Sunday, May 08, 2005

Eco and Kunzru

Years ago, I started to intersperse reading two to three books of different genres in parallel as an interesting diversion. Over time it has become a necessity. I no longer enjoy reading a book in isolation unless completely riveting. Then there is also the matter of time being scarce.

The latest mix has been On Literature by Umberto Eco and The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru. Not a very fortunate combination as I was to realize soon.

Eco's book has a chapter Wilde: Paradox and Aphorism. Reading A Picture of Dorian Grey in my teens had left me mesmerized by Wilde. Lord Wotton's wanton aphorisms and paradoxes seem as witty as they did years ago. Eco's reversals lend them several new meanings.

"Sin is the only real color element left in modern life" is reversed to "Virtue is the only real color element left in modern life" by Eco.

The most intimate chapter in this book is the last one - How I write. Eco offers a fascinating insight into what goes into the creation of his novels.

"First Of All Construct A World"

The fact is that I believe (or at least I now understand better, after four attempts at fiction) that a novel is not just a linguistic phenomenon.

He talks about writing The Name of the Rose when he spent a whole year without writing a line "Instead I read, did drawings and diagrams, invented a world. This world had to be as precise as possible, so that I could move around in it with total confidence."

"From The World To The Style"

Once the world has been designed, the words will follow, and they will be(if all goes well) the world and all the events that take place in it require.

"Constraints And Time"

Constraints are fundamental in every artistic operation. A painter who decides to use oil rather than tempera, or a canvas rather than a wall, is choosing a constraint; likewise the composer who opts for one tonality at the outset (he may then modulate it all he likes, but he has to return to that opening tonality..

And do not think that avant-garde painters, composers and poets- who seem to avoid those constraints - do not construct others. They do, but you may not be obliged to notice them.

And finally on "Joy and Sadness of writing Eco says

The beauty of writing a novel is not the beauty of the live match, it is the beauty of delayed transmission

Trying to go back and forth between Eco's luminous wit and erudition and Kunzru's slack, faltering quasi-epic was tiresome to say the least. There are more unnecessary and unmemorable characters in Kunzru's four hundred odd page book than there are useless bric-a-brac in a Dollar General store.

He has moments of inspiration when he shows depth of perception and excellent facility with the language. The book is hurting sore for a good editor. If pared to the fundamental story line, trimmed of distractions and volume halved, the Impressionist may leave a half decent impression.


yet another1 said...
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yet another1 said...

imho, The Impressionist belongs to the curiosity-killed-the-cat category of books - i bought it out of curiosity, and it sure had me dead by the end :P

eco, on the other hand, is a read once, re-read forever author - he's a treat!

SeaSwallowMe said...

eco & kunzru ?? .. are you nuts, crossings ? :-P

this is like eating the awful bitter stuff your grandma forced down your throat post-Diwali to make up for the sweet-binge during the previous days.


Heartcrossings said...

SSM - I must be just that right ? I will desist the urge to mix and match at random :-)

YA1 - totally agree !!