A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG #4.

                 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. 

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A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG # 3.

                   IN SEARCH OF A THEME.

                  In my previous blog , I had discussed my transition from a first person narrative to a third person narrative. One of the necessities for such a third person narrative is that it looks at the story from outside. Therefore , by definition , it eliminates an individual perspective of the story. The conflict , therefore, doesn’t exist in the narrator’s mind , but it exists in the story itself. Therefore , the story told in such a novel becomes more important than the mindset of any of the characters. It is in this context , I would discuss my problems with selecting a theme of my next novel.

                 In my both the previous novels , I had sought to describe the mindsets of a  protagonist by depicting the distortion in his perception of reality. In such an approach , the plot of a novel plays a secondary role because no matter what happens in the story , what is illuminating is the protagonist’s perception of it. The distorted perception of the protagonist is a tool for depicting the human angst. However , in a novel based on a third person narrative , the plot itself becomes the tool for depicting the human angst. Therefore , the selection of the theme of a novel becomes critical for a novelist.

               As a novelist , I am averse to pick up a theme which is socially and politically sensitive. It is not that I do not have such views , but these views are my personal views and they are outside the public domain. Moreover , there is an inherent risk for a novelist while choosing such a theme. The factors that are extraneous to the literature , dominate appreciation of such a novel. It is not that I don’t believe in social equity and the need to reform our society to achieve such a social equity. It is just that I don’t think it is a novelist’s job to do it. I think that a novelist’s primary concern should be to make readers more introspective. If such an introspection leads to social equity,  it would be ideal. However , a novelist can not write a novel to bring about social equity. A novelist can only write to force readers to reflect on their own value system. I am not saying that a novelist can not be or should not be a social reformer. All I am  saying is that to become a social reformer , one doesn’t need to write a novel.

                 Returning to my search for a theme of my next novel , after finishing both these novels , I realized that I was more concerned with the nature of reality and our perception of it. I was convinced , more so after writing these novels , that our perception of reality is distorted by our subconscious emotional state. In that sense , both these novels tried to depict this distorted perceptions to highlight the underlying emotional state of the protagonists. However , during the process of writing these novels , I have found another aspect of this distorted perception. Our biggest problem arises not from the fact that our perception of reality is distorted , but it arises from the fact that we act in accordance with our distorted perception of reality. More importantly , our actions seem to crystallise our subconscious emotions. Therefore , our actions must be seen as expressions of our subconscious mind. It is as if our subconscious mind forces our conscious mind to express itself through our actions. Let me add that , in this context , our conscious thoughts too must be considered as our actions. In other words , our conscious mind is nothing but awareness of what is crystallised out from our subconscious mind. These include our conscious thoughts and our deeds. In fact , that is the reason why our religions equate bad thoughts with sins. In the Indian context , an evil thought is considered as bad karma.

                I am convinced that if this is a correct picture of how a human mind works , it is possible to simplify our moral values to two simple concepts. Firstly  , there is a sense of guilt that we experience and seek to compensate with atonement. Secondly , there is a sense of sacrifice and our need to feel nobility that arises from such a sacrifice. In fact , in literature , the notion of catharsis embodies both these senses. Therefore , I have decided to write my next novel based on the plot that embodies these senses of guilt and sacrifice. Surprisingly , some of the most memorable literary characters are personifications of simultaneous senses of guilt and sacrifice. However , I would not deal with the emotions that a protagonist would experience while undergoing the catharsis , but I would focus on the circumstances which force the protagonist to experience the catharsis. Therefore , I need a third person narrative which would tell readers what happened in the protagonist’s life. As to what the protagonist feels and how he achieves his redemption via catharsis , I would want readers to experience it themselves through identification.

                  I would end this blog with a hint that the protagonist would be forced to commit what he consciously knows to be wrong.  In  spite of his belief , he is forced by his subconscious mind to commit something wrong. The novel deals with how the protagonist achieves his redemption without being aware of what brought about this redemption. It is only in the climax that he would find the explanation of his guilt , his catharsis and therefore his deliverance.

             In my next blog , I would discuss we cope with our ambiguous moral sense.

                

MY SECOND NOVEL BLOG #27.

HOW FAST OUR LIVES ARE IN COMPARISON TO OUR PARENT’S LIVES ?

          It is universally accepted that we live relatively faster life than that of previous generation. When we think of our parents , we conjure up an idyllic picture of easy paced life when we were growing up. Our belief in our comparatively faster life is further strengthened by our belief that modern technology has offered more options than those available in our parent’s life time. This is , by and large , true. However , we make mistake in thinking that earlier life was slow and therefore it was more tranquil. It is true that there were less options available to people in earlier generations. It is also true that people were less mobile in earlier times. However , it would be a category mistake to think that life earlier was less frenetic or less stressful. This mistake arises from the fact that we overlook how our mind works.

           It is not number of options available that decides the pace of life. It is our indecision to make choices that sets the pace of our lives. The human nature is such that it is equally burdened with decision making whether we are dealing with few options or hundreds of options. This may sound strange , but it is true. When we have large number of options , our mind picks up only the top few options while making a choice. Therefore , mind spends quite some time in making a choice and it doesn’t really matter how many options are available. Our mind is involved in constant conflict of making choices. Therefore, our sense of living a fast life mainly arises from this constant dilemma of making choices. It does not really matter technologically how advanced we are. What matters is how fast our choice making processes are. In that sense , every generation feels that it is living a fast life. We may find such assertions from our parents rather comic but from there mental perspective , this is a valid perception. It is more than certain that our children would find that we have lived in a slow paced life. Therefore , our external yardstick of measuring fast paced life is not in harmony with our internal perception of pace of life.

      In this blog , I would pick up this aspect of our perception. There are two aspects that I would discuss here. Firstly , I would discuss whether our personalities have altered because of fast pace of life or not. Secondly , I would describe my own difficulties in creating a plot that appears as a slow paced to the readers even when the characters feel that there is a constant rush in their lives. The beauty of fiction writing is that it allows a novelist  (and therefore readers ) to stretch a brief moment into eternity and a life long experience into a flitting moment. I would describe in this blog , how I sought to achieve a balance between the different paces of life say thirty years ago and our contemporary life.

          Let me tell you how difficult it was to have the protagonist of this novel to interact with two women in different phases of his life. His trouble is that he suspects that both women are in fact the same individual in two different births. The first woman was his girlfriend when he himself was young. The second woman is also a young but he is , by now , a sixty year old man. Therefore , he finds it difficult to adjust. Part of his mind tells him that he is an old man , whereas part of his mind tells him that this young woman is his girlfriend from the past. At some point in the novel  , he realises that it is his own mind that is playing tricks with him. What he remembered as his tranquil past of his girlfriend turns out to be a selective amnesia. The new woman makes him confront the reality and his own true self. At that point the protagonist realises that the life is always complex and fast. It is because we selectively remember the past that it appears to be smooth and slow.

           As a novelist  , I found it difficult to portray this deception in the protagonist’s mind. However , I accidentally found the answer to this difficulty. When I began narrating the protagonist’s younger days , I spent quite a few pages in creating the details of his background. However , as the plot developed , these very details became instruments of pushing the story further. The plot quickened on its own momentum. Since the novel is in a part flashback and part now frame of reference , this matched very well with the present fast paced life. However , the bottom line is this. The life is even paced. It is how our mind chooses and selectively remembers that gives us a false impression that our present life is faster than the  life a generation ago.

         Since my novel is nearing it’s climax , I would discuss in my next blog what kind of problems a novelist faces while creating a climax. I would also discuss whether and why should a novel have a climax.