’Brien … The reviewer commenting on the savage behaviour of Lord B has written about being raped by her own father, a Catholic priest – or man of the cloth of some Christian denomination.

    Today, we’d dismiss Byron as a bipolar sex addict whose unresolved Oedipal conflict held him in thrall to the father he never knew. If lithium wouldn’t have poisoned the mania — and the poetry — out of him, how about Abilify with a chaser of Luvox? ………….. [ we know longer know what horrors these wretched diagnoses and drugs fend off, do we ]


    O’Brien sets the stage for her readers’ amusement rather than censure. “Their wedding night had,” she notes, “its literary correlation in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, a crimson curtain catching fire, a hallucinating bridegroom believing he was in hell, then pacing the long ghostly gallery with his loaded pistols.” The ensuing scenes might be more purely and deliciously farcical (or one would feel less guilty for enjoying their ghastliness) had Byron not been so unrepentantly cruel to his wife. As it was, he forced the increasingly hysterical Annabella to listen as Augusta read aloud from letters proving he had never loved the woman he deigned to marry. After that prelude, Annabella was sent off to the abandoned connubial bower while he remained with Augusta.

    … yes, how perfectly hilarious, Edna … What was it about these poets and their sisters? Augusta … a (half-) sister in Byron’s case …. And then Dorothy, being told every detail about Wordsworth’s love affairs …

  129. atf

    well, wordy, i think that looks very biased. what woman writer would treat a casanova poet with respect, i ask you? unless she were one of his enchanted lovers, which dear old Edna cannot now be. it does’t put me off though. i’m going to collect MY sister after this coffee; i have the white rose in a self-hand-made ceramic bowl by the bedside and we are both off, first thing i’th morning to see the grandeur of Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of one of the great poets, and lovers, of literature…not only an inspiration to all who came after but probably the greatest influence on the father of Russian literature, the great sergei Pushkin. a review or squealing nonsense? take your pick!

  130. Speaking of ‘review or squealing nonsense’, I came across this comparative assessment of Raymond Chandler with Arundhati Roy by someone on a blog majestically titled ‘On Writing’:

    Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things (1997) vs. Raymond Chandler: Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

    I posted a comment in response and got an unexpected reply. Had quite a laugh. Would like to know how others feel about it.

    As for Derek Walcott, I haven’t read him so won’t comment on his writing, but I know from my own experience how people who are ‘non-native speakers of English’ and who have not migrated to the West and been taught there are often automatically considered not good enough writers of English, even for the purposes of academic or technical writing. So I am not surprised, Conrad notwithstanding.

    And, by the way, (can’t help if it sounds offending, but I myself feel offended):

    It’s GANDHI, *not* GHANDI.

    (Even the WordPress spell checker recognizes that).

    I have seen it too many times, but coming from a person writing about Indian literature in English, it can’t be easily excused.

    I hope a rap on the knuckles is not out of place.

  131. === And, by the way, (can’t help if it sounds offending, but I myself feel offended):
    It’s GANDHI, *not* GHANDI. ===

    Thanks – a most welcome comment in every respect, @anileklavya, and I did notice the misspelling. I didn’t want to correct the comrade responsible because – being dangerously addicted to debating — I get into quite enough trouble arguing with my visitors without picking holes in their texts . . .;) … I don’t think that’s _too_ grave an error because transliteration has a tendency to spawn variations – eg., Mogul, Mughal, Moghul – … doesn’t it?. . . Also, I’m always so thrilled by people taking an interest in anything serious far from their own cultures that I’m more afraid of discouraging their xenophilia than I’m interested in making sure that they straighten up and fly right.

    A good post in that link of yours – but a bit redundant for me because that’s how I also see Arundhati’s style, for better or worse, and I blame Rushdie for it – and Saul Bellow for the irritating tics in SR’s prose. . . .But I confess that I mostly enjoyed TGoST – the lush writing seemed right for the lush landscape of Kerala.

    Yes, that was a healthy response to your comment at On Writing …

    … had a delightful little ramble on your own blog. Wondered if you might be SF asking that cheerfully oblivious class about the Turing award … on my mind anyway because I learnt only hours ago that a friendly neighbour in my past — with whom I once exchanged plant-watering services — was a winner.

    And this made me smile – sorry I couldn’t reproduce the formatting … are you trying to help Lawrence Lessig make his ‘information wants to be free’ case …?


    If I live in a small room
    Crammed with all my current
    And parts of my old life
    And I pay the standard rent
    Regularly for the room
    Like everyone else
    Does a poem written in that room
    Belong to you
    Because I used a room owned by you?


  132. atf

    I’ve given offence. well, well, well, at least it will be some consolation to know that there are people in the world educated enough not to give offence by mispelling, and i’ve found one of them so am posting to heal the offended spirit of the educated lady. praise him, then…:

    ‘Gandhi is a humbug,’ it was saying. ‘ He is a fool. He is a hypocrite. In one breath he says he wants to abolish untouchability, in the other he asserts that he is an orthodox Hindu. He is running counter to the spirit of our age, which is democracy. He is in the fourth century B.C. with his swadeshi and his spinning-wheel. We live in the twentieth. I have read Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham and John Stuart Mill and I . . .’

    Bakha came down the tree like a black bear, and arrested the democrat’s attention by the ridiculous sight he presented. He was going to slink away shyly, but the man, a fair-complexioned Muhammadan dressed in the most smartly-cut English suit he had ever seen, interrupted him :

    ‘ Eh, eh, black man, come here. Go and get a bottle of soda-water for the sahib.’

  133. Wrong gender, @atf — and a computational linguist. Seems to have several blogs, all of them interesting.

    So your point, if I’ve read you right, is that it’s the thoughts that matter, not the spelling … and I agree, although I’ve always had good friends as exacting as he is who feel that if you can’t spell someone’s name right, you can only care superficially about who that someone is, and what he or she stands for …

    As for me, I say that transliteration is as transliteration does. . . Far preferable to the alternative — all of us staying tightly locked up in our little cultural boxes.

  134. Hi Wordy,

    Thought you might enjoy this Review of Arundhati Roy’s newest writings in today’s weekend issue of the Irish Times.

    The printed piece looks a modest portrayal on the web but the spread takes up almost all of the newspaper page. It goes without saying that Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri are great favourites here in Ireland.

    I also beg to differ on your quote over here..“…all of us staying tightly locked up in our little cultural boxes….” at least with respect to Dublin. 😉

    This is a city that presently sees multiculturalism as ultra-fashionable and cool… in that liberal 21st century Woodstock way. Different cultures are embraced wholeheartedly and moods and moments which celebrate this diversity are recreated daily, no matter the season. I’ve seen the dramatic change from almost two years ago to now.

    Just 2 days ago on a chilly afternoon on North Earl Street – now this is a colourful street if you have the gumption for its quirky cafes, tempting budget furnishing stores, fortune tellers, and the dodgy watchful eyes of Romanian gypsies who often conduct their elusive operations on how to cry up a good sob story and increase profits for the next begging spree for instance, – well on this street, as I walked past, there were African musicians playing drums, totally lost in their world of loud charismatic beats – and how everyone enjoyed their stroll and stopped to take pictures or admire the men’s talent. After awhile, I fled this electrifying mood and crossed into the main thoroughfare of Lower O’Connell Street and there was a merry band of Irish men, young and old, long-haired and bald, all in their faithful Hari Krishna robes… as hippie-like as you can imagine, seated down comfortably outside the popular Eason bookstore and next to the GPO, and they’re all playing drums and percussions and singing religious but lively Hari Krishna songs in the Hindustani language and smiling broadly – and there’s not one Indian present in this group – all are Irish now and they’re having the time of their lives. There was another big crowd being entertained and in the middle of it all, you had a few burly Irish men – who are not religious devotees at all but completely taken up by the mood and they’re doing the Irish stepdance to the Hindi music and everyone gives them a wide berth. Even the guards (police) smile and don’t say a word. And there are many Indian professionals and university students in Ireland and they all smile and watch in amusement.
    Walk further on, cross the Ha’Penny Bridge and you’ll come to Temple Bar where a Caribbean band comprising six musicians are playing their music on the roads and people sit down and gather to watch.
    Walk on and cross the road up to Grafton Street and you may have Tibetian musicians, playing flutes and chanting next to a Mexican band and move further up and you’ll come across an amateur Italian opera singer, spinning a few arias for good measure. And there’s always an intriguing audience from the nearby Marks&Spencer cafe or Bewley’s just one of many other stylish sidewalk ones, with tea and croissants, or wines and pints, watching from the windows.

    I’ve also observed the speedy vibrant spread of multicultural literature in almost all of the bookstores. The Arab world, China and India are all generously represented.

    This is a summer where although we may have lost the sun and the rains have come, Dublin is partying with the universe, on its streets.

  135. About the spelling, I am not a fanatic about it, but then Gandhi (whatever you think of him) is no ordinary name (or word), especially when you think of writing about the (modern) history of Indian anything. One of the pioneers of Indian writing in English, Mulk Raj Anand was almost a follower of Gandhi and actually went to him for advice about what he should write and actually acted on that advice. Innumerable other Indian writers have been heavily influenced by him in some way or the other. Just think of writing the history of post-modern American literature and spell Vietnam wrongly (and not due to a typo).

    The offense is not so much about the wrong spelling itself as about someone telling me about the history Indian literature but not knowing how Gandhi is spelled. The background to this also includes Rushdie’s history of Indian literature which completely dismissed all modern literature in all Indian languages, as if he had read it (at) all.

    And, no, I am not really the SF. But I do fear a small probability that I could become that in about three decades from now.

    The Irish cosmopolitan scene is really attractive. I almost wish I was there.

  136. wordnerd7

    @Suzan, I agree with @Anil — would love to come and see exactly what you mean by this:

    === I also beg to differ on your quote over here..“…all of us staying tightly locked up in our little cultural boxes….” at least with respect to Dublin. ===

    Of course I was only saying that none of us here on this site _are_ locked up like that — or we’d hardly be blogging side by side, would we? … Am going to read your generous post much more slowly and in detail -in a minute or so – @Sean Murray described something like your Dublin about two years ago. . . and I confess I was astonished.

    @Anil … @atf — who is fiercely proud of her Irish heritage, as she should be — will only understand when people start routinely writing about James Joise or Jaime José some day in the future — … 😉 … but I assure you that her interest in Indian literature is genuine and deep. Very much to her credit that she’s learning about it, don’t you think?

    I’ll be back in a bit to reply more sensibly …

  137. Hmm … I expected to see @atf defending herself here in a ‘full and frank exchange of views’ with @Anil… Diplomatic communiqués use a phrase something like that euphemistically, when a meeting has broken up with conferees screaming insults at each other and with eyeballs and hair in their teeth — but I’m hoping for a literal version of what the phrase describes.

    @Suzan, I see that you did give us a beautifully precise and detailed description that was hard to read earlier with a backdrop of Emmylou Harris singing Tennessee Waltz and someone clattering dishes and cutlery … and thanks also for the fascinating Malcolm Sen review. . . Does anyone else think that there might have been some mistakes in the subbing/copy editing here:

    === This is not the same impossibility of Art which pretentious and problematic philosophers like Hegel had prophesied. It is also not wholly related to the breakdown of infrastructure, such as printing presses, which results from large-scale turmoil. Rather this kind of silencing is a physical reaction, when language cannot be fathomed to portray reality.

    What then are we to make of Arundhati Roy, the Indian author who is never at a loss for words but… ===

    Surely he was referring to the art being pretentious, not Hegel — because he’d hardly bother to quote him if he saw him like that … or would he? … I suppose he might just have been name-dropping … And I’m clueless about the reference to …

    === the breakdown of infrastructure, such as printing presses, which results from large-scale turmoil. ===

    Where have the printing presses broken down — and what turmoil? … ANd what is this ‘physical reaction’? I consider writing to be _thinking_ — ie., abstract. Did someone cut his original paragraph too fast and carelessly.

    … Still an interesting review — I sense that he thinks she’d be far more influential writing novels about these problems and I’d agree with that. . . If she did so well with a first novel, she could yet be a Harriet Beecher Stowe/Harper Lee/C. Dickens … yes, even now, with dwindling numbers of serious readers of fiction.

    … But @Anil .. you’re an Arundhati Roy expert in a way I most certainly am not. What did you make of the Sen critique?

    Couldn’t agree more on this point you make about Rushdie:

    === this also includes Rushdie’s history of Indian literature which completely dismissed all modern literature in all Indian languages, as if he had read it (at) all. ===

    … but unlike @atf, he has no excuse for his ridiculous statement. . . She’s just a learner, quoting books she’s been reading — one by a recent candidate for the Oxford poetry prof job.

    … Too bad that it’s going to be such a long wait for you to attain SF-hood. . . but we _do_ have a vacancy for a computational linguist, so hope you’ll stay. . . Do you know Paul Kiparsky?

  138. I understand that mistakes can happen while one is learning and also that the seriousness of the mistake depends on the claim and the person who makes it, which is why Rushdie’s is much more serious.

    About the Sen critique, I would say that I too didn’t really understand the part you quoted. Probably something that means something to him, but not to us because we don’t have the context or enough information. Or it could simply be that he used a wrong phrasing and failed to convey what he wanted to say. But I am only talking about the ‘problematic’ parts. Commenting on the rest would require more than a comment as talking about Arundhati Roy or about reactions to her and her work (literary or otherwise) involves so many things about which people have so strong opinions that it is very difficult to communicate. Whole forums and blogs are filled up with talk about her without actually saying anything. A lot of it is plain abuse from rabid nationalists and fundamentalists.

    May be some other day.

    I do have one thing to say, however. ‘Pretentious’ is a word that I too use often, but sometimes I mean it in a good way, like saying that Bergman was a great director, but he was a bit (or perhaps more) pretentious in the sense that he was always too consciously trying to create great and profound cinema, as opposed to someone who created a great movie without consciously trying to do so. But I know that such usage is risky and can be easily misunderstood. I am not sure whether Sen was using the word in this sense.

    I don’t know Paul Kiparsky personally, but he is a well known name, especially for people working on the Paninian tradition in linguistics and related areas. He is often cited in papers from our centre.

  139. Hi Wordy,

    Can’t write much now this Sunday evening but will reply a bit later on.

  140. That’s a relief, @Anil, to see that I’m not the only reader whose eyes crossed, reading that paragraph. I’d bet anything that if @Suzan — whom I’m volunteering for this task, as soon as she’s back from her extended tea break … : ) … — were to appear in the office of Malcolm Sen at Univ College Dublin, he’d soon be spitting nails, describing what some slash-happy sub on the Irish Times did to his copy after a long liquid lunch. . . I do have some idea of the dimensions of my ignorance of your subject, but this one of Dr. Sen’s has me foxed: ‘Subaltern Historiography’. . . what _could_ that be?

    About ‘pretentious’ … thanks, I wouldn’t have thought of interpreting or using it like that myself — but suspect that the word might be acquiring this other dimension you’re describing. . . In US usage — ?

    No more googling for me for a few hours, alas, and I used my last (five-minute) quota trying to see what centre you meant. . . Found this inordinately intriguing review of The Shining by you — wonderful title: (Wo)man’s Inhumanity to (Wo)man … and in saving it for reading at leisure,saved a file name _partially_ in the Devanagari script for the first time … amazing. (What wp program is that?)

    For anyone reading here, this is from Anil’s reflections on that film


    The women are even more obsessed about her. First, because she is more beautiful than them; second because their men are after her (even though she doesn’t encourage any of them), and third because she keeps aloof and doesn’t put herself in her place where she won’t be (so to say) above themselves. For example, they probably wouldn’t have so much ‘pathological’ hatred for her if she kept her good looks somewhat hidden and dressed badly and became part of the gossiping community and by following the social norms, sent definite signals that she doesn’t think she is better than them.

    You see, it’s not enough that she doesn’t send any signals that is she is better than them. She has to send clear signals that she doesn’t think she is better than them. That’s a social law. She could only be exempted from this law if she were something like a royalty, a princess, or if she were a powerful woman actually above all of them in the sense that she had power (legal or otherwise) to punish them, rightly or wrongly. The film is set in Cicily of the Fascist era. So, if she were the female Il Duce, or the wife of the Il Duce, or at least the wife of a powerful general, she could have been exempted from this law.

    There is another fact which makes her a witch. Her husband is a soldier and is away during the war. She lives alone. And then the news comes that her husband is dead. In the extremely patriarchal society of which she is a member, another social law applies: no husband, no status. A society in which you ‘measure yourself’ in inches and there is no chance that you can go beyond ten. Your human worth is less than ten inches. =====

  141. p.s. I have appeared in the office of Paul K — and when I complained that he didn’t seem at all Finnish, starting with his name, he explained that that’s because he’s really Russian (genetically). . . Ideal qualifications for a Paninian scholar — yes? : )

  142. Hi Wordy,
    I’ll be here properly tomorrow Monday, sometime in the day, I promise.

    By the way, Sen should be Bengali and didn’t the article say, he lectures at a university in Galway? It did in the print version of the papers.

  143. I took a long ‘tea break’ myself, @Suzan … and travelled a few hundred miles, again … so just please come back when you’re ready, whenever that is.

    WordPress linked this thread to another blog, on which I actually found Logan saying something I agree with — so I’m posting this extract with a link:

    === “What do you think of the present situation of poetry? Of its current health as an art?” Logan replies:

    “I distrust the motives of the question. Much of what we dislike about the poetry around us won’t bother the readers of the future, because it will have been forgotten. I doubt even the Pulitzer Prize winners of the past two decades will have many poems in anthologies half a century from now. This isn’t simply a problem with the prize, though it’s a scandal that Amy Clampitt never won it and another that Gjertrud Schnackenberg has yet to win it.

    “Our poetry is healthy, if the sole measure is that there’s a hell of a lot of it. Much is mediocre, but most poetry in any period is mediocre. What bothers me, as a reader, is how slim current ambitions are – too many contemporary poems start small and end smaller. They don’t bite off more than they can chew – they bite off so little they don’t need to chew.” ===

    … Don’t know about Sen in Galway — a quick Google showed a UCD connection at the top of the page, but I suppose that it could be out of date. Didn’t check to see how old it was … I’d be interested to read @Anil’s reasons for saying that Arundhati R is an exceedingly complex subject, but I expect that he doesn’t have time to set them all down with the care and tact the subject might require.

  144. Pingback: Is blogging ultimately the friend of war or peace? « acciaccature

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