October 26, 2008

Ode to Shaarode

Prasanta's post left me overwhelmed and helplessly reconstructing my particular Bengali bourgeoise trajectory of wading through the economic/academic/intellectual pie, all the while carrying around a synthetic communitarian sentimentality, reproducing it in the cosmopolitania, very often peddling it to peers as exotic authenticity.

Let me also try to fashion my own South Calcutta memories (embedded in North Calcutta roots) of Pujo growing-up in the nineties. Prasanta's article mysteriously overlooks the Cultural Institution, that is Maddox Square. The hub of the social institution that is Pujo Prem. Boys aged between sixteen and twenty-five have to find a Pujo Girlfriend to show off in the Maddox Square see-and-be-seen festival. For budding intellectuals (all of fifteen-sixteen) like my brother, Pujo meant huddling in the periphery of the pandal with fellow-nonchalants, making approriate pooh-pooh noises to the mashi-kaku-ultramodernmeye outpour of Rabindra-enthusiasm. As a young adult, Pujo meant wrapping a sari and smiling coyly at a friend’s mashtuto dada, and huddling with lost friends in a mashi’s empty flat (for mashi is busy training five-year-olds to hold a complicated Robindro-note) rolling maal…

I am chewing on Prasanta's reflection of the leftist secularisation of the Durga Puja- sharodotshob to durgotshob… for doesn’t the shaarode also translate in terms of a cultural/linguistic universe of Shaarodiyo Shubhechha, Shaaridyo Desh, Shaarodiyo Aanondomaela? Is the Shaarode really so compartmentalised and secular? Is it also not inextricably enmeshed in recreating/reproducing/re-embracing material cultures, cultural materialisms?

Coming from a ghore shaakto clan of pathha-sacrificing Kali devotees, Durga Pujo was always more material/sensual/cultural for me, less religious…

But his Buffalo-Bangalore imagery leaves me with a recent Jersey memory of watching newly-married, jamdani-clad boudis in various stags of the run-up to childbirth? A friend’s fiance explained the trend thus- the sooner you give birth to an American citizen, the better your chances at the Green Card… I am compelled to think about this travelling material culture of the Pujo sentimentality which has to be repeatedly performed, reproduced, reconfigured, peddled, disseminated, indoctrinated- that maybe beyond home and homecoming, it is also part of the desperate attempt at home-building…. this way Kumoretuli and Birbhum artisans, and Kolkata rockbands find livelihood in the home-building industry through the expanding coffers of the Global Authentic Bengali… in the way I felt a moral/cultural obligation to buy Chaundrobindoo’s latest album, as they recreated the misogynist nonchalant cultural universe of  my adolescence in Jersey… it was like throwing in the handsome chaanda for the promise of manufactured communitarianism amidst Jodhpur Park multitudes...


Shaarode- autumnal

October 15, 2008

Academic Shagging

This range of literal construction and seeing the eco as a bounded Other could be seen as four distinct yet entangled thought trajectories- that of assertion of human control and ownership ( something to the tune of “I am master of all I survey” the immortalised lines of William Cowper), that of anthropomorphising - seeing components of nature as possessing human feelings and human character and using it to seek conversation with the natural Other (examples being that of the “sobbing deer” and various references to the tumultuous sea expressing anger, or variously, in Tennyson’s words “I am a part of all that I have met”), that of sexualising/sensualising/feminising the natural Other, and that of romancing the distant/unknown/alien- in furtherance of colonialist wonder at Other lands.

I find Gabriel Egan’s reading of the empty Shakespearean stage as the unlocalised colonial mind that could control whatever it chose to and the insinuation of deforestation of virgin forests by colonialists in the text of The Tempest, a provocatively powerful technique of telling the story of colonial sojourn. Robert Watson, very effectively reads in violence/control and exotic fetishisation of animals and Other peoples onto the act of anthropomorphising. That in a sense, provides moral sanction (through imputation of the ‘ethical quality of human relationship’) to the act of capture or annihilation. He complicates this relationship of anthropomorphisation by reading in the erotics of wonder, fear and demonisation, in his discussion of Actaeon’s horned appearance and the fear he inspires, of the wilderness, that might consume the colonial explorer and hence, he must find ways of controlling the subject of fear through linguistic tools. The flip side of the consumption of the fearsome is sensualisation (examples being the sexual wonder at naked Diana). The object that is understood in the ‘mirror of similitude’, is captured and cosumed therewith, in the shackles of linguistic representation. Watson also makes the comparison of wondered love at the Other (nature) being expressed by the human mind (the lover) to self-obsession of the mind, wondering at its own depths and contours. His further elaboration on the self-love as masculine attempt to capture feminine as expression of misogynist wonder, through which the female becomes an object of fantasy that is really about exertion of masculine power and dilution of female agency. (“Love and violence thus seem almost inseparable; you always hunt the one you love”: Watson 2006, 89) I can’t help the urge to read this thought into the correctional agenda of the ecological and development discourses- that seek to rid suffering populaces of their ills, or correct and conserve degrading landscapes, thereby harbouring and nourishing the ideal of restoring human existences and landscape beauties to an imagined, antiquated glory. Watson and Mentz’s writings open up for me the possibility of reading ecology and development movements as neo-Romanticism- trying to restore aesthetics through correctional/missionary agenda.

I find Foucauldian shadows here, of language as a tool of power, and the literary act as an act of capture and colonisation by the author. I am only partially familiar with the literature that discusses the author as a modern, romantic, humanist actor- who is also variously spoken of, spoken to, spoken through. So Watson’s self-effacing comment, at the end, about his own intentional fallacy getting mapped onto the body of Shakespeare’s work (Watson 2006, 107), provokes me into the thinking of linguistic inscriptions onto the body of the natural Other as an act of conversation as also atomistic authorship.

The development aid literature and scientific landscape readings, and I am thinking scientific/development/ecological/conservationist literature as literary here, as an act mapping one’s own cultural (knowledge, morality, aesthetics as a subset of culture?) mesh onto the land, sea, game, native humans. I don’t necessarily see that as more or less violent than the act of capture through the romantic act of authorship through the written lyric, film, music, art. I don’t necessarily see Latour’s moral censure of the act of dramatizing, by way of making the inanimate/inarticulate speak and advocating ‘secularization’ as any more of exoneration from the power of language- in fact, if anything, that too cries out for salvation from the guilt of violent representation (Latour 2004). I see literary (and am stretching the limits of literary as far as possible) tools of representation/conversation/capture as an inevitable act of human agency, that some of us enjoying power and privilege can exercise more often and more effectively, and can only live in the guilt and shame of the same, and in turn capture it in language.

October 12, 2008

Yours locally

New England looks red and gold from the East Rock. With a hint of an idle blue ocean leaking out of its crevices. White steeples looking distantly in arrogance. This was as beautiful a moment as it was alien. Beauty and heritage zealously guarded for over centuries- I wonder where this arrogantly ancient local would fit into the global-local polemics. Where the local is small, vulnerable, beautiful, obscure- that is liable to perish under the Global bulldozer.

What local is this? Small and powerful. Quaint and arrogant. With sophisticated security worked into old Gothic doors. That toys with Global remote control. That can spare the extra dollar to buy fair trade coffee and farmer's vegetables. And heads out to learn about quaint worlds with the Peace Corps. All the while keeping its localhood protected. No Coke bulldozer rolls up here for water, no sweatshop to stitch up jeans. New England defoliates in anticipation of winter- in beauty and dignity and quaintness. Keeping its hands firmly on the Global remote control.