Do we aim to run away or run deeper in to our social life when as we go on and off social media websites and applications in today’s world?
This article by a a poet looks at two different generations- one of Euripides, the Greek Dramatist and Woody Allen, American Filmmaker and writer. These two artists represent two distinct generations which possesses a wide gap as far as the evolution of technology is concerned. But what is striking, is how human behavior and his understanding of the society has more or less been static with variations in the context.
Author Arundhati Subramaniam, a poet, beautifully points out her nuanced observations as she tries to do away from the contemporary world in an ashram to recognize that humans will always be faced with the dichotomy of running away or running towards the society only as a way to reproach their lives. But either ways, it is to reproach life with a variety of perspectives.
Read on more as she jots down few instances from the lives of Euripides, Allen and concludes the above through the anatomy of Poems.
Solitude today is a far more fraught condition than it ever was in ancient Greece
Euripides, the Greek dramatist, withdrew into a cave every year to write his tragedies. He resurfaced in time for the Athenian drama festival, presumably schmoozed with his patrons, drank with the actors, complained about his rivals, and soiled his hands insamsara. But he needed that mix of tox and detox, retreat and engagement. We wouldn’t have had the immortal “Medea” and “Hippolytus” without that cave in Salamis.Filmmaker and writer Woody Allen, on the other hand, apparently breaks out in hives if he’s ever in seclusion. He needs the static, the neurosis, the smog of New York, to keep his creative juices flowing.These sum up for me two fundamental approaches to the business of art and life. Put a Euripidean-type into an Allenesque situation, or the other way round, and you have a recipe for disaster. The two have legendarily had little sympathy for each other. The E-type can’t understand the A-type’s compulsion to be a 24*7 social animal. The A-type considers the E-wallahs misanthropic. Given that the world seems currently ruled by the Allenesque-types, I think it’s time to speak up on behalf of Euripideans, a devalued tribe in the modern world.
The Allenesque world
First, let’s admit that solitude today is a far more fraught condition than it ever was in ancient Greece. You could bolt your doors and windows, but all it takes is a morsel of technology to shatter the divide between home and world, inside and outside. None of us wants an impregnable divide, of course. Most of us want a drawbridge. I suspect Euripides would have allowed himself a few text messages during his hibernation, if the option were available. The crackle of human interaction is comforting. But when crackles become dins, it’s another matter. And with computers having invaded bedrooms, who hasn’t at some point felt more dinned against than dinning? So here are some basic questions that gnaw at Euripides’ descendants today: how do you sound when you’re not in reactive mode? What do you think about when you’re not ranting with or against Arnab Goswami — or Aeschylus or some equivalent trigger? How do you know who you are when you’re not catering to the world’s insatiable demand for definition? Who are you when you’re alone? Where would that daydream have led if you weren’t interrupted by the bell — the school gong, the telephone call or the death knell? Or will you never know?
When I decided to spend part of my time in an ashram some years ago, I encountered an entire gamut of Allenesque responses, from incomprehension to mistrust. There were those who smiled kindly and said “really, very nice,” and actually meant “loser.” There were others who said they wished they could retire as well, but had families, jobs, EMIs and timeshare vacations to think about. Many frankly asked what I was escaping from. Those with a more Vedic take on the world proclaimed that this was far too premature a vanaprasthashrama. Still others said something about poets needing their peace, leaving me feeling like a neo-Romantic fossil. It took me time to realise that most people saw the Euripidean cave as a place of withdrawal rather than exploration, of isolation rather than solitude. They saw it as a denial of the world rather than a deeper engagement with it. It was in some way a reproach to their lives. But what is engagement anyway?
Living in the electronic age, as the Czech novelist Milan Kundera pointed out, often means knowing more about bombings at the other end of the world than about the burglary down the road. Imagology, he called it. In this increasingly virtual world, how real are the lives we’re leading? And what makes up the consensually accepted real world? The Sensex, the cricket scores, the children’s grades and the News at Nine? A pretty manicured reality most of the time, and probably not so different from the self-important bonsai world of 5th century Athens from which Euripides sought periodic reprieve. Far from being a refuge or comfort zone, the Euripidean cave represents, in fact, the choice to be a deep-sea diver rather than a paddler in the shallows. It can be a refuge from grocery shopping and doorbells. But it isn’t a refuge from the self — the deep dark messy capacious self. And that’s the whole point. Which is why an ashram is emphatically not home. There’s no room for walls, curtains, security blankets here. This is a place for recharge, but not for rearmament. It’s where you dismantle your bulletproof vest and confront your own reptilian hide — and then find there’s more to go. But caves aren’t about grit-toothed penance either. They’re also about pleasure. And that’s because solitude allows you the chance to lose yourself in the self-unmaking dynamic of immersion. Who hasn’t known it — even in moments in daily life? It could be on a walk, listening to the wind in the trees. It could be when writing a journal, cooking a meal, watching a moonrise, even singing a song in the bathroom.
The bathroom is, in fact, the closest samsaric equivalent of the Euripidean cave — a place from which one can sing a direct ode to the stars. It allows for full-throated self-expression without wanting to cut a record deal — the ideal locus for the practice of nishkama karma! Oddly enough, a Woody Allen film, “To Rome with Love,” uses that precise image to hilarious effect. A self-effacing Italian father-in-law turns into a stupendous operatic tenor in the bathroom; under the spotlight, however, he’s stricken with stage fright! Allen plays a crafty New York opera director who transports the shower cabinet, soapsuds and all, onto the stage, and the matter is happily resolved. The audience is dazzled, and the father-in-law warbles away in his stage cabinet, blissfully lost to the world. Clearly, Allen — champion of samsara unplugged — understands the Euripidean cave in his own way!
Which only proves that the two approaches aren’t as oppositional as they might seem. Somewhere along the way, though, we seem to have become votaries of hundred-watt illumination. At poetry workshops, the plaintive question still surfaces, “But why can’t I understand it? Why must poetry be so difficult?” It takes me a long time — and I am often unsuccessful — to convince the gloomy questioners that they understand, in fact, more than they know.And yet, the question gives me pause. It reminds me of the extent to which we’ve banished the role of wonder from our lives. When did it happen, this aversion to darker places? When did we forget the necessity — or more vitally, the pleasure — of mystery? When did we start believing a decoded universe would make us happier? Poetry, in fact, stops being “difficult” the moment we reclaim the value of mystery in our lives. If only we had been empowered by our childhood ability to respond to both words and pauses, we would have realised a long time ago that there is meaning in words, but there is also meaning in its gaps, its holes. Those holes are, in fact, the source of a poem’s feral energy.Solitude isn’t always productive in measurable terms. But it can also lead to surprise. And those spaces can give us some of our most prized creative moments — wild perhaps, even dangerous, but enchanted, darkly luminous and terrifyingly innocent. At such times, whether a poem is difficult or simple becomes utterly irrelevant. When the panther is on the page, no one can miss it. And no one can ask for more.
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. This was published as an Opinion piece in The Hindu.