Tag Archives: fortune-wheel

Mirrors & Myths.

20 Jan

This is the creature there has never been.

They never knew it, and yet, nonetheless,

they loved the way it moved, its limber

neck, its very gaze, mild and serene.

Not there, because they loved it, it behaved

as though it were. They always left some space.

And in that clear unpeopled space they saved

it lightly reared its head, with scarce a trace

of not being there. They fed it, not with corn,

but only with the possibility

of being. And that was able to confer

such strength, its brow put forth a horn. One horn.

Whitely it stole up to a maid- to be

within the silver mirror, and in her.

— Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, II-IV.

One of the great truths about a reading life is that timing matters. When you read something is almost as important as what you read.  Last year, I finally gave up my old standby of reading books in one sitting. What had once been an intense and freewheeling experience was now diffuse and overwhelming. This I justified in many ways: diversity, deadlines, multiple bibliographies, a brain that can never be satisfied with only one of anything. The truth was I simply couldn’t read the way I had all my life any more. It was no longer about the reading, it became about the writing.  To write, one must compress, paraphrase, and excerpt like a librarian on pills. This is as often exhausting and dull as it is exhilarating and refreshing, and books lost their hold upon me.  My nose for them was all nostril and no flair. Where once I had anticipated reading, I now planned it; and in the crossfire I abandoned my visceral love of a good story, the very reason I began this whole writing shebang in the first place.

This past month I have set about trying to recover some of that lost stardust. I read mountains of fiction, usually the most regulated commodity on my reading lists. As with any reader, fiction is my confectionary: curative in small doses, addictive in large. I watched even larger doses of television, to tide over days when the very sight of a book gave me the hives. I did freelance work that was more about a good pitch than a good tale.  I even went dancing. In all, I got me a life. And I detested it. The book that drew me back from the abyss (read in one sitting) was Reckless, by Cornelia Funke. A few weeks later, happily ensconced in my library, I am wondering why this little book managed what so many others could not.

Funke’s ‘Inkworld’ books were skilled at world-building and clumsy with plot; Reckless, weirdly, inverts this equation. The story races along, while the ‘mirror-world’ is drab and populated by stock fairytale types: witches, dwarves, unicorns, fairies, shape-shifters.  The dominant races- humans, and stone-people known as Goyls- are at war. This is the world that Jacob Reckless, our hero, ventures into at age 12. He slips between the worlds for another dozen years; a famous treasure-hunter in one, an absent brother in the other.  Finally, Jacob’s worlds collide, his brother is attacked by Goyls, and Reckless begins. If fur turns to skin, and skin to stone, what remains?

Reckless is an experiment in the tradition of Through the Looking Glass, though it sorely misses the wit and invention of Carroll’s classic. There are no March Hares and singing walruses to be met here, nor do the unicorns declare children to be fabulous monsters. Mirror-worlds have spawned into an enormous sub-genre in recent years, and Reckless is a solid (if not incandescent) sample of the trope. It served, anyhow, to draw me towards an ancient trail, and the road to sanity was littered with glittering mirrors.  Everywhere in my reading, I saw magical mirrors: Denethor’s Palantir; The Mirror of Erised; Lady Shalott, whose mirror crack’d from side to side; Despair of the Endless, locked in her hall of mirrors. Perseus, who turned Medusa’s gaze upon herself; Narcissus, who taught humanity to glance askance. There are enough of them scattered about to garner Diana Wynne Jones’ attention in her Tough Guide to Fantasy Land:

Mirrors are somewhat infrequent, despite the fact that glass is used for windows. Many of them are made of polished metal and are the property of rich people and Enchantresses. Where mirrors exist, of whatever material, they are not commonly used for combing hair. They will be employed for Prophecy or Farseeing, or, less frequently, as the way from our own world to start the Tour, or simply for travel. Glass mirrors are almost exclusively used as a device for spotting Vampires or other Enemies in disguise.

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Lady Dragon.

10 Oct

This is the second of the mylaw.net articles on the American midterms. As usual, please head thither for links to the articles on which my analysis is based- I do believe in credit, but setting up two sets of hyperlinks is my idea of too much work. Unless I have directly quoted from the article, or otherwise think you cannot live without reading it, I have omitted the reference in this version of the essay.

I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something – whatever! – men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place. Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan – which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness – for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

Whatever Happened to Candidate Obama? Katha Pollitt.

One day in 2008, we all woke up to the news that the long-suffering Hilary Clinton was capable of such gymnastics as public weeping. I am not now, and I certainly was not then, a news junkie. All the flap about Obama had passed me by entirely: wasn’t he the guy who declared his desire for the presidency on a talk show? I had assumed that Clinton was a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, that she would probably win, and the world would trundle on heedless. Washington is united when it comes to ‘security’ wonks: Blackwater, for instance, was defended by a firm run by Clinton strategist Mark Penn. In the corner of the globe that most of us inhabit, that simple truth is often all that matters.

Yet here she was, whimpering, and the election was close to a year away. India’s Indira and Germany’s Angela, it appeared, didn’t translate into America’s Hillary.

That was the day I swallowed my pride and sought education from sundry politics nerds: the mystifying distinction between primaries and caucuses, conventions and their delegations; and how, exactly, did colleges get to elect the president of a country? Most began with an admirably concise answer to the first question: they’re both dogfights for the nomination. Unfortunately, I was then at the height of my elections-are-gimmicks-and-circuses phase (which I am yet to fully recover from); and there was the predictable flame-out before the conversation could turn to other foundations of American Civics 101. The profusion of talking heads obsessed with Ms. Clinton did, however, get me interested in the interplay between feminism and electoral politics: what, really, is the price worth paying for a woman in power?

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Res Ipsa Loquitor

14 Jul

Law School.

Requiem for a Dream

I started National Law School (hereinafter NLS or law school) when I was 17.  I entered a college of 400 people (the LLMs and sundry researchers we deemed too irrelevant to measure) in a class of 80. I was told at the time that it was the most broad-based liberal arts program in the country. By a miracle, I left when I was 22, a year and some ago today.  I left also with almost-80 people, but they were by no count the same 80.I know now that I was deceived, but only by a thin margin: India is not a country that trucks in the humanities.  I found in law school standards both duplicitous and dangerous, as well as unkind to the likes of me.  Even so, I can hardly deny that the average star in our firmament was obscenely bright; law school gathers oddities and outrages like so many moths to a flame. By the same counter, our douches are far douchier than your everyday college possesses, and far more of them exist than we will ever tell you.

A few years ago, two friends and I, tipsy on terrace-wine, postulated the existence of magic batches in law school, the batches that Shook Things Up. These batches come around every four years, we said, and ours was (naturally) the latest incarnation. I have very hazy memories of the reasons justifying this periodicity (almost certainly hokum) but to prove this was not a vanity project, we allocated the most dubious of credits to ourselves: as a batch, we had shed more batch-mates than any previously or (at the time) since.  We were also the most enthused of.. intoxicants, but hush.

With that, onward and ho.

Cartoons courtesy Steve Brodner.

A note on law school failure

The NLS system involves taking 4 courses every trimester: 12 in the course of an academic year. ‘Passing’ in law school implies acquiring a ‘B’ grade, or 50-55/100 in the given subject. The highest grade, ‘O’ , involves scoring above 70 in the given subject. The 100 mark evaluation is broken down into project-viva marks (35), examination marks (60) and attendance marks (5).

Upon failure to reach the 50% cut-off, one is allowed a ‘repeat’ examination during the holidays between trimesters, making internships more difficult to sustain, vital though they are to one’s career. There is no provision to resubmit projects and thus raise one’s score, and creative teachers usually find those 35 marks the more effective way to regulate their students. A project-total of less than 15 spells doom for the best examinee. The highest exam marks awarded in NLS range in the mid-40s.

The schedule is this: two projects each month for the first two months of term, finals at the close; and, in the early years, midterms. Only in the final year could the exam be suspended at the teacher’s discretion in favour of ‘research’.

Passing is further contingent upon minimum 75% attendance, in the absence of which one fails automatically, without repeat reprieve. Medical leave entitles one to a further 10%. This latter failed state, also applicable to those who fail to make it up to 50 post-repeat, is known as a “carryover”. People are allowed three carryovers per year which they must make up in the following; if they gather more they are trickled down one batch. The same result obtains upon repeat-failing any single carryover (i.e. one can’t carry over a carryover).

The onerous attendance requirement is what makes a difficult schedule a punishing one, and stacks the cards against people with irregular timetables.  Missing a month of class can, and does, tank a full year of exemplary behaviour.  An alarming, and growing, statistic in law school is the number of people who “lose” more than one year (this is an intuitive claim with no research except for observation). Consequently, any batch in law school is a hardy, backstabbing band that travels together; a herd of folk continually trimmed of the weak, the exhausted, the unlucky, replaced by similarly worn seniors.

Liberal Interpretations

The one thing mildly interesting about academic life in national law school is project writing.  Teaching is a shambles and course material is apportioned by an administration as fussy as a matron slick with illicit candy. Grading is, well, a joke. I was memorably failed in my final year because the teacher disapproved of my describing, in a paper on ‘transitional justice’, what the given society (Lebanon) was transitioning between and questioning how ‘transitions’ are measured and determined.  But the papers rescued the education for me: every trimester, I found myself a canvas or two that threw up absorbing problems. Every so often, I was granted the rare clutch of three, and once, remarkably, four.  Apart from teaching me a few things about research, the discipline provided a rhythm to my thought that my anarchic reading sorely lacked. On a reread of five years of slush, I find that I  doubled back time and again, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes to score an easy 1000 words. Some themes-culpability, choice, communalism, flexibility, freedom, gender- echo across the years. ‘Justice’ I consulted never once.

A project begins when one is handed a ‘topic’- a phrase, a concept, a thought, a movement- and allowed as free rein as teacher and imagination allow.  The usual project is about 5000 words, though beefy prospects impress teachers and butchers alike. Mine struggled valiantly to this goalpost, often flagging off at 4500 words, though they soar majestically on occasion. My last seminar paper sailed on for 15000 words of utter chaos.

The principle I followed in my monthly turnings-in was to find one thing interesting to read about and then jargon it up. Many projects, especially towards the close of law school life, were undertaken as psychological exercises- overblown diary entries- which is how I wound up with a seminar paper that was a manifesto and a tax paper about criminal jurisprudence.

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