I imagine artistic experimentation to be very laudable; it helps in attaining new prospects. I am also convinced by experiment for the sake of experiment in some circumstances, meaning when the monotony of a single position begins to create a mechanical situation (John Barth). But such artistic experiments carry the weight of personal practice for me. Unless I do not extract a result convinced by these experiments, until then the story remains limited to me. I understand that the one among us who does not evaluate one’s artistic experiment in this manner is himself a victim of confusion, and also keeps others in a muddle. Then the journey of the story really seems to be ending – arriving at Manto and Bedi.
Tradition supplies everything with a foundation, it provides roots. I like tradition, too, because it is the gift of my genes. There, too, is the oppression of conditioning from my birth till this moment. But I am not Pavlov’s dog indeed. Tradition has never assumed a pathological form for me; those traditions which are injected repeatedly with Coramine injections to restore breathing; which obstruct the route of technology and changing consciousness by placing an iron cap over human thought; which remain bent upon limiting the expanse of the universe in the human mind within their prejudices; which cling to human civilization like leeches. I refuse to be the guardian of such traditions and happily admit the charge of rebellion. How interesting that the Greek (Unani) method of wisdom and medicine is embraced with much relish by calling it “traditional” and “indigenous”, and when I try to benefit from Greek mythology,I am taunted for it!
A decade ago, I had said:
“In my opinion, character, atmosphere, silhouettes, idea, etc. are not fixed units. They can be used and totally rejected as well. An axiomatic truth about the modern short-story is its poetic structure. Non-objectivity in modern verse and modern art distinguishes these from the classics. Picasso and (Georges) Braque gave a shape and form to this manner of feeling with the help of this non-objectivity, which could not come within the grasp of all the preceding artistic movements. A similar situation is also evident from the miniature decorations discovered by Islamic artists. These Eastern and Western manifestations of the style of expression could not find weight in our literature. In the attempt to fill this vacuum by giving the short-story a poetic structure, I felt that the abstract and the metaphorical should be harmonized.”
The styles of naturalism and realism give space in literature to the changing situation before us in every era. In this way, the naturalism of one time is different from the literature of realism. This is because these styles of literature bring the transformations which occur in the specific exterior within their grasp. It is these styles which are the very first to highlight in literature the clear difference between the life of the lanes and streets, and the life of mansions and highways; therefore they are needed in every era. However it should be kept in view that along with the evident and accurate difference between the life of the lanes and streets and the life of mansions and highways, there is that level, too, where the difference in the internal meaning of life becomes clear. To bring this difference fully within grasp, poetic structure is indeed of use. The skill of the chaos of critique in our time is that we even stick the label of symbolism over the verse and short-story which brings together this perspective – now its surrealism, then meta-narrative – but do not know that the 99 names refer to the same thing indeed! As long as the transformations of interior and exterior keep occurring, poetic style along with naturalism and realism will remain in practice. Actually these styles prove to be helpful and supportive of each other. They should not be seen in isolation. The custom of our time, however is that the hands and feet are praised separately from the vital organs. The structure of a short-story could be naturalistic, realist or poetic. But what meaning does the poetry or narrative of the language of the story hold? I am not a captive of any sort of diction. Popularity is another matter altogether. Otherwise the reality is that just like great heavy selections of the ghazal could not end the need for and benefit of the modern poem; in the same manner, the quantity of heavy novels, too, could not dispense with the need for short-stories. Had the matter been so dire indeed, then the epic of Man’s victory – which I have the desire in my heart to write – would never have arisen. But do not ever think that an epic is just expanse and breadth. Brief and meaningful epics such as Iza ja-a nasrullahi w’al fath (With the help of God the Muslims were victorious) are a resource of great encouragement.
“Tradition has never assumed a pathological form for me”
I stand by my position even today. I cannot say about tomorrow as to which path my experiment might lead me to.
The writer is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently based in Lahore. He is the recipient of a prestigious 2013-2014 Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship in the UK for his translation and interpretive work on Saadat Hasan Manto’s essays. His most recent work is a contribution to the edited volume ‘Jallianwala Bagh: Literary Responses in Prose & Poetry’ (Niyogi Books, 2019).He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at email@example.com