Friday, March 25, 2011

Reading into a story

"It was raining outside. Alotau was entering its wet season...Dasaid nodded with a smile, then sat back in his chair, listening to the music of the night’s rain and immortal silence.”

Those sentences come from a short story titled: “Introducing Dasaid.” It was written and published in 1979 but has been re-written and popularized so much readers think it was written just yesterday.

Anyway, the protagonist of that story, Dasaid, is a product of colonialism, one might say, though he himself would consider his own character and faculty of thought as otherwise. That is, he would prefer to be regarded as Dasaid; nothing more, nothing less.

In that story an attempt is made by Dasaid’s contemporaries, and post-contemporaries alike, to scrutinize and deconstruct his being thoroughly to find flaws, if any, in his character. They find little or none and this puzzles them somewhat. Ultimately, the colleagues send out what appears to be their “secret weapon” in the person of Yoyo, a tutor in Literature at the University of Papua New Guinea. Yoyo manages to hunt down Dasaid at Alotau where a three-day interview is conducted with the latter.

After which, Yoyo returns to the Waigani campus more frustrated than ever, just to declare to his superiors: “The guy is impossible. He just cannot be engaged in a reasonable conversation.”

To which, this reply from one of his post-graduate supervisors, with a knowing smile and taking up the pen to acquit the cost of the trip: “One should imagine so, considering how impressively deceptive things can get if one wishes to interview this – this music of night rains and immortal silences.”

Thereupon, Yoyo walks away biting a lip of covetous irritation for Dasaid more than the regret of his having had taken the trouble, at all, once in his many moments of studentship conviviality, to read Freud and Derrida. Freud because one is given a leeway in “reading into a story” and Derrida because one has the opportunity of beating around the bush a bit (which is a favourite preoccupation of academics everywhere) before reaching the conclusion that really there is no point in arguing over a given text.

And it is true. One cannot interview “the music of a night’s rain and immortal silence.”

Of course, the trapping that Yoyo got himself into was that in meaning to interview Dasaid it was he, Yoyo, who was interviewed albeit treated as the subject. Dasaid never said a word beyond a few gestures of greetings and offers of cigarettes during their so-called three day interview.

But that is Dasaid, a fictitious character; and that is how he wants others to regard him. The more we try to know such a character, the more vulnerable we become in laying bare our own weaknesses and shortcomings.

And now to the point of what storyboard is getting at here: the use of language and choice of words.

In that short story, which runs for a page a half, everything about grammar in the English language is present – except the auxiliary verb. There are doing verbs, certainly; but there are no pre-qualifiers to them.

According to the author of this story, pre-qualifiers are allowable items that help decorate a creative piece of writing. But they are not absolutely necessary.

By pre-qualifiers we mean certain probables such as “Thou mayest” or “Thou mayest not” and so on. These are missing. And if we asked the author why this was so, he would, aside from recommending “Thou shalt not”, promptly reply: “They are unnecessary burdens that distract more than help tell the truth.”

Upon the shelves of filing cabinets such pre-qualifiers, if included as parts of records in libraries and archives, can turn out to be less reliable than truthful. In many cases they may become cause or causes of human conflict. A document among them, for example, might read as follows: “Where two or three are gathered in the name of justice to preside over the case of a senior officer’s misconduct in office involving misappropriation of millions in the nation’s earnings, the onus lies within the power of the said three to determine whether or not the worthy and learned senior officer may be penalized.” You can see the obvious, now, regarding the auxiliary verbs. They mean a complete waste of everybody’s time. Woe unto that native English speaker who claims to know his own language well, while in fact he should be the one telling us, “Guilty. Penalize him.”

And so we go back to our selection of sentences again and realize how much of the unnecessary jargon has been left out, all in the name of truth:

“It was raining outside. Alotau was entering its wet season. Dasaid rolled a third cigarette and asked Yoyo if he wanted it. Yoyo quickly got up from his chair and took it. He lit it and sat down, smoking hurriedly, greedily, until the cigarette burnt out... Dasaid nodded with a smile, then sat back in his chair, listening to the music of the night’s rain and immortal silence.”

Now, delicate reader, feel free to attack the passage. Dissect it, deconstruct it, analyse it as much as you must because the protagonist has given the nod with a smile. The auxiliaries are missing. And thank God the story was written by someone who never became the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.