Prufrock's Page

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Land Of The Missed Opportunity?

In an article in The Republic, Vancouver, Kevin Potvin writes:

"In both China and India, however, conditions are not conducive for the creation of new ideas. Neither are notably open and tolerant societies. China remains under the iron-grip rule of single-party communist dictatorship and Chinese society is oppressive with social rules while a bureaucratic straightjacket reigns in all free thinkers. India, though a democracy, is no place to get something new off the ground, as anyone who has ever been there can attest. V S Naipaul called India the land of missed opportunity, and despite huge economic advances there recently, it remains a place where free thinkers are frustrated."

The poor man. Obviously quite unaware of what's happening in the world around him.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Bad Magic

Blank pages. A page printed upside down. Text skewed higher at the top of the page.

Er, that would be...B.S. Johnson? Lawrence Sterne? No, J.K. Rowling.

English As She Isn't Spoke

One recently noticed a new advertising campaign for a watch company featuring a range of watches accompanied by the line: "How many you have"? This offending line is plastered over hoardings and displayed on TV commercials.

Now, there are two possibilities here: Either the people at the agency and at the client's end have no knowledge of grammatical English; or, what's worse, they feel this mangled usage is somehow hip and desirable.

And that's the last thing we need, given the abysmal levels to which our English usage have fallen. One is no purist; but surely basic grammar ought to be protected.

To think they're going on and on about the Tuff shoes advertisement when this egregious example of declining standards is staring them in the face.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rushdie In Paraty

It's been ages (okay, less than two weeks) since one posted anything about Salman Rushdie. So here's a report on the author's appearance at the Paraty International Literary Festival in Brazil for the launch of Shalimar The Clown in Portuguese:

"The [9/11] attacks reinforced his feeling, he explains, that the world has become a tiny place where all stories crisscross and intermingle. 'Every writer I know understands that you need to rethink,' Rushdie tells reporters before going onstage to talk about his work. Sept. 11 'showed me that the stories of the world are hopelessly entwined with each other. Because of the shrinking planet and the consequences of mass migration and geopolitics and so on, we all live in this world where our stories are no longer separate. [Before], one could mostly tell a story about India. You can't think like that anymore.'

'If you had my life, you wouldn't want to write about it,' Rushdie tells the audience with a smile. 'Enough already of my life!' A few moments later he is off again, shuffling around Paraty, largely unknown, and very happy to be so."

Writer In Resistance

"There are a lot of people who say that they would love to write scripts and novels, and why they haven't yet written is because they don't have the time, they do not have anything to tell or they don't think they can write. But every person has something to express. In my entire experience, I have not met any person who has nothing to write about for 15 minutes. This course gives people the tools with which they can write."

The Afternoon Despatch And Courier chats with Atima Srivastava, Mumbai University's new Writer In Residence. In a memorable typo, they term her the university's "writer in resistance".


One might as well inform one's readers (all three of them) that anytime one comes across anything by James Wood, one stops in one's tracks and links to it at once. And so, without further ado, here's the man's New Yorker review of Cormac Carthy's new novel, No Country For Old Men:

"To read Cormac McCarthy is to enter a climate of frustration: a good day is so mysteriously followed by a bad one. McCarthy is a colossally gifted writer, certainly one of the greatest observers of landscape. He is also one of the great hams of American prose, who delights in producing a histrionic rhetoric that brilliantly ventriloquizes the King James Bible, Shakespearean and Jacobean tragedy, Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner."

McCarthy, whose Blood Meridian was praised by no less a personage than Harold Bloom as a major aesthetic achievement, is another one of those American author-recluses, and was coaxed into giving his first interview in 13 years upon the publication of this book. (Described as "a violent modern-day Western about a man who finds a suitcase filled with $2 million of drug money in the desert in a car whose occupants have been shot.") Curiously enough, the interview itself will appear in this month's Vanity Fair magazine.

(The new London Review of Books has another piece by Wood, on Nicole Krauss' A History Of Love -- for subscribers only, alas. But here's Maud Newton on the reactions it engendered at The Elegant Variation, and elsewhere.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Why Don't They Just Approach The Times Of India?

Been there, done that, the venerable TOI would say to this BusinessWeek article on “hidden ads”:

"Toyota Motor Corp has asked at least three major magazine companies to explore product integration -- that's product placement to you and me -- of its cars into magazine editorial pages. Say hello to another indicator of changing media mores.

“There's no sign that Hearst Magazines, Meredith, and Advance Publications, the parent of Condé Nast Publications, are going along with what would be a major breach of the traditional wall between magazine editorial and advertising units. Still, it's a time, says Deborah Wahl Meyer, vice-president for marketing at Lexus, in which ‘ideas can cross between advertising and editorial. It doesn't always need to have the 'advertorial' note on top.’ ”

Characters from Lahore's Heera Mandi

In The New York Times, William Grimes reviews British academic Louise Brown's first novel, The Dancing Girls of Lahore: "[a] report, both chilling and heart-warming, on a neighborhood where all the rules seem to be changing except the ones that keep Pakistani women in a state of abject servitude."

He continues: "Ms. Brown...has a sociologist's eye and a novelist's appreciation of her surroundings and the human drama that plays out before her. She spends nearly as much time describing the street foods of Lahore and the excitement of religious festivals as she does analyzing the grim economics of the sex trade. Her main character, Maha, a prostitute on the downward side of her career, comes alive in all three dimensions, fully realized in the circumscribed world that has defined life for her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before her....There are no truly happy endings. But against all the odds, women like Maha somehow manage to make a life. Ms. Brown, astonishingly, makes that seem plausible."

It sounds interesting, though perhaps a trifle marred by bleeding-heart liberalism. Nevertheless, one is going to try and get hold of it before some misguided man hold up a copy and demands that it be banned. ("We are a decent society and books like these will corrupt the youth!")

In Praise Of Dead White European Males

"Go into any high school today and you might...hear, 'Who's William Faulkner?' 'Who's Vladimir Nabokov?' 'Who's Joseph Conrad?' And maybe even, 'Who's Ernest Hemingway?' "

Jodi Daynard. high school English teacher at Emerson College, writes in The Boston Globe that any literature curriculum that ignores writers such as Joyce, Hawthorne, Melville, Conrad, Faulkner, et al will make students miss "a critical dimension of their education: the understanding of our universal struggle and despair, an understanding that should form a part of every generation's consciousness. To think that the human condition is hunky-dory is just, well -- wrongheaded. And dangerous."

This is no repetition of the magisterial pronouncements of Harold Bloom, or an exegesis of Bellow's infamous "where is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?" statement. Daynard feels that students today have a healthy self-identity in any case, fostered by their knowledge of multiculturalism. Therefore, she concludes: "Who's Hawthorne? Who's Faulkner? Who's Conrad? Three of the most important writers in the English language. So, if you're a parent reading this, go get the great books for your teenagers. Get the Brontë sisters. Henry James. Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Conrad. Faulkner. Camus. Jean-Paul Sartre. Woolf. James Baldwin. Toni Morrison. Nabokov."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I'm A Brain Surgeon Now, But I Used To Be An Author

"There's a famous story about Margaret Atwood meeting a brain surgeon at a party. After some chit-chat, the surgeon announces that he plans to take up writing when he retires. ‘Really?' Atwood supposedly replied. ‘When I retire, I plan on taking up brain surgery.’ "

- From an article by Leah McLaren in The Globe And Mail on how everyone she knows these days is writing books

Fame, The Shuttlecock

Some leave town. Others become obsessive. Yet others become abusive. And some write long articles in Tehelka bemoaning the lack of a literary culture.

Robert McCrum weighs in on the love-hate relationship between writers and reviewers, touching upon Samuel Johnson's advice: " 'Sir,' declared the good doctor, at his most majestic (and true): 'It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at only one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends.' "

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Spirit Of Free Enterprise

Spotted this morning at the Haji Ali junction: A shady-looking individual approaching cars with pirated copies of Harry Potter 6 tucked under his elbow.

In Which Dan Brown Tries To Snatch The Spotlight Away From Harry Potter

Yesterday's Sunday Herald says:

"Author Dan Brown is set to reignite controversy over his besteller The Da Vinci Code today, by defending claims he makes in the book that Jesus Christ married and had a child.

"In a rare television interview to be broadcast tonight on the National Geographic Channel, Brown reaffirms his 'belief' in the book’s key theory – that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and their French-born child started a blood line stretching to the present day. Critics have denounced the new claims as 'bonkers'.

"...Brown contends that Jesus must have wed because 'in that time in history, for a young Jewish man to not be married …it was practically a sin.' "

With proof like that, how can we all not be convinced?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Everyone's A Critic

"It's so big. It's so big!"

That's a comment one overheard last evening at Crossword, Kemp's Corner, by a dismayed teenager examining the new Harry Potter.

No, one did not buy the book, though one visited the bookstore with that express purpose. The reason? They were asking for the full price. One will go to Strand instead. Or even Danai. (It's not the money, it's the principle. But of course.)

Instead, one took home the new Penguin India version of proto-feminist Rokeya Hossain's provocative, satirical Sultana's Dream and Padmarag. And no, Crossword still thinks it isn't worth their while to stock Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian.

Bookshops in Mumbai. Sigh.

Prufrock's Creator Vilified

A "miserable creature" exuding a "stink of enfeeblement", whose poems are “spittoons of failure”. And, my goodness, he even worked as a bank clerk for a while.

That's Elias Cannetti, passing judgement on T.S. Eliot in his just translated memoirs, Party In The Blitz. Read the Times review here.