Sunday, October 09, 2011

Not Afraid of Seeming Ridiculous

TLS September 16 2011

from Seamus Perry's review of Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali (translated by William Radice); The Essential Tagore (edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty); Boyhood Days (translated by Radha Chakravarty); and Farewell Song (translated by Radha Chakravarty):

Tagore's familiarity with the nineteenth-century poets was evidently very deep, and in his critical pronouncements, he can sound the clear high note of Romantic idealism which Yeats would have recognized. "The world becomes another world in our mind.... This act of the mind enables us to individualize external reality"; and an even more strikingly Yeatsian turn, "How to express the world the mind creates within itself? It has to be expressed in such a manner that it leads to a mood".


Many of Tagore's best writings are animated by a similar sense, sympathetic but accepting, of the unshapely desultoriness of the lives that they narrate, as though exploring the flip-side of the acquiescent universalism that animates many of the Gitanjali poems. It is the keen awareness of what he calls, in his essay "The Problem of the Self", "the surprise of endless variations, the advent of the unaccountable, the ceaseless procession of individuals".


... he is quite as good as Yeats on the way that the imagination can entrap the soul before ever managing to liberate it; and he would agree with Yeats that nationalist enthusiasm can be one kind of such poisonous fantasy. "The idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented", Tagore told his American lecture audience.


TLS September 30 2011

from Zachary Leader's review of Alfred Kazin's Journals, edited by Richard M. Cook:

Throughout his packed career, Kazin kept a personal journal which he failed to see published in its original form in his lifetime, and expected to have published after his death. "I am not afraid to release it, to publish it all; of seeming ridiculous."


When low, Kazin calls his journal "a disorderly pile of shavings". Sometimes it seems to consist only of "passive suffering, complaint, and yearning", though its "task" or function, he insists, is "to use our suffering and to use it so well that we can use it up."


Journal-writing encourages stylistic spontaneity, feeding an "inborn disposition to put things in brief". This disposition is mostly liberating, although it can also, he admits, be limiting: "The journal is too plastic to our hand, does not force us to go further than we intend to go, does not leads us to some inherent quality of its own, to vital discovery, and does not fight us, insists on its own needs".


In writing, Kazin feels, "you have paid back something of your debt to the Creation, to look at things more sharply, attentively, and above all more lovingly, with the senses and coordinates aroused by the act of writing".

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