#035- less told white tech genealogies [Case: Facebook]

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#034- technological disruptions/hidden selves + titles mixtape

so theres a bollywood movie in which they basically made a song out of bollywood movie titles. like, each single word in the song, literally, is a bollywood movie title! :O

like wtf, right?

also this whole lift going off/technical failure thing is amazing, in how this discontinuity gives all the characters in the scene a chance to show their hidden selves (sexualities?)- sing, dance, listen in voyeuristically lol…and then quickly brings in the ‘authorities’ – to police all this.

but seriously what a cray song! lol! ah bollywood 80s! 🙂

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

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

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


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

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:


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

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

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.

#026- Stolid

The English nation, it has been noted by Edward Morgan Forster and reiterated by Steph Fry, is composed of the sturdy stock of middle class, its sturdiness being determined by many excellent aspects, one of them being a cold and calculative, nay, an undeveloped heart. Somehow the end of this first sentence seems verily appropriate to be marked by a smiley, so here: :D.

Forster apparently describes how he went on a holiday with an Indian friend to continental Europe who thoroughly expressed his despair at the end of the trip, which Forster found to be thoroughly ugh! “What’s with all this sippy soppy sop?” He asked of his Indian friend as one would be entitled to remark in such situations. “Kindly do not go over the top for such a silly occasion; a little thing like this does not deserve so much emotion.” Sounds perfect. Reasonable. I’d say that myself. Anytime. Stop being a sod. Buck up old man! There’s more to life than such tiny things to break hearts over! Do not disgust me with such an inappropriate display of emotion. C’mon! Really!

Except when well, you yourself are caught…actually caught on the Indian end of it. You really begin to wun. der.

The story goes like this: Music moves me. Bugger, that’s an extremely soppy thing to say! Music moves me? Really? Didn’t you have better words? If you didn’t, couldn’t you just shut up instead of saying such pretentious-sounding hippie loaded rot?, the left of my brain shouts at me. Ah yes. Well, I wish left brain, I do wish! But it’s intense movement. Which moves me everywhere. Right left centre up down north south and north east. And makes my fingers move to type all this jibber. Quite involuntary you see. Except not involuntary because I have to say something even if it’s totally inadequate totally wrong totally sorry!

See, that’s the kind of movement I am trying to get you to picture.

Now good music…great music moves me a bit more. Simple proportionality. That should be more amenable to reason, I suppose.

The shock however comes when once I let out all that movement, I find my head comparing me to Twilight fans. 😐

That was another good moment for an emoticon to surface in this blog post.

At this juncture one might as well canvass Mr. Forster’s mysterious Indian friend’s reply to him: “Oh hell! What do you think? That emotions are something to be measured out with a teaspoon?! Only three lumps of sugar in my cup please, it’s a cup you see, not a tea granary?!” (If there are any such things as tea granaries, that is. It must be noted that I am only paraphrasing here.) “All that matters about emotion,” he adds, “is that it be sincere.”

To which Forster and I both facepalm with some discomfort. For the middle class sensibility of the English nation transformed into the colonial legacy that I wear with some pride exhorts me to be cool and rugged, unfazed by things as finicky as emotions. At least  in public. At least with strangers. To save me some dignity as I wear my mask of good old stoicism. Though discomfort there is, yes. At the “Oriental mind” which Forster refers to, and which acknowledges that something more sensual and therefore stronger, has caused enough movement of electrical impulses throughout my mechanics to make me want to stand on rooftops and shout to the world about things as stupid as my feelings, even when no word or set of words or sentences or exclamation marks or semicolons or any combinations of these whatsoever are good enough to put them across. And that it’s okay. Even good. What more, needed.

But the question presses: Assuming both sets of emotions are equally sincere, is being turned on by Twilight the same as being turned on by the greatest songwriter I’ve EVER heard?

No reasonable mind would be ready to accept that! Every reasonable mind would in fact object to that statement in very very strong terms. It will cry out in sheer horror! All reasonable men and women in such situations, it is well settled, have a rightful right to come up with lengthy criticisms, analysis and careful break-by-break probing which weighs the merits of one thing against the other and then its demerits against the rest of the world to come up with a reasonable balanced judgment of what actually deserves sincere emotion and what does not.

The only impediment to all of that being: we are not treading the realm of reason here anymore. Not when it comes to music. Not when it comes to art. Heck, not even when it comes to life! So dammit, what good is any objective justification or defence or even apology for the statement: “I am in love with this guy. Like, real, actual love. Let the world know it and let it be loud and clear!” ?

#025- She Shot A Man

Orwie was “vaguely uneasy” when he started with his elephant rifle towards the musth elephant. But this unease interestingly, did not stem from trepidation of facing a huge intoxicated creature which had already killed a guy on the ravage, but rather from the eager crowd which was following him, in all its anticipation that he would in fact kill the elephant. Does Orwie want to kill an elephant? No, he does not. He is sure about that. Will Orwie have to kill an elephant? Yes, he will. But not to defend himself, nossir. Orwie will kill rather to put on a show for the crowd which expects him to live up to the mask of the sahib which he dons. It is a show they want to see- the white man in his full glory exhibiting his never-failing courage. A picture book image the white man had craved for himself. And if they don’t get to see it, they are going to laugh at him. Laugh at his apparent lack of whiteness. And that would not do.

Edward Saïd canvasses how the “West” constructs the “East” as the “Other” and establishes its own identity as the “Self” by assigning for itself all those desirable traits which the “East” lacks, thus succeeding in constricting the richness of diversity of thought and positions within the Oriental civilisations. Orwie tells us how such a construction suffocates even the West for a white man can have nothing of the “Other.”

The question to ponder upon however is whether this analysis can be stretched beyond the East versus the West, beyond the Orient versus the Occident into other realms. I for one, find it particularly relevant to the discourse on gender and the conception of the male. The male which is constructed as the rational, logical, stoic, reliable and hence the more superior facility–something to be lived up to. The “Self”. And the woman, the female- is everything that the male is not. She is emotional, vulnerable, sensitive and hence weak. She is the “Other”. The first feminists undoubtedly reinforced these two constructs respectively upon the men and women of the world when they argued for equal rights for men and women. Because they argued, hey! women are not as emotional or vulnerable as you would have them be. Women too are capable of good decision-making in public spheres. Women too are level headed and calm and capable of making as good outside of the domestic hearth as the men. This was sadly, a denial and a vehement one at that of any of the traits which made women the “Other”. Women, it was argued, could not be characterized by the traits of that “Other”, and therefore could not be labelled weak. Thus Halla Tomasdottir, among other women in “positions of power” recounts how her “womanly instincts of nurture and care” seem to so badly conflict with the ideals needed to prove one’s worth in the “serious world of business.”

First wave of feminism hence is not a denial of the validity of the construction of the Self as the superior, and the Other as undesirable and something to be fought against. It is just an opposition of the parameter which categorises men as “the Self” and women as “the Other”. It argues that women are as much a part of “the Self”, and that women do not stand within “the Other”. This difference is crucial when one considers the position of the later waves of femina, where the association of “the Other” with inferiority and unwantedness is questioned and resisted.

But what troubles me to quite some considerable extent  is that none of our feminists seem to be able to access the gender discourse from the avenue which Orwell walked. While they lament the diminished position of women and the restriction of their freedom and the absence of diversity within the female which is the “Other”, they seem completely impervious to the constriction of the male construct on man himself in a bid to become the superior identity. Replace the Burmese natives in the essay with females and Orwell’s white sahib identity with that of a male and the conclusions are the same. The elephant will still need to be killed, for man needs to live up to the image of the saviour which he has created for himself and which he has made the feminine “Other” believe in.   Orwell’s face still needs to grow to fit his masculine mask even as the women over him he is the male tyrant push him to and fro like an absurd puppet. It is then lamentable that feminism has yet been unable to feel the anguish of the masculine overlord as he lives within his overlord construct. The feminine fights her masculine captor for her rights rather than realising that his predicament is as wretched as hers and in many ways worse, for it is never recognised in the shouts against myriad suppression and subjugation of the female that echoes in the winds of modernity. To create such an adversarial discussion of rights is indeed counterproductive to the entire idea of equality and empowerment. For like “the Self” cannot experience the suffocation of its freedom without “the Other”, so can “the Other” not hope to achieve any sustainable freedom from exploitation without addressing the pain of her own captor. It is a vicious cycle which calls out to be broken. The question is how much longer before the contemporary rights discourse realises it?

#024- Killing Literature To Ensure That It Lives

After creating The Internet Archive, the new found ambition of the renowned digitisation activist Brewster Kahle to accumulate every book ever published into a physical library baffled not just a few. Kahle clarifies: “Physical archiving is necessary to hedge against uncertainties of the digital future. A lost server should not mean lost knowledge, and no person or organisation should be able to acquire enough control to destroy an entire series of literature by just pulling the plug on it.” Kahle’s point being that while the internet is good for making things accessible, it serves as a lousy archive.

The obsession with archiving is nothing new for the human race, and we have our reasons. The invention of writing was a win because it was the first step towards the archive: it could codify thoughts, stories, culture. It could draw the requisite boundaries to mark what was authentic literature and what was not: That which is rendered in the written word, is authentic. Oral traditions are loose, with hazy boundaries. The same story when repeated by word of mouth acquires new aspects, more spice. It changes: there are additions and deletions with each telling of a folktale. Grandma’s stories vary too often for the comfort of the left hemisphere of our brains: we need certainty! How then to decide which version of the story is the real one? Which is authentic? Nothing better than reducing it to writing. And so the printing press works not just because literature could now be distributed more widely, but because its appropriately codified version- the authentic version could be now distributed more widely.

More appallingly when not textualised, literature dies! The spoken word loses itself in the overwhelming tides of time and space. Therefore it becomes ever important to collect all literature within an archive: Preservation of literature is a very worthy goal. It is the raison d’etre for the existence of libraries. All the nation-States of the world agree as WIPO prepares a draft treaty proposal for Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives. Well-meaning social activists commend the cause. Readers rejoice.

But let me prevent you yet from donning a comical hat and blowing a party popper to celebrate this glorious age of the written word, for there is a catch: This crazy archive fever is leaving our literature in a rut. We are reading the same things over and over- generation after generation, we are stuck within the same dominant thoughts, ideas and expressions. Some have called it the process of evolution but how much have our literary expressions really changed from the early 20th? In his 1908 lecture on modern poetry, T.E. Hulme laments the recycling of the same images in poetic expression as he asks us to admit the fact “that verse forms, like manners, and like individuals, develop and die.” All art if it is to be authentic, proposes Hulme, must be destroyed after every generation which created it. Authenticity of literature for Hulme does not result from culling the text from its first textual source: the reproduction of Victorian literature in the 21st century can not at all be called authentic, for it is not created by those living in the 21st; it sanctifies outdated expression conducive to the gaeity and agonies of two hundred years before. Thus old verse forms must disappear before the new man burdened with thought different and new, which cannot be addressed by old names. For such forms are not of this age, hence inauthentic. So it is a call against archiving which Hulme manifests when says, “Personally I am of course in favour of the complete destruction of all verse more than twenty years old.

Virginia Woolf deems the career of a book to be even shorter: “It is absurd to print every book as if it were fated to last a hundred years. The life of the average book is perhaps three months. Why not face this fact?…Thus by far the greater number of books would die a natural death in three months or so. No space would be wasted and no dirt would be collected.

When eminent and respected writers- them great lovers of art and fine literature- express their disgust for immortal text in such a fathomable way, one begins to wonder whether the amazing amount of effort which goes into archiving is in fact justified. On this human need to archive, Derrida expounds, “There would indeed be no archive desire without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness which does not limit itself to repression.” And forgetfulness does not seem like a desirable trait. Yet authors aspire, and even crave for it! In Alexander Pope’s words,

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgotten, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

I think it is time that we reexamine the utility of archives, and call into question the craze for preservation and revival that seems to have gripped our literary works. A hangover from half-a-millenia old notions of authenticity and originality are out to destroy the possibilities of literature. And the archive, by holding unto us ancient attitudes which we don’t need, is its symptom. Brewster Kahle is a victim of this hangover when he undermines The Internet Archive for its unreliability; this very uncertainty is in fact the internet’s greatest strength. For if one day all ancient literary baggage is lost, humankind will start writing on a clean slate. And thereof will be born genuinely living literature- literature which is true to its own age.

A print-version of this article first appeared in In Quill magazine.