Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Unusual book of the month, and some thoughts on matters many

Just received in the post today: a marvellous volume called Polish Writers on Writing, one of a series of books called The Writer's World published by Trinity University Press. It's edited by the poet Adam Zagajewski, and contains fascinating essays by and correspondence between all the luminaries of the great pageant of twentieth-century Polish literature, including Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Zymborska, Zbigniew Herbert, Witold Gombrowicz, and the utterly original short-story writer Bruno Schulz.

Schulz is found here arguing, "The life of the word consists in tensing and stretching itself toward a thousand connections, like the cut-up snake in the legend whose pieces search for each other in the dark.[...] Language is man's metaphysical organ.We usually regard the word as the shadow of reality, its symbol. The reverse of this statement would be more correct: reality is the shadow of the word."

On the arrival of this book I was immediately reminded of the time when, poking about in a second-hand bookshop in Bloomsbury in London last summer, I came across a book of essays called The Mature Laurel: Essays On Modern Polish Poetry.

I immediately realised that this rare volume might up the Seriousness of my book collection by a full percentage point, and so, impressed by essays with titles like "The Poet As Torturer" (wait, since when did APJ Abdul Kalam become a Polish poet?) and "The New Wave: A Non-Objective View", I bought it. Well, now it has the company of a brother book almost as serious, though probably a lot more readable, and all I need to do now is find meself a copy of Milosz's A History of Polish Literature to make me unbeatable on the subject within India. And from there I'll move slowly outwards, north and south, east and west, and have the whole world covered by the time I'm seventy.

And among other things, I've been rereading the essays in Jorge Luis Borges's Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, the memory of which and the loss of which I lamented in a post last year, and a new copy of which was sent to me by a very kind reader. Writing The Middle Stage is fun enough anyway, but such gestures fill my heart with love for all humanity, even Paulo Coelho.

And finally, for some time now I've been organizing all my essays on Indian literature into a sidebar you'll find on your left, and now there's quite a respectable set of them, from older essays on Saadat Hasan Manto, Amartya Sen, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Fakir Mohan Senapati and Dandin to more recent ones on Vikram Chandra, Krishna Kripalani, Raj Kamal Jha, Amitava Kumar and Parashuram.

And lastly, some other occasions when I've happened to have some thoughts: serious thoughts, in "Some thoughts on nearly popping it" and "The Kitab Literary Festival and a disquisition on boots"; and humorous thoughts, in "Some thoughts on artistic time and real time".


Anonymous said...


This sounds like a very interesting book indeed. Many years ago I read Bruno Schulz's novels (Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass) in a wonderful Penguin series called Writers from the Other Europe. The series editor was Philip Roth. It also included works by Tadeusz Borowski, Danilo Kis and Milan Kundera. I find that Amazon.com still has the series for sale. Reading Roth's take on these writers twenty five years ago-- in light of all that has happened since and Roth's own astonishing output of fine work ---may make for an interesting article.

Rohit Chopra

Chandrahas said...

Rohit - You sure are well read. Yes, those are the very Schulz books I come across as well when I was in college - I used to borrow them from the Max Mueller Library on Kasturba Gandhi Marg, and keep having to reissue them because it would take me so long to read a page. One day I must go back, sit down and finish them.... Even the food at Max Mueller café used to be sumptuous - I have many pleasant memories of it.

Roth became very interested in the literature of East Europe in mid-career, and did a lot of good work around writers who were then not that well-known. Like most high-class writers, he is also a remarkably astute reader who also knows what questions to ask other writers. You might want to read, if you haven't already, his collection of interviews Shop Talk: A Writer and His Colleagues and Their Work.

Keep writing in.


Space Bar said...

...and have the whole world covered by the time I'm seventy.

This is very optimistic of you, Chandrahas. You expect to find nothing changed when you return and face the prospect of starting all over again at seventy?!

Unknown said...

Space Bar - Who's going anywhere? I'm going to do it all sitting in my little room, drinking black tea.