Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Romanticism - I

However, though it is by no means clear what romanticism stood for, it is quite evident what it was against: the middle. Whatever its content, it was an extremist creed. Romantic artists or thinkers in the narrower sense are found on the extreme left, like the poet Shelley, on the extreme right, like Chateaubriand and Novalis, leaping from left to right like Wordsworth, Coleridge and numerous disappointed supporters of the French Revolution, leaping from royalism to the extreme left like Victor Hugo, but hardly ever among the moderates or whig-liberals in the rationalist centre, which indeed was the stronghold of 'classicism'. 'I have no respect for the Whigs,' said the old Tory Wordsworth, 'but I have a great deal of the Chartist in me'. [10] 
Romanticism is therefore simply not classifiable as an anti-bourgeois movement. Indeed, in the pre-romanticism of the decades before the French Revolution, many of its characteristic slogans had been used for the glorification of the middle class, whose true and simple, not to say mawkish, feeling had been favourably contrasted with the stiff upper lip of a corrupt society, and whose spontaneous reliance on nature was destined, it was believed, to sweep aside the artifice of court and clericalism. However, once bourgeois society had in fact triumphed in the French and Industrial Revolutions, romanticism unquestionably became its instinctive enemy and can be justly described as such.
No doubt much of its passionate, confused, but profound, revulsion against bourgeois society was due to the vested interest of the two groups which provided its shock-troops: socially displaced young men and professional artists. There had never been a period for young artists, living or dying, like the romantic: the Lyrical Ballads (1798) were the work of men in their twenties, Byron became famous overnight at twenty-four, an age at which Shelley was famous and Keats was almost in his grave. Hugo's poetic career began when he was twenty, Musset's at twenty-three. Schubert wrote Erlkoenig at the age of eighteen and was dead at thirty-one, Delacroix painted the Massacre at Chios at twenty-five, Petoefi published his Poems at twenty-one. An unmade reputation or an unproduced masterpiece by thirty is a rarity among the romantics. Youth - especially intellectual or student youth - was their natural habitat; it was in this period that the Quartier Latin of Paris became, for the first time since the middle ages, not merely a place where the Sorbonne was, but a cultural (and political) concept. [...]
So, to an even greater extent, did the alienation of the artist who reacted to it by turning himself into 'the genius', one of the most characteristic inventions of the romantic era. Where the social function of the artist is clear, his relation to the public direct, the question of what he is to say and how to say it answered by tradition, morality, reason or some other accepted standard, an artist may be a genius, but rarely behaved like one. [...]
The real problem was that of the artist cut off from a recognizable function, patron or public and left to cast his soul as a commodity upon a blind market, to be bought or not; or to work within a system of patronage which would generally have been economically untenable even if the French Revolution had not abolished its human indignity. The artist therefore stood alone, shouting into the night, uncertain even of an echo. It was only natural that he should turn himself into the genius, who created what was within him, regardless of the world and in defiance of a public whose only right was to accept him on his own terms or not at all. At best he expected to be understood, like Stendhal, by the chosen few or some undefined posterity; at worst he would produce unplayable dramas, like Grabbe - or even Goethe's Faust part II - or compositions for unrealistically gigantic orchestras like Berlioz; or else he would go mad like Hölderlin, Grabbe, de Nerval and several others. [...]
Precise social analysis was never the romantic forte, and indeed they distrusted the confident mechanical materialist reasoning of the eighteenth century (symbolized by Newton, the bugbear of both William Blake and Goethe) which they rightly saw as one of the chief tools with which bourgeois society had been built. Consequently we shall not expect them to provide a reasoned critique of bourgeois society, though something like such a critique wrapped in the mystical cloak of 'nature philosophy' and walking amid the swirling clouds of metaphysics did develop within a broadly 'romantic' framework, and contributed, among other schievements, to the philosophy of Hegel.

[1o] E.C. Batho, The Later Wordworth (1931), p.227, see also pp. 46-7, 197-9.

E.J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution (1977), p. 313, pp. 314-7

Revolution and its discontents...

The following passage by Marx and Engels deals with the negative consequences of the French and Industrial Revolutions:
It [bourgeois society] has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash-payment". It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible freedoms, has set up that single, unconsciable freedom - Free Trade.
(All links - and the definitions/connotations/implications/arguments thus suggested - were introduced by the author of this entry)

Reason & Revolution

Let us never forget that long before we did, the sciences and philosophy fought against the tyrants. Their constant efforts have made the revolution. As free and grateful men, we ought to establish them among us and cherish them for ever. For the sciences and philosophy will maintain the liberty which we have conquered.

-- A member of the Convention (S. Solomon, Commune, August 1939, p. 964)

Warp and woof, silks and brocades, coats and ribbons

Eric Hobsbawm quotes the Lyons Silkweavers Song in "The Age of Revolutions":

                                 Pour gouverner il faut avoir
Manteaux ou rubans en sautoir (bis).
Nous en tissons pour vous, grandes de la terre,
Et nous, pauvres canuts, sans drap on nous enterre.
        C'est nous les canuts
        Nous sommes tout nus (bis).

Mais quand notre règne arrive
Quand votre règne finira.
Alors nous tisserons le linceul du vieux monde
Car on entend déjà le revolte qui gronde.
        C'est nous les canuts
        Nous n'irons plus tout nus.

A quick and dirty (mostly literal) translation:

                       To govern, one must have
Coats or ribbons * [repeat]
We weave them for you, the mighty of the earth
And us, poor canuts, you bury us without a scrap of cloth (naked)
        We are the canuts
        We are completely naked [repeat]

But when our reign arrives
When your reign will end.
Then we'll weave the shroud of the old world
For we hear already the grinding of the revolt.
        We are the canuts
        We will no longer go completely naked

* i.e., military decorations

Doesn't this remind you of Faiz's immortal "Mujh sé pehli si muhabbat méré mehboob na maang"?! Here's one of the many versions one can find online.

Laeeq Babree's French translation of Faiz's poem:

N’exige plus, cher amour, mon amour de jadis

N’exige plus, cher amour, mon amour de jadis.
Je croyais que si tu étais à mes côtés,
Ma vie serait éblouissement,
Qu’épris de ton amour
Je n’aurais plus les soucis du monde,
Que ton visage me rendrait les printemps éternels,
Que rien ne serait plus beau que tes yeux
Si je te possédais
Et que j’aurais conquis mon destin !

Mais, hélas ! C’était un rêve.
J’avais seulement voulu qui’il en fût ainsi.
Il est d’autres malheurs dans le monde –
L’amour n’est pas tout –
D’autres bonheurs que le bonheur d’être avec toi.
Il y a les ténébreux mystères des siècles innombrables
Tissés dans les satins, les soies et les brocarts :
Les corps couvert de poussière
Et baignés dans le sang,
Les corps sortis des fournaises des maladies sinistres,
Le pus coulant d’ulcères purulents…
Mes yeux tombent sur ces spectacles :
Que faire ?
Ton charme est extrême, cher amour,
Mais que faire ?

Il est d’autres malheurs dans le monde –
L’amour n’est pas tout –
D’autres bonheurs que le bonheur d’être avec toi.
N’exige plus, cher amour, mon amour de jadis.

Naomi Lazard's English translation:

Don’t Ask Me Now, Beloved

Don’t ask me now, Beloved, to love you as I did
when I believed life owed its luster to your existence.
The torments of the world meant nothing;
you alone could make me suffer.
Your beauty guaranteed the spring,
ordained its enduring green.
Your eyes were all there was of value anywhere.
If I could have you, fate would bow before me.

None of this was real; it was all invented by desire.
The world knows how to deal out pain, apart from passion,
and manna for the heart, beyond the realm of love.
Warp and woof, the trappings of the rich are woven
by the brutish spell cast over all the ages;
human bodies numbed by filth, deformed by injuries,
cheap merchandise on sale in every street.
I must attend to this too: what can be done?
Your beauty still delights me, but what can I do?
The world knows how to deal out pain, apart from passion,
and manna for the heart, beyond the realm of love.
Don’t ask from me, Beloved, love like that one long ago.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More monkey business

We feel it is not just appropriate, it is absolutely vital, to remember the real nature of our great leader, as he twists and turns, trying somehow to hang on to power:

Friday, February 15, 2008

By the by...

Yet another incident to highlight the crisis of legitimacy faced by PML-Q: a few days ago, no less a person than the wife of Chaudhry Shujaat, Kausar Shujaat, showed up at the house of a lawyer prominent in the lawyers' movement and offered a substantial donation to the Legal Aid fund set up to support boycotting lawyers. The lawyer was quite shocked and asked Mrs. Shujaat to kindly explain her action!

Mrs. Shujaat replied that she lived in Saudi Arabia, that the money that she was offering was hers and had nothing to do with her husband and that she did not agree with her husband's politics!

No wonder then that MI's initial estimate of 110 seats for PML-Q has fallen to 40 seats - if the erstwhile leaders of PML-Q cannot even muster any support within their families, what could they possibly ask of the public at large, the same public whose opinions and freedoms they have so contemptuously suppressed?!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

the writing on the wall

Fresh graffiti on the wall of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (parking area)