Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rabindranath Tagore, “The Hungry Stones,” 1916

Rabindranath Tagore

"Stand back! Stand back!! All is false! All is false!"
                                Rabindranath Tagore - "The Hungry Stones'"

Before I begin, I have decided not to put a "Weird Factor" in these summaries anymore, as I think this might predispose some readers to expect certain things from stories. 'Weird' is such a strange context anyway, and is different for many readers.

 One of the things I appreciate most about The Weird anthology is that it brings together authors of the genre from a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. Tagore's story is filled with words that sound beautiful to my European ears - "Nizam", "ghazals", "moghlai", and "attar", to name a few.

I suppose that foreign words will amplify feelings of strangeness in a text. In that sense, it serves an important purpose in terms of what weird fiction tries to do - to shift the reader into a perspective from which their perception of normality is slightly tilted, exactly because fundamentally, the weird questions our sense of  reality, truth, and status quo. This is part of "The Hungry Stones'" inner conflict, exemplified in the push and pull between past and present and its effect on amalgamated cultures (in this instance the English/Indian colonialist heritage).

"The Hungry Stones" takes the notion of inhabited spaces - both man made as well as natural - and uses them to question our perceptions of reality. It plays not only on aspects of the visual, but all our human senses. How far can we really shape our reality by what our senses tell us is real? The word 'dream' crops up several times in the narrative, which may suggest that the teller of the story has indeed lost his senses, and that by referring to his experiences as dreams has found the only way he can make sense of them. On the other hand, an experience may effectively be described as 'dreamlike' simply because the individual experiencing it has no other way of describing it. In such a case, the experience is no less real; rather, the teller has no way of contextualising it rationally.

Exotic and deeply atmospheric. Dense Persian and Arabic influence, which in my book, is always a plus.

Reviewed from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Eds. Anne and Jeff Vandermeer

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