The Corporation

The Corporation

This is the age of mega-corporations. Corporations richer than some countries, wielding enormous influence over our world. With their power they can and do shape policies that affect our environment and in the end the way our societies function. How did these corporations become so powerful? Why are so many people protesting their rising clout if, as many often claim, they create jobs, increase transparency, efficiency and generate more wealth for a region? Why are corporations caught in the middle of so many scandals, especially in recent years?

These are some of the questions the documentary, ‘The Corporation’ directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, seeks to look at and answer. It is a huge task to subject as amorphous an entity as a corporation to such close scrutiny and succeed. They do it with style and depth but without sacrificing entertainment values. One innovative tool they use is to treat the corporation as a living entity/person and subject it to basic psychological testing. They look at the myriad ways corporations have tried to take over our environment without giving a damn for the consequences. They look at the lack of ethical values at the core of corporate functioning. They look at the way a corporation is only bothered with the bottom line and not how its actions affect the world around it. And they come to a not so surprising conclusion in hindsight. That the corporation exhibits almost all the classic symptoms of a psychopath.

Kafka on the Shore

kafka on the shore

It is hard on a writer when one of his books becomes a popular phenomenon. It is inevitable that all his later offerings will be compared to that which transformed him into a literary superstar. Is the new one better than that? Has he evolved? Is he deliberately trying to write differently to avoid any comparisons with that book? Most authors wilt under such close scrutiny and can never equal their former glory, if we can be arrogant enough to assume that that is what every writer tries to do. Even though Joseph Heller himself stated tongue-in-cheek (he being a perfect example for the case in point), “When I read something saying I’ve not done anything as good as Catch-22 I’m tempted to reply, ‘Who has?'”, there are many writers who break free from such artificial barriers and continue to produce quality work.

Haruki Murakami is one such writer. His fifth novel, Norwegian Wood, became a youth phenomenon in his native Japan when it was published, much to his dismay. So much so that he fled Japan to escape that sudden fame. The majority of Japanese youth (and indeed many in the rest of the world as well) connected with the poignant tale of lost love and youthful sexuality.

However, Murakami did not succumb to the pressures generated by such adulation and lose direction. He continued to write in his signature style, a mixture of pop culture elements and magic realism, written using language so simple that every book of his is instantly accessible. And that is one reason for much of the criticism directed against him as well. That his novels are all MTV style and no substance, easy to read sentences devoid of any deeper meaning. But his writing style can easily deceive. His books might be accessible but they are in no way superficial. Each of his books deals with profound issues, ranging from incest to infidelity. But let us not get into an academic discussion about the profundity of his writing. That is not the purpose of this essay. The purpose of this essay is to talk about his most recent novel available in English translation, Kafka on the Shore.

Something In The Way

Nirvana MTV Unplugged

There is a lasting value to classic rock records that, even after years of repeated listening, manage to provide a new insight into the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings. A case in point is Nirvana’s live MTV Unplugged album. It is one of the rawest and most nakedly emotional records in rock’s history. An aural testament to all that Nirvana’s front man, Kurt Cobain was going through. The pain exuded through every song is heartfelt and visceral. It was as if the band knew that this would be their last record together. It was Cobain’s open suicide note to the world, in song. It is a record that even now, after all these years, does not lessen its emotional impact, making it one of the few rock records that is difficult to listen to in one sitting. This is not some pleasant background muzak. This is one man’s pain and anguish channeled through songs that retain a grain of infinite beauty at their core. And dare I say it; even celebrate the finer points of life with their lean but not mean melodic tones. It is this essential contradiction that makes this album still as relevant today as it was when it was first released, just after Cobain’s suicide.


Where does compassion for a subject in one’s novel begin and desire to finish the story end? Is it right to use actual people to write something and hope that they will die soon so that you can finish writing? Do we as a society have the moral right to take the life of another human being even if that person has killed someone? Are we capable of realizing how momentous and irreversible death is?

Writers, I think, are highly selfish people. They live for their craft and characters and usually interact with society insomuch as it often gives them ideas for new stories. To them nothing matters more than getting a story down on paper and most importantly finishing it. They have to maintain a unique relationship with their characters. They have to be honest and caring but detached enough to not get personal and impose their own view on the people in their books. It is this conflict that Capote struggles with as he writes ‘In Cold Blood’, arguably his most famous work.

On one hand he is a narcissistic man in love with himself and on the other hand he has a compassionate heart. He is unable to detach himself from the people who form characters in his book. He wants to finish the book but for that to happen the protagonists have to die. So he vacillates between not helping them find a lawyer so that their appeal against the death sentence cannot go forward and hating himself for being so self-absorbed.

He cannot help himself from developing an affectionate bond with a person who has murdered a family in cold blood. He begins to care for him. He wants to help him delay the inevitable. But deep within all this affection is his selfish desire to be done with the book, a book which he has proclaimed, even before he has written a word of it, as his best. So he struggles to find a moral center, a justification for what he is doing, and he fails.

Philip Seymour Hoffman justly deserves all the praise he has been getting. His is a sublime performance and is one of the best I’ve seen in recent times. He achieves the rare distinction of slipping so much into the character’s skin that you no longer see the actor; you only see the character he portrays. He carries the film solely on his shoulders and never falters. The moment near the end of the film when he truly realizes what is about to happen, the way Hoffman breaks down made my eyes water with genuine empathy for what the man was feeling. It was a supreme achievement. Praise should go to the director Bennett Miller as well. It is hard to believe that this is his first feature film. To show the internal conflict Truman Capote underwent when writing one of the most important book’s of the 60s in such a brilliant manner; Miller can be proud of the perfect jewel he has crafted.