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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Autotelism Versus "Unity of Art, Use and Beauty."

Deepti Lamba ends her short story Kindred Spirits with these words: "They wished the childhood abuse had never happened."
In the comments, I suggested the straight forward ending punch was too bare. Perhaps a lessshowing sentence hinting at the abysmal darkness and gloom could have been more effective in rousing the reader's imagination to the protagonists misfortunes.
Temple Stark had a different take and said: "I like the bluntness of the last line because it's (sic) subject is very blunt. You don't get mysterious about childhood abuse, it's a "show stopping" subject."
And Aditi Nadkarni added: " Temple said I too like the bluntness. I don't like poetry in matters like child abuse. It just doesn't sit right and does not deliver the shock it should."
There are as many ways to begin and end a tale as there are genres in writing. As a minor poet I try to play around with words and felt this sublime and powerful short story loses some of its charm when the punch line suddenly explodes towards the end. I also think a challenging O Henry ending could have carried greater finesse and punch.
Deepti had traced the subterranean path of the submarine and brought it nearer the reader. It rose from the depths of the protagonists' despair to very near the surface. Now what to do with the lurking submarine? Should it emerge gracefully out of the watery grave or tentatively shoot up?
The suspicion, fear and the latent guilt of the two protagonists that electrifies the narration throughout the story suddenly dissipates and fizzles from the story ending.
In 1935, in England a bunch of Indian Writers got together to launch Progressive Writer's Association. And in 1936, they founded the Indian Progressive Writer's Movement in Calcutta. Why this sudden switch from Dee's short story?
Because this leads to the unresolved argument of art for whose sake? The Progressives considered the primacy of objective above art. As a minor poet I have a different take. Art (broadly speaking) is inspiration meeting paper, canvas or another medium. It flows from the deeper innards and should not be intentionally subjugated to causes, ideals and whims no matter how deeply held or felt. Unobtrusive and unimpeded flow of art is overwhelming by itself.
L'art pour l'art - art for art's sake - divorced from any encumbrances such as morality, didactics, or messages should be the ultimate justification. The Greeks have a word for it Autotelism- (noun -belief that a work of art is an end in itself or its own justification.)
We have taken it into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem's sake [...] and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in the true poetic dignity and force: — but the simple fact is that would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified, more supremely noble, than this very poem, this poem per se, this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written solely for the poem's sake. Poe, Edgar Allan (1850). The Poetic Principle.
In the 30s the Indian world was stirring to throw away the yolk of the flickering Raj. This period, sandwiched between the two wars proved to be conducive to the Progressives. Mushir Anwar inSajjad Zaheer and Progressive Writers' Movement writes:
THAT literature will meet our criteria which has thought, passion for freedom, beauty, a constructive spirit, the light of life's realities; that moves, creates a turmoil and turbulence, makes us restless, does not put us to sleep since it would be akin to death if we sleep more. Thus Munshi Premchand defined the objectives of the Progressive Writers' Movement in his presidential address at the movement's first congress held in 1936. The standard bearer of this movement was Sajjad Zaheer, a scion of nobility who renounced the advantages of his birth to work for the cause of the downtrodden. Sajjad Zaheer saw in literature that force which could bring about a qualitative change in the life and thought of the people since it anticipated the profound and the deep unseen as well as the surface tensions springing from the font of ambition that not only make men dream but goad them to their realisation. But that in effect meant changing the aesthetics of art which some thought to be inflexible.
This is further refined in Progressive Movement and Urdu Poetry, where Ali Sardar Jafri says:

This Progressive Movement was a spectrum of different shades of political and literary opinions with Prem Chand, a confirmed believer in Gandhism at one end, and Sajjad Zaheer, a confirmed marxist, at the other end. In between them were various other shades including non-conformists, but every one of them interested in the freedom of the country and glory of literature.

And this captures the essence of the movement:

The basic and fundamental postulate of the Progressive Writers Movement is the unity of art, use and beauty.It is not a violent departure from the past or an angry revolt against tradition as such, although we did reject certain unhealthy and obscurantist trends. And that is how our path was new. What we tried to do was a reiteration of the values getting lost in modern commercial age, or distorted under the weight of the decaying social systems. It is a rediscovery with a new experience and consciousness, and new artistic additions giving fresh vigour to Urdu poetry and literature as a whole.

I viewed the Kindered Spirit from this perspective and felt the ending was "designed" and restrictive. It did not allow the soaring freedom to the reader's imagination.

Am I perhaps guilty of ignoring the message in the story? No. Deepti, Aditi, Temple, Jawahara and others who grace the pages of Desicritcs are a fine bunch of writers who know and practice their craft well. I just felt the ending could have been done differently.

But if that wish were to come true, then this story would straddle the mid ground between the Progressives and the Purists! Both will lose some and the reader stands to gain.


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