Monday, December 31, 2012

Odd Inferences & Allusions: Life of Passion?

"One's ability to find meaning in literature is dependent on how broadly and deeply read he or she is." I often share this assertion while teaching high school English literature classes. When doing so, I invite my students to do as I do: always look for literary allusions in contemporary media. Like many, though, it very often takes viewing one "thing" (television show, movie, song, etceteras) in the light of another to make the connection, make the inference or spot the allusion.

For example, during this most recent Winter Recess, I took advantage of the time to catch up on reading, television viewing and going to the movies. Despite a wide array of "sources": comic books, novels, poetry, action films, reality television and flights of fantasy, some connections--and eventually allusions--presented themselves to me.

While Krishna may have a
universe in his mouth...
...can the same be said of
Jack Passion's beard?
First came reality television. Though often depicted in the very niche reality show Whisker Wars, as self-centered and egotistical, former full-beard World Champion and multi-media icon Jack Passion, strikes me as, is if nothing else, a literate individual. (Full disclosure: I identify myself as a fan of Passion's, much to my wife's dismay.) He often alludes to ideas or quotes, whether intentionally or not, in his sound bites. One such occurrence struck me during last week's second season finale of Whisker Wars on the IFC television network. During the course of one outburst of bravado, Passions asserts that "I have the universe on my chin." When I first heard it, I tweeted it to the inter-webs (and Passion, in turn, kindly re-tweeted it, too!), but gave it little thought beyond that online interaction.

At the same time, I had began reading Yann Matrel's Life of Pi, a novel I had long intended to take in, but had lacked either the time or access to a copy. This recess, I had both.

By no means the original source for the quote, there is a small exchange in the book (and as I later observed, the movie adaptation directed by Ang Lee), that touches on a story of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, as a youth. The set-up for the story's telling (on pages 54-55 of the novel) is this: Krishna and his foster-mother Yashoda were in the garden together. One day Krishna, as usual, was playing in sand. During this act of play he swallows, or eats the sand/dirt/mud. Krishna, like any child, denies doing so. Mother Yashoda requests to look in Krishna's mouth to better discern whether he is telling the truth. Here is the heart of the "lesson" from a more formal telling of the anecdote "A Story of Young Krishna", which in the novel is recollected by Pi and in the film by his mother to him:
And the Lord [Krishna] who had become a human child out of sport, without any loss of His divine powers, now opened His rosebud mouth. She bent forward to peer more closely and lo! she felt herself to be whirling in space, lost in time, for inside the baby mouth was seen the whole universe of moving and unmoving creation, the earth and its mountains and oceans, the moon and the stars, and all the planets and regions. She was wonderstruck to see the land of Vraja and the village of Gokula, herself standing there with the child Krishna beside her with a wide-open mouth, and within that mouth another universe, and so on and on and on.
Within Krishna's mouth is the whole universe (in fact, universes), while in a bit of hyperbole, Passion asserts that his beard (which he has also famously compared to an exploding volcano of red lava) also contains a "universe." So, is this purported (by me) allusion to Krishna's tale a stretch on the part of the reader (once again, moi)? Maybe, but the connection is there nonetheless... though the emphasis may be rightly placed on "less." If  "One's ability to find meaning in literature is dependent on how broadly and deeply read he or she is," then these moments of connection are available for identification all around us, IF we can connect those dots resulting in a (marginally) reasonable inference!

From Ang Lee's Life of Pi (2012).

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