Friday, July 11, 2008

The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood (2005)

Margaret Atwood, steals yet again and presents us a delightfully tongue-in-cheek feminist version of an otherwise accepted, rarely questioned and highly glorified tale. Re-interpreting the Greek myth of Odysseus as a part of The Myths series, Atwood presents The Odyssey (originally written by Homer) from Penelope's point of view, in The Penelopiad.

Unlike her beautiful cousin, Helen of Troy, Penelope has never been a popular character in Greek mythology. Married to Odysseus, she is known mainly for having woven a shroud which she undid every night, for nearly 12 years in order to fend off her many suitors who wanted to marry her and usurp Odysseus' kingdom and her son, Thelemachus' inheritance. Synonymous with intelligence and fidelity, Penelope, otherwise didn't have a major role to play in Greek mythology. Atwood changes this, presenting to us Penelope's (untold) story right from her neglected childhood, to her marriage and the years she spent at Ithaca without her husband, struggling to survive against all odds, depending on her wit and pragmatism. Atwood thus presents Penelope as much more than merely a faithful wife. Interestingly Atwood does not paint Penelope as the flawless heroine but as human with flaws such as sibling rivarly and jealousy (towards Helen), vanity which makes her enjoy the flattery poured on her by the suitors and even the urge to give into the temptation and yield to her carnal desires.

Above all, Atwood brings to us the voice of the maids, who were hung by Odysseus and Telemachus. Guilty of disloyalty, the maid servants, who entered a life of slavery at childhood and were raped or forced to sleep with their master and any man he dictated, were condemned to death for having slept with Penelope's suitors in Odysseus' absence. In The Penelopiad they are given a chance to present their case and argue their innocence in a ballad as well as an extremely rivetting parody of a court room scene.

Succesfully manipulating several genres to serve her purpose of subverting a popular myth, Margaret Atwood comes up with another winner.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Slowness - Milan Kundera

Rare is it that I devour a book within a couple of hours. Rarer that I find myself unable to lift my eyes from a book when I am in a moving bus. Yesterday on my way back from the Tinsel Town I started Milan Kundera's Slowness and before I knew it, I had turned the last page, having spent two hours nodding in admiration at the weight in the words chosen to weave this delightfully tongue-in-cheek oeuvre!

A philosophical treatise that raises more questions than it answers, Slowness analyses slowness and speed, memory and speed, hedonism and exhibitionism, the art of (amorous) conversation and orgasms with a brilliantly cold detachment. At the same time, Slowness narrates two intertwined tales of seduction juxtaposed against another midsummer night's seduction in the 18th century...and all this is staged in the same castle where the narrator is spending the weekend with his wife and an entomologists' conference is taking place.

I loved the wicked humour in the exchanges between the two couples, especially in the scene between Vincent and Julia and was completely bowled over by the philosophical arguments on the various subjects.

A novel that fills you with grotesque horror at times yet forces an unbridled laughter out of you and succeeds in making you think and realise how shallow and pretentious and sordid modern civilisation can be and is, Slowness delights, enthralls and makes you bow down to the sheer genius that is Milan Kundera.

I leave you with the customary excerpt, though the urge to type out half the book is great:

Being among the elect is a theological notion that means: not as a matter of merit but by a supernatural judgement, a free, even capricious, determination of God, a person is chosen for something exceptional and extraordinary...

...the feeling of being elect is present, for instance, in every love relation. For love is by definition an unmerited gift; being loved without meriting it is the very proof of real love. If a woman tells me: I love you because you're intelligent, because you're decent, because you buy me gifts, because you don't chase women, because you do the dishes, then I'm disappointed; such love seems a rather self-interested business. How much finer it is to hear: I'm crazy about you even though you're neither intelligent nor decent, even though you're a liar, an egotist, a bastard.

The Patriot

I am standing for peace and non violence
Why the world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi
I am simply not understanding
Ancient indian wisdom is 100% correct,
I shuold sayeven 200% correct,
But mordern generation is neglecting-
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

Other day i'm reading newspaper
(Everyday i'm reading Times Of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn
Must be student unrest fellow, i am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Cuontrymen, i am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming-
Regeneration, remuneration, contraception.

Be patiently, brothers and sisters.
You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that i am ever tasting the wine,
I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
But i say
Wine is for the drunkards only.

What you think of prospects of world peace?
pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, i am telling you.
Really most harassing me.
All menare brothers, no?
In India also,
Thuogh some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ran rajya is surely coming.

You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.
Nissim Ezekiel

Read some of his other poems here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Life Without Books Would Be A Mistake

I was born in a book. This is not a metaphor. I was born to myself by reading. I was born to rejection, to excess, to enigmas, I was born to the incomprehensibleness of things, I was born to what is called the inner life thanks to a book. I was ten. I remember it well. The book was called "Sans Famille" (Nobody's Boy) by Hector Malot.
I belong to books. All other affiliations reduce me and sut me in. All other affiliations fill me with horror. The soil, blood, race, the family fill me with horror.
I belong to books. To the books I read in my childhood. To the ones that have marked the seasons of my life. I belong to the books of Cervantes, Rabelais, Pascal, Faulkner and Bernhard. But I belong too, to the books that I haven't read and which have founded the language that I speak, its spirit, its colours, its pace.
I belong to books. When the world is noisy, books give me peace. When life no longer makes sense, books know how to laugh at it.
As there is no god to take me in, no master to guide me, no root in the soil to hold me, I fear being crushed in the immanence of things. But the uneasy voice of great books leads me towards an unknown that calls me and keeps me moving forward.
I read, I live. Life without books would be nothing but a mistake. My life without books would be inconceivable. Like an existence with no secrecy. Like day without night.
Books are my day and my night.
-Lydie Salvayre
This quarter's issue of Label France has a special dossier on Books and People and has a special feature "Words of writers" in which 10 authors reacted to the question "What place do books have in your life?"
Read what other writers have to say (in French) at the official Label France site.
Disclaimer - I haven't translated the text. I merely copied it from the English edition I picked up at AFP..

Being Alone With The World In Your Hands

Reading is absenting yourself from the world
reading is finding the world again
reading is being alone with the world in your hands
reading is being alone in the company of others
reading is thinking before acting
reading is taking the time to think
reading is imagining
imagining is putting yourself in the Other's place
reading is an act of humanity
reading is being with the other and with yourself
reading and writing is the beginning of belonging to the world
everyone should be able to read and write in their own language
reading is being alone and yet being part of the world

Writing is responding to this solitude
without filling it
without imagining that you are making up for it
writing is facing the void
writing is being at the reader's side
not in his place or above him
writing is relying on intelligence
writing is also being alone
but not totally isolated
writing is seeking the Other in yourself
you can turn it into an illness
you can turn it into a job
you can turn it into a rapture
writing is uncontrollable but it is grammatical
writing is asking questions with no answer
writing is answering questions that have not been asked
writing is rejecting the words of harmony as well as those of discord
writing is sowing disorder by reviving language
writing is an act of humanity and a curse
writing keeps me upright but also digs gulfs
- Marie Darrieussecq (French Writer, Psychoanalyst)