20 March 2015

Postface: ‘For the Righteous Shall Inherit the Land’

“Don had just entered the tube connecting the room with the rest of the palace, when he heard a rumbling noise in the past.”

Sadly, I don’t have much time to write. I try whenever I can, especially when I have a story to be finished. So I got into the habit of using my phone to type away if I have more than ten minutes on my hands. This, I’ve realized, had a number of consequences. Firstly, I make a lot of typos. The buttons are uncomfortable, and the letters are small–I simply don’t notice if I miss something in the middle of the rush hour. Secondly, the text has an abrupt rhythm. Paragraphs get extremely short, often consisting of a single sentence. The story becomes like a person gasping for air, or like on-line news articles with a maximum of ten words per paragraph. (They must think everyone has ADD–but then if I really do, I probably wouldn’t bother to scroll down and read the hundredth paragraph reiterating the same information as the very first one.) I think this is because the screen of the phone is small, and I’m led to believe that I’ve written six lines already when in fact I’ve only typed the conjunctions I start my sentences with.

And thirdly, well, I may encounter sentences like the above. “Don had just entered the tube connecting the room with the rest of the palace, when he heard a rumbling noise in the past.” It is obviously wrong (how can you hear something suddenly in the past?), and one would immediately delete or correct the offending ending (which I did), but I found the sentence itself captivating. Coordinating the past with the room, it seems to treat time as space. The nonsensical notion is, in a way, amusing, like the all-too-famous phrase “colourless green ideas sleep furiously.” One may stop to muse over it. One may associate the rumbling noise with the past, the past that comes nearer every minute forcing us to escape from our fate into the future. One may associate it with destruction, with our impending destiny, or with the washing machine. (Note to self: don’t forget to call the landlord tomorrow and complain about that weird couple living above.) I would’ve loved to use this sentence, but I feared this story would be the wrong context for such a phrase. It might be more at home where “out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle.”

This sentence made me realize one more thing: that chance plays a probably more important role probably more often in artistic creation than we’d like to think. The two great competing traditions of art-making, classicism–where an artist is more an artisan with a craft to master–and romanticism–where the artists is a seer(ess), producing masterpieces under inspiration (influence?) but without intent–so, neither of these traditions allow any role to be played by chance. The artist should either be a master or a medium.

But, if we care to think, nothing could be farther from the truth. An artwork is meaningless unless it is looked at, listened to or read–in other words, the artwork is born in the eyes, ears, mind, etc. of the beholder. But an artist has no control over who–if anyone–is going to encounter the work. The very existence of the artwork, therefore, is dependent on chance. Or read the biographical musings of any author. They will tell you of chance things seen or heard, sudden realizations and chance encounters (with long-forgotten acquaintances who’ve lived lives outshining the Odyssey, or with future editors). Should we then praise the artist at all for a masterpiece? or should we attribute the success to mother nature for placing the right person among the right circumstances at the right time and in right frame of mind? And is it by chance that we have Shakespeare and Synge, or is it a necessity regulated by the laws of physics? Is our very existence a product of fortune, or part of a divine plan?

Talking of divine plans, let me admit that I’ve always been fascinated by religion. I mean fascinated in the sense that I’ve always wanted to understand it, and we’ve long known that humankind regularly deludes itself into thinking that it has understood something by writing about it. And I am no exception. This is what happened in “For the Righteous Shall Inherit the Land,” where I tried to take a situation that presents itself as a clear danger in our days, show how it can come about, and exaggerate it to the point where it destroys its own raison d’etre; hoping that I’d understand it in the process.

I’m not sure if I’ve managed to pull this off in the way I wanted to, or if I’ve managed to find a balance between the inherent tragedy and the absurdity of the situation. But I think it was worth a try.

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