THE MORAL AMBIGUITY.

           In my previous blog, I had discussed my attempts to find a theme for my next novel. Having decided to write a novel in the third person narrative, I had suggested that I would like a narrative where the protagonist would be driven by two strong emotions of guilt and sacrifice. The core of this novel would be that the protagonist would never realise that he is driven by these two emotions and still he would find his redemption. In this blog, I would discuss what happens to us when we are not aware of our own subconscious emotions and how this ignorance leads us to moral ambiguity.

           As we grow up, we realise that our notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad ‘ are not clear cut. We normally define these notions in the context of what we are required to do. In other words, there are no perfect definitions of good and bad. We decide what is good and what is bad depending on the circumstances that we face. Every time, when we face such a dilemma, we make a choice of what is good and what is bad depending on our own understanding of life. More often than not, we arrive at our choice based on what our intuition tells us about the choice. Of course, once we have made the decision, we always conjure up very good arguments to justify our choice. Rarely, if ever, we realise that our arguments in support of our choices are justifications of our choice and not the reasons for our choices.

            The trouble with growing up is that, as we grow older,  we become  more and more aware of this gap between the arguments as a justification and arguments as a reason behind our choices. As a child, each one of us lives in a blithe ignorance and believe that our desires are synonymous with what is good and therefore we pursue our desires and wishes with an endearing naivete. However, as we grow old, our moral sense tells us that life is not as simple as that. There is something more to life than the endless pursuit of wish fulfillment. The real problem with growing up is not that our moral sense tells us about what not to do, but rather that it doesn’t tell us what to do. Our sense of morality is, in some sense, negative. It reduces the number of choices that we can think of  what we ought to do. However, it never suggests any choices, on its own,  of what we ought to do. Therefore, sometimes we never know the morally correct choice until it is too late. This is the origin of our moral ambiguity. More importantly, it defines the human angst of modern times.

           I am tempted to believe that this story of individual development from naivete to ambiguity is also reflected in our collective history of our culture. In the ancient times, the societies  (and even religions) were founded on the simplistic notions of good and bad. With the passage of time, due to social and cultural evolution, we have evolved very intricate rules of justice and equity. However, somewhere deep within, we know that our laws also tell us what not to do and rarely tell us what to do.

            My focus however, is not really on this moral sense per se. My interest, as a novelist, is in the consequences of such a muted moral sense. If human beings are driven by their subconscious emotions  ( of which they are not aware of ) and if they are handicapped by this muted moral sense, every human being would be facing angst that arises from this moral ambiguity. Most of us have experienced situations wherein we know that what we want to do is not exactly right thing to do and still we want to do it because that gives us an emotional satisfaction. The tragedy of human life is that vague awareness of having transgressed and yet experiencing emotional deliverance. I think human being are not good or bad. They are good and bad at the same time.

            I think that Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has deliberately endowed us with this muted moral sense. Had she given us a complete morality, we , human beings, would be reduced to machines following Nature’s instructions. The value of human life lies in the fact that she/he has a freedom to pursue what she/he thinks is good and make mistakes. This freedom to commit mistakes also gives human beings a chance to redeem themselves. Our subconscious need to experience catharsis is actually a substitute for our destiny to experience our redemption. The true moral ambiguity lies in our need to experience this catharsis and redemption. I think there is no way to explain why we need to experience the subconscious emotional drives, the subsequent sense of transgression, it’s catharsis and finally a sense of redemption. I believe we don’t need to undergo these emotional cycles. We would be happy to be always correct and always satisfied. . However, I am convinced that in that case , we would not be human beings,  but some automatons. To quote a famous saying, to err is human. I am tempted to modify that saying and assert that to err is human destiny.

            I am planning to write my next novel where the protagonist is acutely conscious of his own moral ambiguity but he is driven by his subconscious mind to transgress. Of course, in the light of what I have written, the protagonist would have to find his own redemption.

           In my next blog, I would discuss what kind of protagonist I would want. This is because his profile would decide what  form of transgression the protagonist would be forced to commit by his own subconscious mind and how he would find his redemption. 




                     In my previous blog, I discussed the emotions that I, as a novelist, felt while finishing my second novel. In this blog, I would discuss my problems with the literary style of writing a novel in a third person narrative. This is important because my both previous novels were first person narratives.

                     Traditionally, it is easier for a new novelist to adopt a first person narrative while writing a novel. There are two reasons for this preference. Firstly, it is easier for a novelist to express her /his thoughts and feelings through the narrator. This is because there is a sense of identification for a novelist with the narrator. Therefore, without being aware of it, a novelist finds her /his own expressions being expressed by the narrator as a proxy. However, as a novelist becomes more adept in writing novels, she /he learns to become detached from all the characters of her /his novels. Therefore, she /he doesn’t require such a proxy. Instead, a novelist is more interested in observing the evolution of the characters from outside. Therefore, the first person narrative which was necessary for the proxy, is no longer a prerequisite. Thus , in most cases , the shift from a first person narrative to a third person narrative is a mark of evolution of a novelist. I was aware of this aspect of writing a novel when I began my first novel. After having finished two novels, I agree with this rationale.

                  The second reason why this approach works is that it is always easier for a new novelist to create a subjective world view of the story being told through a narrator. While telling a story through the subjective view of a narrator, a novelist is required to make sure that the story remains internally consistent. In other words, a novelist just has to  ensure that  whatever the drama or the conflict that the story contains, must appear to be consistent with the narrator’s understanding of the story. While this task offers a challenge to a novelist’s creativity, it ignores one essential feature of real life. In real life, every individual has her /his own understanding of life and these understandings are in conflict with one another. Therefore, in real life , there is a constant conflict. We, each one of us, live parallel lives. Sometimes, our views converge and sometimes, our views diverge. However, most of us live our lives by pretending that our own narrative of life is a real narrative while the narratives of others are faulty. Our belief in our own understanding of life is inevitable in some sense. This is because such a pretense enables us to retain our sanity and a sense of well being. Just imagine a situation where you know that you beliefs are wrong and you are still forced to believe them !! Though, we know, somewhere deep within, that there could be other ways of understanding of life, our conscious mind does not allow that deeper understanding to surface. This is  because such a realization would increase the workload of our conscious mind to keep reminding itself about what is its own belief and what are other’s belief . A good novel enables us to experience these different understandings of life without creating any additional burden.  Therefore, a great novelist is required to give us a perspective that enables us to understand why different understandings of life are equally valid. This is best  exemplified  in our epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.

                   Therefore, when a novelist makes a transition from a first person narrative to a third person narrative, she/he develops an objective view of life. It must be kept in mind that not every third person narrative is an epic , but every epic is a third person narrative. Ever since  I finished my second novel, I have felt an urge to opt for such a third person narrative. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that my next novel could be an epic, but at least it would be broad enough to accommodate different narratives together. These two reasons why a new novelist prefers to write a first person narrative, are generally known and even I was aware of them. Therefore, in some sense, my own journey as a novelist has so far followed a predictable path.

                 However, there is a third reason why a novelist prefers to write a first person narrative. Frankly speaking, this is one reason which I was not aware of. I have discovered this reason while writing these two novels. Therefore, I would end this blog with this new perspective.

                  When I began my first novel, I I was strongly influenced by my own favourite writers. There were two genres which I admired greatly. They are literature of the absurd and magical realism. Therefore, these influences are plainly visible in both my novels. Since I was determined not to imitate any of my favourite writers, I have ensured that my novels are rooted in Indian sensibility. However, it never occurred to me till I finished my second novels that I chose to write in first person narrative because it allowed me to hide my own shortcomings. I always thought that magical realism was a good literary device to incorporate parallel narratives into a novel. For instance, in my first novel, I have used three different time frames of a protagonist’s life in a single frame of narrative and show how self contradictory the protagonist’s life has been. Similarly , in my second novel, I have used a device of reincarnation to show cognitive dissonance in the protagonist’s mind.

               It is only now, after finishing both these novels, that I have realised that great works of fiction don’t need such devices to describe deeper insights into the nature of human beings. In other words, realism, at least literary realism, is more magical than the magical realism. It is also more absurd than the theatre of absurd.This is because literary realism is capable of making us experience  the depth of human mind without resorting to any such artifices. The name of Premchand comes to my mind. He didn’t need any such artifice to make us aware of fundamental angst of human existence. The literary realism achieves this enlightenment by simply placing before us the stark inequities of life in front of the readers. It believes that an average reader has an ample innate wisdom and an emotional depth to grasp this angst. It occurred to me that it is possible to be a realist, in a literary sense, only if one were to employ a third person narrative.

                Therefore , I have decided to employ a third person narrative in my next novel. I aim to bring out the inequities of life by depicting the parallel narratives without a narrator. More importantly, I hope to restrict myself to the traditions of literary realism in my next novel .

               In my next blog , I would discuss the theme of my next novel.