Let us take off our hats to Calcutta, the many-sided, the smoky, the magnificent, as we drive in over the Hughli Bridge in the dawn of a still February morning. We have left India behind us at Howrah Station, and now we enter foreign parts. No, not wholly foreign. Say rather too familiar. All men of a certain age know the feeling of caged irritation — an illustration in the Graphic , a bar of music or the light words of a friend from home may set it ablaze — that comes from the knowledge of our lost heritage of London.
City of Dreadful Night, by Rudyard Kipling
At Home they, the other men, our equals, have at their disposal all that Town can supply — the roar of the streets, the lights, the music, the pleasant places, the millions of their own kind, and a wilderness full of pretty, fresh-coloured Englishwomen, theatres and restaurants. It is their right. They accept it as such, and even affect to look upon it with contempt. We have been deprived of our inheritance.
The City of Dreadful Night and Other Poems
The men at home are enjoying it all, not knowing how fair and rich it is, and we at the most can only fly westward for a few months and gorge what, properly speaking, should take seven or eight or ten luxurious years. That is the lost heritage of London; and the knowledge of the forfeiture, wilful or forced, comes to most men at times and seasons, and they get cross. Calcutta holds out false hopes of some return. The dense smoke hangs low, in the chill of the morning, over an ocean of roofs, and, as the city wakes, there goes up to the smoke a deep, full-throated boom of life and motion and humanity.
This is a city. There is life here, and there should be all manner of pleasant things for the having, across the river and under the smoke. The litany is an expressive one and exactly describes the first emotions of a wandering savage adrift in Calcutta.
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This is the docks. This is Imperial. This is worth coming across India to see! It seems not only, a wrong but a criminal thing to allow natives to have any voice in the control of such a city — adorned, docked, wharfed, fronted, and reclaimed by Englishmen, existing only because England lives, and dependent for its life on England.
There is only one. Benares is fouler in point of concentrated, pent-up muck, and there are local stenches in Peshawar which are stronger than the B. There is no tracing back the Calcutta plague to any one source. It is faint, it is sickly, and it is indescribable; but Americans at the Great Eastern Hotel say that it is something like the smell of the Chinese quarter in San Francisco. It is certainly not an Indian smell. It resembles the essence of corruption that has rotted for the second time — the clammy odour of blue slime.
And there is no escape from it. It is first found, in spite of the fume of the engines, in Howrah Station. It seems to be worst in the little lanes at the back of Lal Bazar where the drinking-shops are, but it is nearly as bad opposite Government House and in the Public Offices. The thing is intermittent. Six moderately pure mouthfuls of air may be drawn without offence.
Then comes the seventh wave and the queasiness of an uncultured stomach. If you live long enough in Calcutta you grow used to it. This symbolic numerology is present throughout the poem and serves to express the meaninglessness and repetitive circularity of life.
- The City of Dreadful Night, by James Thomson.
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- The City of Dreadful Night by James Thomson.
The religious connotations of the number three is inverted and presented in a thoroughly negative way; the most divine number becoming one associated with meaningless existence. Thomson severs himself from the traditional Romantic conventions and poetic form which for him, can no longer contain the realities of modern life. In Section Four of The City, after declaring the death of the three virtues , Thomson presents an instance of Hope when the desert wanderer encounters the image of a woman carrying a red lamp:.
The self divides; the one who dared to hope is borne away by the tide, leaving the other behind in his meaningless existence.
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- The City of Dreadful Night?
- THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT.
He writes that without God there can be no real meaning to life other than what we create for ourselves and this can be seen to echo what Thomson is contending to do with his writing. With space Giacometti has to make a man; he has to write movement into the total immobility, unity into the infinite multiplicity, the absolute into the purely relative, the future into the eternally present, the chatter of signs into the obstinate silence of things.
The City of Dreadful Night | AK Press
The artist carves and projects his own reality through his medium; the two become intertwined. Mary Ann Gillies, in her study of Bergson in relation to Modernism, writes:.
In keeping with this train of thought, it follows that Art, for Thomson, is an attempt to externalise the internal and create subjective meaning; it is the hope for the despairing intellectual; an outlet as well as a uniting device. Throughout The City , Thomson frequently references and alludes to other works of literature, stressing the importance he attributes to this modernist idea of the redemptive power of art. However, in The City , Thomson is continually contradicting this idea of creating subjective meaning from an internally validated world:.
Is this meaning that Thomson attempts to establish through art illusionary; a Marxist opium of the intellectual in despair?
In other words, this created subjective meaning in The City is simply a consoling device remaining inferior to an objective meaning created out with the intellect. We have killed him! We are all murderers! God is dead. With humanities modern predicament, religion no longer provided a viable authoritative grounding for ethical, social and aesthetic values. In this context, the preacher in The City can be seen to advocate that the distorted traditional Christian message provides false hope; it can no longer provide objective meaning because there is no longer an objective God.
Howe discusses this concept in his essay on modernism, he writes that the modern sensibility is imbued with this idea of a primitive state as a desired condition. However, the observer who has encountered this creature brushes the threads of gossamer from his face and continues his journey through the city.
He rejects this search for a primitive state that will only serve to depict a false reality and illusion of purpose and turns again to the idea of endurance. In Section Twenty, this idea of endurance versus objective truth is continued in the confrontation between the Sphinx and the Angel.
The delusions of religion are rendered powerless when the Angel falls to the ground and the Sphinx that remains standing is representative of a non-divine force winning the battle over religious faith; replacing it with impassive endurance. Thomson is reversing the Romantic ideal and presenting his idea of the modern condition; man must exist in a world stripped of divinity.
This image of endurance is epitomised in Section Twenty One by an emblematic work of art, Melencolia, based on the engraving by Albrecht Durer. Although objective religious meaning has been destroyed, she performs her duties and endures life without any divine meaning attached. Although Thomson claimed he was writing to tell the brutal truth and not to provide comfort, his proclamation of atheism calls for him to search for something to replace religion.