Random Stuff #015: The story of literary art

Many times people think they understand me when they have no basis for their opinions. Outright judgment in court with hard evidence. I’m talking about the mental court of law that passes the verdict based on hearsay or rumors. The best you can do is ignore everyone’s courts and keep them in suspense. Now you see me, now you don’t. Now you know me, now you don’t. Now you understand me, yet you never did. 

The journey, to the living, is long and tough. Don’t be disheartened, my friend.  Only the strong will survive. Remember people keep mistaking strength to be physical yet its the most formidable mental trait. A mentally strong person is worth more than a Goliath-strong one. Instead of going to the gym, go to the library where strong minds and character are fashioned. The war zone of intellectuals. That’s exactly where I am. The consequence of reading is developing the desire to write as well. So it is with this pen and paperback I’ll tell you my stories. 

Please focus and give me your utmost attention because if you don’t, you might as well not read at all. Plus the stories will be great. Choose a way forward; to read or not to read. Take a single decision and don’t turn back. Be the decisive one.

As always a story or stories begin in a library. Not its beginning as such. I’m talking about where the story meets the reader. A story or a novel begins to take effect and captures one’s attention while still on the shelf in the library. Thats why I think every story begins in a library. In this context, let’s take library to mean wherever you find the book; be it the internet, or a study or a friend’s place, or a bookshop et cetera. Put that aside, every author/writer will tell you they started writing the day they started reading. Intrigue and fascination with literary art is the captivating seductive lure for all wannabe writers with naturally ingrained talent. In the end, all writers were once readers in a library. 

Most writers have a style, which is usually reminiscent of the time and place. Books from 3000 years ago have less humor or wit and are more rigidly written. They definitely aren’t 21st century page turners. Case in point, The Analects of Confucius is difficult to read but contains wisdom of the ages. I call it that because it can be found anywhere in any place. Wisdom is inborn. As a consequence, philosophy is innate. Confucius was a moral teacher, a philosopher and a genuine man. Though I learnt his sayings were written down by his followers years later which is coincidentally the same with Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Muhammad, and others. The problem with ancient literature is it’s rigid and robotic and conformist or it’s antithesis but in extremes. These books also contain fiction accounts dressed up to look real. That’s the same with the Bible. Hitchens says in his excellent book God Is Not Great that he doesn’t care if Socrates never lived at all, but he cares that someone advanced his method of testing evidence against experience, of valuing philosophy, of putting morals on a higher pedestal than belief. No doubt the pages of Plato’s The Republic are filled with mind boggling moral conundrums and the beginnings of Western philosophy and science as we know. I’m avoiding Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius and other thinkers of the time since I haven’t read them yet. But I’ve read The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Another good example of rigid inflexible writing. Same with On The Shortness Of Life by Lucius Annaeus Seneca. They are quite books which I will detail more in reviews in later posts. Seneca’s book is more liberal and logic and inspiring for it’s time. Even in the 21st century, there’s hardly a page turner on life and generally self-help books, that writes so simply and precisely as Seneca. The book is more like a short essay on life that my only regret is Hitchens didn’t write one himself. Sun Tzu is about war. It’s not about the battle. More like a manual on how to organise an army for war. How to use strategy, tactics, manipulation to win. When and how and where to do what in the course of leading an army. It gives extensive details on battle tactics, leadership skills, mentality, discipline and other subject matter. It is not an exaggeration to say that the advice given by this war general can be applied to modern society by any leader and will produce the results as he predicts. Again this is wisdom of the ages. You don’t need self-help books to tell you how to do things as a leader that Sun Tzu was doing 3000 years ago in China. 

Even the Koran is a mundane read. Not so quite intelligible. Definitely not written by a literally genius or a moral one for that fact. But that’s towards the end of the first millennium which probably holds the record for most revealed holy literature. 

Fast forward to modern Europe. While texts like the Bible have an archaic feel to them, Shakespeare (Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo And Juliet), Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer)  or Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield) or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ( everything Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot) seem less modern but more readable and relatable. I thought for a long time that George Orwell was part of the 19th century literary world. I suppose the teacher wasn’t compelled to or well informed enough to detail the background behind Animal Farm or 1984. I’ve always wanted to read Down And Out In Paris but never got around it. I recently went through a thousand pages of Russian literature. Fyodor Dovstoyetsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I had been searching for it since my days in school when I was fascinated by philosophy and ideas. I also gained a brief passion for Russian books when I read Bourne Deception by Eric Van Lustbader writing under the name of the deceased great Robert Ludlum whose spy thrillers I haven’t seen any author better. Here we find a character called Leonid Danilovitch Arkadin, if I remember correctly, who went through hell in Siberia during his youth and early adulthood which spurred him into becoming the most dangerous assassin ever. I would consider Robert Ludlum to be a hardcore spy thrillist I’m the same sense that Peter Watts in the space thriller Blindsight or Cixin Liu in the sci-fi  bestseller The Three Body Problem, are considered hardcore sci-fi authors. Personally, as a sci-fi junkie, I feel a little guilty for not having read Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. I’ve seen the video of Clarke basically predicting the modern age of phones, portable computers and phasing out of post, fax and other modes of communication. Though the stain of having read none of their books hangs on my conscience. Another author who I feel guilty is the elegant stylish Ernest Hemingway. If there was ever an inspiration to writing and reading then it was Hemingway. His travel fiction book Fiesta or When The Sun Comes as its known in some places, was probably the biggest influence on me while growing up. For the first time, I could travel to Paris to Mexico for the bullfighting events to many other parts of the globe just by reading. It was liberating and captivating. It was a well written book that, try as I may, I have failed to find a better travel writer. Probably for a lack of trying. No wonder Hemingway was awarded the Noble Prize in literature in 1955. Shortly after which, he is said to have committed suicide. He was known to have some mental issues. One biographer claims he was bipolar. There has always been a strong link between creative genius and mental disorder. Even Virginia Wolff was a victim.

Most authors I have read and continued to do so always seem to be writing more realistic than fictional books. Case in point, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, Cory Doctorow, David Iglesias, Sidney Sheldon. A few exceptions to this are J. K. Rowling, a few others who I can’t remember as I type now. I mostly read nonfiction or fiction tending towards nonfiction. The best book to illustrate this is Michael Crichton’s global warming fiction book State Of Fear or his other anti-Japanese imperialism book Rising Sun. Dan Brown’s books dwell on the edge of truth and fiction too. David Iglesias is more political but quite insightful too. His book, The Director, is an excellent book about a newly appointed CIA director who tries to fix the wrong things about it his way. All these authors have a way of blurring the lines between reality and imagination. That’s a quality I admire and I also one only modern authors have. It’s hard to argue against a personal who does this sort of thing. Because as a reader you’re most likely not sure where the line is drawn. This is my story of literary art. 

P. S. It is by no means complete. 

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