Saaransh: Summary

Are we going to the lighthouse tomorrow? No. Yes. Perhaps. I dont know.

The wistful and elegiac quality of this sentence from Woolfs To the Lighthouse, can be compared to a shaft of light breaking from a thin crevice: growing wider and wider; losing themselves in the soft, advancing light, the weary souls heave a sigh of relief; a momentary blip in time, return of the lost spring they hail, until the light starts fading away, dying, leaving them groping in darkness; the light fades away faster and faster, hitting back at the hard surface, dissolving into what Virginia Woolf famously describes as the wedge-shaped core of darkness.

Perhaps. I dont know. Can despondency wear one out? Will we ever go to the lighthouse?

Thus begins Virginia Woolfs timeless inquiry into human longing and search for identity. But what have I done with my life? Thought Mrs. Ramsay, taking her place at the head of the table, and looking at all the plates making white circles on it. William, sit by me, she said. Lily, she said, wearily, over there. They had that ? Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle ? she, only this ? an infinitely long table and plates and knives. At the far end was her husband, sitting down, all in a heap, frowning. What at? She did not know. She did not mind. She could not understand how she had ever felt any emotion or affection for him. She had a sense of being past everything, through everything, out of everything,

In the above paragraph from Woolfs To the Lighthouse, we see Mrs. Ramsay, a middle-aged housewife sitting at one end of a long table at dinner time, brooding over the daunting, timeless query: who am I? The book paints a portrait of a lady who is trapped in the chains of domestic life, the same chains that bind and confine her to becoming the be-all and end-all of her family. Thus, Mrs. Ramsay helps us to understand that we may not even own ourselves and that family may be a cocoon where self lives and where self might die.

Which brings us to another question: do we know ourselves? Perhaps it would be safe to say that we discover ourselves along the way. Perhaps it is the remarkable accidents of chance, fate and encounter that determine who we are.

And when, if ever, do we stop becoming? Even our death may not finalize these things. Look at a figure like Richard Nixon, one of the most chameleonic figures in American politics- the number of turns of the forking path of Nixons career, including that last stint as an elder statesman, after earlier episodes of disgrace and humiliation.

What about writers like Herman Melville who lived out the dead letter curse in the story Bartleby, who himself was a disappeared, invisible man, for most of his life after the 1850s? He lived decades and decades after that. But no one talked about him. People didnt read him. People didnt think he was an important writer. Look now at what we think. Hes not alive to tell us how much he enjoys it, but certainly if we were to ask what is the identity of Melville, wed have to say that its something that outreaches by far what he could have known. This is true for so many writers. Its true for Homer. Its true for Socrates. Its true, perhaps, for all of us. Do we really know our end-stage, our definitive identity? Its a forking path line that eternity is actually the right unit of time and measure to gauge how we continue to evolve and become.

The desire to blend in others is the founding stone of all human gratification.

To continually evolve is to acquire new characteristics that are a mere response to external stimuli. Law of Metamorphosis i.e. to become the other, is Kafkas law and is dramatized in both his classic works- Metamorphosis and A Country Doctor.

In Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa suffered a fate that any bug would have, had it been disturbing the peace of everyday lives of its keepers. Kafkas work is remorseless. Its an unflinching look at how it might be to exit the human. In A Country Doctor, Kafka heightens the nauseating effect that might ensue by projecting ones deep-seated fears and injunctions of flesh on another human being. The text has a voyeuristic appeal that not only illuminates the mysteries of duty and sex but also how urgent and insurmountable is our desire to connect, to enmesh with others.

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To become the other is perhaps what made a 52 year old professor, David Lurie, the protagonist of J.M. Coetzees Disgrace, solemnly reconsider his climacteric position upon examining a goats swollen scrotum. That imprinting of ones own fears and desires on someones wounds makes one realize of his/her own debilitating circumstances, is a classic example of Kafkas law.

In Ingmar Bergmans Persona, we see a nurses and an actresss personality entangle while they search for identity through memories. It is a classic example of the law of metamorphosis that Kafka talks about in his text. The two females, in the movie, develop a strange communion wherein they imprint their fears and desires on each other, altogether resisting the urge to become the other. Thus, personality is both plural and singular. Most of what we think of ourselves is not a direct experience of the world but a mental broadcast made of ideas, memory, media input, other people, jobs, roles, duties, lusts, hopes, fears.

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How much of you is your past?

In Charolette Brontes Jane Eyre, we read about a young Jane, fist bound to a chair in a dark gloomy cellar, believed to be housing the spirit of her great uncle. It is when she looks in the mirror, which Bronte famously calls as the visionary hollows, she sees a long history of abuse and neglect that taints and mars her appearance.

The idea of our life as a straightforward linear path is delicious but untrue. What happens to the problems that weve had? Are they just in the past? Is it possible that the injuries we sustained as young people stay with us, and that we are working through them all the time?

This single incident changes the course of her life and by the end of the book we see her emerging as a feisty, self-assertive woman who spurns the tender advances of her tyrannical lover and courses a path of her own will. All through the book we see her struggling under the oppressive regime of class structure, which brings back the wounds of her own oppressive past; and perhaps it was the resolute will of not falling victim to her past that transformed her. That is to say that memory surges, memory acts upon us; the past is not past, it still lives.

To what extent are we the prisoners of our compulsive desires?

Sometimes he thought of it in that way, remembering the hard, untearful and unselfpitying and almost manlike yielding of that surrender. A spiritual privacy so long intact that its own instinct for preservation had immolated it, its physical phase the strength and fortitude of a man. A dual personality: the one the woman at first sight of whom in the lifted candle (or perhaps the very sound of the slippered approaching feet) there had opened before him, instantaneous as a landscape in a lightning flash, a horizon of physical security and adultery if not pleasure; the other the mantrained muscles and the mantrained habit of thinking born of heritage and environment with which he had to fight up to the final instant. There was no feminine vacillation, no coyness of obvious desire and intention to succumb at last. It was as if he struggled physically with another man for an object of no actual value to either, and for which they struggled on principle alone.

This beautifully layered text in William Faulkners Light in August, heightens the magnitude of sexual desire, repressed anger, clash of masculine and feminine virtues, parental abuse, and irrepressible and seething violence that the narrator is in captivity of. We see him committing heinous acts of violence throughout the book. And we see how racial bigotry plays a key role in fuelling his violent urges and condemning him to a life of oppression, with no scope for redemption.

Theres a close-up in movie Shame of Michael Fassbenders face showing pain, grief and anger. His character, Brandon, is having an orgasm. There is no concern about the movement of Brandons lower body. No concern about his partner. The close-up limits our view to his suffering. He is enduring a sexual function that has long since stopped giving him any pleasure and is self-abuse in the most profound way.

Its a classic example of how our compulsive urges can inhibit and chain us forever.

I would like to end our discussion with Abbe Provosts deeply affecting work, Manon Lescaut. This novel deepens and problematizes our desire for connection- the sublime unity of both lovers, that is so ardently desired but less likely achieved. Des Grieux, a seventeen year old adolescent boy who is destined for an ecclesiastical career, meets the young and beautiful Manon on his way, and experiences a whole new set of sensations that are new to him; sensations that soon override his ambition and act at the helm of all his future choices.

We see him becoming a murderer, thief and a scoundrel; his every act of notoriety justified by his desire to maintain his alliance with Manon. Interestingly, he doesnt reproach himself with all his acts that deem strong condemnation but rather accords himself with the highest sense of virtue- the virtue of a tenacious lover whose noble, exultant picture of love is equivalent to religion, and hopes to be bountifully repaid for all the troubles undertaken.

Would you call them a couple or two separate individuals? Is it true that Des Grieux loves Manon, but doesnt understand her love ethos? Are his love ethos significantly different from Manons? Do they have to be consistent with hers? We see as the story progresses how money plays a central role in whether or not this couple can maintain their alliance. For Manon, love is not enough for sustenance, and she impetuously engages herself in turbulent love affairs with wealthy men. The possibility of maintaining her love for Des Grieux hinges grotesquely on material assets and resources. She even remarks on one occasion that the fidelity she expects of him is that of heart and not of body. One would call her bold, rash, ruthless, debauched, materialistic and indecisive, but what one fails to see is how different her philosophy of love and life is from Des Grieuxs. We like to flirt with the idea of two bodies, one soul, but how often does that happen? We say we want the other person to be happy. What we mean is, we want them to be happy with us, just as we are, on our terms. This inconsistency in their perspectives lead the two lovers to their fatal end, and establishes Manon Lescaut as an enduring piece of classic literature whose relevance holds even today, after 200 years since it was first published.

In Inaritus Babel, we see a group of people from different nationalities and cultures trapped in alien lands where they are befallen by tragic incidents. We see them calling out for help, but to whom? Their cries fall on deaf ears. They desperately want to utter that word or sentence, but are prevented because of ? the language barrier, their cultural assumptions, and the inability of others to comprehend what they are actually saying. Here, the language and the cultural constraints lock them out of establishing connectivity.

Now I come to the central question of the whole discussion- how does literature and arts help us understand relationships? And while addressing that I would also like to answer- is connectivity possible?

To the latter I would respond by alluding to the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay in Virginia Woolfs To the Lighthouse.

In one sequence, we see Mr. Ramsay admiring Mrs. Ramsays flowers; while as readers we know that for a self-hardened and self-obsessed character its unlikely of him to obsess and brood over anything but himself and his work. But as readers we also realize that perhaps the most epic voyage in human life is to exit your own precincts by dent of love into those of another. And maybe it matters less how far you get than you even seek to do it.

Thus, we see the mute Japanese girl, frustrated with her unmet sexual desires, reaching out to the cop in the last shot of Inaritus Babel, after being humiliated by him. In a note, the details of which were never shown in the film, it is suggested that she tries to make him understand her grievous circumstances by mentioning the incestuous relationship she shared with her father, and how that lead to her mother committing suicide.

Reading and viewing are essential because we know that surface notations are the cheat. That its the surface depiction of things what locks us out of the teeming, throbbing, libidinous and emotional world that we inhabit, and that relationship is precisely the arena where all of it comes to the fore.

Human brain is pernicious. It muddles things up. The very project of order that we pride ourselves on is also a way of distorting reality. Reality itself is intermixed, fresh except that ordinarily we dont have a clue of it.

Literature and cinema provide a language for all the bouts of effect, anger and desire that punctuate life, and escape our observation most of the times. They remind us of what a spectacle our real world is- both inside and outside.

Measures that are appropriate to and through art are radically different from the kind of empirical measures that we can find in the sciences and in the social sciences and in computer science, kinds of things that are measurable. But the measure of the human, the moral, the imaginative, the emotional, the neural, are measures, it seems to me, find their privileged site in art. And these literary texts and films describe, make visible to us, and allow us to share stories where we either connect with or collide with each other and our world.

As in life and fiction, we tend to associate ourselves strongly with experiences that help us in establishing our identity. We are enmeshed with others; our feelings and emotions our keyed to others; our very being is a mix of shaping and being enshaped. What one experiences during a lifetime, is often hard to define in terms of the impact it creates on oneself. Reading fiction and viewing cinema is not just a stimulative exercise, but a voyeuristic journey into ones inner self, experienced through the fate of others, both real and imaginary, compelling one to ask hard questions, letting one meditate on his/her true motivations and deepest fears. Thus, its the truth within the lie that offers true catharsis. It makes the ambiguities of life seem universal and thus helps in shaping a global human being, that is fed through some sensory nervous passage carrying emotions of love, fear, hatred, resentment, forgiveness and wonderment from all over.

Are we going to the lighthouse tomorrow? Yes.

The shaft of light breaking from the thin crevice grows wider and wider, until the vision starts clearing and the once weary souls, now in full grip of ecstasy shout with joy!

The lighthouse reminds us that all the waters that surround us are traversable. Human memory and human creation through art are inseparable and are faces of each other.

Lighthouse

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