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“Our Translated World”: Towards Day 13 (Tues, 3/3/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
weekend stories?
Celeste, Teresa, Tosin, @ Posse Retreat on "Crime and Punishment"--
reporting out on an exercise about what's a crime,
Tosin spoke the ecological thought,
that no action is individual, it's all connected...

for Thursday,
finish reading The Hungry Tide
the non-fictional essay that I've linked to from the home page is not by Ghosh,
but is an account of the current danger that rapid sea rise is posing to the Sunderbans
(Caleb posted a similar story about what's happening in Louisiana now)

I'm not expecting a report on your site sit this week, but I am expecting
that you'll go see what "cache" your classmate has left for you there...

II. by Friday @ midnight,  your second web-event is due--
so let's see where we are/give each other a hand up....

go 'round, give a single-sentence summary of what you are going to write about;
break into groups of 3 to help one another brainstorm how you're going to approach this project
(remind each of you to review my comments on your last one,
knowing that I'll expect you to take these into account on the one upcoming)

III. Last Thursday,  we started to dig into The Hungry Tide,
comparing the p.o.v's represented by the map, by Kanaii, by
the Bengali myth Nirmal recorded for him, and by Piya--
not a "turtling," or a "tree," or a "rhizome," but a "braiding,"
we decided, of @ least four different ways of seeing the world:
those of the scientist and the translator,
of scientific data-gathering and mythical story telling;
of the foreigner and the native (several different natives:
those content w/ trad'l ways & those w/ ambitions to be educated);
those of detached observation and of extended immersion in a place,
of static representation and shifting interactions...
from the very beginning, Ghosh shifts our p.o.v. from reading a map,
which is incomplete, to hearing a story, then re-hearing and re-hearing it...

the multiplicity of time frames and perspectives in these opening scenes
also introduces Ghosh’s formal innovation, his challenge to linear ordering,
his counter-strategy of rhythmic movement that reflects
the watery geography of the Sunderbans….
the tides create shifts in position and perception, preventing
the single point perspective that is necessary for linear mapping...

IV. stay in your same groups to work through some passages.

1) What is our relationship to the characters? How far does "identification" take us? Can we trust this?

Maddie: The more and more I read The Hungry Tide, the more I dislike Kanai and the more I like Fokir.  

Kanai…seems to be Ghosh's voice sometimes….Ghosh's connections to India allow him to be the voice of Kanai at times…

Tosin: I have no problem understanding Piya's portions of the book, because I know that her plans match mine…in my late twenties I, too, will hopefully beginning to truly start to lead an independent life….

Compare Kanai, the translator and master of many languages, with Piya, the purposefully monolingual scientist who prefers "words with the heft of stainless steel, sounds that had been boiled clean...empty of pain and memory and inwardness" (78).

What evidence do we have that “speech was only a bag of tricks that fooled you into believing that you could see through the eyes of another human being" (p. 132)? 

"there was the immeasurable distance that separated her from Fokir....that was how it was with human beings, who came equipped, as a species, with the means of shutting each other out....wasn't it better in a way, more honest, that they could not speak?" (p. 132)

2) What guidance does Ghosh give us? Do we trust him? Do we trust language?

Abby asked, “who is this omniscient narrator? Who do we assume they are? And how is it that they speak on every detail of a particular moment, down to the thoughts in a tiger’s head? [‘it was skilled in dealing with the wind, and it knew that the people on the other bank were powerless against these gusts’ (90).]

…when Piya listens to Fokir singing, she wants to know the lyrics, ‘but she knew too that a river of words would not be able to tell her exactly what made the song sound as it did right then, in that place’ (83)…a good depiction of what it feels like to be in a specific moment and not just struggle with representing it, but to not even want to, especially when … representing it will inevitably alter it….Nirmal … grapples with the impermanence of a particular time and place and putting it onto paper (58-59). I think that these two ideas (the switching--sliding?--of narrative perspective and the daunting near impossible task of representing reality) are connected.”

"Words are just air...the real river lies beneath, unseen and unheard" (p. 214).

3) Can we trust this account, a fiction written in a very real place facing very real problems?
Caleb: These switching perspectives … make us unable to say definitively “This is what happened”…more like “This is how I have heard it had happened.”

Tosin: half the time I'm formulating my own truths about the book, instead of the author laying it out for me.

What “truth” can we make of an environment that is always on the move? Of space that is temporal and impermanent?

"There were no docks or jetties on Lusibari, for the currents and tides that flowed around it were too powerful to permit the construction of permanent structures" (p. 32).

"...almost every island in the tide country has been inhabited at some time or another. But to look at them you would never know: the speciality of the mangroves is that they do not merely recolonize land; they erase time. Every generation creates its own population of ghosts" (p. 43).

"in the tide country, transformation is the rule of life...the very rhythms of the earth were quickened here...nothing escapes the maw of the tides" (p. 186).

"the mud banks of the tide country are rivers of language....the tide country's faith is...a roundabout people can use to pass in many directions...." (pp. 205-6).

4) What is the novel telling us about doing science, in particular? About the search for our life’s work, in general?

Ariel: "science tries to offer a humbling, subjective perspective"

"science has always been a political practice to shape the world"

"it was true that whatever came of it would not revolutionize the sciences, or even a minor branch of them, but it was also true would be as fine a piece of descriptive science as any. It would be enough; as an alibi for a life, it would do; she would not need to apologize for how she had spent her time on this earth" (p. 106).

"as a young man Nirmal was in love with the idea of revolution...he would say, 'You've joined the rulers; you've begun to think like them. That's what comes of doing the sort of social work you've been doing all these years' .... she recalled the contempt with which her own husband had dismissed her life's work" (p. 100).

"my sympathies had a narrower focus. I am not capable of dealing with the whole world's problems...the dreamers have everyone to speak for them. But those who're patient, those who try to be strong, who try to build things--no one ever sees any poetry in that, do they?" (pp. 318-319).

5) How do we make sense of what Caleb calls "the meta-textual aspect of the book…”?

How/why does Nirmal use the German Romantic poet Rilke to conclude each of his explanations of the tide country...?
(he’s not native, indigenous…what does he know about this place?)

"we don't love without context...history continually informs who and when and how we love..."

What's the role of Rilke specifically, and of poetry generally, in this prose?

"torn ...between the quiet persistence of everyday change and the heady excitement of revolution--between prose and poetry" (p. 180).

Consider also the frustration of "being at the mercy of translators"...

and the wisdom of animals, who know "we're not comfortably at home/in our translated world” (p. 172)

V. AFTER DISCUSSION, take these claims into a barometer....