Monthly Archives: July 2008

Viscosity

So, a good friend of mine is working on a very exciting sounding art installation which explores the physical, literal viscosity of sociological concepts (that is, if they were liquid). I think its a fascinating idea for a visual piece, and am really, really interested to see how it will turn out. If any people associated with galleries here in Bristol are reading this, please contact me soon to discuss putting on a live arts show based around this installation.

Anyway, I thought I’d write a poem in tribute to the idea itself, seeing as I haven’t seen the piece yet. I quite like the idea of paying tribute to an idea – for that is the direction art has to head towards (but most probably never quite reach, for that would be potentially disastrous within the frustrations of the postmodern paradigm!), that is, the worship of the idea; the seed; not the physical, tangible growth.

A Study In Viscosity – First Viewing, 15:05

See, a full glass vial

Atop a wooden stool, balanced flat-bottomed

Too close to an edge.

Muddled with clockwork, a pendulum swings

Tiny and brazen amidst liver and nails.

 

The liquid is moving, is pushed in

A parliament of pipework, capillery fed.

One-way valves create traffic,

And teeth will grow.

We shall call it public.

 

Light is refracted within

Needle-fine tunnels, the stickiness sweats

(And always has done).

Pulsing like molasses, a sapping hourlapse

It slips down the side with a visible skin.

Let us call this thickness time.

 

And water, always with density constant

Comes with too much ease.

Watch the canvas below drip quicksilver

And give you flashes of the greener wood,

Flashes of what wants, and isn’t.

Let us call this culture.

 

See a glass vial, and see too much more

Balanced on a stool in a brightly lit room.


Sighting God In London – Scenario 1

When I was losing my mind about a year and a half ago, I started writing about small, mundane religious experiences happening in London. I like the thought that every minute of every day things are happening that would have once been considered miraculous, not even too long ago. Plastic forks. Plastic forks! Eighty years ago, the idea of plastic forks would have seemed amazing, absurd, utopian. Now, we fill our bins with them. Anyway, I had an idea for a collection of stories which involved people finding themselves in symbolically significant situations in London’s unseen temples; Westminster Tube Station, The Savage Garden, Deptford Bridge, The Serpentine.  Each one would record a singular event, which was both much more, and far less than the sum of its parts. I wanted to play on the tragically accurate stereotype of the ‘London Face’, impassive, uninterested, aloof. I wanted to have God as a commuter, a plastic bag, the reflection of your face in the tube window as you go through yet another tunnel. This piece is unfinished.

 

As the heaving train pulls into Westminster station, I can feel the subtle, ordinary paranoia that comes with these journeys, a free token given to those who have been in the city already too long. Perhaps the only time in their day when they are literally surrounded on all sides by figures of myriad cultures, each with stories that could fascinate and inspire; and yet the English disease pervades, and pulls us all back from even making eye contact for more than half a painful, embarrassing second. Wave after wave. And so I stand, too tired, and filled with that peculiar sense of hopelessness you only get when you’re on the tube, lookong for a seat. People rise, and I move collectively out into the platform.

Each time I travel through the stations I feel the same; as if I am in an inverted cathedral, spire caught in rock and loam, the faithful subway drones passing silently around its zenith as if they know they are in a holy place, heads lowered and hooded, a parikram cloister pounded deep beneath the London soil and tarmac.
This day was not unlike any other time I have passed through; the journey begins with saying goodbye to somebody, often saddening, on this night a great relief.
We start our pilgrimage downriver, at Victoria. If stations do carry a subliminal air about them, then for me, the most depressing example could be this one. A port of farewells for almost six years now, I have grown to despise the place. You rise, choking, from one of the filthiest areas imaginable, (you can watch the rats watching you, praying to the golden arches on the district and circle lines) through a stretch of cheap linoleum so crammed with tourist it’s like a filtering process, a system of londoncentric osmosis which forces you out into an enormous blank space. Here, people stand and wait. They are empty pixels.Drinking bad coffee with the smells of fast food and soap filling their blackened nostrils, they wait and wait until they have to rush. And all I ever had to rush for there was to say goodbye to a lover, or a friend, or an acquaintance. Goodbye, I love you! And then I too must stand and wait, becoming one of those whom moments ago I was cursing, as my light dims and my vacancy emerges, turns itself over. I wait, standing, drinking bad coffee and choking in the odours of goodbye.
But only two stops away on the carriage of mundane fear, of typical paranoia, is the grey and silver abbey, the machine that I have to walk through. The punishment has past, and had to pass in order for me to witness a glimpse of what the machine would see as divine.

We haved moved on, though. To Westminster station, the cathedral. This place is beautiful… It has a certain sterility, a chrome and black vinyl taste which compliments its vast depths, flanked by grey stone walls, which stretch down, and down to a non-slip metal jigsaw of platforms. High notes of satin, of glimpsed thigh, and low notes of delicious, salty tar on the front of the palette. Escalators fight for room, and cross each other over five flights, filled with their production line of commuters and tourists, here to see the houses of parliament and the abbey, unwittingly passing through a holy relic of modern technology and engineering. The station revolves like a prayer wheel, endlessly streaming its components through its system. Those who exit; blinking into the sodium London light, are replaced by another at its very pit who must begin the pilgrimage of the modern laziness, climbing dozens of feet on legs that do not move.

I move onto the first escalator, taking me away from the uncharming shabbiness of the green and yellow stripes, and into the sanctum chromium. One by one we stand in single file, always bound by localised etiquette and urban mythology to keep to the right, while the godless push past and walk down the moving staircase, gripped with the fear of having to wait longer. At the base of the escalator, the congregation divides.

Someone has seen it. Someone has seen.

A woman stands at the entrance to one of the tributaries, arms outstretched, alone, aghast. Her gaze is fixed to the dead space at the central nave, her eyes rise alongside the gradient of an invisible escalator. Forty feet above, I watch this. I watch this unknown pilgrim, this woman stare at something I cannot see. I am aware that people who were looking at me are now observing her too; confused, curious. A gap in the heaving mass begins to form around her, people avoid the space she occupies without even realising they are doing it. Within seconds, a perfect circle of lonely grey metal washes her feet and pushes itself outwards as if a wall is built, a brick each heavy second, and all the time her gaze still centres on an unmoving point of air.
She has gone. Turned, lifted, and thrust back into the fabric – the sphere closed and swallowed her, or the skin-heavy underground wind pulled her into the glass-clad orifice, adorned as it is with veins of yellow and green. I approach the sanctum at the base of the moving staircase, I have descended with a hydraulic hiss, and I watch amazed as a pattern blossoms. Each questioner who walks ahead of me stops for a second, or less, or more. They turn, and look upwards to a slice of empty inner-sky, they search a space for the shortest time before lowering their attention and moving on. Some seem satisfied, even subtley ecstatic with what the vision offers them, some are not, and never would be.
I step into the circle, the mundane, hallowed space, and turn to face the gap. I am there for the briefest of moments, golden, an avatar. I feel the heat of faith on the back of my neck, contracting my muscles and lifting my chin. My line of sight matches the assigned angle for the shortest time, my arms begin to lift involuntarily from my sides. My attention is snatched by a new congregation, fresh from the Eastbound rumbling, lining up dutifully atop an escalator. It is they now, who are watching intently, confused, curious at the allegory held in my pose.
I turn on my heel, a smile creeps into my face as I lower my stance in ordinary penance, feeling the shadow of millions of eyes, of two thousand years past and many thousand more to come, falling gently on my chest.


Too Many Stairs, Too Much Hair, Paisley’d Skin And Victorian Fayres.

Twelve Dreams…Scene One, Take One!
Walking in the beating sunlight, heaviest of early heats. A limestone surface faces me, a scar in the landscape into which lacerations have been forced. A staircase has been forged from the shells, a ladder for the smooth-skinned brother of Esau; virile and goat-lined still.
My face has been raped of youth with greasepaint: crows feet and forgotten magpie greed stain my eyes. Hair is falling across my ashen cheeks, thick Nordic braids hang heaving and wet on my neck.
Fourteen paces up the ladder, and I feel ancient. I feel biblical. I feel Vedantically old and yet I am thinking of the past that stretches only until yesterday… I am thinking of certain words spoken at a sister gorge, fingers entwined, years forgotten. I am thinking of what another must have been thinking. Must have been thinking. I am thinking of those thoughts being swept aside, young flocks of memories forced outside the sheep-fold, spat out and disgusted at their unwelcome presence in your mind, while I move in elevating circles, a crook around my neck dragging me down.
Thirty paces high, and I am struggling. My knees are straining with the weight of sweat-soaked velvet, of hair kept here and lost there, of lips, of beads. I am still ascending as a lens stays at my side. I am told to mumble, to sigh, and I did not realise I wasn’t. The sun is too bright to see anything, and so I see a room. I see three rooms, in three cities. I see four rooms, in four capital cities. I see a bed, I see a peacock feather. I see a tube of liquid, and I see a column stuffed with spiral stairs, with an angel straddling it.
I still have a long way to climb, I cannot even see the top.
I still have a long way to climb, I cannot see anything else.


Religious Manifesto (relating to previous post’s ideas for novel)

In regards to my previous entry, I have been trying for a while to write a spiritual text for an future, secular society. A sort of manifesto or treatise of a New Religious Movement (named ‘Spiricalism’ for now), which eventually will summarise the pre-birth hallucinations experienced by the characters in the text. Here are some ideas.

What Must Be Known

All men and women are born equal, and all come into this world free of prejudice and money and corruption. We are NOT born with sin, we are born pure, and innocent. We are born blessed, or infected, with visions; visions none of us can describe and yet all of us know. We are united by abstraction, we are kept apart by the incompatibility of language.
Innocence and equality are our birthright; anyone who preaches guilt and sin as things we come into this world with are heretical and seek to control your minds by placing you in a sense of debt to the infinite. We have free will, yet our society and it’s agents will attempt to take this from us, and sell it back at a profit.
Our goal in life is to cause no suffering, to cast no prejudices and revel in no anguish. To separate ourselves from the agents and systems of death and suffering – be they slaughterhouses or patriotic fools. Our goal in life is to find the meanings of the textures that flash behind our eyelids in moments of panic or despair, the pictures we see when our hearts are full.
Spiricalism proposes the death of patriotism, the death of laying claim to land which is not and never was ‘ours’ – how can man ‘own’ the earth, or even the smallest piece of it?
Without co-operation and respect, without love and sharing, without freedom and tolerance, there shall be no enlightenment. Without attempting to understand the things we see, the things we feel, and the connection between each other’s interpretations, there shall be no release.

The Only Sins Within The Religion Of Spiricalism

Ignorance.
Not simply being unaware of truths, as this is not necessarily ignorance. There are an infinite number of truths we may never come across in our lifetime, as we may never be in the right places, or meet the right people, or we may simply be unready to be presented with these truths. No, the sin is avoidance of what we know we must understand, a purposeful shunning of that which is necessary, no matter how unpleasant, distasteful or culturally uncomfortable that may be. Enlightenment cannot exist through ignorance and avoidance of the unfamiliar.

Avoidance Of Equality.
Equality is everything. In this lifetime, in this age of man we simply must put an end to the fetishisation of materialism and capital, the worship of the money god and the rifts it creates between us and our fellow man. We have created this cage, this abstract, numerical boundary which has grown to govern our entire lives, and for some brings shallow happiness and allows them to wax fat on the undertrodden, and for the rest brings nothing but misery, glass ceilings, and a driving force to escape an inadequacy which simply does not really exist.
Equality means a recognition of common humanity; that which every living person on this earth is capable. We all breathe the same air, and require the same basic amenities to exist. The fact that we have created this cage, this money-coloured abyss, has distanced us from realising that we are all born helpless, and exactly the same on every other level.

Self Denial.
This sin involves the denial of what we feel, what we instinctively know. The pitfalls of contemporary culture have encouraged us to deny the inner existence, to see the subconscious as merely a tool or a freudian broom closet, not something to be challenged and explored. We are encouraged to accept that we are tools of our own device, that we are in one way in control of our destiny, and yet our destinies are predetermined by society and the money god, depending on when and where we begin our lives. We are then fed back our ‘spirituality’ in modern, safe and sterile doses; and at a cost.

Spiricalism proposes that the circles of life and death and rebirth, the karmic laws, may exist beyond our physical existence, but of that we cannot truly be sure. What we can be sure of, and see in evidence around us, is that our karmic rebirth and retribution also occurrs in this physical lifetime, but through those around us. Despite cultural differences; one person is capable of feeling and giving pain – we pass on pain in the same form we are given it, just as we pass on bliss and wisdom and all of the feelings we experience. By passing on these feelings, we are giving something abstract birth and rebirth, and it is only through understanding our limitless connections and oneness of all mankind that this truly becomes apparant. Spiricalism does not suggest that we feel over-remorseful of the pain we pass on, as our pain is the same as all makind’s pain, just in different dilutions depending on when and where and what our manner and understanding of life is. Again, the greatest sin is ignorance; avoiding realisation of what this process is will bring more pain to you, the closer you get to death, and the further you get from enlightenment. The more we realise that all existence is inextricably linked together on a global scale, the more we share with our fellow man, and the more we can eradicate the negative feelings and sufferings we will experience throughout our lifetimes. All suffering is sourced from the same places all humanity experiences suffering, and has done since the beginning of consciousness; Death, Loss, Misunderstanding, Envy, Anger…etc. No sin is original, no blame is without reflection, and no suffering stands alone. With these negative energies answerable, we can begin to step back from causing them and gain a higher understanding of our purpose to fulfill, and finally unravel the mystery of what lies behind our consciousness, what the sightless colour and intangible texture means.


As Good As A Mile….

“Your eyes, Sister, Brother

And your mind are but another

Weapon of imperfection

With which to damage one another”

 

These words were written by Matthew Webber as part of a poetry experiment he was doing last year, where we would take technical drawings of different machines and replace the labels signifying each component with lines of verse. It was a good idea that worked well rhythmically and aesthetically, and made up a decent portion of the magazine we were writing; the now legendary ‘Spiricalism’ magazine that nearly littered the floors of New Cross and Deptford.  Matthew is still one of the only people I know who can rhyme tastefully; he is an annoyingly good poet and a frighteningly well read, thoughtful individual. I very much hope we can collaborate again soon, as I have a hopeful suspicion that he will consider moving to Bristol, or that at the very least we will be within shouting distance of each other again soon. I’ve been nagging him to relocate to this cultural hot-pot (it really is, if you know where to look) for ages now; in fact, ever since he began painting and moving his work in a particular direction. It’s a sad fact (well, less fact, more paradigm) that he will not be able to launch any sort of serious artistic career in London, and its a difficult thing to discuss, that his work won’t be looked at twice in the smoke, well, not as a painter or conceptual artist – it is a near impossible feat unless you have gone through the Royal Academy, or the Chelsea College of Art. I have known many try and fail. However, I believe he could do it in Bristol. His work has a great balance of abstract expressionism and cynical, messy realism that I feel has a market in both the public and private sector in a small city such as ours. Given the right space or gallery in which to display his work, he could very much succeed on the local scene. Put together enough of a spectacle, and he could become a very serious, highly lauded artist indeed. Anyway, we shall see.

It was when Matt and I were in an insect infested hotel room in India last year (really high off some honest-to-goodness black Kashmir hashish to distract ourselves from the fact that we were completely unable to sleep, as every twenty seconds something heavy and wing’d would land on us and start hissing…seriously. It was horrendous), we had this fantastic idea for a novel we would write together, and filled half a notebook with notes, sketches and character studies. The idea stemmed from a piece of paper which I found in my wallet with a man’s name on it – something bizarre, I think it was Noah Teresan but I may be wrong. To this day I have no idea who he was, why he had written his name on a torn scrap of menu from The Retreat, and why it ended up in my wallet. From this name, an impressive and extensive story arc descended upon us: part Steppenwolf, part Brave New World, part fairy tale (I apologise if that sounds presumptious, I’m not claiming it was anywhere near as good or accomplished as Huxley or Hesse, just thematically similar). The main concept of the piece was that a global society had developed in the future that held the medical practice of prescribing pregnant women, a few weeks before giving birth, would be given an injection to ease the pain of labour and produce healthier offspring. However, this drug had a strange effect on the feotus; it would give put them in a state of ecstasy and provide vivid hallucinations (these hallucinations would, of course, be unique in the sense that they are not based on memory, sight, or any tangible experience, for how can a feotus access such things?). As the children grow up, they would occasionally experience something akin to a ‘flashback’, which they would read as some sort of religious experience, in a very private sense (I don’t believe I mentioned that secularism had become all-pervading, religion was well and truly dead) and a movement arises to try and find some way of expressing these experiences, to talk about and address their existence. I think we discussed the possibility of having one character whose mother did not receive the injection, and this man (or woman) could either have their faith strengthened or destroyed by this. Goodness knows how it would end, but as I’m writing this now I am starting to get ideas.

Must call Matthew. Must discuss this further. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d be very glad to hear them.


An essay on Peter Brook’s adaptation of ‘The Mahabharata’.

I recently watched the screen adaptation of The Mahabharata  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097810/, and was deeply impressed by it. As many of you may well know, I have been studying Vedic literature for many years now, and put off watching this film as I thought it was an impossible task to undertake. Impossible, it still certainly is. Brook only displays the bare bones of the primary storyline; maybe 5% of this vast text is addressed in the film (despite the film being over 6 hours long), but it is done with such grace, such style and such humbleness that I had to applaud it. I thought it would make a good subject for an essay. I apologise that it goes on a bit. Further reading and bibliography can be found at the bottom.

Cinema has since its earliest days been looking to religious texts and scripture for stories and inspiration. Adaptation of these stories is certainly nothing new; passion plays, dramas, paintings and many other forms of artistic interpretation of religion have existed and developed with human society for centuries. Religious texts have been the foundation of civilization, with personal and regional versions and adaptations playing a key part in the progression of understanding of their meaning since the very beginning. From Harry T. Morey’s 1912 film, ‘Adam and Eve’, to Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (2004), religion has provided a consistently interesting and often controversial subject matter for directors to work with.

Perhaps the most important decision which filmmakers must make when approaching the idea of ‘filming religion’ is whether to create a sense of hyper-reality and absolute faithfulness to the original (as we can see in ‘The Passion of the Christ’, arguably the most graphically violent and gory film ever made on account of its director being a devout Catholic, with his own specific agenda in depicting the last days of Christ to the modern world), or to create a film which carries the tone of the text, encouraging a polysemic reaction. This decision is most likely to be made depending on what the religious beliefs and stance of the auteur actually is, and where their agenda lies. Do they see their source material as an ancient work of artistic literature, or as divine instruction? Are they creating art, or on a crusade?

This essay will look at Peter Brook’s 1989 film ‘The Mahabharata’[1] (that he began as a theatrical piece in a Parisian theatre) to see how this particular text, an ancient Indian poem, was translated, cut and adapted for a western audience at the end of the twentieth century. I shall examine what limitations he faced, how he attempted to create a sense of relevance for his audience, and how the finished text was received.

 

The first known written versions of The Mahabharata (trans. ‘The Great History of Mankind’)[2] are dated at around the fifth or sixth century BC, and are composed of many versions of the ancient stories of early Indian history and mythology, with great variation depending on the place of origin, interpretation and utilisation by the people who spoke and wrote it. The Sadhus (holy men) of northern India claim the poem was first dictated around eight thousand years ago, in the Vedic ‘first age of man’[3], and that the events described in the epic are based entirely on historical events. Contemporary western scholars dispute the accuracy of the text as historical record, preferring to view the text as a collection of stories passed down through the rich oral tradition in Indian culture, in which can be found allegories and direct preaching of the political, social, moral and religious norms and values found in Indian culture, even to this very day.

The Mahabharata is undoubtedly the zenith of Sanskrit literature; the form it takes most commonly now found its definitive structure and plot in the third or fourth century AD, and in which we find the primary tale of the impending battle between the five virtuous Pandava brothers (with Krishna – ‘The Ultimate Personality of Godhead’[4] on their side) and the cunning, greedy Kaurava brothers, of which there are one hundred. Yet the characterization in the poem is consistently deep and complex, each member in the cast of thousands has their own story, loaded with symbolism; we find gods and demigods whose histories are inconceivably vast and abstract; each stanza (of which there are a staggering one hundred thousand, making it the longest poem in existence) seems to possess layers of subtext interwoven with subtlety and sophistication.

It would have been virtually impossible for a director to produce a concise and accurate dramatisation of The Mahabharata, an undeniable fact which resulted in Peter Brook splitting his condensed retelling (when the production was in its earliest incarnation as a theatrical piece) into three plays each lasting about three hours. The film is cut down somewhat further, running for five hours and twelve minutes, still in three separate episodes; ‘The Game of Dice’, ‘The Exile in The Forest’ and ‘The War’. It could be said that asking a contemporary western audience to devote their attention to five or more hours of unbroken film would be ultimately alienating and presumptious, that one must not ignore the limits of an audience’s dedication. This resulted in Brook deciding to concentrate on only the sixteen main characters, and to take the viewer through the key themes and events of the text using this reduced cast. Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere explains some of the sacrifices made and artistic license taken: “In order to adapt The Mahabharata, to transform an immense epic poem into a film, or three films, we had to create new scenes from our imaginations, and bring together characters who never meet in the poem itself”[5] The producers of the dramatisation of The Mahabharata decided that the essence of the poem was not in its density or detail, but in “…the shape and sense of the story”[6] for which an effort was made to display a deep respect for.

Perhaps the most famous and enduring section of the poem is the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ (trans. ‘Song of God’)[7], in which Krishna teaches his close friend Arjuna (considered by many to be the leading character and hero of the epic) the secrets of life and death. One of the world’s most widely recognised spiritual texts, the Bhagavad Gita makes up a relatively small but vital part of The Mahabharata and clearly could not be alongside other verses cut from the film. The popular translation by founder of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, covers over 600 pages, and yet Brook dedicates only six minutes to this piece in his film. However, the techniques he uses to put across the key message and themes of Bhagavad Gita are interesting and seemingly reverential. Switching between the narration we have heard intermittently throughout the film and soliloquy by Krishna (played by Bruce Myers), we are taken very quickly through the various stages of the Gita, from Krishna’s chastisement of Arjuna, to his teaching of birth and rebirth. Krishna momentarily becomes narrator, speaking of himself in the third person and addressing the audience directly by saying “He spoke for a long time…a very long time”[8] suggesting at the complexity and legnth of this section of the text without going into it, almost apologising for the constraints the medium of film has placed upon him.

In Prabhupada’s translation, the key moment in Bhagavad Gita comes in chapter two, verse twelve: “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.”[9] This is the moment when Krishna reveals to Arjuna what is referred to as his ‘Universal Form’; that is, an ever-shifting, multi-faceted being showing the infinite bodies, faces and incarnations of God. The description of this moment in the original text provides the reader with an almost inconceivable mental image, and it was perhaps very wise of Brook not to attempt to take a literal translation of this moment to the screen. Instead, the audience sees Krishna alone against a background of blue sky, standing in a holy pose and speaking whilst looking distantly into space. This acts to remind the audience that Krishna, who has a very human, almost fatigued portrayal throughout the film, is also a divine being. Carriere explains that the portrayal of Krishna for a contemporary western audience was a difficult one; “Our aim is a certain dramatic truth. This is why we have chosen to keep the two faces of Krishna that are in the original poem, and to emphasize their opposing and paradoxical nature.”[10]

Despite such efforts for respect, reverence and ‘dramatic truth’, Peter Brook’s ‘The Mahabharata’ was condemned as much as it was praised, criticised primarily for not ‘delivering what it promises’ and staying too confined in a westernised dramatic paradigm. “Brook’s Mahabharata appears as a typical work of Orientalist aethetics, and not as a representation of the unknown Orient…This is to be seen in the imposition of a Shakespearean aura (War of the Roses) and of tragic perception of fate, principally foreign to the Indian original”[11] Brook has repeatedly defended his decisions to put the epic poem into a form more familiar for audiences of Western theatre, claiming that he was only doing what the original storytellers did by adapting the subject matter to make it relevant and recognisable to the audience, in the same way orators in one Indian region would have a slightly different way of telling the story to those in a different region. He claims the text has “a life of it’s own”, that “The Mahabharata itself…opened an eye and said, ‘This is the moment when I want to known outside India, to be really known in the West.'”[12] However, even the historian David Williams, who has written extensively on glorifying Brook’s film cannot help but find certain fault’s with it’s execution: “Sadly, Brook seems unwilling to confront the dangers concomitant with applying a culturally non-specific, essentialist, humanist aesthetic to such material. He has don himself a great disservice by never satisfactorily accounting in public for his production’s relationship with Hindu culture in India.”[13]

Perhaps unsuprisingly, Brook’s adapatation was met with disappointment and indifference by much of it’s Hindu audience, with Indian scholar Pradip Bhattacharya claiming that Brook’s interpretation was not a portrayal of a titanic clash between the forces of good and evil, which is the stuff of the epic… [but] the story of the warring progeny of some rustic landlord” [14]However, devotees of Krishna in Britain and many followers of the Gaudiya Vaishnava faith value it highly as a contemporary retelling of the foundations of their faith, with viewings of particular sections of the film commonplace in temples around the UK and other parts of Europe.

Perhaps one of the reasons for its success in Britain and Europe amongst religious devotees and the general public alike is Brook’s celebrated use of a widely international cast. The main characters in the film are played by actors from countries as diverse as Switzerland, Senegal, Wales, Trinidad, Burkina Faso, Vietnam and India amongst many others. The intention of the director was to present the Mahabharata as a ‘universal’ story to a contemporary audience, taking full advantage of the translation of the title as ‘The Great History of Mankind‘ (not ‘Hindus‘ or ‘The Bharata Dynasty‘ as has been suggested by other scholars) and of Western Europe’s celebration of multiculturalism in such vibrant, cosmopolitan cities as London. This added dimension of impressive multiculturalism greatly enhances the humanistic aspects of the text. It somehow manages to positively stilt the dialogue somewhat, due to the wide range of accents heard, and by doing so add gravity and attention to what is actually being said. “The Mahabharata…showed the fuzziness and awkwardness of performers from different cultures, nationalities, and languages. Despite their differences (there was) a deep intergration of the whole.”[15]

Language, dialogue, and most importantly; translation, was vital for the success of an adaptation of the ancient epic into a piece of cinema for 20th century Europe. “It was impossible to tell (the Mahabharata) in modern, familiar or even slangy language. The polish of classical or neoclassical language was, of course, equally impossible. So (the screenwriters) settled on a simple, precise, restrained language which gave…the means to oppose or juxtapose words which ordinarily are never used together”[16]. Many Sanskrit words and verses from the original text are used without translation or explanation in the film. This is partly to remind the audience exactly when are where the film is set; ie. an ancient and long-dead, Indian language gives at least an ambience of time and place even if the audience are ignorant to the historical or geographical specifics; and partly because certain words in Sanskrit are untranslatable to English without sounding weak or insufficient. One particularly ‘slippery’[17] concept/word is “dharma” meaning something akin to duty or destiny, as well as what Prabhupada describes as “one’s eternal natural occupation”[18]. To not use this Sanskrit word in the film could have been seen as patronising to the viewer and not fitting with the tightness of the rest of the dialogue. Instead, Brook allows the context in which it is spoken explain its meaning, and provide some spoken anchorage to the piece.

Overall, Brook’s Mahabharata is a deeply humanistic retelling of the spiritual text, befitting an audience in a country as international and artistically open-minded as the UK or France. There is little sense of preaching, or even of the divine; Brook gives the ‘ultimate personality of Godhead’, Krishna himself, many flaws – reflecting the flaws of his creation plunged into battle. I feel as though the film created by Brook/Carriere is a successful adaptation for a contemporary audience, insofar as it presents the main story and characters with grace and respect, and offers an insightful, and thoroughly modern introduction to the vastness of this ancient poem, taking its content and meaning out of India and placing it all around us.


[1] Brook, Peter (dir.) The Mahabharata British Film Institute 1989

[2] Trans. and Ed. Van Buitenen, J.A.B. The Mahabharata University of Chicago Press 1984 p.17

[3] Prabhupada, His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami. Srimad Bhagavatam Canto I Bhaktivedanta Book Trust 1998 p.43

[4] Prabhupada, His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami. Bhagavad Gita As It Is Bhaktivedanta Book Trust 1982 p.3

[5] Jean-Claude Carriere quoted in Williams, David. Peter Brook and The Mahbharata: Critical Perspectives New York, Routledge, Chapman and Hall inc. 1991 p. 56

[6] Jean Claude Carriere quoted in the inlay leaflet for the BFI’s DVD of The Mahabharata (dir. Brook, Peter) 2005 edition

[7] His Holiness Narayana Maharaja. Facts For Life: Further Teachings on The Bhagavad Gita Bhaktivedanta Book Trust 2001

[8] The Mahabharata (dir. Peter Brook)

[9] Bhagavad Gita – As It Is p.47

[10] Peter Brook and The Mahbharata: Critical Perspectives p. 57

[11] Wirth, Andrzej. Interculturalism and Iconophilia in the New Theatre. Performing Arts Journal 1989

[12] Peter Brook quoted in inlay booklet for DVD of The Mahabharata

[13] Peter Brook and The Mahbharata: Critical Perspectives p.24

[14] Bhattacharya, Pradip. Negative Criticism http://www.boloji.com/cinema/028.htm 06/04/08

[15] Kitazawa, Masakuni. Myth, Performance and Politics The MIT press 1992 p.172

[16] Peter Brook and The Mahbharata: Critical Perspectives p.124

[17] Peter Brook and The Mahbharata: Critical Perspectives p.125

[18] Bhagavad Gita – As It Is  Glossary Definition


Idea for short story/first page

I had this idea a little while ago. I’ve wanted to write a story set some time in the future for a while now, and avoid any real sense of futurism. My vision of the future is perhaps annoyingly dull, banal and lacking any real revelation. I simply don’t think anything will really change. I think there were people working in the vineyards of tuscany while the Roman Empire rose and fell, and they simply never noticed. There are people somewhere in Bengal who still speak Sanskrit (a language that died over 2,500 years ago) simply because their small society never realised the rest of India stopped. I met a man once in Vrindavana who was hailed as the greatest living scholar of Vedic literature because his mother tongue was Sanskrit. He could read the entire Mahabharata and understand all the bits that have been warped or misinterpreted. His translator told me that he now knew there is a massive part of the Mahabharata that is intended as a pun, a sort of Chaucherian short story in the middle of it, and this could only be understood if you spoke Sanskrit in an everyday sense. Anyway, I digress. I want to write a short story about the future that bears a sorrowful similarity to today, because everyday is exactly the same. This is why we write, or make music, or drink, or commit crimes. We are functional rebels, pushing against a resistent societal membrane. This is what I want to write about.

 

Where to begin?

 

Cities, I suppose. I read somewhere the other day that history wrongly places itself in an urban setting; that all we know of the past is just one urbanised side of some huge fucking time-coin, and the other side; ‘The Rural’ is assumed to be unimportant or non-existent, just because nothing ever changed outside of the city.

I’m still reading this book. It’s  a real one. The guy who wrote it was really getting so het up about the fact that the history books forget about all those communities who lived off the land while Rome was rising and falling, the farmers who cleared the way for Alexander the Great or Hannibal or whoever the fuck was trying to conquer the world, and that the real changes were coming about because of those people on the outsides of the uncaring metropolis.

I tell you this now; that’s utter crap on so many levels. Nothing. Ever. Changes. Not anywhere, or in any time. In every generation; this one included, some elite bunch of overgrown science kids claim to have taken human civilisation some giant leap forwards, that the paradigm has shifted and we are kicked out of the dark ages, blinking like naked baby rats or junior Siddarthas in the sun, apparently enlightened and assured of our place as lords and masters of this world, that there has come an end to superstition and disillusionment, cold wars and god and crying over your own pointless face in the mirror. Yeah, these kids will tell you all sorts. And everyone scurries home and phones their elderly relatives and tunes in their television sets all at once to watch Mankind’s new triumph over what has gone before.

And yet, a few minutes later, our eyes have become accustomed to the sunlight. We collectively rub the holes in our faces and realise its not actually as bright as we first thought it was, and we shrug it aside and go back to sitting at our desks selling shit to each other, or illuminating manuscripts. Or whatever.

 

Nothing changes. The drudgery of life and the misery we share is just a way of getting through each day of our existence, whether you are up to your arse in a paddy field or on the eighty-sixth floor of an office tower. Urban or rural; to me, the two sides of the coin of time look exactly alike. Both sides are heads, with a boot-print staining the embossed greasy face.

 

But, maybe that’s just me. I was once described as ‘a frighteningly typical Aquarius’. Maybe you can imagine what my reply was. But, if you are looking for a realistic description of myself, just check out my I.D card and compare it to yours. We’ve all got one, those rectangular pieces of arbitrary plastic that hang from our belts and harnesses, binding us together in a 2010’s ‘back to basics’ sort of way. Some fucking paradigm.

 

Its just an idea.