Tomorrow is St Valentine’s day. It is also the third anniversary of my first post on this blog. And it seemed to a good time to indulge myself with a retrospective.
I started this blog just two days after I had turned 50, not really knowing what direction it would take. I had for many years been contributing to various discussion boards, but this was proving unsatisfactory for various reasons. I wanted, as it were, a room of my own.
I started off by brushing up and posting the various notes I had made on Shakespeare’s plays, while trawling through them all the year before to commemorate my fiftieth year. Soon afterwards, I was writing on other topics, as my fancy took me. I look back now on some of those earlier posts, and squirm with embarrassment: it’s not that I am exactly an accomplished writer now, but my earlier attempts at constructing a blog post – or even, for that matter, constructing a simple sentence – really are toe-curlingly, buttock-clenchingly, embarrassing. But whether I like it or not, a blog does have a permanency of sorts, and even now, the posts that get the most number of hits are often some of the very early ones: I guess might as well resign myself to people chancing on these posts and concluding I can’t write. I wonder if I will look back in three years on what I am writing now, and feel equally embarrassed: I suspect I will.
Soon, I was persuaded to put up some summaries I had written of Tolstoy’s War and Peace for a group read I had organised on a now-defunct books board. These posts are up there still, should anyone fancy a look.
I also allowed myself, and allow myself still, a few intemperate rants on matters I feel strongly about – mainly to get it off my chest. One of these rants – on the teaching of literature in schools – is among the most popular posts on this blog in terms of the number of hits it gets. From some of the feedback I have had on it, I get the impression that I am sometimes mistaken for an educationalist: I am not. I am, by profession, an operational research analyst, but my blog posts steer well clear from anything to do with operational research. Everything I write on this blog, I write as an amateur – a dilettante, if you will. I am just thrilled – and, needless to say, grateful – that people take the trouble to read it!
Over time, my likes and dislikes (more likes than dislikes: I tend not to blog about what I do not like) – my prejudices, preoccupations, predilections, hobbyhorses – have all, I think, become apparent. As far as literary tastes are concerned, I love Shakespeare and Tolstoy; Wordsworth and Dickens; Ibsen and Dostoyevsky (the latter despite grave reservations); Sherlock Holmes stories and creepy ghost stories. Tagore I shouldn’t mention here because, given my Bengali background, I have no choice on that one. (This post gives a fair overview of my literary tastes.) And a few other bits and bobs as well, here and there. And every now and then, I find myself writing about these things I love: I do so not to impart information, and certainly not with any didactic purpose, but simply for the sheer joy of doing so.
As for my dislikes, my prejudices, my blind spots – let us not go into all that. One tends, I think, to be more perceptive about what one likes than about what one doesn’t, and this should warn us to steer clear of the latter. I often promise never to write again about what I do not like, but it’s a promise I rarely keep: the delight in sticking the boot in is often too hard to resist.
I enjoy a good debate, especially on matters on which I feel strongly. I like to think I enter debates not with certainty, but, rather, with a willingness to absorb anything I can from other perspectives to help deepen my own. Whether I come over in such a manner, as I hope, or whether I come over merely as tedious and dogmatic, as I fear, I’m afraid I’m really in no position to say: I never could quite get the tone of voice right. But I think there is nothing that is worth discussing that has a clear-cut answer: getting to know and to understand the terrain of different possibilities is, or should be, more rewarding than deciding on one’s spot and sticking to it.
My preoccupations have become quite apparent, I think: I find myself very deeply concerned about the sidelining away from the mainstream of so much that I feel is culturally valuable, and filling the space it leaves behind merely with the vapid and the ephemeral; I am equally concerned by the lack of general concern about this, or by denials that this is happening at all. Accompanying all this, as far as I can perceive, there has been, perhaps inevitably, a dramatic decline in the quality of public discourse on cultural matters. I am not convinced that the best will survive our postmodern era when the very concept of “the best” is doubted, and often sneered at: culture needs to be cultivated, after all. We all worry, rightly, about what sort of world we will leave behind to later generations in terms of the economy, in terms of the environment, in terms of public and of private morality. I worry about all this too. But I worry also about what we will leave behind in terms of culture. If we fail to cultivate what has been handed down to us, or if we sideline it away from general view, I find it difficult to be optimistic that we can leave behind anything at all.
I suppose culturally, I am conservative. I would, I think, angrily reject that c-word in any other context, but culturally, I have long reconciled myself to being conservative. Looking through the various modes of artistic expression across the centuries and across cultures, it’s the continuities that fascinate me more than the changes: the changes often strike me as relatively superficial; it is in that which remains constant at the heart of all these changes that one may glimpse what Willie Wordsworth would no doubt have described as “a sense sublime of something more deeply interfused”.
The book-blogging world – the acquaintance of which has been perhaps the principal pleasure of my three blogging years – is a marvellous literary cyber-café, where one may drop in whenever one wants to see what others are up to, and, maybe, strike up a conversation. Non-bloggers may opine all this is to be a waste of time: perhaps. All I can say is that it sure beats using the internet to access hardcore pornography.
Well, that’s enough navel-gazing for one post. So may I end by thanking all who take the trouble to read my ramblings; all who have been tolerant of the various shortcomings on this blog, whether of typing, of grammar, of elegance of expression, or of coherence of thought; and, especially, all who have posted comments, and have engaged with my frequently intolerant and, I fear, ill-tempered polemics. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last three years of blogging: here’s to the next three!