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Zulfikar Ghos

Zulfikar Ghos

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Published by Umair Vahidy
Full text of a lecture delivered in edited versions at the Punjab University, Lahore, the
Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, and referred to in discussions at Beacon House
University, Lahore, and at Karachi University by the Sialkot-born poet and novelist
during his visit to Pakistan in November 2008 when Oxford University Press launched
his new book of selected essays titled Beckett’s
Full text of a lecture delivered in edited versions at the Punjab University, Lahore, the
Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, and referred to in discussions at Beacon House
University, Lahore, and at Karachi University by the Sialkot-born poet and novelist
during his visit to Pakistan in November 2008 when Oxford University Press launched
his new book of selected essays titled Beckett’s

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Published by: Umair Vahidy on Jan 14, 2009
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06/14/2009

 
Published on December 28 2008, Books-Authors
 
(Full text of a lecture delivered in edited versions at the Punjab University, Lahore, theQuaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, and referred to in discussions at Beacon HouseUniversity, Lahore, and at Karachi University by the Sialkot-born poet and novelistduring his visit to Pakistan in November 2008 when Oxford University Press launchedhis new book of selected essays titled Beckett’s)
 
 
I OFTEN thought of you, the students at universities in Pakistan, when, for 38years, I was a professor at the University of Texas. During my earlier years inTexas, in the 1970s, all my students were exclusively of AngloSaxon orEuropean origin and sometimes, seeing their eyes light up when someinteresting idea had been expressed, I would think of you, the thought vaguelycrossing my mind that I could be sharing with you the ideas which were arousingthe enthusiasm of my American students.By the early 21st century, during my last few years at the university, thecomplexion of the American population had changed; the names in my classrosters were no longer just John and Mary, Paul and Sarah, but also Ameenaand Rahman, Ayesha and Qureishi. This sometimes encouraged the illusion thatI was in Karachi or Lahore, not in Austin, Texas, and left me oddly disappointedthat it was only an illusion. I felt a sense of regret that if there was anythingvaluable in my teaching it was not being transmitted to my fellow countrymen andwomen.Over the years I have received poems and stories from many a young person inPakistan who has sought my opinion and hoped that I could somehow get thempublished. Almost invariably, the work has been very poor. Whenever possible, Ihave written back detailed criticism; but one does not always have the luxury ofsufficient free time to reply to everyone. Again, I have been left feeling a sense ofregret that I have not been with you so that we can discuss what it is we do whenwe write poet ry and fiction.Now that I am here, allow me to address a few remarks concerning literature andwriting. Young Pakistani writers have struck me as no different from youngAmerican writers in the shortcomings that their early work reveals. They are keento have their own work published but neglect to read much of what has alreadybeen published. They seem to believe that they have important ideas which willastonish the world but do not realize that literature, as Mallarmé said to Degas, isnot made up of ideas but of words.The young writers’ acquaintance with literature, what little there is of it, has beenin the classroom where the discussion centers upon socio-political ideas or aninterpretation passionately argued in the jargon of some trendy French guru.Therefore, I say to you: your writing comes from your experience of the world andyour special place in it; your experience comes to you through your senses andwhat your senses receive are not ideas but a complex perception of things; ideasare a function of language, not of reality, and when you create an interestinglanguage to represent that reality then, and only then, you will have created
 
interesting ideas. This has been said by many other writers, it is to them a self-evident truth.Writers, states Roberto Calasso in his book Literature and the Gods, ‘are the onlyones who know the territory well’ and giving a long list of them, which includesBaudelaire, Proust, Valéry, Auden, Yeats, Borges, Nabokov and Calvino, aremarkably diverse international group, Calasso adds: ‘we immediately sense…that they are all talking about the same thing... they know that the literaturethey’re talking about is not to be recognised by its observance of any theory, butrather by a certain vibration or luminescence of the sentence’ — a gloriousphrase that, lumines cence of the sentence.Conrad talks about ‘the shape and ring of sentences’ in the preface to one hisnovels; Flaubert refers to ‘sentences that make me swoon’ — two variations ofluminescence.Nabokov said in his Lectures on Don Quixote, ‘the only thing that really mattersin this business of literature — the mysterious thrill of art, the impact of aestheticbliss.’ Flaubert wrote in a letter, ‘As for me, I fail to understand how those peopleexist who are not from morning to night in an aesthetic state. I have enjoyedmore than many the pleasures of family, as much as any man my age thepleasures of the senses, more than many the pleasures of love. But I know of nodelight to compare by that given me by some of the illustrious dead whose worksI have read or seen.’ (To Louise Colet: Oct 3, 1846).The pleasure that Flaubert and Nabokov are referring to is that of language itself,that moment of ecstasy experienced by the mind when an expression, an imageor a rhythm brings to it a sudden surge of pleasure.Longinus, writing his treatise On the Sublime almost 2,000 years ago, stated that‘the Sublime consists in a consummate excellence and distinction of language,and that this alone gave to the greatest poets and prose writers theirpreeminence.’ In 1815, Goethe stated, ‘An art attains to supreme heights whenits subject is a matter of indifference and the art itself truly absolute, with thesubject-matter merely its vehicle.’ In 1858, George Eliot wrote in a letter to herpublisher: ‘The soul of art lies in its treatment and not in its subject.’ Eight yearslater, in another letter, she wrote, ‘I think aesthetic teaching is the highest of allteaching because it deals with life in its highest complexity. But if it ceases to bepurely aesthetic — if it lapses anywhere from the picture to the diagram — itbecomes the most offensive of all teaching.’ It is not ideas, not merely thecontent, but style, what we call the writer’s unique voice when it uses language ina compellingly distinctive form, which generates the aesthetic bliss.No one can give a young writer a formula for acquiring a distinctive style. It is anevolutionary process dependent upon wide reading; the more you read the moreyour mind is engaged in a natural selection of those forms which the peculiar

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