Sunday, 24 March 2013

Vikram Seth's 'A suitable girl'- first review

In keeping with this blog's long-standing commitment to passing judgement on tomes it hasn't read, we take pleasure in bringing you our review of Vikram Seth's latest book fresh from the redoubtable pen of Prof. Vagina Dentata Choothopadhayay, dipped, we need hardly add, in her own copious menstrual blood.

In consideration of our readers' tender sensibilities, we have taken the liberty of excising certain four letter words and acrimonious references to the size of our genitals from Prof. Choothopahdyay's article. Since nothing was then left to publish, our Senior Editor has very kindly supplied the following.

Vikram Seth, like Jane Austen, takes his subject matter from the Sense vs. Sensibility dilemma facing Female Mate Choice. He gives a sort of Feminist tinge to his project by forbidding his Heroines the right to sacrifice themselves so as to keep an otherwise Unsuitable Boy functional as opposed to turning into a monumental  fuck-up. However, in so doing, he cuts off his project from 'Greatness' because though a Utilitarian 'Heart vs Head' dilemma is Universal, it is not Fundamental and carries no Soteriological or Existential flavor in the manner that the subject matter of truly Great Literature does.
True, Jane Austen doesn't deal with the case of women sacrificing themselves for their Mates- but it is very evident that they sacrifice their own prejudices or proclivities in the interest of Marriage-as-partnership- albeit Sleeping Partnership because women in her age were second class citizens to start off with. Married women had no rights over their own property. She herself, for Socio-Economic reasons was doomed to Spinsterhood. Rudyard Kipling's 'the Janeites', which only makes us cringe because we have not tears enough to cry, offers a collective act of reparation such that our tears wipe away the ink of a hundred years of English Literature and Jane marries her suitor up in Heaven with Sir Walter Scott doing the honors. In other words, there is something outside Austen's texts which makes them Great- there is a vishodhana purgation whereby, at least for Kipling's readers- the Literature to which Austen so signally contributed, or which she incarnated, precisely by a consideration of what both elide, gains the Jordan of our heart-felt tears from which to arise in the bridal vestments of a Gangetic dawn. At least, hopeless and hereditary Babu that I am, such is my Babuish judgement.
For Seth's heroines, Self-sacrifice isn't on the menu. Thus, the arena in which they judiciously exercise Mate Choice is one from which any higher type of Love than can be captured by Revealed Preference is rigorously ruled out. Thus, though 'Universal', this Mate-Choice remains confined to the trivial plane and can give rise to no tragedy save adventitiously or under the rubric of 'there but for the Grace of God.'
Seth's subject matter and style are not deficient- the milieus he describes and the powers of language that he commands militate rather for than against the invocation of the grand literary precursors of amor fati or doomed romance to whom he, in the very same texts, pays tribute. Nor is it the case that by forbidding a particular type of sacrifice- that of a woman for a man- is its theo-ontic Terror and/or Necessity axiomatically excluded from the scope of a text, yet for Seth, this is what transpires.
Jealousy is so like not cool dude.
True, in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, Sacrifice is linked to Jealousy- Jehovah is a jealous God, Cain is jealous of Abel, Caiaphas is pissed off coz Judas got a bigger dick (what? Ask your Rabbi why don't you?)- and, at the heart of things, Rene Girard tells us, is the drama of mimetic desire- envy and the necessity of a scapegoat, a pharmakos, a korban, to inoculate Society against internecine Violence.
But, Seth isn't Jewish, he isn't Christian. His is an Indo-Islamic culture to which has been grafted on a Victorian belief in Progress. His 'A suitable boy' may be dismissed as wishful thinking in that he shows India in 1951 as being the same as in 1991. All that is needed is a bit of 'know-how' and bilateral good will for all the  problems bequeathed by History to simply disappear. The fact is Kabir or Amit or even Haresh won't lose anything very substantial if Lata turns them down. Their 'transfer earnings' are zero. Lata confers no Economic Rent. Thus Choice is benign simply. There are no Essences- Strategic or otherwise- there is no hysteresis- Historicist or otherwise- and since nothing matters very much, fine, let there be free Choice because after all only Matter exists, nothing immaterial supervenes, the very notion of Sacrifice is otiose.
I haven't read 'A suitable girl'- I've no doubt it will be readable enough and present some points of interest or virtuoso passages which more than justify the price of the book. However, what it will lack is a sense of the Fundamental, as opposed to merely Universal, Horizon of Human Life, which is Death, which is Sacrifice, which, in so far as it is chosen, is the after-Life of Love nobody chooses and of which we can only despairing say, Yea, at the limit, such becomes the Choice of God.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article in the LRB on S

windwheel said...

Found it on
Thanks for the tip