Monday, February 18, 2008

Allegory.

It never really pays to think about what to write, you just have to start writing. It used to work really well during classes... when I couldn't bear to listen to whatever rubbish was being taught, and was physically incapable of falling asleep no matter how bored I was. Instead, I could draw, I could write verse or a story, or sometimes... I could write an essay. A critical discourse, passionately yet objectively putting forward my arguments and my thoughts. It was a stimulating exercise, this. Now, now I have lost all the ability to write well in third person. Even in my fiction pieces I tend to write in first person. This, while making the pieces seem more personal, makes it lose a lot of wisdom in the process.

Also, I stopped attending all that many classes. And off late stopped having so many classes to attend. I can now become sleepy in class, and need to fight to stay awake in a few. Unproductive, that. And pissing off.

Thus we come to this. With some time to go for lunch, I opened up Notepad in an effort to pen down my thoughts, hoping that something worthwhile comes out.

Allegory in fiction, though I have little experience with it as a writer, is a really good device. (Look at me. Referring to myself as a writer and all. Hubris it is, pure hubris.) It gives someone the power to talk about what they want: a situation, an emotion or a relationship; in a manner that allows the readers to grasp and appreciate the gravity or the subtler nuances of the subject, yet keeps them far away and prevents them from knowing the precise truth behind the allegory and in the author's personal life. If the author is good, that is.

On the other hand, allegorical fiction is sometimes thought very little of. The main reason for this being that the subtext in the piece of work far supercedes the actual bulk of the material in importance.

Then again, the opposite is more often true. Take Philp Pullman's His Dark Materials set of books for example. (The first of which has been made into a movie, The Golden Compass) It is tale set partly in our own universe, and partly in a parallel universe, one where people's souls have a corporeal form, as animals. It is a world where the Reformation never took place, and the church (the Magisterium, as it is called,) is as brutal as it was half a millenium ago. It's also the strongest body in the world, governing all aspects of life and policing them all. While the whole series can be thought of as a modern day, atheist version of the Book of Genesis, there's more to it. The subtext is all about the dangers of authoritative religion, be it Christianity or no. I guess the basic purpose of organized religion is to impart a set of good values and temperament to its followers, and once it fails to do so, it should either get the boot or some serious reworking.

I digress. This is not a post about the dangers and the idiosyncrasies of organized religion. That would have to be a much, much longer piece and I do not have the patience for it. I doubt that you would, either. An atheist preacher is among the lowest of hypocrites. (Now you know why I hate Richard Dawkins.)

The subtext adds meaning to his prose. The anti-religious overtones can be quite jarring at times, but if read in the spirit of things, it's quite alright. The subtext makes it more than some whimsical tale, set in a mystical world where Zeppelins are still in vogue and fundamental physics comes under the mantle of theology.

I'm flexible, but usually I subscribe to a more Tolkienesque opinion of allegory. In that it should almost never be used, and certainly not in an overt fashion, for it draws the reader away from the true beauty of the prose, as and how it is written. Appreciating fiction for what it is, not what it implies. The Lord of the Rings is a classic battle between good and evil, where good is good and evil is not just the other side of the proverbial coin. Evil also gets a rather Catholic treatment in the process, where evil characters were essentially good at some point in prehistory and fell at some point after.

It isn't too surprising then, that Pullman dismisses the Lord of the Rings as mostly trivial and not worthy of comparison to his own book. It was unpolitic and a little foolish of him, as a significant chunk of his readers would include Tolkien-loyalists who would be miffed at this dismissive remark of his, to say the least. However, if the comment were stripped of contempt and suchlike, the crux of his argument is that the two: his own work and that of Tolkien's are different and essentially incomparable. He prefers comparing his work to CS Lewis' Narnia, and with good reason.

In the end, it isn't a question of whether allegory is good or bad. Or better or worse. It's just a personal preference as a reader and as a writer.

PS. Note the time stamp. It is accurate. I started writing this yesterday, and continued writing it around 2 hours back, just before the Med Chem test. Alas, for I could not finish it then.

11 comments:

Ganesh said...

You had had to put the PS, didn't you?

PS said...

Well, yeah, pretty much. :)

Anonymous said...

Re. allegory: What do you think of Animal Farm?

Re. Dawkins: Have you actually read The God Delusion? :)

PS said...

@Anon

I can comment on Animal Farm in a couple of weeks, I think.

And I've seen a couple of documentaries featuring Dawkins. They did not exactly encourage me to read his book.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I wonder.

The Selfish Gene has a bad reputation too, and then I started reading it...

At first I thought Dawkins just happens to have this misunderstood (etc.) character, but now I think he does it on purpose. (Or am I crazy here?)

PS said...

@Anon I wanted to read Animal Farm before commenting, and I almost read it, but then I got sidetracked by other stuff. Re: allegory in fiction, refer to my latest post, I have further qualified my personal liking.

Re: Dawkins, I have read a few of his essays, on scientific thinking/analysis, stuff like that... and they seemed pretty insightful.

But yeah, Dawkins is anti-religious, not just atheist, and the worst part is that he thinks that they are the same. Gives the rest of atheists a bad name. Then again, with someone like this in the limelight, the rest of might seem quite "normal" to the religious folk. *shrug*

How was the Selfish Gene?

Btw, Anon - I know who you are. :)

shreevatsa said...

His book is pretty tame, and except for a few bits, isn't about God and religiousness at all.

The Selfish Gene is very good. He is a good writer too. Again, it has a false reputation attached to it, but the book itself (or more precisely, the first few chapters that I have read :)) is not about the things it is popularly said to be about.

I usually don't bother logging in, because people can tell who I am :)
Now that Blogger has set up this OpenID thing and it remembers me, it's more convenient...

PS said...

People seem to be recovering from their collective crush on Feynman and getting one on Dawkins. :)

Btw, do you have a blog?

shreevatsa said...

Heh, that's possible :)
Dawkins seems to be some kind of leader...

His book, and what he is doing, is not really about God, or about religion or atheism as a personal belief/position. It is really about the dangers and the idiosyncrasies of organized religion, and must be seen in the context of the "war" going on (see a few posts on Pharyngula for example), which if you are far removed from (as I try to be), you might not appreciate (the context, I mean).

I don't exactly have a blog. I started using blog hosting services as an easy way of putting up remotely-accessible and searchable stuff to make my life easier, but sometimes I do blog-ish stuff :)

PS said...

That's the vibe I got his BBC documentary as well, the equation of fundamentalist religion and god was really grating.

We need another Galileo, I think, to get churches to stop their creationist rubbish and accept Evolution. God I hope it isn't Richard Dawkins. :)

Where do you put up your blog-ish stuff?

PS said...

Oh wait. Just saw your blog.