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#033- Disillusionment; or, A Call For Losing Identities

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I don’t know if the world was always this way or if it is indeed a new development. But then, it can’t be all that a new development since the field of semiotics has existed for some time. I talk, of course, about the use of placeholders, signs, and symbols as substitutes for a real understanding of the texture of the experience(s) of life – be it either in political, cultural, or economic milieus.

Watching the debate around Dangal unfold, this much became clear. But that’s a tiny bit. Even before it, watching the 2016 US Elections campaign unfold had been making it clear. But even before that, many years ago, I think I began to notice it within the Left itself, the so-called organisation…camp formation around concepts. Concepts like identities. And identities proliferate like concepts. Brahmin, Dalit, man, woman, radical, irradical, whathaveyou…Identity pins one’s suffering or lack of it. And more recently, pqr of “radical” left thought cannot buy xyz arguments because they were made by the person with the wrong identity.  An identity not radical enough. An identity of the oppressor. Dare I say, an identity not exotic enough?…

I will of course take a beating for writing this but somehow we have come to inhabit what it truly an Age of Identities. We strive for authenticity, but even “being authentic” itself has become an identity. In other words, it means zilch. I’m authentic and I hang around with authentic people, and you’re inauthentic so I don’t deem you fit for a conversation with me. It’s amazing what the machinery of capitalist production is capable of appropriating. 2017 has even fashion magazines selling you authenticity. Ralph Waldo Emerson rolls in his grave.

This is however, not a critique of those poor unenlightened ones who buy into it. I’d even go so far to say that in many ways they seem more authentic to me than our radical friends who try to be politically correct. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to undermine the achievements of leftist movements in the last 300 years or so in any way. But it grieves me to see the absence of human conversations because of whacko reasons. Reasons like, because abc voted for Trump, def said something sexist on 01 October 2009, qwe did not do her doctoral thesis on Dalits when it is such an obvious burning issue. That historical figure opr must be disregarded because he kept mum on racism. Hey, none of this is to say that sexism, racism, Nazism, casteism, or blah are okay or to even claim that there does not exist ignorance, privileged ignorance, about the experiences of these “Other”. But what’s the response to that? What should be the response to that? That the “Other” construct the “Self” as the “Other”? Creation of more identities by the negation of the other? I mean, you’ll probably say no, and say no this is of course not what is happening, but I will differ. I see it happening all around.

Someone claims the other day Gandhi wasn’t “radical” so can’t have him on my reading list on Indian political thought, which questions Enlightenment thought. Hah okay. Since we’re making lists. Listversing. Categorising. Classifying. How’s that not an Enlightenment value, heh.

People seem to increasingly live and perceive their whole lives in terms of identities. This includes those rads. I lament this turn of events. That our perception of reality is increasingly reduced to a set of foregiven ideas. A set of pre-constructed ideas. Heck, even “not pre-constructed” has become an identity. Welcome to hipster culture. Welcome to most “enlightened,” who will now refrain from a friendly conversation with the guy who protests against refugees in Europe or one slip of a good word about Julian Assange. Note I support neither of these political positions, but my point is this is no different from fashion, trends for identity come and go. One another term for identity is demographic.

When Rohith Vemula died, he didn’t leave a Treatise on Multicultural Identity Society for a suicide note. He left a beautiful note about his personal frustrations and how he had seen life. The note had no identity terms. Yet at the end of the day, and I hate to think this, he was reduced to an identity. In politics. Not just by the right, or by political opportunists but by the so-called left who deeply cared.

I’m not saying don’t acknowledge roots. But identity is reduction. Life is richer, complicated, way more fucked up and beautiful than reducing people/entire lives to symbols. That’s exactly what the modes of capitalistic reproduction and production do. I thought radical left was supposed to be different. But seems like, the lure of this structure of control and the desire to feel like we’re getting somewhere “organising” “making progress” trumps everything.

Maybe I am naive. I don’t care. I’m tired of your pretension. Your sophisticated ideas to mould, to educate. It’s got nothing to do with my lived reality, my inner life. Maybe that’s how you live it, but I don’t. And I don’t want to. And many people, I believe, don’t want to. Which is why good storytellers, populists, like Trump are winning. You don’t have a story to tell, radical left. Sadly, all you have is ideology and principles and ideas. You’re a hollow shell. A facade of academic papers and cold reason. You’re not the same person I met in the 1850s. You’ve no soul. You’re as much an automaton as the fucked up system you claim to fight.

#032- That one post you write because you are tired of shit

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It is funny how ignorance is often confused with being unpretentious. Sample this exchange on Facebook, for example:

Capture

I mean, sure what’s the relevance of this…random people on social media blabbing etc. but well that’s how life is…You see something random, and it gets you started on a certain train of thought, and then you follow it and it becomes real and important. wirklich und wertig.

So I’m thinking, all that sexist stuff about calm your titties, I’m a feminist guy. Or calm your titties, I’m being unpretentious etc. is such a load of crap. Because saying that you are unaware has nothing to do with being authentic. What you learn over the period of your lifetime becomes a part of you and is not pretension. Otherwise acting like a baby would be highly authentic. (And I have a feeling many people buy that argument *hipster sigh*)

Of course, I suppose a lot of this kind of talk also stems from a certain reactivity towards Orientalism: “I am not taken over by “western” education ideas, I live my experience, I live reality, therefore I’m unpretentious and authentic.” The problem with this line of argument is double. First, living reality doesn’t mean that the same chain of events that one experiences can’t be viewed from different lenses and be told as separate stories. Which is what awareness, as opposed to ignorance offers. Second, reactivity towards Orientalism only feeds into the Orientalist structure, beispiel…the Hindutva nation. So how is it helping anyone?

 

 

#031- A Movie Review Of A Pretty Random Movie

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This is a new review of a very, very old movie. If you can call this a review. I mean, it is more of a story really…The story of what happened as I watched this film. On the other hand, maybe that’s what all reviews are: The story of what went through the reviewer as they watched the movie. But let us not go in circles, and let me begin…

I’d wanted to watch Mixed Doubles for the longest time, ever since I saw the promos on TV. Maybe I was 14 then. And my anticipation had built up for several reasons: First, it said it was a movie about wife-swapping. Or something like that, no? And what 13 year old girl cannot be somewhat thrilled at that idea? Second, at the time, there was a show called Wife Swap that used to air on Discovery Travel and Living – now TLC (or the other way round, who remembers!) – But that one had been so deeply disappointing…Mostly because there you only swapped wives to raise kids, and to expose them to a different “mom” – oh, Americans! But well, one still watched it every week, in the hope that something more risqué might just happen this time. Never did. Anyway, I believe I did start this sentence with “deeply disappointing.” And third, well, third…It was called “Mixed Doubles!” It was about swinging, which one might safely say, then (and now), was widely labeled a controversial sexual practice. But then it decided to name itself after a somewhat baffling format of a popular medieval sport. That had me intrigued.

Plus, I liked the visuals. In the ads I saw. The movie had a clean feeling to it. I’m not much of a film buff, so probably don’t have a wide range of precise references to put in here – and don’t hold me to this – but I think the closest it reminded me of, was something of a Wes Anderson shot. Like this one here:

wes

So I clearly remember seeing the blue walls at the experienced, swinger couples’, viz. the Khannas’ house. And in the middle of wall, I think, there was a white, wooden photo frame with some nondescript picture in it (and mind you, all this might very well be something I’m just making up). But the photo frame is so simple, and straight, and the wall is so simple and straight, and they are both perfectly parallel to each other, in very straight lines, and there is nothing else on the wall. That caught my eye, because that was very different from other Bollywood movies, which were full of chaotic things that were not parallel to each other…They usually always led to intersections…Well, they usually lead, rather than just being there. This one, I thought, be’ed.

And of course, all this straightness in wall decor was super funny, because it was placed against a plot which wasn’t straight at all! How could a theme like that ever be straight? (On second thoughts, the “kink community” has done a lot to make themes like these very straight *facepalm* – but more on that later.) However, if not straight, this plot was also as clean and minimal as the wall behind it. The lines were sharply drawn, the words were definite, real. They were words you could hear, you do hear any day. There was no glamour in its words. At all. And the characters didn’t intersect with each other, they were all whole people. By which I mean, there was no atmosphere of heaviness left hanging in between the people in the movie. Which is not to say there wasn’t sadness, spite, anger, obsession, or awkwardness. Koel Puri, for example, is pretty creepy – she totally creeped me out, and for half of the movie, I didn’t know if she was regular human, or an actual witch. She is a definite outlier character – the rest of them are most emphatically regular people who drive cars, so she is always a bit of a question mark on that account. Also, all the foreplay between her and Ranveer Shorey- haha! I mean, I really liked how it was a different depiction of sex, than you usually find in movies, or well, in literature. The more popular ones are either super hot/sweet (objectified or meaningful) macho/feminine shit – sex, orgasms, desire, cocks – all in very obvious doses. Or they’re this deep, philosophical sex. Where sex might be meaningful or not-so-important, but it’s always in-the-moment stuff, and therefore, has weight. You know. 😉 Anyway, sex in Mixed Doubles is a lot about confusion, yet aspiration. Ranveer Shorey comes off very much like a teenage boy in bed – enthralled and nervous. Yet so persevering. Arjun-meen-ki-aankh types. It’s sweet and hilarious at the same time.

Konkana’s feelings about this switch bitch sex are more solid, and less wavy, if not clearly laid out. And I don’t think they’re clearly laid out- even though when she first hears of the idea, she’s like, dude wtf? She’s curious I think, but definitely not Shorey-obsessed- and therefore more solid. So comes in Rajat Kapoor. Actually, he is almost not there in the movie- he is the most background character. So he is the whole atmosphere of the Khanna house and later, towards the end, of the scene in the car and back at the Shorey’s house (though Malti begins to take over the atmosphere towards the very end). But if I could summarise the Rajat Kapoor atmosphere in an emoticon, it would be this one: 😐 It’s straight-faced with a hint of humour borne out of the knowledge of who’s pulling the strings. Or maybe just a knowledge of how exactly it’s gonna pan out, all details included…

A note on editing: Some people say art doesn’t need editing – go with the flow etc, the whole hippie crap, as if greatness lies in that one elusive unique moment of birth – and I always maintain editing is damn important if one is to make anything good or worthwhile, and this movie is one of the best illustrations of that. Good art is a good story, and good stories aren’t told without re-tellings. Also, in a recent interview, Rajat Kapoor said something that I very much liked: “If an image can be reduced to one meaning, it’s a bad image.” I liked his precision and brevity in this sentence, but also because this movie really is about good images, not bad ones. Simply because this movie doesn’t really have a point. It’s not looking to “entertain” ala SRK, and it’s not looking to provide “deep insight” ala Sanjay LB. And it’s not really looking to be satirical or ironic. The movie is just there. It’s a little story, and it’s not driven by ideas or points, so it’s just there, and that’s where it starts looking beautiful.

 

#030- Medea, Tragedy, and Justice

I was struck, in Medea by her words, when after killing her children she says to Jason even as he chastises her, “I have reached your heart, and that is right”, as if the act of killing her children had somehow brought her closer to Jason. I was thinking of this in context of Cavell’s idea of conversations, and how before, when he leaves her for the princess, and she bids him to be back for she loves him and he says that whatever he is doing is for her and her children’s benefit- how that conversation actually marks the absence of a Cavellian conversation: It is as if Jason cannot hear what she is saying, there is no shared language.
 
I have been thinking of Medea’s act of killing as then an attempt to re-establish conversation with Jason. I am not very sure how this fits, but it keeps coming to me how satisfied she is somewhere that now Jason is as miserable as her, as if her misery is finally communicated to him (one speaks for the other). If a Cavellian conversation is the ability of one to speak for another as well as to speak to another, her misery upon the death of their children  is shared by Jason and once again conversation is established. Even though there is bitterness and disagreement between Medea and Jason re her act, they once again seem to share a common language and thus set themselves in a community:”i’ve reached your heart…”
 
Again, what is striking is that this re-establishment of conversation/community with Jason is what Medea terms as “justice”: “..and that is right.” She calls her revenge justice, and then she calls reaching his heart right- which is what she probably sees as justice. Which can make us think of the search for justice as the search for a shared language, and the search for community (a la Cavell?)
 
Using this conception to look at the reactions to the Delhi rape case, the bloodthirst can perhaps be seen as the search for a shared language with the rapists? The cry for raping their mothers and sisters is perhaps a form of justice when it seems to provide them- the rapists- as much misery as to the victim? Perhaps it can be seen as the desire to have a community with them?- and all this anger makes no sense if there was not a desire to have a community…and perhaps that is what is seen as justice by many people? (though again, hanging them cannot be a way to make them as miserable- or establish a conversation, since they will be dead- but perhaps it is, for their family members- perhaps a desire to establish community with the rapists’ family members?)- or perhaps law is just falling short here, because justice in these terms should perhaps mean the same tortures for the rapists as for the raped.
 
I don’t know. What has been bothering me though is then how is one supposed to establish conversation when a shared language disappears without resorting to violence (as in case of Medea, or in the rape case)? Is there a way? If not, are all relationships doomed to end in tragedy, because it is afterall inevitable that there would be instances (since it’s a process) that language would no longer be shared? Or perhaps, as Cavell points out, there are comedic instances of conversation breakdowns where unlike a tragedy people do get back together happily (for whatever time) like in remarriage comedies? How then are the two different? Perhaps a tragic justice is always marked by one party entirely unwilling to establish/reestablish a shared language, and then the same being forced upon him by another, unlike a r.comedy where both parties atleast strive to create a shared language, a community together: that’s what they both desire, but are at a loss till the end about how to do that? So in the tragic Medea, Jason (acting out of conformity?) has refused to have a community with Medea but the same is forced upon him, but not so in the comedies where people actually desire a community with one another?
 
Though interestingly, we never call the comedy couple’s re-establishment of conversation “justice”. So is justice possible only as a tragedy, in reality merely a failed attempt to establish community? For even though Jason now shares Medea’s misery for the death of their children, he still cannot be said to speak for her (signifiying the absence of conversation or a shared form of life) as he is at a total loss to understand why she did that. 

#029- The Absolute Suckiness of Probe Bechdelian

Here’s the Bechdel Test:

To judge whether a work of fiction is free of gender bias or not, the following parameters need to be fulfilled-

1. The work has to have at least two [named] women in it.
2. Who talk to each other.
3. About something besides a man.


Here’s why it’s totally baloney:


1. It relegates gender back to the body.
In a test which claims to identify situations that promote gender-friendly representations, the first step is to find out whether there are two women present in it. To find women, one needs to scrutinise bodies, and according to this logic, only a work which holds women’s bodies in it can be free of gender-bias. It is amazing how this parameter so calmly demolishes the whole of  Simone de Beauvoir’s revolutionary work which refuted biological deterministic theories more than fifty years ago! De Beauvoir made the distinction between gender and sex such that gender referred to the social construction of a biological woman, while sex referred to the biology of the female type human. She then proposed that women experience oppression as a function of their gender, and not sex; thereby saying that the body of the woman is irrelevant to gender-positive experiences, what matters is the social positioning. Corollary to this, a person can also experience oppression without being in a female body, but by relating to a gender construction by the society which typically is powerless (as is pretty evident in cases of trans- and homophobia). But by focusing on the presence women’s bodies to establish gender-friendliness, the Bechdel Test excludes all forms of gender discrimination which are not body-centric, as well as tries to bring back the idea that women’s bodies are the source of their oppression.


2. It creates gender-typed conversations.
Essentialism is the name of the game and the Bechdel Test aces it. It is, of course unthinkable that any conversation between two men or between men and women can be gender-friendly. And as obviously evident, gender-friendly comes only and only with female-to-female conversations not about men, and the converse being true, all female-to-female conversations not about men is also, ALWAYS, IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, 100% GENDER FRIENDLY! Really, if judging whether a conversation is gender-sensitive or not can be predicated on who talks to who about what, rather than analysing what is actually being said, faux feminists, you’re gods goddesses! Why bother listening to what they said in the movie or paying attention to conversation and its context in a book, when you can just tick boxes to brand half of the entire body of fiction, anti-women? Why bother considering the complexities to people when you can just judge their bodies to tell whether they hate women or not?


3. It reinforces identity-based discrimination.
I often wonder: how does the human species forever fail to see the contradiction in attempting to end oppressive discrimination with yet more oppressive discrimination? The Bechdel Test presents yet another example of this blindness when it tries to determine gender-sensitivity of fictional works by oppressively discriminating against men’s bodies and conversations between two or more men (which, as we have seen, by their mere presentation are adjudged as biased against women). Creating spaces for women by eliminating men from it and calling it human freedom is as defeating as creating spaces for men by eliminating women and calling it human freedom. Or, creating spaces for freeborns by eliminating slaves and calling it human freedom. Or, creating absolutely free market spaces for wealth merchants by eliminating the poor and calling it human freedom. You get the idea. Segregation serves neither gender nor does it signify independence for anyone. One would think that the feminist movement would have learnt something about how awful it is to be on the end of suppression, but when one catches it producing tests that try to merely reverse the flow of discrimination and power play rather than ending oppressive discrimination altogether, one realises with a heaviness of heart that this is clearly not the case .

#028- Origins of First Sale Doctrine in the US

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The Supreme Court articulated the first sale doctrine in 1908, holding that a copyright owner’s exclusive distribution right is exhausted after the owner’s first sale of a particular copy of the copyrighted work. See Bobbs-Merrill Co. v.Straus, 210 U.S. 339, 350-51 (1908). In Bobbs-Merrill, the plaintiff-copyright owner sold its book with a printed notice announcing that any retailer who sold the book for less than one dollar was responsible for copyright infringement. Id. at 341. Plaintiff sought injunctive relief against defendantsbooksellers who failed to comply with the price restriction. Id. at 341-42. The Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, holding that its exclusive distribution right applied only to first sales of copies of the work. Id. at 350-51. The distribution right did not permit plaintiff to dictate that subsequent sales of the work below a particular price were infringing. Id. The Court noted that its decision solely applied to the rights of a copyright owner that distributed its work without a license agreement. Id. at 350 (“There is no claim in this case of contract limitation, nor license agreement controlling the subsequent sales of the book.”).

-Timothy S. Vernor v. Autodesk Inc., United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

#027- Introductions with Lady Cockpurse

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There is a man so so wicked, you want to take a wicket and smash his head, then watch it roll down a grassy English countryside slope, then pick it up and kiss it hard and fast and then gobble it up. And I have had the great fortune to have finally, finally met this man last week.

Now you see, when I first heard about this man a decade ago, I thought he was a woman. That time I only saw him from a distance and I found him making luscious talk about another bloke under whose charm (the latter’s charm, I mean) the first blush of love was enveloping me. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that that fawning exterior would house a truly terrible person with truly terrible thoughts, and a truly truly terrible mouth to spill all those thoughts at totally inappropriate times in polite company. The other day he started talking about how “those darkies” making their national economy looting and ravaging the “other darkies” and being Christian enough to not eat human meat in public during Lent. The politically correct crowd we were with kept staring at him with gaping mouths as he made this incredible speech, talking as if he was talking about the weather! Lady Monocle tut-tutted to me later. “Such abomination!” She confessed in some distress. I felt like I thought I could’ve planted a tight hard smack on his face and devoured him simultaneously.

Cynic, I told myself in a subsequent, calmer moment.

But can a word as tame as cynic befit him? Hah! I hardly think so. Certain members of the public profess a theory. It’s all in the name, they say. If only his parents hadn’t been harsh enough to name him Evelyn, perhaps all that bitterness wouldn’t have bred in the first place, and would there be any poison to spew then? Oh, no!…Some others espouse that the devil had been inside him ever since his birth, and his parents named him effiminately only with hopes of such association rubbing into him some gentility of the fairer sex. But that man is nothing to do with fair, he is an arsehole. Everyone says so! You better believe it.

He sits in the corner smoking a cigar, easily describing with remarkable and annoying precision the human parade that passes by his eye. An eye coloured with the colour of his abhorrent and distasteful morals! How he managed to shade the sweetest man on earth with a smile of such sincere adoration that afternoon, I shall never know. Because the sweetest man on earth is a man of sunshine, a man with a skip, a hop and a spring in the springtime. This blighter on the other hand, is too astute to know sunshine if it came up to him (which I doubt it ever has) and poked him in the eye with a stick. He talked of delighting in an idyllic world! I cannot imagine this nutjob existing in any idyllic world, let alone delighting in one! Because he is evil, and he is nasty, and I am going to sleep with him before any tommy can even finish uttering the r of rape.