On responding to criticism

First (via Space Bar): William Radice’s review of “The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets”, edited by Jeet Thayil.

Second (via Nilanjana Roy): Jeet Thayil’s response.

I left my opinion of the response as a comment on Nilanjana’s posting, so I won’t repeat myself here. Short summary: it bothers me. Radice’s review of the book is generally positive, but he wonders a bit at the subject matter and style of most of the poetry on display. Thayil’s response seems, to me, quite intemperate in comparison: he ignores all the positive comments in the review, raises strawmen arguments (“orientalism”) that have nothing to do with what Radice was actually saying, issues a non-clarification (prefixed, for good measure, by an “of course”) to Radice’s observation that Indian modernism predates independence, and accuses him of a “preoccupation” with Bengali writing and being a Bengali “apologist”, and suggests that Radice’s expertise in translation into English — which surely requires an excellent command of poetic English — makes him unsuited to reviewing English-language poetry.

What is it about Indians and criticism by non-Indians? Why are we so quick to accuse them of orientalism, quaint nostalgia, patronisingness, reductionism, and who knows what else? But perhaps I should be happy that there are no explicit accusations of racism or colonialism.

Advertisements
Previous Post
Leave a comment

6 Comments

  1. When a non-Indian critic complains that Indian poets aren’t recognizably-Indian-enough for him because they write in iambics instead of tabla beats, what do you think is the proper response? Saying, “sorry, we’ll try to be more recognizably Indian in teh future”?

    Reply
  2. How about just avoiding strawmen? One need not apologise to a critic but neither need one vilify the critic as an orientalist or a Bengali apologist or whatever. It seems to me there is a genuine point here — Indian language verse does have more complex meter than typical Western iambics, so why not Indian-English verse? By analogy, there is absolutely no dispute anywhere that Indian musical rhythms are more complex than Western beats, and a CD box-set of “Indian music” that only represented Western 4/4 time would be soundly criticised, with good reason.

    Reply
  3. Your analogy to music would be like this: if someone made a box set of film music and a British critic complained it wasn’t Indian enough because it didn’t have RTP.Radice was not complaining about Jeet Thayil’s editorial policies, he was telling that Indian Anglophone poets that their Indian descent ought to make them write differently. This is a remarkably audacious and essentialist injunction, considering that no one would tell Tony Harrison not to write in iambs because Anglo-Saxon used alliterative meter or that he has to write about Page 3 girls and bad teeth because that is British culture. Anyway I sincerely doubt that most of the poems in Thayil’s book are metrical at all. I also doubt you read Anglophone poetry, from the innocence of your question about why a poet in English would write in iambics. It’s easy to hear even when there are many substitutions, that’s the answer.

    Reply
  4. Your analogy to music would be like this: if someone made a box set of film music and a British critic complained it wasn’t Indian enough because it didn’t have RTP.No, that’s not the analogy — and that line alone, coupled with your anonymity, makes me wonder why I bother responding. If you want to be taken seriously again, please supply your identity. By the way, by RTP I assume you mean a certain elaborate form of piece in Carnatic music that is absent not only from film music but also from the majority of concerts and recordings these days. But if that’s not what you mean, and you are arrogant enough not to care to expand it, I am really not interested in knowing.By the way (2), Indian film music is full of 7-beat and 10-beat talas and other things that would be considered weird in the west.So much for your “analogy”.Radice was not complaining about Jeet Thayil’s editorial policies, he was telling that Indian Anglophone poets that their Indian descent ought to make them write differently.If you choose to read Radice that way, fine.Anyway I sincerely doubt that most of the poems in Thayil’s book are metrical at all.I haven’t seen the book, but Radice himself refers to several free verse examples that he likes, so it is entirely possible. Why you ignore the fact that he likes it, I can’t see.I also doubt you read Anglophone poetryI see that you are from the Thayil school of personal attacks, but at least this is not as ludicrous as claiming Radice’s skills at translating into English disqualify him from reviewing.from the innocence of your question about why a poet in English would write in iambics. It’s easy to hear even when there are many substitutions, that’s the answer.Actually, most “popular verse” and lyric in English is not in iambics. Only the “serious” stuff tends to be. So your answer won’t fly. Try again.

    Reply
  5. You asked why Anglophone poetry is writen in iambics rather than more complex meters and I answered you. Invoking popular song doesn’t help your case because the meters are simpler in songs, i.e. largely accentual rather than accentual syllabic. So try again yourself.And while you’re at it, think about the history of attempts to bring “complex meters” from quantitative languages into English — largely unsuccessful. It’s not an insult to say that you don’t sound like you read Anglophone verse, few people do these days, but I look forward to being proven wrong when you write your Indian-English complex rhythmic verse? (Something other than venba though, that’s been done.)

    Reply
  6. I can see why you prefer to stay anonymous. I did not claim, in general terms, that “anglophone poetry is written in iambics”; nor, I think, did Radice, who confined his observations to one particular edited volume of Indian poetry. Counterexamples abound, not just in popular song (such as W S Gilbert, whom you may belittle if it amuses you) but in “serious” poems like this one by Byron.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s