Monday, February 22, 2010

Pedagogy I

Was too late to go for my French class today. Wasn't feeling super-good physically and there was also the fact that last night I went out for a dinner after AGES, and ended up staying out till almost 11.15 pm and then chatted with RC until 1.30 am. Besides,I am allowed to wallow in Monday Morning Blues once in a while. So I have been here at home, and graded almost 50% of the student papers.Now this set wasn't that bad. But there are other things that bother me about my students.

1. The extent to which they accept social inequality

2. The extent to which they think "choice" solves it all. Rarely do they try to see that none of our choices are absolute.We all choose from the given options, to begin with. Besides, what we end up choosing are almost always profoundly influenced by what we have internalized through socialization. Therefore, all choices are and can be and should be ideologically de-constructable.I mean, no one should get a blank check by saying, this is my choice. That choice needs to be contextualized and justified. Yes, I will agree to the possibility of disagreement there. But nothing seems more problematic to me than when people leave it at choice and do not probe on the social, historical, ideological factors that made that specific choice possible.

3. My students have no freaking sense of history.

4.They are incapable of thinking of anything beyond the scope of the "personal" and the "individual." In other words, they fail to see how the "personal" is implicated within the social.

To be fair to my students, I don't think they are alone in this. I see this amongst my younger friends and cousins in India, amongst my high-school friends, and heck, even amongst all-term activists and artists who really should know and feel better.So part of it is just, I will have to say, human reluctance to see how we are all structurally implicated even when we think we are so damn free.I will also say, all of us, in varying degrees are reluctant to see how our most personal moments are problematically embedded within centuries of evolving power structures and modes of domination.But then, there are also ways in which the neo-lib regime transforms the incapacity to see the structural into an art-form. Precisely because,a capacity to see the structure might also produce a desire to transform that structure. To change its basic thrusts. And no social hegemony (or even system) wants that.

Yet... yet, human beings rebel! Maybe that's where human beings are thoroughly and profoundly human?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am in bits n pieces here, folks...

There are some weeks when I will get more of my poems and stories done. There are weeks when I will get more of my French done. There are weeks when I will get more of my dissertation done. But rare there are weeks when I get all of them done in equal measure. Last week, for example, I have failed to work on my diss, although I did get some of the readings done. Now, I need to go back to it, and begin to work on it. Meaning, actually WRITE. I have been post-poning that ever since I got up. I know I won't get over this feeling of not-being-productive until and unless I crunch some words into that document. But I am resisting it, resisting it, resisting it. This is gut-wrenching work. But so is writing a poem. So is writing a story. Honestly, I don't take any claims of something coming "naturally" to anyone too seriously. Simply because nothing comes to me naturally. I have to work god-fucking-damn-hard for any halfway decent lines I write. And I don't think I am especially stupid.Anyways....

I have been working steadily towards the story I began last summer, and now I am seeing the end. Although what it will be is a shitty first draft. But whenever I get to work on it, I feel a kind of fulfillment, because this is a project that I had such a hard time with when I began, and even now, it just seems to be driving me crazy. But I am happy that I am working on it, and seeing some light. Finally got some great feedback on my Bindudi story from Valerie. As usual, her suggestions are dot on. So, now, I will have to some time to go back to it, and try out the revisions. Let's see when it finally happens...

Also got some good feedback for my Bildungsroman I poem...looking forward to do the revisions sometime this coming week.

Have been reading a collection of Anton Chekhov's short stories. It is fascinating to see how skilfully he uses the "chance encounter" format to come up with stories which are scathing in terms of representing the multiple forms of social violence, the social hierarchies and the way human beings cope with them. I realized, that Chekhov wrote quite a number of short shorts, "flash fiction" as we call them today. But I didn't have my regular irritation about it. Probably because, nowhere does Chekhov reduce his narrative into sheer triviality, superficiality, even when he writes a very short story. He was writing very short narratives not because he didn't have the adequate social eye, but he was using the short-form simply because sometimes they fitted the material he was dealing with. After all, if one is building up a story around a chance encounter between two long-lost friends, for example, and using that meeting to reveal things about the two characters, there's only so much one can write about it. The question, then, becomes, how does one "read" the society, the culture, the ideologies and the power structures into this brief interaction. Within the seemingly trivial and useless conversations. Chekhov's brilliance lies in the fact that nothing was too trivial for him. Nothing was beyond his sociological eye. Hence, the great stories we have today.

Have also just begun Tarashankar Bandopadhyay's Dhatri Debota.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Genre Argument in My Dissertation

The dissertation writing is not moving as fast as I would really like it to. But after a week's slogging, and reading of book-chapters and articles, which seemed erratic and aimless even to me, I think, I have finally figured out one of my central arguments. So here it is, in a jumbled first-drafty kind of a way.

A lot of the theories of novel I am reading right now, talk about the phenomenon of "post-modern" historical novels. There are certain strategies that are identified as post-modern:narrating the constructed nature of historical narratives and knowledge, questioning, problematizing and complicating what is perceived to be the grand narrative, bringing together multiple and often disparate voices. I do think these narrative modes make the contemporary historical novels special, and also endow upon them a very specific characteristic. In lots of ways, these novels are primarily about the voices that have previously been silenced or marginalized in history. Neo-slave narratives, or a big chunk of post-colonial historical novels use these strategies, appropriate them, so to say. But they are not novels about mere "heterogeneity", they are about conflicts. Because of the very nature of the material they are dealing with, neo-slave narratives are essentially novels about class struggle. There are ways in which these novels represent that class struggle differently from the classical Marxist understandings of it. Sometimes the class struggle appears in really muted forms. But nevertheless, these are novels about class struggle and conflict, and not mere co-existence of heterogenous elements.

So this is my argument about the forms in a nutshell. What do you think?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

here yet be dragons
Lucille Clifton (The Book of Light)

so many languages have fallen
off of the edge of the world
into the dragon's mouth. some

where there be monsters whose teeth
are sharp and sparkle with lost

people. lost poems. who
among us can imagine ourselves
unimagined? who

among us can speak with so fragile
tongue and remain proud?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

This Thing Around the Neck

I have been reading Adichie's This Thing Around the Neck. I am somewhat ashamed to say that I haven't yet read her Purple Hibiscus or Half of the Yellow Sun. But now, after reading the short story collection, I can't wait to begin to read them. Then again, it will have to wait. Because I have so much on my plate right now. What struck to me about Adichie's work is the way she is committed to exploring class privilege. She does not attempt to take up the voice of the so-called "sub-altern",unlike some of the recent Anglophone fiction I have been coming across from India (Mridula Koshy and Arvind Adiga). More specifically, her project seems to be an un-folding the complex web of simultaneous marginalizations and privileges that Nigerian middle-class and lower middle-class women are pitted within. I think, it appealed to me precisely because this is also what I am trying to do in my short-stories, and somehow Adichie's short stories seem to me to be more honest and intent than the post-modern sleekness which seems to be the literary fad right now in the post-colonial world. There is something about the good-old realism, when done well.You know what it is, unlike a certain kind of fluffy post-modernism, it doesn't allow the writer to be the air in the fish-net. It demands that a writer pushes his/her comfort zone repeatedly.

Waiting for some feedback on one of my stories. Not much writing has happened during this week. So, will try to do some during this weekend.