Monday, August 25, 2014

Seven Lessons of Writing- From Poet-Philosopher: Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on 15th of October, 1844 and having contributed a verse, as Walt Whitman would say, left this world after an arduous but rich life on 25th of August, 1900. In the span of 55 years that he lived, he produced enlightening, path-breaking work which changed the course of human thoughts. He was admired, revered and even hated as a philosopher for his unorthodox ideas, his unconventional view on Christianity, his never-heard-before commitment to Individual will, which was a sharp turn from the Christian view of keeping individual interest subservient to the larger social goods. He gave us the idea of an all-powerful, unyielding, unapologetic Overman which awaits man on the other side of the abyss. His eminence in philosophy is well-established and his influence, undisputed, but his literary presence and impact is also grand and glorious. Nietzsche shares with Yeats believe in the natural aristocracy of men, (when he claims- Men are not equal), and believes in the possibility of men who have the courage to rejoice in the face of tragic knowledge.

Beyond a point, literature and philosophy merges. Like two rivulets playfully stepping down from the mountains, unsure of their path and their destiny- arrogant and audacious, eventually merging and settling down into the immense expanse of ocean- into a peaceful universality, twin rivers of Literature and philosophy flows down from the solitary heights of human sensitivity. In Nietzsche, one finds an extraordinary amalgamation of a brave and sharp intellect, responding to the world around with the sensitive perception of a poet.  We look here Nietzsche as a poet and a literary figure and what we can we learn from Nietzsche as writers.

Thomas Mann, to my mind, corroborates this amalgamation of Literature with Philosophy, this coming together of two forces of nature which define our world when he searches the equivalence and equanimity of the soul between an extraordinary Litterateur and a pioneering philosopher and writes – “Nietzsche and (Oscar) Wilde- they become together as rebels, rebel into the name of beauty”.  It is not for nothing that Nietzsche is sometimes considered as a worthy inheritor of the philosophical legacy of William Blake and Walt Whitman in his rejection of duality and the celebration of individuality and self. It is on account of literary strength of his philosophical work that many later day writers like Knut Hamsun, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ayn Rand and Jack London who accepted the Literary greatness of Nietzsche when he wrote “I am in the opposite intellectual camp from that of Nietzsche yet no man in my own camp stirs me as does Nietzsche”. 

We however, look here not at Nietzsche as a philosopher, rather Nietzsche as a writer and the lessons he left for writers of the day. In fact, the great appeal of Nietzsche lies in the perfect balance he finds between his relentless search for truth, his willingness to challenge the old wisdom and the beauty of his language. His literary style offers his thoughts the wings to carry them to the skies from where they may be visible to the most skeptic of the mind. TS Eliot goes to the extent of saying-  “Nietzsche is one of the writers whose philosophy evaporates when detached from its literary quantity.” Literature, fiction or not, is a search of truth as well as an attempt to share with the world an attempt to share with the world the truth painfully gotten. No wonder, an iconoclast worshiper of truth found great love among writers of the world with Bernard Shaw admitting that in Nietzsche he recognized a peculiar sense of world akin to his own and who was celebrated by WH Auden when he wrote, “O masterly debunker of our liberal fallacies”.  His writings carried many lessons for writers.

  • Write with a Purpose:  Nietzsche argued that one should write with a purpose. To him writing was a search of Truth. It was not a matter grandiose eloquence; it was a painful wandering into the dark alleys of life. His wrote, “Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.” Look for a higher reason, a bigger message than the story. The story, the poem is a vehicle for the idea.  Don’t look at the market when you write. Nietzsche says, “Whoever knows the reader with henceforth do nothing for the reader. Another century of readers- and the spirit itself will stink.”   Find your sacred message, your voice and build your world around it- your poetry, your stories, your novels are exquisite clothes for an exquisite thought. Don’t fall for an easy path. Have something to tell before you decide on how to tell it.

  • Do not blabber and confuse the Reader: Writing is the search for truth, an attempt to empathize, an opportunity to be kinder. It is not to threaten the reader, to overwhelm him with your intellect. A writer must not be too conscious of himself. Nietzsche perforce, owing to his poor eyesight wrote in short sentences, in aphorisms. He advises not to make your writing too ornamental or wordy, if you write poetic prose, it should be to ensure that the feeling is made vivid on the dead pages. Talk to your reader as you would talk to your friend, for the purpose of sharing and empathizing. Have courage to speak the truth. He say, “Courage that puts ghosts to flight creates goblins for itself: courage wants to laugh.” Writers are the bravest of the souls, for they rise above their time. “Brave, unconcerned, mocking, violent- thus wisdom wants us: she is a woman and always loves only a warrior”- He beckons the writer.  
  • Write With Your Heart: Do not attempt to write what you think people want to read. Write what you know of, write what you feel. Open yourself to the humility of nakedness of the soul. Dig deep into yourself and put forth what you find in the darkest, most unvisited corners of your mind and heart for the world to sea. He writes in Thus Spake Zaruthustra,  “I became weary of the poets,  of the old and of the new: superficial they are unto me, and shallow seas.” Enjoy your writing. Sing through your sufferings. One must write in one’s unique voice.

  • Learn from the Great Minds: It is absurdly narcissistic to believe you know all and not seek help and knowledge. Be open to accept. Read more, reading is the accumulation of tools to go for the hunt of a written word. Reading is a part of writing, sparring before the battle. Nietzsche advises, "No river is great and bounteous through itself alone, but rather because it takes up so many tributaries and carries them onwards: that makes it great. does not matter whether he is poorly or richly endowed in the beginning." Writing is a profession of constant education. Being a writer is opting for a career which is going to be forever a work in progress. You grow by reading, by collecting knowledge. A writer who does not read is never going to be a great writer. Read the great classics, read them to learn not to copy as Nietzsche says, “One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.” And Zarathustra urges his pupils, “Now I bid you lose me and find yourself; and only when you have denied me, will I return to you.” Keep reading, the worthy and the unworthy, of conforming, confounding and contradicting views. Be open in the choice of your reading, as long as you read. Learn to identify and build on your own voice: says he, “One must be a sea to be able to receive a polluted stream without becoming unclean.

  • Respect and Love your Profession: Writers are often type-cast as misplaced, lost souls- social misfits, doomed, sad souls. Don’t let it embarrass you. Love your profession, be proud of it. Nietzsche writes “Men seldom endure a profession if they do not believe or persuade themselves that it is basically more important than all others.” He elaborates more poetically (though to be fair not only about writing rather for all or any calling in like that one may have) when he writes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “I love him who makes his virtue his addition and his catastrophe: for his virtue’s sake he wants to live on and to live no more….I love all those who are as heavy drops, falling one by one out of the dark cloud that hangs over men: they herald the advent of lightening, and as heralds, they perish.”  Isn't that all writers want to be? to be the harbingers of future, the fearless pioneers, willing to expose themselves to the possibility of ridicule, humiliation and being burnt as witches and madmen. Stay true to your profession; don’t be swayed by the public opinion, the mind of the mob. “They hum around you with their praise too…They flatter you as a god or devil; they whine before you as before a god or devil. What does it matter? They are flatterers and whiners and nothing more.”
  • Stay Interesting: Truth is harsh and often colorless. We need style to render it acceptable. The lyrical prose, the sharpness of description, or one true sentence of Hemingway- is what makes the truth acceptable, even amusing to the people. Write in proverbs and aphorisms; learn from the Hunchback and madman of Nietzsche. That is the purpose of art- to make the truth bearable. Nietzsche writes - The champions of truth are hardest to find, not when it is dangerous to tell it, but rather when it is boring. Reach out to the world which is ready for you. Good writing is never for mass-market, it slowly grows on the reader as we search for our life’s answers in it. Be discerning in the choice of your audience. Nietzsche advises, “Whoever writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read but to be learned by heart…Aphorisms should be peaks- and those who are addressed, tall and lofty."

  • Tenacity of an Artist: Keep writing, without giving up, without wavering. The one who reaches the destiny is the one stays the course. Writing is a solitary profession. It takes from life, without ever being able to immerse oneself into it. It needs complete dedication. We become better writer by writing more. If the soul stirs with an ungovernable desire to assert itself tyrannically, and the fire is continually maintained, then even a slight talent gradually becomes an almost irresistible force of nature- Nietzsche writes. Writing is lonely job; there is no two ways about it, no deception can work for long. You need a strong sense of purpose, a lofty ideal to pursue and a great strength of character to persevere as a writer, to survive the mocking smiles of the world. A thinker grows every day, his days are never stagnant. A writer is full of doubts and writing is his way out of the maze of confusion, his days gray, uncertain. Every writer will find voice in Nietzsche’s words- “My today refutes my yesterday. I often skip steps when I climb: no step forgives me that.” The solitude and longing is so deep and sometimes so haunting, and there are repeated bouts of self-doubt, and looming question which threatens to engulf the whole being of a writer- “Is it worth it? What for?”   Zarathustra offers the answers to his lonely wait- “This tree stands lonely here in the mountains; it grew high above man and beast. And if it wanted to speak it would have nobody who could understand it, so high has it grown. Now it waits and waits- for what it is waiting? It dwells too near the seat of the clouds: surely, it waits for the first lightning.

It is very hard to find a teacher as competent and as honest as Nietzsche who practiced what he preached. He wrote with great flamboyance, which a characteristic voice, and told a great truth, the individualism, the will to power, the idea of Overman. He was a man in a hurry, he was bursting with ideas, had great courage in his grieving frame to be able to bring it out.

It is not for nothing he said about himself, as some kind of premonition I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.” I cannot agree more.
  This is my tribute to one of the greatest philosopher and bravest writer on his death anniversary on 25th of August.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Independence Day & Our Kids

Courtsey: The Hindu
Liberty means many things to many people. That is not new. We all know that. We all strive to liberate ourselves internally and externally. Being liberated mean many things to us at many times. Liberty is like a fragrant air which cannot be explained well enough in words. It is an idea which escapes the understanding like the most subtle and profound things in life. That is not a matter of concern. Unbearable is not multiple interpretation of liberty, unbearable is to have no interpretation of liberty, to not know what liberty means. It is no wonder that philosophers have been aspiring to define liberty which toggles between the extreme definitions of Thomas Hobbes “A free man is he that… is not hindered to do he hath the will to do.” and the more moderate one of Locke “In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth…Freedom is constrained by laws in both the state of nature and political society.”

We need to teach our children the meaning of liberty. I was talking to my six year old few days back and was telling her about how we got independence on 15th of August 1947 as we approached our 68th Independence day, and she was quite confused about what independence was all about. She is not having the benefit of being a soldier's son which I had. I was awakened to the need of teaching liberty to my little daughter by the confused look at her face and tried to debate if one, it was necessary and two, if it was possible. Was I driven by my own dislike of the market-driven media which was pushing the idea of a generation with exemplary intellect merely on the ground of information overload flooding the today’s generation or my own idea of why liberty is a great, even if a lofty idea? Am I trying to make her swallow the sun? But then I thought and the answers are here about why kids ought to be taught about liberty.

     The Idea of Liberty
    Liberty is the respect of free will. It is the healthy respect of self and    within it is ensconced the respect for others. We are all our life struggling to walk towards  that ever elusive goal which defines our life. Our kids need to learn liberty and value it. Our  quest and love for liberty is what elevates our existence as human beings above all the other  mortals. The early they learn about liberty and start taking their little steps towards it, the  earlier they grow as human being.

   Liberty and Independence
Independence is the sub-plot, the corollary of liberty. Liberty thrives on an inherent sense of responsibility. It is important to teach kids not only the value of liberty but also the price of liberty. Liberty doesn't come for free. We need to teach kids early that they cannot have their liberty paid by the currency spent by someone else. We need to buy our own liberty and pay with our own blood. Liberty is always a choice and like any other choice, comes at a price. It is only with independence, social, financial and moral, which entitles us to enjoy freedom. Didn't Nietzsche say, to command, we must first learn to obey?

Liberty and Individuality: 
John Stuart Mill states that within the idea of liberty “Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is supreme.” The idea of liberty is tightly bound to the idea of individualism, the idea of free-will. It is something that our kids need to learn, to hold on to their own individual thoughts, never to succumb to the force of the mob. An early learning of the idea of liberty prepares the child to withstand the ridicule which faces every independent minded person and which in any case, is responsible for any progress in the society.

    Liberty, patriotism and our roots: 
    Patriotism seems to be an out of place idea in today’s cosmopolitan society, a world in which national boundaries are fast fading. We cannot negate nationalism, denying which would be tantamount to negating our own self. National pride and the sense of national self is not in contradiction with the idea of global unity. We cannot mitigate our own roots, deny our origins and melt in the global humanity. We need to learn about the sweat, blood and selfless sacrifices of those before us through which we, as a nation earned the right to govern ourselves. We need to teach our kids their roots and their origins, to help them find their own place in the world.

Let us teach our kids the story of our own independence, the value of free air in which we breathe today, and beyond the nationalistic idea, teach them the grand idea of human liberty. Their becoming a conscientious citizen and moral, independent thinking human beings depends on it. They need to appreciate the world that we live in and our responsibility towards it. As I said, Liberty means many things to many people; the worst thing would be to not have a meaning. Next time, don’t merely buy a paper flag; take time to teach your kid about liberty, of the nation, of the individual. Let us sneak in some stories about Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, Patriots who laid down their lives for the nation, in between Cinderellas and SnowWhites of the world. The greatness is fast becoming history. All great wars have been fought, all great sorrows have been endured. We will forget what greatness is unless we repeat it to our children and as they say, those who forget the history are condemned to repeat it. Let us teach our kids about National flag, Nation Emblem, National Anthem, National Song and national history and maybe in the process, we will learn something. They will not only learn patriotism, they will also learn greater and more delicate things in life- things like sacrifice, courage and love. Let's teach our kids nationalistic value and they will not only become fine citizens, they will become fine human beings. They will appreciate sacrifices of those who still stand guarding us- the greatness of our soldiers which protects our mediocrity. Let us become worthy of their love, let us become aligned with the greatness of the nation we live in. Let us soak in this perpetual and eternal sea of humanity we call INDIA. Wishing you a very Happy Independence Day!! 

The Post has also found a place on parenting Website Yowoto

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Art of Journaling- George Orwell Diaries

The beginning of a Journal is a difficult task. It takes a great deal of courage and even greater amount of talent to be able to write diaries, when written honestly. Journals are a great way to get a good start into a literary journey if only one could gather enough courage and is blessed with talent to tolerate the mundane realism of life. You need a sharp pen and thick skin to get down writing a readable journal. It can be a starting point for a writer. You can use the real to reach out to imaginary. Not all diaries become The Orwell Diaries  or The Notebook of Samuel Butler,  Autobiography of Anthony Trollope or that of Mark Twain. Some are propelled by the honesty and courage of the writer to expose him or herself to public scrutiny and ridicule, but mostly, these memoirs are made memorable by the immense talent that goes into writing them.

Journals tell the world your point of view with a rare honesty. You have, of course, written them without knowing or intending that they will someday be read.  This is where the demarcation between the public and private position of the author on various issues melts and merges into one. Journals look back mostly at the recent past and allows the inherent way with words that the author has be exploited and make him look wiser than he really is. But then, they also make him look sillier than he really is if his lies are caught. A smart writer of journal travels through the truth telling with a skillful skirting of opinion. He does not make an opinion, does not posit, he merely states, or at least, pretends to.

George Orwell’s diaries (in all eleven of them covering the period 1931-1949) are similarly descriptive and do not eminently attempts to take a position. Even when he speaks about the Jews outnumbering the rest in the tube, Christopher Hitchens suggests that the writer merely attempts to objectively state a fact, and is not prejudiced. The simplicity and sparseness of style makes one believe Hitchens. Even when the writer at certain occasion makes a comment on the general state of being around him for instance, “..I don’t think an intelligent man can be consistently cheerful these days”, there is some attempt to escape the attention of the reader in spite of the universality and profundity of the statement.

One cannot help but notice a keen eye which notices the truth which hides beneath the labyrinth of pretense and hypocrisy which plagues the society as much today as it did in the 1930s. For instance, the statement, “…beyond a certain point (therefore) Socialism and Capitalism are not easy to distinguish, the state and the capitalist tending to merge into one” – a lament as true and as common today as it was then. Truth has this inherent capacity to transcend time, it survives time. In fact, the eternal existence of truth is the measure of its veracity.  That is what denotes the strength of a Journal, its honesty, not its style. Orwell’s diary doesn’t work on emotions like say, Paul Aster’s Winter Journal; it plays on truth, stark and glorious (not to say, that an emotional diary doesn’t have its charm, it does, in fact Paul Auster mesmerizes with his emotive narrative). It is not an introspective style of diary writing. It doesn't dwell into the inside of his own minds and feelings, it doesn’t brood in melancholy. It is an outward-looking writing which keenly observes the world around him with rare objectivity. He mentions painstakingly his statement of account and the miles he walked in the day (also the recipe of fruit loaf attributed to Mrs Searle).  Truth is strikingly attractive when it is without pretense. He writes, “Women are allowed to do all the housework unaided, even when the man is unemployed, and it is always the man who sits in the comfortable chair” and in its plainness and factual nature, it hits home the truth better than any complicated essay on gender equality.

The diary is a social commentary of the times Orwell lived in. The truth he writes stays true even today.  “A working man always feels himself the slave of a more or less mysterious authority” which would hit home any working man even today, though it would be hard to perfectly define the boundaries between a middle-class and working man that Orwell refers to in today’s world of knowledge worker as they overlap into each other. Sometimes the diaries gets too dreary to keep the interest of reader captivated but then one needs to sift through cabbages and eggs and potatoes (his domestic diaries which are the one’s made most popular through online blog being run by Orwell Prize, beginning on 9th of August, 1938) do become tiresome, for the egg is an egg even if they were laid by George Orwell’s Moroccan hens) to discover the grim optimism of war time in his war-time diaries. His writings turn political here, from the social commentary of the road to Wigan pier. These diaries without attempting to aggrandize the war offer a peek into the mind of common citizens as they wait for impending calamities and rare hope of peace, sometime ahead in their lives. He is tired of war, critical of leaders and saddened by the megalomania wrapped in patriotism and faux-nationalism but still hopes and writes, “I have so much to live for, in spite of poor health and having no children.” There is a general disgust of war and the dilettante decision-makers, the rabble-rousers- the media, responsible for the war being thrust on hapless citizens  which reflects in his writing for instance, when he quotes from Homage to Catalonia, “One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting..; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench..” The matter is even more relevant today with armchair pundits advocating war on twitter and Facebook. This is a journal which does not for a minute, pretends to be an autobiography, being too unemotional, too sparse and too objective to qualify as one. But it is the same laconic dryness which makes it interesting and even interesting at places while one wades through the mundane and counts the eggs hatched by Orwell’s Moroccan hens. We lesser mortals can only look in awe at Orwell’s Moroccan hens just as we are charmed by Mr. Eliot’s cats.

This post celebrates Orwell Diaries which starts today, though in year 1938. The same is being preserved in a blog format by Orwell Prize society which proclaims to be working towards transforming political writing into art.The Orwell Diaries

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Audacity of the Corrupt

So I met him today. He, of feminine voice and masculine arrogance, looked at me from underneath the glasses and complained to the person who had taken me for the meeting. 

"He makes too much noise, that this is loss to public exchequer and things like that." Said he, with such an indignance as if I had offered him some corrupt offer. He was visibly agitated. Agitated about my request to him and his colleagues to remain honest and fair.

I couldn't understand why. How could you be angry about someone who had wanted you to act honestly and honourably? But then he was. The government of the day has changed, but that government is busy getting resolved the fight of languages. The masses rise for a stupid struggle. Language, mine and yours, ought to be respected. Languages, one and all, are anyways dying for the lack of love, but then, that's another days debate.

I thought of another government officer, honest but timid due to hierarchy, gnawing at any pretence of lawful honesty with impunity of an outraged animal. A lonely and feeble voice asking me to take it up with seniors, government, someone, which could stop the cruel wheels of corruption and let him live with an easy conscience. That man had a feeble voice, speaking through hints and whispers. The contrast is stark. The feral force of felony is no match for docile dithering of decency. There is something wrong about the world we live in. The honest are in hiding and alone, the corrupt are singing in a cruel chorus. 

The corrupt isn't ashamed anymore. They mock the honest, and are blatant with each passing day. Those who promise to act against them, lose the evidence once they have power to act. Honesty is no more than a vehicle to electoral victory. It takes too much of a spine to act, status quo is easier and less demanding to the conscience lying supine in the battlefield, defeated and vulgar. The honest is silent and succumbing, the corrupt, blatant and audacious. Whatever happened to the power of truth? My soul swathe in lingering lament. I want to write and escape into my world, where truth still walks with head held high. That's why I am a writer, this world is too harsh and doesn't become me.

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