Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wittgenstein's mistress

Does modern Mathematics, with its empahsis on the trappings of austere, formalist (read axiomatic) conventions, in defining things on the basis of their operational roles (e.g., a 'line' is that which minimizes distances between points (lines are geodesics on manifolds); an 'open set' is that which is closed under arbitrary unions and finite intersections etc.) carry (consciously or otherwise) a Wittgensteinian baggage in being heavily influenced by his concept "meaning is use"?; or did the Bourbaki just discover the notion independently?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend readings: part 2

It's no secret that Nanga Fakir is an avowed fan of Roberto Bolaño (see his fanboy review of 2666 here) and that he finds his books (in particular 2666 and The Savage Detectives) drop dead beautiful. The latest work of Bolaño to have passed through NF's hands is his collection of non-fiction writing - mostly reviews and literary essays - Between Parantheses.

The literary terrorist doesn't disappoint. (As a brief aside, let's note here that Bolaño was the bête noire of the Mexican lit establishment - a painfully bright poet gone rogue, terrorizing all the others who in his opinion were 'unworthy' of donning the mantle of a poet - in a manner not-so-dissimilar as that in which SatyaVrat (that rogue street-fighting philosopher who made people sit back and become self conscious) would terrorize those around him for not thinking things hard enough and thoroughly enough; for their bourgeois tastes and their intellectual timidity (q.v. his famous interrogation/grilling of that 'academic' philosopher Sundar Sarukkai of NIAS). Bolaño and his guerrilla style literary movement - infrarealistas (visceral realists) - would haunt the Mexican literary establishment by storming poetry reading sessions and hijacking events with their own avant garde poetry recital ceremonies. The writer Carmen Boullosa (who later became a good friend of Bolaño) spoke of her fear of approaching the lectern lest there should be visceral realists lurking around.) His accounts are full of brilliant observations - mostly on the nature of literature and the role of the writer/poet as (anti)hero and his reviews are direct, honest and interspersed with nuggets of deep insights. (His opinions, often very strong, on the current status of literature in the Spanish language and on the current writers' from Latin America's post boom phase were hard to evaluate independently though.)

Bolaño's genius is not just in his writing (which is obscenely pretty) but also in his stories of vagabond writers traveling across deserts and towns and cities; disappearing in the unknown, leaving behind vague memories of mercurial temperaments, to be recalled by lonely friends or old girlfriends during static, stationary, painfully long, never ending afternoons when wallowing in nostalgia is the least boring thing to do. His accounts of obsessive writers compulsively scrawling poems under the spell of an imperative creative burst, soaking in the pleasant smell of a decaying bookstore; his punk do-it-yourself attitude to avant garde literature (which literature, he famously declared “is the product of a strange rain of blood, sweat, semen, and tears. Especially sweat and tears, although I am sure Bertoni would add semen”); his championing of Mario Santiago - his blood brother on whom the lead character Ulises Lima of The Savage Detectives is based; his wonderful, though fanboyish reviews of the works of Borges, Nicanor Parra, Cortazar, Vila-Matas, Twain, Philip K Dick and Vargas Llosa; and excoriating, biting assaults on those who're not 'real' writers (he reserves the worst for Isabel Allende) makes you want to abandon everything you're supposed to be doing and plunge into the punk underground of literature.

If, however, you've not read him directly, you've not experience what's it like to've read Bolaño. So here's one of the many breathtaking passages from Between Parentheses (you're welcome!):

...A right wing young woman sets up a house with a right wing American, or marries him. The two of them aren't just young, they're good looking and proud. He's a DINA (National Intelligence Directorate) agent, possibly also a CIA agent. She loves literature and loves her man. They rent or buy a big house in the suburbs of Santiago. In the cellars of this house the American interrogates and tortures political prisoners who are later moved on to other detention centers or added to the list of disappeared. She writes and she attends writing workshops. In those days I suppose, there weren't as many workshops as there are today, but there were some. In Santiago people have become accustomed to the curfew. And at nights there aren't many places to go for fun, and the winters are long. So every weekend or every few nights she has a group of writers over to her house. It isn't a set group. The guests vary. Some come only once, others several times. At the house there's always whiskey, good wine, and sometimes the gatherings turn into dinners. One night a guest goes looking for the bathroom and gets lost. It's his first time there and he doesn't know the house. Probably he's a bit tipsy or maybe he's already lost in the alcoholic haze of the weekend. In any case, instead of turning right, he turns left and then he goes down a flight of stairs that he shouldn't have gone down and he opens a door at the end of a long hallway, long like Chile. The room is dark but even so he can make out a bound figure, in pain or possibly drugged. He knows what he's seeing. He closes the door and returns to the party. He isn't drunk anymore. He's terrified, but he doesn't say anything. "Surely the people who attended those post-coup culturally stilted soirées will remember the annoyance of the flickering current that made lamps blink and the music stop, interrupting the dancing. Just as surely, they knew nothing about another parallel dance, in which the jab of the prod tensed the tortured back of the knee in a voltaic arc. They might not have heard the cries over the blare of the disco, which was all the rage back then," says Pedro Lemebel. Whatever the case, the writers leave. But they come back for the next party. She, the hostess, even wins a short story or poetry prize from the only literary journal still in existence back then, a left-wing journal.

And this is how the literature of every country is built.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Weekend readings: part 1

Cormac McCarthy's vision is uncompromisingly bleak, apocalyptic and über ultraviolent. Nanga Fakir finished reading Blood Meridian over the weekend and was struck by the fondness McCarthy has for savage violence, gore and brooding, dark storylines that push the characters to the limits and forces them to come to terms with their animal instincts. Having read The Road a couple of years earlier and having heard mountains of praise heaped upon the writer (Harold Bloom (who Nanga Fakir read somewhere, can read 400 pages an hour!) reckons McCarthy, along with Pynchon, DeLillo and Roth is among the great Big Four American writers now) Nanga Fakir settled on Blood Meridian which, apparently is not only on the Time's list of hundred greatest novels but was also one of David Foster Wallace's favorites and his hushed tone in interviews whenever the book's name came up, compelled NF to pick the tome up. Another reason why the reclusive writer fascinated NF was his unusual style of not hanging out with fellow writers but instead staying in New Mexico's awesome Santa Fe Institute and preferring the company of scientists (for SatyaVrat, with whom NF discussed this idiosyncrasy, just this fact was sufficient to convince him to become an avowed fan of McCarthy from then on).

It's obvious that it's a deep, great book - you don't need an NF review for that. What however, is funny is that just like in The Road, NF had to force himself to read the book - which, given McCarthy's style of writing - terse, pithy, bone dry, compact, without quotation marks, commas or other such punctuations - makes NF's task way harder than usual. Reading McCarthy is like watching a Kurosawa period piece - not a riveting experience at all except for the "a-ha" moment at the end when the depth and vision of the creator overawes you. There were times when frankly, despite the awesome violence and obsession with apocalyptic imagery - a sufficient condition for NF to become a big fan - plodding through the book became work, a task in edification as opposed to fun and enjoyment.

So is Nanga Fakir going to read No Country for Old Men? You bet your ass he will! The "a-ha", somewhat cryptic endings are so worth the plod.


On a tangential, somewhat different note, the website Yelping with Cormac imagines Cormac McCarthy on a restaurant reviewing mission. The result is a brilliant, hilarious pastiche of the McCarthy style of writing.  Here's a wonderful example:

Whole Foods Market
Noe Valley - San Francisco, CA
Cormac M. | Author | Lost in the chaparral, NM
Four stars.
The sheriff and the posse were now a block away and riding seven abreast rifles in hand and horses snorting and wildeyed. The outlaw dropped his pistol and stiffwalked into the parking lot of a grocery store. Around him young women in skintight sporting clothes stopped and stared.
The ground shook as the posse rode up on the parking lot entrance but the sheriff stopped his riders with a raised hand and sawed his palamino around sending the animal sidestepping like a showhorse into a newspaper box which fell over with a great cacophony. When the noise subsided the neighborhood and the parking lot were silent. The riders and the outlaw and the women frozen like actors in some gypsy roadshow.
A rider wearing an elaborate mustache and carrying a Winchester onehanded nudged his quarterhorse toward the sheriff. Hell he’s right there sheriff.
I know it. Im lookin at him same as you.
          What are we waitin for then.
We caint touch him now deputy. They got their own way here.
The riders watched as the women left their station wagons and strollers and encircled the outlaw. As if some ancient instinct united them. Silent as wolves and staring intently at the broken man standing there. He saw his mistake and called out to the riders reaching toward them with his one good arm but was struck down with a savage blow from a rolled yoga mat.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Notes for a future film

Omkara meets Stalker, in a near future Lucknow. 

Long, Tarkovskian shots of dung heaps, urban waste, old city architecture, listless faces, the lawlessness in the anarcho-capitalistic Hindi heartland.

A Gulzar voiceover, a mish-mash of B&W and color photography, slo-mo porn and swoop down camerawork, deep focus lenses and a potpourri of khari boli-Awadhi-Bhojpuri dialect that's the lingua franca of the then Balkanized north India.

A Kumar Gandharva soundtrack with bits and pieces of Indian Ocean, My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead.

The atmospherics of Wong kar Wai, the minimalism of Kim ki Duk, the brutality of Park chan Wook, the effortless humor of Vishal Bharadwaj, the savage, savage intelligence of Tarantino.

The poetry of SatyaVrat.

Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapur. Tabu, Nandita Das, Tannishtha Chatterjee. Nanga Fakir in a cameo appearance.

Acid rains and impending calamities; rogue AIs and Turing police; decaying Mayawati statues with Hello Kitty handbags; high tech and low life.


The only person in the world who can pull it off is Somnath.