Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

On Orientalism

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It is widely regarded as a good idea for authors not to respond to reviews of their books. Editors probably have a bit more leeway though. On balance they should probably keep their mouths shut too but when their responses are as devastating as Jeet Thayil’s reply to William Radice’s review of The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets it is hard to begrudge them:

Radice’s orientalism would be quaint enough to be endearing – if it weren’t so annoying. He tells the reader (breathlessly, I imagine) that my anthology lacks “the colours, the light, the heat, the skies, the crowds and the birds” of India, not to forget “family relationships”, “children” and groups of enthusiastic “Indian university students”. What a happy picture must be playing in Radice’s overheated 19th-century imagination! What elephants! What tigers! What heat and dust and palanquins!

His main objection to 400 pages of poetry is that it is too contemporaneously gloomy. He laments the fact that Nissim Ezekiel and Vikram Seth dared to write in iambics when they should have been using a “tabla beat”. “To any Indian poet in English I would say: close your eyes, think back to the songs and rhymes you heard on your mother’s or grandmother’s lap,” he says, managing to be both patronising and reductionist at the same time.

Written by Martin

11 December 2008 at 08:50

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