Cover art by Giovanni Berton.
This paper seeks to examine the validity of the idea of a Zero Point and the literary merit of it through the perceptual and cognitive analysis of the absences and presences of the author’s Zero Point as a construct or a viable reality within the bounds of her poetry collection. Since, Platonism or Nominalism or the Pythagorean traditions have differing stances on this points or the parts thereof, the researcher seeks to find or unfind that space as a literary construct or as an element of any mathematical structure which could convey a sincere literary meaning of the term or its constituents.This paper is based on a composite framework of mathematical concepts and its literary uses to explain what the author intends to convey and whether such a meaning is consistent with both the disciplines or not?
Keywords:Metaphysics, Shunya, Geometry, Physics, Line, Zero, Nothingness, Point,Zero Point.
There’s exactly one line that passes through two different points but what would happen if we bend the lines? We would get the circle composed of an infinite number of points that are equidistant from a given point which is also the representational image of a philosophical concept. But before i go there, let me start by being personal and then move towards objectivity, as i complete the journey of deciphering my own zero and its existential questions through the critique of the person and the personae either through Anuman or Anubhav(Image and experience of this world),or both,so as to understand and deconstruct this poetic tale of transience without blinking first in Nandini’s own words:
We deconstruct what we adore the most
With innovative decisive intimacy
With life at its best or worst (S.44)
as we can’t escape judgment because if poetry is the the politics of storytelling, then the personal and the political intermingle because the poet too is “a spectator to my own self/as my self seeps into poetry.”(S.64) Besides, the poet’s anxiety is her fragile vulnerability in which ” love lives to tell the tale, nothing else does.”(S.46)
Here, at the outset,I am borrowing her words in stating that ” If by any chance i pull out a dissent, i make do with life”(S.51) as me, the researcher, as her critic, is her “other mortal comrade”(S.51) in this endeavor and as a protege in life’s journey. It is not easy for people to accept change, let alone declare in all pomp and glory that one is at a zero point because everyone needs a nemesis, a sense of determination to live and belong,love and negotiate within “an implicit jungle of safety nets.”(S.68) But by accepting or sincerely trying to acknowledge the fact of such a presence, she stays true to her character in maintaining the democratic decorum of the inviolability of the individual faith towards the reader to ” Let the imminent and the more liberal generations glare at me”(S.25) by letting us see the clear slate with the productive authority of the written word. Nandini’s poetry in this sense, is her spatial refuge into her own space of an all embracing poetic vision, her confident assertion of “I am to you a figure of clay/You make and unmake me/time and again” (S.62) is the starting point of this journey by her own admission. Though on the other hand, by taking cue from her preface itself, the idea of renunciation is also an equally viable option because one reaches the zero point only after ‘shedding the metaphors’ first, thereby becoming a clean slate because “you are/absolutely/inevitably/on your own”(S.63) and by no other means, as one has to let go off ” my personae so dear I too/become one”(S.64) illusion.
As humans, we all suffer ourselves and zero point offers us the option to”… live life, but no longer /do we have to put up with the weighty/nameless cruelty of unfamiliar hands/just a few days more.”(S.69)
So, if we look closely, we find that Nandini’s poetry is a reflection of her ever-present subjective self goading us to tell her all our inhibitions about all that concerns our life as soon as we start the journey like a poetic therapy, “Tell me, say all that needs to be told” (S.71) so that she could create or design her own type space “counter mythologising/space and territory” (S.74) against all the traditional conditionings that would limit her and our truth of experiences as she writes, “How shall i appropriate myself/for you?/As and when I alter habits/you change the conditions.”(S.75) These complex and parochial constructs are detrimental to any such vision, journey, discovery or a creative creation, “As and when light shines from beneath/someone casts a shadow.”(S.75)
Though Nandini is an ardent observer of the values that are intimately personal in their effect but thoroughly social and political in their outlook as she has always tried to create a bridge between the ideal and the practical by being, “Poised agitated between two worlds/I imaginatively interpret/one world to another.” (S.77)
She is also quixotic and self-axiomatic too as, “I swim against the tide/If not anything else, at least/I am a better swimmer”(S.23) by being expert at this game. The sheer ability of her words, the duality of the sustained passion for a fiercely independent ‘other/self’-which is transforming in this journey of self-discovery, in finding new tropes against an ancient cultural background symbol and its modern significances along with its literary variations, is no mean feat either, as on one hand she acknowledges her indebtedness to her family and friends for making her what she is, but accepting her contradictions readily by writing that “Kith and kin have only added to the/spasm/I am unable to love them without loving silence.”(S.24)will always be the field of gravity and time with all its apparent contradictions that she will have to cross in order to dissect her own ever-tangled, intertwined, negotiating “personal/self” leading to a sort of revelation which is a necessary milestone in reaching the zero point space.
The idea of this zero point space is very much connected and associated with the essential ideas and existential questions of identity falling into the ambit of metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy, as the challenge in hand is to understand something as diverse and subjective as the anxiety of existence while achieving or hoping to get salvation, put forth metaphorically as, “Isn’t it useless to save/the saucer/if the cup is lost? /I am quietly waiting to be clicked, giving a/pose when there’s no camera ready.” (S.24)
While some may reject this idea, some may feign ignorance, some may live in denial while some may feel that they’ve achieved it or reached that point but the larger question is whether it is an eternal work-in-progress, an unending journey, a mental construct or a state of being-mental,physical or a blend of both because of the obvious doubt that whether can anyone ‘stance at or on such a point or on such a plane or point plane? Is that even possible ?
It is absolutely necessary to raise this question because shedding one’s finite identity for the infinite possibilities requires a careful examination of our convictions. Besides, neither space nor cardinal numbers have a rigorous mathematical definition, so is it appropriate to talk about such a concept in abstractionsor in allegorical expressions such as “muse of my life to accomplish freedom” (S.15), “With such precision and attached-detachment” (S.15) meanings of which may vary intuitively as well as subjectively according to the notions space space and time. Since, her existence is designed within the three elements of the title, which may seem similar but are vastly different, it is apt to mention them here itself. They are as follows:
- Zero Point ;
much like the elements that constitute our material world. I wish to shed some light on nature by sticking to my causal conviction of being the critique so as to understand these concepts better in the light of Nandini’s work.
Firstly, let’s take Zero, which is taken as a space. This means that zero is something which fills the blank space but at the same time, in polysemy it is linked to the idea of nothingness, non-being, vacuum or a state of complete non-attribution of “unmindful congregation/Into the vacuum of disparagement and clamor ” (S.55) with the aid of metaphors of ‘disparagement and clamor’ but when I thought upon from a literary perspective, i am forced to admit the uncanny similarity between the idea of such an existence and and the effort to shed it as i think that the creative ability to write about zero needs a worldly understanding of society and the individual within the structures that hold or shape any arrangement logically in terms of mathematical exposition that don’t affect its literary structure, form, outcome or even the point of view. To decipher such a state or form would merely serve as an identity element, but without surrendering their properties of identities, as it happens in epistemology or metaphysics where zero serves as an identity element but doesn’t change anything, as reflected by the algebraic structures of (n+0=n). Nandini in the same spirit (i use the word ‘spirit’ due to the limitations of the language) writes,
“I long no longer for a universe/where men don’t bargain their trod/where women don’t sneer or weep/There i am, i am.”(S.55)
Now, if we ponder upon the idea of men and their trods, women and their sneer or weepings-the omissions or commissions of it, we see the structures and forms along with their shades. We also see the negotiation of that space too. Suddenly, the idea seems to encompass the rigidity of the disciplines like an ’empty set collection’ or like the ‘null set’ of “I long no longer for a universe”.(S.55) But ironically, when we read the poem,” The faces forgotten ” which is a part of this collection, we see the complete reversal of this principle like the vacuous truth as she is “being caught up by faces… /nothing but assemble empty houses of the gaze.”(S.57) because it becomes difficult to ascertain whether ontologically, her nothingness is similar to the empty set wherein this nothingness is the opposite of everything or the complete absence of anything, just like a vacuum, because here ” the teeth of time”(S.57) is at play.
Secondly,Point is a fact or an idea expressed as the most important part of an information. In mathematics, it denotes the exact location in time, which goes against the purpose of all this. This conscious choice or use if words or unconscious usage of it puts an extra layer of metatextual meanings over those metaphors because if the author seeks a ferocious clarity of perspective and purpose, how can the words or the tools of language fall short for such a purposeful exercise. The use of metaphors and adjectives to express these key points of expression mark our innate quest of transcending such dualities by trying to find the method to her own madness-her own room to be,but relative or otherwise, is this novelty of purpose or meaning achievable. I extend the veil of ignorance as a man of imperfect intellect and give her the benefit of doubt but Nandini seems to be making a point by being at such position, that too epistemologically, by trying to create such a space that can’t suddenly come into being in the middle of a life full of identities that are impossible to be given up or resisted as “the epic texts are born by regular retellings”(S.65) due to the causal nature of our existence. It is easier said than done, to forget the past and become completely free from it because time as a singular construct obliterates every perceptual difference as, “Time present and time past /all-time eternally present in time future” (S.37). Phenomenologically, it is a scientific fact beyond any reasonable doubt and if we represent the diametrically opposite idea of nothingness as a juxtaposition of a literary concept, it alludes roughly to the absence of life or existence itself, which is yet again a quixotic “waiting for the outlandish but desired sight to re-emerge”(S.39) kind of dystopia as the very idea is flawed when examined vis-a-vis time and space in literature, mathematics or physics as she writes, ” I live in a flaw, /may be to die a flawless death”(S.39)
Thirdly, the idea of Zero point or Point zero is similar in the sense that zero point of Nandini’s existence is mathematically called Point zero and not the other way around. While the latter encompasses the former but the former is nothing more than a tiny fragment of the vastness of the latter.
Zero point is a concept in physics or metaphysics wherein the lowest energy state that doesn’t change with time and appears to be of a constant density everywhere. It is a point inherent of/in space itself. It can thus be called “a quality of being”, of existing in something as a permanent or essential attribute of without being self-conscious of the knowledge of what’s causing it to be like the ” convergence….. /humanizing the mechanics of tolerance”(S.31) much like “… the first light of creative contemplation.” (S.31)
It is like a realization of “… daybreak for ingenuity breaking the parapets of the opaque/without orders from above. ” (S.31), like the Brahman which can neither be created nor be destroyed, added or subtracted, multiplied or divided, as it is a non-manipulative idea metaphysically to which Nandini is unknowingly subscribing and agreeing to. But her zero point as an algebraic placeholder, is ironically like an arithmetic identity-an intermediary between positive and negative real numbers wherein a non-negative categorization can also be made to include either the positive number or zero itself,like a life which can’t be unlived,similar to “the tales of humans are like rivers. They never go reverse. But they/never know/where one tale touches /another/before/both tales/touch the ocean/and merge” (S.72) like “cooking saucy textual food” (S.72) because life lived has an intrinsic worth wherein zero serves as a convenient reference point when measuring anything that is of finite nature. Though, the same doesn’t hold true for anything already infinite, like our emotions or the adjectives that we embellish our life with-be it permanent, temporary or transient. Hence, Nandini is very confident to state that “the bodily laws of the cosmos/don’t pertain to zero ” (S.15) but this is true only for ‘zero as a bonafide cardinal number of an intrinsic value as an element of the metaphysical and epistemological identity but certainly doesn’t sit well with the title of the poem “Zero Point” as to arrive at a zero point of energy or of space, the ways known to mankind are only metaphysical, so “Things falling in their right place/inhabiting structures of civilized existence” (S.35) is partially correct but “zero rises as a link/between the material and metaphysical/between cause and conviction” (S.15) is easier said than done. If anything of such nature ever happens, it would transcend any verbal link and would require better words than ‘between,and ‘.
Nandini’s Zero Point seems to be in consonance with “These Days I do Only What the Heart Says” which is a subjective experience of one’s newness of purpose and objective at at point of time, so from the book’s perspective, it is either a zero or a point for her but not both at the same time.
The empathic use of self-reflexive absence perceptions, as if it were a symbol of some restoration culture because the zero point energy of space is inconsistent with the value of zero itself exactly like the differences in human behavior wherein we know what’s missing, what all has to be shedded to reach point zero but like an “Overcast Agreeable Weather” it keeps us in the unending loop of “thick and thin” (S.53) illusions of life.
Another very important point is that Nandini’s Zero point is a “Collection of Poems” but mathematically it is incorrect because to reach zero point one has to start afresh as such a point can’t be defined in terms of previously defined objects and objectifications or meanings which constitute the idea of a collection as she writes somewhere”An understanding of the/anguish of a poet/who has no illusions/but can’t bring herself/to live a different life “(S.32) is the cumulative crux of this whole endeavor and my efforts to highlight the obvious challenges to it because it acts as “the record of her encounter with her own self, again. “(S.32) summing up my moot points of analysis.
This brings me to the idea of symbols and their meanings and their significations. The Zero,i.e, Shunya as a Hindu symbol is a circle with a dot (Bindu) at the centre or the middle of it symbolizing the void and the negation of Self. While the circle in Euclidean geometry is nothing but a plane figure bounded by one curved line which is called its circumference with the point known as centre.What’s interesting here,is the acknowledgement of the fact that a line itself is an infinite collections of points confirming to certain axioms because it is the plane that allows the defining of the circle, much like in Buddhist philosophy where it represents a void or emptiness. But if we look closely, the word Zero written in English has alphabets Z-E-R-O with an O looking like a zero with the dot , not in the centre but on the circumference of the circle itself. This is a deliberate attempt to distinguish oneself but it welcomes all the points of subjective relativity of the author which zero is pitted against. Circumference is the line of circumstances of life which makes us what we are, bounded by the bounding line of our own existence and suffering ourselves within it but to reach Zero point one must turn inwards towards the centre as “nothing came out of nothing” but an exercise such as this ,in “counter mythologizing/space and territory” (S.74) which includes the author as well, one must be very careful in choosing one’s symbol and elements of representation. Besides, I have put aside the color scheme, as it may take the argument into another unwanted direction beyond the ken of this analysis and the research domain of this paper.
Therefore, in a world pitted against anyone and everyone as an adversary, especially against the author and his anxiety, it is an effort “poised agitated between two worlds/I imaginatively interpret/one world to another” (S.77) and though Nandini says that this is the starting point and the end point at the same time,our cyclical nature of life according to our cultural and religious worldview, this idea isn’t similar to her constructs because both the points after the completion of a cycle can’t be exactly at the same place at the same time scientifically ot metaphorically either. Though, Zero is nihilistic, absurd but time can’t be done away as the idea of living and being happens subjectively in this warp which has no end and beginning like the life itself. So, the idea of life coming full circle is always a relative reference and can’t be in consonance with zero or zero point either. But it does constitute an exercise of an authorial enquiry from any ooint of view because “Poetry leads to the/greater values/of silence.” (S.32) and even for a scholar, critic, or a reader it is always a complimentary exercise to find meaning out such silences because like this Zero point, it is a symbol, much beyond our subjectivities and for the author “to be a poet is no exhibition of mine. /It is my way/of staying alone. ” (S.33) like those ancient seekers of knowledge and wisdom.
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Bhaskar Bhushan is a Doctoral Research Scholar of English Literature from the School of Humanities (SOH),IGNOU at New Delhi.His research interests are based on his interdisciplinary fascination for language and realities, shaping and creating narratives and discourses of dystopia. He has been trying to understand this phenomenon from different perspectives and rigors of different disciplines, in both his research and in other practices of life. He is also a lawyer practicing Law at various dispensations rendering justice to humankind.
Designation:Ph.D Research Scholar
Affiliation:I.G.N.O.U, New Delhi.
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