Monday, 29 September 2014

The nothingness of personality

It can't be denied that any text bears an imprint of the personality of the person who wrote it. Thematically, it bears an imprint of your interests. Stylistically, the way you write is a very personal way of expressing itself. It might be something you have honed for years. However, I do find that people can get too carried away with this line of argument. To persistently look for the personality of a writer is a grave mistake. What I think is an even greater mistake is to lump writers into groups based on gender or race.

Many writers are categorised as 'women' writers, 'black' writers or 'gay' writers. This is always a referent for their work. Their writing might not even touch on feminist or racial issues. Both women and racial groups have been subjugated for so long that people assume that their writing must express a sense of injustice. It might even be covertly sexist or racist to assume this. It even implies that the 'standard' writer must be white, straight and male. Anyone who isn't must explicitly write about their particular experience.

Ralph Ellison always claimed that it bothered him that he was labelled a black writer. The only way people gauged his work had to be through issues of racial identity. Writers like Ellison were always expected to be political, even partisan, in their work. They were virtually expected to carry placards proclaiming 'I am a black writer - I stand for civil liberties.' Just being black seemed to preclude spiritual and metaphysical topics, which writers like Ellison were greatly interested in.

We should see consciousness as a universal human attribute. It might be banal to say that, but it needs to be emphasised. Writing should represent the Platonic Idea. Ideas and linguistic symbols are universal. All abstract predicates belong to these universal concepts. Concepts like 'beauty,' 'justice' and 'freedom' are universal. It would be silly, and patently racist and sexist, to claim that only certain races and genders can write about these universals.

We should not see writing, then, as purely personal expression. It often is. But it is intellectually lazy to claim that Dostoyevsky is a crypto-murderer and that Vladimir Nabokov is a pedophile. The Romantic idea of an artist as a artistic genius stamping is individuality into every page should be dropped. Writing is fun because you get to play around with language and ideas. The Romantic idea of 'the artist as genius' seems to presuppose that the author has moral authority. He does not.

On the other hand, Ronald Barthes and his gaggle of post-modernist friends can get too carried away with their line of argument. They claimed that 'the author is dead' and that we should treat writing as forensic scientists methodically analysing grammar and semantics. One's writing style in itself is very personal and past experience can shape the content of writing. Although academics would rather not think about it, this is a significant aspect which shapes the writing. This way of reading texts also ignores historical readings. The socio-economic/political background of a text is always a crucial factor.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The novel

The prevailing epigram made by many novelists is 'the novel is dead.' It has been superseded by popular media like film and television. Its readership has been steadily diminishing. It now has a select readership, but soon enough publishers and promoters will lose patience and close the market down.

People who make these statements, I find, misapprehend what the novel is all about. 'Novel' means something new. If it were to die out now, it would have had a very brief existence. It only started in the eighteenth century. (Texts from antiquity have been added to the canon, but they weren't labelled 'novels' as such at the time.)

The novel is in a constant state of flux. It is a form which always adapts itself to contemporary society. It will always engage with the present day. It will represent society in new and unheralded ways. What's more is that, stylistically, it will always reinvent itself. This was the ethos behind the work of Cervantes, Laurence Sterne and Richardson and continues to be the ethos of Pynchon, De Lillo and Franzen. In the 19th century, social realists wanted to methodically recreate a picture of every day life through objective and descriptive language. This was rejected by modernists, who claimed that the perception of reality is not logical. Post-modernists took this further after the advent of mass advertisement, globalisation and televisual media. Everything is unreal. The novel accommodates itself to these developments and will give a picture of its time through these prisms.

The reason it can do all this is because the novel is a very malleable form. Unlike most poetry, there are no rules. It has never required a classical education. This is why it attracted female writers, who has been deprived from an education in the 19th century. You can latch onto your narrative as many ideas, characters, observations that you like. It is not formally rigid, nor is does it require a knowledge of classics.

'Latching on as many ideas as you like' is why the idea of the 'total novel' appeals to me. Many of the Latin American writers of the 60s were interested in the notion. (The apotheosis of this was quite likely José Donoso's The Obscene Bird of Night, which recreates the complex consciousness of a schizophrenic.) The idea that you can create a totalised narrative universe through multiple registers, time frames and narrators is very appealing. I very much like the idea of gigantic seamless works which brim with ideas. If we were to restrict ourselves to visual media, we would be severely limiting ourselves. There is so much you can do or say in a 90-minute narrative. Hopefully 'the total novel' will survive alongside the more popular forms (they have their merit, too) and will continue to engage with the big ideas of the day. It is the most equipped medium to say as much as it can in as many possible ways.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Accepting Reality: The University Years

 Cover illustration by Sofia Lindgren.

Accepting Reality is the long-awaited (awaited by four or five people…) sequel to Confronting Reality. It was written during Saimon A.’s undergraduate studies, between 2011 and 2014. Although there is veneer of surrealism and absurdity in these stories, Saimon A. has furthered his scope. There is more satire. Warped mysteries. Dollops of pornography. There are obsessive characters. There are neuroses and psychoses. Saimon A. throws a lot of disparate elements together. Sometimes they gel, sometimes they don’t. In the preface, Saimon A. writes that ‘there is an acceptance of reality’ instead of an ‘assiduous scepticism.’ Many of these stories can be said to be an attempt to reconcile the subjective with the objective, the macro and the micro. They are interested in the ways in which broader legislative political decisions affect the ontology of individuals. A lot of these stories are set in obscure moments in history and foreign countries, continuing with Saimon A.’s interest in what he calls ‘cosmopolitan literature.’ Many of these stories are based on real life figures. Some deal with Saimon A.’s obsession with classical, jazz and experimental music. Some deal with Saimon A.’s burgeoning interest in philosophy. Saimon A. continues to be interested in outsiders and those people who subject themselves to the outer extremes of human experience. All in all, this is another eclectic and eccentric collection from one of the most eccentric writers. Whether the world is ready to accept this unusual and unclassifiable book remains to be seen.'

Preface                                                                                                                                                9
Eight PM in Buenos Aires                                                                                                        15
Francisca Franzen                                                                                                                    18
Letters to Camila Vallejo                                                                                                         24
The Murmurings                                                                                                                      27
The Hermit and the Despot                                                                                                      33
The Bridge of Time                                                                                                                 40
Desperate Lives                                                                                                                       44
The Second Death of God                                                                                                       48
Burned Manuscripts                                                                                                                 54
Consigned to Mythology                                                                                                          57
Quartet for the End of Time                                                                                                     63
Rose of the Fair State                                                                                                               66
Alone in the Cyber Age                                                                                                             70
Hit the North!                                                                                                                          73
The Sleep of Reason Produces Wonders                                                                                    76
The Tea Boy                                                                                                                            79
Valparaíso                                                                                                                               83
My Vinyl Fetish                                                                                                                       85
The Death of Labour                                                                                                               96
The Thing in Itself                                                                                                                   99
Afterword                                                                                                                                101

One copy still available to any one who shows the faintest interest. 104 A4 pages printed and bound. Completely free, including postage. This even applies if you are a complete stranger.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Go for it, Scotland!

The question of Scottish independence has instigated universal interest and debate. It has prompted cod analysis from the most unqualified of sources. Although the NO campaign is still on the lead, Alex Salmond seems much more wily than the desiccated Alistair Darling. Although Salmond's statements and policies tend to be populist, he is a left-leaning politician who has chimed with the public in a way that Ed Miliband has persistently failed.

There is no question that, if Scotland were to become independent, it would face serious hurdles. There is the question of currency, an over-reliance on oil as an export, EU membership and the prospect of stagnant growth. If Scotland became autonomous it would have to sift through an endless array of bureaucratic reforms, which the NO campaign claims would take longer than the proposed eighteen months. People insist that the union is the biggest source for jobs and growth.

Though one of the strongest claims made by the YES campaign is a vote for independence would be democratic.  Scotland is a Labour strong-hold and is intent on maintaining institutions like the NHS (which is surreptitiously being privatised) and child care benefits. Scotland bears the brunt of policies like the bedroom tax, which is a deterrent to social mobility. Social institutions they cherish are being cut at break-neck speed. Scotland has not voted for any of these policies, yet they bear the brunt of them.

It would make sense that more powers should be devolved to Scotland. All political and economic power is centralised in London. When people talk of meager economic growth (which are actually lower than 2008 levels), this all takes place in London. Areas in the north and the midlands are stagnant It would make sense to have some sort of regional federation. The original proposal made by Salmond and SNP was 'devo max,' which was snubbed by Cameron. This meant that the only tenable alternative to the SNP was full sovereignty. The central ethos behind Cameron's otherwise rather pallid campaign was 'the big society' and British identity. It has only led to more frissures. If he loses Scotland, his term will be considered a disaster. He may even be pressured to resign.

Ultimately, Scotland is a different culture. Following the crystallisation of the union, it was thought that English and Scottish culture would amalgamate easily. That has not proved to be the case. Its culture and identity is entrenched. When you ask a Scottish person how they would identity as, their answer tends to be 'Scottish' rather than 'British.'

Scottish independence has instigated fierce public debate. So much so that it has even sparked tensions within family house-holds. It cannot be easily delineated as a left/right dichotomy either. Although Salmond's rhetoric is largely anti-Tory, people from varying persuasions support each ticket. The great thing about the referendum is that it has summoned interest from the most politically apathetic. It has risen the public morale.

This means that, even if NO claims a majority, the YES campaign may still be the real winner. It has caused an indelible change of mood. All the arguments posited above will continue to be discussed and will continue to resonate. There will be more referendums in the future. Scottish independence will continue to be a strong sentiment and will continue to be a scourge to the Tory right.