Monday 18 September 2023

Amit Chaudhuri as his own Nausicaa

A middle aged man has a crafty wank while looking at a pretty girl who is craning her neck to look at the fireworks in the sky. Is she complicit in what is happening? That would be cool. Otherwise the thing is sad- not to say icky. 

Joyce wrote in the 'Nausicaa' episode of Ulysses 

And she saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees up, up, and, in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high, almost out of sight, and her face was suffused with a divine, an entrancing blush from straining back and he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin, better than those other pettiwidths, the green, four and eleven, on account of being white and she let him and she saw that he saw …

Clearly, Joyce's protagonist, who is Jewish, knows a thing or two about haberdashery. But is he a pathetic fellow or did the girl give him a 'free show' because she thought he wasn't so bad looking for his age? After all, Odysseus is the naked suppliant in the episode. If young Nausicaa thinks he's got a bit of sex appeal, his dignity is restored. 

Joyce, a gifted Operatic tenor, is invoking Romantic Naturophilosophie to which Wagner had grafted some Schopenhauerian shite about Eros and Thanatos, Gautama Buddha, and Siegfried's ultra-Aryan 'luminous love, laughing death'' but Joyce is putting all this into the mind of a Jewish counter-jumper and cuckold. That's what redeems the thing. It is Bloom who is truly 'myriad minded'. Daedalus gets drunk and squanders his pay on whores. The sensible thing to do is to just have a wank and save your money. There was a time when Joyce thought he'd get rich getting into the motion picture business. If so, he'd have returned to Dublin as the owner of cinema halls doing shrewd deals with French or American or Italian distributors. I suppose he'd have continued to write exquisite poetry and perhaps he'd have produced the definite essay on Aquinas's aesthetics or something of that sort. But, by gaining affluence through modern technology, he would have been excused the turgid lucubrations of experimental modernism. The novel simply wasn't his metier. Anyway, he liked his kids- aut liberi aut libri is all very well but you are truly cursed if, to feed the kiddies, you must yourself stock the Augean stables of the avant garde. 

Amit Chaudhuri, who lost the ability to read Joyce or Proust from cover to cover after he came to England to study literature,  says the following of the Nausicaa passage in 'the American Scholar'. 

In 1985, I was probably unaware that this chapter had—as a result of Bloom’s sorry behavior—caused controversy and may have been what Woolf had in mind when she recalled rejecting Ulysses for the Hogarth Press: “the pages reeled with indecency.”

Bloom shits and wanks. People in novels weren't supposed to do such things at that time though, in the Eighteenth Century, they would have been welcome to crap themselves while jerking off.  Joyce's novel was important because it was obvious that various somatic drives affect consciousness and thus literature in an increasingly scientific age would have to overcome Victorian prudery. 

Just as I had missed everything on the first reading, I noticed on the second that the writing demanded that you savor everything:

No. The sentimental bits accurately convey Bloom's social and educational limitations. Joyce's genius is to counterbalance the haberdasher's calculations with a touch of pathos. Bloom discovers the girl was lame. Leaning back looking at the fireworks, for a moment she had been free of the earth, free of her disability.  

the flash of the light and trajectory of the fireworks (“up, up”), the caesuras (“tense hush”),

there are no caesuras. This is stream of consciousness. The words run into each other breathlessly. 

the romantic clichés that Joyce plays with at the beginning of the chapter and that persist to its end (“breathless with excitement”),

Bloom and the girl belong to a class which gains aesthetic pleasure from novelettes. Nothing wrong in that at all.  

the religious illumination caused by the explosions (“a divine, an entrancing blush”),

that is not a religious illumination. It certainly isn't an 'epiphany'. What it is, is a guy getting excited and having a wank. The good thing is he isn't imaging the girl as a slut or a trussed up victim. Bloom sees her in a romantic light. No doubt, he could be arrested for what he did but the guy is sexually frustrated, he isn't some sort of freak.  

the word straining, which

is what happens when you take a dump. Bloom was simply seeking sexual release just as previously he'd strained a bit to empty his bowels.  

implies bodily pain, sexual ecstasy, and spiritual yearning,


and knickers,

back then a glimpse of stocking was very very shocking.  

with its comedy, its associations of secrecy and the commonplace, occurring just 15 words after divine—everything (the shameful, the comic, the ascendant, the luminous, the clichéd, the imagistic) must participate in a celebration of which the fireworks constitute only one aspect.

Amit simply doesn't get that Bloom isn't a literary artist. His thoughts are put into novelettish words but the haberdasher's note of bathos is swiftly struck.  

And into this festive assemblage, as I see on my present reading, Joyce slips in “nainsook,” a fine cotton muslin imported from India.

because nainsook was used for baby clothes as well as lingerie. Bloom had lost an infant son. Babies come out of vaginas. 

Nainsukh is a Hindi portmanteau of nain (“eye”) and sukh (“happiness or delight”). Joyce, hoarder of meanings, would have known this, as he might have known that Nainsukh was also the name of one of the great 18th-century Indian painters.

This is unlikely. The sub-continent prefers 'lawn cloth' (originating in Laon in France) to Nainsukh. One reason for this is because the latter is more see-through. 

The eye must not master or memorize detail; it must surrender to and delight in it.

Fuck off! You start staring at your boss's nainsook clad crotch and the fucker will fire you even if you are doing a lot of 'surrendering' and 'delighting'.  

“Nainsook” reminds us, too, that not only place and body, but also the world, or everything we know of the world, partakes of the celebration.

No it doesn't. It reminds us that it is impolite to look at the crotch of people or to celebrate their genitals. The point about cloth is that  it exists not just to keep us warm but also to prevent people from looking at our junk. True, if you have beautiful breasts, you may wear a see through top. But you don't want people to be able to tell what type of clit you have or whether your left testicle hangs lower than your right testicle.  

In 1985, I began to discover celebration and play in modernism,

This guy is a year older than me. He studied English literature. How come he didn't discover 'celebration and play' in Kurt Vonnegut or Joseph Heller along with all the other 14 year olds at the sort of school he and I attended? 'Portrait of the Artist' was a prescribed text in the Eleventh Standard (Arts stream) Ambitious kids, tried to get to grips with Ulysses for extra marks. With the help of Stuart Gilbert, we could get a handle on the thing. My memory is that it was only then that I came across the name of Walter Pater.  That dude was fucking hilarious.

and to find a site, a playground, for it in Irish writing in particular

Joyce is scarcely representative of Irish writing. He was making important technical innovations and experiments while pushing forward, to my mind, a unique 'Socialist' theory of tuirgen- or investigative birth seeking. Yeats went one way, Joyce another, Beckett a third. But, as we grow old, it is only a lyric or two of Yeats that we are left with. 'For Fergus rules the golden cars...' 

—not happiness or optimism, not even comedy alone, but joy, which Indian philosophers have called ananda

Ananda is bliss and signifies release from re-birth. Mudita, or 'sympathetic happiness' is the word Amit is looking for 

, and which the writer and philosopher Abhinavagupta

whom devout Hindus consider a divine personality 

had identified in the 10th century as an aesthetic experience that manifested itself as, but couldn’t be reduced to, various aesthetic emotions.

Sure it can. You can always make up a new aesthetic emotion. It is perfectly proper to mention shanta rasa in this connection. Amit is babbling ignorant nonsense. Incidentally, all manifestation is a reduction. This does not affect the substance being manifested.  

The word joy is contained in Joyce’s name, and in 19th-century Europe, joyousness had had a historic resurgence as an alternative to Enlightenment rationality and Victorian moralism,

Nonsense! Everybody was welcome to be full of joy while being rational and moral. Fuck is wrong with Amit?  

making possible the sort of passage I have quoted above.

Anybody could have written the stuff Amit finds good in that passage. Joyce's cleverness is to introduce the haberdasher's point of view. 

It proved that innocence and radical critical thought could nourish each other:

Fuck is the point of proving anything so puerile? Will Innocence breast feed Radical Critical Thought while the latter chops of one of its arms and roasts it so as provide a tasty meal to Innocence?   

to embrace the world, you have to reject the option of mastering it,

Amit thinks Bloom was mastering the world, not masturbating. That's why he wasn't able to give the Moon a nice cuddle.  

a rejection that itself involves an antithetical form of mastery that, in writing such as Joyce’s or Flaubert’s, or in poetry, we call “craft.”

No. In English, we call 'craft' a scrupulous mastery of technique. We say 'in writing Bovary, Flaubert showed his craft but Temptation was self-indulgent shite'.  There is some craft in Ulysses but there are failures too. The problem with 'craft' is that it tends to be used to explicate exploded notions like ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny as in Proteus. 

Debendranath, the poet Rabindranath Tagore’s father, spotted in 1844 the importance of ananda in the Upanishads to future creative and intellectual projects.

No. The man was incapable of 'creative' or 'intellectual' projects. He was of good character and set up as a Maharishi. Being a Hindu he knew that 'Ananda'- that is the bliss of deliverance from re-birth- was possible.  The trouble was that, a protege of Rani Rashmoni- a devout philanthropist of the virtuous agriculturalist caste-  Ramakrishna had gone one up on him by becoming a Paramahansa and attaining nirvikalpa samadhi. Then Vivekananda, a Swamy yet!, got folks like Tolstoy and Brouwer into Vedanta while the poor old Maharishi was getting pissed on by even verbose cryto-Christian Kayasthas like Keshab Chandra Sen. 

He kept this phrase in mind: ānandarupamritam jadvibhāti—“that which is expressed in the elixir [amritam] of joy [ānandam].”

is that which doesn't matter in the slightest. If you've got the elixir, you don't give a shit what you are expressing. The plain fact is, the Tagores were as stupid as shit and the Brahmo Samaj was intensely boring and bigoted. Still, by sucking up to the Brits, they had made plenty of money.  

Rabindranath Tagore picked up on it early; he also formulated, well before any other writer did, stream of consciousness as a characteristic of the literary, referring to it, in his 1894 essay on Bengali children’s rhymes, as “the constant flow of consciousness” (nityaprabhahita chetana).

Amit is saying 'Bengalis are super-genius- innit? Why we are having to read Joyce and Flaubert? Why not some Bengali nursery rhymes?' The answer to Amit is- 'Bengal is a shithole. India is very very poor. To get ahead, Indians need to study high IQ stuff. Tagore is not high IQ. He is a garrulous bore.'  

He points out that nityaprabhahita chetana,

which means the type of consciousness which illuminates or which is beneficial to prayer or contemplation of the Eternal and Unchanging.  Once again, the term is meaningless in itself. You only care if your prayer or mediation is successful. This by itself would have produced the mental state or linguistic expression associated with such success. 

unlike linear consciousness, refuses to filter out irrelevancies, fragments, and the superfluous, or anavashyak.

Because it does not have them in the first place.  But my linear consciousness filters out lots of 'noise' all the time. 

That year, he conflated these two nodes of interest—ananda (“joy”) and dhara (“stream” or “flow”)—in a portmanteau term, anandadhara, “stream of joy.”

That isn't a portmanteau term. Motel or affluenza is. Anandadhara is 'joy-stream'. It is a compound word. Sanskrit has strict 'sandhi' rules which even the Tagores knew.  

Anandadhara bohichhe bhubone, he wrote—“the stream of joy flows through the earth.”

Tagore owned a lot of the earth of Bengal. Streams flowed through that earth. Tagore himself had a houseboat and would go up and down the streams collecting rent. That money sure bought a lot of joy to his family.  

In 1897, Tagore introduced the word again in the first line of a song, this time without any mention of the earth, making it conjure up freestanding existence: bahe nirantara ananta anandadhara: “Endless and unbroken flows the stream of joy.”

What a cheerful little fellow he must have been! The peasants gladly handed over their money to this little ray of sunshine. Five years previously, Yeats had published Countless Kathleen. In Ireland, there were landlords who cared about their tenants. They saw that the money that came to them from the peasants deprived those peasants of joy. The other big problem with the Irish gentry was that they couldn't suddenly declare themselves to be Maharishis or Popes or Druid Sages. 

The consequences of existence being a flow, and of the flow being joyous, mean that you can locate existence and joy anywhere, at any point, as I did in my first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address, when I had Sandeep’s uncle sing this song in the shower in his house in Calcutta.

Reading that shite brought me no joy whatsoever. Amit is a moron whose English is poor. The fact is a boy visiting Calcutta at the time would have noticed interesting things to do with the Naxal threat, the Indo-Pakistan War, the influx of refugees and the worsening economic situation. Why is Sandeep so fucking dense? Most ten year old kids from our sort of class had read Enid Blyton and would have been on the look out for smugglers or CIA agents or whatever. At the very least they would have been interested in playing cricket or gulli danda. 

It was through joy, then, that I developed a kinship with Joyce, as well as with Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, and D. H. Lawrence.

But Amit writes shit novels. His kinship could only be with shitty novelists. I am his contemporary. I don't clamour to read his slow witted shite. If you were a writer in the Twenties, you needed to be keeping tabs on what Joyce and Lawrence were up to. Woolf was mad and thus didn't matter.  

I gave up pursuing forms of “martyrdom”: I never, subsequently, read Ulysses from cover to cover, as I had in 1979.

It is worth doing so every ten years. Your knowledge base has increased and you find new things.  

The Nausicaa episode was proof that the anandadhara can be entered at multiple points once you’ve made the necessary acquaintanceship with the main story and conceit.

But Amit thinks that the thing is about joy, not having a crafty wank. The pathos is that the girl is lame and may be condemned to die a spinster while Bloom's son died as an infant. Sperm can certainly be a 'stream of joy'- but as Tagore knew, babies die, mummies die but, thankfully, even Maharishi Daddies ultimately pop their clogs. 

Through Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers I also discovered that the modernist imagination was not agonistic

which is how come the moderns never heard of things like the Oedipus complex or the Class War 

—I had been misled earlier by commentators and my own misreadings.

No. Amit hasn't been misled. He has always been as stupid as shit.  

Sons and Lovers had prepared me for Joyce and Mansfield,

Why not say 'War and Peace' prepared me for Shakespeare and Spiderman?  

and Joyce and Mansfield for Calcutta, a city I used to visit frequently as a child and the memory of which provided an intimation of joy.

No. You can have a happy memory of a place and the news that you are likely to soon to be able to revisit that place could be an 'intimation of joy'. But a memory is just a memory. It does not intimate anything unless there was some nice magician in that memory who produced a rabbit out of a habit and said 'next time you visit you won't get dysentery. You will enjoy yourself. Trust me on this.'. 

Joyce’s overhauling of constricting convention

in his day, writers were forced to write books titled Ulysses in which all the characters were either cats or hedgehogs 

and his Joyous-ean embrace of the world

not to mention his giving cuddles to the moon 

had partly expressed itself through a translation in which Odysseus becomes the Jewish Irishman Bloom

No. Odysseus doesn't become Bloom or anybody else. Joyce structures the events of Bloom's day in accordance with a Homeric model. This is the bathos of the mock-epic genre.  

—translation not as fidelity to the Homeric original but as “a movement across,” which is what is meant by the prefix trans.

How the fuck did this guy get to teach Literature in England? If Bloom is Odysseus, Stephen must be Telemachus. But all the fellow can do is construct a labyrinth and flit away from it on artificial wings. 

My act of translation—my movement across—happened vis-à-vis 20th-century Bengali life, which I began to think of as Dublinesque.

Dublin was the tutor of many in the Indian Independence movement. Vithalbhai, V.V Giri, and Netaji Bose were particularly close to Da Valera. But though the Irish could assimilate Vedanta easily enough, Indians weren't going to learn Gaelic or Welsh and work out whether there is a Celtic version of Shantideva's paratman parivartana. Come to think of it Spivak started off as a Yeats scholar. She abandoned that for facile faux Marxism.  

The historian Dipesh Chakrabarty once said to me, “Amit, we work so much in the archive that we sometimes lose sight of the material because it’s so close to us; how are you able to see your material, given it’s so close to you?”

If Dipesh really said this he must be an utter cretin. One can say 'working in the archives, we lose the big picture. We can't see the wood from the trees.' One can also say 'a novelist writes about people and places close to him but, because he is a fucking novelist, he has a detached point of view'.  The other point is that novelists are allowed to make stuff up. 

Joyce's 'Dubliners' shows people from different classes living lives which are 'stuck' in various ways and which are emblematic of the dilemmas of the nation. His collection of stories advances the program of Flaubert and Ibsen, if not Zola. There are whole volumes of Sociology and Political Economy which have been condensed into each lapidary page. Reading it, we understand why Dublin had an Easter rebellion. Calcutta merely had communal riots. Dubliners may have been stuck, but Dubliners could collectively take their own fate into their hands and change it for something which, admittedly, was initially worse.

I replied, “It’s not close to me; it’s foreign. I discovered the Calcutta I knew in Joyce, Mansfield, and Lawrence.

But not Dominique Lapierre.  Pity. The fact is Joyce knew bits of Dublin but moved from there before he could gain a truly synoptic view of the place. To be frank, the Brits liked him because he seemed an old fashioned Edwardian 'West Briton'. Similar points can be made about Mansfield and Lawrence. For Calcutta, I'd say Shankar was a good guide. Who has taken over from him? Not Amit. People who know Calcutta also know Bengali. That is the language they write in. 

Writing about it was an act of translation.”

The funny thing is that Amit was actually translating the Holy Quran. Mecca, not Dublin, is actually his Calcutta. Still, thanks to Mamta, this will become apparent to Amit before too long.  

Visiting Dublin for the first time in the late 1990s, I was disappointed in how much less Dublinesque it was than the Calcutta I’d encountered as a child.

But Amit hadn't read Dubliners as a child. He couldn't have encountered anything 'Dublinesque' there. It is a different matter that he might have recast people and places he remembered in some scenes a faire Joycean style. But he could have equally done it in the style of James Hadley Chase or Barbara Cartland 

It was as if Dublin could exist vitally only in translation.

Nothing exists save Amit's awe at his own joyous virtuosity. Joyce put a lot of research into his vignettes of Dublin. The characters he creates are emblematic while also being endowed with what the scholastics called haecceity. This is what Joycean secular epiphany is based on. Amit has a cousin who sang Rabindrasangeet in the bathroom. Same thing- right? 

Ulysses, too, has stood for me at the confluence of alienness and intimacy.

Does this involve wanking into the Hooghly? I suppose so.  Amit is his own Nausicaa. 

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