Print Edition - 2015-12-26  |  On Saturday

Experimental experimentation

  • Mistika flirts with black magic, mysticism and surrealism, directly challenging the hitherto existing trend/criterion of writing fiction
- Raj Kumar Baral

Dec 26, 2015-

Although some friends recommended me not to wallow on Kumar Nagarkoti’s Mistika, with its loose and baggy plotline, twisty narrative and a bizarre story structure, I decided to pick it up nevertheless. Encouraged, perhaps, by my

experience of excavating highly experimental western texts like Ulysses by James Joyce and V by Thomas Pynchon, though in several attempts, I was ready to commit to deciphering Nagarkoti’s latest offering.

Writing this review, I am mindful that many may charge me of being regressive and not accepting new trends in literature, rather still advocating a straightforward movement of the story—alienating modern trends in fiction writing. More importantly, writing this review, I am preparing  to committing suicide! The writer Nagarkoti, himself, in the very novel quotes reviewers who profess, “rather than reviewing Nagarkoti’s texts, it is better to commit suicide.” But I am prepared to face the charges, and commit self-murder in the name of literature.

Writer of any genre should either embrace changes to stay relevant or be ready to lag behind.  Nagarkoti is well aware of this fact and therefore he experiments with new trends of literature by rambling on this and that, pilling digression upon digression, instead of delivering a discernible story.  True to that nature of experimental fiction, Mistika, Nagarkoti’s first novel, as in his previous texts like Fossil, Akchyargunj, and Coma: A Political Sex, too goes beyond the boundaries of traditional realistic fiction, and veers away from reality. It, instead, experiments with black magic, mysticism, surrealism, which directly challenges the hitherto existing trend/criterion of writing fiction.  

But the primary problem of Nagarkoti’s novel is his over-stretched and unrelated narratives, which the reader struggles to link up. The story without a decipherable link—be it in the form of symbols or images, if not thematic—frustrates the readers, who, at least, spend hours in the intellectual, as well as imaginative labyrinth of the story(ies). This undoubtedly has forced many a reader (my friends included) to put down the book, leaving it unfinished.

His only strength lies in the creation of some abstract characters, who partake in intellectual and philosophical discussions and thereby breathe life into the text. The use of pun and play of the words, however, has added some literary taste to the text. Had there been no such characters invited in the Dream Valley, and paradoxes and puns not used, the novel would have been a fiasco.

Among the four spectrums of fiction—history, realism, romance and fantasy, as critic Robert Scholes’ forwards—this novel represents one extreme, that is, bringing the readers to a world of fantasy. A fog named Kundalini, regular conversations between a telephone and a typewriter, writer’s desire to make a film entitled Taste of Vagina, black cats appearing here and there, the hypothetical Dream Valley, all are the creations of the author’s fantasy. His treatment of the theme of sex; masturbation in the bushes, sex with kichkanya—a ghostly image, whispering scenes, the black cats, the journey towards Euphoria, are highly imaginative. To quote the critic Scholes again, “. . . only a recording angel, taking note of all the deeds of men without distorting or omitting anything, could be called a “pure” historian. And only a kind of deity, creating a world out of his own imagination, could be called a “pure” fantasist. Both ends of the spectrum are invisible to the mortal eyes.” Ambitious Nagarkoti, in the book, has tried to visualise, fantasise and play God by creating everything out of his imagination. That, perhaps, is the book’s saving grace.

Linguistically, Nagarkoti has decimated the standard of Nepali language used in literature. General code mixing and figurative representation are ‘expected’ in experimental fiction but in the name of ‘poetic license,’ he has overdone it by mixing almost half a dozen languages together—Nepali, English, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Nepangreji.  He has not only used a few words or phrases from other languages, rather he has written paragraphs after paragraphs. Language lovers have been disappointed at the seemingly wanton use of different languages—some even going as far as to rejecting to call the book a Nepali novel.  Though this book that can be read in any order, with chapters that can be left out or left in, depending on the mood of the reader, though it redraws generic as well as some conceptual boundaries, though it has poetic prose (though intruded by other languages), it  does not attract the reader. And keeping these things in mind, my position is unlike that of poet and critic Pablo Neruda, who famously wrote vis-à-vis William Cortazar’s texts—“People who do not read Cortazar are doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease.” Even after serious and several efforts by readers, the desire to understand the mystery of Mistika remains unfulfilled, leaving many readers frustrated.

This complicated experiment, however, should not dishearten the author. After all, not every experiment is necessarily successful, and it is only through trials and errors that masterpieces are created.

Baral teaches at the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur

Published: 26-12-2015 09:19

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