Prufrock's Page

Friday, May 05, 2006

Afreud Of Psychoanalysis

Freud's legacy was irretrievably damaged by attacks from feminists and revisionists, and little of his views are put into practice today -- indeed, biochemists (motivated, no doubt by the milk of human kindness and not the balance sheets of pharmaceutical companies) are our new therapists. However, his concepts -- id, ego, superego, libido -- persist in popular memory, and, as Harold Bloom tells us, "Freud matters because he shares in the qualities of Proust and Joyce: cognitive insight, stylistic splendor, wisdom. That remains all on earth we can hope to study and to know."

Update: And, on the 15oth birth anniversary of the man, here's another appreciation that stresses his literary qualities: "Even if you have a nearly complete disbelief in Freud, it's possible to see the literary artist in him as 'superior to his own nature'. Because of him we have a wilderness of insights into the relationship between what stirs inside a child and what disturbs an adult."

Tonkin On Translation

In The Independent, Boyd Tonkin regrets that there aren't more English translations of works from the subcontinent available in his neck of the woods: "After enjoying work brought from Japanese or Arabic, Hebrew or Slovenian, I still think that one mighty gap remains. There seems to be no will, or means, to publish in the UK work by Subcontinental authors in languages other than English. Go to India and you find translations into English of Hindi or Urdu, Tamil or Bengali, writing - often marketed by regional giants such as Penguin India. Yet no one appears to wonder if these versions might deserve a market overseas."

Pamuk On Freedom

"As we took [Arthur] Miller and [Harold] Pinter by taxi from appointment to appointment through the Istanbul traffic, I remember how we discussed the street vendors, the horse carts, the cinema posters, and the scarfless and scarf-wearing women that are always so interesting to Western observers. But I clearly remember one image: at one end of a very long corridor in the Istanbul Hilton, my friend and I are whispering to each other with some agitation, while at the other end, Miller and Pinter are whispering in the shadows with the same dark intensity. This image remained engraved in my troubled mind, I think, because it illustrated the great distance between our complicated histories and theirs, while suggesting at the same time that a consoling solidarity among writers was possible."

- The New York Review of Books reproduces Orhan Pamuk's inaugural PEN Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Memorial Lecture.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Keillor's Kick In The Pants

Trying to be a writer? Whining about how hard it is? Telling everyone you know that you'd churn out that novel if it wasn't for your day job? Well, Garrison Keillor has some words for you:

"OK, let me say this once and get it off my chest and never mention it again. I have had it with writers who talk about how painful and harrowing and exhausting and almost impossible it is for them to put words on paper and how they pace a hole in the carpet, anguish writ large on their marshmallow faces, and feel lucky to have written an entire sentence or two by the end of the day...

"The truth, young people, is that writing is no more difficult than building a house..."


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Once in A Lifetime

"I had seen you before, too many times to count, but a farewell that my family threw for yours, at our house in Inman Square, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life. Your parents had decided to leave Cambridge, not for Atlanta or Arizona, as some other Bengalis had, but to move all the way back to India, abandoning the struggle that my parents and their friends had embarked upon. It was 1974. I was six years old. You were nine."

- The beginning of a new short story by Jhumpa Lahiri, published in the New Yorker.

Kaavya In The Kitchen

One would like to bring to the attention of the editors of the Harvard Crimson that it isn’t just Sophie Kinsella, Salman Rushdie and Megan McCafferty whom Kaavya Vishwanathan has been inspired by. That woman has also been plagiarising freely from one’s own kitchen. Here are ten incontrovertible examples:

* The carton of orange juice says, “Shake well”. On page 193 of the book, when Opal is learning dance moves for the prom, her boyfriend advises her to “shake well”.

* An inscription on the box of processed cheese says, “Refrigerate after opening”. On page 43 of the book, Opal goes to her “refrigerator” and thinks about “opening” a can of soda.

* The wrapper of a brand of biscuits proclaims, “Fresh and wholesome”. On page 112 of the book, Opal slaps an admirer for attempting to be “fresh”, and then, in the next line itself, her looks are described as “wholesome”.

* The word “and” appears 14 times on the bottle of dishwashing fluid. The word “and” appears 6,542 times in Kaavya’s book. Coincidence?

* The bottle of mustard is described as “piquant”. On page 14, the language of a sophomore is described as “piquant”.

* The milk carton has the word, “homogenized” on it. On page 12 of the book, a group of students seeking admission to Harvard are described as “homogenized”.

* The peanut butter next to the mustard is described as “chunky”. On page 252 of the book, Opal’s best friend Sapphire goes on a diet because Opal calls her thighs “chunky”.

* “Kenwood” is the logo on the toaster. On page 43, we meet Opal’s classmate, “Ken”, whose father plays golf with a No. 9 “wood”.

* The slab of chocolate is termed “rich and creamy”. On page 68, shortly after Opal tries a new brand of moisturizer, her skin is described as feeling “rich and creamy”

*The set of kitchen knives has the word “Sheffield” inscribed on the back. On page 184 of the book, Opal’s English cousin, Bert, comes to visit them from “Sheffield”. His intelligence is “as sharp as a knife”.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Zubaan Seeks Young Women

Zubaan, an imprint of Kali for Women, is planning to produce an anthology of short fiction showcasing new, young women writers from South Asia. So if you're an aspiring woman author in your 20s or 30s, do click here.

Three Cheers

Philip Roth has just been awarded the PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement. Although, given his great, late form, one suspects there's a lot more achievement to come in his lifetime.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Waiting For Book Street

In The Guardian, Aili McConnon files this report on the displaced booksellers of Mumbai's Veer Nariman Road. It's a shame that, even after close to a year, they're still awaiting judgement on their future. Meanwhile, other unauthorised hawkers continue to ply a roaring trade everywhere else in the city.

An Authentic Post

In The Observer, Sarfraz Manzoor examines the issue of authenticity when it comes to writing:

"It is astonishing how many of the writers credited with telling typically Asian stories are in fact atypical - either Oxbridge-educated, mixed race, in mixed-race relationships or all of the above. Whether it is Monica Ali, Hanif Kureishi and Hari Kunzru, or Gautam Malkani, Nirpal Dhaliwal and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, these are writers sufficiently of the culture to be able to exploit and extract from their heritage, and for their publishers to claim they are authentic, but also, in a strictly literal sense, exceptional.

"I have nothing against any of these writers, just the suggestion that theirs is the authentic British-Asian perspective. It is not. It is, in the main, the particular perspective of the alcohol-drinking Muslim, or the mixed-race middle class, or the writer with the Asian name and white partner who is more interested in exploring the life of their Asian fathers than their white mother. All legitimate perspectives, but all particular and personal.

"The media demands diversity and authenticity but writers are rarely capable of fulfilling this expectation. When a writer emerges who appears to be giving us the real deal they are immediately lionised, and when it is revealed that they are not they are criticised. The publishing world wants Asian writers it can promote as authentic. Can they not be allowed to have imaginations? Can they not be allowed to simply tell stories?"

Well said, though Manzoor cleverly seems to sidestep the issue by claiming
particularity, rather than representation, when it comes to novelists writing about communities. One recalls the controversy (how unnecessary and overdone, in retrospect) over William Styron's Black character, Nat Turner. Closer home, here's an apposite observation by Amardeep Singh after reading Nilanjana Roy's column on the same subject:

"...all writers, Desi and non-desi, deal with the problem of distance from their subjects. Good writers convince us that they've crossed that distance. Less talented (or less experienced) writers leave room for us to question the gap."

Killing Forests

The last time one moved home was five months ago -- and some of the too-many books that one owns are still in cartons, hidden in snug cabinets above cupboards. The rest are crammed into a few shelves; one still holds on to the dream that the day will come when there will be space for all of them, and time for me to attempt to categorise them. Allen Jones asks himself the same questions that sometimes run through one's mind:

"Why do I have all these goddamned books? Why does anybody? They're expensive, they weigh you down, they're cumbersome. Writing them, reading them, treasuring them. This day and age, it feels antiquated. Quaint. Especially now, with all the information in the world a click and a digital beep-boop-bop away, why all these ponderous rows of bound paper? What's the illness, and what's the cure?"

His answers: "Sentimentality, utility, procrastination. Then there's simple ego." And his bleak yet hopeful conclusion: "It seems that we should treasure our books if only because the alternative – a life in modernity without the possibility of escape, without reading – is too bleak to contemplate."