Friday, July 23, 2010

Bildungsroman Poem Done!

Finally finished the Bildungsroman poem. There are LOTS of weak points still, lots of fuzziness in the essential development. But the first draft is done, and I can live with it for now. But the thing is, I don't necessarily feel a sense of accomplishment. I think I will, once I finish the manuscript. And that will take a while.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lyrical I

Every "I" has a history, a sociology and a politics. I am, therefore, slightly uncomfortable when I hear conversations about the lyrical "I" in abstract, blanket terms. In a dis-embodied way. I look for a body to live in that "I". What's the gender of that "I"? Race? Class? Caste? Nationality? Anything else? That is why, I think, in my own work, I am attracted to lyrical narratives. Because the stories themselves let the writer to root the persona within specific material contexts and histories. The lyrical element lends the stories an ability to move into certain forms of abstractions, non-linearities, fragmentations, which are otherwise hard to attain within the structures of a conventional short story format.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nil Beguni Shorirer Debi

I have been reading Sanjukta Bandopadhyay's newest collection of poems Nil Beguni Shorirer Debi for the last couple of weeks.I don't find the collection especially compelling, or path-breaking in any way. Save for one section, I don't like it at all. I could have just by-passed the issue by saying that this is a matter of taste. It is.But, I also think, there is a necessity to push the question of taste beyond personal preference or a certain kind of absolute relativism. Yes, I believe, tastes are, like other things, culturally, historically and socially formed and can be ideologically de-coded. So, the fact that I don't like these poems is rooted in my understanding of gender politics and the way it intersects with other categories of social experience and analysis. It is also rooted in my belief that all forms of art, especially writing, are inherently political and ideological. To me, a poem is, of course, a form of personal expression, but all forms of personal expression are also modes through which human beings comment on their lived realities. Thus, a poem is a form of personal expression and more. And if I have to give myself that push to spell it out, all forms of personal expressions are also political and like taste, open to ideological decoding and interpretation.

As writers, we must allow our "personal expressions" to be problematized, contextualized and even contested in the light of other kinds of "personal expressions." That's what pushes the conversation forward, the human mind forward. And I would say that the same is true for "personal experience." So, it's true, as I know from talking to the poet that these poems emerged from some of her very intense personal experiences, and while I do respect those experiences on a personal plane, I am also tempted to ask, without letting go of that sense of essential respect: So what? Why should I, or any other reader care about these personal experiences?

Now, as I am reading this anthology, I keep asking myself, what is the relevance of a poet stating in beautiful, poetic language that he/she has sexual desire, that he/she wants to actualize it in different ways? Obviously, there is a long tradition of male poets writing about sexual desire, and I would say, a lot of it embodies extremely problematic gender politics. But does that mean that when a woman writes about her sexual desire, because the very topic has been under-written, it makes space, almost automatically and magically, for a kind of artistic and political relevance? In short, what is the relevance of a woman writing in verse of her "personal" experiences of sexual interactions and desire? I am thinking about this question precisely because Sanjukta's collection is full of poems which describe in very graphic terms the corporeal experiences of both sexual desire and the sexual act. Having read most of her published work that came before, I can write with a certain amount of certainty that this is indeed a transformation in her own writing. She has very rarely written about body this directly, and consequently, the present volume does mark a movement in terms of her own writing. But the question I am primarily concerned about is, what does that transformation mean in terms of the larger world? In short, what does it mean to write about sexual desire? After all, we all experience sexual desire of some kind!

One can say, and I will agree, that writing in unequivocal terms about one's sexual experiences as a woman, in Bengali, does signify a kind of problematization of the demure Bengali middle-class femininity that came out of the Bengal Renaissance. But I am also wondering, what does it mean in 2010 precisely? I mean, if there are two things that neo-liberal imaginary banks on it's a. the idea of choice b. the idea of desire. In other words,without a desiring consumer a market society can't really survive. And just so that the process of creating a consumer must be reinforced and renewed everyday, the consumer must be provided with multiple choices. The whole discourse is conspicuously close to the popular language that's in place to speak about sexual desire. That is,sexuality possesses a symbolic significance within the imaginaries of globalization and neo-liberalism. Therefore,any art that deals with the issue of sexual desire, must also step in to this problematic terrain. It's complicated, but I don't really believe that honest art can be born out of avoiding complications. Sanjukta's poems make no such effort. Sexual desire exists as an autonomous site, an autonomous space, devoid of anything else other than as units of "personal experience." And as I read through the collection, I kept asking, why should I really care?

For me, it doesn't mean much to write about sexual desire in blank, homogenous terms.Even if it's written by a woman, with explicit descriptions of the female experience of the sexual act. Honestly! Unless one makes an effort to theorize sexual experience, problematize it, contextualize it in terms of social histories,cultural realities, ideological systems etc.Yes, I want individual sexual desire to be written about in intersections with other things-- gender, class privileges, social space, our neo-liberal times, its sexual imaginaries etc. This is precisely where Sanjukta's poems fall short. There is desire in those poems, plenty of it.There is beautiful language, an ability to process experience in language, but what is totally absent is an attempt on the part of the poet to think through the question: What's at stake in writing these experiences in verse? I have long felt that beautiful language can never really compensate the poverty of thought and an inability to engage with historical and sociological imagination creatively. Sanjukta's recent collection is an excellent example of that. It's beautiful, but vacuous.

A New Poem

I finished a long poem this morning. I am not totally happy with the results. The writing needs to move a lot deeper, and the imageries need to be strengthened. But at least I have a full first draft, which can be worked upon later. Also, I haven't written any new poems in a LONG time. As a result, I was feeling that probably I have lost the poetry inside. So, I feel happy to have something new.

I also realized, while working on this one, that it will be a long time before I can have a full-length collection which will satisfy me. I am okay with that.I don't have anything to prove to anyone, and I do believe that certain things in life can't really be done in a hurry. Writing is one of those.