Sunday, 29 May 2011

Human Time is a City

Accompanying the perceptive review by Anita (Auden) Money of my book on Auden (published by Authorspress in New Delhi) are six precious photographs - featuring Wystan Hugh Auden, his brother John, his father George Augustus Auden, his nieces Rita and Anita, Rita's mother Shiela, Rita's son Otto, and Alan Britten - so very graciously provided by Anita Money. Am beholden indeed to her for her graciousness. --Nibir

Sheila and Wystan Hugh Auden at Anita's wedding in Florence
Anita and Rita at Ischia with Mose (Wystan and Chester’s dog). 
Ischia is the Italian island where Wystan and Chester used to spend the summer.

Anita, Rita,  Sheila & George Augustus Auden (Wystan’s father) in Cumberland 1947

Anita with Alan Britten, Benjamin Britten's nephew by Auden plaque at Gresham's School (Holt)

(Edward) Benjamin Britten (the famous composer) and W.H. Auden collaborated on film and radio broadcasts, songs, and dramatic works. Benjamin Britten contributed incidental music for Auden and Isherwood's plays titled The Ascent of F6  and The Dog Beneath the Skin. Britten's song cycle On this Island takes its texts from Look, Stranger! Britten's last major setting of an Auden work, Hymn to St. Cecilia, was composed in 1942.

Anita, Rita and Otto (Anita's son) planting a tree at 
The Geological Survey of India in commemoration of John Auden

Sheila and John Auden visitng Rita at Oxford

Review Essay
 W.H. Auden: Therapeutic Fountain 
Nibir K. Ghosh
New Delhi: Authorspress, 2010.  Price: Rs. 525 (hardcover). Pages: xvi+175.

 Human Time is a City

Anita Money

Nibir K. Ghosh begins his preface to W.H. Auden: Therapeutic Fountain with the observation that “How to make a world better for men to live in has fascinated the minds of thinkers, philosophers and writers in every age” and that there have been “visions of good and possibly attainable systems…and at other times fantasies of a desirable but unattainable perfection.” It is in this context that he feels Shelley’s statement that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” should be understood.  Auden objected to and found absurd the claim that poets were world legislators but he had himself been drawn to exploring concepts for an earthly paradise or New Jerusalem, at times detailing a purely private Eden, but ultimately always concerned with ways to make a better world, which is the thesis of this book. His own line “For poetry makes nothing happen,” from his elegy In Memory of W.B. Yeats has caused outcry and debate though read in context it is saying something more as Ghosh recognises.
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, 
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth. 
“Auden in Error,” a poem by David Ray, precedes the preface and acts as a gentle  chastisement,  affirming that poetry does indeed make things happen, a pointer to the subtitle of Ghosh’s book which pays tribute to the therapeutic nature of Auden’s poetry.  In the appendix he has printed in full Auden’s address in 1951 to the Indian Congress for Cultural Freedom where Auden allows that artists and poets may have some political value as an irritant reminder of humanity: “I think that as long as there are works of art which are, each of them, unique, they are a witness, whether people understand them or not, to the world of humanity they reflect.”
Ghosh admires Auden’s poetry, both its technical virtuosity and the prophetic tone in which pronouncements were made which went on “to define the present and the future in relation to the past in order to give us a profound understanding of the age we live in.” He took up the challenge of writing this book as a result of the huge response to the ‘birth centenary’ tributes for Auden contained in the Special Section of Re-Markings (Vol.6 No.1, March 2007). He acknowledges with gratitude the help and guidance given by Professor Edward Mendelson, among others, and in the Foreword by Professor Jonah Raskin the hope is expressed that this book will bring Auden new readers from around the world to appreciate a poetry “that was intensely personal and that also reached out to the family of humanity and that cried out against war and against violence.” 
Nibir Ghosh’s perspective on Auden is not only sympathetic and shows understanding but is rewarding in the serious attention he pays to Auden’s early political enthusiasms and search for ways towards a just society. He illustrates the underlying continuity of a quest which culminates in a personal philosophy that draws on Christianity and places responsibility on the individual to accept life and learn to love his neighbour as himself in order to make the world a better place.
The first two chapters cover the political situation in the late 1920s and 1930s reflecting that whenever the historical process tends to break down, it becomes fairly difficult to separate literary history from social, political and economic history. He shows how much thought Auden gave to Marxist theory and illustrates this by using quotations from both his poetry and prose on the major themes of ‘class struggle’, ‘Industrialism’, ‘Freedom-necessity-choice relationship’ and the ‘theory of evolution’. These ideas, particularly the question of freedom and necessity and the theory of evolution remain important concepts in Auden’s work to the end, evolving in various ways. He frequently contrasts the instinctual world of the animal and plant kingdom with the self-conscious world of man and also the parallel realities of Nature and History. In Auden’s address to the Indian Congress in 1951 he speaks of the danger of equating two realities with different laws:
There are two real worlds and we inhabit both of them. One, the natural material world, the physical world, the world of mass, of number, not of language. A world in which freedom is indeed consciousness of necessities, a world in which justice means equality before the law of physics, chemistry, physiology. And then there is the other world, the historical community of persons, the world of faces, the world of language where necessity is the consciousness of freedom and justice is the command to love my neighbour as myself, that is to say, as a unique, irreplaceable being….Unreality comes when either world is treated as if it were the other one.
Auden’s interest in Psychology is seen by Ghosh as related to his quest for a means of creating a better society because psychological ills cannot be ignored if civilisation is to be restored to a sound state of mental health.  He offers an entertaining and revealing quote from Dylan Thomas:
I sometimes think of Mr Auden’s poetry as hygiene, a knowledge and practice, based on brilliantly prejudiced analysis of contemporary disorders, relating to the preservation and promotion of health, a sanitary science and a Flusher of melancholies.  I sometimes think of his poetry as a great war, admire intensely the mature, religious and logical fighter.
Auden’s ideas on Psychology were influenced by various people whom Ghosh mentions, including Homer Lane, Groddeck and Freud, but it is useful to remember that the initial influence came from home as George Augustus, his father, who was a doctor with an interest in Psychology, became school medical officer in Birmingham, a newly appointed post at the time, later becoming Professor of Public Health at Birmingham University. Auden, aware of the snobberies and gentilities as well as neuroses which existed in his own class and in some of his own relations, understood the psychosomatic nature of illness and related this to society. These concerns are apparent in the private fantasy world of Mortmere shared with Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward and in his plays dealing with saga rivalries and family feuds though his awareness grows, as Ghosh points out, when he confronts the wider world of social ills in Berlin.  Ghosh quotes my father, John Auden, to whom The Ascent of F6 was dedicated, on Wystan’s lack of class and racial prejudice but dislike of “evil in high places, whether in Kremlin, Berchtesgaden or Whitehall.” The combination of a medical background and a thoughtful Christian upbringing had a lasting influence on Wystan and my father who, when he went to India as a young geologist, was shocked at the prejudices of some of the Englishmen he met, later marrying my mother Sheila Bannerjee who was Bengali. Our first introduction to Wystan was in 1951 when he came to stay with us in Calcutta. 
In discussing Auden’s earlier poetry with its buoyancy and rhetorical advocacy of a new order against the old order and sense of imminent doom expressed in a new style “raising ordinary speech into strong and strange incantation,” Ghosh  comments on the immediate impact he had on his contemporaries in a shared public vision. He quotes from Koestler:  “the success of the Soviet economy provided such a contrast to the downward trend of capitalism that it led to the obvious conclusion that ‘they are the future – we the past.’” Later, for many, Communism  became the God that Failed.  For Auden, as Ghosh points out, the public vision lost its validity with political systems which turned humans into statistical nonentities and the rhetoric that had accompanied the vision began to pall. Communism shared with Fascism a totalitarian disregard for the individual. 
The dangers of rhetorical language which simplify the truth for effect and can obscure the more complex reality became a matter of crucial importance for Auden as a poet and Ghosh reflects sensibly on the controversy over his later corrections and rejections of poems. His quest for the good included a difficult technical quest to write poetry which was truthful and with a quieter impact which aimed to “tell the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.” 
In this context, it is worth drawing attention to his appreciation of De la Mare’s anthology Come Hither for it explains his dislike of pretension in poetry (part of his objection to Shelley’s remark, I think, about legislators): “particularly valuable was its lack of literary class consciousness, its juxtaposition on terms of equality of unofficial poetry, such as counting-out rhymes, and official poetry such as the odes of Keats.  It taught me at the start that poetry does not have to be great to be good….” 
Ghosh’s book, though compact, covers a great deal in its carefully structured seven chapters. It will encourage the reader to access the references after each chapter and consult the bibliography at the end in order to read some of the texts mentioned in order to follow Auden’s thinking, for example, his view of the relationship of Art and Politics (“The Prolific and the Devourer”). It provides many illuminating quotations to illustrate Auden’s constantly expanding and changing ideas, showing the major influences on which he drew to formulate his own imaginative truths in his poetry and in prose. It should be a salutary book both for newcomers to Auden and for serious Auden scholars for it will introduce them to the wise thinking expressed with such mastery in the poetry and which shapes both the poetry and the prose. Auden’s originality, as Ghosh says, “lay in his quick responsiveness to, and in the vigorous enunciation and brilliant assimilation of, the ideas of innumerable representative thinkers. These ideas helped him integrate ideological confusions and raise them to new levels of consciousness….” He comments on Auden’s belief in the Fall and in Grace and his personal understanding of God remarking that “His poetry gradually moves from the contours of contemporary social reality towards the direct contemplation of religious matters related to the eternal design.”  He also quotes from “The Good Life” to show Auden’s critical view of the Church as an organisation: “When a religious body becomes an organised Church it becomes a political movement, and the historical evidence can point to no occasion on which the Church has been able to avert either war or economic changes.” 
Love which features so strongly in Auden’s work both as eros and as agape becomes, as Ghosh appreciates, the crucial building block of the just city once one can progress beyond the idea of being loved oneself alone (selfish love) to a universal love which means understanding that difficult command to love thy neighbour as thyself (as a unique other equal to oneself, not a faceless number). These changes come from within but with the help of grace:
I know nothing except what everyone knows
If there when Grace dances, I should dance.
Ghosh admires Auden’s poetry for its courage because, as he says, disillusions are not allowed to settle into despair or hatred but instead life is affirmed: "Taking cue from Old Masters, Auden could visualise the extraordinary nature of day-to-day ordinary human suffering and yet reveal how life remains a ‘blessing’." Auden’s words “Bless what there is for being” are engraved on a stone in his commemoration at Christ Church Cathedral.
I would like to end with two quotations which are an affirmation of Nibir Ghosh’s thesis: one from a letter written to my father in 1941 - “Every ohm of private happiness and decency is, I am convinced, a political asset to the world,” and a verse from “Aubade” written at the end of his life and published posthumously in Thank You, Fog in 1974:
Human Time is a City
Where each inhabitant has
A political duty
Nobody else can perform,
Made cogent by Her Motto:
Listen, Mortals, Lest Ye Die.

Ms. Anita Money is an administrator in an inner city London comprehensive organising work experience and enrichment opportunities for students. Her father, John Bicknell Auden, Wystan’s brother, worked for the Geological Survey of India until just after India’s Independence. Her mother, Sheila Bonnerjee, a painter, was granddaughter of W.C. Bonnerjee, the First President of the Indian National Congress. She Read English at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. She Worked for William Cookson on the poetry magazine Agenda from 1993 to 2000. 

Courtesy & (c): Re-Markings ( March 2011

Friday, 27 May 2011

Calculus of Power

Calculus of Power: Modern American Political Novel
Nibir K. Ghosh

New Delhi: Creative Books, 1997. pp. 255 Price: Rs. 500. ISBN-13: 9788186318492.

Through a close analysis of eighteen American political novels written between 1890 and 1990, Calculus of Power offers interesting critical insights into the twilight zones of American life and polity. The focus of attention is on issues and events such as the haunting spectre of Communism, the perceptive threat of Fascism, the racial dilemma of a nation at loggerheads with its own democratic principles, the ideals of world peace contrasted with the imperialistic designs of America in Vietnam, the intricacies of struggle for the emancipation of Eve, and the acid test of American Justice in the Sacco-Vanzetti case and the trial of the Rosenbergs. These manifold manifestations of manipulative politics give rise to what may be called "the calculus of power." Trapped in the vortex of power dynamics, the protagonists in the novels struggle valiantly to evolve their own strategies for survival. The author's fresh appraisal and thought provoking analysis of the twentieth century American political novel makes the book a must reading for both scholars and practitioners of power politics.

Seeding Time
The Politics of Economics: It can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis), In Dubious Battle (John Steinbeck), All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren), Vineland(Thomas Pynchon).
In the Theatre of War: For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway), Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), The Armies of the Night (Norman Mailer), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.).
 Racial Rumblings: Native Son (Richard Wright), Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison), Another Country (James Baldwin), The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison).
 The Awakening of Eve: The Awakening (Kate Chopin), Daughter of Earth (Agnes Smedley), Fear of Flying (Erica Jong), The Color Purple (Alice Walker).
 American Justice on Trial: Boston (Upton Sinclair), The Book of Daniel (E.L. Doctorow).
 Harvest: Conclusion.
 Bibliography & Index

“Art is a representation of reality at a rarefied level. This is why a political novel writer can sometimes fathom the spirit of his age with greater dexterity than a philosopher or a historian. This is why when Nibir K .Ghosh undertakes to map out the contours of the Modern American Political Novel, he sets for himself a formidable task, a task that encompasses a clear understanding of nearly three generations of American novelists; their age, their aesthetics, their dilemmas and the broad features of American national life as well as life lived as individual Americans…It is an interesting study, a parade of some of the best of American novelists.” 
– M. Zeyaul Haque, Encounter, September-October, 1998.

“This book is a fascinating account of the dichotomy between the “real” and the “ideal” in American internal politics as well as international diplomacy. There is no doubt that every society and every nation in the world suffers from this dichotomy…After reading Ghosh’s book, one would know how important it is to study novels, among other forms of literature, as part of the social science research. After an analysis of eighteen American political novels, Ghosh points out that these novels are committed to the politics of “fact” rather than to the politics of “imagination” and present valuable “centres of information” by providing “insight and understanding into the dense and perplexing medium of politics and diplomacy.”

- Dr. Chintamani Mahapatra, Third World Impact, October, 1998.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Poetry makes things happen!

Nibir K. Ghosh. W.H. Auden: Therapeutic Fountain
New Delhi: Authorspress, 2010. 
ISBN: 978-81-7273-538-8. Rs. 525/-

Jonah Raskin

In the United States, where I live and teach, and where poetry often follows literary fashions and cultural fads, W.H. Auden's life and work have largely fallen from view. This is unfortunate because Auden was a passionate poet, and an intensely political person for much of his life, and he deserves to be remembered more widely than he is today. I hope that Nibir K. Ghosh's new, invigorating and intriguing book about Auden changes all this, and that it introduces Auden to a new generation of English-language readers all around the world. Ghosh wisely views Auden as a man on a quest; he certainly follows all of Auden's many quests, some of which led to disillusionment and sorrow. He writes about Auden warmly and intimately as though he were a friend or acquaintance. His Auden seems vulnerable and human, not a literary superstar, or a god of poetry and this too is good because it makes Auden approachable and not intimidating. The world of the 21st century is different than the 20th century that Auden inhabited; things and events move more swiftly. But our world is not entirely different than Auden's; his quests in the worlds of politics, poetry, religion and the individual person are equally meaningful today.  

"The Age of Anxiety" is the title of one of Auden’s works, and our age seems even more anxious than his. Ghosh shows how contemporary he is. "Auden had no use for abstractions which ignored the human situation," he writes. Would that more of us rejected abstractions that are blind to the here and the now. I
hope that Ghosh's heart-felt, compassionate and caring book will send readers back to Auden's poetry, essays, and plays. I know from my reading in the work of the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg how important Auden
was to young poets coming of age in the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps poets today will hear his many different voices and rhythms and will be inspired to write the kind of poetry that Auden wrote in the 1930s -- poetry that was intensely personal and that also reached out to the family of humanity and that cried out against war and against violence.

  • Professor Jonah Raskin teaches courses in literature and media at Sonoma State University in California, U.S.A., and is the author of books on Allen Ginsberg, Jack London, and the English novel.
 Nibir K. Ghosh with Professor Jonah Raskin at Santa Rosa, California during his 2003-04 stay in the U.S.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Multicultural America: Conversations with Contemporary Authors

                                     Liberty as Statue  by  Ashok Sharma       
Multiculturalism as a phenomenon is widely acknowledged and debated. The US, Australia, Canada, India and many other countries make boastful claims of multiculturalism. This book, written by a distinguished scholar of American literature at Agra University, may be considered an important contribution to the study of American society’s multicultural aspects.
This book is an animated conversation of Ghosh with 13 contemporary American authors: Charles Johnson, August Wilson, David Guterson, Ethelbert Miller, Octavia Butler, Jonah Raskin, Stanley Crouch, Collen McElroy, David Ray, Harryette Mullen, Joseph Jordan, Kathlin Alcala, and Angelyn Mitchell. All are famous for their writings on the powerful dynamic that relates society, polity, art and ideas to the making of the American mind.
These authors, alert to related events and challenges, often address the variable human factor in the inequities of power not only within American society, but also in America’s relationship with the rest of the world. This book gives an intimate and distinctive portrait of how living American writers view themselves in a world that both frightens and excites them immensely. In doing so, it reveals an amazing diversity of perspectives on the social, political and cultural issues in contemporary USA.
Although the thrust of this book is on the American mind’s response to the ambivalence inherent in the American Dilemma in relation to race, immigration and ethnicity, the author’s dialogue with the writers reflects how changing American values affirm the continuing need for a complex mode of multiculturalism in an increasingly global culture. Factors such as the controversial emergence of the US as the sole superpower, the growing socio-economic challenges from poor countries, and the growing recognition of interdependence of nations and peoples, are leading America’s creative minds to question some of the long-held assumptions about the world and the role the US might play in it.
In their extended interviews, the writers talk about their work and simultaneously share their views and concerns about race and ethnicity, gender and politics, culture wars, technology and environment, as well as recent events such as 9/11 and the Iraq War.
Ghosh’s ultimate focus is on the diversity of American life and literature, and the prismatic diversity of true multiculturalism rather than the stunned ideological diversity of identity politics. The American novelists and poets Ghosh has approached constitute a complex set of individuals with their own distinct identities. None of them is political in the strict sense of the term. This, in a way, is a positive as well as negative aspect of the book, since society and politics are interlinked.
Novelist Charles Johnson combines artistic conscience and historical understanding of Buddhist practice and African American issues, and proclaims the imperative of embracing a standpoint that calls for an amalgamation of multidisciplinary and multi-cultural perspectives. In contrast, August Wilson challenges America on patterns of exclusion and alienation, and celebrates the struggles and aspirations, fears and hopes, of the average black American citizen. David Guterson creates fictional universes wherein he presents moral questions for reflection on the human condition. Unlike Gutterson , Ethelbert Miller describes himself as a political writer and literary activist. Multiplicity is the key to his vision of the American dream.
Octavia Butler extends Miller’s concerns to include gender and more. A hardcore rebel and cultural revolutionary, Raskin thinks of America as an exploitative society “still deeply divided, still at war with itself”. Stanley Crouch explores the intellectual and cultural width and depth of Black America and opposes segregation of African Americans from mainstream life in America.
Collen McElroy’s America is a country where a common language controls the amazing diversity of cultures. Harryette Mullen concentrates on poetic paradigms in dealing with the racial dilemma; Joseph Jordan prefers to see the problem in relatively direct light. Kathelin Alcala, a Mexican American, stretches beyond her own experiences as an ethnic outsider in a society that tends to marginalise minorities, to deliver the unexpected. But for Angelyn Mitchell, America is her country, her “home”.
Ghosh’s conversations with each of these figures show that he is not only well-versed and informed about his subjects, he is also a keen student of how America is negotiating the challenges of multiculturalism under ever changing circumstances. As an external observer, he gives an objective view of America’s multiculturalism. The dialogue seems spontaneous, and the interviews are done exceptionally well. This is an interesting and pleasurable book to read.   

Review of
Chandigarh: Unistars Books, 2005. Price: Rs. 395; Pages: 208.     
Courtesy: Business Standard, Vol.XII Number 249 Friday 3 February, 2006

Octavia Butler

“You can psychoanalyse yourself and be paid for it”

Nibir K. Ghosh
My heart missed a beat when I received an e-mail from my friend Ethelbert Miller telling me about the tragic untimely demise of Octavia Butler (1947-2006) at Seattle, USA. I learnt that Octavia Butler, who was only 58, fell and hit her head on the sidewalk outside her Lake Forest Park home in Seattle and died. It just seemed like a Camus or Becket story ending. In the science-fiction world, death doesn’t necessarily mean The End. At the University of Washington when I expressed my desire to interview Octavia Butler, I was told that she shunned publicity and preferred to live the life of a recluse. I refused to be discouraged. I located her telephone number in the directory, held my breath, dialled the ten magic digits and asked, "May I speak to Octavia Butler?" A metallic voice affectionately confirmed that I was talking to the celebrity herself. I introduced myself as a visitor from the city of the Taj Mahal and sought her permission to interview her. She didn’t take a second to say "yes."

The interview was a memorable experience because it brought to the forefront her many-sided genius. She narrated how she had overcome the twin obstacles of being a woman and a Black to carve a niche for herself with science fiction novels like Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, Kindred, Wild Seed, Clay’s Ark, Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.

Butler grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood in Pasadena, California. Her father died while she was very young, and her mother worked as a maid to support the two of them. Butler has written memoirs of her mother’s sacrifices: buying her a typewriter of her own when she was 10, and to paying a large fee to an unscrupulous agent so Butler’s stories could be read. Enduring years of hardship, she was happy to be awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation grant that brought her a hard-earned $295,000 windfall in 1995 along with international recognition. Butler remains the only science fiction writer to receive one of the vaunted "genius grants" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Butler’s interest in science fiction began at the age of 12 after she saw a bad movie called Devil Girl From Mars. Confident of being able to write a better story, she set out on her journey and never looked back. She attributed her success as a science fiction writer to the two workshops that she had attended: the first given by the screenwriters’ guild of America, West, and the other the Clarion Science Fiction writer’s workshop.When asked what she felt about discrimination on lines of colour and gender in the United States, she remarked: "My race and sex had a great deal more to do with what people believed I could do than with what I actually could do." When asked how it felt being termed a "recluse," she smiled and remarked, "I am comfortably asocial—a hermit living in a large city—a pessimist if I’m not careful; a student, endlessly curious; a feminist; an African American; a former Baptist; and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive." Writing, for Butler, always remained a passion. In her own words: is one of the few professions in which you can psychoanalyze yourself, get rid of hostilities and frustrations in public, and get paid for it."

Butler confessed she had no fixed formula for her science fiction stories. "Each novel is different. Some begin with a character, some with a situation, some with a scientific or medical idea, some with a remark someone makes or a news story." Butler was aware of the fact that science fiction suffers from its reputation for "trashiness and immaturity" because of a disproportionate blending of science and wild imagination which takes the reader far away from reality. She thought it was rather unfortunate that for many the only contact with science fiction is "through (often bad) movies" as a result of which they assume that science fiction is inevitably immature and silly. According to her a good story is a good story no matter what genre label is put on it.

Butler brought enormous respectability to the science fiction genre. Unlike many writers in the field who remained preoccupied with robots and ray guns, Butler used the genre’s artistic freedom to explore race, poverty, politics, religion and human nature. Endowed with courage, persistence and positive passion, Butler succeeded in stripping away the myths to shed light on real problems faced by human race and society. What she really conveyed in her writing was the deep pain she felt about the injustices around her. All of it was a metaphor for war, poverty, power struggles and discrimination. But she overcame the pain and agony of it all with the gift of words that enabled her to start healing fountains in the deserts of the human heart. Her characters do express faith in religion because, according to her, things get truly terrible, adults`A0need religion in the same way young children need their parents." Butler, like her characters, believes in a philosophy she terms "Earthseed." The creed of Earthseed is ‘God is Change’; the Destiny of Earthseed is take root among the stars’. She frankly stated, "My characters hope for better lives.They struggle to do things they believe will make their lives better, make our species more likely to survive its own mistakes."

Edward Said

 Edward Said, in his own words

Nibir K. Ghosh 

Interviews with Edward W. Said. Singh, Amritjit and Bruce G. Johnson (editors). University Press of Mississippi. Pages 253. $20 (paperback), $48 (hardcover).

Edward Said’s writings since 1970 have had a dramatic effect on how we think about our world, its past, present and future. Because of the lasting influence of his 1978 book, Orientalism (translated into dozens of major languages), he is often regarded as the founder of "postcolonial studies." Said never seemed to grow weary of his relentless struggle against authoritative regimes which, backed by the ideology of imperialism or colonialism, sought to control the destiny of nations and cultures. Battling since 1990 against a debilitating leukemia, which took his life at the age of 68, he remained until his very end a champion of justice, humanism and the affinity between cultures and civilisations. A Palestinian who never lived in Palestine, Said remained a citizen of the world whose devotion to Palestine never undermined his loyalty to humanity.
Interviews with Edward Said forms part of a new series from University Press of Mississippi and brings together, for the first time, Said's animated conversations with such notable media figures as Charlie Rose, Scott Simon, Alexander Cockburn, Paul Zahn, and Jim Lehrer, as well as academics like Bill Ashcroft and Te-hsang and novelist Joan Smith, who conducted a post-9/11 public conversation with Said in London. Of particular interest to academic readers would be the interview conducted during Said’s 1998 visit to New Delhi by three academics — Neeladri Bhattacharya, Suvir Kaul, and Ania Loomba — the day after Said gave a major public lecture at Jamia Millia Islamia. While allowing the readers the freedom to formulate their own opinions about Said, the interviews in the volume help unfold the many layers of Said's personality.
The volume provides a fascinating glimpse into the multi-dimensional life and personality of a legend who defies easy descriptions. The editors have chosen 25 representative interviews, selected from among at least 80 face-to-face encounters granted by Said during the last four decades to provide the reader "an engaging point of entrance into Said’s wide and disparate oeuvre". These interviews shed ample light on Said's impressive contributions to the discursive practices of many disciplines, including literature, anthropology, political science, international studies, peace studies, history, sociology, and music. The volume also includes a most useful chronology of Said’s life and a list of his publications.
The Introduction to the volume provided by the two editors — Amritjit Singh and Bruce G. Johnson — offers a coherent, nuanced, and balanced overview of Said’s career and perspectives. In these interesting conversations, one can see an animated Said talking at length about his major books and influences, clarifying his goals in writing and responding to misconstructions placed by his critics upon his written texts and public statements.
Accounting for statements which at times sound ambivalent, Said states in a 1995 interview: "I am invariably criticised by younger post-colonialists …for being inconsistent and untheoretical, and I find that I like that. Who wants to be consistent?" In many interviews in this volume, Said speaks about his self-conscious existence as an exile in New York and how that has shaped his perspectives. But while he reveals the pain of being an exile, he also realises the advantage that such a position affords him. Not unmindful of the prevailing orthodoxy in his own community, he states in a 1999 interview with David Barsamian, "People like myself who luckily don't have to face the pressures of living in either Israel or Palestine, but have time to reflect at some distance, can play a role in terms of seeking out discussion and debate with their opposite numbers in the other camp."
What, however, sets Said apart from many other intellectuals of West Asian background is his staunch faith in secularism grounded in human values backed by reason. It is perhaps this faith that makes him appreciate a genuine sense of idealism about America without his being unaware of the revulsion that people nurture against the "practices of recent American governments." Although Said was sometimes called a "terrorist" because of his once close association with Yassar Arafat and the PLO (he broke with them after the 1993 Oslo Accord), he had consistently expressed his abhorrence of violent solutions to problems in the West Asia.
As a daring critic of the Western media for its myopic presentation of the crisis in West Asia wherein the Palestinian is "either a faceless refugee or a terrorist," Said clearly marks his frustration with the complicity of the media in constructing an " Israel that, for him, is in direct opposition to the material reality of how Israel continues to persecute the Palestinians in their homeland. The interviews also bring to the fore Said's changing perceptions about America. While in 1979, he was quick to show his deep appreciation of the "American tradition of dissent", in 2001 he is more forthright in sharing, with Joan Smith, his intense concern for the fate of Muslims and Arabs in America: "...the racial profiling, the picking up of suspects on the basis of religion, race and national origin is pretty much now out of control. I fear it. With the anti-terrorism bills and all the rest of it, there is a very fearful atmosphere in the United States. I don't think we're going to be having a very happy time."
Taken together, these engaging conversations help to build the image of Edward Said not as a mere academic writer or critic but as a whole climate of opinion in support of every collective act against dogma, orthodoxy and authority.

Courtesy: The Tribune, Sunday, December 19, 2004
(c) Nibir K. Ghosh 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Passing Away of a Theatre Legend


“I want to change society and theatre is my tool”:
The Passing Away of a Theatre Legend

Badal Sicar

Historically there appears to be a need for a third theatre in our country-a flexible, portable, free theatre as a theatre of change, and that is what we are trying to build. This theatre is not an experimentation in form; we have no concern for taking theatre as an such exploration new forms often emerge. The indigenous folk theatre of India, strong, live, immensely loved by the working people of the country, propagates themes that are at best irrelevant to the life of the toiling masses, and at worst back-dated and downright reactionary. The proscenium theatre that the city-bred intelligentsia imported from the West constitutes the second theatre of our country, as it runs parallel to the folk theatre-the first theatre-practically without meeting. This theatre can be and has been used by a section of educated and socially conscious people for propagating socially relevant subjects and progressive values, but it gets money-bound and city-bound, more and more so as costs go on rising, unable to reach the real people. Historically there appears to be a need for a third theatre in our country-a flexible, portable, free theatre as a theatre of change, and that is what we are trying to build. -- Badal Sircar
Badal Sircar (1925-2011) is one of these greatest progenitors of modern Indian drama, but he stands apart from the others by virtue of his own philosophy and practice as a theatre-person. While the plays of his contemporaneous writers offer a veritable mélange of different human emotions and complex relations, his plays are mainly a dispassionate study of the various social forces or social processes that design human predicament at a particular period of time. It is an awe-inspiring image of society and its malign influence on the life of man, that loom large in most of his mature plays.

Sircar’s plays suggest metaphorically the problem of the individual trapped in an ‘unalterable’ and ‘chaotic’ social condition. The drab and moribund canvas of Calcutta city hangs over the characters as a blind and cynical spectator of human drama. The gripping naturalism with which the playwright tears away the Bengali middle class psyche failing to align itself with the main stream of society and wrenches out the protagonists’ solitude, confusion and moral dilemma in a dehumanizing environment, makes his plays at once revolutionary.
During the late 60s and early 70s Sircar made several trips to some European countries and the U.S.A. and Canada and came in contact with some of the theatre-personalities of the West, like Grotowski, Richard Schechner, Julian Beck and so on. As a result, some significant changes were observed in his theatrical output. From now onwards, his plays, instead of conveying the existential crisis of the individual began to deal with the elemental issues like death, starvation, imprisonment, torture – the various social, political, economic or historical factors that conspire against the healthy and normal living of man. Strongly pitted in the current socio-political realism, theatre to him, turned as a potent dramatic device to bring desirable changes in the society. As he proclaims “I want to change the society and the theatre is my tool”. It is a machinery that cannot work in alienation from the mass.

Often reminiscent of Beckett’s Theatre of the Absurd, the plays upholding the concept of Third theatre become a sort of visual montage in an informal set-up. They explore the global facts of economic exploitation, misuse of religion, consumerism, inequality, political surveillance. They often hinge upon the episodes taken from the flux of human life, unattenuated by the tint of glamour or romance, with a constant deliberate attention to the contemporary situation. The characters are no more suffering individuals but symbolic representation of particular classes at a particular period. The relative insignificance or the weakness of women characters and sometimes, the total absence of any character (in the true sense of the term) confirm the plays as more and more issue centric. Each play has a strong social context and highlights the playwright’s disillusioned view of a world that is not conducive to the survival of humanity.

The plays of Badal Sircar are the plays of conscience and conscious sensibilities making poignant statements on human condition at a critical time. They are placed at the frontiers of modern Indian dramatic writing. The father of the Theatre of Involvement or the People’s Theatre in India, Sircar’s plays awaken us to the happenings that afflict mankind everyday but are usually condoned. They also signify a bold departure from commercialism to commitment. In other words, he treats theatre as a live and powerful art capable of transforming the existing system, not merely a medium of entertainment. Not just a playwright, he is a complete theatre person in whom resides a humanist and an indefatigable social activist. 
Armed with his ‘weapon’ called ‘theatre’, Badal Sircar continued crusading against the negative forces of the society until his very end.
Courtesy: Re-Markings
© Nibir K. Ghosh

Remembering Arthur Miller

Great Drama is Great Questions
Nibir K. Ghosh
IT is perhaps a strange coincidence that Arthur Miller died exactly 56 years to the day that his immortal classic Death of a Salesman began its life on Broadway. Death of a Salesman brought Miller not only the Pulitzer Prize but also international acclaim. Set against the backdrop of a nation emerging out of the great depression of the 1930s and the Second World War, the catastrophe of the tragic hero, Willy Loman, reflected the catastrophe of an average American caught in the nightmare of the American Dream. The play brought to the forefront the inhuman dimensions of capitalism where a salesman approaching 60, who has served his employer faithfully for more than half his life, is thrown away, as he says, like a piece of orange peel.
Weaving together, with exquisite skill, realism and memory, Miller brought broad societal themes within the ambit of the ordinary lives of his characters. And yet the play refuses to be circumscribed as a period piece because it foregrounds Willy not as a mere victim of inhuman forces that control the economic and social environment, but as a victim of his own delusions. Knowing that he is worth more "dead" than "alive" on account of the $20,000 life insurance he carries, Willy believes that this attractive sum can be used to restore his son Biff’s love for him, a belief that sends him to his death.
Miller endowed his hero with the tragic appeal that would endear him to readers beyond the limits of space, time and clime. Miller’s protagonist is not a man of renown, but an ordinary soul who yearns for the bare minimum to keep his life and that of his family going.
Besides Death of a Salesman, Miller’s probing dramas—All My Sons, Crucible, The Price, The Misfits etc.—would remain as barometers of the conscience of the times in which Miller lived and wrote. Like a perfect physician, he could feel the pulse of economic pressures that drove a human being to desperation. He stated in The Price: "The car, the furniture, the wife, the children—everything has to be disposable. Because you see the main thing today is—shopping." To the critics who would be quick to label his works as mere "social problem plays", he would say: "I’ve never written about society that way. If my plays were about the social problems of their day, nobody would keep doing them. The problems would have changed."
His plays portray an instinctive striving to understand how people confront disasters and strive to survive in a world they never made. Miller’s strongest plays are fired by convictions that assail some of the central ideals enshrined not only in American culture, but in all cultures the world over. "Great drama is great questions," he wrote in his autobiography, "or it is nothing, but technique."
Made out of the stuff that go on to providing themes for immensely popular bestsellers, the story of Miller’s life, like that of his plays, had an intense dramatic appeal. Miller was married three times: to Mary Grace Slattery, to Monroe and to Inge Morath. He married Morath in 1962; they were together for 40 years, until her death in 2002. His tumultuous marriage to screen legend Marilyn Monroe created tremors in American society.
In the words of Norman Mailer: "Theirs was a union between ‘the Great American Brain’ and ‘the Great American Body’.’’ The marriage, which ended in divorce, did provide material for two of his plays: After the Fall and Finishing the Picture. In 1995, he reportedly punched a male journalist who asked him whether he still dreamed about her.
Alongside the writing, Miller’s life demonstrates his faith in the ability of an individual to resist conformist pressures. All his life, he remained a staunch supporter of free speech.
He stated: "A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself," a statement that should remain the guiding principle of the fourth estate all over the world.
His courageous stand against McCarthyism and the House of Un-American Activities Committee that had tried to frame him in 1956 over a supposed Communist conspiracy to misuse American passports speaks about the strength of his conviction.
He willingly answered all questions about himself, but he refused to name names on a point of principle saying: "I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him."
Like a crusader, he involved himself in the defense of foreign writers through the International P.E.N. organization. He was undoubtedly a bold playwright whose convictions challenged conventions.

So long people continue to see or read Miller’s plays and say for his endearingly human creations, "That was my father. That was my uncle. That was me," we have every reason to believe "Death is dead, not he."
                   Courtesy: The Tribune, Sunday, April 17, 2005

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Comments from Sharyn Skeeter

Dear Nibir,

Thanks so much for sending these links. I've been reading end-of-semester student papers and exams, so I've just now had the chance to read your posts. I've enjoyed and learned from all of them.

The interview with Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui gave me an interesting perspective on literature and other factors in Pakistan and, to some degree, India. (I also learned a few new words--shayar, mushaira, etc.)

Your account of "Meeting Mother Teresa" is lovely. Your being in the presence of such a person must have been a blessing in itself.

After reading several of the posts on Multicultural America, I became interested in reading it. I looked for the book on, however, I can't find it. Is it available? If so, where?

Again, thanks for sharing.

Sharyn (email dated 10 May, 2011)
Dr. Sharyn Skeeter is an assistant professor at the University of Bridgeport, U.S.A. Her poetry, articles, and fiction have appeared in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies (including E. Ethelbert Miller’s In Search of Color Everywhere). She has given readings at arts centers and universities in the United States. She was fiction, poetry, book review editor at Essence magazine and editor in chief at Black Elegance. She has taught journalism, media, and English at universities and colleges, including Emerson College, Gateway Community College, and Fairfield University. Currently, she is working on a novel and a collection of poetry.