Friday, December 09, 2005

December is a great time for fog in London

Its a lazy Friday evening on a cold December night. London has finally settled down to the sort of weather its famous for - not necessarily snowy and icy, as it was a few weeks back in November, but really dark and foggy. Its amazing how miserable weather can make you feel really comfortable and settled in. But its been a slightly manic week, (actually totally manic) between work and the social scene, so while it might seem a bit worrying that at 24 my idea of a great Friday night two weeks before Christmas is sitting at home with a glass of red wine and movie, I have to admit that I've had enough partying and excitement in my life this week to warrant a quiet night in.

So this evening is dedicated to watching Crash, reading and listening to a nice CD of some classic old school rock/folk (what school of music would you qualify Joanie Mitchell as being from?) Again, it sounds almost trite - red wine, Joanie Mitchell, foggy winter night in London, but hey, if I've learnt one thing in life, its that one should never knock a stereotype because each and every stereotype is grounded in some form of reality. A stereotype is a great way to gain an introduction to something or someone, and as long as you can realise that its not an absolute phenomenon, and that people might start out as being stereotypical, if you maintain the ability to look beyond that and see what it is that makes that particular cookie distinct from every other cookie that was cut using a specific cookie cutter, you'll really simplify the process of getting to know someone or something better.

Call me Platonic (and no, I don't mean the love, I mean someone who ascribes to a view of the world that was popularised by Plato!) but perhaps everyone has within them certain inherent characteristics that are innate to them, and while each one of us tries in our way to become the best possible manifestation of that cookie cutter we were cut from, in our attempt to hone the edges where the dough tore and we crumbled when being lifted from the baking sheet, we become even more unique and individualistic.

Anyway, we digress. So here I am, cut from whatever cookie cutter would produce a cookie that spends a quiet Friday night sitting at home with red wine and Joanie Mitchell, watching cutting edge Hollywood movies about the Los Angeles riots. Funny that this week this should be the second encounter I have through a cultural medium of the Los Angeles riots of the nineties - Crash, the movie, and Shalimar the Clown, the new novel by Salman Rushdie that I finished reading early this week. I haven't seen Crash yet, so I'll need to come back to that for a more informed exposition, but I can definitely comment on Rushdie (you could even argue if you were a smarmy cynic that most reviewers probably tear into an artist without really reading/watching/listening/eating to their creation, but I'll spare you the platitudes)

Rushdie is actually a very talented writer - no matter what he does and how badly he does it, you can't ignore that fact. His genius at writing creatively comes through all his books. I think that's part of the reason its so easy to hate him - because except for some very rare cases, I think he offends a part of us that want him to try harder and really do his genius justice and that he fails to do that time and again. For a man who shot to global recognition thanks to a conservative preacher who condemned him to death for supposed blasphemy (you could argue that the Ayatollah was the ultimate critic since he actually pronounced the death sentence based on hearsay!) I think there are a lot of books that you can read written by him and really only identify a very select few as being really amazing.

I still think Midnight's Children was a great book - a tad too long, and personally I think the whole third part of the book was unnecessary, but I get the sense that Rushdie is a man who likes symmetry and more importantly symmetry in his metaphors, hence the need for three parts to a book, in the same way that the India of old was broken into the India, Pakistan and Bangladesh of today. However, if I was to count his "great" books, they would be limited to a select three: Satanic Verses (as being one of the funniest books he ever wrote), The Moor's Last Sigh and Haroun & the Sea of Stories. Shalimar the Clown was a brave venture, but lacked a lot of power for several reasons.

For starters, I think Rushdie has taken great pains to identify himself as the man who can really be thought to have redefined the meaning of Indian writing in English, but has also taken a lot of care to be seen to be a writer that is totally separable from any distinct political entity from the South Asian continent. He strives to do this by using a voice in his writing that is distinctly Indian, and his entire cultural ethos is incredibly grounded in India, but he has tried to be seen to be politically neutral and therefore objective. In Shalimar as well, his narrative seems forced around trying to portray both sides of the coin as much as possible. I agree that if its important for him to do so, he should definitely do so, but I mourn the fact that by doing so, he took a book that could have been truly great and condemned it to being mediocre. He does in Shalimar the Clown what he did many years ago in Midnight's Children - he takes a political decision in what should really only be an artistic one, and the result is that the work of art suffers and fails to become what it could have.

This is not to say that Rushdie is the only one who does this - so many writers, painters, musicians and artists take political decisions that are very important cultural and political milestones. The famous Prague Spring of 68 that nearly brought down the Iron Curtain (though if its a curtain surely it should have gone up?!) was entirely propagated through a series of cultural media that managed to shake the Soviet Union and bring the tanks out in the streets of Prague. However, what Rushdie does is slightly different - he doesn't set out to generate a work of art as a way of making a political statement, which would something like Joan Baez of Bob Dylan writing an anti US govt protest song back in the 60s. Rather, he chooses to set about creating a work of fiction, and then halfway seems to decide to step back and make sure its politically correct, or completely apolitical altogether. What this ends up doing is that rather than being convincing, the created work becomes politically enfeebled and diluted - it loses its conviction and ends up being a facsimile of what it really could have been.

Anyway, enough of me shooting arrows at Mr Rushdie - he's a world famous (and in some countries, widely hated) writer, so he's obviously done something write. In any case, this is the opinion of a single person (but I'm sure there are people out there who'd agree with me!) but hey, if you weren't interested in my opinions, you wouldn't be reading this in the first place, right?

Till next time.....