Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Bard among the Marxists

By M. L. Raina

Marxist Shakespeares
Edited by Jean Howard& Scot Cutler Shershow
Routledge, London & New York
Pages xii+304. $27.95

“Others abide our question/Thou art free”—Matthew Arnold.

Is he, really? Quite often, the bard has been wheeled around in the shopping trolleys of gossip and rumour-mongers, ideologues and sundry other interpreters, and, in our time, the peddlers of post-modern, post-structuralist, new historicist and feminist merchandise. He has been deglamourised and brought down from his pedestal by critics, stage directors and film makers. We are asked not to look up to him but to see beyond his myth.

As a student I read my Shakespeare in ignorance of Ernest Jones’s Freudian speculations and Laurence Olivier’s guilt-ridden rendering of Hamlet on film. We knew nothing of Sergei Bondarchuk’s film of Hamlet as a critique of the feudal age, nor did have access to John Gielgud, Paul Robeson, Ralph Richardson or Dame Sybil Thorndike renditions.
Suddenly, long after I passed out of university, Arnold Kettle and Deepak Nandy’s 400th anniversary tribute, Shakespeare in a Changing World appeared from Lawrence and Wishart in 1964. It is a measure of the acute historical myopia of the editors that this book does not find mention in the weighty bibliography of the book under discussion. The earlier book opened our eyes to new dimensions in the dramatist. It revealed Karl Marx’s own deep engagement with Shakespeare and his sensitivity to the social and political aspects of the plays. The same year the British National Theatre presented Laurence Olivier acting Othello in West Indian accents. Critics hailed the production as unique and crowds thronged to see the production in London. I and my family queued up a whole night outside Aldwych theatre’s box-office to buy tickets.

With Jan Kott’s Shakespeare Our Contemporary and Peter Brooks’s production of King Lear inspired by it, Marxist readings were combined with the perspective of the Theatre of the Absurd. A new generation of critics such as Kenneth Tynan in Britain, Boris Smirnov in the Soviet Union, C.L Barber in America and Robert Weimann in East Germany read the plays partly as folk theatre and partly as subversive texts indicting Elizabethan power structures. On the stage Edward Bond and Tom Stoppard derived their own political meanings from the plays. Bond’s Lear and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guilderstein are Dead are political adaptations and reinventions of Shakespeare, the latter adding an existential seam to the social meaning.

Though there were many interpretations of the Shakespearean canon and many stage and film adaptations, notably by Kurosawa (Ran, Thrones of Blood) and Roland Polanski (Macbeth), all of these were agreed on one basic point. All believed that Shakespeare was the author of these plays and that he had a singular grasp of human nature and his own society with all their comprehensive reach and depth and, most importantly, that he could render his times with uncanny skill not matched by his contemporaries and since. They believed, as did early Marxist critics, Arnold Kettle, Tony Jackson (Old Friends to Keep) and most recently Victor Kiernan, that ultimately, as Hamlet put it, ‘the play is the thing’.
The very title of the present book, however, indicates a fundamental shift in the reading and production of Shakespeare’s plays. Post-structuralism and deconstruction spawned yet more radical approaches. The text-based approach has now been fragmented into approaches of difference and diversity. Shakespeare himself has ceased to be regarded as the author of his texts. He has been ‘interpellated’ (to use an Althusserianism) into the discourse of his contemporary culture (pace Stephen Greenblatt). Brian Vickers sums up the fragmentation of Shakespearean interpretation in these words: “surely there must be something wrong with the critical method that produces the same reading. It ‘reduces’ or dissolves its subject in the same way in which Dr. Crippen…dissolves his victim’s bodies.”(Appropriating Shakespeare). A pretty horrific way of reacting to the colonization of Shakespeare by literary theory’s latest ram-raiders.

I do not think all the essays in the present book are exercises in dissolution, though quite a few are. There are some new valuable readings of ‘Measure for Measure’ and of the conventions of production, particularly in terms of Pierre Bourdieu’s theories. What are of considerable significance in this book are the two readings by Marx and Derrida of ‘Hamlet’. Of these more later.

Before we proceed to look at some of the essays it is worth asking what justification has been offered for the title. The editors lean on Stuart Hall’s well-known argument that since Marxism as a grand narrative no longer suffices as a programme of action, Marxists must come to terms with other critical discourses and try and work through them. “The complex relationship of power …is an easier term that exploitation”, Hall observes and goes on to add, “ these important central questions are what are meant by working within shouting distance of Marxism, working against Marxism, working with it, working to try to develop Marxism”. If we take Hall’s statement as a methodological resource to be used in understanding cultural artifacts such as Shakespeare’s plays, then we must speak of various Marxisms rather than of Marxist Shakespeares. As this book demonstrates, it is the same Shakespeare that the critics address, but different variations on Marxism provide the methodological tools.

The trouble with many essays in this book is their eclecticism, their forced marriage of various discourses other than Marxism that operate on one single historical entity, the Shakespeare play. The fragmentation of these discourses is transferred to Shakespeare himself whose work, in spite of diverse readings we bring to it, remains indivisible.

With these caveats in, it is time now to look at these essays more closely. As I said above, the really enlightening essays are by Peter Stallybrass and Richard Halperin. They are enlightening because they reflect on history through the vision of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. Stallybrass throws light on Karl Marx’s ‘Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’ by way of Marx’s invocation of ‘Hamlet’ ( a similar invocation is to be found in Clement Greenberg’s 1970 essay, also in the context of the ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’). Stallybrass says, “Marx pursues a double strategy…through the first strategy history is represented as a catastrophic decline from Napolean to Louis Bonaparte…In the second strategy the effect of repetition is to unsettle the status of the origin”. Marx recalls both Hamlet’s advice to Yorrick’s skull and Robin Goodfellow to burrow into bourgeois hypocrisies and to prepare for revolution. Connecting literature with history offers a solid homology between the two without compromising the uniqueness of the Shakespearean text. Neither Marx nor Hamlet has been diminished in this mutual critique. Just as Hamlet’s father unsettles Denmark’s shaky order, Louis Bonaparte’s presence in France threatens the powers that be there. Stallybrass’s perceived connections make many references clear and shore up our faith in the genuine Marxist methodology of connecting the text and the world.

Richard Halpern makes a strategic manoeuvre through ‘Hamlet’ to deconstruct Derrida’s denigration of Marxism. In his controversial Spectres of Marx, Derrida turns largely on Hamlet’s line ‘time is out of joint’ and reads the play as a ghost story in which the self-sufficiency of the present is undone by the spectres of the past. As a lover of of verbal puns and pranks, Derrida celebrates the specters, the ghosts ‘as they survive the collapse of Communism’. But far from endorsing Marxism, Derrida denounces Marx’s own meta-narrative as a ‘totalistic’ programme. Halpern rightly sees the ruse and exposes it. Derrida reduces Marx to a hollow messiah even as harnesses these ‘specttres’ in the service of his anti-Communist ideology.

The other essays are instances of the old New Historicism yet again. They regard Shakespeare not as a representative writer of his age, but as another instance of the discourse energy ‘circulating’ in the period and present in all writers as well as in other social formations. Marxism is not the guiding principle here nor are class interests the motivating energies. But debunking Shakespeare is. Reducing the bard to a mere discourse is. These essays are more Foucaldian than Marxist, and to call them Marxist is to stand Marxism on its head.
The essay on ‘Othello’ shows the method with all its gains and forfeits. The author takes a hard look at Dedemona’s handkerchief and removes the veil of sentiment surrounding this object given as love-token by Othello to his wife. Laborious research by the author reveals the handkerchief to be a product of female labour which did not receive fair compensation from the contemporary patriarchal order.

By transferring a product of female labour to mere domesticity, Shakespeare is accused of participating in the patriarchal discourse. I call this a crude but ingenious way of yoking forcibly together Marxism and feminism with all the privileges reserved for the latter. It tells a lot about feminism’s agenda, but precious little about the play. But then such readings further expose feminism’s narrowness of critical range.

Similarly the essay on ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ uses the idea of the male gaze to supervise the male property, the wife. Here the author celebrates the ways in which the women bring down the male predator in the manner of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. The essay on the management of mirth draws upon Bourdieu’s ideas of class and distinction to account for the status of players in the Elizabethan theatre. Ingenious and adroit, these essays yet skirt round the plays.

The essay on the Globe theatre is a text-book account of the theatre house and its hierarchical seating arrangements reflecting the hierarchical order of the contemporary society. The essay on ‘Shakespeare and Film’ reveals the homogenizing trends of the American popular culture which pays lip service to multiculturalism but is moved by the profit motive alone. In other words it shows how Hollywood appropriates the dramatist to its own commercial purposes.

By far the most appealing essay for me is the one on ‘Measure for Measure’. It respects the utopian elements in Marxist thought by recalling Herbert Marcuse’s statement in his Aesthetic Dimension to the effect that art embodies futuristic traits in its critique of the present. It also emphasizes Shakespeare’s prophetic qualities in that it exposes the cant inherent in the contemporary notions of justice. ‘Measure for Measure’ comes clean about its implication in the structure of subjection it depicts, inciting us ‘to be wary of art’s complicity with power’. This statement is understood in relation with Shakespeare’s grasp of the intricacies of domination practiced by the Duke behind the mask of mercy. It is the mask that reveals the reality, a paradox Shakespeare revels in.

Marxism, as Perry Anderson reminds us, is the best method of relating Capitalism to culture in our time and its utopian element is still valid in spite of recent setbacks in Russia and Eastern Europe. Oscar Wilde believes that ‘the map of the world without utopia is not worth looking at’. Marxist theory and practice, despite current failures, keep us orientated towards the future. Perhaps this is why Marx set such great store by Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians.

Shakespeare’s myriad-mindedness calls forth equal resources of knowledge from his readers and Marx himself was a prodigious reader. So, ironically, are the new historicists (see Stephen Greenblatt’s recent Hamlet in Purgatory). But unfortunately they read beyond Shakespeare into a different territory, the bard being incidental to their extra-literal project. That, as the wheedling, incorrigible but always lovable Falstaff would have said, is a thousand pities!

M. L. Raina

Saturday, December 20, 2008

You Never Know What You’ll Find in a Book



We may never fully understand what prompts people to leave unusual objects inside books. I speak of the slice of fried bacon that the novelist Reynolds Price once found nestled within the pages of a volume in the Duke University library. I speak of the letter that ran: “Do not write to me as Gail Edwards. They know me as Andrea Smith here,” which the playwright Mark O’Donnell found some years ago in a used paperback. I speak of any of those bizarre objects — scissors, a used Q-tip, a bullet, a baby’s tooth, drugs, pornography and 40 $1,000 bills — that have been discovered by the employees of secondhand bookstores, according to The Wall Street Journal and Mystery surrounds these deposits like darkness.

But the motives of some depositors — the novelist David Bowman, for instance — are knowable. “I was cleaning out a drawer and thought, Let’s do something with this,” Bowman said of the day four years ago when he stumbled upon all of the rejection letters from agents and editors about his first novel, “Let the Dog Drive” (1993). “Some of the letters were nasty,” he said in a phone interview. So Bowman scooped them up, tucked them in between the pages of a first edition of the book and sold the noxious bundle to the Strand, New York City’s famous used-book store. “It was very liberating,” Bowman said. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Bowman’s quest for vengeance is on the far end of the book-stuffing spectrum. More commonly, the stuffers are trying to create an aide-mémoire for themselves. “I have filled books with flowers I’ve received, to save the ­flowers in dried form and to remember the happy moment of receiving them,” Anne Rice said in an e-mail message. After Wayne Koestenbaum interviewed Vanessa Redgrave at a hotel bar about her role in the movie “Mrs. Dalloway,” he took Redgrave’s lipsticky napkin and placed it in the paperback copy of the novel he’d brought with him. That Redgrave’s lipstick traces might have besmirched his book seems not to have fazed him. “I might have also taken her swizzle stick,” he confessed.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Interview: Uwem Akpan

The Nigerian writer talks about literature and faith

I’m fascinated with the process of creating a character and the freedom of the creative process. I’m discovering as well, learning myself. Since I only realized I had the gift ten years ago, I felt I needed to develop this. I also like fiction because it is not doctrinaire. It is exploratory and you are invited to come and see, just like Jesus first invited would-be disciples to ‘come and see’. What you do after seeing is left to you.

... ... ... ...

For example, when I read in newspapers that one million Rwandese were killed by their compatriots, it makes no sense to me. I have not seen a million people before. For me to even begin to understand, I may have to see how one person was killed and how much propaganda went into such an act. And if I hear someone sacrificed her life for another person, I try to work out in my mind how this was possible.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Democracy in India

Fifteen Theses

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

If democracy in India has not failed dramatically, this may not mean it has succeeded beyond question. Failures need not be absolute. The absence of one or more disasters in the short history of a democracy might screen from view some subtler and larger failure. Acknowledging the possibility of such a failure would require us to reconsider the very terms in which the public discourse of democracy is conducted.

If democracy is a particular “form of government”, the “form” may be still in good shape and yet all may not be well.

There is a danger in envisaging democracy as a state of affairs that comes to obtain for ever or long. The end of democracy does not necessarily mean, as Plato surmised, its replacement by some other form of government. Democracy may retain its form and yet have been undone. In the age of universal democracy, the real threat to democracies lurks within and in the realm of the universal. Hence the need to interrogate the popular truths of the time.

Democracy may be better thought of as a process without closure, in recognition of the inevitability of difference(s) (Bonnie Honig); as a “project” (Wolin 1996) that commits the citizenry to a democracy to come (Derrida); and as an “event” (Badiou and Ranciere) which can (be made to) recur sporadically and, every time, differently.

There is a link, though little explored, between the political democracy and the society, particularly the family. In a society where tradition remains strong, this link may be defined by a relationship of tension. Owing to the actual inseparability of the political and the social, the modern institution of political democracy and the traditional social institutions may coexist in unmitigated, albeit low-intensity, conflict. For instance, if the structures of the family happen to be authoritarian, these may haunt the political institution of democracy, tainting and even paralyzing it. On the other hand, for the political democracy to succeed it may be indispensable for the society at large to be democratized. Acceptance of democracy in the realm of the political does not necessarily entail its acceptance in the realm of the social. And that has consequences.

Pedagogies and poetics exercise a far greater force in the actual functioning of a democracy than is usually conceded. The pedagogic scenario, for instance, tends to be re-enacted on the stage of political democracy. In these times when the political can no longer be sliced off from the cultural, the “deliberative model” advocated by Habermas needs redefining in terms of the maximum cultural context. A communicative democracy is an affair of more than critical-rational exchange. As Iris Marion Young has suggestively pointed out, it should also include “greeting, rhetoric, and story-telling”. After all, for the demos, the critical rational discourse may not be the sole legitimate discourse. A democratic understanding of the discourse of democracy has to be undertaken as a task.

The aforementioned task, competently undertaken, can additionally help understand the short-circuiting of critical reason through demagoguery in which communication operates at sub-rational frequencies.

When free, hyper-competitive media co-exist with a feeble and atrophying public sphere, there is a risk of democracy being reduced to consumerism. In such a scenario, commodities may mask themselves as news and public issues. Democracy may then have entered the spectacle and gone to sleep. How does one wake it up when a waking might only be part of the dream? How does democracy return from the spectacle?

The essential vital energies of democracy can seek gratification by flowing into the channels of mass (tele-)bhakti culture, sapping democracy and feeding new fascisms.

“Inverted totalitarianism” as “the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry” (Wolin 2008) finds convenient instruments in technologies of control, including those of entertainment.

A society needs to reflect, as a society, on the uses it would make of available technologies. A democratic society needs to do this all the more. The emerging information ecologies have the potential to inflict serious harm on the democratic political ecologies. Informationalism is more than an ideology of information. Information pollution can play havoc with democratic political ideologies. The latter may not be equipped to handle the overproduction of information by way of critique.

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) may turn out to be a mere metaphor for the very real Bio-Political Organization (BPO).

Democracy may breed a parallel political economy, not essentially different from a parallel economy and even symbiotically bonded with it. In a world in which the economic comes to occupy all visibility, the withering and demise of the political may go unnoticed. Democracy's shadow political economy may gradually eat up democracy. Wolin's “managed democracy” (2008) would be an inadequate conceptualization of the real thing. One can see and conceptualize the corporatist threat to democracy, but the witch's brew of shadow economy and shadow political economy, whether mixed or unmixed with corporatism, could be utterly invisible and blinding.

A democracy may need crises of the scale of disasters to feed on. Our democracy is hopeless!/Our only hope is democracy! Events such as the Kandhamal violence and the 2008 economic meltdown may simultaneously reveal that something is terribly wrong with our democracy and yet proclaim, with a weird ironic twist, that democracy alone can set things right.

Even democracies do not easily outgrow the urge to deliver shock treatment to people.

As the political events in the wake of the November 2008 terrorist assault on Mumbai indicate, democracy can become an inexhaustible source of alibis for exploitation by those in power for not acting decisively in people's interest.

The urgency to seek the causes of the concentration camp in the very structures of modern societies remains undiminished (Agamben). The loose usage of the term 'democracy' as a universal slogan requires monitoring and interrogation. Ceaseless endeavour to define 'democracy' with rigour and precision is necessary if democracy is not to slip into the abyss that yawns at the very heart of law.

Woks Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without End: Notes on Politics. Trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P, 2000. 36.
Badiou, Alain. “The Event in Deleuze.” Trans. Jon Roffe. Parrehesia 2 (2007): 37-44.
Beardsworth, Richard. Introduction. Derrida and the Political. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. xvi.
Benhabib, Seyla. Ed. Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political. New Jersey: Princeton, 1996.
Habermas, Jürgen. “Three Normative Models of Democracy.” Behabib 21-30.
Honig, Bonnie. “Difference, Dilemmas, and the Politics of Home.” Benhabib 257-77.
Rancière, Jacques. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Trans. Julie Rose. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999.
Wolin, Sheldon S. “Fugitive Democracy.” Benhabib 31-45.
---. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalinarianism. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton U P, 2008.
Young, Iris Marion. “Communication and the Other: Beyond Deliberative Democracy.” Benhabib 120-35.

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Friday, November 28, 2008

badiou on the financial crisis

Of Which Real is this Crisis the Spectacle? Alain Badiou, Le Monde, 17/10/08.

As it is presented to us, the planetary financial crisis resembles one of those bad films concocted by that factory for the production of pre-packaged blockbusters that today we call the "cinema". Nothing is missing, the spectacle of mounting disaster, the feeling of being suspended from enormous puppet-strings, the exoticism of the identical – the Bourse of Jakarta placed under the same spectacular rubric as New York, the diagonal from Moscow to Sao Paulo, everywhere the same fire ravaging the same banks – not to mention terrifying plotlines: it is impossible to avert Black Friday, everything is collapsing, everything will collapse...

But hope abides. In the foreground, wild-eyed and focussed, like in a disaster movie, we see the small gang of the powerful – Sarkozy, Paulson, Merkel, Brown, Trichet and others – trying to extinguish the monetary flames, stuffing tens of billions into the central Hole. We will have time later to wonder (the saga will surely continue) where these billions come from, given that for some years, at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn't a cent. For the time being, it doesn't matter. "Save the banks!" This noble, humanist and democratic cry surges forth from the mouths of every journalist and politician. Save them at any price! It's worth pointing this out, since the price is not insignificant.

I have to confess: given the numbers that are being bandied about, whose meaning, like almost everyone else, I am incapable of representing to myself (what exactly is one thousand four hundred billion euros?), I too am confident. I put my full trust in our firemen. All together, I am sure, I can feel it, they will succeed. The banks will be even greater than before, while some of the smaller or medium-sized ones, having only been able to survive through the benevolence of states, will be sold to the bigger ones for a pittance. The collapse of capitalism? You must be kidding. Who wants it, after all? Who even knows what it would mean? Let's save the banks, I tell you, and the rest will follow.
For the film's immediate protagonists – the rich, their servants, their parasites, those who envy them and those who acclaim them – a happy ending, perhaps a slightly melancholy one, is inevitable, bearing in mind the current state of the world, and the kinds of politics that take place within it.

Let us turn instead to the spectators of this show, the dumbstruck crowd who - vaguely unsettled, understanding little, totally disconnected from any active engagement in the situation - hears, like a far-off noise, the mort* of the cornered banks. This crowd can only guess at the exhausting weekends of our heroic small team of heads of government. It sees, passing before it, numbers as enormous as they are obscure, automatically comparing them to its own resources, or even, for a very considerable part of humanity, to the pure and simple non-resource which is the bitter and courageous basis of its very life. That's where the real is, and we will only be able to access it if we turn away from the screen of the spectacle in order to consider the invisible mass of those for whom this disaster movie, its saccharine ending included (Sarkozy kisses Merkel, and the whole world weeps for joy), was only ever a shadow-play.

In these past few weeks we have heard a lot about the "real economy" (the production and circulation of goods) and the – how should we call it? unreal? – economy which is the source of all evils, in that its agents had become "irresponsible", "irrational" and "predatory" – fuelling, first rapaciously, then in a panic, the now formless mass of stocks, securities and currencies. This distinction is obviously absurd, and is generally immediately contradicted, when, by way of an opposite metaphor, financial circulation and speculation are presented as the 'circulatory system' of capitalism. Are heart and blood perhaps subtracted from the living reality of a body? Is a financial stroke indifferent to the health of the economy as a whole? As we know, financial capitalism has always – which is to say for the past five centuries – been a major, central component of capitalism in general. As for the owners and managers of this system, by definition they are only "responsible" for profits, their "rationality" is to be measured by their earnings, and it is not just that they are predators, but that they have to be.

Accordingly, we do not find anything more "real" in the engine-room of capitalist production than on its commercial decks or in its speculative cabins. The last two in any case corrupt the first: in their crushing majority, the objects produced by this type of machinery – being aimed solely at profit, and at the derivative speculations which form the fastest and most considerable part of this profit – are ugly, cumbersome, inconvenient, useless, and it is necessary to spend billions to persuade people otherwise. This presupposes that people be transformed into spoiled children, eternal adolescents, whose existence merely consists in changing toys.

The return to the real cannot be a movement leading from bad "irrational" speculation back to healthy production. It is the return to the immediate and reflective life of all those who inhabit this world. It is from that vantage-point that one can observe capitalism without flinching, including the disaster movie that it is currently inflicting upon us. The real is not this movie, but its audience.

So what do we see, if we turn things around in this way? We see, and this is what it means to see, simple things that we've known for a long time: capitalism is nothing but robbery, irrational in its essence and devastating in its development. Its few short decades of savagely unequal prosperity have always been at the cost of crises in which astronomical quantities of value disappear, bloody punitive expeditions into every zone that capitalism judges either strategically important or threatening, and world wars that brought it back to health.

Here lies the didactic force in looking at this crisis-film. Faced with the life of the people watching it, do we still dare to pride ourselves in a system which delegates the organisation of collective life to the basest of drives – greed, rivalry, unthinking selfishness? Can we sing the praises of a "democracy" whose leaders do the bidding of private financial appropriation with such impunity that they would shock Marx himself, who nevertheless already defined governments, a hundred and sixty years ago, as "the agents of capital"? The ordinary citizen must ‘understand’ that it is impossible to make up the shortfall in social security, but that it is imperative to stuff untold billions into the banks’ financial hole? We must sombrely accept that no one imagines any longer that it’s possible to nationalise a factory hounded by competition, a factory employing thousands of workers, but that it is obvious to do so for a bank made penniless by speculation?

In this business, the real is to be found on the hither side of the crisis.
For where does this entire financial phantasmagoria come from? Simply from the fact that, by dangling miraculous credits before their eyes, people devoid of the means to afford them were browbeaten into buying flashy houses. These people’s IOUs were then sold on, mixing them, as one does with sophisticated drugs, with financial securities whose composition was rendered as scientific as it is opaque by battalions of mathematicians. All of this then circulated, from sale to sale, its value increasing, in ever more distant banks. Yes, the material measure for this circulation was to be found in the houses. But it was enough for the real estate market to go bust and, as this measure became less valuable and the creditors demanded more, for the buyers to be less and less able to pay their debts. And when finally they couldn’t pay them at all, the drug injected into the financial securities poisoned them all: they were no longer worth anything. But this only seems to be a zero-sum game: the speculator loses his wager and the buyers their homes, from which they are politely evicted. But the real of this zero-sum game is as always on the side of the collective, of ordinary life: in the end, everything stems from the fact that there exist millions of people whose wages, or absence thereof, means that they are absolutely unable to house themselves. The real essence of the financial crisis is a housing crisis. And those who can’t find a home are by no means the bankers. It is always necessary to go back to ordinary existence.

The only thing that we can hope for in this affair is that this didactic power may be found in the lessons drawn from this grim drama by people, and not by the bankers, the governments who serve them, and the newspapers who serve these governments. This return to the real has two related aspects. The first is clearly political. As the film has shown, the "democratic" fetish is merely the zealous servant of the banks. Its real name, its technical name, as I have argued for some time, is capitalist-parliamentarianism. It is advisable, as several political experiments have begun to do in the past twenty years, to organise a politics of a different nature.

Such a politics is, and no doubt will be for a long time, at a great distance from state power, but no matter. It begins level with the real, through the practical alliance between those who are most immediately available to invent such a politics: the newly-arrived proletarians from Africa and elsewhere, and the intellectuals who have inherited the political battles of the last few decades. This alliance will grow on the basis of what it will be capable of doing, point by point. It will not entertain any kind of organic relationship with the existing parties and with the electoral and institutional system that keeps them alive. It will invent the new discipline of those who have nothing, their political capacity, the new idea of what their victory will look like.

The second aspect is ideological. We must overthrow the old verdict according to which ours would be the time of "the end of ideologies". Today we can clearly see that the only reality of this supposed end lies in the slogan "save the banks". Nothing is more important than recovering the passion of ideas and countering the world such as it is with a general hypothesis, the anticipated certainty of an entirely different state of affairs. To the nefarious spectacle of capitalism, we oppose the real of peoples, of the existence of all in the proper movement of ideas. The theme of an emancipation of humanity has lost none of its power. Undoubtedly, the word "communism", which for a long time served to name this power, has been debased and prostituted.

But today, its disappearance only benefits the advocates of order, the feverish actors of the disaster movie. But we will resuscitate communism, in its new-found clarity. This clarity is also its oldest virtue, as when Marx said of communism that it "breaks in the most radical fashion with traditional ideas" and that it will bring forth "an association in which the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all".

Total break with capitalist-parliamentarianism, the invention of a politics on a level with the popular real, sovereignty of the idea: it's all there, everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and to give ourselves over to the fusion between live thought and organised action (everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and rise up).

*In French: hallali. In English, the nearest equivalent is 'mort', the note sounded on a hunting horn to announce the death of a deer.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Appeal for imposition of ban on BT cotton

Here is the petition sent to the President of India.

Kind attention: Hon’ble President of India, Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi-1

Subject: Appeal for imposition of ban on BT cotton all over India and President Rule in Haryana State due to death of lakhs of animals due to BT cotton and disastrous ill effects of BT cotton on health of lakhs of humans and animals

Hon’ble President Madam,

I the undersigned hereby bring to your kind notice that in the state of Haryana genetically modified BT cotton is being cultivated for past about 5-7 years now. Our recent state-wide survey conducted during the year 2007-2008 shows that lakhs of animals including buffaloes and sheep have died due to consumption of the following:

1. BT cotton seeds fed to animals as feed.

2. BT cotton seed based oilcake fed to animals as feed.

3. Fresh Leaves and other plant parts of BT cotton plants.

Government of Andhra Pradesh (Animal Husbandry Department) has confirmed presence of Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) in the BT cotton plants vide its letters dated 12 May 2006 Number Lr. Roc. No. 13 TFAL/2006 and 12 March 2007 Number Lr. Roc. No. 117 /TFAL/2007 (copies of the letters attached as Annexure 1a and 1b). As your goodself might be aware HCN is a deadly toxin which can kill the animals and humans instantly. Inspite of this vital information on acute toxicity of BT cotton available since 12 May 2006, and the warning of Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh for not grazing animals in BT cotton fields (copy attached as Annexure 2) Government of Haryana has failed in protecting the farmers and their animals from proven deadly BT cotton.

According to our survey in Haryana state, animals are dying at a large scale every year and lakhs of animals have died in last 5-7 years and even greater number of animals are affected by various ailments caused by BT cotton toxicity like abortion, premature delivery, skin problems, reduction in milk yield up to 90 per cent, prolapse of uterus, remaining off feed for long periods, etc. (Media reports attached as Annexure 3 to 10)

Humans are also affected by toxicity of BT cotton and farming families and labor families particularly working in BT cotton fields/factories have to spend huge amount of money on skin and allergy ailments due to BT cotton. Many of them have to abandon their work in BT cotton fields/factories. (Media reports attached as Annexure 3 to 10)

Farmers have lost billions of rupees due to death of their valuable animals including buffaloes and sheep, loss of man days due to loss in health, expenditure on ill animals and humans, loss due to failed crops of BT cotton, loss due to reduction in reproductive and milk yielding capacity of animals, loss in crop yields due to significant loss in soil fertility due to toxic effect of BT cotton on soil and micro-organisms of soil including earthworms and other vital organisms. (Media reports attached as Annexure 3 to 10).

It is also worth noting that due to huge losses caused due to BT cotton lakhs of farmers have become bankrupt.

When governments, administration and scientists have ignored the problem of farmers, farm and cotton factory labors your good office can save the farmers and labors by banning BT cotton and other genetically modified crops in India.

I appeal to your kind office to ban the BT cotton and other such genetically modified crop plants all over India and impose president rule in Haryana state for failure of government in protecting the human rights and livelihood of majority of people involved in farming, animal husbandry and cotton processing activities. Farmers and labors affected by BT cotton toxicity should also be given due compensation for loss of animals, health, mandays and other expenditure.

Yours faithfully,

(Sudhir Kumar Kaura) Dated: 15 November, 2008

PhD Enclosure: as above

Coordinator, Kisan Bachao Andolan (Save Farmer Movement)

10 C Friends Colony, Hisar-125004 Phone: 00 91 1662 229163

Web-site: E-mail:


1. Copy to The Chief Justice of India for consideration of this memorandum as Public Interest Litigation for considering immediate stay / ban on BT cotton in India and other desired action as appropriate.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Return to myself

A poem by Jean Wahl which almost, haiku-like, explicates electracy avant la


It's time to pack your suitcases again:

Your four ideas, your eight feelings.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking

The Greek word sympotein means literally "to drink together." In the era of Socrates and Plato, the symposium was a central part of Greek culture: a gathering where men consumed wine freely and debated the issues of the day.

Philosophers, wine critics, and winemakers share their passion for wine through well-crafted essays that explore wine's deeper meaning, nature, and significance. Wine & Philosophy offers a playfully fresh, insightful - and, at times, controversial - perspective on the philosophical dimensions of wine and wine appreciation.

Joining Beer & Philosophy and Food & Philosophy in the "Epicurean Trilogy," the essays herein celebrate the ongoing relationship between wine and philosophical reflection, discussion, and debate.

Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking

By Fritz Allhoff

* Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
* Number Of Pages: 328
* Publication Date: 2007-10-29
* ISBN-10 / ASIN: 1405154314
* ISBN-13 / EAN: 9781405154314
* Binding: Paperback

Monday, October 20, 2008

in these times

A reader has sent the following searing comment on Pankaj Chaturvedi's poem At Such A Time As This that appeared on this blog a few days ago. It is being published separately here so that the readers may not miss it. The comment with its poem has what I can only term as atomic economy:

i am a son of an infantryman. i was also infantry. i have 2 of my children,who have done 2 deployments each to america's "wars"

in these times
money talks
hands listen
our children
for our

Friday, October 17, 2008

Don’t Just Do Something, Talk

Slavoj Žižek

One of the most striking things about the reaction to the current financial meltdown is that, as one of the participants put it: ‘No one really knows what to do.’ The reason is that expectations are part of the game: how the market reacts to a particular intervention depends not only on how much bankers and traders trust the interventions, but even more on how much they think others will trust them. Keynes compared the stock market to a competition in which the participants have to pick several pretty girls from a hundred photographs: ‘It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligence to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.‘ We are forced to make choices without having the knowledge that would enable us to make them; or, as John Gray has put it: ‘We are forced to live as if we were free.’

Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote that, although there is a growing consensus among economists that any bailout based on Henry Paulson’s plan won’t work, ‘it is impossible for politicians to do nothing in such a crisis. So we may have to pray that an agreement crafted with the toxic mix of special interests, misguided economics and right-wing ideologies that produced the crisis can somehow produce a rescue plan that works – or whose failure doesn’t do too much damage.’ He’s right: since markets are effectively based on beliefs (even beliefs about other people’s beliefs), how the markets react to the bailout depends not only on its real consequences, but on the belief of the markets in the plan’s efficiency. The bailout may work even if it is economically wrong.

. . . . . .

If the bailout plan really is a ‘socialist’ measure, it is a very peculiar one: a ‘socialist’ measure whose aim is to help not the poor but the rich, not those who borrow but those who lend. ‘Socialism’ is OK, it seems, when it serves to save capitalism. But what if ‘moral hazard’ is inscribed in the fundamental structure of capitalism? The problem is that there is no way to separate the welfare of Main Street from that of Wall Street. Their relationship is non-transitive: what is good for Wall Street isn’t necessarily good for Main Street, but Main Street can’t thrive if Wall Street isn’t doing well – and this asymmetry gives an a priori advantage to Wall Street.

. . . . . .

The standard ‘trickle-down’ argument against redistribution (through progressive taxation etc) is that instead of making the poor richer, it makes the rich poorer. However, this apparently anti-interventionist attitude actually contains an argument for the current state intervention: although we all want the poor to get better, it is counter-productive to help them directly, since they are not the dynamic and productive element; the only intervention needed is to help the rich get richer, and then the profits will automatically spread down to the poor. Throw enough money at Wall Street, and it will eventually trickle down to Main Street. If you want people to have money to build, don’t give it to them directly, help those who are lending it to them. This is the only way to create genuine prosperity – otherwise, the state is merely distributing money to the needy at the expense of those who create wealth.

. . . . . .

What all this indicates is that the market is never neutral: its operations are always regulated by political decisions. The real dilemma is not ‘state intervention or not?’ but ‘what kind of state intervention?’ And this is true politics: the struggle to define the conditions that govern our lives. The debate about the bailout deals with decisions about the fundamental features of our social and economic life, even mobilising the ghost of class struggle. As with many truly political issues, this one is non-partisan. There is no ‘objective’ expert position that should simply be applied: one has to take a political decision.

. . . . . .

Read the complete article in LRB

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Unforgettable Teacher

By V.V.B. Rama Rao

(Professor Rama Rao has suggested that we write about our beloved teachers. We begin with his memories of Acharya Ronanki. It is hoped that other readers of the blog will help sustain this fine thread of memories. -RKS)

Renowned as Acharya Ronanki , Ronanki Appala Swami was a polyglot. He was one of the diggajas (eight elephants standing in the seven diks) who made Vizianagaram, the seat of the PoosapaTi rajahs of fame, in Andhra. A product of Banaras Hindu University, he couldn’t make it to a high grade and had to settle down to be a teacher. But his voracious reading and thirst for acquiring knowledge of the European languages sent him to the priests of Western origin staying in the citadel city and the treasure house of books acquired by the renowned Rajas of Vizianagaram. He mastered not only Greek but also French by self-study alone. It has been my great good fortune to be taught by him during my four years of study at Maharajah’s College. In 1958 he became the Head of the Dept. of English. His classes were unforgettable: he would recite long passages from The Aeneid and The Iliad from memory. English poetry was his love but he especially liked Baudelaire and Paul Valery in French. T.S. Eliot he loved most, and often mentioned Eliot’s lines ending with ‘Humility is endless.’ He made me buy Dundo’s French Grammar, when he saw me as his colleague in 1957. When I was appearing for my additional degree in English language, he gave me on his walks the books I should read from the library he equipped. When asked for a tip to be at the top in the exam, all that he said was “Gossip intelligently”. I did and was at the top in the University exam in Special English. He it was who inspired me: I never took his remark “You are ambitious” amiss. He still appears in my dreams in his sola topi, reciting Baudelaire in our English class at the undergraduate level. His remark to a colleague behind my back: “the fellow knows English”. Here is poem in his honour: a tribute from a headstrong pupil of his:

To My Teacher RAS A

“… there was light! Not His alone!

It’s more of his revelations – apocalypses

His exegeses and exhortations caused

It’s not mere charisma either – it was effulgence

A polychromatic phantasmagoria

All his erudition, charm and commitment

-Cheeks bedewed with tears of gratitude thoughtful

I remember, pay him homage

His Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Sanskrit

Held us captive, enthralled, roaming in regions ethereal

A veritable heaven it was, listening to his renditions

Of Homer, Virgil, Baudelaire, and Valery,

Cerevantes, Milton, Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti

His puny figure in starched suit

–Sitting in his chair, not standing before the lectern

His calves twisted round one another

His sola topee drew smiles - never was it risible

Whoever laughed at the matted hair on the pate of a rshi!

The impeccable tie knot never displayed conceit.

He was our RAS but we gave him another A

For He was Rasa, the elixir of life

Our text had always been an excuse

It was always a springboard to the Divine

(To our Professor at Vizianagaram R. Appalaswamy)

Dr V.V.B.Rama Rao, D-94 NTPC Shorya Bldg. Plot C-55 Sector 33 Noida- 201307
Email: Phone 011 2697 5732 Mobile: 09910726313

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Memories Of A Teacher


By Ismaa Saadat

Raffat Karim stood and listened for a long time. Then once more he climbed up the hall with tired steps and left the class, as if Hamlet was exiting the stage.

The news of Professor Raffat Karim’s death took me back to 1997: the quiet, slow-paced gait of Raffat Karim carrying his diminutive and graceful figure through the crowded corridors of the Department of English in Karachi University, while walking to his room every morning, discussing a variety of subjects with his students.

Nasty and naughty as we were in those days, and condoned for being so by our generous teachers, one day we spread the news of the mix

‘n match socks Mr Karim was wearing.

Raffat Karim received the largest number of students in his office that day as everybody was keen to have a good laugh at the professor’s tiny mistake.

He very well knew what had massively transpired in the students’ body and allowed laughter at his own expense with a wistful smile. All along we thought he was unaware of our nastiness.

During the subsequent Students’ Week celebrations, Raffat Karim made it a point to attend all the events and visit stalls of all students in the department and pass tiny, encouraging remarks, sometimes in English and sometimes in his Luckhnavi Urdu.

Then there was Raffat Karim inside the Karachi University lecture hall: occasionally attempting to elicit a romantic response from students to the events in the massively unconvenentional love-tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. At other times he would be himself, engrossed in the case of the bartered soul of Dr Faustus. But one piece of literature that he was obsessed with was Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.

Hamlet had somehow become synonymous with Raffat Karim. Some people say that he had announced that if anybody else was allowed to teach Hamlet as long as he was in the department, he would resign. The choice was between Raffat Karim and Hamlet.

And now the quiet corridors of the Department of English mourn his death.

As alumni of the department, I see the “banquet hall deserted”. The death of Dr Kaleemur Rahman Khan, followed by the departure of Professor Naushaba Moosvi and now Raffat Karim’s has left a huge vacuum.

Raffat Karim practised tolerance and sagacity during the many teaching sessions we had with him. Now nearly a decade later, a teacher myself, I can fully appreciate the intellectual magnanimity of the person.

Many a time it happened that an impatient student attempted to reach outrageous conclusions about a particular play or pass hasty judgments on a character under discussion. But Raffat Karim would respond with his trademark wistful smile and forgive the offender.

I remember even today the very last session we had on Hamlet with Raffat Karim. There was a general panic as we were to go off for our first semester exam preparation break and a sizeable part of the play was yet to be taught.

Raffat Karim arranged a two-hour plus session after 2pm in the lecture hall. He climbed down the stairs and very calmly took up one act after another and tackled one scene after another.

The entire class was engrossed in the last days of Hamlet’s life and his feigned madness. Raffat Karim had infused a strange passion into the whole class and yet remained ruthlessly detached himself, thoroughly enjoying the magic of the tragedy.

And suddenly, snap! It was over. The class was done and dusted. Raffat Karim now hurled a question at the students, “Of all the plays of Shakespeare why has Hamlet enjoyed continuous popularity and withstood onslaughts of time, boundaries, religion, culture and individuals?” One student said, “Because each one of us can relate to the character of Hamlet.” The response was followed by a series of many more responses from the group.

Raffat Karim stood and listened for a long time. Then once more he climbed up the hall with tired steps and left the class, as if Hamlet was exiting the stage.

The great teacher will be sorely missed.

(This wonderful piece was emailed by Professor M. L. Raina)

Friday, October 10, 2008

We have to continue to read novels - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

“My message will be very clear; it is that I think we have to continue to read novels. Because I think that the novel is a very good means to question the current world without having an answer that is too schematic, too automatic. The novelist, he’s not a philosopher, not a technician of spoken language. He’s someone who writes, above all, and through the novel asks questions.”

- Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rethinking Higher Education in India

Learning from the Global Economic Crisis

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

The bubble economy of speculative finance capital is in a crisis. People are losing jobs and money. The students who borrowed huge sums to finance their education and who are half way through their study programs are anxious whether all the trouble has been worthwhile. Placements have shrunk and, in several favourite courses, stopped altogether. These are some of the grim, ordinary truths of our time. You have only to visit a few institutions offering ‘professional’ and ‘job-oriented’ courses, or speak to your friends in the finance, banking or consumer sectors to find out the actual state of affairs. Or try and find on the pages of your newspaper any images of jubilant young people beckoning the reader to join them in the sunrise sectors of the new economy. Those images have quietly stopped appearing.

The situation offers an historic opportunity to seriously reconsider the course we have taken during the last few years and, more than that an opportunity to do, in the academia, a bit of soul-searching. In a country where very few people can put pen to paper, have the teachers by and large not failed the call of responsibility? As ‘education’ got re-branded as ‘human resource development’ and as a variety of myopic vocational courses began to push out all else that for centuries had been identified with education, did we not act as mute and complicit witnesses to the steady ruin of education? Singing Margaret Thatcher’s TINA, TINA (There Is No Alternative), did we not allow ourselves to be reduced to the paid audiences of serialized song and dance shows on television?

It is time we thought of correcting our course. We need more than mere quality improvement; we need real changes. All said and done, education is not just industry or commerce. We do not make things; we shape people. Those who argue, with reference to Macaulay’s imperial agenda, for the decolonization of education in the interest of the country’s current economic requirements forget that the discourse of decolonization is often merely a disguised plea for the subordination of education to the requirements of neoliberal global (read Western) economy. The argument that the country earns precious foreign exchange through the BPO and the like ignores the right which each BPO worker has to the realization of her or his fullest intellectual potential. Treating some human beings in the country as no more than foreign exchange-producing resources is an insult to their humanity. And it is not patriotism but calculated insanity parading as high wisdom.

The education of a country is too valuable an affair to be abandoned to the vagaries of changing winds. Any education policy that is worthwhile must address itself to at least three questions simultaneously: (1) What kind of human beings do we wish to shape? (2) What kind of country do we want ours to be? (3) What kind of world do we wish to live in? As for the exigencies of the present, the really significant issue is not how to survive opportunistically in the present so as to let the future take care of itself, but how to pursue the triple objective in the context of the constraints and the opportunities that attend the present. Democratic leadership inheres in the capability to lead all people to a better future, not in exhorting the majority of people to adjust to the prevailing circumstances because “there is no alternative”. Is it not perplexing that going back to Mr Narasimha Rao, no reformist Prime Minister has actually accomplished anything substantial to radically reconstruct education? It is bizarre that the political leadership can respond instantly to the fluctuations of the stock market but finds even five years too short a period to do anything when it comes to education.

‘Global competencies’ should not mean, as the phrase has come to mean, the competencies demanded by changing global business trends. These should, rightly, mean the cultivated abilities to think, comprehend, anticipate and deal with various issues with a global vision. And since this implies a situated practice in each specific case, ‘global’ seems to be an inadequate term, if not an outright misnomer. ‘Glocal’ would be an obviously better choice. And it does not come burdened with the deceptive aura which the term ‘global’ has accumulated over the years.

Change in education does not mean mere ‘tinkering’. And it means much more than only ‘improvement’. The notion of ‘improvement’ can be a shield against the sense of guilt that necessarily accompanies the acknowledgement of our previous failures as also an escape from the full recognition of risk and responsibility that the commitment to a new and unfamiliar course of action entails.

Once we recognize the pre-eminence of the triple objective of education mentioned above, the questions of ‘what’ and ‘how’ clarify themselves. For too long now, the question of ‘what’ has ruled to the detriment of other questions. The curricula continue to be designed and tinkered with, without our bothering to ask, with a clear expectation what for these curricula are intended. If we can give precedence to the question of ‘why’ – why should we teach a certain course and not another – the curricula will be compelled to reconfigure themselves. If only we could ask ‘why?’ in various disciplines, the threat of obsolescence which haunts several of these would recede. Indeed the disciplines are asking to be reinvented; only we have become impassive and obsolescent. And if we are not stepping across the disciplinary boundaries, the reason might be that we do not want to come out of our little shells, which we continue to cherish like private kingdoms. Let’s understand that the finest intellectual production is happening today only at the points where boundaries blur and vanish. Technology today leaves us no room to complain that we are not in the universities (if we happen to be in colleges) or not in the world’s best universities (if we happen to be in a not-so-good university). The argument carries no conviction that we can do little more than transfer knowledge picked up from here and there. Everyone with access to information networks has the basic resources and capability to be a producer of knowledge. Everyone can participate in the shaping of the emerging paradigms of critical-reflexive education. We only need to push ourselves. If we do not, those elsewhere in seats of authority will. One should not need to look up to any gods in the Ministry of HRD to send down a charter of accountability and transparency. Each person, every department, all institutions can formulate their own guidelines.

Everyone knows there are people who work only on incentives. When the last incentive has past, they altogether cease working. Imagine ‘professors’ who continue to ‘profess’ much but no longer study or teach anything nor even supervise any research. ‘Why should we, when there is no incentive?’ if you are here for incentives only, you are in the wrong place; you should be a marketing executive. When we can press for the right to recall our elected representatives in the event of their not performing according to our expectations, there is no reason we should not press also for the right to recall a professor who has become intellectually unproductive and sterile.

Equally grave is the malaise of ethical sterility that flourishes in the soil of elitist exclusivism. All sections and strata of society need to get a place in positions of teaching and research. The inescapable agenda of social justice can be kept in the foreground only if higher education at all levels becomes universally accessible. We cannot afford to have (as we are unfortunately doomed to have if we do not wake up) a socially divisive system in higher education, the kind we have already got in place in the elementary and secondary education. The diverse issues of the society in their entirety cannot be properly addressed unless the academy is a sufficient microcosm of the society. Notwithstanding our most liberal impulses, the economically better-off cannot be presumed to be capable of spontaneously grasping the issues of hunger, illness and homelessness with the required urgency. The enabling and disabling influences of a teacher-researcher’s life-world cannot be simply passed over. For instance, a teacher-researcher who has been intellectually groomed in an elite climate in a metropolitan space may not be the best bet when it comes to dealing with problems that afflict the lives of rural masses. In most cases, he/she would even require considerable reorientation to advance halfway to meet students who come from brutally impoverished communities.

This leads us back to the point that cannot be overemphasized: that we need to keep the human being and her/his world in the center for any initiative in education to make sense. As such, we need to put together at the present juncture a core program of studies in higher education also that is sufficiently flexible and situation-specific. It should keep the focus firmly set on the cultivation of faculties of thinking, comprehending, analyzing and anticipating in complex global contexts. The conventional boundaries which divide and seal off the disciplines would not exist in this core. Specialization would still flourish but in wider contexts and in more innovatory locations. The students would have more freedom to choose, and change, vocations.

An important question that we as teachers would need to address is how to proceed with change. Shall we expect or petition the authorities up there to frame new policy initiatives and so wait for something to come? To do this and no more would be to succumb to the convenience and lure of authoritarian and centralized models. To forswear such initiatives altogether would mean falling into the dark embrace of anarchism. Why not, then, envisage our activities, undertaken singly or collectively as pockets of experimental pedagogies that may evolve and spread gradually? Or expire, if they cannot? If we honestly try to know what we are doing, and if we understand that our best efforts are circumscribed by history, we shall have no regrets. For we shall have done what lies in our power. And, who knows, even more?


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Amy Goodman interviews Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Wall St. Crisis Should Be for Neoliberalism What Fall of Berlin Wall Was for Communism


So, we know that the crisis is coming, and the question is, how are we going to respond? I think there needs to be better ideas lying around. I think the Milton Friedman Institute is about keeping the same old ideas that have been recycled so many times, that actually make these public crises worse, making sure that they are the ones that are ready and available whenever the next crisis hits. I think that is what—at its core, that’s what so many of the right-wing think tanks are for, and that’s what the Institute is for. And I think that is a waste of the fine minds at this university. I think it is a waste of your minds, your creativity, because all of these crises—climate change, the casino that is contemporary capitalism—all of these crises do demand answers, do demand actions. They are messages, telling us that the system is broken. And instead of actual solutions, we’re throwing ideology, very profitable ideology, at these problems. So we need better ideas lying around.

We need better ideas responding to what a Barack Obama presidency would absolutely face. As soon as he comes to office, “Yes, you can” turns into “No, you can’t; we’re broke.” No green jobs, no alternative energy, no healthcare for everyone. You know, his plan for—to give healthcare to every child in America costs $80 billion. Bailing out AIG cost $85 billion. They’re spending that money. They’re spending those promises. So, the people who are going to say, “No, you can’t,” who are going to use this crisis to shut down hope, to shut down possibility, are ready.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

At Such A Time As This: A Poem by Pankaj Chaturvedi

A translation of Pankaj Chaturvedi's Hindi poem Ek Aise Samay Mein

from his anthology Ek Sampoornata Ke Liye

At such a time as this

when people think that not a trace of the conscience remains

in responsible people,

I do not tire repeating

that if you visit injustice upon someone,

your soul too shall suffer a scratch.

At such a time as this

when hungry kites circle above

and a silent proclamation does the rounds for each hiding place

that anyone daring to dig his hand into it will be torn to pieces,

I wander through the streets as an easy prey,

seeking the truth of my speech –

that when there is drought all around,

the rainfall will depend on how our call pierces the cloud.

At such a time as this

when everything has been put on sale,

when in this all-sale

people cannot refrain from selling themselves

even if they can hide from one another’s looks,

when the race is not for ascension but for self-degradation,

the only happiness we may earn is to have emerged

with an unscathed soul

from the hell of impure desires.

(Translation by Rajesh Kumar Sharma)

When a remarkable republic turns into a majoritarian State

The Telegraph, October 2 , 2008

- When a remarkable republic turns into a majoritarian State

by Mukul Kesavan

I teach in Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in Delhi that was recently in the news because two
young men said to be terrorists were killed in its vicinity, in the course of an ‘encounter’ or
shoot-out with the police. One of these men was a student of the university. Subsequently, the
police made more arrests in connection with the recent bomb blasts in Delhi and two of those
arrested were enrolled in Jamia.

The university authorities made it clear that they would deal strictly with any student found to
be involved in terrorism. The university also declared that it would provide legal aid to the
arrested students (a) because they were members of Jamia in good standing, and (b) till such time as their guilt was proved they were entitled to due process.

The response to this declaration was at once odd and unsurprising. Various spokespersons for the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that the vice-chancellor be sacked for using the public purse (Jamia is a UGC-funded Central university) for succouring terrorists. The vice-chancellor of a university in Jodhpur, in the course of a speech inaugurating a seminar on “Indian Women: Changes and Challenges”, found the time to regret that Jamia’s ‘kulapati’ was supporting terrorists.

I think these reactions aren’t just odd, they’re contrary to every intuition Indians have about
their republic and about civil society. We’re a constitutional republic, a nation of laws. Ravi
Shankar Prasad, the spokesman of the BJP, almost certainly knows that Article 39A of our
Constitution sets out the principle of legal aid. It does so because the presumption of innocence
and the right to a free trial become meaningful only if the accused has proper legal
representation. Once we allow that public money can, indeed must, be spent to ensure that people have legal representation, it becomes hard to find a charitable explanation for the BJP’s


I have a son who, in less than two years, will go to university. If, god forbid, he finds himself
in police remand for whatever reason (murder, armed robbery, menacing the faculty, fraud), I’d
want his university to behave as if it were acting in my place, in loco parentis. I would expect
the proctor of the university to liaise with the station house officer to make sure that such
rights of visitation as he might have in that ghastly circumstance were given him, to hire a
lawyer to see if he could be released on bail, and if the nature of the alleged offence didn’t
allow that, to try to have him transferred to judicial custody. Police remand is a dreadful form
of imprisonment in India; unlike judicial custody where the procedural restraints of prison
manuals apply, the police in their station-house lockups have a free hand in working suspects
over. Any university that washes its hands of its students the moment they are arrested by the
police because it doesn’t want to be associated with notoriety or (as in this case) the taint of
terrorism is a cringing and wretched institution undeserving of a citizen’s respect or a parent’s

Interestingly, Jamia has supplied legal aid to arrested students before. Some years ago, dozens
of its students were arrested on charges that were later shown to be unfounded. But their
innocence isn’t relevant: the point is that no one thought, at that time, to object to the
university’s aid. The reason for the difference isn’t hard to find. The previous incident
involved a skirmish on the campus; this time round, the students were suspected of collusion in
terror. But it wasn’t just the gravity of the offence that made the difference; the narrative
that the BJP hoped to exploit was that of jihadi terrorism and the two useful facts they were
rubbing together like flints were (i) that these students were Muslims, and (ii) that Jamia
Millia Islamia is a remarkably Muslim-sounding name. “Muslim university bats for Muslim
terrorists”: for a party whose reason for being is the demonization of minorities, specifically
Muslims, this was a script made in heaven.

So some background is in order. Jamia Millia Islamia began life as a nationalist college. It was
born of the non-cooperation movement, the first anti-colonial mass agitation led by Mahatma
Gandhi. A group of young radical students and alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University,
dissatisfied with their alma mater’s compradore politics, decided to establish a nationalist,
anti-colonial alternative to AMU. Gandhi, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Zakir Hussain, Hakim Ajmal Khan, M.A. Ansari are only some of the great names who nurtured Jamia. It’s not just ironical, it’s grotesque that the BJP, born of parent organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha, which were notable for their distance from the great anti-colonial struggles that won India freedom, should make a bid to impugn Jamia’s commitment to India’s integrity.

But history aside, it’s worth reflecting on the way in which we respond to news related to
terrorist atrocity. In the Jamia encounter, a policeman and two terror suspects were killed.
Years of staged shootouts have induced a reflexive scepticism about police encounters. In this
case, a policeman was killed which seemed to suggest that someone was shooting back. However, given the police’s fraught relations with Muslim neighbourhoods, this fact cut very little ice
with residents of Jamia Nagar. But even if we allow that on the face of it the police had reason
to raid the premises in which these two young men were killed, the complete lack of concern in
the majority of news reports that two young men had been summarily killed (Atif was in his early twenties and Sajid was all of seventeen) was dismaying.

In the summer of 2005, the British police killed Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian with a
brown skin, because they were convinced he was a terrorist. He wasn’t; it was a dreadful mistake and though it was made in good faith, three years later, the inquest into the incident now threatens the career of Britain’s top policeman, Ian Blair. It’s at least possible that the Delhi
Police, likewise, got it wrong, that Atif or Sajid or both were innocent, that they were caught
in the wrong place at the wrong time, but nearly every newspaper I read baldly reported the death of two terrorists without any caveats or qualifications.

The synchronized bombings that have ravaged Indian cities over the past year have led the police, unsurprisingly, to look for Muslim villains. It has led political commentators from the Hindutva right to make interesting distinctions. One worthy tried to distinguish Muslim terrorists from Hindu rioters and pogrom artists. A rioter, he argued, could, a few years after the riot, settle down into society again as a solid citizen. A terrorist, on the other hand, was implacably committed to the subversion of the State. I can see what he means: Gujarat is full of solid citizens who looted and killed recreationally a few years ago and now led respectable lives
unmolested by the police.

But given the fact that the most recent explosions in Modasa (Gujarat) and Malegaon (Maharashtra) occurred in Muslim localities and had mainly Muslims casualties, the police might try to diversify their enquiries. It was only two years ago that two members of a Hindu militia blew themselves up in Nanded while making a powerful bomb. When people, policemen and political parties buy into the narrative of a priori Muslim guilt, they run the risk of turning this
remarkable republic into an ordinary, ugly, majoritarian State.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Citizens' Statement Against Terrorism and Communal Violence

'No Double Standards in the Fight Against Terrorism'

Please send your signed copy to:

In recent months the country has witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks in different cities as well as organised communal violence against religious minorities in several states.

We the undersigned strongly condemn all these acts of violence that have resulted in loss of life and grievous injury to scores of innocent people. It is clear that whoever is responsible for such violence should be severely punished under Indian law and all measures be taken to protect the lives of ordinary citizens under threat from their activities.

We find it deeply disturbing however that the Indian government as well as concerned state governments have adopted double standards in dealing with the two equally deadly phenomenon of terrorist bombings and communal violence.

On one hand throughout the country Muslim youth are being targeted, without any or little evidence, as responsible for terrorist attacks.In our view there is a concerted attempt by the Indian police, sections of the media and certain political parties to portray all members of the Muslim community as 'terrorists and extremists' - to be arbitrarily arrested, tortured and killed in fake encounters.

On the other hand Hindutva extremists behind the communal violence in Orissa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh against Christian populations are being allowed to go scot-free. The term 'terrorism' is never associated with the Hindutva extremist outfits like the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the Shiv Sena despite their clear and acknowledged role in the murder and injury of hundreds of innocent Indian citizens.

This includes not just citizens from religious minorities but also anyone who happens to differ from the Hindutva extremists. While a vast majority of the Hindu population is peaceful and tolerant of diversity those upholding the politics of 'Hindutva' are misusing symbols and beliefs of the Hindus to impose a fascist majoritarian dictatorship on the country.

Hindutva religious terrorists have also been found time and again planting bombs in Muslim religious places or localities in Nanded and Malegaon in Maharashtra, Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu and suspected of carrying out the heinous bomb blasts on the Samjhauta Express in 2007. The recent attacks on Christian religious institutions are in fact openly claimed by Hindutva terrorist groups, like the Bajrang Dal, in front of television news cameras and yet no action is taken against them.

It is in this context of utter hypocrisy of the Indian and state governments towards what really constitutes terrorism that we would like to demand the following:

1) An immediate ban on all organisations and individuals carrying out or inciting communal violence particularly the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena. Investigation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for involvement in terrorist activities and prosecution of its members if found guilty;

2) Stringent punishment for those organising or participating in communal violence against Christians or carrying out forcible 're-conversion' in Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country;

3) Special investigation by an independent body of the involvement of Hindutva extremist organisations in terrorist activity such as planting explosives, manufacturing arms and mobilising mob attacks on religious minority populations;

4) Disbarment from contesting national or state elections, by the Election Commission, of political parties found guilty of using religious, regional, linguistic hatred and violence to further their electoral fortunes;

5) Setting up of an independent judicial commission to inquire into the indiscriminate arrests, torture and killings of youth belonging to the Muslim community. Investigation of the unlawful activities of the 'special cells' and 'anti-terrorist squads' of the police and if necessary their disbandment

6) Payment of adequate compensation to each person, from all communities, arrested, tortured, injured or killed on false charges by the Indian police; prosecution of police officers guilty of planting evidence and framing false charges against innocent people;

7) Initiation of action on the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission Report, expediting of pending cases against those involved in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and speedy justice for the survivors of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.

8) A ban on regional chauvinist organisations such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi of Raj ackeray responsible for attack, injury and murder of North Indians living in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.

9) Prosecution of bar association office bearers who have expelled members of the legal fraternity taking up cases of human rights violations or of those upholding the right to legal aid of those accused of terrorist activities and involvement.

10) Prosecution of media groups and outlets found guilty of defaming individuals and communities while reporting on the phenomenon of terrorism in the country.

1. A Sohaib

2. AC Michael

3. AK Ramakrishnan

4. Ali Bin Ahmed

5. Amitabh Pandey

6. Anand Patwardhan (Film maker)

7. Angela Farooq

8. Anil Chaudhary (Peace)

9. Anil Sadgopal (Educationist, Bhopal)

10. Apoorvanand (Lecturer, Delhi University)

11. Arif Azam Khan

12. Asad Zaidi (Writer)

13. Ashish Nandy (CSDS)

14. Avinash Kumar

15. Azra Razzack

16. Dr Anuradha Ghosh

17. Dr John Dayal (Member, National Integration Council, Govt of India)

18. Dr Sabu M George

19. Dunu Roy (Ecologist)

20. Dushyant Bhai (AVHRS, Vadodara)

21. Farah Farooqi

22. Father T.K.John (Vidyajyoti College of eology)

23. Fr Cedric Prakash (Director, Prashant)

24. Fr Dominic Emmamuel

25. Ghanshyam Shah (Historian, Ahmedabad)

26. Hanif Lakdawala (Sanchetna, Ahmedabad)

27. Harsh Dhobal ( Human Rights Law Network)

28. Harsh Kapoor (South Asia Citizens Web)

29. Harsh Mander (Aman Biradari)

30. Hiren Gandhi (Samvedan Cultural Programme, Ahmedabad)

31. Hozefa (Aman Samudaya, Ahmedabad)

32. Iikhar Ahmad Khan (Professor of History, Vadodara)

33. Iqbal A Ansari (Social Activist)

34. Jagadish (New Socialist Alternative, Bangalore)

35. Jaya Mehta (Sandarbh Kendra, Indore)

36. Jenis Francis

37. Jitendra Chauhan

38. Jitendra Kumar

39. John Chathanatt (Vidyajyoti College)

40. Joys Sebastian

41. JunaidBhai Pathan(United Education Charitable Trust, Vadodara)

42. K Dasgupta

43. Kamla Bhasin (SANGAT)

44. Kavita Srivastava (PUCL, Rajasthan)

45. Mallika Sarabhai (Darpana Academy, Ahmedabad)

46. Manisha Sethi (Lecturer, Jamia Millia Islamia)

47. Manohar Singh

48. Manoj Verma

49. Mansi Sharma (ANHAD)

50. Mukul Mangalik

51. Nafisa Ali Sodhi (Social Activist)

52. Nalini Taneja (Delhi University)

53. Neelabh Mishra

54. Neshat Kaisar (Lecturer, Jamia Millia Islamia)

55. Nithiya

56. Omar Farooq

57. Pallavi Deka (General Secretary, JNUSU)

58. Poorva Bhardwaj (Nirantar)

59. Prabhu Ghate

60. Pradeep Bhattacharya

61. Praful Bidwai

62. Prasad Chacko (Activist, Ahmedabad)

63. Professor S. Hasan Mahmud (Vadodara)

64. Ranjit Abhigyan

65. Ravi Shankar Mishra

66. Rohit Prajapati (Activist, Gujarat)

67. S Waheed

68. Sachin Gupta

69. Salem Nusrat Ahmed

70. Sanjeev

71. Saroop Dhruv (Darshan, Ahmedabad)

72. Satya Sivaraman (Journalist)

73. Senthal

74. Shabnam Hashmi (ANHAD)

75. Sheba George (SAHR WARU, Ahmedabad)

76. Shivraj

77. Sivapriyan

78. Sonia Jabbar (Independent journalist)

79. Sumit Sarkar (Historian)

80. Tanika Sarkar (Historian)

81. Tanveer Fazal (Lecturer, Jamia Millia Islamia)

82. Tapan Bose (Social Activist)

83. Trupti Shah (Activist, Gujarat)

84. V.Srinivasan (Chennai Metro Union)

85. Vijay Parmar (Janvikas, Ahmedabad)

86. Vineet Tiwari (Madhya Pradesh Progressive Writers Association, Indore)

87. Waqar Qazi (Samvedan Cultural Programme, Ahmedabad)

88. Yusuf Shaikh (AIQM, Vadodara)

89. Rajesh Kumar Sharma (Punjabi University, Patiala)