Category Archives: Media
Tom O’Brien interviews me for the From Alpha to Omega podcast. We discuss the Russian revolution, the Vanguard Party and it’s problems, the profound failures of the cultural revolution, and the emergence of decentralised movements like occupy and the 5-Star Movement. O’Brien has a move positive view of occupy than me, but he does get into what I see as some of the key problems of so-called “Leninism” is now. Click here to listen.
I appreciate the many thoughtful responses to my quirky first post regarding reading Zerzan prior to going shopping at a big box store, especially skepoet2′s post. There is a lot to chew on there, and rather than spiral into back and forth contretemps, I thought I would try to clarify a little more what I meant in the initial post, and perhaps show my own hand concerning my opinions if they have not been sufficiently articulated.
First of all, some of my points concerning the division of labor should have highlighted better the problem at the international level, rather than just hypothetical questions as to who takes out the garbage. I think, for example, of Bolivian president Evo Morales’s overly simplified but still rather intriguing description of the causes of the economic crisis in the “developed world”:
There’s a crisis in the United States, there is a crisis in some countries of Europe. What conclusion do I reach: since they are not robbing us, since they are not looting us, there is crisis in the capitalist European countries, and we are lifting ourselves up… Now that they can’t steal, they are having an economic and fiscal crisis.
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“‘To read what was never written.’ Such reading is the most ancient: reading before all languages, from the entrails, the stars, or dances. Later the mediating link of a new kind of reading, of runes and hieroglyphs, came into use. It seems fair to suppose that these were the stages by which the mimetic gift, which was once the foundation of occult practices, gained admittance to writing and language. In this way language may be seen as the highest level of mimetic behavior and the most complete archive of nonsensuous similarity: a medium into which the earlier powers of mimetic production and comprehension have passed without residue, to the point where they have liquidated those of magic”.
-Walter Benjamin, Ed. & Trans. Demetz, Peter. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (1978)
Much of what is appealing in the literary form of the novel pertains to its formal contour; its limitations allow a, more or less, tardive revelation to enunciate itself only in a trajectory of participative ambivalence on part of the reader, who must invest his time at the text’s own leisure. The expectation of being paid in kind by the novel, then, is a most natural one: the pleasure of the novel is gotten at by capitulation to its logic of sense. Colours, shapes and shadows must become indeterminate, or overdetermined, not by the fixative predestinations of our expectation from the work but by the revelatory impetus of the text-in-itself and for-oneself; in a slow alchemy, of ideas turned into imagines, the novel’s fidelity to a reader proves itself a germinal idée fixe retrospectively only when its fruits have been apprehended at long last on its final pages. With movie adaptation of novels this scheme of natural unfolding, of genesis, genericity or gendering if you will, takes on a short-circuitous realisation: the atmosphere of auratic descriptions that bleed into objects in a peculiar authorial timbre and pitch, due to her uniquely ambiguous/ subjective enunciation, becomes more than an accessory to understanding—which is its rôle proper in a narrative—, it becomes the very content of understanding understood. The visual medium is, in this constitutively polemical sense, the self-satisfied imago of form; an interpretation of content entailed necessarily and externally imposed by the filmmaker onto a more or less eidetically labile text. When Benjamin called cinema anti-auratic, perhaps, he was onto something larger; not just, that cinema allowed art to become detranscendentalised by allowing more distracted viewing and absorption, but also that something about cinema in-itself could well nigh eliminate what may have natively belonged to a text before it was imprisoned in filmic imagines. Filming a novel, then, is an act of eliminative [re]creation. Having said that…
Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children (1981) performs the auratic task with an ease and giddiness that betrays the formal inadequacy of the film, its namesake, (2012), in a way that succeeds in effacing the lexically potent and, perhaps, visually inconceivable magic of its literary progenitor. The characterisation is invariably more jaded and inadequate than the eccentrics and full-blooded paladins in the book: Salim Sinai, in the book a precocious boy with influenza and telepathic powers, becomes a snot-nosed puppet in Deepa Mehta’s bradykinetic directorial hands. His powers, and those of the Midnight’s Children bestowed by Indian independence, intrude upon both the child protagonist’s performative incontinence and the cinema-goer’s incredulity in a market where even bad movies have superb post-production values. Not satisfied with having eliminated the magic from a magic-realist narrative by use of bad-special effects and montage laced overkill, Mehta goes great lengths to dilute the thaumaturgy of mantric formulae and genuflections, used willy-nilly by Parvati or the snot-sniffing Salim, by having the unfortunate actors vocalise, and indicate with jejune twisting of hands and wringing of nostrils: abracadabra, sniff sniff ad nauseam. The discovery that Salim was possessed of these melodramatic conceits, telepathy and empathy galore, becomes a cloying distraction in the settings where this fact is laboured over by the turgid pleroma of noisome midnight kids who convey nothing of the pathos and mystique the book once bestowed on them as fellow compatriots of Sinai’s fate.
The pace of the movie was adequate but what it walked alongside, instead of the book, was its own muddled prepossession; the rich interweaving of subplots were ad hoc sacrificed by Rushdie’s consent, and much to my dismay. Because of this free-handed truncation of plot the remaining fare of meaty story became too entirely dependent on the narratological capabilities of Deepa Mehta; she did her best at mediocritising the rich cultural context of the story by having a bunch of midgets dance, amidst rope-walking children and snake caressing geriatrics, before the equestrian bridegroom of the pregnant Parvati riding serpentine toward the marriage bed. The momentous self-congratulations of attaining independence from a bankrupt, post-war battered and willing Great Britain, which continues to echo as chief token of Indian rhetoricians and rabbles alike, was reduced to the belligerence of nautch-girls on trucks and stalky, dark men beating crude drums in a negative space all negated by fireworks and panorama. Stylistically, the movie was to the book what the British were to India for four centuries: vituperation and anacoluthon. The sole redeeming moment of the movie was a visual of Indira Gandhi’s lips munching away some endlessly juicy titbit as news of the declaration of emergency, to protect democracy, is broadcast: the satire here is caustic, but the acid quickly trickles down on the director, who loses all track of the necessary agents of her disparate rendition of the novel as they must rush pell-mell to their foreclosed end, smarting and scathed by her distracted, anti-auraticised gaze. The filming of this novel alas destroyed not only its labile excess but also its integral holism, leaving both the narrative scheme and its visual poverty divorced from Midnight’s Children’s (1981); its sense of fidelity to the mimetic productive capacity of the text and reproduction of its comprehensible substance in the film, lost, liquidating the very magic it had potentially made available to readers through three decades.
Ashis Nandy’s controversial point that the lower castes are the most corrupt is controversial only insofar as its context is elided, evaded or ignored with an agenda.
The blending of ideal totalities of thought and deed in the brutal melting pot of our diverse, often divisive, Indian people has been long drawn on as a resilient, and, indeed now, a robustly commonplace philosopheme by her commentarial, emblem bearing khidmatgars. In fact, long before freeing herself from the yolk of Colonial subjugation, popular Indian sentiment, and its ascendant political jingo of saffron stained Nationalism, had developed in her people an avidity for this syncretic unitarianism of thought— as much in symbolism and rhetoric as could fail to translate into practice, even. Our politics have been a testament to this tradition of abrasion and richness in turn. We continue to be a nation of many chugged along an inertial, expedient, One: Bharatavarsha. Srinivasa Ramanujan’s mathematical prowess, for instance, Nandy argues not surprisingly, was rooted as much in the tradition of Western natural philosophy as it was in an indigenous, para-European [pathological/ anal-regressive?] culture imbued with the constellating torque of theotechny, astrology and the honing of technics pertaining to extrasensory perception. The dizzying plasticity and substantive force of medieval Indian logical traditions stands testimony to the heteronymous and collative business of our modern discursive practices; where else may one find admixed sublime notions of valour to be obtained in logomachy attended simultaneously by a strong distaste for epistemological consistency? In the surviving clamour of ricocheting, and ever-revivifying-reifying, Indian traditions of logic mired in ancient, plural originations of course [!] The Nyāya-Śhāstra school, for instance, finds place for categories of logical disputation such as intentional quibbling [chala], wrangling for victory at the cost of Truth [jalpa], ad hoc attacks on debaters [vitanda] and outré forms of the analogue like the varnya-sama— balancing two questionable axioms such that a conclusion may nevertheless obtain. An example of varnya-sama:
Sound is non-eternal,
Because it is a product,
Like a pot.
The leisurely and anodyne practices of intellectual jousting cultivated with great fervour in ancient India, through centuries, have all but petered out in deference to the narrow proprietary template of the mediatised sensationalisation of our information age. No more do the media have the time or inclination to tackle any discursion a tad removed from punctual dotage to the average, illiterate demagogue’s fiery sound bite. The gap toothed maw of local traditions of reason, once sharpened by the insatiable Indian appetite for knowledge pursued hotly by competing clans, is now emptied out for fear that it might puncture the official bag of wind beloved to some partisan electorate; gerrymandering of course defies catagories of traditional, and reasonable, logic and is its own totem and taboo. Ashis Nandy’s strident rhetoric, begging to differ with the contours of our mediatised information society, demands a more thoroughgoing involvement with contextual nuances. His own indubitable record as a champion for the emancipation of lower classes and castes in India by exposing the complicity of apparently rivalrous political combatants vying for their vote, through –sociological and psychological analyses, rankles with the po-faced, straight laced expediencies preferred by the heirs of a sterile Nehruvian secularity. The aforementioned sterility of this secularity, perfectly emblematised by the rivalry between the Congress as self-appointed benefactors of minorities and the BJP as heroic brigands out to restore the lost glory of Hindutva, is best understood through Nandy’s critique of their mutual need for and benefit from the perpetuation of manageable instances of communal violence— is not the very idea of the political the idea of an ineradicable enmity that justifies the Law and its punitive sovereignty and excess, the idea of a polémios or hostis that a government alone can resist?
Now, the defence of minorities is no simple matter of taking sides in a political establishment that functions in line with ancient wasms, myths and cultural pasts which have seeped into the very [un]conscious ego structures of its principal actors. There are several polarities occulted between seemingly binary embattlements. The Hindu upper castes feel entitled to their privileges by descent while the lower classes, Dalits included, are grudgingly ceded to by way of reservations in government employment and education sectors, but the consequences of this allegedly salubrious interaction between puritanical and postlapsarian Hindu ideology on one hand and the reality of legally empowered lower castes on the other are mixed at best. While the idea behind reservations for lower castes in governance, education and employment was to secure their representation, equal status and reintegration into a chronically hierarchically stratified Indian society it has led to the development of sub-classes among the lower castes and the perpetuation of bad faith among Hindu hegemons who see affirmative intervention on behalf of minority communities as de facto anti-Hindu. The irony is incontestable: the Hindu Nationalist political outfits uphold Hindutva ideology as an ego ideal that will not only restore a mythical, imaginal glory and pre-eminence to Hindu cultural values but also emancipate the oppressed classes in a soteriological telos; of course, both assertions are problematic given Indian history is replete with records of violence meted on cultures by colonising, invading others: Hinduism of the historically accurate variety is by its form hierarchical and exclusive, shaped as it was by invaders and repeated subjugation to cultural others, but the symbolic efficiency of its rhetoric gaining gravity from sheer persistence continues to be exploited by RSS and BJP ideologues. The use of linguistic, cultural, religious and mythical differences between communities continues to be dominant in the will to power; dividing electorates by caste lines makes political sense if power is its sole motive. Is it surprising that governments have endorsed particular versions of history to be taught in schools and universities, at variance not only with established or inadequate, unequivocal, facts but also with each other? Ashis Nandy thinks the use of controversial historical revisions in officially endorsed versions for pedagogical use to be a tactical instrument of power: it establishes means for legitimating and enforcing negative social attitudes towards persistently marginalised minority communities, and lower castes.
The problem runs deeper still: emancipatory provisions like reservations to ensure the gradual improvement of the economic and social standing of the lower classes, e.g. Dalits, Other Backward Communities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes etc., have led to pockets of prosperity while leaving the rest of their communities marginalised. And, if this was not problematic enough, the newly enfranchised and prosperous beneficiaries of reservation and other alleviating government interventions among the lower castes, also, have historically tended to re-christen and acculturate themselves as Hindus proper; adapting Hindu religious practices and beliefs once their economic marginalisation was redressed, and dissociating from their erstwhile class peers from their original communities— adding a twist to the casteist logic by identification with their upper caste oppressors, in a process sociologists have called sanskritisation. To state controversially a very necessary observation: the symptomal tendency of the condemnation Ashis Nandy’s ironic, innocuous and constitutionally privileged speech act has garnered from the lower castes belies another occasion of identifying with the aggressor: in calling out Nandy’s provocative defence of their cause, offended lower caste representatives have allied themselves with their higher caste oppressors who would like to get rid of Nandy’s scathing exposé of their cultural chauvinism. In this way they can continue to subjugate lower castes in a system that appears legitimate, in an almost fatalistic pre-ordination as Kancha Ilaiah would point out. In light of these endemic and long abandoned fault lines the fashionable brouhaha about sensitivity towards the historically oppressed classes, political correctness and the rule of communal vote banks take on a life that is parasitic upon the body politic of a deferred, and truly representational, democracy. In its place we have a semiosis with sound and fury betraying an unresolved psychic deadlock at the heart of our divided lower classes and their unified oppressors. When Nandy said, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2013, —during the talk entitled “Republic of Ideas” which the present author was fortunate enough to attended with his wife, —that the Dalits, O.B.Cs, S.Cs and S.Ts are the most corrupt class of governmental officials he was formulating the dominant psychological and adversarial consciousness of upper class elites that informs the formal and institutional communalism of Indian governmentality. The persistent outrage against reservations in premier colleges for students from marginalised Dalit, O.B.Cs, S.Cs and S.Ts communities, who have been put to disadvantage by dominant higher castes for several centuries of India’s history as a Republic based on the principle of equality accountable to constitutionally privileged Law, bears witness to what the privileged classes and castes think of the lower castes and the oppressed: precious little. Nandy has shown both the oppressive Hindutva hegemons like the Sangh Parivar; RSS; VHP; the BJP and their symbolic adversary the Congress, with its Nehruvian secularity, mirrored obliquely in several identitarian political parties, are only concerned with a will to power, and their predilection for a status quo that legitimates their own political sovereignty.
The modifying apogee of Nandy’s ironic formulation— which most media failed to convey along with their ad hoc sensational and irresponsible reportage of [mis]quotation, repeated ad nauseum in loops— was to come later in an elaborately qualified agreement with his interlocutor Tarun Tejpal, founder of Tehelka; where he said, he saw corruption among lower classes as having an ameliorating effect; he thought it was an opportune symptom that belied lower caste consciousness having reached a stage where they were better equipped to redress their systemic suppression by the armatures of our ingrained casteist governmentality. His underlying thesis being: what the upper classes had done with impunity has now become available, in however insular and specific instances of corruption among lower caste governmental and bureaucratic actors, as a counterstrategy against a traditionally upper caste governmental culture. Behind his deadpan pronouncement that corrupt lower caste governmental agents restored his hope in the possibilities of a robust Indian Republic and a democracy to come was a well worn career of forty years spent theorising and empowering the subaltern, the oppressed and the peripheral selfhood of Colonial and Post-Colonial subjects. But this defence which may have taken many an odd hour everyday for years on end to formulate, as discourse, as clarion call and vitanda cannot be conveyed without Nandy’s seemingly egregious irony. Without irony there could be no ironing out of differences irreducible to a few seconds of vocalised order words, no longer coherent in a social space alienated from its communal meaning and being. There is, of course, no time for such nitpicking and responsibility towards the veridical in the Indian republic of mediatised democracy. Sound arguments are loudly, quickly and efficiently supplanted by sound bites that turn around the very purpose of dissensus and defence. I stand behind Nandy, not to be contrarian, offensive, insensitive or casteist but because I believe he said what he did in good faith and as an ally of the oppressed, with the weight of traditions of logic, reason and rhetoric that go back and forth from Pre-Vedic to post-modern India, behind and before him as a warrior-theoretician of the Indian subaltern.
Derrida, Jacques. Trans. Collins, George. “On Absolute Hostility: The Cause of Philosophy and the Spectre of the Political”. The Politics of Friendship. UK: London, Verso, 2005.
Gottlob, Michael. History and Politics in Post-Colonial India. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Kakar, Sudhir. Indian Identity. India, New Delhi: Penguin India Ltd. 2004.
Ilaiah, Kancha. Post-Hindu India: A Discourse on Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Knowledge. India, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2009
Michael, S., M. Ed. Dalits in Modern India: Vision and Values, Second Edition. India, New Delhi: Sage Publications. 2007.
Nandy, Ashis. Return From Exile: Alternative Sciences; The Illegitimacy of Nationalism; The Savage Freud. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Nandy, Ashis. Exiled at Home: At the Edge of Psychology; The Intimate Enemy; Creating a Nation. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Sarangi, Asha. Themes in Indian Politics: Language and Politics in India. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Vidyabhusana, Satis, Chandra. A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Medieval and Modern Schools. India, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited. 2006.
 Ashis Nandy in his essay “The Savage Freud” discusses the prevalent attitudes of European intellectuals about Indian cultural mores and ways of thinking and being as, psychoanalytically, anal-regressive.
 See Nandy, Ashis. Return From Exile: Alternative Sciences; The Illegitimacy of Nationalism; The Savage Freud. “Alternative Sciences: The Other Science of Srinivasa Ramanujan”. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. P. 120.
 See Vidyabhusana, Satis, Chandra. “Contents of the Nyāya-Śhāstra. 32. The Categories: Their Definition”. A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Medieval and Modern Schools. India, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited. 2006. § II. P. 55- 69.
 Krishna, Sankaran. “Death of Irony in the Age of Media”. The Hindu: Editorial. P. 10. Thursday, January 31, 2013.
 See Nandy, Ashis; Trivedi, Shikha; Mayaram, Shail; Yagnik, Achyut. “Creating a Nationality: The Ramjanmabhumi Movement and the Fear of the Self”. Exiled at Home: At the Edge of Psychology; The Intimate Enemy; Creating a Nation. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. P. 1- 207.
 The idea of public law demands that there be a transgressor of public law, necessarily and chronically: the public enemy is a structural necessity as the basis for a judicature that can punish and discipline. For an enlightening discussion on this theme see Derrida, Jacques. Trans. Collins, George. “On Absolute Hostility: The Cause of Philosophy and the Spectre of the Political”. The Politics of Friendship. UK: London, Verso, 2005. §5. P. 112- 137.
 Jogdand, P., G. Ed. Michael, S., M. “Reservation Policy and the Empowerment of Dalits”. Dalits in Modern India: Vision and Values, Second Edition. India, New Delhi: Sage Publications. 2007. P. 315- 335.
 See Kakar, Sudhir. Indian Identity. India, New Delhi: Penguin India Ltd. 2004. Also, Ilaiah, Kancha. Post-Hindu India: A Discourse on Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Knowledge. India, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2009.
 See Gottlob, Michael. “Scientific and Political Claims in the Rewriting of Indian History”. History and Politics in Post-Colonial India. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. P. 1- 80.
 See Sarangi, Asha. Themes in Indian Politics: Language and Politics in India. India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011.
 ibid. Gottlob, Michael. P. 23
 Ibid. Ed. Michael, S., M. (2005)
 See Ilaiah, Kancha. “Symptoms of Civil War and End of Hinduism”. Post-Hindu India: A Discourse on Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Knowledge. India, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2009. P.232- 266.
 Ibid. Nandi, Ashis et al. 2005. P. 1- 207
Derrida’s The Politics of Friendship (1994) is as fine an act of deconstructive tightrope traipse as any of his other works; combing through quotations from known philosophers, through tendentious citations severally removed from the original locutions, in unknown light, and situating in them the inscrutable intentionality embedded in language [langue] as such. As ever, his reading of almost trite, or Canonical, texts bringing about a moment of alterity native to them, and so surprisingly impugning the judgment of their conventional senses, is entertaining, vigorous, prolix and fecund. And, after all these qualifications one must get to the brass tacks, irreducible takeaways tacked onto all iterations hung on his every word: what of the irreducibility that cannot be recovered and yet latches onto what does get said, even beyond the speaker? In so many words, why do people say what must by nature betray them? It is perhaps necesary…
It is easy to sympathise with the death of coherence via meaning as such [a handy philosopheme], and with the entire post-modernist camp which here lights bonfires to undecidables that outlast their urgency, but being tied as we are to finite contexts that both define us and are defined in tangential, even aporetic, ways the motivation for tarrying with imponderables— or, as is the wont of Derrida, the constitutive imponderables which circumscribe the meaning of speech— must remain so long as it is tarrying with ineluctability an impossibility of determination, theory as everlasting hesitation. The impasse of all Derridology [po-faced post-modernist malingering, of which Derrida is less guilty than Derrideans], in the ethical sense of such a nonce word, is that seeking to eliminate the temerations and abuses that speech is liable to is no excuse for a longwinded avoidance of the ineliminable community of meaning which persists despite its impossibility, despite its deconstruction, as the arché-stencil from which traces must incessantly derive themselves. One may say, such spectator position theory theorises itself always-already and is either beast or sovereign, but not human.
The denial of permanence of meaning denies also that such permanence be sought out, infinity paradoxically must end— after what infinite fashion may such a token be sought [such that it is never found]? In summary, even as Derrida says, “infinite différance is finite”, and may one be loathe to rejoinder, sufficiently: finitude is the stuff of the infinite, and insofar as speech, both apt and abortive, is finite, finitude must be privileged? This deflationary movement reduces the deliberation of imponderables to mere preponderances that eliminate finite responsibility, which remains necessary for action; though it risks being misguided action, one must concede, it exceeds theory infinitely in differing from theories’ impasses. Here, one must become, again, a naïve Kantian if only to understand Derrida, Others and their communities to come, to affirm in their cacophonous and wily witnesses decidables that impinge on many a finite existence, finite well being and finite ethics. Infinite responsibility is the ruse of those who must deny finite justice, it is gentrified hubris patient with its ear to the ground, stuck there.
Derrida, Jacques. Trans. Collins, George (2005). The Politics of Friendship. London, UK: Verso.
I distrust biographical studies that soak in too much psychographic subtlety, as much as, that other egregious genre, biographical fiction- as though there were a difference between their performative horizons: both paint the object in the biases of the subject who vanishes under his narration, gesticulating strategically with the objects of analysis, when the narrative demands it independently of the objects’ self narrative. We are all subject to violence, who live, as someone somewhere is, always-already; what is a possibility once, after all, is a necessity for ever. The more idiomatic and transparent the narrative of a witness to violence greater the risk of the contamination of deeds by intentions, things by thought not mediated by the singularity of experiential being; in the self-subsistent sufferings of others there is seldom room for the others who are spoken of: they await their subjectivation by external description. There are only insular narratives because only one may speak before any meaning is negotiated; the lone subject of experience, already a partisan to her reactive, first-hand knowledge is, paradoxically, the only one who can tell what it is that is her conditional being. Biography must of necessity betray these commitments to fidelity if it must defray the cost of an audience’s total ignorance by paying for their enlightenment the great sacrifice of happenstance objectivity in the currency of personal impressions.
This biography of the marginalised bar dancers of Bombay, now Mumbai, commits to this pious legerdemain a respectable dedication, spanning five years of first hand research that bespeaks at least a taste for reactive induction on part of Sonia Faleiro. The recreated chatter of pimping parents in cahoots with the police, the salesmanship of wayward fathers selling seal pack virginal daughters to lecherous rural lords and the rapes of mothers by sons are coloured with the verbalisations of the subjects’ idiomatic hinglish legitimising the objective gaze as it penetrates non-existent moral standards native to the participants of this sordid real life drama. The bootiful Leela and her scabrous escapades in the badlands of rapine, exploitation and repression are followed through with the hawk-eye of a respectable South Mumbai authoress. Already, the idea is romantic: how much more romance in the tracing, mapping and pointing out of the jagged lines that make up the lives of whores and eunuchs who survive despite all. Mentored by the rapscallion Gregory David Roberts of Shantaram fame, and feted by social butterfly and imbecile Shobha Dé, Faleiro’s taste for what reviles her is exemplary and her panache in sublating the shit and gruel of the assorted misfortunes into an artistic exercise is nothing but noticeable.
The shaggy book, no mean feat for a mere two hundred and eighteen pager, is garrulous with the vacillations, evasions and gossip of the main sufferer Leela and her comrades in the bijness of copulation without exploring any of the larger social tendencies which ground the institution of prostitution as it has come to be repudiated by forces larger than the ambitious politician she passes verdict on- an opportunistic chief minister of Maharashtra, who took umbrage at the possibility of moral corruption of society was not responsible for the Indian notions of purity which predated him and allowed a culture of lundchoos [cocksucking] whores and dirty hijras [eunuchs] punished for their mere existence. As though these cocksuckers were driven to their exploitation by a passion for seminal virtues and their obverse vices, regulated by the ritual and lore of Indian culture; dire necessity as a factor is focussed on, to Faleiro’s credit, but her analysis of the cultural patina which envelopes the flesh of the matter is conspicuous by its absence. She is carried away in embodying the petulant whore and her bitter sweet resentment against her family, cops, men, society and her eunuch friend by dissecting their dialect.
The end impression I gathered from the book was that of a shaggy-dog passing itself off as an academic undertaking but lacking the bite of the former and professing a studiousness that barks shy of the analytical depth of the latter. It is a book to be read in two hours and consigned to forgetfulness, a specimen of what is going wrong with allegedly academic works of biographical intent.
My Rating: 1 ½
Faleiro, Sonia. Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars. New Delhi, India: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books. 2010. Print.
Yesterday was Adorno’s birthday [peace be upon him!]. And, while it remains enduringly fashionable among left-wing types to dismiss Adorno, and no less The Frankfurt School, in a single remonstrating gesture, it also remains a verifiable fact that few bother to engage him from beyond the miasma of elitism, essentialism and arrogance which our spectacular age has mounted on his diagnoses of culture. The general response to his work bespeaks a fear of raising the patina of intellectualism over praxis, of alienating popular culture, of subverting reasoned criticism to shirk the unconscionable biddings of political immediatisms where art has lost its frame of coherence and has become yet another product for popular consumption- a respite with sound and fury but no signification- yet such was never Adorno’s own project.
Among his copious folios of work there is one particular stream in which his thought permeated the very heart of the matter, and though he may have fallen off his hobby horse now and then into the pits of assumption and error, his reconnoitering remains exemplary in its scope, perspicacity and endurance. His critique of the nexus between artistic expression and the cultural trends that it capitulates to is damning and remains all too painfully pertinent; when we admit to ourselves and others that music means no more than entertainment, which may be as it may, do we really escape the indictment of abandoning the task of our own escape from the strictures of oppressive culture? It is highly suspect. Among the basic axioms of his procedure, Adorno gave special place to the unique recursive structure of thought applied to thought, one expects no less from a dialectician: he posited that a deep dissatisfaction with one’s culture presumed an immersion worth the name into its substance. Only those who partake of its products, paradoxically, are allowed the luxury to see in it the detritus of their conscience, the dregs of their resistance waylaid by the trite melodies of popular dance music and as they are struck petrific by the entrancing thaumaturgy of film. Today, were he around, he would most probably be goaded into citing himself- Simon Critchley calls self-citation an act of narcissism, but I digress- and pronounce upon us our dishonest evasion of our predicament. It is not that merely our desires are stifled by the culture that enables us our habituated libertinage but even their symptoms are effaced by the apparatus of “…a lavish display of light air and hygiene…[produced] by the gleaming transparency of rationalised big business…” (Adorno 2005, p. 58).
Our complicity with contemporaneous conditions makes us culpable for its failings, for the slippages of desire and damage incurred by acceding to the despots’ machinery of causeless effects. If indeed art were produced in vacua there would be no need for its justification but only since we are swarmed by it in a reciprocal configuration of desire versus desire we owe more than wrung hands to its integral form. It behooves us to draw strength from this involvement “…to dismiss it” in so far as it fails to arouse our sympathetic epiphany, our rising beyond the material conditions of the commoditised world to reclaim the tenacity of despoiled, alienated and thereby mystified desire. “What is true of the instinctual life is no less true of the intellectual: the painter or composer forbidding himself as trite this or that combination of colours or chords, the writer wincing at banal or pedantic verbal configurations, reacts so violently because layers of himself are drawn to them. Repudiation of the present cultural morass presupposes sufficient involvement in it to feel it itching in one’s finger-tips…” (Adorno 2005, § 8. p. 29).
The import of his critical project would not have us wash our hands off art’s lifeblood at the scarce font of immediatisms accommodating the brutality of indifferent social systems. The mystical and poetical flourishes most contemporary artists employ to exonerate themselves from the duty of explaining their motivation only serves as a foil for the abject regression of the artistic self, which has miscarried all artistic intent before it can strive to redeem itself by its own toil. The artistic subject removed from ipseity at home in his milieu, thrown into the being of the market system which homogenises all in the currency of its one-all, has become a blight to the possibility of a conscience that has power to elevate art above human conditions and, so in due inversion, the possibility of also man’s elevation above the artefacts of [a]historical conditioning. “… [Herein] lies music’s [indeed, all arts’?] theological aspect. What music [art] says is a proposition at once distinct and concealed. Its idea is the form (Gestalt) of the name of God. It is demythologised prayer, freed from the magic of making anything happen, the human attempt, futile, as always, to name the name itself, not to communicate meanings” (Adorno 2002, p. 114).
The logic of the day, which makes so much of its clarity, has naively adopted this perverted notion of everyday speech. Vague expression permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in any case. Rigorous formulation demands unequivocal comprehension, conceptual effort, to which people are deliberately disencouraged, and imposes on them in advance of any content a suspension of all received opinions, and thus an isolation that they violently resist (Adorno § 64, p. 101).
So, briefly, why read Adorno today? Because, it is imperative to act against the reactionaries, though they be ourselves. If we say too much has happened that has incontestably altered the course of art and its equation with consumption, thought and its relation to things are we not merely begging more reasons for surrendering to the beast that is already astride us? Read Adorno because, precisely because, he angers you with his obstinacy, his clinging to a hopeful differentiation from the abject form of alterity imposed upon popular consciousness. To fight the abstractions which generalise the self, artistic and otherwise, Adorno’s critical apparatus remains a worthy weapon, -though it sometimes is a knife all blade- what hurt is spared the self which cannot define art but can seek out a hadron’s theotechny? Wherein rests the aura of artistic inspiration; wherein the magic of its immaculate conception; wherein the titanic moment of its articulation and production through the very engines from which we derive our existence, let us inquire therein of the precise psychical automatisms that move us thusly to procure for its occult, atemporal archaeology the produce of our bodily culture, our arts. If our art is all sensuousness and corporeality what then is the mystery of its immaculate inspiration, how can we rest assured in the rejection of all inquiry and criticism of its material epigenesis? To do so is dishonesty shown home, in ourselves, in a world where selcouth artistic essences threaten the very existence of the thing itself; the world where art is two birds in a bush and we are left with age-old platitudes in our hand, kneeling before the disembodied flash which animates it with a cataclysm. In the end, to mystify the moment of our deepest impulses with the rhetoric of romance or respectable forgetfulness is to disavow the pompous claim history lays upon our culture: justify yourself despite your existence. Why must rational consciousness coil itself like an illusion, effacing its discernable origins, if it comes ascendant on Dickinson’s nimble winged hope? The emancipatory potential of art lies in the understanding of its brutal prehistory and natal experience, which must be unearthed and come to terms with on its own terms; thought, in order to be made intelligible and not mystical or sophistically narcissistic, must break free its jaw from its own tail. Adorno invites us, despite the neutralising haze of our critical conscience that settles itself on his work, to recreate the topology of desire and study the imbrications and scarifications lathed upon it as so many warts only so we may excise them now, though it is too late. For, we are moving in the circle of unreason so long as we attribute to some divine preordainment the subordination of art to both commerce and magic, the repression of self to the bad infinity of the body which speculates about the end of history. The end of history situates itself in our aeon, and we must resist becoming anachronisms in this inauthentic becoming. Else, why art at all?
Theodor Adorno. Trans. Gillespie, S. Ed. Leppert, R. “Music, Language and Composition (1956)”. Essays on Music: Theodore W. Adorno. USA: University of California, 2002. Print.
Theodor Adorno. Trans. Jephcott, E., F., N. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. UK: Verso, 2005. Print.