Friday, October 30, 2009

Flaubert, Borges, and Bouvard and Pecuchet

An article by Borges in defence of Bouvard and Pecuchet, written in 1954 seeks to answer some of the criticisms levelled against that magnificent work. I personally have a feeling that my almost reverent appraisal of that work has got something to do with a faint foreboding I have always carried with in me. It is like, I always tend to repeat to myself in moments solitude - That one either has to be born a genius to change the world or stupid enough to swallow whatever is. I don't belong to the former, so my lot is to swallow, however bitter whatever is.
Borges, citing some of the critics say the presence of two protagonists, Bouvard and Pecuchet, the copy clerks, is nothing more than a verbal artifice. Much more tellingly, another critic has said it is a kind of two-man Faust. But the lamentation of Faust in his study about the invariable vanity of his learning of various fields, is contrasted with the two protagonists in a seminal way - Bouvard and Pecuchet is the story of a Faust who is also an idiot. That is the key for if one can convincingly posit Bouvard and Pecuchet lacked the mental capacity to the enterprise they put themselves to, the whole project of Flaubert would crumble down. The story of two imbeciles reviewing the achievements of all mankind would end up as a fallacy. The problem would lie with them and not the human pursuit to know the world and the fruits of that labour. Borges says, the common line of refutation of this theses is to prove the falsity of it's premise, that is, Bouvard and Pecuchet are imbeciles. He quotes Maupassant as having said Bouvard and Pecuchet are 'two fairly lucid, mediocre, and simple minds' of which Borges himself is not convinced. He writes he wouldn't be convinced even if Flaubert were to make such an assertion because the text itself refutes this.
He venture to suggest an alternate justification for the work, which is, I must say, beautful as anything from Borges. It is the pervasive idea of two elements combining in individuals - simplicity and wisdom. 'That fools teach more than wise men because they dare to speak the truth' is one among the many quotes he invokes in defence of this. Well - Do you feel convinced? The beauty of Borges's mind is as ravishing as ever, but I happen to remain doubtful about this spefic line of argument.
I have always thought that Bouvard and Pecuchet are not imbeciles per se, essentially, but it is the enterprise they involve in, that gives them that appearance. Their actions precede our judgement, and it is the act that defines them, even to the extent of that judgement being recursively valid.

Why do I tend to remember the words of another French who wrote years later - "Whether the earth or the sun revolves around the other is a matter of profound indifference. To tell the truth, it is a futile question."?

Monday, October 19, 2009

And the Scheme of Things...

Indian people are inclined to consider the universal seriously in expressing their ideas of things. This can be easily seen in the fact of their verbal usage in which they have so great an inclination to use abstract nouns. In Sanskrit, an abstract noun is formed by adding -ta (f.) or -tva (n.) suffix to the root. These suffixes correspond to th (Greek), -tas (Latin), -tät (German), -té (French), -ty (English), and etymologically they have a close connection. In these European languages, however, abstract nouns are not often used except in scientific essays or formal sentences, while in Sanskrit they are often used even in everyday speeches. For example, "He becomes old," "Er wird alt," is expressed in Sanskrit ''He goes to oldness": vrddhatam (-tvam, -bhavam) gacchati (agacchati, upaiti, etc.); "The fruit becomes soft," "Die Frucht wird weich" is expressed in Sanskrit "The fruit goes to softness": phalam mrdutam(-tvam, -bhavam mardavam) yati; "He goes as a messenger," "Er geht als Bote" is expressed "He goes with the quality of messenger": gacchati dautyena; "A man was seen to be a tree" is expressed "A man was represented by the quality of tree" (puman kascid vrksatvenopavarnitah). The European languages express the individual by its attribute or quality realized concretely by the individual itself, while the Sanskrit expresses the individual only as one of the instances belonging to the abstract universal.

Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples - India-China-Tibet-Japan
- Hajime Nakamura

Tell me, isn't that mightily revealing?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Just so that.... don't miss it, there is an insightful article here on The Guardian. Author mulls at length over the eroding barriers of fact and fiction which raises serious concerns. The seminal point is ' entertainment history is now the main source of supposedly historical knowledge for more and more people', and that is reason for far reaching consequences. The example he cites is the best in this regard: the movie 'The Da Vinci Code'. We are on a strange path indeed. Where, alas, is this species heading? Read it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I have always imagined....

....that Paradise will be a kind of library -- Jorge Luis Borges


THEODOTUS (on the steps, with uplifted arms). Horror unspeakable! Woe, alas! Help!

RUFIO. What now?

CAESAR (frowning). Who is slain?

THEODOTUS. Slain! Oh, worse than the death of ten thousand men! Loss irreparable to mankind!

RUFIO. What has happened, man?

THEODOTUS (rushing down the hall between them). The fire has spread from your ships. The first of the seven wonders of the world perishes. The library of Alexandria is in flames.

RUFIO. Psha! (Quite relieved, he goes up to the loggia and watches the preparations of the troops on the beach.)

CAESAR. Is that all?

THEODOTUS (unable to believe his senses). All! Caesar: will you go down to posterity as a barbarous soldier too ignorant to know the value of books?

CAESAR. Theodotus: I am an author myself; and I tell you it is better that the Egyptians should live their lives than dream them away with the help of books.

THEODOTUS (kneeling, with genuine literary emotion: the passion of the pedant). Caesar: once in ten generations of men, the world gains an immortal book.

CAESAR (inflexible). If it did not flatter mankind, the common executioner would burn it.

THEODOTUS. Without history, death would lay you beside your meanest soldier.

CAESAR. Death will do that in any case. I ask no better grave.

THEODOTUS. What is burning there is the memory of mankind.

CAESAR. A shameful memory. Let it burn.

THEODOTUS (wildly). Will you destroy the past?

CAESAR. Ay, and build the future with its ruins. (Theodotus, in despair, strikes himself on the temples with his fists.) But harken, Theodotus, teacher of kings: you who valued Pompey's head no more than a shepherd values an onion, and who now kneel to me, with tears in your old eyes, to plead for a few sheepskins scrawled with errors. I cannot spare you a man or a bucket of water just now; but you shall pass freely out of the palace. Now, away with you to Achillas; and borrow his legions to put out the fire. (He hurries him to the steps.)

POTHINUS (significantly). You understand, Theodotus: I remain a prisoner.

THEODOTUS. A prisoner!

CAESAR. Will you stay to talk whilst the memory of mankind is burning? (Calling through the loggia) Ho there! Pass Theodotus out. (To Theodotus) Away with you.

THEODOTUS (to Pothinus). I must go to save the library. (He hurries out.)

Bernard Shaw - Caesar and Cleopatra : Act II

Friday, April 3, 2009

Of Other Reasons

Phaedr. I should like to know, Socrates, whether the place is not somewhere here at which Boreas is said to have carried off Orithyia from the banks of the Ilissus?

Soc. Such is the tradition.

Phaedr. And is this the exact spot? The little stream is delightfully clear and bright; I can fancy that there might be maidens playing near.

Soc. I believe that the spot is not exactly here, but about a quarter of a mile lower down, where you cross to the temple of Artemis, and there is, I think, some sort of an altar of Boreas at the place.

Phaedr. I have never noticed it; but I beseech you to tell me, Socrates, do you believe this tale?

Soc. The wise are doubtful, and I should not be singular if, like them, I too doubted. I might have a rational explanation that Orithyia was playing with Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the neighbouring rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to have been carried away by Boreas. There is a discrepancy, however, about the locality; according to another version of the story she was taken from Areopagus, and not from this place. Now I quite acknowledge that these allegories are very nice, but he is not to be envied who has to invent them; much labour and ingenuity will be required of him; and when he has once begun, he must go on and rehabilitate Hippocentaurs and chimeras dire. Gorgons and winged steeds flow in apace, and numberless other inconceivable and portentous natures. And if he is sceptical about them, and would fain reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy will take up a great deal of time. Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous. And therefore I bid farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for me. For, as I was saying, I want to know not about this, but about myself: am I a monster more complicated and swollen with passion than the serpent Typho, or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, to whom Nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny? But let me ask you, friend: have we not reached the plane-tree to which you were conducting us?

Plato, Phaedrus - Benjamin Jowett Translation

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Title Submerged by the Text that Followed

"The dreaming collective knows no history. Events pass before it as always identical and always new. The sensation of the newest and most modern is, in fact, as much a dream formation of events as the "eternal return of the same". The perception of space that corresponds to this perception of time is superposition. Now, as these formations dissolve within the enlightened consciousness, political-theological categories arise to take their place. And it is only within the purview of these categories, which bring the flow of events to a standstill, that history forms, at the interior of this flow, as crystalline constellation.- The economic conditions under which a society exists not only determine that society in its material existence and ideological superstructure; they also come to expression. In the case of one who sleeps, an overfull stomach does not find its ideological superstructure in the contents of the dream-and it is exactly same with economic conditions of life for the collective. It interprets these conditions; it explains them. In the dream, they find their expression; in the awakening, their interpretation."

Walter Benjamin, Early Sketches, Arcades Project, p. 854

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weltschmerz - Possibilities to Dodge?

Dawn - Kayhan Kalhor & Shujaat Hussain Khan

But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we
breathe ourselves out and away; from moment to moment
our emotion grows fainter, like a perfume. Though someone may tell us:
"Yes, you've entered my bloodstream, the room,the whole springtime
is filled with you . . . "--what does it matter? he can't contain us,
we vanish inside him and around him. And those who are beautiful,
oh who can retain them? Appearance ceaselessly rises
in their face, and is gone. Like dew from the morning grass,
what is ours floats into the air, like steam from a dish
of hot food. O smile, where are you going? O upturned glance:
new warm receding wave on the sea of the heart . . .
alas, but that is what we are. Does the infinite space
we dissolve into, taste of us then?

Duino Elegies, The Second Elegy - Rainer Maria Rilke

Notes : Bold face added.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Arbeit Macht Frei

To move one's fingers, to lift the eye lids, to pick words and to be, in order to write about what is happening in Gaza is an absurdity. Absolutely. To speak about it is to acknowledge to oneself that Gaza as a geographical entity exists, it is populated, populated by human beings, they too eat, sleep, and give birth. No. It's the avalanche of temptation one has to learn to resist. One has to learn to erase. No. One has to learn to stop learning. One has to learn from them, the miraculous way in which they have forgotten EVERYTHING, they who have placed Arbeit macht frei at the door to their conscience. They who have taken up the Philosophy of Erasure. They who keep the Bully that is the God of Old Testament alive and fresh through the generations. Fresh as freshly picked vegetables. Apparently that same old God would not give us amnesia, would not give us hemlock. We who shed bitter tears over the untimely departure of Benjamin, We who vividly recall the murder of Walther Rathenau, We who wake up with a start in the middle of the night and stare into the riddle of Primo Levi's death, we who are doomed to recite the Talmud of cruelty lest we forget . Will not even erase us, we who would without a murmur cease to be. One has to learn to vanish. Vanish.