G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Marathi Popular Culture, a false division between Laughter and Thought

Howard Jacobson has won the Man Booker Prize.

I plan to read the book. Not because of the prize but because of the essay HJ wrote for The Guardian October 9 2010:

"...But there is a fear of comedy in the novel today – when did you last see the word "funny" on the jacket of a serious novel? – that no one who loves the form should contemplate with pleasure. It isn't as though we have lost the capacity to laugh. Stand-up comedy is riding higher than ever. If anything there is an argument to be made that we are laughing too much. But we have created a false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness, between the exhilaration that the great novels offer when they are at their funniest, and whatever else it is we now think we want from literature.

For some reason we are running scared. Aspiring writers of pornography are warned by publishers who specialise in such work not to let comedy anywhere near. This precaution makes perfect sense. Comedy breaks the erotic trance. Comedy breaks every trance – that's its function. Comedy is nothing if not critical. From the very beginning the comic novel set out to argue with everything and to set us arguing with one another. The need for such a form has not gone away: consensus is still a curse; we are no less pious than we ever were, for all that our pieties have changed their object; we remain sanctimonious; and we have relegated reading to a sort of sleeping, praising books whose pages we cannot stop turning – as though the automatic act of moving forward is a virtue in itself...

...The novelist, at his swelling comic best – a Dickens or a Dostoevsky, a Cervantes or a Kafka, a Joseph Roth or a Henry Miller – goes where Hamlet dares the skull of Yorick to go, straight to my painted lady's chamber, rattling his bones and making her laugh at the terrible fate that awaits her. His comedy spares nothing and spares no one. And in the process asserts the stubbornness of life. Why would we want to read anything less?..."

Marathi needs a large dosage of this. We have created too many holy cows. I want to see that Marathi "comedy spares nothing and spares no one".

In Marathi too, 'stand-up comedy is riding higher than ever. If anything there is an argument to be made that we are laughing too much" but we have created a huge "false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness, between the exhilaration that the great novels offer when they are at their funniest, and whatever else it is we now think we want from literature".

The only exceptions, from 20th century, I can cite to the above are novelist C V Joshi (चिं वि जोशी), poets Sadanand Rege (सदानंद रेगे), Arun Kolatkar (अरुण कोलटकर) and grand dame of Marathi literature Laxmibai Tilak (लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक).

(I say 20th century because in Marathi's poet-saint literature there is no false division between laughter and thought. Leading practitioners of that are Tukaram तुकाराम and Eknath एकनाथ among others)


Artist: J C Duffy, The New Yorker, May 12 2003