Geek Sublime

Vikram Chandra is a wonderful novelist and apparently knows his way around an algorithm, too. His new book is an unexpected tour de force, different from anything he has done before… its ambition: to look deeply, and with great subtlety, into the connections and tensions between the worlds – the cultures – of technology and art. The book becomes an exquisite meditation on aesthetics, and meanwhile it is also part memoir, the story of a young man finding his way from India to the West and back, and from literature to programming and back…  Chandra offers a far more complex view of clashing cultures than [C. P.] Snow ever did. He has lived inside more than just two… Programmers feel an exhilarating creative mastery, and Chandra captures it… Then he starts writing his first novel, “Red Earth and Pouring Rain,” with its poet protagonist, and wonders: What makes a poem beautiful? Back he goes across the cultural divide, to the Tantric texts of the first millennium, and the cosmology of Abhinavagupta, in a quest for aesthetics that coding can’t fulfil. – James Gleick, The New York Times Book Review (USA).

The witty title of Vikram Chandra’s soulful, erudite new book, “Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty,” appears to play with a couple of Western cultural touchstones. The ancient Greek Longinus’ “On the Sublime” gave us some of the earliest ideas about what makes great literature, and of course Keats’ most famous lines, if not his most wonderful, are: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  But this book goes beyond all that. It transcends Western frames of reference to make dazzling connections between technology and art among less familiar social, spiritual and aesthetic traditions of the Indian subcontinent. The result is a marvelous, peripatetic experience that will change the way you look at everything from iambs to your iPhone…  “Geek Sublime” is endlessly fascinating…  Early in “Geek Sublime,” Chandra describes how his fellow writers react when he tells them that, as a budding novelist, he supported himself by working as programmer. It’s usually, he claims, a response that “mixes bemusement, bafflement, and a touch of awe, as if I’d just said that I could levitate.” After you’ve read this book, you may look at Chandra the same way.  – John Wilwol, The San Francisco Times (USA).

Vikram Chandra
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