On Struggle by S Srinivas

Article Posted in: Essay

An Essay by S Srinivas
Published in Volume IV, Issue XXXVII, February 2018

On struggle

There is something onomatopoeic about the word struggle. Its unglamorous disyllabic body seems to be composed of all the exertions and emotions that struggling actually entails. The sounds represented by ‘tru’ seem particularly culpable in this regard, the consonantal sequence ‘tr’ signifying a certain physical friction against odds, and the vowel represented by ‘u’ signifying something plain: an insipid essay, a drone’s speech, a lugubrious piece of music, a moth-infested old building or a lifeless cricket pitch. Even the sound sequence ‘gl’ (with ‘e’ silent), often a source of initial light, in words such as gleam, glitter, gloss and glimmer, is unable to rescue the word from its word-final location. Nor does ‘s’, a commonplace disinterested word-initial spectator in English, contribute anything special to the word.

Just as the word ‘struggle’ is dull, the action(s) that it stands for are uninspiring, at least if the popular perception is anything to go by. The opposite of a successful writer or actor, for example, is not an unsuccessful writer or actor, but a struggling one. The phrases struggling writer and struggling actor have become such relatable stereotypes that films and plays have milked them to great effect and that the phrases may be introduced in a present-day English class as fixed expressions. In sport, primarily a physical endeavour, matters of apparent style, which is easy on the eye, have come to have a say, sometimes at the expense of those of actual substance, which subjects the senses to a difficult examination. Even the academia has been taken to the corporate highway in many countries, and the need for speed therein leaves, and rightly so in the eyes of administrators, the slowly plodding academic in the lurch.

While it is unwise or downright willful to reject popular ideas about anything just because they are popular, a keen examination of the popular perception of struggle, as something uninspiring and thence undesirable, reveals a curious human predilection. When successes are celebrated – whether it be the winning of a prestigious award; or the liberation of a people from the clutches of external rule or civil conflict; or just a deserved promotion in a job – the struggles that prefaced them often tend to glorify. Ongoing struggles are seen less often, however, as portents of future successes that might be expected, because success predicted is harder to grapple with and make sense of than success achieved.

The popular perception of struggle is also probably coloured by the fundamental utilitarian distinction between labour and reward. From a philosophical standpoint, the former is comparable to a process or a journey and the latter to a result or a destination. Human life, hope and the spiritual concept of karma all rely, to varying degrees, on the connection between sowing seeds and reaping fruits. Often forgotten, however, is the fact that a seed and its fruit are not different—the former contains the latter and the latter reproduces the former; that the perception they are different objects is grounded in tricks played by time rather in any ontological truth.

It is such temporal tricks that underlie the perception of struggle and success as distinct emotional or philosophical entities, when they ought to be seen really as seeds and fruits; as being fundamentally the same. Such a view suffers neither from the shortcomings of predictive processes nor from the certitude born of hindsight. It goes beyond equating struggle and success and indicates that there are no two things to be equated at all. There is only one and what names are given to it – labour or struggle, reward or success – do not, and should not, matter at the end of the day.

Biographical note:

Srinivas currently teaches English at the SSN College of Engineering, Chennai. He is a theoretical linguist by training and is interested in the phonology of Dravidian languages, linguistic typologies and models of prosodic structure. Away from academics, he dabbles in poetry and writes the occasional essays.

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