Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Emperor wears no clothes...

I had, a long while ago, written a post with a similar title about the state of visual and static art. I am forced to address the state of English literature, esp. the landscape of fiction writing with no different a title. If this sounds like fervid lamentations, suffer me. Of course, I am not an authority on English lit.

I have been in great turmoil over the past few weeks, although several years have served me sporadic days when I have lost all sense of what is good fiction. Really, what is good fiction? I would like to share with you where I come from.

English was wrapped for me in NCERT books (CBSE). They were mandatory reading in order to pass exams. The teachers rarely loved the stories or English and made a randomly chosen student to stand up and read to the class. Then there were questions to be answered: "Why did Mrs. Rose not return the purse to Emily?" "Give a character sketch of the Scarlet Pimpernal." and other demands from the supple mind which was never encouraged to retain its wonder by enjoying the story and the way it was constructed. Not once did a teacher exclaim "Aaah! Isn't that lovely? Listen to Saki refer to the newfound interest in a simple hobby of hunting as a "sudden deviation towards the footsteps of Nimrod" (I think this story was part of the 10th class English. Not sure whether it was English 1 or 2. Never could figure out the difference!). I shant take a detour to a discussion on education methodologies, but English was not treated as something to be loved. How I came to being drunk in my passion for English, I know not. I might owe some of it to my father, and some to the ways of the world.
Outside of school, my sister and I used to compete with each other regarding the books (quality and quantity) we read. Summer vacations were a nightmare for our parents (more so for mom). Books were sprinkled on the floor with a greater frequency than the chips on mosaic tiles. We read Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Famous Five, Archies, and a few others. Then we shifted to novels while I fell in love with Saki and O'Henry. I read more and more of them and found little competition from my sister. She went on to stuff that leaves girls smiling for no reason. I moved on to the telling details of Sredni Vashtar and The Theory and The Hound.
Those were days without network connectivity. Heck! those were days without a computer. I didn't rush to my bookmarks to start looking up authors, biographies, reviews, articles related to texts. Now, I spend time understanding what Pico Iyer liked to read, where was he in 1998, what people think about Abandon and so on. Neither phases of my life score more.
In summary, I was raised with Saki, O'Henry, Maugham, Poe, Chekov, Saroyan and London. Yes, my English was mostly British and I am grateful to whoever is responsible for that (parents included and St. Mary's ICSE receiving my most ardent bows). All these writers, and I include Maupassant in this clique, were wonderful and delightful reads. How they wrote, what drove them, how they lived was and is of least consequence. Their stories felt like ... stories.

Let's walk the present-day roads. The overpowering influence of media and interconnectedness has only affected the written word for the worse. Not only are books hyped beyond their worth, but the language in current works is horrible (so what if they reflect the real world street?). I shall reserve my views on foul language. SMS-ese rules. People have lost the art of learning the right spellings and have become slaves to spell-checkers (and most of the mails I receive seem to have not even invoked these programs). But my frustration doesn't find life in these slights. What ruins my sleep is this entire notion of modern fiction that parades the world of stories.

If you are so inclined, please study structuralism, realism, modernism, post-modernism, post-post-modernism in the context of literature.

I read this post a few days ago:,,2101-2539779,00.html

I recall Nathaniel Hawthorne say about good writing: Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne. And I think the current bandwagon of English writers are aware of this although they might not admit it. Gallant Gallstone.

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