UNCEASING WAVES

Some Comments on The Purananuru

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on December 2, 2017

1. On Amazon.in, the cheapest copy of the best English translation of The Purananuru (Trans. George L Hart and Hank Heifetz. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999) available is at Rs. 1670 (last time I checked). I got my as-good-as-new copy at a second hand book store in the UK for 2.50 £, roughly Rs. 220. Lucky me!

2. This work of poetry is also a passageway into the world of the ancient Tamils, a people who celebrated war, love, meat-eating, wine, knowledge, and generosity. And the poems indicate a strong sense of ‘Tamilness’ in terms of a people and a geography.

3. Martial ferocity is praised. So is compassion, charity & righteousness. The strong and wealthy are urged to provide for the weak and needy.

4. Providing for agrarian prosperity, building dams, protecting order in trade and society and curtailing banditry are considered desirable qualities of kings. And the Sovereign is considered ‘the life of the world’.

5. The poems are thoroughly secular in nature, though there are occasional references to gods, including Brahminical ones like Rama – Ravanan is referred to as an ‘arakkan’, translated as ‘demon’. The first poem is an ode to Shiva. Murugan is the most referenced god in the poems.

6. There is clear reference to Brahmins who are learned in the Vedas, who are considered as holy as cows, and who are deserving of protection and gifts. Likewise, there are also vague references to the ‘low born’. (But a Tamil scholar recently told me that the system of caste in the Tamil land as we know it today originated only after the fall of Cholas.)

7. Chastity and purity of ‘women of the house’ is glorified. At least one poem attests to the practice of Sati.

8. Though it appears that war and wealth are praised, a closer reading also suggests a stoic asceticism of the poets.

9. The most celebrated animal in these poems is the Tiger. No wonder…

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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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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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Unpacking My Library

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on November 12, 2016

Read full essay at Outlook.  

“Even with help from my partner, it took me two full days to unpack and arrange my books. While surveying them in the process of writing this article, I couldn’t help but wonder why some books were placed here and not there, why have I purchased the same book twice, why have I not yet opened some books, why have I not yet finished the books I have opened, why are there some books still on the market and not on my shelf… The book collecting passion is not just a “chaos of memories” as Benjamin said; it is also a chaos of the future. Gaps in my bookracks gape at me, demanding to be filled. The last book to be added to my philosophy shelf and thereby filling it was Leszek Kolakowski’s Is God Happy? And now, I need to create more space for future philosophy books without disturbing the order that I have established. Or maybe I will introduce a little anarchy…”

 

 

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A Few Good Men like the American Liberal and the Indian Liberal

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on November 3, 2016

14907093_1007164592726355_5738480194756239295_nIt is a shame to confess this, but I watched A Few Good Men for the first time only a few days back. The American courtroom drama captures the political drama between the American Liberal and the American Right-Winger that has been playing out for several decades now. If Jack Nicholson militarist diatribe in the famous “You cant handle the truth” scene was powerful, so was Tom Cruise’s prosecution of the accused. Both men stood for the American ideal; they just interpreted it differently. But the American Liberal is willing to fight for his ideals, even though he might not understand the nature of the same. The transformation of Cruise’s character in the movie from frivolous to serious is a commentary on how the liberal would rise up to the occasion to save the system from its unwanted (but necessary) elements. And as much as we may find them annoying, many American liberals are serious in their opposition to the Right.

14568087_1007164549393026_1664785442703190775_nFlashback to Shaurya. I watched this movie a few years back, knowing that it was a remake of the above flick. Now this is an Indian courtroom drama with Rahul Bose playing Cruise and Kay Kay Menon playing Nicholson. Menon was spellbinding; every frame he appears in reeks of power. His militarist rant, with a mixture of blind patriotism and personal tragedy, effectively shows him as a man of principles, however bad they may be. (Kay Kay Menon is a dangerous actor: In Gulaal, he had my support for free Rajputana!) Menon was a worthy choice to play Nicholson’s role. On the other hand, Rahul Bose had not 1% of the passion or intensity of Cruise’s character. Like the Indian liberal, his character is visibly – politically incorrect terms ahead – emasculated and impotent. And yet he wins by trickery, and proceeds to give a banal monologue about Indian secular values, which even he doesnt seem to be convinced about. But in reality, the Indian liberal will never put up a fight against the Indian militarist because, like Bose’s character, they have no conviction and reality is no courtroom drama where such easy victories are scored.

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Trump, Clinton, and Jurassic World

Posted in International by Karthick RM on August 19, 2016

How to understand the ‘to defeat Trump, we need to ally with Clinton’ argument? Through Hollywood of course!

In Jurassic World, you have the cruel genetically altered mega-monster Indominus Rex which goes on an indiscriminate killing spree of anyone in its path. So, to defeat it, the humans ‘strategically ally’ with Tyrannosaurus Rex (which is also a genetically altered monster that wreaked havoc in earlier movies, but that history is conveniently forgotten). In the climax, T Rex saves the humans from Indominus Rex and rules over Jurassic World like a triumphant, well um, liberal democrat. But a radical ending to this movie would have been to show T Rex defeating Indominus Rex and proceeding to eat the humans.

That would have been a fitting commentary on the Clinton supporters. Because in real life, the ‘humans’ are Bernie Sanders and co.

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