Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Four Walls.

There is an idea that connects sculpture and architecture. This idea, which was ever present since the time of the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians, who charged their beloved heroes with felling giant cedar trees in spite of terrible personal misfortune, was one of creating a lasting monument for posterity. Babylonians (famed for ziggurats, one of which has become rightly famous as a possible etymology for their collective name) built these temples ordinarily, that is, with mud and straw and wood, all beat into a rather accommodating pulp or paste, and got the thing over with; understandably, these were neither lasting nor very pleasing to the eye. But they were colossal by the standards of the day; and that indeed served the purpose of the strongmen who would become king.

And there comes a time when you have to face facts: but unfortunately, with the passage of time (the expression was coined probably centuries ago), 'facts' have come to mean a hydra, and facing a fact would mean turning your back to the other three.

At least so late into the essay let me acknowledge the idea: `the four walls'. It is from Forster. I wrote the ziggurat paragraph in the second week of August, left it dangling, and yesterday (the 30th) read the third part of A Passage to India. Of course, a generation of Indian expatriates studying (and teaching) in London and Manchester have made a career out of bashing the British (the jewel in their crown being that disjointed stillbirth known as `postcolonial theory') and crying, Identity! Identity!

...But it remains a wasted effort: whatever literary school or critical group, regardless of `ism' always detracts from the main course: which is the content, the novel, the particular work of literature. No wonder, no critical work has ever been as popular as a novel, because, by its very nature, the vocation of critic is inauthentic, and the critical work elitist. Beyond the first few pages where the critic usually spends her time digging wet ground, she makes sense only to a few of her colleague chimpanzees. (I have retained the `she' in mute deference to the generally accepted `gender troublelessness' formula of making the reader or the author an original of the species.)

Being myself quite a blind bat, I asked my literate friend what he thought was the fate awaits fiction. He replied me that he thought fiction would have to appeal to the baser elements; ultimately the fate of the book depended on how well they dressed up the bookshop (meaning, bookshops would have to become places for hanging out or for picking up) rather than anything with the book. It is simple, and for the new young salaried class, a book's cost is merely an aperitif: in dollar terms, about $10 for the aperitif, and $100 for the stuff, or the stuff you can have free of cost if you plant your aperitif right. The mathematics is straightforward and the logic clear: all set up for a crazy wild night. It's not about the book, but about the lace where you hang about. And a bookshop is a nice place for letting wonderful things happen to you.


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