Agha Shahid Ali diaries: on abstraction

July 30, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

May 2001

Today I drove Shahid and Patricia [O’Neill – a close friend of his] into Manhattan for Shahid’s last class [at Baruch College]]. He was very relieved that the course was coming to an end, even though he loves to teach and had hugely enjoyed teaching this particular class. But it was still a strain under the circumstances [of his recently-diagnosed brain tumour].

The class was in the dim recesses of the college. It was evident immediately that the students adore Shahid. They had started a magazine and the first issue was dedicated to him.

There was a long discussion about language and one of the students said something about Hebrew being more multi-layered than other languages. Shahid said: ‘I think all languages are equally complex. I can’t say about every language; I don’t know all of them, but I think language is inherently complex and all languages have many layers.’

From beginning to end he laughed and joked and was very much in his diva mode. One student began to hold forth about the difference between plausibility and inevitability in a poem. He went on at some length and Shahid broke in: ‘Oh you’re so naughty! You always make everything sound so abstract!’

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