Books: Myths, eagles and legends: get into the `Ka'
Ka by Roberto Calasso Vintage pounds 6.99
Sunday 07 November 1999
Ka is even more challenging. In it, Calasso makes tangible the less familiar world of Hinduism, placing its hymns and narratives of sacrifice - the Rig-Veda and the Brahmanas - at its imaginative heart. He makes his intentions clear with two epigraphs: one from Spinoza, who remarks that ideas function as narratives of the real world; and the second from the Yogavasistha: "The world is like the impression left by the telling of a story." And before we know it, we are plunged straight into the story with the enticing first line: "Suddenly an eagle darkened the sky." This eagle taking flight spans the novel with one question: "Who is the god to whom we should offer our sacrifice?" Calasso, who is brilliantly and meticulously translated by novelist Tim Parks, then turns his story, which, once again, combines philosophical commentary with illuminating linguistic analysis, into a startling evocation of the historical atmosphere and emotional outlook that shaped these upper- caste Indians' thought. The emergence of consciousness is their concern, and Calasso gives it narrative shape by rehearsing their myth of the creation of the world by Prajapati, the progenitor, whose secret name is Ka (which translates as "who", or "the space between"). Calasso is keen on the idea of an "Indo-European" tradition of thought, and he brings in Proust ("a Vedantic master though unaware of being such"), Wittgenstein, Locke and Hegel as close relations of the Indian seers.
Ka is a dizzying, erudite incursion into sacred texts, which throbs with erotic, violent and enigmatic tales. Despite its scholarly austerity, to read it is, ultimately, a rewarding experience, although - as Parks himself once admitted - it needs to be read at least four times before the reader can come to terms with it.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant