Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Contempt

This brilliant book, amongst other things, is a good example of how intellectualism can mess up your life. The perpetual questioning of things that seem alright, questioning of the slightest inflection and intonation, questioning of an inconsequential moody denial. Questions about:
Why did she not want to come out with me, why is she suddenly comfortable with spending time by her self, why does she sleep on the sofa, why didn't she make up after our last fight, are her confidences genuine? Is her love dying?
An insistent urge to analyze every tiny bit, every deviation from consistency or every possible deviation from consistency. An insatiable desire to discuss these doubts with her and clear every question. To that point where she begins to question it herself -
Yes, there must be something wrong. Have I stopped loving him. Yes, that's right, I must have if he feels it so. Why did I stop?
- and then finding a reason somewhere.
This is what a modern-day scriptwriter does to his relationship. Continuously analyzing, agonizing, speculating reasons for what he thinks is a contemptuous attitude from his wife. He meets a producer who is his promise to a better future, but when the producer begins to make subtle and and then overt advances towards his wife, he is caught in doubt about how he must react.
The agonizing has a lot to do with his intellectualism. But the agony indirectly also raises questions on how a modern man is supposed to balance his id and superego, (or rather) the expectations from his id and superego. When another man tries to court his wife within social confines, is he expected to play the game and ignore the attempts, or like the provincial man challenge him to a duel of honor. As he worries in indecision, his id rebukes him, he begins to experience contempt for his inaction, and believes that his wife must hate him for it. A feeling that soon becomes contagious and spreads to the wife and rest of his social circle.
In a brilliant parallel, Moravia draws Ulysses into the story - the film-makers begin to make a modern-day adaptation of Odyssey (not the 'debasement' that Joyce did, by making great heroes into morose losers. as a character proclaims), but an adaptation which showed the Odyssey as Ulysess' attempts to stay away from his wife and her contempt. I am not sure if Moravia is cracking a joke on the psychoanalysts or is he too far gone to actually start analyzing every tale with a parameter of human consciousness. In either case, it lends an interesting touch to the book, especially by placing a parallel between a great hero and his regular protagonist.
Moravia's writing is excellent - in it there is much thought and consciousness, which though destructive in real life, is engaging. He seems to get into even the woman's head - without ever narrating the story from her perspective. As he describes her actions, they seem to carry an acute awareness of her thoughts and sentiments.
I saw the film adaptation Le Mepris immediately after reading the book. It is much different in form, but faithfully follows the theme. Godard has summarized the story events in 2-3 days, and more than agonizing, has followed the confusion over action and inaction - provincial and modern. The movie is beautifully subtle and silent against Moravia's excessive thought. I liked it a little less than the book, but adaptations always suffer from this malady.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Graphic Novels & Manga

Am home for a week, and could not resist the urge to finally visit Mumbai Landmark after a gap of almost six months. There were a few pleasant reshuffles there. On the Literary fiction side, the store has not added many authors - just a few more titles from some of theiold favorites. A huge section dedicated to Clezio (I find this over-the-top allegiance to the latest award winner a little vulgar). It has also expanded the Classics section to a degree, adding more titles from Dostoevsky, and more importantly, more titles from the Penguin Great Ideas and Great Journeys series. (From both I have high expectations, esp after loving the Great Loves series)

However, where Landmark has gone for a complete revamp is in its graphic novel section. From what was a small side-shelf earlier, the section now extends to 5-6 wall cabinets and 2-3 side shelves. From superheroes to Manga, from Alan Moore to Paul Auster - the collection is wide and rewarding. So far, my exposure to graphic novels had been restricted to Persepolis, not a bad introduction at all. However, sitting in Landmark for some time, I tried to get a sense of the Japanese art form - Manga, something that has been on my to-do list for sometime.

I read/saw one of the famous Manga artists: Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work Good-bye. A brilliant collection of short stories, drawing the despair of post-Hiroshima Japan. Each story attempts to depict alienation, a stronger and much longer lasting impact of the bombings. There is the strangely terrifying tale Hell, where a photographer takes a picture of a mother and son etched in the wall immediately after the bombings and is haunted by its memory for years. In another story, the Tibetan ritual of sky burials seems to invade the entire country, which finds itself full of vultures and death. I have not read the entire collection, and one of these days I plan to return to Landmark and complete it. (One disadvantages of the graphic novel is that they are still too expensive to add to the personal collection - 900/- for this collection - No way till I am into the genre!)
Tatsumi's variation of Manga is better known as Gekiga, which literally means dramatic pictures. (To distinguish its authors from Manga - which means Irresponsible pictures). Unlike Manga, which like comic books is aimed at children, Gegika was an attempt to provide a graphic book for adult readers. The distinction is the same as comic books and graphic novels, though now more and more comic books are crossing the threshold of children's themes to induct serious philosophy in even the superhero tales.

I bought another graphic novel: Paul Auster's City of Glass., which is a graphic adaptation of Auster's original story. I am now in the middle of reading this meta fiction (which is strongly reminiscent of Borges' short stories). It is a detective tale, where the detective gets drwan into a crazy case and begins to lose his touch on life and reality. The interplay of graphics and words is quite remarkable in this one - specifically a monologue from one of the characters, where, as he tells his life story, his words are shown to come out of various places: gramophones, basin sinks, some cave paintings. Not only do these graphics seem to concur with the bizarre tale, they also carry the distant echoing intonation of the voice. I have not read the original story, but am certainly enjoying this more expressive form.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dhafer Youssef : Yabay

Stumbled upon this beautiful piece from Dhafer Youssef on Last FM. Listening to it for a while made me feel I was somewhere else, floating, dreaming.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Memento Mori

All photographs are Memento Mori. To take a photograph is to participate in
another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by
slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's
relentless melt.

- Susan Sontag, On Photography

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Vivre Sa Vie

My introduction to Godard is fairly recent. I have only in the last three weeks begun to watch his films, and have been both intrigued and a little puzzled by his stylistic approach to film-making.
Not withstanding my confusion over his films in general, I found watching Vivre Sa Vie an absolute delight. Even in its title, the movie begins to show a certain contempt with popular notions: My life to live, It's my life - an aggrogant expression proclaiming choice. It appears that the director takes a small satisfaction in dismantling this myth of choice piece by piece in twelve parts of the movie.

The movie follows the life of Nana, in twelve short segments. We learn that she has left her husband and child, possibly to follow some vague dreams of becoming rich and famous. In the first couple of segments, her quirky nature begins to show, as does her alienation and almost complete isolation with the world. She is struggling to meet ends, unable to pay her rent - and takes up streetwalking to earn some money. While a lesser movie would have dramatized the difficulty of this decision to no end, Godard's version only subtly shows the discomfort through Nana's denial to allow her first client to kiss her on the mouth. Other than this single digression, she is not shown to be either in a moral conflict or in depression over her decision.
In the next sections, she meets Raoul who becomes her pander, marking her complete entry into the profession. As the scenes progress, she appears more and more alienated, robotically going through the motions. Perhaps at some point she realizes that this is not her life - she even takes a lover and makes a decision to leave the profession, again indicating that this whole track was a matter of choice, and she could leave it at will.
The movie ends in a sudden, surprising and shocking tragedy. A tragedy that was wholly unnecessary to the movie, but perhaps vital for Godard's stylistic build-up. Also, I cannot come up with an alternative ending, except for the kind of alienated supreme ending of L'eclisse.

The film is best known for its cinematic techniques - the use of twelve different parts, each with a title, or the use of camera angles and positions with majority of scenes being captured from behind or from profiles. Except for Nana, none of the other actors have to worry about facial expressions, as the faces are shown only briefly - almost as an afterthought towards the end of the scene. There is little dialogue in the film, and most sounds are external. All techniques which were supposedly made to shock the audience. But once the shock is over, they seem to be the perfect way to show a life. In fragments, not attempting to draw conclusions, and almost exclusively focused on the central character.

Nana's character is well pictured. She is poor, and does not want to be. She is not contend in being a wife and mother who struggles to subsist. She has dreams and is unwilling to completely give up on them. Even though she choses prostitution, it appears to her as a transient choice, without the permanence and irrevocability she associates with settling in a mediocre marriage or life. She doesn't ever look completely disappointed with the way things move, only because she continues to believe that there is a rainbow at the end of the cloud, until, in a while, she becomes habitual to the cloud and only feels a tiredness with it.

Anna Karina puts the perfect face to Nana. I was, at first interested in the similarity of her name to Anna Karenina. (I was, and still am quite moved by the story of Tolstoy's heroine who throws away a perfectly settled life to chase some phantom illusions and then gets trapped in the chase). I think the same dream repeats here, as it does in so many lives. Of running from stability towards another stability.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Finally

It is back! What a relief. I was not there when my favorite bookstore burnt down in October, and I am a little disappointed that I am not there to greet its return. But yet, the news makes me look forward to return to Bombay with a little more zeal.
Welcome Back Landmark, you were missed!