Vikram Seth's 'an Equal Music'- like everything else he writes- is about how it is totes not cool to be jelly. Being jelly is vulgar, philistine, and probably associated with being straight or Republican or a Thatcherite or having gone to the wrong sort of school.
The positive aspect of Seth's work was that it mirrored the very responsible manner in which the Gay community reacted to AIDS. Members of a community need to work together to tackle the problems, but also to take advantage of the opportunities, we are all faced with.
In 'Equal Music', the heroine has a sort of AIDS of the inner ear which has left her deaf. She needs to work with her former lover- with whom she trained as a musician- so as to be able to return to playing as part of an ensemble. Sadly, the lover gets jealous of her husband and so, like other Seth protagonists, he has to suffer a little. Thus, in Golden Gate, the straight guy loses the love of his life to a bisexual and then, just when he has hooked up with someone good for him, she dies. In 'Suitable Boy', the bisexual tries to kill a Muslim dude he'd had sex with because he gets jelly and thinks the Muslim is fucking the elderly courtesan with whom he is himself having an affair. Actually the Muslim- as is right and proper in Indic fiction- is trying to fuck the daughter of the courtesan who, OBS, is his own half sister.
Seth was a suitable enough boy for the Eighties and Nineties. He was anti Reagan- especially Star Wars- and anti-BJP and anti-Thatcherite. This did mean that his plotting was clumsy- the protagonist in Equal Music has to come from Rochdale coz that's famous for the cooperative movement right?- and his oeuvre innocent of genuine sociological insights. There was merely the faint odor of Public School superciliousness and entitlement which, however, genuinely posh Old Etonians didn't bother with.
An American Professor named Melanie Heydari-Malayeri- who clearly thinks Seth is some sort of jumped up cab-driver or Tandoori chef- has a paper on how 'Equal Music' is about 'Masks and Mimicry' whereas the truth is Seth is a genuine Public School boy and, class-wise, just as good as Rishi Sunak whom I imagine to be a fellow Khattri.
Owing to his rejection of any fixed, permanent posture,
Seth created his own market- his is a middle-brow brand which, however, is boring and preachy.
Vikram Seth comes across quite literally as an impostor.
That's the one thing nobody sensible has ever said about him. He wrote verse like a fucking Stanford PhD candidate- one taught by the likes of Donald Davie- which is exactly what he was.
As exemplified by The Golden Gate (1986), Seth’s first novel (in verse), which explicitly posits itself as a pastiche of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin,
It isn't a pastiche. It owes a debt to a particular translation of Onegin. But Seth's heroine rejects the protagonist for a different reason than Tatyana.
Seth’s persistent literary experimentation
There is no experimentation. Seth is a craftsman of great diligence.
is orchestrated less through pure invention than voracious borrowing.
There is neither borrowing nor much invention. One might complain of a certain scenes a faire quality but Seth is catering for a global, wholly middle brow, market.
Seth’s systematic use of literary reprise generates widespread uneasiness amongst critics.
Middle-brow work has no critics. It either sells or fails to sell. One could say- as I did- that Seth engages with Pushkin but stops short of Gogol (to whom Pushkin gave the plot of Dead Souls) or that he goes as far as George Eliot, who translated Fuerbach, but stopped short of Marx, and that Equal Music resurrects a Bergsonian (Sorel called Bergson the French Marx!) aesthetic rubbished by Sartre in 'Nausea'.
That's traditional Lefty 'criticism' but it is silly. Seth worked hard, was a good craftsman and was giving a middle-brow market value for money. True, in Two Lives, Seth overdoes things. He doesn't really have to explain that Germany is a country in Europe. A bad man- named Hitler- once ruled it. Hitler was really nasty to Jews. Sad.
The moral judgment the term “impostor” conveys is not inappropriate to describe the general devaluation (Duisit) of mimetic practices in the West: as Jean-François Jeandillou underlines in Esthétique de la mystification, mimetic modes are all too often associated with the metaphors of robbery, piracy and vampirism.
How the fuck does this relate to Seth? His Mum qualified as a barrister in Britain and became a High Court Judge in India. He is securely upper-middle class in both India and the UK. He wasn't mimicking shit. He didn't try to become a Yank. He remained a cultural Indo-Anglian.
As for this Jeandilldou dude, he is simply wrong. Mimetics is Tardean. The journeyman seeks to mimic the superior. But Seth's canon is that of an, albeit minor and middle-brow, master. What fucking robbery or vampirism can we associate with this deeply boring, but accomplished, entrepreneur?
Why does Seth strive to preserve the European legacy so ostentatiously?
Because he is as European as Rishi fucking Sunak. It is natural for the opulent to wish to preserve a legacy which they actually own. Seth and Sunak are freeholders of properties which could be made as fucking ostentatious as you like. It's not as though they live in Council flats on sink estates.
While John Thieme has shown in Postcolonial Con-texts: Writing Back to the Canon that postcolonial responses to Western texts seldom adopt a purely adversarial, combative stance, Seth engages in an ostensibly reverent relationship with the canon.
Coz he is posher than the Queen's tits.
This is emphasized by The Rivered Earth, Seth’s last collection of poems, which
wasn't value for money at all. Still, it maybe that first editions have risen in value.
highlights the rewriting impulse that lies at the core of this protean opus.
It is neither protean nor an opus. It is constipated shite. Still, we feel sorry for Seth. The world has become vulgar. Also the Netflix 'Suitable Boy' starred such ugly actors that nobody could binge watch it. Where is Seth and where Karan Johar?
Though “Shared Ground” and “Seven Elements,” the second and the fourth libretti of The Rivered Earth, are solely comprised of “original” creations (not translations), “Shared Ground” almost exclusively consists of pastiches that comply with formal features borrowed from George Herbert’s poems “Paradise,” “Easter-Wings,” “Hope,” “Love (III),” “Virtue” and “Prayer (I).”
Did the thing make money? That's what's important. Seth is respected because he created his own market. Sadly, he was Hindu and thus not worth fatwa-ing. Rushdie lucked out in that respect.
The Rivered Earth partakes of a musical project that sprang from a fruitful collaboration between Vikram Seth, the composer Alec Roth and the violinist Philippe Honoré: the poems of this volume were written with the awareness that they were meant to be sung. Seth’s passion for music resurfaces in An Equal Music (1999), a novel which displays intertextual connections with Dickens’s Great Expectations.
Fuck off! The protagonist's violin really is the gift of an elderly woman- not the more violent of the Kray brothers.
Many critics have expressed their profound discomfort with this novel:
coz brown peeps should write about how Whitey de debil- right?
so infused is it with references to the classical European culture – both verbal and aural – that it has often been depicted as downright “Eurocentric” (Mokashi-Punekar 173).
Rishi Sunak isn't 'Eurocentric'. He is downright British as is Suella and Priti and so forth.
An Equal Music delineates a violinist’s growth through the wrenching loss, and partial recovery, of his muse and lover.
No. The protagonist runs away from his teacher in Vienna because...urm... he didn't go to a proper Public School. What can you do? Proles are like that only. No performance anxiety should arise in taking it up the ass- right?
The hallowed tradition of Western classical music is at the core of this realist novel which is mostly set in the center of London and has an all-white English cast.
Sadly, Seth- being Khattri- had to write tedious shite about his Naani and Mama and Tutu and Soosoo. But, leaving them aside, there are no fucking Indians in 'Suitable Boy'. There are mere stereotypes. Muslims want to fuck their half-sisters. It's there in Rushdie- dude! Before Rusdhie there was Ruswa. That's all you need to know about our Muslim brothers- though Naipaul, having talked to Khattris, channeled one or two other such stereotypes in 'Area of Darkness'.
The raags and ghazals of A Suitable Boy
ghazals are sung in particular raags
are thus replaced with the European classical music circuit of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Schubert.
Coz Europe aint India.
These tokens of unequaled art are the backdrop against which the protagonist’s tribulations – his joys and heartbreaks – are played out.
Coz he is a professional musician.
Not unlike Peter Ackroyd in An English Music (1992), a novel that relentlessly explores a literary, musical, and cultural canon representative of the “English genius,” Seth glorifies an ultra-conservative musical canon.
No. Seth is writing about professional musicians working within a particular genre. Ackroyd's work is experimental and in the tradition of John Fowles. Still, it must be said, the English genius has to do recognizing that, whichever way you slice it or dice it, 'the Magus' is shite.
In one way An Equal Music is a conservative novel about an English musician whose function is to maintain the great European tradition of music.
But the great European tradition of music was already being very well maintained by Japanese and Korean and Chinese conservatoires. By the time 'Equal Music' was published, Vanessa-Mae was the hottest classical violinist in Britain. She'd studied in Beijing before returning to London to join the Royal College.
...As exemplified by Mala Pandurang’s book Vikram Seth: Multiple Locations, Multiple Affiliations (2011), the problem of location, which I shall further develop in the rest of this essay, is the one insistent question that runs throughout current critical appraisals of Seth’s work: where does one place Vikram Seth?
Why not place him where he has placed himself- viz. in Rishi Sunak's England? Some Khattris are posh British peeps while others may be American or Hindu or whatever. They are a talented, hard working, people just like the English and the Japanese and the Nigerians. Obviously, there must be some stupid and shitty Khattris. They may well write novels or poetry as unreadable as mine but they will never become Iyers nor advance the great cause to which I've dedicated my life- viz. securing Educationally Backward Status for Tambrams.
Where does he belong and whom does he address? Pandurang states that “An Equal Music fits well into the category of an emerging post-struggle ‘global’ literature”.
Fuck off! The thing is as British as a Marks & Spencer chicken tikka masala sandwich.
This begs an important question: can Seth be considered a postcolonial author other than by virtue of the context in which he writes, or should he be perceived as the epitome of “global,” “international” literature – like Kazuo Ishiguro, who explicitly claims his place in this category?
Seth is British though he has strong ties with India and is fluent in Hindi and Urdu. Ishiguro arrived in England at the age of 5 and is wholly British though we think there is some wabi-sabi aspect to his work. The Japs don't agree. By contrast, Seth is legible, but deeply boring, to Indians. Incidentally, the title of his novel was mistranslated in Hindi 'koi accha sa ladka' (a nice type of lad). The joke here is that Hindi speakers would say 'suitable'- i.e. fitting a complex set of constraints- caste based, astrological, etc.
Current critiques of Vikram Seth’s writing are often based on the reproach that he does not speak of either diasporic anxiety or the uneasiness of being a cultural transplant; he is berated for evading the politics of his own cultural, historical and political location.
But Seth has been vindicated. Rishi Sunak is the fucking Prime Minister of the You fucking Kay!
In an essay on An Equal Music entitled “An Englishman’s Novel?” Anjana Sharma chastises Seth for eschewing the political dimension of literature:
Anjana Sharma was the Dean of Nalanda University. I suppose she was a friend of Manmohan's daughter. Sadly, Sharma did not remain long in rural Bihar. There is little point castigating an Indian for preferring to be an Englishman if you yourself run the fuck away from Cow-belt shitholes.
“Part of my own anxiety […] lies in my belief that writing is not an activity that is innocent; that the written word […] brings within it a degree of responsibility that cannot be dismissed by just talking about his intellectual and artistic abilities” (168).
This lady took a well paying job at Nalanda. Whatever her notion of 'responsibility' might be, it can't be anything we take too seriously.
Rohini Mokashi-Punekar underlines the startling disjunction between Seth’s origins
upper middle class Indian which, as with many others of his class, almost effortlessly turned into an upper middle class British identity
and his subject matter:
which is about how jealousy is totes uncool.
“Seth effaces his Indian identity completely: there seems to be no relation between the author’s name and known facts of his cultural moorings and the theme and characters of the novel peopled by European musicians”.
This isn't true. To see Seth's Indianness you have to imagine what a working class lad from Rochdale would have written. On the one hand, you might say there is a 'Nada-Brahma' concept which is why the thing isn't necessarily Satrean 'bad faith', on the other you have to admit that the Anglophile Indian upper middle class is boring, stupid and intensely bigoted.
But, at least, Seth was entrepreneurial and craftsman-like. Now he is merely constipated. Still, he created his own market, his own 'brand', and- let's face it- not everybody can be Ishiguro who used his Japanese identity to create a unique voice for himself in his first two novels. It was that voice- one for which everything has to remain unsaid- transplanted into other settings, which made him Nobel worthy.
But Literature will remember Rudyard long after Rabindranath and Ishiguro have become unanimous with their own turgid melancholy.