Thursday, November 24, 2005

Responsibilities of a writer

Literature is nothing if it is not a joyful act in itself. Yet, writers clearly have responsibilities towards the language and the communities that sustain them. U.R. ANANTHA MURTHY explores the meaningful possibilities and the spaces available for a writer in our troubled times. The Hindu Literary Review Sunday, November 03, 2002
I am not happy with the word "responsibility". It sounds a little pompous, and burdensome, like filling income-tax forms. If reading/ writing of creative literature is not a joyful act in itself, it is nothing of much consequence. Bad literature can't be good politics. This is a truism that state promoters of literature, like the former rulers of Soviet Union, often forget, or deliberately ignore.
Yet, there is a need for a notion like responsibility. For, no writer lives and creates in a vacuum. The moment one uses language, one gets related to the community that keeps the language alive. It is the vibrancy of the English language of the renaissance that made Shakespeare possible. The language was alive and vibrant because the people were alive and vibrant and responsive to the times. Therefore, all good writers are aware that they owe something to their people and the language that sustains them. Language always helps its people to have a sense of continuity with their own past, the dreams and achievements of a people through history that have been preserved as memory. All our memories of the past in our countries are preserved in our folk-tales, songs, performances, and myths.
As writers we owe an obligation to our past as well as to the present to continue what is best in our literary traditions, not by imitating the past but creatively interacting with it. We make poetry out of our quarrels with ourselves, said Yeats. And, politics, out of our quarrel with others. Both these quarrels, so necessary in our times of instability and change, could be with our own traditions as well. We should take care that these quarrels should be dialogues, too, among the literary fraternity.
Why else do we meet like this, and you should invite a fellow writer like me from India, so near to you and yet so far! This mutual unfamiliarity is unfortunate as many of us are brought up by our education to feel we are nearer to Europe than to each other. The truth is we have so much more to share with each other than with the modernised Europe. For instance, our common heritage, and the anxieties resulting from our need to modernise and yet preserve what is best in tradition could result in significant dialogues. The same kind of artificial distance is there, paradoxically, more after our "Independence" than before, among us, Indian Language writers, as well. If only we learn from one another in Asia, then it may result in our becoming better partners in the literary endeavour with our great contemporary writers in Europe. I hope this question will engage some of you in this conference.
As writers, particularly as Asian writers, we need to be "critical insiders" to our own traditions. Being mere insiders, uncritically, may often result in the production of mindless celebratory writing, rhetorical flourishes, and populist clichés — so easy to imbibe and so banal. Because of our sthotra tradition, and the inherited courtly behaviour of our classical past, reinforced by colonial rule, many of us mindlessly slip into this mode in our writing. Some of us, "modernists" have been critical of that kind of pompously celebratory writing.
Being blindly critical of our traditions, on the other hand, may result in blindly imitative westernisation, leading to amnesia of whatever is good in our past. In India, the great 12th-century poet-mystic Basava, who rebelled against ritualistic and superstitious temple worship and caste system, was a critical insider. And so was the Marathi poet Tukaram and the Hindi poet Kabir. The great medieval saint poets were all critical insiders. Mahatma Gandhi comes in that tradition. You will surely have plenty of such examples in Tamil and Singhalese of "critical insiders".
Mahatma Gandhi as well as Tagore had therefore rejected the European idea of Nation-state and opted for a different notion of Nationalism, appropriate for a pluralistic civilisation like India. World literature has to respond to these challenges of our times. This needs compassion, and vision and profound self-reflection. We, as writers, will have to be conscientious witnesses to the terrible events of our times, as well as act as citizens to restore sanity and compassion. If literature has a great contribution to make it is this: it makes you suspect abstractions. It makes a Hamlet hesitate to kill his own father's murderer. We don't just represent something; we have living bodies and living histories — as individuals and, at the same time, as members of a community. That is the great lesson of all great literatures. (A speech delivered at the Annual Writers' Conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on September 30, 2002.)

1 comment:

  1. probably, the writter (not the journalist) must tell above all his own true