I started a literary group about a year ago focused on serious literary works. We call it Caravanserai Literati. I have always been passionate about literature. This endeavor, however, is a return to serious study of literature at a level that I haven’t engaged in since my last semester in college when I read a dozen major literary works in a single semester. That was the Spring of 1993.
Today, there are ten of us. All close friends. All cultured, accomplished, highly intelligent people. It has been the single most fulfilling literary growth experience of my recent years.
Enrica and Pierluigi, an Italian couple, and our Polish Armenian friend Joanna led us through Dante’s Inferno, our first project in July 2016. We followed it up with The Mahabharata, springing off Peter Brook’s film/play, plus other ancillary pieces like the Gita. I led this one. The third project, which concluded in November 2016, was Nabokov’s Lolita. Joanna led. I was talking to her about it. One of the conclusions I came to after reading Lolita was that I don’t really want to ever write another work of literature unless I know for certain that I have a masterpiece in my hands. Nabokov did. The English language soars in his hands, yet he was not a native English speaker. In this project, we also watched both films, the Kubric one, as well as the Jeremy Irons version that came later, which, over the years, I have watched at least 4 times. It’s brilliant. Also brilliant is an audio book that we listened to, read by Jeremy Irons whom Dominique (my husband who is Belgian) and I love.
We then worked on Omar Khayyam. Our Persian friend Ari led this one. The translation of Rubayyat that we read by Edward Fitzgerald is based on one of the very few copies of the original that he found at the Asiatic Society library in Calcutta of all places!
This was followed by Lucretius, one of the first century philosophers who wrote The Nature of Things (in Latin verse), an exploration of Physics and the natural world, in lieu of explaining the inexplicable by divine intervention.
In January 2017, we discovered a French poet called Francis Ponge. In February, we read Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow’s Herzog. In March, we read one of the most beautiful books I have read in recent times: Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrien. It is a brilliant fictional memoir written by a brilliant author about a brilliant emperor. An absolute treat! Intelligence oozes from every pore of its pages.
In April, our Chinese friend Jasmine led us through one of the oldest works in Chinese philosophy – Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.
And then our friend Eric, who is both a highly accomplished tech CEO and a singer, lead us through Leonard Cohen’s poetry, accompanied by both live and recorded music.
Our most recent project is Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Part I – Swann’s Way. Aside from Tagore, I have seldom read an author who has such a refined sense of beauty. There are a couple of contenders like Pamuk (Turkish) and Mishima (Japanese), but Proust is the original artist, Pamuk and Mishima have tried to emulate his example.
In October 2017, we read Borges (Argentine), an intensely erudite author who draws from world literature with masterful panache, and weaves stories that explore philosophy and theology with spellbinding creativity.
Coming up, in 2018, we have Murakami (Japanese), Ishiguro (Japanese, writing in English), and much more.
Each time, when we gather for the discussions, someone from the group hosts a rather elaborate dinner, and we have a literary salon. The discussions have been fascinating, and the multi-cultural perspectives make them thoroughly stimulating. The level of intelligence and rigor in the group is very high, so we’re each getting a tremendous intellectual high out of this milieu.
I share this with you to encourage the literature lovers to consider replicating similar frameworks to pursue your passions. Very often, in quotidian life, we lose touch with the sublime. Our literary group has ensured a steady flow of the sublime into our routine.
And it has been an absolute delight.
The other observation I have about life, after observing it for over four decades, is that when people get together with other people without agenda, they end up talking about people. It consists of character assassinations, criticisms, gossip, rumor mongering and a myriad other such not terribly appetizing tidbits.
In contrast, the kind of gatherings I have described above are wholly constructive, focused discussions about art, intellectual issues, and life that inevitably lead to personal and collective growth.
I highly recommend the framework.
Btw, I have done this with theater, with cooking, with music, and with literature. And with each effort, I have experienced huge personal growth, created wonderful memories for everyone who participated in those experiences, and had great fun.
Entrepreneurship, you see, is a way of life. Not just a vocation!
Note: With Covid, we had to switch to virtual 🙂