Monday, August 8, 2016

Amitav Ghosh explains to a reporter in India why 'genre fiction' is INFERIOR to his own 'serious literary fiction'.

Public intellectual and author of THE GREAT DERANGEMENT Dr Amitav Ghosh explains why 'genre fiction' is INFERIOR to his own 'serious literary fiction'. In his own words. Will he take them back when he arrives in the USA for his book tour?

Crisis beyond one’s thinking
Published Aug 7, 2016,
Updated Aug 7, 2016,
Amitav Ghosh on fiction’s alleged ''inability'' to navigate the subject of climate change, the larger purpose of art, and more
Amitav Ghosh
 Amitav Ghosh
“It is not that I want fiction to play out an agenda of any sort,” Ghosh clarifies and adds, “I see fiction as a symptom of something larger. It is unable to cope with climate change in the same way as ordinary people are not able to think about it. But the issues are much more profound even than that.”
Ask him why he chose non-fiction to articulate his take on the matter and he says, “I suppose I was sort of clearing the ground by thinking about how to approach it. I certainly will, at some point. In this book, I was just thinking about the ways in which people have avoided it, including myself. ''
''The idea was really to pose a series of questions — why is it that we are not able to see what is so obviously happening around us? Why is it that we don’t pay attention? These are the questions that interest me, and they are very important questions. For writers, another question lies at the heart of them all — how do you make a compelling story out of something that perhaps has no happy ending?”''
There are a few other questions the book throws up too — the question of the larger purpose of art, for instance, or the subjectivity of historical narratives. Were these also questions he intended to ask or have they found their way into the book on account of their presence in his consciousness as a writer? “Those concerns do exist in my mind, yes. I should say though, that I’m not one of those people who think that art exists to serve a purpose of some kind, nor do I have any prescriptions for the arts as such. It is just the case that art has not responded to climate change, even as it has been responding to issues like war, gender, social justice, identity issues and so on,” he says.
Given that he has spoken much about fiction’s inability to articulate climate change, has he ever considered whether fiction might have certain devices — old and new alike — that it might renew or reinvent for the purpose? Marquez’s Magic Realism that brought together the ordinary and the extraordinary in narrative, or maybe even the Sublime that saw Romantic poets looking at nature’s terrifying facet? “Certainly, the Sublime was one way in which writers did address questions of the natural but it died in the late 19th century and has never had another revival. In a sense that in itself is quite interesting — as humanity began to see itself as more and more triumphant over nature, nature really failed to have the awe it once did and the Sublime became meaningless. Magic Realism is interesting too — it should be able to open up this space but the problem is that there’s nothing magical about what is happening. This is real life. What’s interesting is that Realism isn’t able to cope with it,” he says.
The three sections of the book draw upon vastly varied sources for the argument they make — from literary theory to historical writings, and even political treatise. While putting them all together, did Ghosh have a reader in mind? Does he, in fact, ever have a reader in mind while writing? He pauses for a moment and muses, “No. That stopped a long, long time ago. Writers in my circumstance are in a peculiar position — our books are read in places where we can’t even imagine what our readers are like. I do have certain rules though — I try not to use any technical words if they can be avoided. I think almost everything can be said simply. If you’re not doing it in plain language, you’re probably looking to mystify or exclude.”
He added, “I think this whole reader reception theory that has come into being, with some writers trying to pander to an audience, is based on an absolute fallacy. Readers don’t go to writers thinking, ah well this is someone who will tell me what to read. Writers create their own readership. There are certain genres in fiction that are largely reader-driven, catering to readers’ taste. And that is the difference between genre fiction and what I like to think of as mainstream or serious fiction — the writer in the latter explores issues that are essentially of interest to him/her and readers follow him/her there. I am not just saying this theoretically, I have experienced it myself too. My book, ''The Glass Palace'', is about Indian migrants in Burma and when I was writing it, I would often think — who the hell is going to read this? Who even cares about Indian migrants in Burma? I mean, has anyone ever cared? And there you are. The book found a lot of readers and it’s not because they knew what they wanted, but because they discovered what they wanted.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A source in India tells this blog, and he has read the book in India this summer....''In #TheGreatDerangement, Amitav Ghosh deftly traces the historical development of novels & 'sci-fi' & places 'cli-fi' within those contexts''