This Dog Barking: The Strange Story of U.G. Krishnamurti
Nicolas C. Grey & James Farley
Harper Element/ Harper Collins 168 pages
“What is the difference,” asks Clodpol in Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time “between a humanistic, monastic system of belief in which wisdom is sought by means of an apparently nonsensical system of questions and answers, and a lot of mystic gibberish made up on the spur of the moment?”
Clodpol’s problem is a common one for the cynical trying to elevate themselves through a pursuit of the metaphysical, the spiritual, or the nihilistic. Any biography, particularly one that is true to U.G. Krishnamurti’s anti-philosophy, certainly runs that danger. Nicolas Grey and James Farley, however, by using a largely visual medium to tell Krishnamurti’s story over the usual prosaic alternative, have managed to hit the right note.
This Dog Barking takes us through Krishnamurti’s journey, and back again, and even highlights the futility of his endeavours. In black and white, through large, detailed panels, it’s possible to glimpse the desperation of his nihilism and the loneliness that accompanies it.
The visual medium, particularly drawing and animation, has been used to explore non-academic philosophy to great effect. Waking Life, a 2001 American film, uses complex, moving forms of the extended body to great effect and enhances its hipster-hippie characters through layered lines. This Dog Barking, while a competent and visually engaging work in the same space, falls short when it comes to its writing.
U.G. Krishnamurti is an engaging character, and his pravachan is enhanced by the art in the book. His interlocutor, however, is a uni-dimensional upper middle-class everyman whose search for guidance seems like a fad he discovered a week ago. The other people in Krishnamurti’s life — his wife, children, lover — also pop up as mere placeholders.
As an exponent of a form of storytelling, one where images and words together work better than either does alone, This Dog Barking is definitely worth the few hours it takes to go through. However, Clodpol’s question remains unanswered. As a visual journey, it is commendable. As a biography and the sum of a philosophy, fictionalised or authentic, it falls short.