Monday, March 14, 2005

The Craft of Writing Satire

Hari Kunzru, the Wire-geek turned writer, was to speak on the craft of writing satire at the Fringe Club, Hong Kong’s contemporary arts space. Kunzru is an interesting writer. He was born and educated in UK. His father had migrated to UK from Agra in India. Kunzru opposes any attempts to pigeonhole him as a coloured writer or an Asian writer. He knows that being labeled as a writer of particular race/origin makes it easier to market him by publishers. However, he doesn’t want to be a party to this marketing gimmick. His fame has only been increasing. In 2003, Kunzru was named by Granta Magazine as one of twenty ‘Best of Young British Novelists.’ His novels The Impressionist and Transmission have been well-received.

In the Fringe Club theatre, Peter Gordon (the chairman of the festival), introduced Kunzru to the audience. Kunzru started with the definition of satire: satire is writing or comic writing that illuminates a social subject. He said that one must know the subject intimately to write satire (“If you don’t know Hollywood, don’t write about it.”).

With intimacy, he said, comes complicity. Using the intimate knowledge of the subject, the writer is supposed to bring out the guilt. He read passages from Evelyn Waugh’s and Joseph Heller’s works. He discussed the works of satirists such as Jonathan Swift, Nobokov (his Humbert Humbert in Lolita), George Orwell (1984), and Michel Houllebecque (Platform). “Obscenity is central to satire. You need one kind of obscenity to expose another kind of obscenity,” he said. He quoted from a placard that he had seen in an anti-war protest rally: “Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity.” A shining example of satirical writing!

So what was Kunzru’s final suggestion: “Take what you know and make it grotesque.”

Side bar: Kunzru looked dashing in a black suit. He wore glasses but his trademark scarf (seen in his previous photos) was missing. Next day I saw Kunzru along with his girl friend alighting from the Peak Tram at the Tram station.

6 comments:

Susan Abraham said...

Zafar, this is so interesting!
But I think in the end we will simply write what we are, who are and what we know???
And if I am seen in future as an Asian writer and I most definitely am, and the world is interested in my stories which I'd most definitely be pleased about, and if my country was deemed exotic with its countless legends and customs and all of its extraordinary colour, then I'd simply be proud of that too. Perhaps it's our turn to astound the West just as very long ago, their ways may have astounded our fore-fathers! Oh Zafar, you lucky chap, you!!

bibliobibuli said...

Am green with envy. Hope to make the festival next year when I'm solvent again ... But thanks so much for writing about it and giving us this vicarious glimpse.

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Susan!

Yes, I think we are rather proud of our Asian identity. We are what we are, take it or leave it. We bring in a new frangrance and style in contemporary English literature. And then there are all kinds of writers. Amitav Ghosh even rejected the Commonwealth Writers category.

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks Sharon. It would have been great to have met you there! Never mind. Will there be a lit fest in KL soon? I guess Singapore's is due.

bibliobibuli said...

I'd love there to be a litfest in KL - would love to help organise it - just don't want .... *big heartfelt sigh* .... things to be like they were last time ....

I am hungry for something to happen here again ...

Yes, Singapore should throw something together - do let me know if there are any happenings.

Zafar Anjum said...

Sure Sharon. Will let you know whenever a literary thing happens in Singapore!