Tuesday, June 9, 2015

abstraction of the tactile

About a fortnight ago, I discovered this beautiful essay in a wonderful book called Curious. In the essay, Georges Perec talks about the infraordinary ( objects that are the opposite of extraordinary: the everyday, the common, the mundane ) which I thought was not just profound, but also beautifully articulated. A part that credit must go the translator, those thankless artists to who we owe a large part of our artistic pleasures, and I felt right at home in Perec's sensibilities. Here was a writer who was telling us that as much as the bizarre and the surreal help us look at our lives through different spectrums, if we only paid a little attention to what was in right front of us, the world contained multitudes of intellectual, sensual, emotional and spiritual pleasures. This feeling was accentuated when I went to the mechanic to get my bike repaired, and as he removed layer after layer of the bike, I was stunned by the secrets it held and to which I hadn't given the slightest thought to despite spending hours on it. Though it could also be argued that the world has grown way too complex for one man to truly understand all of it, like demonstrated skillfully in this essay and this talk, I couldn't help but feel a pang of nostalgia for the time when regular guys, fathers and uncles, could more or less repair everything that had to be in their houses and offices.

Talking of nostalgia for mostly imaginary worlds re-created from books and films, Meheranna's fantastic posts articulate the feeling I have about escaping to a simpler world ( in my case, Hyderabad in late 80s and early 90s ). Wishful thinking, a part of my brain tells me; You will never be able to re-create lost worlds, like ( I've been told ) Proust discovered. But I don't want to re-create them as much as preserve them somewhere deep inside, where I will be able to visit them in moments of pronounced loneliness. Coming to think of it, isn't everything just wishful thinking. Like some of us are dreaming of recreating the past, aren't many trying to create a future devoid of the 'problems' of the past. Aren't we trying to 'learn' from our 'mistakes' and create more 'efficient' systems? Aren't we all trying to find and adapt to patterns all the time? If there is indeed Nirvana/ Enlightenment/ Realization, isn't it either finding the biggest pattern of them all ( the Grand Unified Theory ) or admitting that everything is random/ coincidental ( Quantum Mechanics )? Or am I just being foolhardy because I'm trying to fit the unknown future into already existing patterns. The upcoming Black Swan event might not just show that all swans are not black but that the birds we've been assuming are swans, aren't swans at all. And no, this isn't about language fallacy.

This brings me to the idea of following patterns in the creation of art too. What is avant-garde for one generation, either dies off as fad or gets subsumed into another school of thought or creates another school of thought i.e., it becomes a part of a pattern. As an example, when you pick up a screenwriting manual, what you see, at the core of the narrative is either the vindication of the underdog, or the enlightenment of the ignorant. We like those stories, either because we grew up in a culture that celebrates them or something deeply human in us responds to it. Similarly, all stories more of less follow structures of parallelism or symbolism or some of the other Pudovkin's montage techniques. We like leitmotifs because it brings the comfort of similarity. And we like symbolism because pure randomness is not only frightening, but also too complex for us to hold on to the narrative strands. People have tried other things, as we always do, and Beckett's Waiting for Godot or Camus' The Stranger come to mind, but ironically, they too created patterns for randomness and indifference. We don't seem to care if the universe is indeed beyond our grasp as long as we're able to grasp atleast that idea. Nothingness, like the reason for suffering or the quest for knowledge, becomes harder to understand the more we grope around it.

To paraphrase Taleb, the modest man is, in reality, the most arrogant because he thinks he knows better than to come off as arrogant. It's a funny universe, where both claiming you know or accepting that you don't will only prove you wrong. In such a world, the only thing we can do is question our teaspoons.