Sunday, 22 July 2012

On Poetry- from an exceptional teacher.

Sheila ma'am was my teacher during my post-grad days for 3 out of 4 semesters. Ma'am is loved for all that she is, and anybody who meets her might notice her silent strength, her passion towards writing and words, her humility, her kindness and her love for nature. She has a strong personality and a lot of love to give away generously. Recently, I had mailed her telling her how much I missed her classes on poetry and she was kind enough to mail me a reply that had the following text.
"Poetry is contained in the touch of breeze,the opening out of leaves and flowers,the twitter of little birds, the laughter of a child, theKeatsian idea of the pressure and impact of people on you. Thelandscape affects you in many ways. Recall the Mariner's journey orthe million atoms bombarding a writer in Virginia Woolf's ModernFiction. It is about stimulus and its impact."                                                                                          (c) SM

That's roughly the way ma'am taught us- drawing from various sources, bringing them together, all the while remaining honest to what she said. She's never spoken a sentence that's made me think "but of course, it's easy to pretend that you like it." She's honest when she speaks or teaches. She's one of those rare teachers who teach by example; they are already what they expect of others. 

Ma'am's sensitivity to words and the world in general brings out beautiful ideas and amazing thoughts that can leave anybody listening to her wanting to hear more. She's taught me the need to be humble, to be constructive when offering feedback, to work hard, to never say something I am not entirely sure of, and that kindness is essential when interacting with the world.  She's of course, shown all this by being that way. She never spelt out any of these in her classes. You'd just have to observe her!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Beginning Theory with Peter Barry.

This is not much of a big post (Length-wise) but important nevertheless. It is important because I am learning theory from scratch and this book by Barry is just amazing. I recall Senoir S asking us to read this book for starters- I just couldn't lay hands on a library copy. It was always in issue.

So, last summer I bought a copy myself and this summer I have started reading through it. Skimming actually. But he makes so much sense. Especially in the introduction to all the theory beginners. And all my hours of brooding on the intellectual ineptitude to understanding very flowery french critics already looks like a huge waste of time. I should have read Barry!

So, if anyone out there is actually in a crisis- trying to "understand" theory, or atleast "be on the same page" with the literary critics; I would advise you to begin with Barry. Remember he is not exhaustive- no book can ever be exhaustive- we need our judgement to complete anything we read or study- but what Barry provides is a balm for the intellectually bruised and a good place to start off from. It is a very personal rendition of beginning to understand theory. More like pointers telling you to look for what and where, and most importantly includes you in the theory.

Friday, 27 April 2012

What Alan Rickman taught me.

I have bitten by the Rickman-bug, and have been watching his movies and interviews like a crazy person. And one thing that he constantly is talking about in all the interviews is the need for an actor to never judge the characters he is playing.
And what did I learn? 

He talks of the script, the writers and the medium he is using to bring the characters alive. (I'll try to put up the links- but check out the interview with Charlie Rose). By doing this, he points out three things-

a. that the story is a work of art, a creative product- something a writer creates.
b. The characters have goals, and are going their separate ways to achieve them. They are not good or bad- they are people who want things, and decide to achieve them using varied means. 

c. The actor and the character are always, always two different people. [That was a revelation for me, sometimes the actors are so good that you forget the actor and call them by the character's name- Jack Sparrow? (though for me he'll always be Edward with the scissorhands)]

What I learnt futhermore is that each person's personal vision of the story is different. I am planning to watch another version of Rasputin and Sense and Sensibility. Just so I know what he's done with the characters. 

Because when you read his interviews on Rasputin, you understand his working style, and his interpretation of the man Rasputin. He says in one of the interviews, that Rasputin (in his movie) is shown as an alcoholic. He is portrayed as a man who does strange things, who drinks and is "virile".  Interestingly, he also talks of his experience of researching on Rasputin- he says, (which I think is very insightful-) that the records on Rasputin are by other people. He wants us to remember that Rasputin was illiterate and therefore could never write; which implies that his version of his life is never available. And Rickman capitalises on this. Since everybody is providing a different version of history, Rickman secures the freedom of interpreting and imagining personality traits when playing Rasputin. And I must say, I loved the movie all the more with each watching session. 

Now how is this helpful? To a student of Literature?

Well, see, he shatters the illusion of movie making and writing. By talking about the character and the writer, he makes us see the art behind the movie than just the finished product. 

Which when applied to stories/narratives is simply fascinating. It gives a whole new vision and understanding. I was reading Atwood's Moral Disorder simultaneously.  And the more I understood the illusion of story-writing, the better I appreciated the writer. It is the pleasure of immersing yourself in make-believe when you are aware of the element of magic that creates it. 

The characters within the story are real. 
One understands this by the use of dialogue, by character descriptions and what they and what they think about. Rickman's characters stand apart because he lives them. He breathes life into them, gives them a strong personality and stays true to the personality in all situations. P.L. O'Hara in An Awfully Big Adventure is a helpless romantic who loses the love of his life and the child he wants, and then ends up in a messy situation. He is an amazing actor and an arrogant young man. And Rickman makes O'Hara behave that way through out the movie- until the very end. O'Hara might have been a weak character if played by somebody who hadn't understood him. 

It always helps to lose yourself in the story and make predictions. 
This is something I am allowing myself to do to make the characters live after the final pages of the book. I am trying to think like them, place them in situations and try to imagine their response. Largely because of Rickman's interpretation of Eli in Nobel Son. Fascinating, because I would have judged him- right away. 
But from what I have seen in Rickman- I have learnt to never, never judge a character. Never to say he is good or bad (initially) but see him for what he is. Maybe in the second or third reading we shall understand "why" somebody does something they are doing. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Research Blues

What is it that we all hope to learn by doing research?

This is my first, official research and it's left me with important questions. And until I answer them and feel satisfied I know that I am going to face a meltdown and loathe my project.

What does research entail? Are we looking at a paper that will deliver differently? Are we looking for the stamp of our intellect, academic competency or personality? I for one begin my analyses from questions. My reading provides me with sufficient important questions- that may or may not be in congruence with the objective of the course- but they are important for me to understand the texts and the narratives.

I work around the questions, reading and re-reading the text and finding other material that will help me validate my point or counter-argue my views.

But two afternoons in the library- and I am confused- where is "theory"? There is absolutely no theory in my research. I am using ideas and narrative techniques but where is Theory!

So now I am left wondering what went wrong- have I lost faith in my research? or am I not cut out for academic research?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Narratives are not confined to books and libraries.

This space is reserved for books, I understand, but it's also about stories and the art of story-telling and the different narratives that are brought out through the story-telling.

Two years ago, in my UG I was given the opportunity to work with Nora Sweeney. Nora was an exchange scholar from Oberlin in Ohio and was at LDC to teach us film making. Such a wonderful time. We made two short films under her guidance. It was  documenting more than creativity. Awesome experience.
Nora has amazing insight and perspective. She sees things we normally wouldn't see, she forms the picture in her mind even when we are filming. Her questions are direct, simple and yet incisive. They set the entire mood and atmosphere of the films. She is now doing her own film-making, has her own website and uploads her films on them.

But what really is fantastic is the fact that stories can be narrated through any medium. Writing, poetry, fiction, interviews, biographies, short films, pictures! So many formats. They are all life-stories but told in different ways, with different perspectives and different textures and analogies. I prefer films/short-films. Because these bring colour, texture, voices and faces and also leaves a lot to be imagined. You don't walk out of a movie completely normal. Something stays on, it leaves you thinking.

So, if you've visited her profile at vimoe, you'll understand what I am talking about. Those stories, about those Moroccan artists and the wonderful, absolutely Nora-ish movie "Memory Kitchen", are exciting narratives of ordinary people and their amazing lives. I like how she sees more than the art, more than the preliminary questions and brings out entire personalities and a little story.

Narratives are so exciting, and after being shut inside libraries and books written by dead people on actual art- this is so refreshing- because she is an artist, a creator and a documentor(?) and it works beautifully. She sees something, sets it into a story, gives it flavour and retells an entire personality. I think it's amazing.

Monday, 5 March 2012

50 books I plan to read this year.

With my college days coming to an end, and my dissertation nearing completion, I am left with a lot of time on my hands (from April, ofcourse- now is That maddening phase, where you can't finish your dissertation or your assignment and are living like a sloppy zombie). So, to compensate the less-stressed phase that follows I am making a goal- to read atleast 50 books this year.

And I am beginning with Senior S' recommendations!

1. Pico Iyer- Abandon
2. Peter Mattheisson - The Snow Leopard.
3. Conn Iggulden- One Man Would Become a Legend.
4. Anna Varughese Past Perfect
5. Mohammed Hanif- Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.
6. Iris Murdoch- The Philosopher's Pupil.
7. Iris Murdoch-  A Word Child.
8. Iris Murdoch-  The Bell.
9. Faulkner- As I Lay Dying.
10. Faulkner- The Sound and the Fury.
11. Angela Carter- The Magic Toyshop.
12. Amitav Ghosh- The Sea of Poppies.
13. Amitav Ghosh- The Shadow Lines.
14. Gabriel Garcia Marquez- One Hundred Years of Solitude.
15. Andrea Levy- Fruit of the Lemon.
16. Julian Barnes- The Sense of an Ending.
17. William S Burroughs- Naked Lunch.
18. Hari Kunzru- Gods Without Men.
19. Catherynne Valente- Palimpsest

The list requires completion, so if any of you happen to stumble upon this blog- and have a recommendation put it in the comments box. I might end up reading it. :)

Also, people very important- if you guys download books- pdf format- and happen to have links to books or have ecopies with you- please, please do let me know. I am relying on old-computer-reading until I get my own Kindle!

Happy reading life- all of you! 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hikayat: A collection of Lebanese Short Stories

A part of the Contemporary Fiction paper is to explore a new area of fiction, and I chose Lebanese Writing. The only collection I had easy access to was this book- Hikayat. It is a collection of short stories by Lebanese women- the first generation writers and the second generation writers. 

The book has a comprehensive introduction highlighting the literary history of the Middle-east, Lebanon  in particular. The stories explore relationships, war, refugee status, love and the breaking up of families. 

The stories are poignant and have a distinct flavour. While the first generation women writers talk about domestic problems, religion, rules and war, the younger generation- with writers like Rima Alamuddin, Zeina Ghandour and Hala Alyan talk of a different Lebanon. The stories are imaginative and describe independent women; women who love art, women who are living by themselves. They assert their identity and occupy the entire narrative space. And have such imaginative titles to the stories. 

Some of the stories I really liked were:

A Spaceship to the Moon- (Can't remember author's name)

A Pomegranate Notebook- (can't remember author's name)

The Cellist- Rima Alamuddin

Painted Reflections - Hala Alyan

Omega: Definition- Zeina Ghandour

If you like Middle-east or Iranian movies, or Palestinian movies you would definitely want to try this book. 

Like Water for Chocolate- Laura Esquivel

It is such an endearing story. Written in  12 chapters, one for each month and a recipe at the beginning of each chapter it  chronicles the lives of five women; their search for the love of their lives and the cruel reality in which they live.

The narrative is beautiful and seamlessly blends the cooking-life with the non-cooking life. The metaphors are so unique and different, it is all about the cooking; the oils, the onions, the rose-petals and the magical tears that can fill up an entire reserve of salt.

The story is set in Mexico, soon after the Mexican revolution and has the story of three sisters (Tita, Gertrude and R) ,their domineering mother Mama Elena and their cooks Nacha and Chencha. Each of these women fall in love- and each of these women have their hearts broken. It is impossible for them to just be happy. 

And you should read this book if you like Mexico, stories about women, love, recipe and cooking (from what Senior S said, I think most recipes are cook-able), and Magical Realism. Tita literally cries rivers, she knits a humongous quilt to keep herself warm, and Ox-tail soup relieves her! So exotic and refreshing and heart-breaking.