MIDWAY: Words and images

Many predict the decline of literature as more ‘lively’ forms of art gain popularity. The CDs and DVDs will replace books on shelves, they say. These predictions are not completely off the mark, for we do see mini DVD and CD libraries in modern homes where books might have been in earlier days. One of my favourite books is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (“The best story I’ve written,” said Dickens). Seldom does one find such a gripping and poignant tale of love and self-sacrifice with an equally vivid sketch of the background of the time it is set in: during the French revolution. One might argue that immediate visual images of the revolution and the classic tale may help him/her witness the times and understand the book better (four times visualised on the silver screen).

The biggest difference between visual art and literature is in the scale of imagination. In a film, even the best of directors has to assign each actor a particular image — which is portrayed through acting, countenance, dress, make-up, etc. But in doing so, the director will already have sliced a swath of our imagination. The heart-rending ending in A Tale of Two Cities is so perfectly entrenched in my memory because each time I remember the concluding

scene of the novel, all the possible images literally come to haunt me. What must have been the expression on Charles Darnay’s face when he was ready to die for his love, Lucie? How the horrors of the revolution must have been played out on the streets of France, I imagine.

But once our sieve-like minds are given a particular set of images, they stick, and half the springs of our imagination run dry. Once the scenes have been cast with ‘permanent images’, they are no longer capable of enacting their former charm. The words immortalised by rich possibilities are at once trivialised by giving them a certain slant.

English author John Fowles was never quite happy with the movie versions of his novels. When asked for the reason, he said: “What I like about the novel is that the reader actually supplies images. I’m a little suspicious of cinema in that although you have to imagine in terms of motivation and psychology, the actual images are given to you.’’