DAIPAYAN NAIR

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What has happened to contemporary literature?

When did it become so overly serious, so full of itself?

What is literature supposed to do?

Literature is supposed to show us life, if not here, than over there, as it is.

OK, fine. Kill me and torture me, but with an enjoyable read.

Our modern era revels in the Weltschmertz novel—fiction written from an autobiographical ditch of despair, allowing readers to thrill at an existence more heart-breaking and miserable than their own.

Schadenfreude sells.

Literature, whether it is American literature or literature from somewhere else, has one use:

Drop the reader into a silo of pain—a place (real, fantastic) or a time (if it’s historical fiction) so terrifying, we are overjoyed, when we finish the book, to return to our boring, mundane existence.

The only difference between the more modest torture devices of contemporary literature and the gigantic, cumbersome classics such as Moby Dick or Ulysses, is that we don’t finish these epics—but we say we did.

The famous authors we read—Faulkner, Orwell, Huxley, O’Connor, Golding, Greene, Fitzgerald, McCarthy, Burgess, Bradbury, Miller, Waugh, Hemingway, Bowles, Rhys, Styron, London, Conrad, Kesey, Pynchon, Bellow—if we finish their books—blind, maim, confuse, madden, burn, demoralize, crush, enslave, confound, and kill us.

Henry James? He just bores us.

Why do we let them do this?

Do mystery or fantasy genres make us any happier?

No. They torture and murder us, too.

It’s all quite grim.

Modern literature. A maw. Of insanity and torture.

Look at any list of the “The 100 Best Novels.”

Check the list. Where are the great comic novels?

Where is the literature which lifts us above this dreary life?

Where is the genius of insight and humor?

Garrison Keillor recently got into some hot water, because Keillor wrote in the Washington Post that humorless, bleak, Kazuo Ishiguro should not have received the Nobel Prize for Literature—it’s because we let the grim Swedes pick the prize, Keillor half-jokingly opined.

Keillor must be shocked at how much genuine hate and scorn he received for his recent essay—for simply voicing his opinion, in a witty manner.

This is what we’ve come to.

Where have you gone, Oscar Wilde?

Or, Dorothy Parker?

Does every book, esteemed, or popular, need to feature hacked limbs?  Or clouds of confusion and depression?

Does every book need to be about how we’re trapped, and there’s no way out?

It only gets worse when we turn to modern poetry.

Expecting a rhyme to make us happy?  Guess, again.

You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.

This is from America’s currently most critically esteemed, contemporary poet.

And the prison walls of the harried soul close in.

So we go back to novels.  At least there, we have an arc, a story, and not just snippets of doom—as we are brutally killed and demoralized.

What a joy, then, to read the shrewd, brilliant, philosophical, poems of Daipayan Nair.

Nair says his “real muse” is “my own ‘distorted’ mind,” and though he belongs to the Neruda/Whitman school of poetry, this, we think, is the proper way to approach writing: don’t be afraid of your own distorted mind.

His childhood in northeast India had “fairy tale lullabies,” but “school and growing up” put him “survivor” mode, and then, finished with school, according to Nair:

The birth of poetry in me was more like a ‘rebellion,’ though I started with penning lyrical, romantic verses. One can say

Falling in love is
Like following a trend

Understanding love
Is kissing a rebellion

The excellence of the epigram is nowhere better exhibited today than in the writings of Daipayan Nair:

She doesn’t
Speak much

It gives me
One pair of lips
Two eyes
And an entire face
To talk to

~

How I will die
depends on the life
After my death

~

Time is a spoiled child.

~

The maker of a house carries its hardness.

~

Poetry is a poet trying to fathom his poet.

~

Let’s be silent
With each other tonight,
As our words
Have found better routes.
They take to the air,
Fly at luxurious speeds,
Landing exactly where they
Want to.

When I hear a voice
I only walk towards
The terminal.

~

Beauty, as helpless
As its beautiful posture
Reflected on a ten story window,
The walls of which
Are on fire.

~

Let’s die together.
What use is your cover
When it has
Nothing to cover

Everything
Sucked in my grave.

~

The future of a soul
As formless
As its disintegrating
Present.

~

It is not that Daipayan Nair’s writing refuses to deal with death and mayhem.

It does.

We are not here to praise the sunny colors of poetry which can be described as overly optimistic.

Some accuse Billy Collins of this, but there is an edge, an irony, beneath the surface, in Billy Collins—but this is a debate for another place and time.

The point is this.

Daipayan Nair does not belong to the sunny optimism school.

You have darkness.

And either the author is part of that darkness.

Or carries a light.

Some readers want mayhem, (or political indignation only) and need to see characters crushed by real cement and bricks. Killed by real despair.

With Daipayan Nair, the wit is what buries us.

It is the philosophy, not the sad life, which makes the writing important.

And which deserves a closer look.

Let us see again, that list of great writers.

Daipayan Nair deserves to be on it.

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THE PHILOSOPHY OF PUNCTUATION

 

The beginning of punctuation is the beginning of speech.

BEER ON TAP

requires no punctuation; nor does this:

BAR

And what of a sign from God?

THOU SHALT NOT KILL

Signs have authority, but no human speech.  Speech begins with:

BAR!

Or:

THOU SHALT NOT KILL?

As soon we add a little punctuation, we have speech.

When I asked my freshmen English Composition students to define a comma, they said, “a pause…a stop,” but I said, “no, no, no!  Commas are not traffic cops; commas flow; punctuation is not about stopping any more than dancing is about stopping!”

We might think of a comma as an aside. 

We could think of punctuation in terms of Shakespearean drama.  Commas set aside what is ostensibly less important:  “Here comes Mrs. Fiddlefaddle, and she’s wearing that silly flowered hat!”  The part of the sentence after the comma—and she’s wearing that silly flowered hat—is whispered directly to the audience. 

Edgar Poe said a “treatise” was desperately needed on the topic of punctuation, and he wrote: “If not anticipated, I shall, hereafter, make an attempt at a magazine paper on ‘The Philosophy of Point.'”  

“That punctuation is important all agree; but how few comprehend the extent of its importance!  The writer who neglects punctuation, or mis-punctuates, is liable to be misunderstood—this, according to the popular idea, is the sum of the evils arising from heedlessness or ignorance.  It does not seem to be known that, even where the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force—its spirit—its point—by improper punctuation.  For the want of merely a comma, it often occurs than an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid.”  —E. Poe,  from “Marginalia”

A book I must get my hands on is A Dash of Style: The Art and Mystery of Punctuation by Noah Luckeman, W.W. Norton, 2007.  I saw it advertised on-line today, as I was searching for Poe’s mini-treatise on the dash.

The gloss on the book says, “Why did Poe and Melville rely on the semicolon?  Why did Hemingway embrace the period?” 

I can’t wait to read what Mr. Lukeman says, but I already have a theory on Hemingway: Papa was a combination of God and bar sign.  Hemingway’s writing is often characterized as plain, and his writing’s lack of commas and semicolons is probably what makes it seem plain, more than anything else. 

As for the semicolon, it’s a wonderful tool, especially in the hands of someone who knows how to use it;  adept use of the semicolon can take my breath away!

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