Analysis of Objectivism and book review of “Anthem” by Ayn Rand

It is a sin to write this.

It is a sin to be alone.

It is a sin to think alone.

For, there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone.

It is a fearful word, alone.

Still, we must write.

We wish to speak once to no ears, but our own

                                                                                          ” Anthem” by Ayn Rand.

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Genre-      Dystopic literature/ Philosophical fiction

Introduction

Ayn Rand’s ‘Anthem‘ is a political statement against collectivism and blatant erasure of individualism, attacking the tenets of Soviet Communism, that, according to her, promulgates serfdom and slavery, disguising as and hiding behind the veil of ostensible freedom of the proletariat.  It is a dystopian novel, the atmosphere same as in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World‘ and to cite a more recent one, Yan Lianke’s ‘The Four Books‘.My review here(Book Review ‘The Four Books’ by Yan Lianke).

Rand and Objectivism

Rand was born Russian(1905) to an intellectual and well-off Jewish family and a witness to the Bolshevik Revolution, and a victim (according to her) when the communists expropriated property from the wealthy, nobles, landlords and aristocrats and distributed to the proletariat. ( The Russian Revolution had had many reasons other than this, though inequality was one notable raison d etre. Rand having had to lose everything, we can very well understand her ire against everything that had to do with communism. Yet, the significance of perspective shouldn’t go unnoticed. Thinking from the proletariat viewpoint, the revolution was a liberating force then. The state surveillance and curbing of individual freedom would have had the most negative impact while shaping the judgments and viewpoints of an intellectual like her).

She had done her Bachelors in History from St. Petersburg State University, Russia, where, she wrote later, she had encountered the distortion of history, art, literature, and past to propagate the Soviet communist propaganda. She turned out to be an excellent propagandist herself, later in the U.S, trumpeting her philosophy and capitalist ideologies, that were soaked up by a liberal crowd pining for change, a business flock hungry for profit and a conservative group who savvied its electoral significance.

She fled to the land of freedom, the USA, obliterated everything Russian( her name was ‘Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum’), took on US citizenship, and started writing novels and propounded her unique and controversial brand of philosophy, called ‘Objectivism’. ‘Anthem’ set the seeds of her philosophy, which was then expounded in detail through her other famous works, ‘The Fountainhead‘ and ‘Atlas Shrugged‘ and also her many non-fiction works.

(I was interested in reading Anthem and about objectivism after reading a newspaper article headlined, why ‘Conservatives and Libertarians embrace Randian philosophy while Academicians reject it‘. Texts about the philosophy were beyond my understanding, I just wanted to find out what the fuss is all about and I love non-fiction. Many GoodReads friends had suggested reading ‘Anthem‘ first to make out the whats and whys and also many simplified explanations were available on the net. If you are not a fan of philosophical-fiction, better not try this one).

Objectivism has four tenets- reality, reason, self-interest, and individual rights and capitalism. Simply explaining, Rand’s philosophy is rooted in Ego or self-serving/ self-actualizing acts to achieve individual happiness and prosperity and through this happiness and prosperity of a society. The moral goal of each individual should be achieving happiness as the purpose of life through the noblest activity of productive achievement with an absolute reason, living in a society that respects individual rights and promotes laissez-faire capitalism. Note, the many interesting points here for conservatives and capitalists, but, one thing that stands out in her materialistic philosophy, is, she is a self-styled atheist to a fault, that makes it an atheistic philosophy too, one that might not go well with conservative ideologies.

Conservatism, Rand and objectivism

The 40-th US president Ronald Reagen was a fan of Ayn Rand, as his private letters reveal A pamphlet was written by Rand after the 1960 presidential campaign,’ Conservatism, an Obituary‘ in which she states that capitalism is the only alternative to Statism. Though Rand was never a fan of Reagen( as her many speeches suggest) due to his alliance with the religious right and his pro-life stance on legal abortion. Her words-  “the appalling disgrace of his administration was his connection with the so-called ‘Moral Majority’ and sundry other TV religionists, who are struggling, apparently with his approval, to take us back to the Middle Ages via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.

Though both were anti-communists to the hilt, there were many dissonances in their overlapping views on objectivism. Simply put, conservatism and anti-communism cannot be automatically linked to the Randian objectivism. There were obvious discordances at many points. Certain pieces didn’t fit into these groups that easily. But the 60’s conservative youth and libertarians, most of whom embraced atheism, found in the philosophy an excellent propaganda tool and inspiration for political and social contexts. Many were searching for ideologies to pin their faith on, about the role of individuals and government in a society. They misinterpreted Rand’s elevation of individualism into the extreme and set limits on government interference in the most minimalist terms possible. Many of the old conservatives who were religious and pro-life, later tried to let themselves out of the Randian hook or added their own convenient religious component into it. Both groups added a prophetic hue to her major novels, pointing to the dystopia that might alight upon them, given the consequence of electing a liberal government. Rand was an adamant pro-choice proponent and had warned and argued strongly against religious conservatism.

Rand’s philosophy encompassed the cold war struggle b/w free countries practicing capitalism like the USA and ostensible surveillance states curbing freedom and individualism like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. She went on to write novels and was an acclaimed Hollywood scriptwriter.  The novels ‘Atlas shrugged’ and ‘The Fountainhead’ was remade into films, in which she countered and flipped over the communist agitprop of a heroic worker fighting tooth and nail with a sordid capitalist. ‘The Fountainhead’ released during WW-ll tells the story of a self-made heroic architect, Howard Roark, fighting the injustice of people who abuse the labor of others called ‘second-handers’.( Have read the review only. Looks like an interesting read).

Anthem‘ summary

Anthem is a paean to Ego. It is the self-realization of individual potential to the utmost when a person is free.

The novel is narrated in the first person by the protagonist, Equality 7-2521, (yes, that is his name, he does not have a proper name), a young man languishing in a dystopian, apocalyptic future society under 24/7 surveillance. Not an ordinary society, here individuality has been cleansed right to the level of vocabulary for communication. No one had even heard of the pronoun ‘I’ or if someone knew that, they were not allowed to use. The collective term ‘We” should be used instead. They have been dictated that the reason for their existence, is to serve others. There is no individual existence, but a collective one.  A one- for- all and all- for- one kind.

Our hero happens to be an exception by standing out from the crowd in appearance, intellect, and free-thinking. Actually, there were a few others like him, a minority who had lost the war against a majority, when the era of the Great Rebirth came into existence. In spite of or because of his singularity, he had been assigned the job of a street sweeper, with tedious working hours amidst which he sneaks into an underground tunnel with candlelight and starts writing, thinking and doing scientific experiments, all by and to himself( something that is punishable).

Meanwhile, he falls in love with a lady by the name Liberty 5-3000. Another punishable offense, of giving importance to a person, in particular, a transgression by preference. Time passes and Equality discovers electricity by himself (that is more transgression) and decides to present it in front of the Council of Scholars( unpardonable offense). They freak out and Equality escapes to the nearby forbidden Forest, followed by Liberty and inhales the first air of freedom. They discover a house, an entirely private one and not a collective dwelling, books, and manuscripts from the Unmentionable Times before the Great Rebirth. They see their reflections in the mirror for the first time. From the books, they finally, find out the pronoun, ‘I’ and utter ‘ I Love You’ to each other, instead of ‘We love you’ ( this is exclusively Randian). Equality changes his name to ‘Prometheus'(light bearer, allegorical here) and Liberty to ‘Gaea'(The Earth personified as a goddess)

The climax is when Equality learns that he is extremely happy on his own, the only reason for his existence, tastes freedom and most of all, discovers Ego as the most sacred form of existence of an individual. He decides to go back and fight for the trampled ones in the city. There are other characters going by names like International 4-8818, Fraternity 2-5503 and Solidarity 9-6347. ( You could guess the roles by their constitutional names).

Anthem analysis

It is a short novella(65 pages only), but hidden within are allegories, images, and truth drenched in philosophical viewpoints.  So it takes time since you need to do some significant collateral reading to get to what she means exactly by each sentence.

The philosophical theme is basically ‘egoism’, though she had created the raw materials for ‘objectivism’, that later on, she would expand in her other major works. Collectivism is expressed as nightmarish confinement and subdual and freedom described as the springboard for individual development. Also, with freedom, comes identity( I instead of We) as an individual.

The strained relation between individual and society has been painted in the darkest of tones, as the society tries to control every aspect of individual life from what he should think to when or whether he should procreate.  Reminds me of China’s one-child policy, now abandoned, censorship of literature in many countries, espionage of apparent dissidents, forced sterilization to limit population in democratic India during the Emergency period of 1976, forced sterilization as a part of Eugenic program in the USA in the first half of the 20th century extending to the 1970s. All of this leads us to the conclusion that this is not just something which happens in dictatorships only, even democracies practice many and more such atrocities. The case of Buck vs Bell, when Carrie Buck was stamped by the Supreme Court as imbecile and sterilized without her consent by Dr. John Bell in 1927, followed by many thousands is a notable one in the US). (For those interested, there is an excellent book about Buck vs Bell case -” Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v Bell” by Paul A Lombardo).

Rand explains the superiority of individual happiness over societal good, freedom to choose what one likes and not to toil for the common good. She makes it clear that progress in any field, science or any other, is possible by amassing knowledge individually and not as a group. Freedom to love has been forbidden in Rand’s dystopia and through Equality and Liberty, she argues that freedom to choose and love should be the foremost, though Liberty’s love has more of a submissive and slavish tinge( I don’t get it. Could be some allegory within allegory, not sure).

Symbolism, Imagery, and Allegories

Anthem is executed in scriptural language with Biblical and Mythological( Prometheus, Gaea) allusions. For eg., we could find the frequent use of the words, ‘ sin, transgression, Unmentionable Times, Unspeakable Word, Evil Ones’, etc.. What Rand is trying to affirm here, is  the frequent adoption of religion by totalitarian governments to emblazon their God-like power on people’s minds and thereby turning them to puppets, who idolize the state and the heads.

Biblical Gospel of Mathew states, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’, but Rand( remember, she was an atheist) conducts literal sabotage( sacrilege) by emphasizing her brand of solipsism and not a collective love. Similarly, Jesus’ famous “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”  is mirrored in  Equality’s proclamation,  “I am the meaning…. I am the warrant and the sanction“. There are many hard-to- not notice allusions like these.

Light and water symbolisms and imagery are also striking and brilliant. Equality’s discovery of electric light( knowledge, truth) in the dark tunnel, his renaming as Prometheus( who stole and carried fire to earth), his decision to spread the light on the darkness of fellowmen( he is a light-bearer), Liberty’s appearance as water- bearer, all these point to a new beginning, a rebirth. Again an allusion to the King James Bible, which reads, in context:” In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. … And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Look at this beautiful interaction between water and light, when Equality meets Liberty, in Rand’s wonderful imagery,

And the drops of water falling from their(her) hands, as they(she) raised the water to their(her) lips, were like sparks of fire in the sun. Then the Golden One(Liberty) saw us(me), and they(she) did not move, kneeling there, looking at us(me), and circles of light played upon their(her) white tunic, from the sun on the water of the moat, and one sparkling drop fell from a finger of their(her) handheld as frozen in the air”.

Randian philosophy: who needs it?

Well, as per Rand, every human being needs to be philosophical. With this, she doesn’t mean that we should sit still and brood over philosophy. What she meant was that all of us should be aware of the reason for existence. And unfortunately, embraced by the far right, neo-fascists, and neo-Nazis.

Face reality independent of any consciousness and not try to re-write it, understand that all things have their own identity, the highest moral goal of man should be achieving happiness and this needs rational respect for reality. (This is o.k.)

There is some misunderstanding about the role of ego/ selfishness in her theory and many have construed this to suit their own goals, notably businesses and conglomerates. She makes it clear in an essay, ‘Philosophy: Who Needs It?’. She differentiates between selfishness as a virtue and selfishness without a self. Rand sharply contrasts her view with one conventional picture of selfishness: the mindless amoralist who does whatever he wants. According to her, a selfish person without self is one who “has no self and no personal interests, only momentary whims”. Whereas selfishness is forming a self, developing long-range goals, moral values, and standards through one’s own independent judgment, and staying committed despite distractions resulting in a self- confident individual. This has become jumbled. (What I have understood from objectivism is plain selfishness to achieve individual happiness and nothing to be justified morally or nothing that stands on a moral pedestal. )

Regarding faith, she argues that this goes along with brute force and mysticism like reason and freedom. She adds, ” no man or mystical elite can hold a whole society subjugated to their arbitrary assertions, edicts, and whims, without the use of force. Anyone who resorts to the formula: ‘It’s so because I say so,’ will have to reach for a gun, sooner or later.” ( As I make out, this is theocracy/autocracy subjugating the masses.)

Regarding capitalism, she elevates the capitalist entrepreneur individualist as the true leader of society. Everything said, like socialism, capitalism has major pitfalls, the foremost being economic inequality and hoarding of a significant proportion of wealth by a small group of rich. And the political consequences are right before our eyes in many countries. We read about it in newspapers every day. To cite a recent one, 30 years of laissez-faire capitalism in Chile brought millions to the streets demanding change. Though Chile is considered a Latin American success story, the main reason behind the protest was economic inequality, the rich becoming richer and the poor poorer in a capitalist system with superadded corruption, paving the way to the young neck-deep in debt, a middle-class struggling to meet day to day expenses and an older generation languishing in privatized pension schemes.

{NYT article URL for ref. ( https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/world/americas/chile-protests.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article)}

Political capitalism is something like a never-ending quid pro quo, an economic and political system in which the economic and political elite cooperate for their mutual benefit. Most of the time, this goes on surreptitiously and under the radar of unsuspecting common citizens, but some states practice it in an explicit, unabashed manner rebuffing the very voters who gifted them the mandate.

The economic elite influences the government’s economic policies to use regulation, government spending, and the design of the tax system to maintain their elite status in the economy. The political elite is then supported by the economic elite which helps the political elite maintain their status; an exchange relationship that benefits both the political and economic elite. This happens everywhere, at all times, in India, the US, France, and many other countries.

We might support or reject her theories per se, depending on our perspective. From what I could make out from the understandable texts, the only take-home message for me, is to face the reality of things, seek identity and be SELF- LESS for self- actualization and for reaching the highest potential.

And, speaking to my own ears just for once, I don’t think I am going to like her theories or philosophy.

References

https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/atlas-university/what-is-objectivism/objectivism-101-blog/3366-what-is-objectivismhttps://atlassociety.org/commentary/commentary-blog/6125-was-ayn-rand-wrong-on-reagan

https://atlassociety.org/objectivism/atlas-university/new-to-ayn-rand/launchpad-blog/5900-celebrity-ayn-rand-fan-ronald-reagan

Philosophy: Who Needs It

https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2015/06/pdf/basics.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Revolution.

23 Advantages and Disadvantages of Capitalism

https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/2015/2/cj-v35n1-2.pdf

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/world/americas/chile-protests.html? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review-“Orlando” by Virginia Woolf

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Title-                  Orlando

Author-             Virginia Woolf

Genre-              Fictional biography/ historical biography/ fantasy/ satire/                                                             modernism/magical realism

Theme-            Relationship b/w Fact and imagination/ gender differences/                                                              conformity/ flow of time/ identity

 

Woolf’s ‘Orlando’ is difficult to be categorized under a specific genre. It could equally qualify for satire, mock biography, fiction, fantasy, magical realism, or modernism. Though, she elucidates, questions and examines serious topics like gender bias, the interconnectedness of fact and fantasy, sexual identity, conforming to mores and ethos, a materialistic society sordid with exhibitionism and parade of poseurs, literary progression, and the passage of time and it’s effects on people, through the androgynous protagonist, Orlando using her high flying poetic language. As in each of Woolf’s novels, symbolism and imagery are the predominant vehicles for conveying her thoughts to the reader.

It is a fantastic historical mock biography of ‘Orlando’ through 400 years of his existence whereby he goes through a gender change. The very first sentence of the novel, “He, for there could be no doubt about his sex……” takes in what the reader is about to encounter.

Orlando is claimed to be the product of Woolf’s complex relationship with fellow writer, Vita Sackville West, who was known for her many lesbian affairs and an acknowledged bisexual. Woolf dedicates the novel to Vita. The androgynous Orlando exhibits transvestism and is drawn towards male and female characters. ( Reminds me of Shakespeare’s hero Orlando in ‘As you Like It‘. Orlando’s lover Rosalind disguises as a man to test his love for her. Women cross-dressing as men is a common theme in many Shakespeare plays.)

The novel could be considered the first trans novel in English. But, at about the same time of its publication(1928), another lesbian novel made waves for wrong reasons- “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall. The novel was banned in the UK for obscenity and there was a court case against Hall before it became international best-seller years later. Though, Hall’s writing style comes nowhere near Woolf’s. Both the novels were published around the same period, still, interestingly, one was banned and Orlando managed to skirt around the prudish Victorian censors. The reason is laid bare by the way she brings forth the androgynous protagonist, her poetic language, exploration of sexual identity in a subtle way and through that anatomizing gender bias, and the process of literary creativity and literary maturation through Elizabethan, Victorian and Edwardian periods, the effect of time on self, and the progression of time. In short, Orlando is not just a trans novel.

The rigid conventions and restrictions of Victorian biography are flatly mocked. Traditional stereotypes of gender reinforced on Woolf by her parents are questioned and analyzed. Barbs aimed at her father, himself a biographer, stern and detached, is conspicuous. The narrator, who claims to be Orlando’s biographer, is subjective, intentionally, while describing him using overflowing poetic language and steers and leads the reader’s perception of Orlando’s actions by deliberately expounding for the protagonist. In short, Woolf tells us that biographies are never 100% factual truth, they are fictionalized facts. Woolf notes that ‘she must state the facts as they are known and let the reader make of them what he will.

Orlando sways between life, love, and literature in the process of completing his poetry, ‘The Oak Tree’, thus finding the meaning of life, love, and literary maturity at the end. Despite the pain and rigors in literary creation, she projects the incisiveness of the know-all critics and how even the greats like Shakespeare, Marlow, Alexander Pope or John Dryden were at the receiving end of their pen. Like Woolf, Orlando frets about criticism.

Orlando’s journey from the 16-th century to the 20-th century is about the need to conform to the spirit of the age. The struggle becomes more with gender change, as a woman, and more so during the Victorian period with its strait-laced mores and moral judgments. Conjugal relation is ineluctable and the role of women is pigeonholed as homemakers and propagators of the human race. For Orlando, identity is not defined by apparel, there is a man inside every woman and vice-versa, there is no specific delineation of identity or sexuality. Yet, she capitulated to the spirit of the age and decides to find a husband, and fails first, thus accepting nature, moor, as her husband. (A subtle snipe at Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights‘).

Finally, when Orlando finds Shelmerdine, a sailor, for her husband, Woolf parodies Gothic romance literature by describing their meeting and union that happens in seconds, inevitably entangled with nature. ( One could see a whole lot of feathery metaphors. Shel’s stretched-out moniker is ‘wild, dark-plumed with a steel-blue gleam of rook’s wings, hoarse laughter of their caws, snake-like twisting descent of their feathers in a silver pool’ ). True, nothing stops the reader from getting lost inside Woolf’s imagination!

A satirical punch is also delivered to Alexander Pope ( Rape Of The Lock), Joseph Addison( Spectator) and Jonathan Swift( Gulliver’s Travels). Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock‘( not literally) deserves mention here since that itself was a satirical work dedicated to his female friend and her fiancee. Pope parodies the circumstances in 18 th century Britain by satirizing an uneventful occurrence of cutting off of a lock of Belinda’s hair without her permission by his fiancee during a jamboree! ( hence the title). The moment had been overblown to elephantine proportions by comparing it with the irredeemable act of looting her virginity and hence chastity. The interesting feature here is, though, Pope lampoons the zeitgeist of the 18 th century by alluding everything from the clothes, hairstyle, way of talking, even furniture through juxtapositioning them with classical epics, instances of patriarchal condescension to female gender sticks out like a sore thumb throughout. Woolf points out that the passage of time has had nil whatsoever remodeling or transmuting effect on the putting down of the female bird brains. ( The poem is a very interesting one though).

The ambiguity of sexes is a constant theme throughout the novel. Orlando as a young boy is described as possessing some feminine characters like a shapely leg and arched lips. When the young man Orlando meets Sasha, the Muscovite princess, she first appears like a boy to him. Orlando as a woman realizes that Shelmerdine(her husband) is more feminine and he, in turn, recognizes the masculine in her.

In the final chapter, the first-person narration by the biographer slides into a stream of consciousness style typical of Woolf. This chapter is about realizations, seeking and finding the truths, finding love and life and attainment of literary maturity. Orlando realizes that poetry is more a personal achievement of the soul than fame, money, and critical acclaim. It is a ‘voice answering a voice‘. The flow of time and reality is entirely subjective. We are many selves in an individual, sometimes more than a thousand identities in oneself. Identifying as a single self at a given moment is close to impossible. Rather Orlando finally becomes aware of the composite self, a unity of all the past, present and future identities that define her at the present moment.

Copyright © deepanairrp

 

Lord Byron’s insanity

Copyright © deepanairrp

1984

Lord Byron, English poet, aged 25 in a painting by Richard Westall (1813)

This is a poem by me about the turbulent and gloomy thoughts and moods of the famously infamous 19 th century English Romantic poet, George Gordon Byron, simply known as Lord Byron.

Believed to have had Bipolar disorder(controversial), he suffered for all his life time with frequent mood changes, fiery tempers bordering on violence, inebriation, licentious practices and a whole lot of odd behaviors.

The bright side of his malady happened to be his poetical genius. He was a prolific writer who has magnum opuses like ‘Don Juan’ and ‘ Childe Harold’s pilgrimage’ to his credit. The beauty and brilliance of his verse is unmatched. Though a Romantic poet, each of his biographers stresses the degree of realism evident in his verses. I have read only excerpts from Don Juan and Childe Harold’s pilgrimage, the ones given in his biography. The wit and satire he had used in most of the lines is so brilliant. This is exactly so, as to the emotional intensity in his verses.

Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with possible Bipolar Disorder posthumously from existing historical records and he never received the proper treatment or empathy from those around him.

I happened to read this short biography of Lord Byron recently and thought it a good idea to present his mind as a poem instead of writing a book review.

This is my short trip through the mind of the temperamental Lord Byron, a poem about what could have been going through his mind during the 36 years of his existence.

                                   Lord Byron’s Insanity

Whom should I blame for making me lame?

My blood, fettle, stars or Him?

To whom shall I whine, for warping my mind?

My blood and blood only by a grim twist of fate.

 

A savage beast bolting rampant, unfettered,

The row of the brutes ring unbroken,

‘Out of sense and out of nerves’.

 

Rein in, O’ racing mind,

Thy wild whims and heathen rage

Mellow down, O’ beloved bosom,

Thy passions, vile and fierce.

 

Once, the soul fluttering like a thousand vibrant butterflies,

trembling and shaking, powdery colors spilling in the voids,

Of which I pine for the peacock blue shimmering in the muted shadows,

the grass yellow smeared in streaks of summery light,

scarlet red forged from glowing embers

And the grays and purples of cold, hoary November dawn.

 

Wraith visions of this passionate dreamer,

whirling in cyclonic eddies, in vertiginous spirals

sink down to infernal abyss of ferny hemlocks,

chastened in the murky, baleful waters of the Styx .

 

Hover over,O’ lucid mind, buoy up with the fragile sanity

Or the forked tongue of hellfire waits to tear you asunder

in the underworld, a hairsbreadth from here.

 

Why the soul once sublime been leached of the splendid colors?

Like a veined autumn leaf changing it’s hue.

Unlit and sinking, morbid dead ball of shadows.

The grays hiding all the warmth

How the dreary arms of gloom spread inside the vast space?

Once again, it’s bare me, my sinister shadow and the infinite solitude .

 

Drain my soul of these direful woes,

Of the fleeting shadows, of the faceless primal fears,

Of the ponderous fog clogging the mystifying senses

and the looming maelstrom brewing in the calm of bosom.

 

A blissful sleep is all I crave for,

Which not Laudanum, nor one singular water of life,

Nor Rahab and the strumpets could ever gift.

I would sooner die a thousand deaths.

 

Let me pour this settled lunacy into words,

in verse and prose, through the life of Don Juan,

and upend that unchaste Lothario with my unbridled wit.

 

Let me raise the glass castle of spirit

for, many a pietistic man peer,

before it shatters in my inner light.

 

The whole universe is warring with me, one that I won’t win

and the homeland loathes this rebellious,perverse poet, an unredeemable defect.

With a heart of stone, I embrace my offences

Though I have nothing to do with the masses.

 

But, Anabella dear, my ‘princess of parallelograms’,

my brilliant Lady, O’ thou sharpest among women,

threw my sibilant whispers to the winds,

never once looked through the glass,

to single out the vile frenzy in me.

 

Let me not hold on the spirit, long splintered ,

letting loose the angels and fiends alike,

but not before uttering these final words to thee.

 

Detest me, O’ my virtuous wife, as long as you like,

but be done with my phantasm, by punishing or pardoning.

And for Ada, my lovely daughter, touched with the fury and fire

as her blood will tell, let not the venom of verses spread in her veins.

 

All I yearn for is eternal sleep, a dreamless, painless sleep

deep in my daydreams felled by broken wings.

O’ ferryman, accept the coin and row me across the Styx

To the shore where Hemlocks grows aplenty

And hellfire doles out eternal damnation

For, die I must, a loss no one would lament.

 

I let loose the last string of sanity ,

tying me to the morbid world

To enter the netherworld,

devoid of fears, angst or vile

For, this is the penance I pay for my blood

To purify my soul in the wrath of Inferno.

Book Review ‘To The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf.

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Author- Virginia Woolf

Genre- Fiction/ Modernism

Theme- Time

My review

Definitely not an easy one to read let alone understand, the novel tracks a tricky unconventional mode better known as the ‘stream of consciousness’ where the readers go through the mental pictures of characters rather than actual speech or actions. There are no specific indications or pointers as to whether they are traversing the past, present or future, each sliding stealthily into the other. Woolf seems to intentionally smudge the lines between them, thereby confusing the reader’s perception of space and time.

It’s confusing at many levels, primarily in getting a sense of location and chronological order. To give an example, Mrs. Ramsay’s soliloquy while knitting, darts from the future prospects of a nuptial union of Mr. Banks and Lily and suddenly turns into empathizing with the maid’s past, whose father had been suffering from cancer, who was forced to separate from him and work in a faraway place. Interestingly the reader’s mind darts in a similar fashion from future to past and from past to present, oftentimes failing to link events in order chronologically.

The novel has an autobiographical element, of Virginia’s childhood spent at the summer-house in St. Ives, Cornwall. That period is showcased in the first part of the novel, taking place before World War One, with all it’s Victorian mores and ethos. The last part centers on the post-Victorian period, same as Virginia’s adulthood when the frame of mind of the characters undergo a drastic change, their attitudes change and situations are weighed up against the past occurrences.

Postwar period ushered in a modernistic era when experimentation in formalism, modernism, structuralism, and realism took root in literature and art beginning from the dawn of the twentieth century. Virginia, who had been home-schooled by her mother, was able to experience the freedom of thought and style in literature through the masterpieces of TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and the like.

Notable in the literary style is how Virginia composes the complexity of thought followed by simple actions. She explores the realities and mundanities of everyday life, a stark contrast to the romanticism of the Edwardian era novels. It is refreshing for the reader to experience life as it is rather than dabble in the fantasies of Romanticism. Nevertheless, our thoughts get entwined with the character’s inner working of mind so much so that the reader sometimes wish to escape from the bubble to a world outside. Another feature of the novel is the poetical beauty of her prose, especially while picturing nature. And here, she follows T.S Eliot’s Impersonal Theory of Poetry. The characters engage in a kind of ‘soliloquy in solitude’ disconnected from one another.

Woolf’s strong stance on feminism is said to have evolved from this novel onward. In the novel, the character Charles Tansley’s patriarchal and misogynist statement ‘ women can’t paint, women can’t write’, in a condescending manner, comes back to Lily’s mind every time she tries to start her painting. The status of women as an artist or anything beyond the role of a housekeeper during Victorian times is rigidly being looked down upon and criticized by the character, Charles. Virginia surmounts this by drawing Lily’s character as someone out of the box, individualistic, whose persistence and grit triumphs finally, in bringing forth her artistic vision. According to her own words, the novel had been sort of release from the obsessions of Victorian mores foisted on her and her sisters by their mother. Her attitude to the inevitability of marriage for a woman is criticized through the character, Lily who hates marriage and parries the efforts of Mrs. Ramsay to get her married. Virginia had expressed it inconceivable for herself to have evolved into a writer, had her father been alive. In the novel, she delivers subtle snipes against both her parents’ outlook to women in general.

The novel is rich in symbolism and imagery. Taking Lily’s artistic visions as an example, Virginia has used Lily as a medium to convey her ideas of feminism, to expound on life and death, persistence, and finally self-realization. The lighthouse could be symbolic of desires, unattainable/ reachable.There is not just one interpretation to the meaning of the novel, but many since it had been written and each offers different perspectives on a subjective basis.

Copyright © deepanairrp

Book Review ‘The Four Books’ by Yan Lianke

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Genre-     Political fiction

Subgenre-    Political satire

Author-         Yan Lianke

My rating-      3 star 

My Review

                   A political satire by the Chinese novelist Yan Lianke, winner of Franz Kafka Prize and the finalist for the Man Booker Prize 2013. The catastrophic times during the Maoist Great Leap Forward, the state surveillance, moral policing, political oversight of literature, academia, and misrepresentation of history, expressed allegorically and satirically has an Orwellian theme with Grand Guignol-ish narratives in between. It is no wonder that this book is banned in mainland China and is the apple of the Western literary jurist eyes.

The satire illustrates how policy mistakes batter the lower rungs of society when ideologies are translated into realities. For those not familiar with the Maoist ‘ Great Leap Forward’ and it’s catastrophic consequences dealt with in this book, let me summarise what I had read about it from the recorded history( not from Chinese authors and historians, who might have a different take on the whole thing).

The Great Leap Forward was an economic and social campaign led by the Communist Party of China from 1958 to 1962 under Chairman Mao Zedong. He emphasized collective farming and industrialization as vehicles for the rapid economic and social progress to keep pace with the rapidly developing Western world. Aggressive farming and steel smelting were supposed to bring progress in the short term. The resources from the agricultural sector were invested in the industry with the result that agriculture bore the brunt due to lack of essentials and this finally culminated in the Great Chinese Famine that caused millions of deaths. The statistics of agricultural production was greatly overhyped, exaggerated and contorted. History tells us that the common man died out in droves, though the ‘higher-ups’ withstood the onslaught and China was exporting rice when the people starved.

Political control and manipulation of art, literature, history, and academia reached a zenith and anti- Rightist campaign saw the compulsory internment and re-education of intellects, students, artists, authors and so forth in Re-ed camps. The novel is set in a Re-ed camp called the ninety-ninth district close the Yellow River. The inmates are identified by their professions and not their names- as Author, Scholar, Musician, Physician, Theologian and so on. The camp is overseen by a part dictator, part naif, part martyr character termed The Child( Not sure whom the author is evoking, could be Stalin) who uses a carrot and stick policy to keep things going as per the will of the higher-up’s. The Child keeps an eye on the day to day happenings in the camp with the help of the Author, who is being bribed to provide incriminating details about the other inmates through a collection of documents titled ‘Criminal Records’. He is being offered freedom in return. Though the initial agricultural and steel smelting processes came out well, the policy mistakes caught up with the whole thing and the consequent famine took millions of lives and the barely living were forced to feed on grass, wild vegetables and ultimately human flesh. (There is a gory, grisly, upsetting account of human flesh being cooked into a broth and fed. )

The name ‘Four Books’ comes from the names of the four books that the Author is composing in the novel- ‘Criminal Records’ for the higher-ups and three other manuscripts being composed in a clandestine way. Throughout the novel, there are allusions of Christian Mythology( crosses, Inferno, etc.), Chinese Mythology and the novel ends with A New Myth Of Sysiphus( an allusion to divine punishment and human response). The title also evokes the four gospels of Christianity and the four sets of Confucian texts.

Carlos Rojas has brilliantly translated the Chinese text to English. As he has mentioned in the prologue, Yan Lianke is one of the Chinese authors who does not care a speck about whether his works are critical of the regime, is being banned or goes unpublished. He famously wrote that he just wants to produce a work as he exactly wanted to without regard to the topics, contents, terms, recklessly without any concern for the prospect of getting published. As Carlos puts it in the prologue, ‘in view of this, Kafka Prize is a befitting one to Yan, named after an author who famously burned the majority of his compositions and demanded, on his death bed, that his remaining unpublished manuscripts be destroyed as well’.

Copyright © deepanairrp