Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

Poem Translations – Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Posted by Ronak M Soni on November 2, 2012

The poems are by Javed Akhtar, from the movie Zindagi na Milegi Dobara, and the translations are by me.

Pighle Neelam Sa

Transliteration:

Pighle neelam sa behta ye sama,
neeli neeli si khamoshiyan,
na kahin hai zameen na kahin aasmaan.

Sarsaraati hui tehniyaan, pattiyaan,
keh raheen hai bas ek tum ho yahan.

Bas main hoon,
meri saansein hain aur meri dhadkanein,
aisi gehraiyaan, aisi tanhaiyaan,
aur main… sirf main.
Apne hone par mujhko yakeen aa gaya.

Translation:

This moment flows like a molten sapphire -
Blue silences sahit -
               nowhere is the ground, nor is anywhere the sky:

The rustling leaves, the whispering branches
        tell me, only you are here

                              - only I am,
        and my breathing and my heart's beating.

Such abysses, such shadows,
                     and me... o, just me!

I have learnt to believe in my own existence.

Zinda Ho Tum

Transliteration:

Dilon me tum apni betabiyaan leke chal rahe ho, to zinda ho tum.
Nazar me khwaabon ki bijliyaan leke chal rahe ho, to zinda ho tum.

Hawa ke jhokon ke jaise aazad rehna seekho,
Tum ek dariya ke jaise lehron mein behna seekho,
Har ek lamhe se tum milo khule apni baahein,
Har ek pal ek naya sama dekhe nigahein.

Jo apni aankhon mein hairaniaan leke chal rahe ho, to zinda ho tum.
Dilon mein tum apni betabian leke chal rahe ho, to zinda ho tum.

Translation:

If you are holding your discontents in your heart,
                            then you are alive.
If you are keeping the lights of your dreams in your sights,
                            Then you are alive.

Learn from the gusts of wind to be free,
and Learn from the river to flow with the waves,
Meet every moment with open arms,
and Every second you'll see before you a new world.

If you are holding your worries in your eyes,
                            then you are alive.
If you are holding your discontents in your heart,
                            then you are alive.
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Posted in My Own Fiction, Poetry, Translation | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Breaking Bad

Posted by Ronak M Soni on September 21, 2012

Originally published at madaboutmoviez.com.

Probably useless reading this if you are not familiar with the show.

So, I decided I wanted to chronicle the reasons Breaking Bad went from one of my favourite TV shows to something I consider well-made crap, partly because it’s a case study in how you lose momentum and partly because I don’t think I’ve ever written a proper rant (dismissive pieces about Christopher Nolan’s movies don’t count, since I find the hullaballoo surrounding his movies funny more than anything else).

So, when I first started watching the series I thought it was pretty good but not too good. But this changed in the third episode when Walt has to kill Krazzy-8, the whole decision running with the unearthing of Walt’s sociopathic tendencies*. But, the moment he had done it, something was over; the muck out in the open, and anything that followed would be but a logical progression. The show itself understood this, and shifted half the focus on Jesse, who’s streetwise but really in over his head with Walt. Similarly, it was wise to include and develop a whole host of supporting characters and their transformations.

Now, I was pretty excited about the show till the end of the third season, but the fourth season is so utterly terrible it’s a wonder I got through it (I’m yet to watch the fifth). To tell you why, let me run character by character.

Walt:

As I said, he killed Krazzy-8, and then his arc inevitably kept on losing steam. But, it managed to not completely lose it for three whole seasons. Part of the reason for this is Bryan Cranston’s marvellous performance in which he very effectively juxtaposes the original meek-mannered, house-trained schoolteacher and the sociopath for whom the previous description is a mask. There is much pleasure in watching the one in action under the other.

As many greater minds have noted, Walt’s transformation had much to do with traditional ideas of manliness and the associated misogyny; the belief that a man must provide for his family, must be in control, be always strong, must inflict unwanted sex on his wife, etc. For the first three seasons these tendencies are very much there, and teased out and questioned by the show (but, let’s be honest, not adequately; V Gilligan and co know there is something messed up here but really are not too properly aware of it, and honestly the show could do much better here, but this sort of thing is a flaw I’m usually willing to tolerate to quite an extent – I love Kill Bill, for example, and there’s this to be said about Breaking Bad itself**), but also there’s always the sense of a complex matrix of motives inside Walt. One of the best things this did was tease out the relation between the ‘coldly logical’ and the culture from which such a mindset grows. (Inserting accusing stare towards The Big Bang Theory.)

Then there was the end of the third season, where when Walt tells Mike about his successful ploy for staying alive, he’s completely the badass he always wanted to be. So completely, in fact, that for the whole of the fourth season he’s basically an annoyingly hotheaded and stupider version of Gustavo Fring. But the fact that Cranston’s a pain to watch is logical; I can live with it while being annoyed that there’s no pleasure in watching the protagonist any more.

The real problem here is that it stops being a logical progression for the character (have I stressed enough how important the idea of logical progression and its logistics are to this show?). It’s as if the makers read all the feminist critiques and decided to incorporate it into their show more fully but they don’t have a real understanding of it. Earlier, the tensions were strained out through his son and Hank and the parallels between Hank’s and Walt’s stories. Now, they go at it head-on: give Skyler a more active role (more on that later) and by having Walt retcon.

There are at least two speeches in the whole season (for a show of thirteen episodes a season that relies so heavily on silences, that’s a lot) in which Walt explicitly states his belief in the aforementioned ‘male’ ideals, which completely flattens out all the nuance and desperation of his decisions. Yes, it makes sense that Walt would build such a mythology about himself, but there is a general feeling that this is now the accepted version of Walt (for example, Jesse pretty much says that he was always badass).

To be clear, I’m not furious about it for social justice reasons (I’m too immune to that), but because it completely destroys a great character. As for the other characters, while they are not so utterly destroyed, they are kept in monotonous arcs that don’t tell us anything new about them.

Jesse:

As I said, the show drew much of its steam from Jesse’s dislocation. But then, when he kills Gale at the end of the third season, the writers have effectively written themselves into a narrative dead-end. All that can happen is his slow disintegration (very well-observed and something which made me bear annoying Mr White for three whole episodes without complaining) till something pulls him out, or alternatively till he hits rock-bottom.

But instead of something interesting doing this job, pulling him out becomes part of Gus’s ploy to get rid of Walt. Overall, a good ploy, but a story that works exclusively on the level of events (I can’t count how many well-made movies and well-written books I have abandoned because of this particular malaise): Jesse’s disintegration isn’t righted or taken to its logical end but simply postponed.

Hank:

He learns to be hopeful despite his newfound impotence (he can’t walk for a while). Absolutely nothing we didn’t see or infer from his previous crisis about the shooting and the bombing. Things happen, and we tread over trod ground.

Marie:

Three scenes of her stealing something because of the stress she gets from Hank. “See, we didn’t forget her – we are perfectly capable of giving a shit about our female characters too.” Obviously, every woman is defined solely by her kleptomania.

Walt Jr:

The only vaguely sympathetic character in the show, and – because of being a potential foil to Hank’s and Walt’s idea of manliness – also the most criminally underused (“hey, we put him in so we had the thought and that’s what counts right?”).

Skyler:

This could have been an amazing arc, her coming into her own as a woman and a partner and foil to Walt. Except, you know, the show crams the transformation into a few episodes in a previous season (so sudden that I thought that Anna Gunn had changed physically – lost or put on weight or something – till I realised that was just how hardened Skyler looked), and just had her perform some events. No acclimatisation to new evilness or anything. This is especially sad since she was one of the most well-crafted characters on the show in the early seasons.

Gus:

Watching Giancarlo Esposito play ruthless and logical mafia boss was never anything short of a pleasure, and honestly I was rooting for him to get rid of Walt (have I said that Walt is now just annoying stupid*** Gus?) so that we could watch a show about the machinations of this man’s brain. But no; black man can’t but be an enemy, and can’t but be eventually vanquished.

The only saving grace here was the development of his hate for Tio (the deepest – and only halfway fascinating – exhibition of the season-long theme that you can be possessed in body but not in spirit is Tio’s refusal to look at Gus) and the fact that that last vestige of sentimentality was how Walt got to him.

The camera:

Anyone remember the pleasure of watching wheels roll in close-up, first because it’s a wonderfully refreshing shot and second since it’s a reflection of the fact of process? Those shots have now been plagiarised into dumb crap like hitching a camera onto a spade that Jesse is walking around with. You know, because Breaking Bad is still weird at its core, not the residue from the vapourisation of a perfectly good show (chemistry analogy! Already one step above the title card (which I always found exceedingly dumb)).

*I use the word consideredly, in its meaning of a person whose attitude towards normal codes of conduct is logical followal at best and scornful disregard at worst.

**Because I know I won’t be alone in thinking this, I’ll state that I briefly toyed after reading that article – middle of the second season – that it was an allegory for racism, but… just no.

***But Walt can’t be stupider, because he got to Gus! Well, this was only made possible by the two asymmetries that Walt had to his advantage: that between offense and defense, and that between creator and manager. Inverted, Gus would have got that guy in no time. But, even I’ll admit that his final manipulation of Jesse was worthy of Gus.

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Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 8, 2012

Realising he’s trapped by the police.

Because Shanghai – which I’ve now watched and highly recommend – was coming out this week, I decided to revisit my favourite of Dibakar Banerjee’s films. It turned out to be even better than I remembered.

When you hear that a movie is being made about the life of a thief, you assume that it is either a damning of the thief, a critique of society (“the honest people are the real evil!”) or – if the filmmakers are really awesome – a metaphysical examination of the nature of property. Dibakar Banerjee’s stellar Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! has element s of all these, but one of its basic statements is their rejection.

It’s almost impossible for me to unravel the layers of nuance here and tell you what (I think) Banerjee was going for. Just as an example, take the whole real crimes show which brackets the movie: it seems to be a frame but it’s not, because when was the last time one of these episodes was over two hours long, starred the real criminal (we know Abhay Deol is playing Lucky and not the guy who plays Lucky because of the photo interludes, which are obviously from the show), and had a scene where the anchor complains about the word ‘sansani khez’? (I’ve grown up with that phrase – in exactly this type of show, actually – and take it so much for granted that I don’t have the slightest clue whether it’s one word or two and whether it means sensational or sensational news,) It’s in fact a sub-plot that acts as a simple critique of the role of the media (life is just not sansani khez, damn it) and also a synecdoche of the attitudes of society (notice that these shows at the same time vilify and hero-fy the criminals).

Lucky is above our society, a trailblazer and an outcast, and yet is so only in his own imagination. If it’s possible to fit OLLO into one sentence, that last is probably it. He is not an abstract moral anti-hero who hates his society, but a brilliant, arrogant man who considers himself a level above all those around him; the central conflict of the movie is that no one else agrees. His family considers him a nuisance, his colleagues think of him as a troublesome ‘un who can be profitable if handled right, the world at large thinks of him as a menace, and his girlfriend (Neetu Chandra) considers him just another dude who happens to have a weird career choice.

It’s telling how Lucky fights these perceptions. He tries to appear penitent to his father, impress the older brother with his wealth and power, bribes his younger brother to turn up at his wedding, tries superhuman-seeming stunts for his girlfriend, and treats his colleagues like shit just expecting them to lick his feet anyway; because, respectively, he wants to win his father’s approval, his older brother’s respect, his younger’s love and his girlfriend’s awe, and to him his colleagues are just annoying people who give him shit while he’s doing what he’s great at.

Speaking of his relationships, the juxtaposition between of and above comes out perfectly in his relationship with his girlfriend Sonal; well, it’s seen in many places actually, but it’s easier for me to write about this because I’ve been really learning about the politics of discrimination the past few months. He lives in a deeply sexist society, where a girl is ‘asking for it’ just by being a dancer or wearing a revealing dress. On the surface, he rejects this sexism, fighting violently on the behalf of women where others just say that nothing can be done because the harasser is too powerful a person and winning Sonal’s heart rather than asking her family for her hand; and yet when you really look at it, throughout the movie he often treats her like shit, first stalking her till she falls for him (that she falls for him after that is itself a symptom of society’s sexism and its effect on women), always trying to keep her in awe of his power and manliness and afterwards constantly pushing her aside, abandoning her on camels, whatnot. This is exactly how we’d expect someone who takes the “respecting women as our mothers” part of our culture very seriously indeed: love women but always remember that they aren’t men.

Looking at this essay, you might be forgiven for thinking that OLLO is rather a pessimistic movie. For most of its running time, it is; even though it is almost unrelentingly funny, the jokes usually range from the throwaway moment to the morbid, rarely if ever venturing into the territory of happy. But, it redeems humanity too; yes, it doesn’t pretend to offer a real solution to the various muddles Indian society has got itself into, but there are two scenes at the end of the movie where we are allowed to see the world stripped of it baggage, where we are allowed to see that the trouble here is in the culture not in the people in it.

The first is an extended scene where Lucky cheerily arbitrates the reclamation of property. The police love the guy; there’s both the fact that he’s something of an icon and the fact that he’s very co-operative and charming. There’s one bit here where he meets a couple who doesn’t remember him but whom he remembers: he reminds them how he robbed them, and where to find the stuff he stole. The couple and he take each other’s leave with a respectful Namaste.

The second is with a paan-walla who may or may not know who he is. Maybe he is a man who just thinks this guy is a TV star and is honestly honoured to have him eat paan at his shop, and maybe he knows who Lucky is, and he’s a fan of this icon. But whichever be the case, he is nice in the simplest, most pure fashion possible – an affliction rarely seen in this movie.

Posted in Banerjee, Dibakar, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“It’s something we are all intimately involved with.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 1, 2012

Originally published at madaboutmoviez.com.

Recently, while reading about alternative gender identities like transgenderism and pangenderism, I came across a type of person known in porn circles as a “shemale,” usually a trans-woman who has had breasts grown with estrogen but hasn’t had the surgery to replace the penis with a vagina (less offensive term: gynandromorph). Apparently, there’s a whole sub-genre of porn devoted to gynandromorphs. Now, in the minds of most, this raises an important question: who is turned on by this? Definitely, there is a small subset of humanity for whom they are the ideal sexual partners, or one of a set of equally preferable ones, but I feel safe in assuming that the porn industry isn’t interested in targeting them; if they went down that road, the first milestone would have been porn aimed at women. So, the conclusion is that heterosexual men are turned on by gynandromorphs. But while you are pondering this question, there are more obvious ones, like why are men so often turned on by lesbian sex? For that matter, why are men turned on by women and women by men?

For the last question, we can easily fill in some platitudes about reproductive instinct and whatnot, but the fact remains that, experientially, in our head is a black box that takes certain images and sensations as input and gives feelings of arousal as output. J G Ballard’s book and David Cronenberg’s movie Crash are about people for whom these black boxes have wiring very, very strange to us; they make a gynandromorph fetish look like something you’d be willing to discuss with your mother.

The movie begins with a woman making love to an airplane wing, before she is joined by a man who gives her what the wing can’t: fingers. She is Catherine Ballard (Deborah Kara Unger), wife of movie producer James Ballard (James Spader), who is at that moment having sex with his camerawoman just off set. Later, they compare notes – “did you finish?,” “did she finish?” – before themselves having sex, aroused by the notes.

Cut to James driving. He drops a script, veers into the wrong side of the road, and crashes. The man in the passenger seat shoots into his car and immediately dies. The woman (Holly Hunter), like James himself, was wearing a seatbelt and so is still in place. She shows him her breast.

James wakes up in hospital. Catherine describes the ruins to him, in the tone of dirty talk. There’s a man (Elias Koteas) who seems very interested in his injuries.

James, after months healing, still morbidly fascinated by the experience, visits what’s left of his car and there meets Dr. Helen Remington, the other driver. He gives her a lift, they narrowly avoid another accident, they fuck, she takes him to a staging of the car crash in which James Dean died by Vaughan (Koteas) and a couple of his stunt driver friends – no seat belts, real cars crashing into each other – and they go back to Vaughan’s, where he and one of the drivers (who’s still concussed) start discussing the Jayne Mansfield crash (“we can do the dead dog”).

So, here’s the big secret: Vaughan, Helen and their posse are turned on by car crashes. Vaughan, the ringleader, has a load of words about why that is so – apparently the sexual energy of a crash victim is concentrated into a crash. He very much has the dangerous allure of a cult leader. When James tells Catherine, they have the most passionate sex they’ve had in a while.

The most amazing thing about this movie is not that it depicts such a subculture, but that it depicts it without the slightest hint of judgement. Yes, their blackboxes are oddly wired but they are their personal boxes and none of our business and all Cronenberg does is portray them; pop psychology is completely absent (most of the Holvudine idiocracy would try to add something about childhood molestation or abandonment issues) and the mainstream culture only exists in so far as these guys couldn’t care less about it.

Modern western culture is more tolerant than many others, but it’s still remarkably churlish about sex. Many people have stopped watching this movie because it is too “sick,” but, as Roger Ebert insightfully points out, replace crashes with your favourite fetish and this is pornography.

Another thing we have difficulty with is the value of individual life; in that we wish to rank it highly, but never really do except with our nears and dears. Let me put it this way: how many people here would like to see criminals behind bars (or, better yet, dead)? How many of you have watched and been deeply affected by a gangster movie where there is no black and white only grey? (Note: in real life, there’s almost never black and white.) There’s a story a friend of mine likes to tell people, about how a European traveller found a tribe where there’s a guy whose only purpose in life is to serve as the chief’s chair; the traveller, of course, was shocked, and the tribals amused at his shock. They’ve been taught to believe that there’s a social order that’s more important than they are (and despite our discomfort with this notion, the martyr is a common form of hero in our mythologies).

Where does this tie in with the movie, you ask? Remember the cult whose leader just told the whole cult to drink poison and they did? Well, in the movie, soon after the happenings discussed above, one of the stunt drivers does the Mansfield crash. And dies. And kills god only knows how many innocent bystanders (and a dog). And arouses Vaughan, James and Catherine.

The progress of the movie is similar to a teenager who starts off masturbating to women in bikinis, and then goes into pornography because bikinis don’t do it for him any more, and then… what starts off as better sex with his wife ends up with James putting his penis into a crash victim’s scar (and, for good measure, every time Cronenberg lets us see it before that it looks rather vaginal) turns into climaxing with the crashing of cars turns into Vaughan killing himself by driving off the road and landing on the roof of a bus turns into James crashing Catherine and, when she assures him she’s all right, him saying “Maybe next time” followed by a nice fuck.

The tendency here is to regard these people as damaged somehow; but remember, for you will have to understand and deal with certain truths about your own moral code, whatever such conclusion you come to is yours and yours alone – the movie merely presented the facts of the case, merely put aberration in our faces to make us think things that we really ought not to be proud of.

Posted in Cronenberg, David, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Melancholia

Posted by Ronak M Soni on March 24, 2012

Image

The movie takes place not in the real landscape of a country mansion so much as in the mental landscapes occupied by its two main characters.

The first part, ‘Justine,’ portrays Justine — the insane sister — in the rigid, scheduled environs of her sister’s life. Her marriage, out of which she flunks. We have a tendency to think of women like Justine, put off by social pleasantries and large gatherings of society, as damaged. Claire definitely thinks so; like her husband asks, is everybody in her family stark raving mad? Though ostensibly told from Justine’s point of view, the whole hour only aims to cement in us Claire’s worldview. It ends with Justine having broken off her marriage and quitting her job — in Claire’s terms, she has flunked.

The second part, ‘Claire,’ portrays Claire in the uncaring, bleak landscape of Justine’s life — complete with lying well-wishers and soothsaying obnoxious people. The climax of the movie is something we’ve known all along — Claire leaves Justine’s hand, flunks.

One way to take this is as a triumph for the Justine side, for it is a fight make no mistake; after all, human connection (holding hands and dying with dignity) is more important than fitting in with society. I wonder, however. Is it really that much less connected to have an understanding that the world is filled with humans and they need to be taken on their own terms? Claire’s reaction to Justine’s various eccentricities: she’s my sister. Justine’s reaction to Claire wanting some semblance of normalcy for her death: your plan is a piece of shit. The only real point made here is that while for one life makes her draw away into herself, for the other it is death (well, not only life and death: I could ascribe any number of dichotomies to the two situations, but I have particular affection for this one because I like to think of the Melancholia the doomsday planet as an agent of Justine’s psyche). It was probably taken as a matter of course that the first part could “cement in” Claire’s perception, but the second half “supported” Justine’s, because only the majority’s opinion is wrong.

But, the more you look, the more you find that both parts are “cementing in” their own sets of prejudices. And the bridge doesn’t come in the end as resolution but in the very beginning as introduction: its point is merely to call out the existence of the problem, and to point out that it is an insurmountable one. Life — as Justine so helpfully points out — is evil, but then so is death; and when you best hold the kid’s hand is nothing but a property, neither quality nor vice except when made one by the situation.

There is a certain feeble misanthropy to this movie which raises it above and beyond any normal work preaching such things. It cares not that you feel any particular feeling but only that you acknowledge. If you are crying when the planet hits, the movie has missed its mark: what you need to do is watch.

Posted in Movie Reviews, Movies, von Trier, Lars | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Tragedy is That

Posted by Ronak M Soni on October 10, 2011

I am he,
Who has, most,
To live with me.

Posted in My Own Fiction, Poetry | 1 Comment »

A New Source of Horror

Posted by Ronak M Soni on August 16, 2011

(Horror is so odd. Not terror, which is what you feel when a bus is rushing down on you or when you are confronted with a phobia of yours, but the deep, vertiginous horror that you feel in the pit of your stomach.

Reading H P Lovecraft a couple of months back and thinking about why exactly we feel such a thing, and why everyone understands what you mean when you talk of this feeling, has taken my thinking into various knots whose existence have fairly changed the way I look at the human intellect and led me to explore deeper the connection between intellect and the body. That’s what I should be writing about rather than this, which a weird fiction aficionado characterises as angst rather than true “cosmic horror,” but I’m too lazy and the subject gets me too confused. Hopefully I can come up with a post about it sometime in the next year or so, but there’s a good chance I won’t be able to.)

The greatest horror is not in the existence of ghosts or murderous trans-human species with tentacles (both of which I feel fill the same role for horror as God does for existential comfort, the idea that something predicated on the same vicissitudes as day-to-day life is worthy of greater emotion than it simply because it is not our everyday life) but in the passing of time itself — the inexorable, half-noticed way in which time jumps scales — coupled with the need to be productive, the constant asking of oneself, “where have I got?”

There are over thirty days in a month, yet a month consists of but four weeks and a week, but of seven days. It is in this ripple-like effect of wasting even one hour of your life wherein lies the horror.

Posted in Philosophical Ruminations | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

“The little girl on the plane/Who turned her doll’s head around/To look at me.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 14, 2011

Click to look inside

Undoubtedly the best Salinger I’ve read to date, Franny and Zooey reads like a more sophisticated rewrite of The Catcher in the Rye. The sour-mannered Holden is here replaced by the mild and diminutive Franny Glass and — in another shape — the somewhat peremptory Zooey Glass, the youngest two members of the family which Salinger came to in all his books except Catcher. The vituperative first-person narrative is replaced by a gentle and keenly observant quintessentially American sort of third person voice straining to break free of the chains created by the limitations of language. The rant about phoneys is replaced by a violent and touching discussion of the value of what one may call mystical philosophy*, a discussion whose majority I’m not in any significant manner qualified to understand except in a skimmy way wherein I surmise the concepts from what is said in the book but the rest of which provided a useful supplement to what I’ve read in S Radhakrishnan’s Indian Philosophy.

The first part, Franny, deals with an encounter between Franny and her boyfriend Lane. Lane definitely qualifies as a pompous arse as per last paragraph, and despite her almost frenetic attempts not to, she every so often goes at him fangs bared, and feels sorry about it every time. She’s surrounded by lessers constantly acting like her greaters, and she has resolved to not set the record straight, to be meek in front of these her nemeses. It’s little wonder then that she has a nervous breakdown.

This isn’t just an incoherent scream; there’s a definite catalyst involved, in the form of a pair of books about a farmer who wants to understand what it is to pray unceasingly. He learns that that’s exactly what it is: unceasingly saying to yourself, “Lord Jesus Christ, have Mercy on me.” till the rhythm becomes a part of your heartbeat and you don’t need to do it consciously any more and then you achieve much greater oneness (there’s probably an Alan Moore video or interview somewhere in which he compares this idea, which is actually a pretty common one — long tracts of the Vedas are just repetitions of God names, for example –, with the effect of art). The first part ends with Franny ruining Lane’s mood, then collapsing, coming to and starting the Jesus prayer.

The second part is called Zooey, and illuminates Zooey’s stand on these concerns as opposed to Franny’s. But first, a bit of history. It turns out that Seymour and Buddy, the eldest Glass siblings, already in their twenties during the infancy of these two, supplemented their reading with mystical philosophies. Because these two, on their philosophical odysseys, had bent more and more towards the mystical philosophers; they felt the need to unlearn the differences between things (Radhakrishnan names this as the goal of philosophy as opposed to science, and this is what I use to characterise “mystical philosophy”) and hope that if these ideas are fed into these two from early enough they won’t have as much trouble.

Zooey is a young actor, slightly bitter at Seymour and Buddy for turning him and Franny into freaks. And he says he’s been through what Franny’s going through. And he proceeds to convince Franny that her breakdown is wrong.

In my review of Catcher, I wrote about Holden, “it is in this rejection of what he believes to be half-human that he expresses his true love for humanity.” Here, at first glance, there is no love for humanity. There is relief at the existence of people not covered with the jaded secretions of American society, but that’s about it. And yet… a little bit more thought shows that the purpose of the Fat Lady is to illustrate that there, in fact, is; the hate is reserved for social interactions. (This in fact curiously mirrors and extends what I said in my Catcher review: “The real fact about these phonies is that we all prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet. Some people just prepare more elaborate ones than others, and they can’t always keep it up.” While I say that it’s vile when sometimes some people’s facades slip, Salinger says that facades are by their nature vile.)

Oh, and it’s magnificently important that both of these are actors by calling, and the final resolution is Seymour’s point that the Fat Lady is watching.

Now, while I’ve stressed on the philosophical aspects of the novel, there is another, equally important one, which Buddy desperately wants us to remember:

I know the difference between a mystical story and a love story. I say that my current offering isn’t a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story, at all. I say it’s a compund, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated.

As I hope my piece has shed some light on, for Salinger, these two types of story are not all that different.He seems to be a man who felt intensely out of place with people, and always remembered that that was the reason he was compelled to pursue wisdom like a madman. If I had to bet either way, I would bet that he hated his endless thirst, that he envied the people around him who could live without this insane drive; that, in other words, he wished he were the Fat Lady, such is his discomfort with this wisdom.

*Though I refer to it as mystical philosophy, it is in no sense of the pulling rabbits out of hats by the grace of God sort. It is in fact a result of very deep consideration of the states of being. I’ll come to why exactly I call it mystical soon.

Posted in Book reviews, Books, Salinger, J. D. | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

“She knew this music–knew it down to the very core of her being–but she had never heard it before.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on May 19, 2011

This review comes nine months late, but not with any the less love for it. In fact, if anything, it comes with all the more, now that the wounds caused by the overabundant bad writing in The Little Country have worn off.

So, before I go further, let me just get this one sticky issue dealt with: yes, this book is not well-written at all, but it’s not bad writing born out of laziness – wherein the writer substitutes tropes for actual thought – but that born out of just plain idiocy; deLint knows what he wants to say, knows how he wants to say it, but is not very good in the execution, falling back repeatedly on stylistic tropes like the way a thriller goes around jumping viewpoints for a page here and a page there, giving us ‘depth’ by making the in-view character think about the event most significant to the story right after introducing us to the fact that this character exists. It basically sounds like this: “Abed was coming home that day, and as he stared at the clickety-clack of the window-panes, he got to reminiscing about his failed relationship with Janey. They had been in love for years before calamity struck. And so this had happened, and so that had happened” and whatnot. This, in my opinon, is the worst stylistic trope there is. Yes, even worse than the art novel’s angsty voice (well-parodied in Prashant Bhawalkar’s Unruly Times and J M Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year); at least there are people like Coetzee, Chandler and Eliot use the angsty voice to beautiful effect. The thriller introduction is so obviously the laziest way of doing things and so nakedly trying to hold a pretence of thought-realism that I honestly doubt it can be used well, except for the purposes of parody (even the estimable farce artist Terry Pratchett falls for this). Of course, this isn’t confined just to introductions. Any and all knowledge that one of the characters has which the writer wants to convey to us is conveyed in a similar fashion. And it makes me gag.

But, there’s a beautiful book behind this excrescence. It’s a book about art and how we relate with our art. And it’s told as a parable about the art that I find it hardest to relate to – music – and the art that I find easiest to relate to – writing. What’s not to love?

De Lint seems to be saying that our art needs to be ascribed a life of its own if we are to ascribe it with any power whatsoever. This power, the power to connect to our surroundings and channel it through ourselves and thereby make others connect to us, is magic (an alarmingly common notion actually).

She knew this music–knew it down to the very core of her being–but she had never heard it before. Unfamiliar, it had still always been there inside her, waiting to be woken. It grew from the core of mystery that gives a secret its special delight, religion its awe. It demanded to be accepted by simple faith, not dissected or questioned, and at the same time, it begged to be doubted and probed.

And there’s no power in the supposed magic unless there’s life in it.

Simple as that, really. That’s what the book is about. There’s a book within the book that’s different for every person who reads it; because it’s magical, because it channels another real world and lets you read about someone who corresponds to you in that world. And music is what’s common to both worlds.

But, of course, you’ll notice, what I’ve said the book is about is just a setup, a description of how things are. There’s epiphany too, as is necessary for a book to be good. Don’t worry. This is a lovely book; it won’t let you down thematically.

Posted in Book reviews, Books, de Lint, Charles | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Knock! Knock! “Who’s there?” “Joe.” “Joe wh–?”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on May 11, 2011

As far as the majority of Batman fans are concerned, it is a horrible idea to have me review a book about the Joker; I feel that the white-faced lunatic in the 2008 movie The Dark Knight was but a pale imitation of the villain I know of as the Joker.

It should come as no surprise then that I also hate Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s generally well-reviewed Joker. In which, incidentally, the Joker looks almost exactly as he does in the movie.

The idea is to write a book about the Joker set in an ultra-noirish world, where everyone is evil and “only cops call people ‘scumbag’. People refer to people by other words.” And, Harley Quinn turns up naked in a strip club (stark realism that refuses to mollycoddle the reader!), and everyone’s face is pitted beyond belief. Sometimes even at the cost of making the character look laughable. Yes, in this case, the size of the nose is as much at fault, but it’s the lines on it that really make me cringe. And, forget faces, there are far too many lines on everything. Of course, we could always blame the inker, Mick Gray, as the parts inked by Bermejo himself don’t look nearly as bad (if you ignore the bizarre pose good old Harley is in over at the back).

But I’m not going to let Bermejo off so easily. There’s, for starters, the fact that faces don’t look the same from one page to the next. Yes, it is a testament to the shifting and uncertain nature of Joker’s reality. Yes, it is exactly as hackneyed, unsubtle and one-dimensional as it sounds.

And then, there’s the minor problem of the fact that nowhere in this book did the Joker truly send ripples of goosebumps up my back, despite the fact that he actually has some very good lines. The Joker’s face may well be locked in a perpetual smile, but the smile never reaches his eyes. Look at the way he walks out of Arkham Asylum:

Why so serious, man?

Of course, more than with the art, this is a problem with the writing, which is an unlovely colossus of Holvudine psychology whose sole purpose is to describe an interesting villain. Never mind that the psychological portrait – inasmuch as it makes sense; internal contradictions abound – has little, if any, resemblance to the mythological symbol it tries to explicate. Seriously, is there any Joker worth our time who would be angry during his release from Arkham Asylum? Is there any Joker who would … ahem … “salute” the city as this white-faced guy does? The last I checked, the Joker loved Gotham, and didn’t really care about territory and respect as he does in this book.

And, most importantly, the guy should be allowed to choose to smile, not have his lips pulled tight by a scar.

What do I want from a graphic novel about the Joker? I don’t want a definitive explanation of seventy years of villainy; what I want is an interesting perspective. Because, finally, that’s the only thing any one writer can offer, for any mythological figure. I love other Joker-explanatory novels, like Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and John Higgins’ The Killing Joke, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum and Bob Hall’s I, Joker (the first and third being my two favourite pieces of art featuring Batman), and all of them, if seen as a definitive explanation, look hackneyed and idiotic.

What I don’t want is an uninspired, “starkly realistic!” piece featuring a white-faced man being diagnosed by an emotionless psychiatrist who calls himself a writer; and that, dear reader, is exactly what this Joker is.

Posted in Azzarello, Brian, Bermejo, Lee (Illustrator), Book reviews, Books | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »