Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Some things I've been reading: Cheshire, Butalia, Kakar, Dharwadker, and Malik

Some things I've been reading recently:

"How To Read Kiarostami", a long essay by one of my favourite film critics, Godfrey Cheshire, on one of my favourite film-makers, Abbas Kiarostami. Read, for instance, this long interview with Kiarostami by Shahin Parhami ("I envy people who read novels since they have much more freedom to use their imagination than a film audience...Cinema should be able to provide this kind of a freedom both for artist and the audience.") A long interview with Cheshire is here, and here are Parts 1 and 2 of his enormously interesting and influential essay from 1999, "The Death of Film/ The Decay of Cinema". And here is Kiarostami's essay "An Unfinished Cinema", which saw for the first time, strangely enough, on the wall of the lobby of Sheila Cinema in Paharganj in New Delhi in the year 2000, during a screening of Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us as part of the Delhi Film Festival.

"New Horizons, New Challenges", a recent survey of the depth and breadth of contemporary Indian publishing by Urvashi Butalia ("Estimates about the number of books published [in India] annually vary, but a figure of 70,000 to 80,000 titles is generally agreed upon. The number of active publishers is usually fixed at between 16,000 to 17,000, and these figures encompass the largest companies — who may do as many as 300-400 titles a year — and the smallest, one person operations — who may produce only two or three titles a year.")

"Five Best Books About India", a short survey by the writer Sudhir Kakar. Kakar names books by Calasso, Newby, Nirad Chaudhuri, Naipaul, and Ramanujan; send in your own list as a comment if you so feel like.

"Fiction at Play: The Truth about Haja Gul Baba Bektashi", an essay by the literary scholar Vinay Dharwadker on Qurratulain Hyder's very unusual short story "The Sermons of Haja Gul Baba Bektashi". The story, Dharwadker argues, "lifts the subcontinent's spiritual and psychic history of the past six centuries out of its linear Western-colonialist time frame and renarrates it in fluid, cyclical time." A large set of essays paying tribute to Hyder, who passed away in 2007, can be found here, and an interview with Hyder by Shoma Chaudhury from 1999 is here.

If you have access to the Sahitya Akademi's bi-monthly journal, Indian Literature, I also recommend that you track down Dharwadker's excellent essay "Translating the Millennium: Indian Literature in the Global Market", from the July-August 2008 issue. Among the ideas defended in it are, "The proper unit of translation is not the word but the phrase" and "Only a poem can translate a poem" (there is more to this notion than there first appears). Here is a paragraph from it:
To a great extent, diction and style can be analysed and translated as surface features of language and textuality. In contrast, 'voice' and 'tone' seem to be encoded inside a text, and hence are aspects of its 'inner form'. Voice and tone are both characteristic of a writer and are vital to the meaning and impact of a specific work: they should be 'heard' clearly when a translation combines the best phrases in the best order to represent its effects. Tagore's English translations of his poetry, fiction and drama fail because they are atonal; his English was not supple enough to capture the nuances of his own voice or the voices of his characters, which are vivid in the original Bengali. Without fine modulations of diction, style, voice, and tone, it is impossible to render a poem, a novel, or a play in one language as an artefact of comparable aesthetic or imaginative value in another medium....It is a major literary achievement in itself when a translator invents an entire style in English that parallels an author's signature style in the original. In all honesty, we have to admit that we still have not done for our major writers what Gregory Rabassa, for example, has accomplished for Garcia Marquez, or Maureen Freely has created for Orhan Pamuk.
Rabassa's recounts his experience of translating Marquez and Julio Cortazar in "Translation and Its Discontents", an excerpt from his book about translation If This Be Treason, here. ("As the first part of Hopscotch and some of the “Expendable Chapters” take place in Paris, quite a bit of French is woven into the narration. This could have been translated, but I left it as it was. Had Julio wanted these spots in English he would have translated them into Spanish in the first place. I also saw no reason to dumb the book down for readers of English and insult them in that way. I also left the Spanish intact sometimes for other reasons. Like any song, tangos are better left in the original or great and sometimes hilarious damage is done.")

Lastly, here is an essay, "Mistaken Identity", on changing attitudes towards issues of individual and group identity by the British writer Kenan Malik,whose work I always read with care ("Historically, anti-racists challenged both the practice of racism and the process of racialisation; that is, both the practice of discriminating against people by virtue of their race and the insistence that an individual can be defined by the group to which he or she belongs. Today's multiculturalists argue that to fight racism one must celebrate group identity. The consequence has been the resurrection of racial ideas and imprisonment of people within their cultural identities.") Malik is also the author of the recent book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy, and some the arguments made in that book – that Rushdie's opponents may have lost the battle, but they have won the larger war against free speech – are presented here in "Shadow of the Fatwa" ("Critics of Rushdie no more spoke for the Muslim community than Rushdie himself did. Both represented different strands of opinion within Muslim communities. Rushdie's critics spoke for some of the most conservative strands. The campaign against The Satanic Verses was not to protect the Muslim communities from unconscionable attack from anti-Muslim bigots, but to protect their own privileged position within those communities from political attack from radical critics, to assert their right to be the true voice of Islam by denying legitimacy to such critics. They succeeded at least in part, because secular liberals embraced them as the authentic voice of the Muslim community.")

That should be at least eight hours of reading!


Sundeep said...


I recently came across Alok Bhalla's essays on translation (link). He focuses on Khalid Hassan's translation of Manto's work and his own translation of Dharamvir Bharati's Andha Yug.

Chandrahas said...

Sundeep - Thanks for this excellent link. I need more readers like you, dedicated to reading, sky-watching, and watermelon-eating.

Hari said...

Best books on India – my favorite is most definitely Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now. Naipaul’s travel writing is incredibly original. In fact, I am not a fan of his fiction (A Bend in the River is in my opinion a very vain book), but his travel writing is something else. I would also put India: A Wounded Civilization on my list. And Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods, Pankaj Mishra’s Butter Chicken in Ludhiana and Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi.