Posted 19 days ago
There were a ton of incredibly insightful passages in this piece, and Vidyan Ravinthiran is clearly an excellent writer, but I just could not get into the flow of the form. I was often confused about what he was talking about, lost in the ramblings of his mind. Sometimes I got a good snapshot of what he was saying, very thoughtful and well written, while at other times I would struggle to get through a page to see where it was leading. I think this was experimental in form, and I applaud that, but I just couldn't quite get into it. I wonder what others think about it.
I thought his memories as a poet where insightful:
As [George] Eliot suggests, we’ve a limited attention span, so if you’ve nothing to say, get off the stage; then a community rarely represented can have one of their own in the spotlight. I don’t like the pressure on minority poets to be ostentatiously ‘empowered’, to be always shouting, in my case, ‘I’m brown and I’m proud’. But I also feel the pressure to represent, with some kind of eloquence; this can fade, degrade, into an obligation to entertain; you become a sort of minstrel figure. I was abject that day, asking forgiveness for my brownness, for my presence onstage, for the content and style of my poems.
But he then contextualizes this with the problems of his family:
Of course the travails of a diasporic Sri Lankan Tamil, a second-generation immigrant, in an increasingly racist England don’t compare with actual deaths ‘back home’ (to use my parents’ phrase)...So there I am, stood in the dark or sat before the silence of others, afraid no one’s listening, that the world’s growing more and more hostile; and there are those women in their shack, launching at a faceless wall of bureaucracy questions about their dead to which no one in power pays the slightest heed.
That contrast is expertly made, and something that I'm sure Ravinthiran has thought deeply about his whole life. Even though he has a front-row seat to this feeling, it's not entirely unique to him. As he writes about refusing to console his baby boy while he is crying at night (something parents must do to ensure the child becomes independent):
...my wife and I, downstairs, in our cosily lamplit sitting room, are like those of us in the West, quite unaware of atrocities in the Global South, and indeed enjoying luxuries predicated on exploitation of those regions. Looking at the monitor and seeing him in pain and fear was like glancing at one’s phone, and reading of distant events one wishes in some way to cure, by getting angry about them, even by opinionating online, feeling all the while an immense powerlessness to actually help.
But he gives a warning to those who go down this path. Maybe this feeling, this indignation at the world, is no more helpful than a disgruntled teenager:
Objecting to global injustices, or inequalities closer to home, there’s the danger – I see it in myself and my left-progressive peers – of becoming locked in a position of righteous indignation. It’s correct to be angry about things, but that doesn’t remove the danger of being pushed by our politics back into the grievance-posture of a teenager.
As it's obvious, these passages are incredibly insightful. The problem, for me, was that they were buried deeply inside of Ravinthiran's stream-of-consciousness. Maybe that's what Granta really liked about this piece to choose to publish it. I'm glad they did, and very glad to have read it, but would find it hard to recommond to people who aren't deeply into "literary" writing.