The number of self-help books being churned out by presses both small and big is skyrocketing. Some have speculated—reasonably enough—this can be seen as a manifestation of popular [res]sentiment coming to grips with socio-economic and geo-political realities that make it difficult to nurture, and preserve a coherent self-concept. The surge in the genre’s prolixity and chutzpah can seem impressive if one doesn’t know that several of the glossiest Bestsellers are often books that experts have on their “Not Recommended” lists. The wicked spawn of self-improvement books that adorn our bookstores and discount retail chain stores is as much a haphazard monument to our restless ambitions as it is a symptom of our merely nominal existence. If we were having the best sex of our lives we would perhaps have no need for How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale (2012) by Neil Strauss [and Jenna Jameson], and the legion that is other such titles.
On the one hand we have a fixation with the idea of youthful longevity through lifestyle change and the over-eager technological utopianism offered us make us giddy, and on the other hand we face the imminent danger of ecological catastrophe, an earth too fragile to bear our continued exploitations of its resources. Indeed, as Philip Auerswald puts it “As the fact of global climate change alone indicates, Malthusian spectres of demographic doom are regrettably still very much with us”. It is not that we do not wish to change the world but that the world changes without our help; slowly ever more globalised market mechanisms leave more and more of us behind on sinking ships earmarked for the unemployed, the unemployable, and the underemployed. Without the slightest irony, thrown between pleasure and near certain extinction we are obsessed with lists like Five self-help books that want to change [y]our life. This is no exaggeration…one could be more observant, more pessimistic…
The urban chic set that keeps abreast with the latest fashionable causes to vent its self-projections and insular anxieties seems to be staking a rather hazy claim to civic consciousness in India. A jejunating gerontocrat with an Oedipal grouse against corrupt politicos, and who wants to discipline drunkards by the lynch ‘em dry method, here gains prominence and lingers like a tepid stench long after his garrulity is spent achieving sweet fuck-all—with relative ease in our media saturated epoch. Adding vacuity and loquacious fanaticism to the masses’ burgeoning discontent are tabloids, blogs and television chatterati screaming shrilly their manifestos geared at [in]voluntary political quietism. When one’s attention is driven to his own pecuniary lack he is quickly driven to chagrin about black-money he hasn’t any means to extradite from subterranean governmental hands. This personal-frustration-driven politics is dangerous inasmuch as personal agendas are apt to end in rash manipulative gestures of political will. In a diverse country like India individualism would be the straw that broke the bullock’s back.
That the desire to improve one’s lot to the point where spending several hours a day on a treadmill is not only acceptable but profoundly desirable bespeaks a very peculiar attitude towards life, and what might be wrested from it. For one, it is a morbid obsession with a self-image, it is also a vain commitment to a self isolated from any substantiality beyond its commitment to its own image, reflected through a prism of phantasms and Aunt Dianaesque discourses. From the hives of our identitarian commitments we all clamour for audience and control, [we the Liberals/ Conservatives/ Nationalists!] , and in our unwieldy synchrony with the zeitgeist of these communities, we are stabbed cold by the rabid devotions of our mobs. The idea of improving the self sounds deceptively salutary, even ethical these days; no, but can’t we see this slick, new self contrasted prejudicially against gits who weren’t addressed by our self-style-guides’ target demographic cohort?
Opportunism, hedonism, and activism seamlessly blend into the mediated space of national and international discourses among informed consumers; there is conversation, but there is also lies, chaos and oligopolies of branded guff. Each nation becomes an individualist cohort driven towards an ever-becoming-Galt, striking the globally ghettoised masses—figuratively—unionised in their dire straits as plunderers.
The more we try to reclaim individuality the more we find ourselves fractured between odds and ends of the selves we had long taken for granted, shorn for convenience, or from shame. NRIs settled in cosy Silicon Valley apartments send their patriotism packed avowals in jingoistic emails tweeting their approval of desi tyrants; personal activisms quickly precipitate national travesties. Influence also enslaves us; as we wait on the beck and call of the new fad we might as well read about how we can outsmart that thickly accented son of the soil @ the call center job, with grooming tips and One-Month-Guarantee Speak English classes.
Originally posted Here : < https://sites.google.com/site/scene46/home/self-help-is-the-worst-help >.
Auerswald, Philip. (2012). The Coming Prosperity: How Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Economy. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Fresco, Jacques & Meadows, Roxanne. (2008). The Best That Money Can’t Buy: Beyond Politics, Poverty and War. Québec, Canada: Osmora Publishing.
Kennedy, Dan, S. (2008). No B.S. Marketing to the Affluent: No Holds Barred Kick Butt Take No Prisoners Guide to Getting Really Rich. USA: Entrepreneur Press
Lomborg, Bjørn. (2001). The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
McGee, Micki. (2005). Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Norcross, John, C.; Campbell, Linda, F.; Grohol, John, M.; Santrock, John, W.; Selagea, Florin; Sommer, Robert. Eds. (2012). Self-Help That Works: Resources to Improve Emotional Health and Strengthen Relationships. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
 See McGee, Micki. (2005). Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life. New York, USA: OxfordUniversity Press.
 See Norcross, John, C.; Campbell, Linda, F.; Grohol, John, M.; Santrock, John, W.; Selagea, Florin; Sommer, Robert. (2012). Self-Help That Works: Resources to Improve Emotional Health and Strengthen Relationships. New York, USA: OxfordUniversity Press.
 See < http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Love-Health-Self-Guide/dp/1591200261 >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.flipkart.com/sex-your-questions-answered-01/p/itmdyuzr88ayheya >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See Kennedy, Dan, S. (2008). No B.S. Marketing To the Affluent: No Holds Barred Kick Butt Take No Prisoners Guide to Getting Really Rich. USA: Entrepreneur Press. p. 23.
 See Fresco, Jacques & Meadows, Roxanne. (2008). The Best That Money Can’t Buy: Beyond Politics, Poverty and War. Québec, Canada: Osmora Publishing.
 Auerswald, Philip. (2012). The Coming Prosperity: How Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Economy. New York, USA: OxfordUniversity Press. p. 36.
 See < http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-05/ahmedabad/37469380_1_unemployed-youth-unemployment-figures-claims >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/11/23/young-jobless-and-indian/ >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_india-has-the-most-unemployable-population-report_1587604 >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.tradingeconomics.com/india/unemployment-rate >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/jan/07/five-self-help-books-change-life >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 “Armed with diplomas and aspirations for upward mobility, a rapidly expanding consumer class is said to be driving political activism and, thanks to its media savviness, forcing the government to listen”. Fontanella-Khan, Amana. 24, January 2013. “India’s Next Revolution”. The New York Times. Accessed 22, March 2013. Available from < http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/opinion/indias-next-revolution.html?_r=0 >.
 “…[t]hey often pay hired help just Rs 4,000-5’000 per month, and complain if servants demand more. Middle class folk don’t want to calculate the per capita daily spending of their servant’s family. They resent servants constantly wanting more pay, even if this falls short of the very level they find outrageous when specified by the Planning Commission. This double standard is not restricted to paying servants. When middle class folk go to Dilli Haat to buy a sari, they will beat down the weavers to the lowest price possible. If told that the weaver earns only Rs 4,000 per month, will they change their attitude or agree that they have helped keep the weaver poor? No chance”. Aiyar, Swaminathan, A. “Middle class hypocrisy on the poverty line”. The Times of India. 02 October 2011. Accessed 22, March 2013. Available from < http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes .com/Swaminomics/entry/middle-class-hypocrisy-on-the-poverty-line >.
 See < http://www.ndtv.com/photos/news/top-20-surfer-comments-supporting-anna-hazare-10166 >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.indiatvnews.com/politics/national/anna-hazare-too-demands-death-penalty-for-rapists-7398.html >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-11-22/india/30428675_1_anna-hazare-ralegan-siddhi-alcoholics >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://lokpaldissent.wordpress.com/tag/anna-hazare/ >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
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.
“This is Not the End of the Book”, Umberto Eco & Jean-Claude Carrière (2012) is a brilliant book of conversations; on display, here, are the spontaneity, capacity for retort and the embattled witticisms of two thoroughly entertaining, and well-informed, litterateurs. The book sets itself an ambitious project and then talks its way out of the bargain, but this is its eminent success: the pomposity of the claim to unearth the selcouth provenance which has watched over the longevity of the book recalls Eco’s delightful and rigorous book, exploring the search for man’s primordial, pre-Babel, language- and the motley claims of ragtags and half-witted geniuses about its divine primogeniture: Serendipities: Language and Lunacy (1998).
Screenwriter and actor Jean-Claude Carrière, known for his academy award winning work Heureux Anniversaire (1962) with Pierre Etaix, and the surreal Diary of a Chambermaid (1964) with Buñuel, comes out sporadic aces to club Eco’s glib digressions pertaining to his own older fictions and essays, and his inventive restatements about the sheer resistance of the book as a form that has rendered itself archetypal. The two men take convivial jousting to a degree that belongs, only too sadly today, to the mere demography of readers of books- televised debates by and large having been co-opted for the quintessential sound bite.
The book is rapid fire and the numerous steerings and renegings of Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, perhaps in his curatorial zeal and general diplomacy in interposing for the breathless reader, serve to close off the loose ends of rare bindings, and incunabula appropriated by wealthy universities that preoccupy Eco and Carrière’s restless, eclectic education.
A sparkling moment, here, symptomatic of the book’s general joie de vivre:
Jean-Claude Carrière: “…During the Restoration, the ultra-conservative Archbishop de Quélen declared from the pulpit of Notre-Dame to an audience of French aristocrats newly returned from abroad, ‘Not only was Jesus Christ the son of God, he was of excellent stock on his mother’s side’…” (207). Umberto Eco: “…it seems to me that saying Jesus was ‘of excellent stock’ is not entirely idiotic. Simply because, from an explanatory point of view, it is true. It is, I think, more a case of foolishness: I can say that someone is of good stock, but I can’t say it about Jesus because it is obviously less important than him being the Son of God. So, Quélen was stating a historical fact, but an irrelevant one. The fool tends to speak without consideration” (210).
Of course, as with all the older work of Eco- bristling with encoded references-, and Carrière- famed peddler of familiar rarities of surrealism-, this book too bears its precursors as a presentiment: there will be no original turn now, the wheel once invented will never be bettered, like the spoon. Umberto Eco, (1990): “There are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics…Cretins don’t even talk; they sort of slobber and stumble…Fools are in great demand, especially on social occasions. They embarrass everyone but provide material for conversation…Fools don’t claim that cats bark, but they talk about cats when everyone else is talking about dogs. They offend all the rules of conversation, and when they really offend, they’re magnificent…Morons never do the wrong thing. They get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says that all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, therefore cats bark…Morons will occasionally say something that’s right, but they say it for the wrong reason…A lunatic is easily recognized. He is a moron who doesn’t know the ropes. The moron proves his thesis; he has logic, however twisted it may be. The lunatic on the other hand, doesn’t concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy”. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars…There are lunatics who don’t bring up the Templars, but those who do are the most insidious. At first they seem normal, then all of a sudden…”.
My Rating: ****
My Copy: http://goo.gl/AKoNx
Eco, Umberto & Carrière, Jean-Claude. Trans. McLean, Polly. (2012).This is Not the End of the Book. London, UK: Vintage.
Eco, Umberto. (1990). Foucault’s Pendulum. London, UK: Pan Books.
The Role of Cultural Logics in the Formation of the Psychoanalytic Subject
How is one to know what one desires? The psychoanalytic subject is constituted in the language, culture and symbolic codes of self-consciousness, and responsibilities, that are yielded to, or repressed, in a relation of dialectical movements between the subjects’ self versus the socius’ automata of cultural theatres of archetypal images.
The Western predilection for individuation cannot be said to apply as universal condition of the psychoanalytic; subjects across alien civilizations, their exotic cultures taken for monolithic gestalts owing to an unengaged dismissal of immanent conditions marking the accretions of histories and philosophies of the land, the processes of individuation in strange cultures are often dismissed into a comfortable- ideal- master sock. Of the linguistic, cultural and symbolic systems, which constitute repertories of acceptable pleasures and repressions in larger society, their formative influence on individuation, by way of more or less enduring constellations of cultural memories of it’s peoples that serve as a foil for the subject’s psyche not much is theorised by influential psychoanalytical cliques. By treating of these symbolic repertories as causative indications that mark people’s individuation one can understand the peculiar, eccentric, elusive character of the various roles that a person may play unconsciously. These formative influences mold the psychoanalytic subject, by a pattern which takes history for its witness, by exerting influence right into the present life of the subject. A historicism that synchronizes itself with the preservation instinct of a culture, its religion and myth, comes to become dense with local meanings. Theories of knowledge, ways of being in the world that suture the clans and institutions that work actively, or passively, in determining the experiential self of the culturally alien subject ought to be treated of as formative predispositions that govern the alien logic of individual psychoanalytical subjects from exotic, ancient cultures.
To speak of a culturally mediated subject, then, requires that the psycho-analytical map be plotted along contours of individual psyches as they relate to a field of social inherence; where their repressions and pleasures become coherent and insinuate themselves into a referential bond with the subjects’ desire. So, to know what one really desires, psychoanalytically, cannot be a task that is separate from a knowledge of what constitutes one’s idea of self in the said culture.
“…if a man comes to think about the symbolic order, it is because he is first caught in it in his being. The illusion that he has formed this order through his consciousness stems from the fact that it is through the pathway of a specific gap in his imaginary relationship with his semblable the he has been able to enter into his order as a subject. But he has only been able to make this entrance by passing through the radical defile of speech, a genetic moment of which we have seen in the child’s game, but which, in its complete form, is reproduced each time the subject addresses the Other as absolute, that is, as the Other who can annul him himself, just as he can act accordingly with the Other, that is, by making himself an object in order to deceive the Other” (Lacan § 53, par. 7, 40).
Lacan locates in the psychoanalytic subjects’ mode of self-identification a fundamental flaw, which reifying the analysand as an experiential and intuitive subject of his psychic world. Being objectively present in that world in the shape of others who contain a ground-plan of his psyche thus subject is subordinate to laws of understanding and sense that are independent of himself, and society insofar as it is constituted in his self-identity. I.e., the very impossibility of any real, integrally coherent identity formation, which is amenable to the experiential subject’s life within the social field he populates, is a pathological wish in the subject who submits, admits, to his identity in the world. All instances of identity in a subject, for Lacan, in the subjects’ rational view of the world, are “veridical hallucinations” occasioned by the empathic compulsion of a credo of logics that render him a subject with a place in that world, where his fragile narcisstic self, [culturally constituted and only identity], is at one with the mother lode of self-understanding and self-realisation, i.e. when he is convinced he has made out the senses in which he can overcome his ambivalence towards the indifferent or malevolent world of socially imposed life experience, or developed a confirmed identity in relation to others in his society, even as states of identity that are realised fluidly for each social clique he is privy to. Then, an Indian subject who is forced to presume that, his situation is prefigured for self consummation only in socially determined ways, symbolically and logically, any mode of identifying an authentic self in his world is denied as a priori impossible, and in fact by his very need to know the content of his beliefs. In the Hindu world, only in deference to the religiously-sanctioned wishes of his mother, wishes that are legitimated by the culture of our Indian society through lore, legend and sacraments, can the son attain his sense of self— more accurately, when he is forced to break away from his mother in ritual adolescence he faces for the first time the world which is indifferent or malevolent to his wishes and sense of security.
As the Indian adage goes, sons are to be raised as rajahs in their first five years, treated as slaves for the next fifteen, and thought of as friends thereafter. When the son is thrust away from his mother into the world at this stage of initiation, he experiences the first substantive test of his selfhood in relation to a world indifferent to his symbiosis with the mother. The resultant narcissistic self injury, custom-made by prevalent cultural modes of being, shape the individuating subject of psychoanalysis.
To be sure, then, Lacan’s invocation of Goya’s pithy formulation,- that “…the sleep of reason is sustained by the monsters it produces”-, is not applicable to the veridical independence of social institutions created in India by Hindu cultural memory, insofar, as the reason of its presence in the Indian unconscious is proliferate, living and relevant outside the contours of a Eurocentric attitude towards empirical reality. According to the symbolic order of roles given subjects in Hindu soteriology, the traumatic return of early, childish, modes of reasoning when faced with anxiety, which was first occasioned by separation from the mother, are neutralised. Since this monster is assuredly kept at bay in every contingent instance of svadharama realised, the pronouncement that its mastery over enduring senses of reason are sleepy is not sustainable. The individual’s ambition to achieve cultural selfhood are most properly realised in the service of symbolic orders of tradition: cultural prescriptions for fulfillment of a personal and “particular life-task” dominate the emergent occasions that initiate the creation of the selfhood of Indian subjects (Kakar 1978, 37).
Then, to know what one, as an Indian, desires, in the most general and oversimplified instance, necessitates an understanding of what is the one that desires. This idea of the subject determines the arc of desire vis-à-vis cultural mores that define their ideal realisation in collective rituals and traditions that find their place in society: what one wants is determined by what one thinks one is. What one is is determined by what Others are. Others are, most generally speaking, the culture which is the light that makes visible the shape of the world; and, to know what one is, psychoanalytically, demands that one know what this culture is, i.e. what its symbolic world is, what it’s governing logics are.
The idea that desire is directly contained in the mending of unconscious attitudes by adopting a licit value based orderings of resistance and ordained ab-negations, as in the Western ideal of individuation against the grain of society’s demands, is unsustainable without an idea of what this society’s demands really are. These demands are best formulated in local religious traditions and cultural artefacts from the subject’s social field; to ignore the particular logics of sense dominant in a particular culture is to doom the project of understanding individual desire to misrecognitions, to veridical hallucinations of contemporary hegemons.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Resistances to Psychoanalysis”. Historical and
Expository Works on Psychoanalysis: On the History of the
Psychoanalytic Movements, An Autobiographical Study, An Outline of
Psychoanalysis and Other Works, Vol. 15. New Delhi: Shrijee’s Book
International, 2003. Print. P. 299- 318. p. 310- 11.
Kakar, Sudhir. The Inner World: A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and
Society in India, Third Edition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press,
Kakar, Sudhir. India Identity. New Delhi: Penguin, 1996. Print.
Kakar, Sudhir & Kakar, Katharina. The Indians: Portrait of a People. New Delhi:
Penguin, 2007. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. Trans. Fink, Bruce. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in
English. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. Trans. Fink, Bruce. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006. Print.
The general suspicion carried by identity semblables as they exist in cultural norms, analogous to the repressive force that demands satisfaction, work to eliminate the need for an individuals’ dismantling of the suggestion that his personal understanding and compliance with the normative proscription cannot create a safer alternative; society is apt to repress latent desires that could carry the threat of injury for the community- Freud has maintained that such is not the desirable end of psychoanalytical praxis (see Freud, Sigmund. “The Resistances to Psychoanalysis”. Historical and Expository Works on Psychoanalysis: On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movements, An Autobiographical Study, An Outline of Psychoanalysis and Other Works, Vol. 15. New Delhi: Shrijee’s Book International, 2003. Print).
Ibid. § 46, par. 4, p. 34.
Ibid. (Kakar 1978).
What Salman Khan can teach you about Indian Masculinity
What does our preferred entertainment say about us? In the lowest estimation, it, still, enumerates for us the preoccupations that mediate, influence and abet our sense of well-being. To be sure, the movies we watch offer us the spectacles which we’d rather normalise in our native utopian fantasies. They offer us not a literal language, with morphemes of filmic elements that correspond to our material conditions by their representative value, but a subliminal idiom which structures our imaginal worlds. By that token to treat of our entertainment lightly is to treat of our aspirational worlds lightly. To dismiss our cherished fantasies is to refuse to acknowledge our putative better selves.
Is there a reason Bollywood movies seem ludicrous to the point of being unwatchable to a Western audience? Does Bollywood film fandom speak about the rationality of Indians per se? The answer to these questions is two fold: the ideological prism which illuminates judgement is different for the Oriental and Occidental worlds; rationality is a structure that demands a premium from the realm of sense, which is determined by its own nuanced inertia in each culture.
The highest box office grossing Bollywood film of 2012, and one which shattered old benchmarks, is Ek Tha Tiger [translated: There was once a Tiger]. It is, by its sheer economic brisance, an icon of India’s imaginal world, its projected self-image under the ideal ligature of imagined identity. The movie, as other successful movies, capitulates the essential dimension of shared cultural impression, the communal dream logic of the Indian people. (Kakar 2011, p.101) “The context of [a] dream exemplifies not only that certain dreams are associated with known intersubjective interpretation, but that their emergence is tied to something more complex than cultural interpretative habits”.
The casting of the movie, appropriately enough, establishes the symbolic horizon of each role. Salman Khan, known for his chiselled masculinity and overt aggression both on and off screen[i], plays a Research & Analysis Wing officer. He embodies the embattled hyper-masculine hero who struggles to temper his toughness with empathic vitality. One must not fail to understand the mythic resonance of such a character in Indian consciousness. Talking in psychoanalytic terms, the type of hero that is fully self-realised and is yet seeking integration with others, viz. Salman’s role, falls into thematic unity with the archetypal story of Skanda.
The gritty and fast paced action sequences do nothing to mitigate the tender, romantic longing that Salman feels for his filmic paramour[ii]. To quote a review that captures the sentiments that are elicited by the film: SIC:“There’s a reason why people queue up as early as 9am to watch a Salman outing wherein the basic purpose is whistling till one’s mouth hurts. As it happens, a deafening amount takes over the hall’s space when Salman’s Tiger makes a thundering entry into the frame that juggles an imagery of a swaggering silhouette standing at a vantage point of a remote corner in the Middle East, a vigorous kick landing straight into a trembling jaw, a slowmo drizzle of cigarettes and ashes and a Super Salman baritone shooting his first fine words, ‘Kutton ki tarah haanf raha hai. Kitni cigarette peeta hai?’” [translated: Panting like a dog. Why do you smoke so much?]
What we have, here is a tableau that places beside each other the diametrically opposed vestiges of metal-fisted masculinity and saccharine sentimentality, poppycock slapstick sensibilities and cutting edge action. The unity between emotional pliability, that develops as the romance between Salman and his heroine progresses, and the ruthlessness of legally sanctioned violence suggests a psychic currency that any homebred Indian would readily [or, clandestinely] buy. This kind of absurd combination would not work in a Hollywood production, and even if it did it would not nearly make as much money or hoopla about itself. This is because the resonance of this seemingly odd combination between extreme opposites is a mythologically informed and culturally accepted mode of being masculine in India. Indian men, ideally, must not only be burly, independent and invincible, but also have the humility to respect their mother’s advice on things personal and sundry, even conjugal advice. Arranged marriage anyone?
The upshot is that Indian masculinity indubitably involves the conflict between the cultural collective, crystallised in the advice of parents and significant others, and the burgeoning independence of bicep driven, hormonal maturity. The need for coming-of-age assertion through violence, not being looked at as acceptable in the forms of adolescent rebellion that characterise youth in the Western world, can be symbolically sated by accepting other licenses to violence, which are culturally legitimated. This is how a tacit culture of honour legitimates the killing of young girls who step out of line by dating, or women who transgress ethnic judicatures[iii].
Skanda, in Hindu mythology, was the son of Shiva, and is a valorous warrior, in one incident defeating a demon to protect the realm of deities. On achieving this feat he was offered any reward he pleased, but abusing the thankful gesture of the deities Skanda cuckolded each one of them. The husbands complained to his mother, the wife of Shiva, Parvati, about her sons’ excesses. Parvati’s stratagem was to present her form in whichever woman Skanda sought to possess, thereby deflating his errant libido. This symbolic castration rendered Skanda celibate.
The motif that underlies this mythological story is that of the individuating hero: struggling with the “…powerful push for independence and autonomous functioning, and an equally strong pull toward surrender and reimmersion in the enveloping maternal fusion from which he has just emerged” (Kakar, 1996, p.117). What it undergirds is the inversion of the standard Oedipal model of the individual. Someone who must assert his selfhood in dire opposition to the parental figures of the psyche, and come to dominate the Occident as the predominant mode of individuational rationality.
Rather than an abrogation of pre-personal interventions of cultural morality, distilled and imparted by parental figures, the Indian individual in his coming of age is called to integrate himself into the whorl of the primordial collective. Individualism which is often touted to be the chief achievement of Western civilization is not the summum bonum of human existence in the Indian mythic space, and, in that measure, Indian consciousness. In this scheme of things, the tittering hero, who dances about merrily with his paramour after a fierce conflict between his call to duty and romantic aspirations is no more ludicrous than the hyper-acquisitive, philandering James Bond.
Thus the ludicrousness of Indian cinema is moot when perorated by Western critics. The implicit dimension of sense that allows an edifice of rationality to be constructed as a bulwark for indigenous communities invariably differs in each cultural sangfroid. Barring an understanding of these extra-rational bases of cultural logics any pronouncement of artistic or intellectual value judgements are at least offensively vain and at the most frightfully irrelevant. Individualism, with all its vaunted universal baggage and wherewithal, is ultimately an insular value. It demands cultural currency that can liquidate the deficit of shared fantasies, its myriad repressions.
Kakar, Sudhir. (1996). Indian Identity. India: Penguin. P. 117.
Kakar, Sudhir. Ed. Deslauriers, Daniel. (2011). “Dreams at the Boundary of the Self and Others: Intersubjective Fields, Emotions and Culture”. On Dreams and Dreaming: Boundaries of Consciousness. India: Penguin. P.88-108.
[ii] “In a nicely done opening, with enough slo-mo shots for the fans to whistle at, we’re introduced to RAW agent Tiger (Salman Khan), who, in a gritty Jason Bourne-ish action sequence, swiftly dispenses with a turncoat agent, then dodges armed assassins through the cobbled streets and dingy alleyways of a busy town in Iraq. Back home unscathed, Tiger, who we discover is just as comfortable with a ladle as he is with a gun, bribes his boss with homemade daal before begging for a new assignment…The romantic portions in ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ are warm and fuzzy, the humor thankfully clean and light-hearted, but as a thriller set in the world of espionage, it’s ironic that the people least intelligent here are the intelligence officers themselves”(Masand 2012). IBN Live Website. Movies. Updated on August 16, 2012. Accessed on September 2, 2012. <http://ibnlive.in.com/news/masand-ek-tha-tiger-is-far-from-unwatchable/282601-47-84.html>.