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Star Wars and Top Slip

Vibhu points to this piece on Slate, and calls it an interesting read.

If you are not overly fond of Star Wars, or do not want to take the time to read a long-winded treatment of the Star Wars sextet as “the greatest postmodern art film ever,” don’t bother reading the Slate article. It is Aidan Wasley spending about 1500 words of sentences like

the much-deplored dependence on computer animation in the prequels, which opened up spectacular vistas at the expense of feeling and characterization, can be seen as Lucas tilting dangerously toward the Dark Side. There’s no place for serendipity in a pixilated galaxy, since every digital detail must be planned and plotted and programmed.

As I am as much a Star Wars geek as Vibhu is, here is a little bit of a digression from me, just to add to the Aidan effect, if you will!

To quote Aidan:

The Light Side of Plot, then, seems to involve the willing submission to chance, to imagination, to inspiration—a formula familiar from epic narrative, where poets like Homer announce their surrender to the possession of “the Muse” in the service of a story beyond themselves.

It was 1999, and I was still young and adventurous, and much less opinionated than now. In glorious company, I was at Top Slip, and having just returned from a trek in Karian Shola, was sitting at the tea shop / restaurant near the Range Office that is the only place where one can get anything to eat or drink. As we sat around, talking about what we had seen and what we hadn’t, in strolled Nagarajan (or Natarajan, I really am not sure). He was a local tribesman and an excellent tracker, who, by accompanying naturalists and wildlifers of all types into the jungle since he was a little boy, was himself quite an authority on the surrounding area. Mr. Baskaran, who already knew him from his many previous visits, greeted him heartily and introduced all of us. He joined our little band, and told us a nice little tale. A few days earlier, he had been walking along a trail when he heard noises. Investigating, he found a leopard circling a female boar and her litter. The sow herself was big and strong, and the leopard wouldn’t be able to finish her off. Her litter however, was a different story. After circling for a while, the leopard managed to dart in, snatch one of the litter and make a break for it. The sow, however, had other ideas. She went after the leopard, and after a fierce tussle, managed to extricate her little one from his jaws. As a parting shot, she managed to give the leopard a good mauling. Then, the sow and her sounder went peacefully on their way, while the leopard, a whole lot wiser now, went on his. Now, Nagaraj was an expert in such things, and he told us the whole story in awe and wonder, saying that he had never thought such a thing would happen – leopards frequently preyed on young wild boar and such losses were common, a good reason why wild boar litters were big. This is where we break off and come back to Aidan.

What Nagarajan related was a story. It happened to him, and he was recounting it to us. If nothing had happened to him, he wouldn’t have told us anything. How coincidental that he should be walking along a trail near which there was a leopard trying to steal a piglet. What a coincidence that that particular sow was a belligerent one who would stand up to a leopard. What a coincidence that the leopard was one that knew when to give up. What a coincidence that Nagaraj had happened on this scene and not anyone else. And, what a coincidence that Mr. Baskaran was with us, so that he could introduce Nagaraj to us and we could hear the story.

If this was not a true incident, and I had made it up, would Aidan have pointed out to these and mockingly told us that there was too much coincidence which could only be Muse-inspired?

A story happens only when something out of the ordinary happens. If Nagaraj had had an uneventful walk through the jungle, he wouldn’t have come to us and said, “I was walking along this trail, and then it split into two – I knew that the one going left would take me to the Jungle hut. So I took that one and kept on it till I reached the Jungle hut. I hung out there for a while, after which I felt thirsty. I went down to the stream and had a drink, after which I walked back.” Stories, tales or anecdotes are born when coincidences happen. And surprise surprise – they happen in real life too!

The second comment by chadosaurus on Aidan’s writeup is something I totally agree with:

This is why generations of students unfairly label all academic criticism of literature and art, etc. as utter hogwash. The urge to write an article like this, and the expectation that people will take it seriously, is the same urge that causes academics to see metaphors where none exist and symbolism where the actual narrative is sufficiently compelling to inspire admiration.

…Sometimes, a light saber is just a light saber.

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