Why a novel on revolution no longer needs heroes

It's the spirit of all literature: You have to break things.

 |  4-minute read |   16-08-2017
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The novel of realism – with mother, father, kid and cat – will no longer do. Our lives are too widely open; the walls of our houses thin. We talk past each other; the real resides in signs. A story perhaps gets written or needs to be told when you can no can longer say things straight. And so it was with Waiting for Reneé, the first allegory and a collection of fables I wrote a few years ago. Since then I’ve stayed on the side of allegories for a reason.

I didn’t set out to write Reneé. I had changed cities and, as is natural, there were some beginnings and endings. Cupboards were opened, and cupboards were shut; keys that fit perfectly into locks and those that didn’t. Since that shifting from the first home, there has been an experiencing of city life in fragments; in modes of flight and go; instability and impermanence. Reneé became a figure to write about and fight for when, during a walk, one was laying one’s first arguments about fleeting and precarious urban experiences and the "irrationality" of those experiences.

Reneé was peeling potatoes in a kitchen when Pierre was leading a band of men to drag the King and Queen out of the palace at the time of the French Revolution. From the point when they met in her kitchen, the story was as good as over. Storytelling of a certain epic sort, I realised, was the grand army I wanted moved around on a page so as to find my own centre, as it were.

To write with a feeling of handicap, a low-degree feeling of threat or thwartedness, does writing no harm. It sometimes pushes the writing in a certain direction; shapes the form of the work, shows the writer her hand.

pdf-futureapril-3_081617032109.jpgIn a Future April; Paramita Ghosh; Aakar Books

Who you are, as Jorge Louis Borges showed in his story, "The Other Death", can only be found in battle. Pedro Damian, a soldier, did not live as he may have wished to but he died the death he wanted. In his first war he was cowardly, in his second and final outing, he redeemed himself. In In a Future April, the canvas has been drawn as wide as possible and it’s a rough terrain. I don’t know if the characters ride well but they ride hard.

April, a political allegory, is interested in the process that builds a revolution but has stayed away from heroes. It had to be so. The age of heroes is over. A novel that attempts to be the literature of the 21st century revolution cannot follow the grand revolutionary arc of distant upsurges and take notes from them. Insurgent metaphors have to be made up about those who are insurgent today.

And considering that precariousness is now, in this neoliberal epoch, the general condition of social existence, the novel of the revolution cannot merely be a description of precarity. It must also demonstrate and enact this precarity. This must necessarily collapse and compress diverse historical space-times into a singular space-time of the novel.

That is also perhaps why the setting of such a novel cannot be any known place on a map.

Most areas of existence operate as factories today. The worker’s time and labour is ironically spent in perpetuating his own condition of lack from which freedom seems remote. The city he lives in is not his own but there is no case for a return. The home, the family, the workplace – all meanings stand changed and, in fact, seem standing on their head.

When all these meanings are transformed, can the meaning of the nation remain the same? Can a single nation satisfy all its children? We need the novel, despite naysayers, more than ever today. The novel, as Georg Lukács suggested in The Theory of the Novel, is the epic of the world of transcendental homelessness.

To write a novel about a revolution in the absence of the old contours of a revolution is therefore not, these days, that much of a disadvantage.

The world over everyone says it all needs to be made over. What does a revolution in fact do? Its high point is to put forward great arguments and keep them at the centre of the movement. And that cannot just be left to heroes. In fact, there is no need of heroes.

Every man is a symbol of new possibilities. He may open any door if he wants to, become what he wants, choose the side he wants, bring down what he wants. A regime is a structure built by words and deeds.

That which is built by words and deeds can be dismantled by words, thoughts and deeds of the opposite kind.

All literature is written in the spirit of revolution — you have to break things. The important thing is to know what and why.

Also read: Meena Kandasamy's novel is about abuse in marriages Indians don't speak of

Writer

Paramita Ghosh Paramita Ghosh @paro_ghosh

Journalist with Hindustan Times and the author of the forthcoming novel In a Future April. ‘April’ is a novel that is part of the Radical Notes series published by Aakar Books.

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