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."

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Behind a Thousand Veils: Snub-nosed Woman Wearing Anklets of Footnotes

John Keats

"...with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."


Carl Jung:

“What is so staggering about ‘Ulysses,’ is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course.”


Ron Rosenbaum:

"You won’t have to worry about opening a greeting card and seeing “We must love one another and die.” Not a Hallmark moment.

But this change still didn’t satisfy Auden, who seems to have genuinely feared for his reputation as a complex and serious poet if “We must love one another or die”—in any version—continued to be his most quoted legacy. And so he kept attacking it whenever he spoke or wrote of it, banning the stanza from publication. (The stanza in which the line occurs is admittedly not his best, concerning itself as it does with the poet speaking truth to power in a self-congratulatory way.)

But there I go, adopting Auden’s retroactive self-loathing of the line, and I’m not sure it was such a crime against poetry. Must we ban from our minds a burst of emotional earnestness from a poet whose frequent acerbic ironies makes it all the more salient? Has self-consciously highbrow culture made such a fetish of complexity, ambiguity, and obscurity as a measure of worth that we condemn or condescend to more simple, heartfelt exclamations? Don’t we feel a “sharp tender shock” at the original line? Is it always more mature and serious for a poet to be riddled by doubt and conflict, rather than to give way to transcendence?..."


I had always felt that B S Mardhekar (बा सी मर्ढेकर) was far more influenced by W H Auden than Marathi saint-poets Tukaram (तुकाराम) and Samarth Ramdas (समर्थ रामदास). I was happy to read later that Vilas Sarang (विलास सारंग), my favourite literary critic, too felt something similar.

I don't know how Mardhekar felt about Auden's easily 'comprehensible' line: 'We must love one another or die' from his poem '1 September 1939'.

Was he startled by this 'heartfelt exclamation', its simplicity, its sentimentality?

Like James Joyce, Mardhekar was accused of both obscenity (अश्लीलता) and obscurity (दुर्बोधता).

For the former- again much like Joyce- he was tried, on the latter, he was advised by some to annotate his own work!

He didn't oblige and instead wrote:

"शब्दांवर थोडी हुकमत असली आणि लय तोंडवळणी पडली म्हणजे कविता लिहिणं फारसं कठीण नसतं. त्यापलीकडे काही पुढील लिखाणांत आहे किंवा नाही हे वाचकच ठरविणार. त्यांच मत अनुकूल पडल नाही तर लेखकाने योग्य तो बोध घ्यावा. पण 'भूमिके'चा टोप चढवून आणि तळटीपांचे पैंजण घालून नकटीला शारदेच सोंग घ्यायला लावण ह़ा त्यावर तोडगा खास नाही."

"If one has some command of the words and has rhythmic expression, writing poetry is not very difficult. If there is anything more to it or not will be decided by the reader alone. If his opinion is not favourable, the writer should learn the right lesson. But making a snub-nosed woman play the role of Sharada by wearing the hat of a 'role' and the anklets of footnotes is certainly not a solution."

[A leading lady character called Sharada from G B Deval's 1855-1916 (गो ब देवल) play 'Sharada', 1899 once was a benchmark of woman's beauty in Maharashtra.]

Was this rebuttal so straight forward for Mardhekar? Had he made 'a fetish of complexity, ambiguity, and obscurity' and 'indulged' in them?

I suspect a little.

For me, Mardhekar is more complex, ambiguous, and obscure than Auden. It need not have been so. Like Auden, he should have written more and easier to understand poems. Like Arun Kolatkar (अरुण कोलटकर) later did.

The late M V Dhond's (म. वा. धोंड) Marathi book 'Tarīhi Yeto Wasa Phulānnā', 1999 (तरीही येतो वास फुलांना) and articles on his poetry have tried to lift the veil from some of them but many still remain a challenge for me.

For instance, I don't get most of this:

"सांदीला पण सोवळ्यांत जो
आजवरी ह़ा देव ठेवला,
धरावयाच्या मुळ्या फांदिनें
ओवळ्यांत तर प्रभूस ढकला."

[poem 20, 'aanakhee kahee kavita' (आणखी कांहीं कविता)]

Like Auden, his choice of everyday words suck me in, hold me captive and, therefore I tend to remember them, but what do they mean collectively?

In fact, in one of my telephonic conversations with Mr.Dhond, I had sought his help by requesting him to interpret all Mardhekar's poems from 'kahee kavita' (कांहीं कविता) and 'aanakhee kahee kavita' except a few! He just laughed.

Now, who would think of poetry-like complexity, ambiguity, and obscurity in cartoons?

Some do.

I quite liked them in the following one brought upon by Pythagorean theorem!

Mr. Steinberg was no less talented than James Joyce.


Artist: Saul Steinberg, The New Yorker, 7 October 1961