Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dodging bullets and filling holes

Evolution of the mind is a beautiful thing to behold. While reading The Museum of Innocence last week sometime, I was mesmerized by the layers of expressiveness, the obsessive, deep emotion, the frivolous made real in so many ways. Orhan Pamuk's writing can be easily put down for another day, or drowned in so totally that the rest of the world of work is reduced to background noise. Please note spoiler alerts from here onward, for if you plan on reading the book!

And so, the reason for my having bought and read this book on a whim quickly revealed itself to me. You see, while reading the book, I was taken by the idea that I could, after what seemed like ages, read a book just for the fun of it.
But then, I got to the latter chapters and was treated to the conversation between the author and the protagonist. And I was completely blown away. I realised then, that this was no mere coincidence. I was certainly not just reading this book for the fun of it!

This book turned uncanny in it's message to me. It was also rather unpredictable.

Readers of this blog will know that along with the courses that I present, I have been engaged in the research and write-up of a political biography over the past two years. This means that I have had the honour of meeting and interviewing some interested veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle; various gregarious and surreal personalities from around the world, Paris, the UK, South Africa and India.
The journey has been hugely satisfactory for the most part; a delight in many ways.
But I've said this to a few friends, that the writing of biography also feels on some days like a project of dodging bullets and filling holes. I know - it sounds a lot dodgier when it's said that way. It's not a literal exposition at all. But it's every bit as crazed and meandering as its meant to sound.

Until I read this book, that is. Orhan Pamuk's written conversation with his protagonist, Kemal Basmaci, is for me as a biographer, ultimately revelatory and highlights the many features of the biographical process and the importance of giving it authentic subject voice.

And many things regarding the telling of the tale; defining the idea that it's easy to want to write 'everything' that gets dumped in your lap. That there are many people who are loathe to the idea that much will be revealed therein, details which they had hoped would never see the light of day. [Some will go to lengths to make sure this status quo remains unaltered.] That there are some who will make fraudulent claims to history, when in fact they were never really at the front line, as the unsung heroes really were. There are many who will have the story from their viewpoint. And then, there is the view of the protagonist. And this is all that matters. In this way, the biographer's job is made clear cut, if not simpler.

I learned these things from Orhan Pamuk.
And I think that the path has been cleared for me to go on.

Everything for a reason, then. No coincidences, only plan.


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