Tag Archives: Prasanta Chakravarty

Still Life, Aflutter – Harold Bloom and an Old Incantation: Prasanta Chakravarty


Harold Bloom had made it clear many times that his investment in the Greek literary critic Dionysius Longinus, writing in the first century AD, was a way to address and revisit the fundamental encounter of the sublime in our living. Commentators have noticed a remarkable ‘agon’ being played out in Bloom’s career: between his idealizing enthusiasm in romantic-messianic visions and his equal investment in gnostic wisdom and stoic classicism. This agon, or contestation, was his way of addressing a certain space of the uncanny in dealing with art and literature, in contrast to the modernizers and tropologists who, he believed, rejected subjectivity itself as a fallacy. Not Bloom—who had always claimed that the ‘strong critic’ is a kind of poet. As he saw it, literary criticism is an ongoing tussle between the pathos of the heroic will and the ‘literalizers’ who deal in tropes and textual juggleries. But has he been successful in strictly distinguishing the daemonic from the analytic? Are the uncanny and surpassing moments entirely separable from the sensory and the figurative? 

Here is a singular song, penned and sung by Suman Chattopadhyay (now Kabir Suman) decades ago. Continue reading Still Life, Aflutter – Harold Bloom and an Old Incantation: Prasanta Chakravarty

Adam, Eve, Art – Neither Belief Nor Unbelief: Prasanta Chakravarty


Stephen Greenblatt has struck upon a sheer and stupendous idea: to retell the tale of the first couple of the Christian world, Adam and Eve. The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is a sweeping work with a remarkably ranging scholarship, galloping through centuries in minutes. The tone and the expanse of the book successfully hide the vertical depth of laborious research that has gone into bringing such an ambitious endeavour into culmination.  This is also a book of reliving an ancient art: the bare act of telling a story, holding up the full panoply of its rich narrative contours. The book jauntily speculates as much as it reveals. The very subject matter allows Greenblatt to do so. But there is yet another dimension to this project— a life-long, intense personal engagement with the idea of how conscious human intervention may have altered man’s relationship with whatever is cosmic, mythical and animistic. To that end it is also an ideological book that tells the story of Adam and Eve as it tries to grapple with our modern condition.

Continue reading Adam, Eve, Art – Neither Belief Nor Unbelief: Prasanta Chakravarty

Hard Ways of Lucidity – Thinking About the Crisis in the University: Prasanta Chakravarty

Guest Post by Prasanta Chakravarty

As I see it, university spaces are being assaulted at least from two sides; though it seems as if the two sides are antagonistic to each other, in practice they come dangerously close to each other. How and why is this happening, and what can be done about it?

Prasanta Chakravarty, immediately after being assaulted on February 22nd. Image from the India Today Website.
Prasanta Chakravarty, immediately after being assaulted on February 22nd. Image from the India Today Website.

Continue reading Hard Ways of Lucidity – Thinking About the Crisis in the University: Prasanta Chakravarty

Anguish and Insurrection – Travelling with Shubha’s Poem: Prasanta Chakravarty


अतिमानवीय दुख


इतना दुख आंसुओं से नहीं उठाया जाता
वे हार गए कब के
चीख़ इसे और वीभत्स बनाती है
गुस्सा तो सिर्फ राख पैदा करता है

कुछ देर इसे ख़ामोशी ने उठाया
कभी उठाया कविता ने
विचार ने उठाया इसे
इसे उठाया दोस्तों ने
मिलकर गीत गाते हुए

कम्युनिस्ट पार्टियां बिखरीं
कितनी बार इसे उठाते हुए

इसे उठाने के लिए
कुछ और चाहिये
इन सबके साथ
उठाने का कोई नया ढब
इतिहास ने इसे उठाया कभी-कभी

अब इसकी चिन्दियां बिखरी हैं
इन्हें बच्चे उठा रहे हैं
यह पहुंच रहा है प्रकृति तक
तूफान और कन्दराएं
उठायेंगी इसका बोझ

अगर धरती इसे न उठा सकी
अन्तरिक्ष में नाचेंगी इसकी चिन्दियां




Tears cannot bear such a burden of grief
They gave up a while ago
A scream makes it even more horrid
And anger gives birth only to ash

For a while silence bore it
Occasionally it was borne by poetry
Thought bore it
It was borne by friends
As they sang songs together

Communist parties scattered
so many times as they bore it

To be able to bear it
Something more is needed
along with all of these
a new way to bear it
History bore it on occasion

Now its scraps are scattered
Children are gathering them
It is now reaching nature
Storms and ravines
Will bear its weight
If the earth cannot bear it
Its scraps will dance in the cosmos

(Tr. Suvir Kaul)

* * *




A grief that is way beyond human
Is too hard for tears to hold
Defeated, they dry up before long
Howling makes it only worse, more horrendous
Anger yields nothing but ash

Silence shouldered this grief for sometime
As did poetry
As did ideas now and then
As did comrades singing in unison
History has carried it too

Communist parties fell apart so often
Carrying this burden

Surely we need something different now
To carry it any farther

Grief is everywhere now
Little children are carrying its shredded pieces
It has overcome nature
Caves and storms will bear it

If the planet too fails to contain this grief
Its shreds will swirl and spread
Into empty space beyond

(Tr. Bhupinder Brar)

* * *




So much sorrow cannot be borne by tears
They gave up a while ago
A shriek makes it more grisly
And anger only births ash

For a while silence bore it
And sometimes poetry did
Thought carried it
And friends too
Singing along together

Communist parties disintegrated
so often while carrying it

Something more is needed
Some new bearing
with the rest to carry it
Now and then history lifted it

Now its bits lie scattered
Children are picking them up
Now it’s reaching into nature
Storms and caves will
bear its burden

If the earth is unable to bear it
The bits will dance in the cosmos

(Tr. Aishwarya Iyer)

* * *




Tears can’t bear this much grief
They had been defeated long ago
A scream makes it more grotesque
Anger can only turn to ashes

For a time silence carried the burden
sometimes poetry tried it
Ideas bore it for a bit
And then the friends
singing together

Communist parties disintegrated
trying to carry it ahead

To bear it
one needs something else
A new way
Beyond the known ones
Occasionally history too tried its hand

Now it lies scattered
And children pick up the pieces

It now enters the nature itself
Storms & Caves
Shall lift its burden
If the earth can not bear it
Universe shall see the pieces dance

(Tr. Tarun Bharatiya )




Tears cannot bear this burden
They have dried up long ago
A scream makes it bizarre
And anger can only produce so much ash

Silence bore it for some time
Sometimes poetry
Thought carried it
As did friends
singing in unison

Communist parties disintegrated
Umpteen times under its weight

Something else is needed
To lift it
A new way
Along with the familiar ones
History lifted it occasionally

It is scattered into tiny strips now
Kids are picking and carrying them
It is now reaching the nature itself
Storms and caves and ravines
Will bear it

If the earth couldn’t carry its weight
The strips will dance in outer space.

(Tr. Asad Zaidi)


Five translations of a single poem, by five leading poets, activists, artists and/or literary scholars. A rare occasion in contemporary translation on the subcontinent. A special poem it is indeed. Every single one of these attentive readers seems to have been scorched by the primitive, enunciatory power of its pure voice. Every single translation extends the afterlife of the original and shows how Shubha has been able to successfully communicate the force of a guttural shriek into something coherent and universally felt. Continue reading Anguish and Insurrection – Travelling with Shubha’s Poem: Prasanta Chakravarty

The Return of Daya: Prasanta Chakravarty


A close friend of mine—a fine political scientist with nuanced literary sensibilities, once suggested that he is inherently suspicious of carefreeness and gaiety in relationships, friendships and in public exchanges. One must take time, let matters marinate (‘jaarano’ he proposed in Bangla) and not be prematurely upbeat and exuberant while forging bonds and taking actions. The deficient modes of resting and concealment are important preconditions in order to take on varieties of political manipulation, social one-upmanship and literary cleverness that besets our time.

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The Picnic Managers: Prasanta Chakravarty

This is a guest post by PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY.

Writing in the Encounter, September 1961, Edward Shils characterizes the Indian student in the following terms:

“Your curiosity, idle or ordered, takes you to an Indian university or college. You walk across the dusty sun-stuck grounds or through damp, dark corridors and past malodorous lavatories; and you see clumps of boys, chirruping like birds, an occasional pair walking hand in hand, sometimes a little knot of girls in pigtails. They look extraordinarily childlike, with all the melting tenderness of children, terribly shy, soft-eyed, gentle, fragile, and very quick to smile…Their voices are low and soft, their movements light, elastic, lamb-like. If one of them, darting about in the suddenly ignited outburst of a boyish prank, nearly collides with you, he aplogises with timorous embarrassment. If you ask one of them where to find a certain professor or the head of a particular department, he will go far out of his way to lead you to the right place, and you will be impressed by his shyness and deferentiality. When he has delivered you to your destination, and you thank him, he will say something like ‘Not to mention’ and will turn and dash off as light-footedly as a young deer.”

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An Eco-Anarchist Manifesto: Prasanta Chakravarty

Municipalizing Nature.


The introduction to Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Peter Kropotkin’s masterly rejoinder to competitive social Darwinists published in 1902, recounts the following anecdote: “When Eckermann told once to Goethe—it was in 1827—that two little wren-fledglings, which had run away from him, were found by him next day in the nest of robin redbreasts (Rothkehlchen), which fed the little ones, together with their own youngsters, Goethe grew quite excited about this fact. He saw in it a confirmation of his pantheistic views, and said: — ‘If it be true that this feeding of a stranger goes through all Nature as something having the character of a general law — then many an enigma would be solved.’ He returned to this matter on the next day, and most earnestly entreated Eckermann (who was, as is known, a zoologist) to make a special study of the subject, adding that he would surely come “to quite invaluable treasuries of results.”

This is the Goethe of The Theory of Colors and Metamorphosis of Plants, a unique dimension of the savant known and appreciated by artists and morphologists since. But why does a classical anarchist like Kropotkin needs to cite Goethe, whose inclinations for the storm and stress can only be matched by his surpassing urge to produce enduring literature and critiquing dilettantism at all levels? How the connection between ecology, evolution and philosophical anarchism gets stitched in the first place—before the advent of chaos and complexity theories, long before Earth First and Sierra Club became hip tags? Is it sound to dismiss such hitching as one more instance of misguided and modernist humanism as many radicals of our time—deep ecologists and votaries of biocentrism, not to speak of more mainstream anti-utopians—often tend to do?

Continue reading An Eco-Anarchist Manifesto: Prasanta Chakravarty