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Connecting with ‘the other’

Connecting with ‘the other’
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First Published: Fri, Jun 12 2009. 11 51 PM IST

Wuthering Heights: A tale of terror. AFP
Wuthering Heights: A tale of terror. AFP
Updated: Fri, Jun 12 2009. 11 51 PM IST
Indian Heathcliff
When I first read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in high school, I found Heathcliff and Catherine nauseating: Their great love was too close to the romanticism I was then growing out of, and the “metaphysics” of the novel irked the rationalist and teenage agnostic in me. Rereading the novel some years ago, I discovered a new world (and text) altogether. I discovered a work of undoubted genius and immense complexity. Since then I have gone back to the novel once again (in the process of writing a forthcoming book on the Gothic and post-colonialism), and I have come away with my admiration doubled.
Wuthering Heights: A tale of terror. AFP
What is it that makes Wuthering Heights so exceptional?
There are many reasons. But for me, Wuthering Heights is essentially about terror, arising from fear of the other. Remember the scene where Lockwood has a nightmare about the dead Catherine, a “waif-ghost”, trying to enter his room from a window unlatched by the storm? Lockwood writes that “terror made me cruel”: He rubs the “creature’s” wrist on the broken glass pane until it bleeds. But still the “ghost” maintains its “tenacious grip”, maddening him with fear.
The terror of this scene is intricately connected with displacement. Lockwood is a traveller; Catherine is displaced, banished from her family house and love. Heathcliff, the house’s current owner, is displaced, having usurped the house but only by using the legal and social rules that left him (and Catherine) on the margins. Significantly, Heathcliff’s terrorizing route out of the margins and into brutal power leaves him displaced more deeply—estranged from his “true self”, Catherine, whose “waif-ghost” doesn’t respond to his entreaties.
This narrative of terror and otherness is not explicit in the novel; it has to be read between the lines. This is inevitable, given the nature of otherness. In the last count, it is not the narrative power or even the structure of Wuthering Heights that fascinates me, but its tendency to narrate at a tangent. This tendency is lacking in many acclaimed novels, which are premised on excessive transparency, an easy consumption of “stories” floating like dead fish on the surface of the text.
More Mosley
A new novel by Walter Mosley: What more can one want as a summer read?
Recipient of the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award and the author of 25 books, Mosley is one of the important American writers of his generation and a major genre writer. His Devil in a Blue Dress is a genre classic, and his Easy Rawlins mysteries (11 novels till date) are the contemporary Black American equivalent of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. In his latest novel, The Long Fall, Mosley introduces a new detective, a middle-aged coloured man, coping with a splintering marriage and a new conscience. Not very scrupulous as a detective in the past, he gets paid to track down four men, who then start being murdered. In the past, he would not have cared. But personal events have made him face up to his past, and he cannot live with the knowledge. He needs to find out more. But will he be able to? And in the process, will he have the time also to do his duty as a father of three teenagers, at least one of whom seems to be sliding towards crime?
Read on, if you like Mosley. Discover him, if you haven’t yet.
Tabish Khair is the Bihar-born, Denmark-based author of Filming. Write to Tabish at readingroom@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jun 12 2009. 11 51 PM IST