Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"How are we to live in the world?"

“It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is a part of our common humanity…but I suggest that the writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form… made more concrete for him by the physical fact of discontinuity… this may enable him to speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal” (12).

In Salman Rushdie’s “Imaginary Homelands”, he speaks about creating imaginary homelands (of the mind), as well as those concerns dealing about writing from a “different place” in your past and even issues in looking for “new ways of describing the world”. Rushdie asks the question – “does literature seek to do no more than to describe?” – and then states that “all description is itself a political act” (13) Upon reading this, my mind recalled the beginning of Chandra’s Shakti, in which an exchange occurs between Subramanian and another man; the man says that “at the beginning of everything great and monstrous…is politics”, to which Subramanian replies that “the beginning and end of everything is a marriage” (Chandra 33). I believe that Rushdie touches upon this exchange (of “definitions” of sorts) when he states that “redescribing a world is the necessary first step towards changing it” (Rushdie 14).

Furthermore, he admits that “to be an Indian writer in this society is to face, every day, problems of definition”. It seems, however, that Rushdie not only accepts a “straddling [of] two cultures” but that it can even be a kind of aid in helping the writer answer Rushdie’s existential question: “How are we to live in the world?” (18).

I like what Rushdie suggests when he mentions living in the “physical fact of discontinuity…of being elsewhere”, that it may “enable [him] to speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal” (12). I think that Chandra, as well as Achebe, do a great job in dealing with “the past” and “the present”; and, Chandra, having studied and currently teaching in California seems like an appropriate example of that which Rushdie speaks. I think that is why I was so engaged with Chandra’s stories even though I have never set foot on Bombay – his including of Indian words and phrases within the English of the story help us immense ourselves as readers into what goes on in Bombay. As Rushdie says, Chandra has remade the [English] language “for [his] own purpose” as well as “embraces it” (17). I think that it is appropriate then that the word ‘translation’ comes from the Latin for ‘bearing across’; as Rushdie writes, “we are translated men”, yet we speak the same human language and try to figure out how exactly we are to live in the world. While we are “borne across the world”, it is our desire as humans to “open the universe a little more”.

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