Friday, 20 August 2010

Theory of the ghazal

The Ghazal is a bunch of stand alone couplets threaded together by a common end verse.
In apearance it is mimetic rather than diegetic in that moods or states of mind are invoked or performed while no actual narrative of events is being pushed forward. However, the ghazal's prestige derives by its reversal of appearance and reality- in other words its apparent mimetic form conceals a diegesis at the level of spiritual reality. Hafiz of Shiraz, perhaps the greatest Ghazal poet, strategically identifies himself with the 'rind' (the sly seeming hedonist) who uses a sort of jiu jitsu to cleverly turn the great Vital and Spiritual forces- which demand martyrdom, madness and utter nihilation- against themselves such that no higher price for a sort of Eudaimoniac Gnosis is paid by the poet than perhaps a slight hangover or some wine stains upon his robe.
To a Westerner a poem like Farib jahaan qissah roshan ast/ sehar tha che zaid, shab aabastan ast/ dar ain khu nafishan arsah-rastakheez./thu khoon surahi beh saaghar bar eez- looks like the Anacreontics he or she translated at School. Arberry's translation is
'tis a famous tale the deceitfulness off Earth
The night is pregnant, what will dawn bring to birth?
Tumult and bloody battle rage in the plain
Bring blood red wine and fill the goblet again!

My translation is quite different - viz
That the World is Fair, remain a fable Bright
Break not Dawn nor the waters of Night!
That Resurrection regather what our Armageddon's spill
From thy blood red, Saqi, my cup refill!

This is because I think of Hafiz as strategic- rather than mimetic or diegetic- and his Divan as a sort of Kung Fu manual to use against Eros and Thanatos and other such blue collar, Ethnic stereoptype, bullies when they try to shake you down for your lunch money. Later in life, of course, when Eros and Thanatos are relegated to stuff like delivering your pizza or doing your dry-cleaning, you come up against the vastly worse internalized WASP bully of the Liberal Conscience against which nothing will avail except fantasizing about teaming up with Sarah Palin to become like a pair of renegade bounty hunters?...
Drunkeness as an excuse to preserve one's personal integrity during difficult times- a sly passive aggressive strategy- might not seem particularly heroic to us and, moreover, devalues such ideals, affections or romances as the poet professed. But Juan Chi, who stayed drunk for half a year to avoid entanglement in a political marriage, is considered one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo grove and with the Sinitic Bureaucratization of Capitalism in its Imperial phase, that all round swine, Petronius Arbiter gained a surprising cult status in the first half of the last century.

However wine by itself could never become in China or Europe- where it was a dietary staple- what it must always be for an Islamic Society, viz. a beverage the very consumption of which constitutes a rebellion. The Ghazal then, linked as it is to khamriyat (wine poetry), has a far greater interest in maintaining a hermeneutics of reversal whereby 'I got drunk' means 'I spent my time in prayer and fasting' and 'my mystic state overtops that of Moses' means 'that rent boy had a prolapsed rectum'.
Unlike the Goliards, for whom safety- daggers concealed in breviaries- lay in flocking together, the Ghazal poet necessarily cultivated an individualist strain- the over-riding danger being that of squandering one's talents as a sort of human juke-box- and actively sought antinomian themes so as to gain a sort of counter currency amongst the pullulating esoteric or schismatic sects that, much more than the Caliphate, knit together the Islamic oikumene.
The truly dreadful and horribly perverse aspect of Islam, that Secular Liberal that I am, I feel bound to now deplore, is its treatment of women and ephebes. Briefly, no matter how much one desires them there really is no barrier to having a relationship with them, or if not them precisely, then someone virtually identical or if not identical then still much more interesting and rewarding to know than one's pale fantasy of them. It is a damning indictment of Islam that women were not taught that sex with their husbands was dirty or some sort of horrible desecration or that (this was a big theme in Tamil movies back in the 50's and 60's) they owed it to their sex to have a permanent head-ache and nag the husband to death and so forth.

Ghazals- 'talking to women' is actually 'talking like a work shy ho' or more generally an usurpation and pre-emption of what are perceived as feminine strategies of manipulation- indeed the poetic afflatus is strictly speaking nothing but good-for-nothing men whining about their P.M.S and threatening to reveal horrible gynaecological details about your birth to make you eat your greens- 'eat your greens- millions are starving in Bangladesh' 'Well, if this is what they get to eat, can't say I blame them. How's about we order a curry from the local Sylheti Tandoor? That's something even those finicky Bangladeshis can chow down on!' 'Why you little shit! I was 36 hours in labour with you! ' 'No you weren't. You don't have a uterus.' 'Well metaphorically I have a uterus- vide my ghazal on the subject-
'My birth pangs bitter fruit was this daughter Aqleema
Born so Cain might of Abel make Post Colonial Kheema

'By 'eat your greens' wot I means is that ironic Iwo Jima
Whereby Spivak's Naga Saqi got drunk on Hiroshima'

'Okay! Enough already! I'll just eat my greens shall I?'
"Too late! Your dinner is in the dog."

Anyway, fascinating as this glimpse into my domestic life undoubtedly is, I must now turn to a generalized theory of the 'triangular structure of the Ghazal- with a series of three-part relationships: a desirer, an object of desire, and a blocker or barrier to fulfillment. For some of the imagery-sets you can almost make it happen, but basically it soon breaks down via the third term, which is always fragmenting into many barriers, but some of them illusory, others transitory, others fungible, others frangible (hah!), etc. But you can always bring it down to the desirer and the desired, and in between them something like a nest of snakes.'

No doubt, you think I will now go on and on in Girardian vein about 'mimetic desire' and the sacrifice (korban or pharmakos) it requires, the drawing lots for which the Ghazal poet cunningly excuses himself from by pointing out that his entrails have long ago been torn out and burnt up in the fire of celestial passion and anyway I've got a note from Mom that I'm off games coz like I'm totally on the rag.
But, that would be too easy- or, at any rate, the sort of shite that might be mistaken for actual academic work- so, good Iyer that I am, I invoke Ramanuja who, trying to rescue the Puranas and therefore a historicist, diegetic, Temple based devotionalism introduces the trinity of - Bimba, pratibimba and Darpan- object, reflection and mirror- as all having some ontological distinctness.
A little thought, which my own status as a poet thankfully excuses me from personally undertaking, would show that any diegesis must subscribe to such a trinity with the result that the mirror is also a wall with the result that only the Sin against the Holy Ghost is unpardonable, or to put it another way the indwelling of the Shekinah is partitionable, separable and has some other more inviolable locus and trajectory such that even a Lefty nutjob like Walter Benjamin can get off a couple of good lines.
The Ghazal world, being wholly intentional- wholly 'insha' rather than 'khabar'- and moreover wholly intensional (i.e. each term used is defined wholly within itself rather than extensionally with reference to the outside world)- is free to run amok breaking all mirrors, breaching all barzakhs, dissolving that portion of deontology which does reference the outside world, so as to become a sort of jiu jitsu manual of strategies to escape all reciprocal obligation or historicist imperatives.
Which is kind of cool.
Well, its kind of cool if you don't actually have a life.
But as Villiers de l'Isle Adam said- 'living? our servants can do that for us.'
Well, for gen x slackers like me- not servants but maybe some downloadable i-phone app for Twitter..

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