Sunday, January 16, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
It's amazing how much of my work-related stuff I figure out when I am actually not working. Like last week in LA. I was taking a walk with my dear friend, MS, a very talented scholar of American Studies. Somehow we ended up talking about Judith Halberstam's book Female Masculinity. MS pointed out to me, that in this book, Halberstam writes as if all forms of female masculinity are liberatory and empowering for everyone at all times. And it is not so. If we begin to see the intersections of race, colonialisms and anti-colonial nationalisms with gender ideologies, the process would become much more complicated. Now, I agree with her whole-heartedly. But I have been struggling for months to put it this simply. It is MS's use of the words "empowering" and "liberatory" that did it for me. Thanks, M. The bottomline is, scholarship, writing etc. etc. although they look and feel like solitary acts, are in reality, extremely collaborative. No art-making, no knowledge production happens in COMPLETE isolation. Period.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I had avoided Frances Hodgson Burnett for a long time. I had worked a little bit on the film adaptations of her book The Little Princess, and then didn't really dare to venture out to her other books. Or even The Little Princess. The colonial ideologies seemed too much on the face, and her little girls too stereotypical. Then,I picked up a copy of The Secret Garden from Half-Price a month ago. And I read it. Why? Because I figured, I should just try to process the colonialist shit rather than avoid it. Now, The Secret Garden does have its share of very direct colonial-racist representations. Indians are of only two kinds--the spoilt "Rajah" s and the ever-acquiescent, too-docile servants. The protagonist Mary loses both her parents in a cholera epidemic. Again, another of the stereotypes: India as the land of deathly diseases. And guess what, Mary is a spoilt brat. Why? This is what Burnett herself has to say about it:
She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived (4).
Monday, January 10, 2011
I was raised atheist. I have grown up around people who mostly believed Religion Is the Opium of People. There were plenty of evidence in our everyday life to prove that. I still believe in that, except for the fact that I think, the whole religion thing is slightly more complicated. Religion has functioned as an opium to people. It has also functioned as hope, and most importantly, as a tool of resistance. I am interested in seeing how different communities and individuals have often used religion as a rhetorical tool to argue about things which had very little to do with God. So, right now, I am an atheist who takes the ability of religion to mobilize people very very seriously. I mean, any basic reading of any kind of historical anthropology would tell anyone that this whole idea of God is a human intervention.It's kind of dumb to not realize that. And even if there IS something called God, who has the immense super-natural power to turn things around, I must admit, his sense of justice is extremely fucked up. I mean, he has no sense of justice at all. Anyone whose sense of justice and wellbeing is so fucked up, or totally non-existent, I kind of think, it's an insult on my intelligence and being to believe in him. So, I don't believe in the existence of God. But that does not mean I don't believe in the super-natural or the divine or the numinous. What can be more numinous than human creativity? What can be more divine than the human ability to tell stories, to play with colors, notes, tunes and create art? What can be more spiritual than the human efforts to create a better world for all? There is nothing natural about human creativity. In fact, most of the social hegemonies, in every kinds of human societies, have been structured to turn human masses into un-creative, acquiescent, obedient bodies. But human spirit is such that it rebels against such structures. This is what I consider to be super-natural. Something that eludes our sense of dominant, common-sense rationality. Not some idea of a BIG MAN sitting on a chair ruling the world. And because I believe in human creativity, I am also mindful of the fact that all forms of religious practices have inspired human beings to create art, to create stories, to create literatures. They have given human beings tools to argue with power-structures, to question authority. I respect that aspect of religion, I want to understand it more. But at the same time, religions themselves have exercised authority, created their own forms of power structures, allied themselves with other forms of power structures, and have been extremely useful in oppressing people in very systemic ways, conducting genocides, communal violence and riots and overall making life a living hell. In short, religions are nothing short of ideologies, and for me, it's little hard to see any kind of redemptive power in religious organizations and institutions given their problematic histories.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
I must confess that I have wished very very few people a Happy New Year this year. I didn't put up anything especially "happy" in my FB status message, I didn't celebrate any new beginnings, new meanings, hope, harmony and humour. Partly because I am not seeing many "new beginnings" in the world around me. There are several kids I know personally who are dragging on with the same shit, the same lack of resources. There are several people who are dragging on with the same bad marriages, many many more suffering from acute lack of opportunities. I can keep on adding to this list, but I don't think that would be necessary. You, my readers, get the point. What I am trying to say is, I am a little suspicious of this popular impulse to evade the negative, the avoidance of conflict and this general denial that "happiness" is a complicated state of being, which if not totally dependent on material resources, can't really thrive without it. And yes, there is a big difference between access to adequate material resources and consumerism. The groucho that I am, I can't help thinking this happi-happi-happiness that is blowing over the blogs, FB status messages, web articles, is ideological. Especially since the country I happen to live in is suffering from one of the worst recessions. The one where I come from is conducting a few genocides of its own citizens. I honestly don't have much hope for humanity at this point. But on a very personal level, I hope to retain enough courage to take up/confront contradictions and conflicts as they appear in my life, and not fall back upon platitudes. I dread the mental state that comes from being a shirker. I am not saying that we all turn into sour-faced little robots overnight, and I do think, sometimes laughter is the best form of subversion human beings can throw at the face of the powers that be. But there is a big difference between laughter that subverts and the "how-may-I-help-you" service-sector smile. I see a whole lot of the latter in my everyday life and not enough of the former. Almost along the same lines, I appreciate those who acknowledge and record the little ways in which human beings resist conformity in their everyday lives. I have enormous respect for those who try to live their lives creatively in their own ways, try to create things and spaces in ways that would speak back to power in all its complicated embodiments. I believe in celebrating the everyday pleasures of life-- good food, good coffee, good chocolate and so so many other things. But all those "good" shouldn't really eclipse/obfuscate the fact that even as I am writing these words, there are so many who will never know what good food looks and tastes like. I think, the anger, the hatred that human beings have collectively shown towards that non-seeing and non-tasting is beautiful. Sometimes even more beautiful than good food or even the bestest of the arts. I hope never to lose the frame of mind which leads me (and several others) the beauty of the anger that tries to transform. And the ability to see that anger, to feel that anger doesn't come to us automatically. It almost invariably follows the ability to see the horror of inequality, systemic forms of oppression, deprivation. Yes, I am talking about balance here. The balance between the ability to see both the beauty and the horror of everyday existence. The balance between the ability to feel both enraged and inordinately happy. For myself, I am naming that balance dialectics.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Monday, January 3, 2011
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Writers need to be good readers. "Reading" is one of those skills that no writer can choose to bypass. As I spend more and more time inside workshops being a student and a teacher of writing/literature, I am learning to identify students who are readers and those who are not. Lack of reading experiences do show up in one's writings in ways more than one. It is not something which I would be able to analyze in perfectly clear terms. Rather, it is one of those intuitive things which jumps at me from the page. But when I say "reading" is an essential skill for writers, I do not necessarily mean reading books and magazines and such. I also mean an ability to "read" the world around, to take apart what is familiar, to begin to see what is not apparent in the naked eye and to put it back together again in one's own text. I would also say this ability to "read" is also another way to think of a writer's sociological eye. That perceptiveness which allows a writer to see the workings of bigger social structures and historical forces within apparently insignificant everyday actions. A lot of it is, obviously, transmitted through details, but I would say, it's more than just details. It's about what one chooses to write about and why. It's about the essential philosophy behind one's aesthetic efforts. I must admit, my own time in the PhD program has been extremely fruitful in that way. I have read things which I would not have read otherwise. I have developed new interests, I have nurtured the old ones. I don't know if my PhD will contribute to anything, but it has definitely made me a better "reader" of things--literary and non-literary.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
The first one by Edouard Manet, the second one by Jules Breton. In the first one, there is the dandy and there is his nocturnal adventure. Or maybe not. But these are not the middle-class, domesticated women. But here we have the cabaret dancers, the prostitutes. I am struck by the expression in the woman's face. One can call it despondency.I will call it alienation. Alienation from anything that is going around her. There is a beer mug in front of her, almost full. But her fingers are not wrapped around it. In fact, we cannot see her two hands fully. Title: At the Cafe
The second one is by Jules Breton. Breton has often been called the "peasant painter" and had been criticized for idealizing the peasant life in nineteenth century France. Although, I liked what I see here. Three peasant girls, with carefully sculpted faces. That does not seem that "realistic" of course. But they are not static peasant girl of the pastoral. They are walking, in motion. Not only are they walking, but they are talking amongst themselves, as if sharing a secret. It is this moment of solidarity between these three peasant women that Breton hints at which I liked. I would have loved it more if he had represented them with open lips. But what stood out to me is that the artist here is struggling with the classic pastoral and is trying to do something different. I don't know anything about Breton as an artist. In fact, this is the first time I came across his work. But what I see here is enough to make me want to know more. This is what I came across when I did a search on his name. Well, that will have to wait for a while. By the way, the title of this one is Returning from the Field.
Then there was a lengthy discussion on Impressionism over cappuccino, cheesecake and tiramisu at the Museum cafe. This is how me and my friends welcomed 2011, although none of us, it turned out, has processed 2010 yet. And as for me, I don't think I have been able to process even1492 or 1947 yet
I am getting interested in poetry-projects which explore family as a site of creative exploration. It is difficult to write about family for me, not because my family was abusive or anything dramatic like that, but I find that within families, the rhetoric of love operates in complicated ways. On the one hand, members of a family are supposed to love each other blah blah blah. But also on the other hand, love is the site through which the family performs social control. In fact, I would argue, within families, love operates as a site of domination rather than liberation. Intricately related to the familial rhetoric of love, is also the cycle of never-ending gratitude. Yes, family members help you out during times of stress. In return, they expect eternal gratitude. As individuals, we are often compelled to depend on our family's resources, particularly because there are very few social networks/collectivities which provide us with the kind of support our families do. Yes, I am saying the inevitable. Family is a social mode of resource allocation. In the recent years, I have noticed more and more that people form families and stick to families not because there is a whole lot of great love between them. More often than not, these are economic decisions. I mean, it's not hard to decipher, is it? A cursory look at the tax laws, other economic benefits would prove the point. Of course, not all families receive the same kinds of benefits. Totally truly true. But at the same time, the structures have evolved in such a way that there is no perfect family anywhere. At least I haven't come across any. I have met individuals who demand that their family lives are perfect, but to my judgmental, cranky self, it just appears that most of them are invested in mystifying the process of familial domination, rather than peeling it open.