The Financial Express

Changing patterns of aesthetic experience

| Updated: June 04, 2020 21:58:04

Changing patterns of aesthetic experience

A lot of readers may have read the story by Banafool, a noted short story writer in Bangla literature. The story deals with a compulsive reader's experience of re-reading a particular piece of creative writing after a long gap. The reader was highly impressed by the piece when he went through it the first time. As he tried to enter the essence of the piece a couple of decades later, he failed miserably. To his utter disillusionment, the reader discovered that the literary piece had lost all its appeal for him. The first time when he read the book in his buoyant youth, he was overwhelmed by a kind of spell. When he picked it in his middle-age, the plot and message of the book had lost their appeal on him. The reader couldn't finish the book. He blamed this transformation on his process of aging. During this time he may have lost the typical greenness of his reader's self. Lots of nitty-gritty of mundane reality had overpowered his once- avowed reader's mind.

The story by Banafool is called 'The Death of a Reader'. A similar overtaking of the reader's self by dust-laden realities is a phenomenon found among large segments of literate people. Amazingly, the reverse side of the reality is also encountered in many. To them, suppose in their pre-elderly age, a book gone through during their prime youth keeps the same appeal as they experienced in the time of the growth of their reader's self. In world literature, there are dozens of such books people continue to read at different phases throughout their life. A highly notable aspect of immortal works or masterpieces is they appear before the readers with different messages at different ages suiting their level of maturity.  Great books never lose their universal charm. This phenomenon, however, applies to all pieces of the arts. Spanning from painting, sculpture, music, drama to the modern-day creative mediums of photography, movies, and lately architecture --- all forms of the arts possess this quality. While a number of them survive the dispassionate test of time, a lot of others keep decaying after a certain period. The latter works one day disappear completely from human memories.

According to aesthetes, in this universal process a mystery remains at work. It centres on the particular creative works' capability to respond to the particular types of sensibility developed by a connoisseur. In the case of Banafool's story 'Pathoker Mrityu' (The Death of a Reader), the protagonist has obviously failed to savour his youth's incisive experience in the literary piece which he read again in his slackening middle-age. The question of whether the features of the human mind or of a particular literary work are to blame for this metamorphosis is a quandary. Humans have been puzzled by such riddles since they discovered the pleasures of being immersed in aesthetic exercises.

The raging bison painted by an unknown artist in prehistoric times on the walls of a cave still amazes people. So are the massive stone structures in Scotland. Assumed to have been built in 3,000 BC, the symmetrically built structures are called the 'Stonehenge of the North'.  One might feel eager to include the hieroglyphs inside the Giza pyramids or the mural sculptures in the long hidden caves of Ajanta or Elora. These pieces of aesthetic wonder have yet to lose their artistic charm. Compared to them, dozens of so-called artistic output of mankind proved to be mere kitsch in the latter periods. Eventually they have vanished. Like in all periods, modern artists also come up with this type of art works --- only to have them branded by discerning critics as mere gimmickry.

Great epics hardly lose their audience or readers, despite their settings in different environments hundreds of years ago and with characters having little similarity with those in the present times. The fact that the mainly mythology-based epic poems still attract the modern readers is their latent universal appeal. Due mainly to this reason the epics of Homer, Virgil and the ancient India's Kalidasa still move the serious readers. Critics term them evergreen. Common readers hardly read epics today, but they are aware of the poems' great value in being the components of man's immortal treasure-troves.

Although epics do not attract the 21st century readers, the works of Shakespeare, Goethe or Tagore do. It's because these authors' creative output carry elements which apply to human thoughts and imagination even today. Literary pieces produced by them and a number of others haven't turned out-of-context even in the 20th and 21st centuries. The modern world has passed through repeated bouts of revolutions in thinking, two World Wars, pandemics and natural disasters. Amazingly the literate people have never thought of distancing themselves from the classics in literature, painting, music and the other relatively modern versions of the arts --- plays and movies being the dominant segments. By nature, an enlightened and properly groomed person can ill afford to keep himself/herself from enjoying the great works of the arts. Even though they turn to Shakespeare or Goethe occasionally, the neo-classicists like Tagore, Walt Whitman or Thomas Mann are in wide circulation among today's readers. The music of the classical-era composers Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven et al may not fascinate the younger connoisseurs, but they are instantly drawn by the youthful presentations of the Greek composer Yanni.

The early classical composers' group has always had its selected admirers of varying ages, their tastes being shaped by the artistic features of the times. Serious music is not for everyone. They are few in numbers.  The 20th and 21st centuries have not failed to produce iconic musicians. In spite of this universal rule, one should not feel surprised to discover the lovers of pure Western or Indian classical music among many youths, with lots of elderly people remaining mesmerised by Yanni's performance. Development of musical taste doesn't follow a straight rule.

The case for literature is different, because it needs one's preparation from early years and certain efforts to taste the pleasure of reading. Like with the other branches of the arts, books also appear with different characters at different ages. Many people who remain hypnotised with detective novels in upper school-years switch over to pure literary works later. On the other hand, many readers do not remain stuck in the books by certain types of authors. They strive for tasting books of different genre. The longing for reading classics or near-classics stems from one's willingness to graduate into the different experience levels of reading. It normally happens as a reader wants to cast a deeper look into the universal trials and tribulations, joys and jubilations of survival. The feeling of boredom which overtook Banafool's protagonist while reading a novel second time could be defined as a common trait. Moreover, saying goodbye to the pleasure of reading is also encountered frequently in society.

In order to squeeze pleasure from different forms of the arts, books in particular, one needs undisturbed leisure. Vacationing in a far-off spot provides this free time. A lot of readers had taken the recent COVID-19-prompted shutdown as a great opportunity to read or re-read books. Besides, the movie enthusiasts switched on to particular TV channels to revisit the films watched three to four decades ago. In the second phase of these aesthetic experiences, many felt disappointed. The connoisseurs try to discover the reasons why they once felt so much attracted to certain books or movies. The answers to these riddling questions lie hidden in the subconscious of the persons concerned. They keep changing as time wears on. And it is natural that a literary piece which seems fascinating at a young age might prove banal in the later phase of life. The same applies to a song, the performance of a play or a movie.


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