LITERARY REVIEW OF “ICE IN MY EYES — SMOKE IN YOURS”, a novel by T. Wignesan, cyberwit.net, India, 2016.
This is T. Wignesan’s most ambitious published novel to date. The length of the book — 672 pages — immediately establishes for this literary critic his main question: do the story, the style and the execution of the writing justify such a long read?
In the author’s own “Note on the novel’s toile de fond”, he writes: “The narration of events in this novel, set against the backdrop of moral and economic devastation during the early post-war years in Western Europe (sustained by the Marshall Plan and military overseership), should best highlight the enigma of the ‘clash of cultures’ revealed in the behavioural patterns of the multi-ethnic characters thrown in together in a few of its principal cultural and artistic centres: Heidelberg, Berlin, London and Paris. And into this maelstrom of acutely conflictual and eddying emotions wanders an ingenue, an Asian, a Hindu by upbringing, an ex-colonial, hardly prepared for the blows and joys and humiliations and snares the anonymity of an “exiled” community of students and teachers proffer. These characters interact nonchalantly in academe only to find that ‘innocence’ — the only precious possession the protagonist finds worth dying for — deserts the unwary and leads them to undo themselves for life.”
The story itself is rather undramatically presented, in spite of the obvious underlying tensions and challenges to be expected from the given historical/political settings and intercultural relationships. The author could easily have made much more out of the various interpersonal relationships and events in this story, but he has elected instead to hold an even keel — perhaps “dignified”, in a stereotypical Asian face-saving way — as is the personality of Theson, the protagonist. Although this book is written as a story being told by the author, rather than by the protagonist as first person, most of the narrations and descriptions of events and developments are designed to align the reader’s sympathies with those of the affable, responsible and kind Theson. Wignesan does this quite effectively. Actually so much so that the book can easily be presumed to have been written partly from actual life (of that of the author himself, and/or that of persons or events known to the author).
In the first seventy or so pages this Reader sensed a bit of experimentation with stream of consciousness-style writing, which did not (in my opinion) work as well as I would have hoped. It was — to me — at times tedious, and textually so tightly wound that it was somewhat difficult to follow. And then in chapter three the T. Wignesan that I know from his earlier novels returned — not only in full force, but with a glory that even surpasses the level of writing that I have enjoyed in his work previously. From that point on, and until the very last page of this long novel, the author held my attention quite easily — in spite of the blanketing “laid back” undertone. Here it is obvious that the author’s adeptness both as a storyteller and as a journalist have been used satisfactorily (both as regards the more subjective reading experience, and to great technical advantage).
Aside from being a story about love and friendships (and Life’s other perhaps rather “fickle” occurrences and banalities) this book affords the reader with much knowledge and various other “insights/opinions” regarding historical and political events, as well as interesting perspectives on philosophy, religion and more.
This book is long — perhaps too long for me, and for the delightfully simple style of writing — but it is a good read. But then there are many persons who prefer books that are lengthy and unhurried. I would recommend that they, as well as history buffs, and especially fans of Wignesan’s other books read this book. Well done, T. Wignesan!
— Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway, 2017.
Review of “…the smell of piss an’ shit in his pants – The vicarious memoir of a Vietnam War veteran -“, by T. Wignesan, 120 pages, Cyberwit.net, 2015, paperback.
From the author’s Preface:
“This is the story of a Vietnam War veteran. It would hardly be appropriate to use the word veteran for one so young, for when Ulixes was de-mobbed he was only twenty-two. He was born in the borough of Queens and grew up mainly there and in Brooklyn, New York, before being conscripted at twenty. In all he had spent a year and 67 days in Vietnam during which time he saw action as a foot-soldier. On three occasions, he and his patrol were ambushed by the Viet-Cong and North Vietnamese regular army personnel. There were seven other skirmishes as well. The first time a month after his arrival on October 1st, 1968, he went through the shock of seeing and handling mashed-up and dismembered bodies of his buddies while staving off an attack from the Viet Cong. The second took place two months later during the Mini Tet Offensive at Long Ogygia Base on the Cambodian border and lasted some twelve hours. He killed two North Vietnamese Army personnel; one with his M16 and another with his Ka-Bar knife. He sustained no great injuries himself; that is, not visibly on his person, but the scars of shock and fear were scorched deep under his fatigues and skin and rose with time to render his life a vacant yet furies-filled passage between the embattled three-room quarters he occupies and the Veterans’ Hospital. On the psychologist and psychiatrists’ cards he remains tagged as a post-traumatic stress (PTS) case.”
And with the following additional sentences from the cyberwit.net description of the book:
“Is he a hero? Or an anti-hero? Or just a victim of circumstances? A pawn on the chess-board moved by invisible hands? Judge for yourself.”
T. Wignesan is a literary provocateur, and reading his books always presents the reader with challenges and tests. These are not so much tests of academic or literary intelligence; they rather “allow the reader to understand” that not all in life (or literature) is as expected, or as presented. Wignesan is adept at creating constructions that ensnare, release, and then change again. He is clearly interested in how persons think, and how they are conditioned. In this book he boldly states that the story to be presented is purposely not written in a linear fashion, and he explains why — blaming the interview subject, communications difficulties, occasional apathy on the parts of both the author and the interview subject, and other issues. While much information is presented in the book, it is highly-deconstructed. Some sections are highly-detailed and engaging, and others read more like journal entries — recording disconnected, but yet connected conversations and narratives. The reader who does not hold out might well conclude that this book is merely poorly-written. But alas, Wignesan is far ahead of us. For those who are paying attention there are many “coincidental” revelations throughout the book — and a bit of reflection while reading successive chapters and passages is enough to leave you both cursing the author and praising his weird genius by the time you reach the last page. You see, this story is really not about any big or important story, and it is truly not about the protagonists (the “author” and the interview subject). In fact, the only protagonist in this “novel” is the Reader.
Already from the beginning we are drawn into a series of puddles which become concentric circles — of both small and meaningless, and greater and more significant proportions. We will not find our way through the labyrinth by linear thinking. It does not matter where this “story” begins. It begins and ends in the mind of the Reader. It is up to you to let the process mix up and possibly explode your mind, or to give up — blaming the author for not being a coherent, traditional, non-academic … or good writer.
Wignesan has fun throughout the book — with repetitions (and comments signifying that he knows that he repeats himself), with references to earlier books (and what I assume has been criticism for their academic style), and more. When Wignesan finally gets to the promised “story” over half-way through the book, he does give us exactly what we wanted from the beginning: a fluid, descriptive, engaging, and well-told story that only requires that we follow the words. But by then it is too late, dear Reader. Wignesan has already penetrated your mindset with literary guerrilla warfare. You have already been disabled, and had your literary ego neutralized and violated.
And finally — in the last few pages — Wignesan cleverly manages to extricate himself of responsibility by revealing his mere advisory role in the whole vicarious mess of piss an’ shit.
What do you expect, dear Reader? He has a doctoral degree in aesthetics, for chrissake! Hahaha …
I have previously written three essays based on books by T. Wignesan:
– Literary criticism by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “Poïetics : Disquisitions on the Art of Creation”, published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, ISBN 978-81-8253-104-8, 214 pages, paperback.
– Literary criticism by Adam Donaldson Powell – based upon “Victorian (pen-in-cheek) Vignettes” and “The Night Soil Man”, both published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, respectively : ISBN 978-81-8253-107-9, 207 pages, paperback; and ISBN 978-81-8253-124-6, 193 pages, paperback.
– Literary criticism (2009) by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “Mere deaths and the mostly dead : a collection of six long and four short stories”, published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, ISBN 978-81-8253-122-2, 275 pages, paperback).
These essays can be read here: https://adamangel.me/2011/07/10/adam-donaldson-powell-reviews-literary-works-by-t-wignesan/
– Adam Donaldson Powell, Oslo, 2017.
T. WIGNESAN : INTELLECTUAL SLUMMING WITH A GENIUS.
Literary criticism by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “Poïetics : Disquisitions on the Art of Creation”, published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, ISBN 978-81-8253-104-8, 214 pages, paperback, US$20.
What happens when a genius and a scholar and a writer compiles and publishes a series of essays and interviews on poïetics, with the aim of both presenting this all-too-obscure area of investigation on a level that is understandable to a non-genius and perhaps even to a non-scholar? For most readers the consequence is perhaps that of easily getting lost – much as in the process of digesting the long-winded sentence I have just presented. One needs to either quickly “learn” or “recognize” the language of multi-leveled thought processes and communication – or to give up, with the rationalization that the book is “boring” or “uninteresting”. The latter unwittingly reveal themselves as interesting subjects for the author and his interpretation of poïetics, as the experience of “boredom” is a central concept in his oeuvre. For those of us who share T. Wignesan’s interests in philosophy, abstractions, existentialism, surrealism, the development of literature, analysis of the difficulties in both artistic expression and translation etc. this book is more than mere “eye candy” – it is a walk through Wonderland. This walk together with Wignesan affords the consenting “genius” the opportunity to intellectually slum through a multitude of complicated, competing and converging presentations of reality and “sub-reality” … with accompanying elements of entertainment, including small commentaries that bring forth the occasional snicker, as well as hidden “checks” by which the reader can himself determine if he is truly still awake in the classroom, and even more importantly: the fun of following an otherwise academic presentation while subjectively being presented with the very points of the analysis in the writing form itself. THIS is where the true naughty genius of T. Wignesan makes itself evident, a genius not entirely unlike that of Jean-Paul Sartre, Voltaire and other masters of literary presentations of philosophical thought.
Many readers are possibly wondering ‘what the hell’ I am talking about – and quite understandably perhaps. It is therefore appropriate to define a few terms. The title of this book would be for some an abstraction in itself, but which is yet perfect when dissected. “Disquisition” refers to an elaborate analytical or explanatory essay or discussion; a formal discourse or dissertation; or a diligent inquiry. “Creation” refers to starting or introducing something new, everything that exists, the human act of creating something, the event of bringing something into existence, and a thing or artifact that has been brought into existence. And finally, “poïetics” is defined by T. Wignesan himself as “the science and philosophy of creation. It is the tie which links the creator to his work while the work, as Passeron (René) puts it, is in the process of being created. The study of this act of becoming is the object of poïetics. Once the work is created or the act of creation is consummated, three conditions (according to the French “school”) prevail:
1) that the finished product or oeuvre constitutes an unique entity;
2) that the finished product be invested with a personality of its own, and
3) that the finished product compromise the creator in that he is in some ways still responsible for the oeuvre through his role as the progenitor of the product.”
Fairly basic stuff actually. However, every philosopher has the burden of defining his/her concepts on both sides of the margin. As a discussion of ”being” necessitates a complementary discussion of “nothingness”, so does a discussion of creation require an analysis of what is or is not a creation. This larger discussion affords the author a wide range of opportunities to draw upon many related discussions pertaining to human perception and systems of thought, which he does with expertise. However, as indicated above, Wignesan also combines his artistic literary talents together with his love and understanding of philosophical analysis to make the reading experience itself an active illustration of his concepts. For example, Wignesan discusses at length the impulse and function of “boredom” in the process of creation and aptly manages to produce a book that is designed to illustrate and experientially convey both boredom and the desire to promote understanding of complicated universal processes in a simple way. (I can almost hear the snicker of a few readers at this commentary of mine. Yes, I did find the oeuvre both boring at times and often incredibly thought-provoking and stimulating.) His discourses on translation constitute yet another example of this active communication and active dialogue, in that the reader is invited into an active thought process triggered by Wignesan’s examples and writing style. To me, this is the highest form of creation and art: a work that entices the reader, viewer and listener himself/herself to think creatively.
This is an ambitious work. Does T. Wignesan succeed in making this analytical and literary experience accessible to the “uninitiated” and the layman? In my opinion, he both does … and occasionally does not. As an author and reviewer of books who shares many of Wignesan’s philosophical perspectives regarding the nature and function of creation and of existentialism, as well as an understanding of the difficulties of writing on many levels of comprehension in one work and attempting to simplify where possible … even I found myself getting “lost” a few times – having to go back and take a comprehension and reality “check” for myself. But then again, literary “entertainment” can also include self-reflection, new learning, academic language and abstractions to be explored. And not everything needs to be explained in entirety or in the simplest of terms.
Even the cynical or lazy reader who would dismiss this book as “uninteresting” or “folly” will be left with a nagging question that at least momentarily disrupts his/her inner peace: ‘have I – in fact – all too quickly set up barriers in self-defense against an important area of exploration and self-knowledge?’
By Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway.
¤ ¤ ¤
T. WIGNESAN : DELICIOUSLY NAUGHTY 20th CENTURY FICTION.
Literary criticism by Adam Donaldson Powell – based upon “Victorian (pen-in-cheek) Vignettes” and “The Night Soil Man”, both published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, respectively : ISBN 978-81-8253-107-9, 207 pages, paperback, US$20; and ISBN 978-81-8253-124-6, 193 pages, paperback, US$20.
“Victorian (pen-in-cheek) Vignettes” is based upon the Victoria Institution and its alumni, and the Malaya Hall community in London. The Victoria Institution being a secondary school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which upholds the British public school tradition for Malays, Chinese and Indians in the capital. The classical literary flow of the first half of the book is abruptly broken in the second half (starting with vignette no. 7), as that portion takes on a style and character more likened to a gossipy and trivial (albeit saucy and humorous) quasi-historical account from the author’s perspective (more specifically that of a cat named Timmy). I personally found the first half of the book to be of greater interest to myself as a reader who lacks even the most rudimentary historical, political and social knowledge of Malaysia or first hand experience of the Victorian Institution and Malay Hall. However, the storytelling by Timmy the cat is nonetheless entertaining even though not all world readers will have the necessary background to glean the most out of this writing.
The first section of the book (Vignettes one through six) is quite magical. On the surface, this collection of vignettes appears to be loosely strung together – much as a set of heirloom pearls on a threadbare necklace – and written in authentic twentieth century descriptive literary style. The effect of these rather peculiar vignettes is somewhat reminiscent of Ravel’s glittering yet playful Valses nobles et sentimentales, as each vignette is in essence a pond reflection of the previous one(s) – thus giving an impressionistic feel to the dance through this odd construction of tales. However, these vignettes are also written in a style that recalls the masterful storytelling of Voltaire : Candide-esque and a bit “naughty” in that they are written both with the purpose of amusing and challenging the insider group of former Victorians, as well as serving as a playful betrayal of “secrets” to the uninitiated. Moreover, the overall work lends itself to the philosophy of the author in regards to Poïetics – with its much ado about nothing other than the embellishment of the boring … and giving equal weight to both fact and fiction.
The author’s incorrigibility – falling short of the outright impudence of an “enfant terrible” — and his inherent understanding of Asian and French sarcastic wit and humor lend to these vignettes a delicious edge whereby the inclination is to laugh … but in a guarded fashion. This because inside ourselves we readers know that each expression of the adventurous and unwitting Fool must also be accompanied by a good measure of apprehension, for no one is to be trusted absolutely – not the police, not our colleagues, not doctors or lawyers or bureaucratic systems … and perhaps not even ourselves.
On a slightly less positive note, I would comment that T. Wignesan occasionally breaks the magic he creates by failing to adjust the content length, endings and transitions in some passages – thus running the risk of both overcrowding with too much information and abandoning an otherwise sparkling quality with overhurried endings (eg. Vignette no. 6). This is a challenge for all writers but is of particular importance when working with collections of short works which should both function as separate, individual pieces and interlocking parts of a larger jigsaw puzzle. The solutions available are many but the decisionmaking process is often rather difficult – especially when the author is struggling to simplify information along with complicated techniques, style and language.
That being said, the “Victorian Vignettes” are an interesting and entertaining read.
T. Wignesan employs the same fundamental signature storytelling style in his novel published in the same year by Cyberwit : “The Night Soil Man”. In “The Night Soil Man” T. Wignesan weaves yet another tale using social commentary and sarcasm – and inciting more than a few snickers from this reviewer. Mr. Wignesan is no stand-up comic, but rather an intellectual who uses his insight and command of language to question the status quo. His wit is – surely – a formidable weapon; and his ability to wield that sword so adeptly makes him a dangerous man (un homme dangereux).
“The Night Soil Man” is a unique work : well-crafted and well-written. Chapter two features a bit of stream of consciousness style writing that I would compare to the writing of William Burroughs at its best. Here the author describes “shit” in a social context and using a riveting narrative style that only contemporary Asian bad boy authors can master. Without giving the story line away, I can promise the reader a roller-coaster ride deep into the depths of societal muck and complete with sensory stimulation.
This novel has the artistic quality of effortlessness – achieving natural balance between the difficult and the relatively simple, and possessing an aplomb that suggests that the work has essentially written itself.
I recommend “The Night Soil Man” both as a cultural and social study and as a thought-provoking story with relevance beyond its time period and geographical setting.
In conclusion, I would describe the spirit of these two ambitious literary works that insist upon not taking themselves too seriously by quoting Henri de Régnier – whose words appear in Maurice Ravel’s dedication at the top of the score of his Valses nobles et sentimentales : “le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile” (the delightful and always novel pleasure of a useless occupation).
By Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway.
¤ ¤ ¤
T. WIGNESAN : TRANSCULTURAL ABSURDITIES.
Literary criticism (2009) by Adam Donaldson Powell (based upon “Mere deaths and the mostly dead : a collection of six long and four short stories”, published by Cyberwit.net, India, 2008, ISBN 978-81-8253-122-2, 275 pages, paperback, US$20).
T. Wignesan’s peculiar collection of short stories is a study in many disciplines (i.e. absurdity, the transcultural, the multilingual and the delicate art of short literary forms), expressing originality, political and social awareness, humor, proficiency in storytelling and visual-literary adeptness. He is most clearly in his “element” in the story entitled “The Viva at the University of Solfège or the under-upholding”, which is one of the more engaging and entertaining of his tales. This particular story made me recall the words of Albert Camus : “From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all.”
While I would recommend this book as a “good read”, I personally feel that there is a slight unevenness in quality due to the challenges of mastering diversity in content and form, artistic intent, planning, execution and polish in a very difficult medium : the short story collection. This is not only a question of planning what events are essential to in-depth description according to the storyline, but also in regards to overall length of the individual oeuvre. In a few of the stories I found myself getting involved in comments or sequences that proved themselves to be confusing or unneeded distractions in the context of the total story. The sharpened red pencil of an independent editor who both looked at individual stories as well as the total sequencing and contents of the book might have produced a different final product.
That being said, the longer short story seems to be a successful genre for T. Wignesan, and one which I look forward to seeing him develop further.
– Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway.