Saturday, January 19, 2008

Even in these circumstances

A quote from Shantaram:
The chain restricted my stride to tiny steps. Walking at any faster pace required a shuffling, hip-swinging gait. There were two other men in my room with leg-irons, and by studying their movements I gradually learned the technique. Within a few days, I walked that rolling, shambling dance as unselfconsciously as they did. In fact, by studying them and imitating them, I gradually discovered something more than necessity in their shuffling dance. They were trying to give some grace to their movements, put something beautiful in the sliding, weaving steps, to soften the indignity of the chain. Even in that, I discovered, human beings will find an art.

An existence proof of Dissanayake's idea of art as making special, even at the bottom of society in a Mumbai prison. It's something necessary that we do, not a luxury or frill on the surface of life. Here are some notes from a reading of her books, and some related thoughts.


I'm halfway through this book, pointed out by my sister on a late night visit to the Union Square Barnes & Noble. It's like the book I got halfway through writing about my 1986 bicycle trip in India, but far more intense and far-reaching. The things I feared and hoped might occur on my trip, happened to the autobiographical main character, Lin, in ways beyond my imagination. But I did have experiences akin, in small and short ways, to what Roberts writes about. Sometimes books like this, artworks like this, are impediments to trying anything myself. I still have a cassette of a demo tape made by a band called Life Unit in Ann Arbor in 1981, that whenever I listen to it, still makes me feel like I could never achieve music with that depth and intensity, so why bother. But there is something inviting about Roberts' writing. He certainly doesn't try to cow you with his intelligence. It seems more honest than that, despite the horrifying things he depicts. Maybe, at some point in the future, I'll rescue my abandoned book from whatever forgotten drawer or box it molders in, and try again.