Sunday, July 09, 2023

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "A Passage To India"

D.W. Buffa's new novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of E. M. Forster's A Passage To India begins:
When E.M. Forster was writing A Passage To India he read T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, one of the greatest books written in the twentieth century. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia as he was known to the world - described what it was like to live among those of another race and religion:
…the effort for those years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me. At the same time I could not sincerely take on the Arab skin: it was an affectation only. Easily was a man made an infidel, but hardly might he be converted to another faith. I had dropped one form and not taken on the other…with a resultant feeling of intense loneliness in life, and a contempt, not for other men, but for all they do.
The story of a European who finds himself forced to live among an alien race had been told before Lawrence led the revolt in the desert in the First World War and before E.M. Forster made his first trip to India. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad described what happened when a European, sent into the heart of Africa to help bring civilization, but freed of civilization’s restraints, became more savage than any native had ever been. That was the infamous Kurtz, but near the beginning there is a description of another European that shows a different effect on someone part of a colonial enterprise:
When near the buildings I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of setup that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear.
He was the company’s chief accountant. He had been there nearly three years. The meaning is clear: “His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up appearances. That’s backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt fronts were achievements of character.”

Character. The discipline of a way of life, everything that is acquired without conscious thought living among others, natives of the same time and place, the habitual customs that for those exiled by their profession or their duty to some foreign, different place, become a conscious, and therewith an artificial, necessity, the rigid formality by which they cling to their own identity. It was the way the British in India tried to...[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

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Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

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Third reading: Anna Karenina.

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Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

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Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

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Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

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Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

--Marshal Zeringue