Saturday, November 11, 2006
Literature about literature
I had written to my friend Dr Mrinal Bose:
I have been reading A Quiet Life by Kenzaburo Oe's, a sequel of sorts to his Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age. I enjoyed the latter more, its about a writer's relationship with his severely handicapped son, in the backdrop of William Blake's poetry. A Quiet Life is simply quieter and more modest in tone, by intention, within a series of works involving the same (semi-autobiographical) characters - an anguished writer, his wife, and their three children. Its in the voice of the writer's daughter, who is also studying the French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. So this is a remarkable discovery too.
Literature in which literature is a subject - can be brilliant, and can also seem far away from life and reality, narcissistic. In Oe it is simply brilliant.
Literature within literature is something I would love to read, but something I would perhaps never attempt to write. I think it's for those writers who are short of life experiences, and have no other resources except their books to get their material from. Why write fiction if you don't know and experience - in your own unique way - the life floating around us? That's how I think.
So I wrote:
In general I agree with what you have said. But I have also had other experiences and hence my own attitude and perception has altered.
Long ago, in an interview with Salman Rushdie I read in some magazine, he had referred to Milan Kundera's line:
"the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting".
I was really struck by that, and frantically hunted for Kundera, presumed it was from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, (it was) and bought and read it. Thus began a new phase in my life.
Great literature - is always based on life and the imagination. This also then becomes part of the world around us. When we experience life ourselves, great literature's insights ring true and help us in our own self-realisation. So, rather than literature about literature taking one away from real life, it is presumed that one is looking at life, and literature is something that heightens this engagement. Or so I feel!
In another exchange on literature, I wrote to Dr Bose:
You said: "only interesting people can write big things." That is if they write! Otherwise the big thing they write will be through their work and life. Ultimately, life is the stuff of literature, and literature best expresses life. But life and literature must remain two, except for those readers who see and read a larger book, where they are one. In mysticism, life and literature become one!