THE PROBLEM OF CONTINUITY IN REINCARNATION. PART 2.
This is second part of my blog on the theme of continuity. In the first part , I had discussed the problem of maintaining emotional continuity while writing a novel based on the theme of reincarnation. Since such a novel essentially uses reincarnation as a metaphor , the emotional continuity of main characters serves the purpose of creating a narrative. The emotional interactions between the main characters provide the narrative with necessary literary tensions. It is this internal emotional conflicts and synergies that provide a platform for readers to identify themselves with such a narrative. Thus , as mentioned in part one , it is this process of identification which allows the metaphor of reincarnation to work on reader’s subconscious mind.
In this second part I would focus on the problem of continuity of time while writing a novel based on reincarnation. When a novelist places her/ his characters in a particular period of time and in particular geographical location , the writer is , in effect , creating characters of time and place as well. Let us see how it happens. When a protagonist is placed in a time frame which is say twenty years earlier than the year of publication of that novel, the writer needs to incorporate social beliefs and collective psyche of that time. Most intuitive way of doing it is incorporating these beliefs in the character of the protagonist. In addition , the protagonist must also have beliefs that are consistent with her/ his intended character. Thus the protagonist has to be created with two sets of beliefs. One representing the ethos of the time she/ he is shown to be living and a second set of beliefs representing her/ his own character as intended by the writer. One can judge the quality of a novel by assessing how these two sets of beliefs have been integrated into an internally consistent characterization of the protagonist.
This process of characterization of main characters of the novel also works for geographical location . Each town , each region and each country has certain traits. These get reflected in the characterizations of main characters shown to be living in that location. Sometimes , a writer might choose to present the geographical location as a character itself.
This is normally a routine protocol for writing a novel. In case of writing a novel based on the theme of reincarnation , the problem of characterization of main characters becomes more complicated. In case of reincarnation of the protagonist , the next birth would be in a different geographical location and in different eras. Therefore continuity in the sense of time lapse would have to be in the form of changes in collective psyche. For instance , if a character is born earlier in pre independent India , then it’s collective psyche would be dominated by a sense of patriotism and freedom struggle on the principles of Gandhi’s non violence. If that character is born in its next birth in contemporary India , then the collective psyche of modern India would be dominated by internet and information technology. The problem for the novelist in that case is how to create a character which blends both these dominant themes into an internally consistent characterization. A novelist may then create a character , who was a freedom fighter in an earlier birth , is now reincarnated as a character of a whistleblower who uses internet to expose corrupt politicians. I must admit that there is no such character in my novel that shares this type of characterization. I am simply giving an example to explain the detailing that goes into creating a believable character with whom the readers can relate emotionally.
Similar detailing is required for geographical location. For instance a character born in Mumbai in one birth may have born in some remote town in Bihar in previous birth say in the time of Ashoka the great . In that case the collective psyche of both the locations would be so different that the novelist would have to strive to create continuity of characterization.
Of course , readers might wonder why such detailing is required. There are two reasons for this. Firstly , such a continuity is what makes narrative believable. The human mind is built on narrative intelligence. Therefore only some types of narratives emotionally connect with the readers. Therefore a novelist must create such intuitive narratives. At a deeper level , one can see that continuity of time in the social context refers to transformation of collective psyche. The key insight is that though our collective psyche changes with time , the fundamental nature of this psyche remains unchanged. It is as if the contours of our collective psyche changes with time but it’s contents do not change. It is this constancy of our collective psyche that is at the heart of the metaphor for reincarnation. Just as souls remain the same while their bodies change in different incarnations , the collective psyche remains same over millennia , it’s expressions change with time. It this relationship between changes and constancy of our collective psyche that finds its literary expression in the theme of reincarnation. The second reason for such detailing is that this detailing represents our intricate theory of Karma.
In my next blog , I would discuss how the theme of reincarnation represents the theory of Karma and how intricate this theory is supposed to be.