In Conversation

Arjun Jain, John Ruskin Manufactory

1. Given your knowledge of German as well, have you read, I wonder, Novalis, at all? Heinrich von Ofterdingen etc… Though I sympathise indeed with one’s needing to ‘tame the symbolic urge’, as you put it, I’ve often felt it quite necessary, also, to somewhat ‘cultivate’ that same urge. Overall, I think, perhaps, that the introduction of ‘science’, or logic, or rationality, or shall we say, the quite evident need to categorise and classify everything, into the interpretation of symbols, is rather the problem. Perhaps if the interpretation is largely kept to oneself, and, if need be, recognised as primarily personal, whatever it is good for can indeed be taken advantage of, can it not? A ‘constellation’ does of course not ‘mean’ anything, but it can mean somethings to someones, and perhaps those someones can derive comfort from it, and go on to write poems or paint pictures in remembrance. But, yes, the ‘romanticisation’ of the world that Novalis talks about, I’ve so far only been able to think of as impossible, if pursued rigorously; of the necessity of it, or ‘validity’ of it, in the face of rational enquiry, my thoughts have fluctuated wildly over the years.

2. Have you read that recent book on ‘weeds’ by Richard Mabey? I think you’ll find it fascinating! As the medieval gardeners, as you write, I myself let the weeds grown in my garden last summer, and, what with my own inclination towards symbolism, gleaned much, philosophically from the experience. My own ‘weeding policy’, at the moment, you’ll perhaps be interested to know, is to allot a new pot to every new kind of ‘weed’ that appears.

3. Have you read Ruskin’s Proserpina? I haven’t myself, completely, but I suppose there’ll be insights aplenty over there, for yourself especially!

4. I was glad to learn of your underplaying of The Language of Flowers. It did attract me, once upon a time, to be honest, but I could never go through with it- indeed, so inconsistent and arbitrary and nonsensical I found it. Though I’d always thought that this certain lack of knowledge weakened, in a sense, my appreciation of the PRB paintings, I am happy to realise that it might not, after all, be so.

5. Lastly, there are some ‘strongly’ symbolic floral symbols, aren’t there? Those ‘universally’ considered to be so. The symbolism associated with the lotus, for instance, at least in the Indian subcontinent is so very strong, that any use of it, anywhere, there, I doubt if does not bring up certain analogies. I myself chose to include it upon a cover of a book I’d written sometime back, trusting my audience to be aware of the connection.