Tuesday, July 8, 2014


The phrase ‘Power of Context’ was learnt by us in the course of a ‘conclAve’ hosted by mckinsey & Co. and it stuck to our thought process like a drooly lollypop, sticking persistently to this  finger or that. A favourite instance was quoted by us in our first post on Kipling. Now it dawns upon us that as an intellectual past-time, the very opposite is equally if not more fertile, and can be termed ‘Futility of Context’! Something akin to the disappointment that befell you when indulging in the ancient past time of the sub-continent- listening to Hindi movie songs on the radio. The best of songs would often remain unseen by the listener before TV reared it’s ugly head, he, he, he…we’d place the song approvingly in an imaginary context, till we saw it on the screen, and wheww…. the comedown could be heart-breaking…for in all possibility the best of the songs would be actually be sung by a jerk in the stupidest of situations. Futility of context. Apna context apni jeb me rakho, sez your inner voice when one sees a song such as this, or this:. Of course after the advent of TV one learnt that by default, all Hindi film songs are, unlike the Victorian child, to be heard, not seen, he, he, he.....funny ehhh !? We're not amused...
The phenomenon struck us recently in the course of researching a favourite poem by William Blake. It’s a sort of sister-verse to the one which appears across the mysterious graphic that forms part of your blog's mast-head now…DD Kosambi loved it, we mean the poetry...yes- Bring me my bow of burning gold…It’s not difficult to guess the context of this beauty by Blake- it’s written against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution in England, poet entreating Jesus to visit the English shores and restore Heaven in place of those ‘satanic mills’.
The other one, ‘Defiled Sanctuary’ was first encountered by us mocking in the Preface to Volume 2 of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography, and the latter he himself wrote, he, he, he..Here goes:

I saw a chapel all of gold, That none did dare to enter in,
And many weeping stood without, Weeping, mourning, worshipping.

I saw a serpent rise between,The white pillars of the door,
And he forc'd and forc'd and forc'd, Till down the golden hinges tore.

And along the pavement sweet, Set with pearls and rubies bright,
All his slimy length he drew,Till upon the altar white

Vomiting his poison out, On the bread and on the wine.
So I turn'd into a sty, And laid me down among the swine.

A gasp never fails to escape us, experiencing the sensational power that Plain-Jane words could be capable of, placed in magical hands…

Coming to its ‘Context’, it seems different people writing in different eras have viewed it differently. Left to our own devices, we’d have considered it apt to be quoted in the context of the Babri Mosque demolition. Fits to eerie perfection…Unfortunately, textbook wisdom says the construct indicates Blake’s hatred for the rich and powerful Church of the day, which excluded the hoi-polloi, depicted in the poem as weeping, mourning, worshipping..Blake sort of looks upon the snake as his Messiah.. Another school of thought considers it also containing sexual imagery...wow...I sayyy...you could expect that thought process from Hollywood normally…no?

Russell, the original ‘quoter’, might approve the Babri angle of ours, whatever might the 'quotee' have had in his mind. Here is what he says about the poem, writing to wife’s cousin Gilbert Murray, contemporary literary observer:

“And do you not know, when a Philistine breaks in upon a delicate imaginary world, the oscillations backwards and forwards between the exquisite mood one is loath to lose and rage against the wretch who is desecrating one’s Holy of Holies? Do you know Blake’s Defiled Sanctuary beginning ‘I saw a chapel all of gold’ and ending  ‘And laid me down among the swine’? This is from a worshipper of Bachchus who had been unable to combat his Pentheus?”

(Pentheus, according to Greek mythology was the austere and puritan son of Spartan King Thebes, who disapproved of his mother’s hedonistic worship of Dionysus, and she, with her sister kills Pentheus after a drunken binge. Apparently the snake could be Pentheus or could be his antagonist, the mother Agave: they make tequila from Agave, you know...).

In fact it'll not be a bad idea to have a game called "What's the Right Context?" Here is Julain Assange’s take on the poetry:

“One can see how Blake's insight here resonated with Russell's desired self perception. But what if Russell not only flees from desecration revealed but is the dramatic figure of causation and revelation? Russell is the actor of change. Russell is the serpent and vomiting out his poison into the transubstantiated body of Christ, an interpretation that would have pleased both Russell and his enemies in the British and American theocracies. Now I say unto you -- arise serpents! Tear the hinges from their doors, stand above the alter (sick, he, he) white and vomit out your poison till deceit crumbles and sets free the dove..”

No prizes for guessing what Assange fancies himself in the allegory! But his hiss is worse than his bite...

This is good ol' Babri Mosque in the first decade of the 20th century (AD that is).  We'd have created a collage on the lines of the Jerusalem above, were it not for the last word in the Defiled Sanctuary, which IK should be loth to juxtaposing on a mosque.. whew...Also,we can't name here who the snake is in today's context...it's an official and respectable Naag now...! These are difficult times, you know.. 

No comments: