As a student of literature, one might expect yours truly to be hunched over books dissecting and analysing texts into the wee hours of the night, and they’re not wrong. However, what is interesting is that, this process of hunching over textbooks and burning the midnight oil, happens to have far less to do with academia, as it does to falling agonisingly in love with people who died about two hundred years ago.
Romantic literature, perhaps, serves as the best example of this, with young men and women, utterly dissatisfied and disgruntled with the world they inhabited, making it their life’s mission to disrupt every idea of society through their lifestyles and writing – Coleridge, with his drug addled voyage into the geography of the human psyche, a poster boy like no other for not-giving-a-damn; Keats, clutching a ticking clock in his hand and a deathwish in his poetry; P.B. Shelley describing the exact procedure for the execution of a revolution; his wife, Mary Shelly, a witness from the inside to the romantic movement and its flaws, writing about an attempt (that goes horribly wrong) at indoctrinating a fresh mind into the system of patriarchy; the scandalous Byron; and of course, Wordsworth, the confused, false Romantic, with his ballads on flowers and clouds, as a war waged on in the background. A close look at their writing and a little insight into their lives, and one finds that there is not much that cannot be deciphered about their personalities, as indeed is true for most authors.
As Milan Kundera states in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “…isn’t it true that an author can write only about himself?”, every text, whether a novel or a work of poetry, is a motherlode of information on the author. Shelley, for instance, was the quintessential rich brat, who takes to politics, is able to, as the kids say these days, spin sick verses, stands up on the desk in the middle of a classroom and instead of saying, ‘O Captain, my Captain’, proclaims himself the captain, which eventually leads him to nothing but a world of trouble, but does get him a lot of women in the process (even posthumously; remember how I talked about falling agonisingly in love with dead people?) Young Keats, on the other hand, quite literally spun sick verses, forgive me the pun. A patient of consumption, he knew his days were numbered. He took to poetry because he realised the futility of an attempt at revolution, he was far too sickly and just didn’t happen to have enough time. Keats’ poetry, one of the most beautiful work from the period, can be compared to the scribbles in the diary of that emo guy-next-door, but of course, far more articulate and pleasing to the senses.
As you, dear reader, read my humble article, the comparisons I draw between these figures of eloquence from the centuries past, and the symbols of modern subcultures, might perhaps strike you as odd, even a little disrespectful. However, allow me to remind you, that nothing that we witness today, was absent across the ages, and in fact, what we are today, the good bits and the unsavoury, is a direct result of the endeavours of those before us (the Pre-Raphaelites of the mid-later 1800s would often refer to Sir Joshua Reynolds of The Royal Society, who patronised an art form which they were vehemently opposed to, as Sir “Sloshua”). Every taunting name that you might be called by those you hold dear, or, let’s face it, not so dear, has been used upon those great literary heroes. Let us then climb aboard H.G. Wells’ time machine from the Victorian era, and transport ourselves to the 1920s, the time of Federico Garcia Lorca. A poet, playwrite, and theatre director from Andalusia in Spain, he also fancied himself to be an artist and a musician (of dubious talent). More interestingly, he was also pals with Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, and, as pally as they might have been, it didn’t prevent them from making and producing a short film, titled An Andalusian Dog, where the titular Andalusian dog was, of course, Garcia Lorca.
As centuries pass, the language evolves. Writing styles evolve. They change, mix, and are experimented with, sometimes they are lost forever, and sometimes, they resurface. However, the connecting thread that runs through all texts, is one that is extremely obvious, and therefore brushed off as unimportant – it is the fact that every text, every book, play, or poem, has an author – a human being with a distinct personality and character, with a set of friends and foes alike, and one, who happens to be as much of a stereotype – the clown, the popular hotshot, the punk, the butt of jokes, the killjoy, or the emo – amongst his friends. Therefore, while one may not find a The Canterbury Tales in 1993 or a Trainspotting in 1478, one could very easily find an Irvine Welsh in 1478, and perhaps even a Chaucer today. Which makes me wonder, if Percy Shelley were alive today, would he have worn ripped jeans and skateboarded?