Books

‘New Delhi’ – Mark Tully …

Posted on March 16, 2019. Filed under: Books |

https://thewire.in/books/swapna-liddle-new-delhi-book-review

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Literature Noble 1982 …

Posted on March 9, 2019. Filed under: Books |

From the Wire – Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee –

Gabriel García Márquez is a beautiful name. It resonates with such a feeling more so because the name immediately reminds us of the man’s imagination, the crushing beauty of his stories that mesmerised audiences reeling from the brilliant but dismal literature travelling from post-war Europe. 

The novel was Europe, and little bit America, with most readers oblivious to the couple of geniuses from Japan. Until suddenly, the name Márquez dropped from another planet and took everyone’s attention by storm. It was like discovering a Beethoven in Latin America, where a writer’s prose seemed like it was set to music.

Later Márquez made the stunning observation that One Hundred Years of Solitude read better in English than his native Spanish. Rarely do you get to hear a writer who holds the translation to be better than the original. The rich potential of translatability made that epochal novel even more enigmatic. 

The whole world discovered Colombia through that novel, learnt of the sufferings of the banana plantation workers, and yet another devastating story of colonisation. Within the stories of dispossession and poverty, flowered tales of mad humour and magically fatal love. 

However, be it through the character of Colonel Aureliano Buendia or the unnamed General in The Autumn of the Patriarch, Márquez drew for his readers the long shadow of oppressive solitude that accompanies tyrannical power.

In an interview, the author said the thirst for power comes from the impotency to love. 

Márquez vividly contrasts the characters trapped in power to those who risk their life for love. So you have a Mauricio Babilonia, chased by yellow butterflies, having a secret affair with Meme, until Meme’s mother Fernanda has him killed, and the yellow butterflies die with him. Both Mauricio and Meme are finally condemned to a life of solitude. 

Love is countless butterflies in the garden of power. Love has to bear the revenge of solitude that power can solely offer.

In his Nobel Prize speech, Márquez drew attention to Latin America’s fated solitude. 

Independence from Spanish domination threw them into the clutches of local dictators. He asked Europe to correctly interpret the miseries of Latin America, where not lack but an excess of imagination lived alongside the burdens of unbelievable lives. 

Márquez reminded his audience that “London took 300 years to build its first city walls, and three hundred years more to acquire a bishop.”

Márquez mentions in his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, how his grandmother helped sustain their lives of meagre resources with her sense of unreality. Telling her grandson fantastic tales was part of inventing that unreality. It later helped Márquez to gain literary approval from reading the story of Gregor Samsa waking up from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into an insect. Kafka echoed his grandmother. The German poet Rilke’s statement that if one was capable of living without writing one shouldn’t write, made Márquez impose the vow of writing upon himself. 

His memoir is proof that his life was fiction and his fiction, life. The reader learns Love in the Time of Cholera is his parents’ love story, that he had proposed his lifelong wife on a dance floor when she was 13, and that a Sergeant in the neighbourhood spared his adolescent life after he was caught sleeping with the Sergeant’s wife, only because Marquez’s father, who was a homeopath pharmacist, saved the Sergeant when he was suffering from gonorrhoea.

In his famous essay on Nikolai Leskov, The Storyteller, Walter Benjamin had predicted that the time of storytellers were over with modernity and the age of novelists have begun. Benjamin distinguished storytelling, an art that comes from an oral tradition and is told from experience, to the art of the novel that emerges out of isolated individualism. 

Márquez proved that prediction wrong, as his novels are stories that re-cover the lived experience of an entire culture and re-tells the life of their imagination.

As a journalist, Márquez tackled the question of separating truth from political fictions, but also learnt how the importance of journalistic precision can aid a fantastic story. As he said in his 1981 interview to the Paris ReviewFor example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you.

The other aspect that confirms Márquez’s greatness as a writer is his abandonment of ideological and rational certainties in favour of contradictions. Even though he was a communist, he did not believe in using a doctrinaire lens as a writer. And though he was an atheist, Márquez said in an interview, “If you don’t believe in god, at least be superstitious.” 

No wonder, in Márquez’s own admission, he was closer to Rabelais than Kant.

Despite witnessing the impossible extremes of Latin American life, where people faced unequal battles in an unequal world, Marquez kept faith in both story and people. In his Nobel speech, quoting William Faulkner, whom he considered his master, Marquez declined to “accept the end of man”.

 He is a frequent contributor to The Wire and has written for The Hindu, The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, Outlook and other publications.

This piece was originally published in The London Magazine in 2014. 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxGabriel García Márquez is a beautiful name. It resonates with such a feeling more so because the name immediately reminds us of the man’s imagination, the crushing beauty of his stories that mesmerised audiences reeling from the brilliant but dismal literature travelling from post-war Europe. The novel was Europe, and little bit America, with most readers oblivious to the couple of geniuses from Japan. Until suddenly, the name Márquez dropped from another planet and took everyone’s attention by storm. It was like discovering a Beethoven in Latin America, where a writer’s prose seemed like it was set to music. 

Later Márquez made the stunning observation that One Hundred Years of Solitude read better in English than his native Spanish. Rarely do you get to hear a writer who holds the translation to be better than the original. The rich potential of translatability made that epochal novel even more enigmatic. The whole world discovered Colombia through that novel, learnt of the sufferings of the banana plantation workers, and yet another devastating story of colonisation. Within the stories of dispossession and poverty, flowered tales of mad humour and magically fatal love. However, be it through the character of Colonel Aureliano Buendia or the unnamed General in The Autumn of the Patriarch, Márquez drew for his readers the long shadow of oppressive solitude that accompanies tyrannical power.

In an interview, the author said the thirst for power comes from the impotency to love. Márquez vividly contrasts the characters trapped in power to those who risk their life for love. So you have a Mauricio Babilonia, chased by yellow butterflies, having a secret affair with Meme, until Meme’s mother Fernanda has him killed, and the yellow butterflies die with him. Both Mauricio and Meme are finally condemned to a life of solitude. Love is countless butterflies in the garden of power. Love has to bear the revenge of solitude that power can solely offer love.

In his Nobel Prize speech, Márquez drew attention to Latin America’s fated solitude. Independence from Spanish domination threw them into the clutches of local dictators. He asked Europe to correctly interpret the miseries of Latin America, where not lack but an excess of imagination lived alongside the burdens of unbelievable lives. Márquez reminded his audience that “London took 300 years to build its first city walls, and three hundred years more to acquire a bishop.”

Márquez mentions in his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, how his grandmother helped sustain their lives of meagre resources with her sense of unreality. Telling her grandson fantastic tales was part of inventing that unreality. It later helped Márquez to gain literary approval from reading the story of Gregor Samsa waking up from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into an insect. Kafka echoed his grandmother. The German poet Rilke’s statement that if one was capable of living without writing one shouldn’t write, made Márquez impose the vow of writing upon himself. His memoir is proof that his life was fiction and his fiction, life. The reader learns Love in the Time of Cholera is his parents’ love story, that he had proposed his lifelong wife on a dance floor when she was 13, and that a Sergeant in the neighbourhood spared his adolescent life after he was caught sleeping with the Sergeant’s wife, only because Marquez’s father, who was a homeopath pharmacist, saved the Sergeant when he was suffering from gonorrhoea.

In his famous essay on Nikolai Leskov, The Storyteller, Walter Benjamin had predicted that the time of storytellers were over with modernity and the age of novelists have begun. Benjamin distinguished storytelling, an art that comes from an oral tradition and is told from experience, to the art of the novel that emerges out of isolated individualism. Márquez proved that prediction wrong, as his novels are stories that re-cover the lived experience of an entire culture and re-tells the life of their imagination.

As a journalist, Márquez tackled the question of separating truth from political fictions, but also learnt how the importance of journalistic precision can aid a fantastic story. As he said in his 1981 interview to the Paris ReviewFor example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you.

The other aspect that confirms Márquez’s greatness as a writer is his abandonment of ideological and rational certainties in favour of contradictions. Even though he was a communist, he did not believe in using a doctrinaire lens as a writer. And though he was an atheist, Márquez said in an interview, “If you don’t believe in god, at least be superstitious.” No wonder, in Márquez’s own admission, he was closer to Rabelais than Kant.

Despite witnessing the impossible extremes of Latin American life, where people faced unequal battles in an unequal world, Marquez kept faith in both story and people. In his Nobel speech, quoting William Faulkner, whom he considered his master, Marquez declined to “accept the end of man”.

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee teaches poetry at Ambedkar University, New Delhi. He is a frequent contributor to The Wire and has written for The Hindu, The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, Outlook and other publications.

The whole world discovered Colombia through that novel, learnt of the sufferings of the banana plantation workers, and yet another devastating story of colonisation. 

Within the stories of dispossession and poverty, flowered tales of mad humour and magically fatal love. However, be it through the character of Colonel Aureliano Buendia or the unnamed General in The Autumn of the Patriarch, Márquez drew for his readers the long shadow of oppressive solitude that accompanies tyrannical power.

In an interview, the author said the thirst for power comes from the impotency to love. Márquez vividly contrasts the characters trapped in power to those who risk their life for love. 

So you have a Mauricio Babilonia, chased by yellow butterflies, having a secret affair with Meme, until Meme’s mother Fernanda has him killed, and the yellow butterflies die with him. Both Mauricio and Meme are finally condemned to a life of solitude. Love is countless butterflies in the garden of power. Love has to bear the revenge of solitude that power can solely offer love.

In his Nobel Prize speech, Márquez drew attention to Latin America’s fated solitude. Independence from Spanish domination threw them into the clutches of local dictators. He asked Europe to correctly interpret the miseries of Latin America, where not lack but an excess of imagination lived alongside the burdens of unbelievable lives. 

Márquez reminded his audience that “London took 300 years to build its first city walls, and three hundred years more to acquire a bishop.”

Márquez mentions in his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, how his grandmother helped sustain their lives of meagre resources with her sense of unreality. Telling her grandson fantastic tales was part of inventing that unreality. 

It later helped Márquez to gain literary approval from reading the story of Gregor Samsa waking up from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into an insect. Kafka echoed his grandmother. The German poet Rilke’s statement that if one was capable of living without writing one shouldn’t write, made Márquez impose the vow of writing upon himself. 

His memoir is proof that his life was fiction and his fiction, life. 

The reader learns Love in the Time of Cholera is his parents’ love story, that he had proposed his lifelong wife on a dance floor when she was 13, and that a Sergeant in the neighbourhood spared his adolescent life after he was caught sleeping with the Sergeant’s wife, only because Marquez’s father, who was a homeopath pharmacist, saved the Sergeant when he was suffering from gonorrhoea.

In his famous essay on Nikolai Leskov, The Storyteller, Walter Benjamin had predicted that the time of storytellers were over with modernity and the age of novelists have begun. Benjamin distinguished storytelling, an art that comes from an oral tradition and is told from experience, to the art of the novel that emerges out of isolated individualism. 

Márquez proved that prediction wrong, as his novels are stories that re-cover the lived experience of an entire culture and re-tells the life of their imagination.

As a journalist, Márquez tackled the question of separating truth from political fictions, but also learnt how the importance of journalistic precision can aid a fantastic story. As he said in his 1981 interview to the Paris ReviewFor example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you.

The other aspect that confirms Márquez’s greatness as a writer is his abandonment of ideological and rational certainties in favour of contradictions. Even though he was a communist, he did not believe in using a doctrinaire lens as a writer. And though he was an atheist, Márquez said in an interview, “If you don’t believe in god, at least be superstitious.” 

No wonder, in Márquez’s own admission, he was closer to Rabelais than Kant.

Despite witnessing the impossible extremes of Latin American life, where people faced unequal battles in an unequal world, Marquez kept faith in both story and people. In his Nobel speech, quoting William Faulkner, whom he considered his master, Marquez declined to “accept the end of man”.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Leadership …

Posted on March 4, 2019. Filed under: Books |

https://m.signalvnoise.com/you-dont-have-my-permission/L

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

A Photographers Genius …

Posted on February 13, 2019. Filed under: Books |

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20190212-don-mccullin-the-photos-we-cant-look-away-from?ocid=global_culture_rss&ocid=global_bbccom_email_13022019_culture

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Dostoyevsky …

Posted on February 9, 2019. Filed under: Books, From Russia with Love |

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Bard of a City in Ferment

Excerpted from Anjan Basu’s Write up in the ‘Wire’

The museum is an apartment block where Dostoyevsky lived twice: briefly in 1846, when The Double, which has intrigued and charmed critics in equal measure, made its appearance; and for the last two-and-a-half years of his life (October 1878 to February 1881), when he wrote his last major work, The Brothers Karamazov, – one of the landmarks of 19th century fiction.

The third-floor apartment he lived in last, along with wife Anna Snitkina and two young children, forms the core of the museum which now has three other sections as well – a spacious exhibition hall dedicated to the writer’s life and work, a set of galleries displaying contemporary art, and a theatre that regularly features performances by the museum’s partners including a puppet theatre group.

An extensive library, boasting over 24,000 books and periodicals as well as some original manuscripts, has also been put together over the years. The museum was inaugurated in November, 1971 to mark the 150th anniversary of Dostoyevsky’s birth.

The living quarters were lovingly recreated on the basis of memoirs left behind by wife Anna and some of the writer’s friends and the items displayed here came both from the family heirloom as well as from donors.

An excellent audio guide, available in all major European languages including English, helps the visitor around the museum.

Every year in November, the museum complex hosts an international conference with ‘Dostoyevsky and World Culture’ as its central theme.

Thirty-two years were always going to be a long time in the life of a person who died at 59. But the 32 years that separated Dostoyevsky’s two stints on Kuznechny Lane were as truly transformative for him as they were for Russia.

In April 1849, Dostoyevsky had been arrested by the Tsar’s police for ‘sedition’, his and his friends’ crime being that they were members of some kind of a utopian fraternity that read and discussed the works of Vissarion Belinsky, the great Russian liberal intellectual whose passionate indictment of serfdom had made him persona non grata in his homeland.

Incarcerated in Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress for a while, Dostoyevsky faced an elaborate trial, was sentenced to death but was pardoned at literally the last minute when he was being marched out to be executed.

Four years of hard labour in Siberia followed, then a spell of compulsory military service. It was only in 1859 that he could return to Petersburg to pick up the threads of his literary career.

Life was hard, and the writer was often deep in debt, obliging him to move house often enough so as to steer clear of his creditors.

Indeed, Dostoyevsky is believed to have lived in as many as 20 apartments, all within a radius of two miles of Petersburg’s Sennaya Ploshchad (Hay Market Square) in the 30 years he lived in the city as an adult. The Kuznechny Perelouk apartment, close to the Griboedov Canal, is also no more than three kilometres from Sennaya.C

Even as Dostoyevsky resumed writing, and turned out, one after another, Notes from the House of the dead, The Injured and the Humiliated, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment and The Gambler, momentous changes were sweeping across Russia.

In March, 1861, Tsar Alexander III passed the historic decree that finally emancipated Russian serfs from hereditary slavery. As the freed, but impoverished, villagers began to pour into the cities in search of a new life, Petersburg’s social structure was turned upside down.

Sennaya Ploshchad, once a sleepy town square, now swarmed with poor locals, petty thieves and prostitutes, ‘with derelicts, drunks and the destitute’ presenting a stark contrast with the elegant crowd promenading around the near-by Palace Square in Russia’s opulent capital city.

A copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’ in the museum gallery, with hand-written notes on the inside cover page.

This is how Dostoyevsky sketches for the reader of Crime and Punishment the locale of its protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov:

Close to the Hay Market, thick with houses of ill repute, the neighbourhood crawled with a population of tradesmen and jacks-of-all-trades who clustered in those central streets and lanes of Petersburg, creating such a panorama of motley characters that almost nothing or nobody could cause surprise any more.

As the city’s population rose steeply, Sennaya Ploshchad grew steadily more chaotic, dirty and discordant while Dostoyevsky hopped from one rented apartment to another in the vicinity. Raskolnikov’s tortured existence so faithfully mirrors the travails of a life lived around Sennaya that Petersburg now has a walking tour built specifically around his narrative.

At 5, Stolyarny Perelouk, a five-story tenement building – Dostoyevsky himself lived in a building across the road when he wrote the novel – bears the following legend on a plaque:

Raskolnikov Building

Here is where Rodion Raskolnikov lived

The tragic fates of the people of this part of Petersburg served Dostoyevsky

As the basis for his pessimistic sermons on good for all humankind

A large bronze relief of the author, with a furrowed forehead and clenched hands, sits above this legend. Indeed, the walking tour is complete with: a peek into the tavern where Raskolnikov is supposed to have first conceived of the idea to kill Alyona Ivanovna, the elderly pawnbroker; a stop in front of the shop where he overheard the pawnbroker’s sister telling somebody that she would (conveniently for our hero) be away from Alyona’s apartment at the hour Raskolnikov had chosen for the murder; and of course a visit to the pawnbroker’s wretched and cramped apartment, the scene of the crime.

The yellow guardhouse, or the Police Bureau, where Raskolnikov is interrogated, exists and is functional till today. Dostoyevsky himself was held for two nights in the same Guardhouse after his arrest in 1849.A

The story of Dostoyevsky’s life bristles with many extraordinary episodes other than his return from death’s door.

For years, he was a compulsive gambler who often teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and yet, when both his (first) wife Maria and brother Mikhail died in 1864, he found himself as a single parent to stepson Pavel as well as the sole provider for his brother’s family.

He was perhaps the first major writer who engaged the services of a stenographer when he found it hard to meet deadlines on commitments made to publishers.

When Anna Snitkina, the able stenographer, became his wife in February, 1867, Dostoyevsky had no money with which to take her on a honeymoon. But eventually, when they did proceed on the honeymoon in Europe in April, they never returned to Russia till more than four years later, in July, 1871. 

The Idiot was published in 1869 when he was still in Europe while Demons (or, The Possessed), another major work, came out in 1872.

Dostoevsky had had epileptic seizures off and on since his youth, and Sigmund Freud later studied the writer’s symptoms in detail from extensive medical and other records.     

The writer’s desk, with the clock stopped at 8.36 pm on January 28 (February 9, by the Gregorian calendar), 1881, when Dostoyevsky died.

The roomy and comfortable apartment contains both usual domestic bric-a-brac and interesting period items such an attractive tea-service, framed photographs of prominent contemporaries, a miniature enamel portrait of Pushkin (in whose memory Dostoyevsky made his remarkable ‘Pushkin Oration’ only a few months before his own death) and some delightful toys which his little children (Lyubova was 11 and son Fyodor 9 when their father died) played with.

Part of the MS of The Brothers Karamazov are also on display here.

One particular detail is bound to stay with the visitor. When Dostoyevsky died in the evening of February 9 (January 28, by the Julian Calendar which was then in vogue in Russia), Lyubova scrawled the words ‘Papa died today’ on a matchbox.

The matchbox, with the child’s scrawl, is still preserved. Also on view is the wall-clock hanging in Dostoyevsky’s study when he died. 

Today, the clock can still be seen on a stool by the side of his writing desk, its hands frozen at 8.36 pm on January 28, the precise time of his passing.

Anjan Basu is a writer, translator and commentator living in Bangalore.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Demonetization Revisited …

Posted on January 22, 2019. Filed under: Books |

From The Wire –

A trenchant critic of the November 2016 demonetisation – when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes would no longer be legal tender – Meera Sanyal brought out a book length analysis of the “disastrous” move last November.

The following are extracts from The Big Reverse: How Demonetization Knocked India Out, published by Harper Collins India.

There is no doubt that the PM touched a deep chord in the heart of India, when he talked of the menace of corruption.

Who among us has not felt “Some people have misused their office for personal gain… that corruption and black money tend to be accepted as part of life… that it has afflicted our politics, our administration and our society like an infestation of termites…”

According to the 2017 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report, 73 per cent of the bribes paid in India were by “the low economy groups, who had to pay money due to unavailability of other options, or had less influence to avoid paying bribes… high bribes were demanded for accessing public education and healthcare facilities… approximately 58 per cent and 59 per cent bribery rates were seen in education and healthcare sectors in India, respectively. The times when people paid a bribe was also seen to be almost equally high for police, identification documents, and basic amenities.”

The PM’s promise that Demonetisation would eradicate corruption was undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the initial goodwill towards Demonetisation from the very poor, despite the hardships it inflicted on them.

Sadly, however, this promise too was belied.

In February 2018,  Transparency InterNaryomal reported That India continued to be among the most corrupt countries in the world. In the 2017 Global Corruption Perception Index report, India with a score of 40 points, was ranked 81, down two places from its ranking of 79 in 2016.

Worse still, the report named India as the most corrupt country in the Asia-Pacific region, with 69 per cent bribery rates, which means that almost seven out of ten people had to pay a bribe to access public services.

Vietnam was the second-most corrupt country with 65 per cent bribery rates, whereas Pakistan with only 40 per cent bribery rates, ranked much better than India. Japan came out as the least corrupt nation, with a 0.2 per cent bribery rate.

This demolishes one of the main arguments presented in favour of Demonetisation. The Economic Survey for 2016-2017 had stated, “Across the globe there is a link between cash and nefarious activities: the higher the amount of cash in circulation, the greater the amount of corruption… In this sense, attempts to reduce the cash in an economy could have important long-term benefits in terms of reducing levels of corruption.”

As it happens, data does not support this argument. Japan is a case in point. Japan’s Currency to GDP ratio in 2015 was 18.61 per cent, much higher than India’s at 12.51 per cent. In the same year (2015) Japan was ranked as the 18th least corrupt nation in the world while India was ranked 76th, i.e. Japan, which has a much higher currency to GDP ratio than India, has far less corruption.

Clearly, therefore, Demonetisation failed in its second big goal — eradication of corruption. If anything, the new 2,000 notes made it simpler for corrupt officials to take and stash away larger bribes, compounding the problem for ordinary Indians.

The famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is reputed to have said: ‘Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish – too much handling will spoil it.’

The economic impact of demonetisation shows the truth of this statement. It was a totally unnecessary step which extracted a very high cost.

Instead of taking much needed steps to make it easier to do business in India, the government paralysed businesses with the chaotic demonetisation.

The experience of Malti, my micro-entrepreneur fishmonger friend, was multiplied millions of times across the economy. As cash was sucked out of the system, individuals started losing their jobs, faced losses in their farms, and had to shut down businesses, howsoever tiny. They became increasingly more fearful of the future, and in an attempt to conserve cash and preserve savings, they and their families reduced consumption.

As demand fell and people started to buy less, firms cut back on production, which led to lower capacity utilisation. Confronted with falling demand and overcapacity, business people in the private sector postponed or reduced their investment plans.

Unwittingly or otherwise, the architects of India’s 2016 demonetisation had accelerated the downward spiral in investment in the formal sector, mortally wounded those in the agriculture and informal sectors, caused innumerable job losses, and seriously impacted GDP growth.

As The Economist had pointed out: ‘India’s “Demonetisation” is a cautionary tale of the reckless misuse of one of the most potent of policy tools: control over an economy’s money… Managing an economy’s money is among the most important tasks of the government. Clumsy use of monetary instruments comes with high risk.’

By not recognising this risk, the NDA government caused a reasonably well-functioning economy to stop dead in its tracks. By not acknowledging the damage they had caused, and hiding behind a maze of confusing data, the government compounded the demonetisation error.

Since they refused to admit the blow that the economy had suffered due to demonetisation and remained in complete denial, they also could not take corrective actions to revive the economy. This state of denial, therefore, compounded one error with another, leading to a much slower recovery than would otherwise have been possible.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

The Science of Reading …

Posted on January 19, 2019. Filed under: Books |

Excerpted from The Wire – This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. The Author,  Alexander Bevilacqua is an assistant professor of history at Williams College, Massachusetts. 

In her Class Day remarks at Harvard’s 2018 graduation, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed the problem of our rush to judgment.

In the face of what she called “a culture of ‘calling out’, a culture of outrage”, she asked students to ‘always remember context, and never disregard intent’. She could have been speaking as a historian.

History, as a discipline, turns away from two of the main ways of reading that have dominated the humanities for the past half-century. These methods have been productive, but perhaps they also bear some responsibility for today’s corrosive lack of generosity.

The two approaches have different genealogies, but share a significant feature: at heart, they are adversarial.

One mode of reading, first described in 1965 by the French philosopher Paul Ricœur and known as ‘the hermeneutics of suspicion’, aims to uncover the hidden meaning or agenda of a text.

Whether inspired by Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche or Sigmund Freud, the reader interprets what happens on the surface as a symptom of something deeper and more dubious, from economic inequality to sexual anxiety. The reader’s task is to reject the face value of a work, and to plumb for a submerged truth.

A second form of interpretation, known as ‘deconstruction’, was developed in 1967 by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. It aims to identify and reveal a text’s hidden contradictions – ambiguities and even aporias (unthinkable contradictions) that eluded the author.

For example, Derrida detected a bias that favoured speech over writing in many influential philosophical texts of the Western tradition, from Plato to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The fact that written texts could privilege the immediacy and truth of speech was a paradox that revealed unarticulated metaphysical commitments at the heart of Western philosophy.

Both of these ways of reading pit reader against text. The reader’s goal becomes to uncover meanings or problems that the work does not explicitly express.

In both cases, intelligence and moral probity are displayed at the expense of what’s been written.

In the 20th century, these approaches empowered critics to detect and denounce the workings of power in all kinds of materials – not just the dreams that Freud interpreted, or the essays by Plato and Rousseau with which Derrida was most closely concerned.

They do, however, foster a prosecutorial attitude among academics and public intellectuals.

As a colleague once told me: “I am always looking for the Freudian slip.” He scours the writings of his peers to spot when they trip up and betray their problematic intellectual commitments.

One poorly chosen phrase can sully an entire work.

Not surprisingly, these methods have fostered a rather paranoid atmosphere in modern academia.

Mutual monitoring of lexical choices leads to anxiety, as an increasing number of words are placed on a ‘no fly’ list.

One error is taken as the symptom of problematic thinking; it can spoil not just a whole book, but perhaps even the author’s entire oeuvre. This set of attitudes is not a world apart from the pile-ons that we witness on social media.

Does the lack of charity in public discourse – the quickness to judge, the aversion to context and intent – stem in part from what we might call the ‘adversarial’ humanities?

These practices of interpretation are certainly on display in many classrooms, where students learn to exercise their moral and intellectual prowess by dismantling what they’ve read.

For teachers, showing students how to take a text apart bestows authority; for students, learning to read like this can be electrifying.

Yet the study of history is different. History deals with the past – and the past is, as the British novelist L P Hartley wrote in 1953, “a foreign country”.

By definition, historians deal with difference: with what is unlike the present, and with what rarely meets today’s moral standards.

The virtue of reading like a historian, then, is that critique or disavowal is not the primary goal. On the contrary, reading historically provides something more destabilising: it requires the historian to put her own values in parentheses.

The French medievalist Marc Bloch wrote that the task of the historian is understanding, not judging.

Bloch, who fought in the French Resistance, was caught and turned over to the Gestapo. Poignantly, the manuscript of The Historian’s Craft, where he expressed this humane statement, was left unfinished: Bloch was executed by firing squad in June 1944.

As Bloch knew well, historical empathy involves reaching out across the chasm of time to understand people whose values and motivations are often utterly unlike our own.

It means affording these people the gift of intellectual charity – that is, the best possible interpretation of what they said or believed.

For example, a belief in magic can be rational on the basis of a period’s knowledge of nature. Yet acknowledging this demands more than just contextual, linguistic or philological skill. It requires empathy.

Aren’t a lot of psychological assumptions built into this model? The call for empathy might seem theoretically naive. Yet we judge people’s intentions all the time in our daily lives; we can’t function socially without making inferences about others’ motivations.

Historians merely apply this approach to people who are dead. They invoke intentions not from a desire to attack, nor because they seek reasons to restrain a text’s range of meanings.

Their questions about intentions stem, instead, from respect for the people whose actions and thoughts they’re trying to understand.

Reading like a historian, then, involves not just a theory of interpretation, but also a moral stance. It is an attempt to treat others generously, and to extend that generosity even to those who can’t be hic et nunc – here and now.

For many historians (as well as others in what we might call the ‘empathetic’ humanities, such as art history and literary history), empathy is a life practice. Living with the people of the past changes one’s relationship to the present.

At our best, we begin to offer empathy not just to those who are distant, but to those who surround us, aiming in our daily life for ‘understanding, not judging’.

To be sure, it’s challenging to impart these lessons to students in their teens or early 20s, to whom the problems of the present seem especially urgent and compelling.

The injunction to read more generously is pretty unfashionable. It can even be perceived as conservative: isn’t the past what’s holding us back, and shouldn’t we reject it? Isn’t it more useful to learn how to deconstruct a text, and to be on the lookout for latent, pernicious meanings?

Certainly, reading isn’t a zero-sum game. One can and should cultivate multiple modes of interpretation. Yet the nostrum that the humanities teach ‘critical thinking and reading skills’ obscures the profound differences in how adversarial and empathetic disciplines engage with written works – and how they teach us to respond to other human beings.

If the empathetic humanities can make us more compassionate and more charitable – if they can encourage us to ‘always remember context, and never disregard intent’ – they afford something uniquely useful today.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

What Makes a Country Great …

Posted on December 29, 2018. Filed under: Books, Roman Thought |

“The Republic of Rome provides those who go into public life with everything they need,” …………. Reputation was far more important to this Roman – and This is what make a People Great.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

‘The Last Englishman’ …

Posted on December 11, 2018. Filed under: Books |

This Post is about a Book Review carried in ‘The Wire’ … The Book is a  latter day version of Phillip Mason’s immmortal classic –  ‘Men who Ruled India’. 

Unfortunately in the Review there are Grotesque Factual Errors – for instance “Mallory summited Everest in 1922”!!!
As the World knows, Hillary n Tenzing were the First to Summit in 1953!!!)  

But still a worthwhile Read … Here follow some extracts from the Article …

“Baker is a lively chronicler, who introduces surveyor and mapmaker Michael Spender as a ten-year-old racing his siblings to the top of Cat Bells: “With his golden locks and bright blue eyes, Michael was his mother’s favourite.”

Geologist John Bicknell Auden is first seen with luggage and a steamship ticket for Bombay, on the brink of a journey to Calcutta, for a posting at the GSI.

While history accounts for him as the lesser-known older brother of poet Wystan Hugh Auden, Baker, attentive to the silent traumas of historical characters, is quick to mention that 22-year-old John Auden is incurably shy: “He was more at ease watching lascars swab the deck with Dettol than raising toasts in the smoking lounges with strangers.”

His all-consuming interest in mountain ranges, which leads up to an expedition to conquer the summit of Everest, is also introduced through a minuscule detail – a pamphlet titled ‘The Cinematograph Record of the Mount Everest Expedition of 1922’, acquired at a school lecture given by George Mallory, who was part of the first expedition to reach the summit of Everest, in 1922 …………… ???????

Mallory had disappeared in a subsequent attempt to climb the highest mountain in the world in 1924. John Auden, who was traveling to India in a second-class stateroom, “…wanted to succeed where Mallory had failed.”

North Face of Everest. Credit: deborahbaker.net

The Last Englishmen has a motley cast. There are men of letters and secret diarists, fishing fleets bearing young women hopeful of marrying English Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers, poets, district officers, young artists at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, viceroys, sahibs and Sherpas.

In poet Sudhindranath Datta (Sudhin), a worthy representative of the Set – a consortium of the Anglo-Bengali elite – one observes the charming torment of a Bengali babu at odds with himself.

Sudhin is yet another last Englishman – his maternal grandfather’s home has a Paris-style salon with alabaster nymphs by way of interior decoration. Many members of the Set “acquired a taste for English mustard, marmalade, cheese and roast beef,” Baker writes, humouring the Set even as she attempts to dismantle the Empire. Certainties

Deborah Baker.



Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Kahlil Gibran …

Posted on December 9, 2018. Filed under: Books |

Kahlil Gibran (original spelling at birth “Khalil”) is a strange phenomenon of 20th Century letters and publishing. After Shakespeare and the Chinese poet Laozi, Gibran’s work from 1923, The Prophet, has made him the third most-sold poet of all time.

This slim volume of 26 prose poems has been translated into over 50 languages; its US edition alone has sold over 9 million copies. Its first printing sold out in a month, and later, during the 1960s, it was selling up to 5,000 copies a week.

Kahlil Gibran. Credit: Gibran Museum

It has seemingly been able to speak to various generations: from those experiencing the Depression, to the 1960s counter culture, into the 21st century. It continues to sell well today.

https://thewire.in/books/the-prophet-by-khalil-gibran

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

« Previous Entries

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...