A Bolder Cartography of the Imagination

The title is from Pankaj Mishra's essay for the FT, "The Case Against the Global Novel." He writes of "Benetton-ish cosmopolitanism" which is an image I immediately associate with Swiss summer camps; those ads the glossy mirror of the children in the co-ed zone between dormitories of wheat fields. I would have stuck to that or in that image were it not for the fact that I became older and sadder, somehow expecting my childhood observations of humanity to be wrong. Like politicians on Asian junks not strolling deck, looking, asking questions, but remaining in the covered shade, swopping inane anecdotes from back home.
So if you talk to me of ways the loudest people even willing to talk about different cultures do talk about them, I generally think of what we now call the postmodern: i.e. its relation to ideals, hierarchies, autonomy (sometimes believing objectivity is possible, but if not, hardly ever ceding to the primacy of ancient philosophy and literature). Perhaps it is only by falsely simplifying the past that the movement was ever able to 'liberate' itself from the treasure, and responsibility, of inherited knowledge. It was certainly by shutting out a view of a place 'for what it is' that certain policy could happen.
My child's heart is crushed, and pours down with the rain like in Satyajit Ray's film Apu when I think of this: all we hear is the sārangī in high-pitched tone. And indeed, if no one is listening to these stories, but watching them like entertainment then going back home, one would wonder at the use of choosing to live as an artist who is sensitive to the ongoing complexities and always has in mind images from beyond the allegorical cave. I ask the question of the vitality of art.
An answer returns to me as a conversation I once had decades ago at a 铜锣湾 Delifrance, with a poet friend saying, we need to reclaim certain words. The meaning of that cannot be lost to a person who only fully came to faith through a fifth language - the currency of the words not inflated and devalued by a corruption of context. My theory of the problem of art is based on her idea: we have lost faith in words.
Lost faith in stories appropriated by cartoons from a context of an escapist wonderland, where one may imagine Mishra's Roy citation of "the horror of peace" - being just what Szynmborska writes of preferring the hell of chaos to the hell of order. It is pertinent, also, to note he prefers "conquered to conquering countries". The view of complexity is on the losing side, or at least on the side of he who remembers history, where there are such scholars today, in shrinking classics departments, accused as being (I shall shirk if I hear this one more time) the primacy of dead white males. Reductionism ignores that the scholarly starting point is so far more complex than postmodernism, particularly if we are to talk about literature.




Some of the poverty of modern scholarship is outlined in Nicholas Sharp's Introduction to Wilson's Art of Rhetoric. He begins, "First, Wilson's theory posits a close connection, indeed a fraternal relationship, between literature and philosophy, especially logic. Second, it assumes that literary discourse is deeply grounded in the praxis of political and social life, not alienated or isolated as a separate domain of experience."
These assumptions are located within a tradition, and the loss of this tradition has led to some to think that ancient philosophy was but abstract pontification - which some moderns made it, but not at all what it is, in its essence. Some of them have thus turned from this mistaken supposition to Chinese philosophy. One wonders if this is not an example of hatred of one's own race. In my case, if you are wondering, I feel I must cite Bakhtin who writes that hybrids do emerge.
Some of us are plants that were replanted, if transplanted again: not for short times, the proof of our multiple roots being our mermaid quality of practically sprouting our first roots in water, not land. We cannot be phoneys because we try to listen first, try to be that sponge, and view our travels as the anomaly of those difficult things that we had no control over. We have no story, are called traitors by everyone, and suffer in silence when we are accused of not loving the native land. But we do not promote our multiculturalism, and only discuss it if we have to. People do not believe in words, they do not believe in experience, experience which is the partner in marriage to wisdom.
Who, in this age of cheap flights, would believe me when I cite Horace, who writes, "They who run across the sea get a change of sky but not of mind"? To change the mind is to engage in dialogue - hermeneutics, as I wrote about extensively this summer - and since most people are not even taught the rudiments of rhetoric in school, this does not happen. To illustrate, I shall cite one of the progymnasmata exercises - conducted before one writes a practice composition - that requires a person to impersonate another character, historical, legendary, etc. In the last practice composition, which follows the fourteen progymnasmata and a prior composition exercise in declamation, students represent the motives and culpability of an imaginary plaintiff or defendant. Emphasis is placed on others' shoes.



But I can find for anyone a handful of postmodernists in multiple university departments who disagree with Mishra's citing of Parks' criticism of the "global novel" of Eco and company. They are also happy to teach literature devoid of its complex philosophical, logical, rhetorical roots. Which isn't to say that there are no postmodern works that are of use; one of my favourite works by Julia Kristeva is a tiny volume of papers she delivered in the political realm on Eastern Europe, where she introduces new-to-the-West categories and concepts representative of the East. But who was listening.
The bolder cartography pends on a bolder inner landscape. Gadamer shows we only recognise what we have been introduced to first. Introductions occur if one knows how to make one. Exercises in communication have been passed down through the ages (and if we discuss "Western" rhetoric, we still have to be open to the West/East dichotomy because the rhetoric of Greece and the Byzantine Empire differs from that developed from Rome).
To my mind, the bolder cartography requires a better education and one that includes exposure to scholarly history. To be given that dynamic picture - which exists in multiple languages ranging from various Greeks to various incarnations of French, to speak only of Europe, is surely to inspire the jaded person of today that they are not alone, and that it is worth making an effort to articulate and admit the complexities of life because to not deal with them is to become willfully deaf and blind, which may be all very well in the beginning when one gets one's way as the cripple, but essentially ends in darkness and silence, which is the death that happens during life, the greatest horror of all.



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