UNCEASING WAVES

Diversity – Again!

Posted in International by Karthick RM on November 23, 2017

As far as diversity goes, I find movies like Baywatch, Fate of the Furious, Central Intelligence, Ocean’s Eleven etc a lot more genuine, down to earth in their approach to race and representation. While ‘people of color’ are given key, even lead roles to play, its not an in-your-face sort of cynical gesture towards diversity. The colors of the human community are a given fact in such movies, neither frivolously celebrated nor condescendingly patronized. On the other hand, politically correct crap reaches its nadir in Superhero movies, especially the Marvel ones where you know that the inclusive gestures are just calculated market strategies to reach out to a growing non-White audience (much like the decision of Barbie to manufacture faceless dolls in hijabs). Funniest among all of this was to see Idris Elba thrown at us as a Norse god in the Thor series. The argument for this was that when Ben Kingsley could play Gandhi why not this? The counter-argument would be to suggest that a ‘person of color’ be cast as Himmler, or even Hitler, in a future movie on the Nazis. Why not? To deny that POCs can be evil is also a sort of race fetishization. And if history and myth can be re-written to suit fragile postmodern senses, one must give full scope to the several ridiculous manners in which representations can be made.

On a more poignant note, the highest subversive point of the Hollywood multiculti left will be when they let a Black man play the role of Batman. That is what we need the most in the Trump era.

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The Not So Curious Case for Colonialism

Posted in International by Karthick RM on November 23, 2017

A policeman who tells that “we only kill negros” is a racist; but the policeman who shoots dead “a black male suspect who is possibly armed and dangerous” is doing his duty. A CIA agent who uses torture is a bad guy; but the agent who uses “advanced interrogation techniques” is a good guy. Defending misogyny is bad; but you can defend the “subversive potential of rap” and other mass culture crap. Advocating the treatment of women as chattel-slaves is bad; Defending islamic sharia as a “minority right” is seen as a moral duty.

This is the context in which Bruce Gilley wrote his theoretically crappy article called “The case for colonialism” which is now the subject of much controversy. Gilley, despite being an American academic, is not familiar with the rules of the game. He could have written more or less the same thing and gotten away with it had he only titled it differently – some possible alternate titles below…

“The case for humanitarian intervention”, “The case for human rights”, “The case for free-trade agreements”, “The case for diversity in Walmart”, “The case for strategic co-operation in the Asia-Pacific” and so on. Not only would he have not been criticized, he could have also been felicitated at prestigious universities in the West.

Such is the world.

22554746_1335933249849486_8660643457187021818_nAnyway, this poorly written article defending colonialism in the journal Third World Quarterly led to mass resignation from the journal’s editorial board. There were quite some sober and strong theoretical criticisms of the article, but some allegations were the usual “I am offended, therefore this article is wrong, and therefore it should be removed.” It turns out that Taylor & Francis has taken down the article, but not because the article was substandard, but owing to the journal editor getting “credible threats of personal violence.” Great way to end this debate I say. But if this is the attitude the offended among the marginalized are going to adopt and if left-liberal intellectuals are going to remain silent about it, one should also not criticize the right-wing lumpens (Hindu, Islamic, White etc) shutting down what offends them. Besides, right-wingers are professionals at being offended and using that as an excuse to be on the offensive. They can play better at this game and beat you at it.

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What is Transgressive? What is Offensive?

Posted in General by Karthick RM on November 23, 2017

There is this collection of short stories called “Little Birds” which is quite explicit in its treatment of sex and sexuality. And there is one particular story where a woman describes being taken by a man in a crowd as she goes to witness a public execution, without the man ever asking for her consent; she first submits passively, and eventually enjoys it. Then there is this other story of a bisexual woman more or less drugging her lesbian friend to get the latter to have intercourse with a man. And another about a married man fantasizing about and eventually exposing himself to schoolgirls. Other stories too are filled with stuff which would greatly offend the campus liberal’s mind.

Here is a thought experiment: should one introduce this collection to a lib-left student crowd and say that it was written by Bataille, there would be explicit disgust, if not outrage at coarseness and vulgarity and, of course, white cis-gendered male entitlement.

But reveal that these stories were written by Anais Nin, and the stories become transgressive feminist erotica.

Should art be evaluated by its content or by the identity of the artist? Can transgressive content be only the prerogative of those who have had the actual experience of transgression? Can artistic creativity be reduced to one’s immediate or obvious identification? If one’s representation of others is constructed, isn’t one’s representation of self equally so? And if representation is to be critiqued, again, shouldn’t the focus be on the content and form of the art rather than on which race or gender the creator was born into?

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Istvan Meszaros

Posted in General by Karthick RM on October 4, 2017

15-04-20-mc3a9szc3a1ros-o-globoIstvan Meszaros, one of the most important Marxist philosophers of our times, passed away on 1st October. I was introduced to his writing through his “The Work of Sartre: Search for Freedom”, one of the finest theoretical commentaries on Sartre, which I engaged with in my thesis. His prose was dry and often obtuse, but rich with critical insights. This book is also a good example of how to do intellectual history. I had planned to read his “Marx’s Theory of Alienation” earlier this year, but owing to other projects, this was put on the back-burner. I hope to begin that soon in Meszaros’ honor.

In an interview about 2 years back he said “There can be no such thing as “historical inevitability” in the direction of the future. History is open-ended, for the better or worse” and further that “The greatest and most perilous irony of modern history is that the once championed “productive destruction” has become in the descending phase of capital’s systemic development an ever more untenable destructive production, both in the field of commodity production and in the domain of nature, complemented by the ultimate threat of military destruction in defence of the established order. That is why the socialist alternative is not only possible – in the earlier mentioned sense of its historical sustainability – but also necessary, in the interest of humanity’s survival.”

Let us work towards that socialist alternative. Even better, let us properly theorize it.

Rest in Power Istvan Meszaros. See you in communism.

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Catalonia, Spain, and Franco’s Legacy

Posted in International, Politics by Karthick RM on October 4, 2017

22050364_1319696978139780_8646897719101201698_nAs Catalonia voted for independence, and as Spain unleashed police brutalities on Catalan voters, let us remember the legacy of this gentleman, Francisco Franco. Because it is his legacy that forms a part of Spain’s desire to maintain itself as a unitary state.

Where right-wingers peddle irrational lies, both liberals and the left peddle rational ones. One of the dirtiest lies of the previous century was that WW-II saw the defeat of fascism. Well, German and Italian fascists were defeated for sure, but Spain under Franco was a fascist fortress till the dictator’s death in 1975. Not only was the Generalissimo covertly helped by the US-UK as a buffer against Soviet Socialism, Soviet Socialism’s stooges destroyed the fight against fascism from within by focusing more on eliminating the anarchists than on fighting the fascists. Fascism requires several things to succeed, one of the key things being misplaced priorities of the leftist camp who often score same-side goals.

And it is also interesting to see how little critical literature there is on the Spanish brand of fascism. (Interested to know some good titles if someone can suggest any.) Because I think understanding the victorious brand of fascism in the previous century is more important to critique right-wing movements today rather than lazy reductio ad hitlerum fallacies, i.e., the tendency to equate any despised figure with Hitler, a failed fascist.

Much of Spain’s anti-referendum approach, from right-wingers and liberals alike, stems out of the foundation of Spanish nationalism that Franco cemented. The Catalonian referendum is a challenge to this legacy. Let the will of the Catalan people triumph!

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Rest In Power Mehmet Aksoy

Posted in Liberation Struggles by Karthick RM on October 4, 2017

Mehmet Aksoy It was a horrible shock to hear the news that my good friend and comrade Mehmet Aksoy had been martyred at the hands of the ISIS. I have known Mehmet for over five years. When I was in the UK, I had worked with him on building solidarity between the Kurdish and the Tamil struggles. I admired his piercing political clarity, uncompromising commitment to the struggle of his people, and his principled approach to fellow oppressed nations. The Kurdish people have lost a great activist and the Tamils a great comrade.

The last time we met in 2015, he said that I should join with him on a trip to Rojava to study the movement there first hand. This was not to happen as I had to return. I do hope to visit Rojava, the most important site of Revolution in the 21st century, at some point of time in the future. But this will be a trip without dear Mehmet.

Here is a video where I had interviewed him for TamilNet. Comrade Aksoy’s poignant words still echo:

“The system that oppresses us is global. The system that oppresses us is united and in solidarity with each other. So we need to be in solidarity with each other against the same system that oppresses us. The Tamil national liberation struggle is a case in point. Your enemies are our enemies.”

Salutes to you my friend! Your martyrdom will be avenged by the victorious Revolution of the Kurdish people.

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The Ainkurunuru

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on September 1, 2017

9780231150651A fascinating work. Though the poems are concerned with the ‘interior landscape’ of individuals – love, sex, the home, the family, separation, longing, ecstasy, frustration, contentment – they also throw light on the geography of the Tamil world two millennia back. Centered around the heterosexual couple, a key character in these poems is the “thozhi”, or the female friend of the heroine, who not only acts as messenger between the couple in times of distress, but also functions as a sort of a marriage and relationship counselor. (The vulgar modern day equivalent of the thozhi of course is the “nanben da”, the duffer-friend of the hero of Tamil cinema who crudely takes on the role of the thozhi. Remember Vivek or Santhanam.)

Selby has done a brilliant translation of the Ainkurunuru. Tamils should be eternally grateful to these ‘westerners’ who have taken our classics to the wider world, and have also opened windows to the aesthetics of the ancient Tamil world to those Tamils who have lost touch with their language (I partially include myself in this list) but are keen to learn about their own culture. Anyone interested in Tamil history, anyone interested in poetry, and anyone interested in love must own a copy of this book.

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Confession

Posted in General by Karthick RM on January 19, 2017

In Absolute Recoil, Zizek makes extensive reference to Hayden White’s Metahistory. I recollected that this was a core reading in my MA history course at JNU. However, JNU was an ‘infantile disorder’ phase for me (a phase that several of my ex-comrades have been unable to grow out of). To me at that time, White along with several other critical historiographers were bourgeois and I studiously avoided studying them, gorging instead on Mao. To be honest, anyone whose language was too complicated was bourgeois to me. Though I grew out of juvenile ultra-leftist leanings by the last semester at JNU, this anti-intellectualist leaning continued into my PhD. Fortunately, a good friend and a great activist advised me to take theory seriously – in quite harsh words. It was the sting I required, without which I might have been immersed in effete activism and not have finished my PhD in time. Of course, I do not regret the experience gained by activism, but I think I got that at the cost of valuable knowledge in the classroom. Of my very few regrets in life, the top most would be not reading Lacan when I had the time and chance! I guess I understood my true calling a bit late, but early enough to make amends. I am an academic with a cause, not an academic in a cause. And as my guru Zizek advised many a time, I have fully overcome the seduction to act! So I think…

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Finishing Don Quixote!

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on December 29, 2016

Akira Kurosawa says somewhere that to have lived on the earth without having seen a Satyajit Ray movie is to have lived without seeing the sun and the moon. I would use this quite hyperbolic statement for a person who has lived a literate life without reading Cervantes’ masterpiece. I began reading Don Quixote in November 2015 – I finally finished it today! Reading this book was like working on my dissertation’s chapters, most of which I began working on just 2 weeks before the deadline. I had ample time to complete reading this classic novel. But in between, I read several other shorter books and short stories, cleared my viva and got my PhD, got my first peer-reviewed journal article published, presented at two big conferences, wrote book reviews, got a job, shifted my home to another city, and fell in love and got married!

Eventually in November this year, after only finishing about 400 pages of a 932 page book, I decided I will close this novel and get back to it later in life, having not completed it for over a year. However, when it comes to reading novels, there is nothing I detest as much as closing a book without finishing it (the only exception to this rule is James Joyce’s Ulysses – I tried reading it during the 2nd year of my PhD but decided after 30 pages that it was a novel for me when I am 40). So, in the last two weeks, I managed to finish the remainder of the book. Really, reading such a work requires commitment to continuity and discipline. And what a novel! While my general mood is misanthropic, it is works like these that makes one root for human civilization.

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On Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on December 12, 2016

Read full article on The Wire

“Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK is not hostile towards any minority or ethnic group and does not claim to represent any nationalism or ethnocentrism. It even eschews the progressive anti-Brahminism of the erstwhile Dravidian movement and claims to represent all sections, upper-caste and lower-caste alike. Although it has a strong base among the Thevar castes, AIADMK also enjoys considerable popularity among other intermediate and lower castes, as proven by its win over the Vanniyar-based PMK and the Adidravida-based VCK in the recent elections.

The AIADMK is also not anti-Communist in its discourse since its Puratchi Thalaivar (revolutionary leader) MGR and his protégé Jayalalithaa, the Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader, feminised), claim to be spearheading societal progress and change. In practice, neither MGR nor Jayalalithaa have allowed any form of trade unionism to emerge under their rule. For instance, brutal police operations against Naxal supporters under MGR’s rule caused no public outrage. Likewise, whenever parliamentary communist parties have fought elections against Jayalalithaa, they have been  faced with electoral decimation.

That leaves only the DMK as a powerful and credible challenge to the AIADMK. If the party is consistent on one thing, it is its opposition to the DMK and even this is not on ideological grounds; it only claims to be a better DMK.

AIADMK is marked by an explicit absence of ideology. But then, it is only in its absence that ideology becomes most imminent.”

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