Archive | July, 2010

Robbing Women and Robing Brides

31 Jul

I was miserably sick this past week, for those of you who noticed the blog silence. Antibiotics are being consumed, the appetite is yet to revive, but migraines and blistered eyes no longer conspire to keep the laptop and I at odds. I even read a book last night and it wasn’t shady bed reading. Ok, so that lasted only for an hour before I abandoned it for the pleasures of Diana Wynne Jones, but one of the few joys of sickness is the amount of slush one is permitted to consume.

This is a tentative step back into the daily grind of political comment (however tangential) because I could no longer bear the whine of my stats chart as it plummeted to numbers it hadn’t seen since the early days of june . A friend forwarded me this excellent article, and it reminded me of another essay I was once called upon to present in class. Yet another nostalgia post, this one.

The Robing of the Bride, Max Ernst.

Continue reading

Advertisements

A Dream of A Thousand Cats.

22 Jul

crazy cats all in a garden

Another of my friends turns older today, and this post is thus in honour of her. In the event you are getting a little sick of all these hurrah posts- it not my fault half my friends are Cancerian, and you can rest assured them posts will now cease for a while.  (I use the sun-sign only to classify.  I don’t believe in zodiac poofery. Tarot I am gullible enough to accept, but I will NOT be clubbed willy-nilly with a twelfth of mankind.)

It is further to let Interested Parties know that the great day of her birth is today, in case of a most predictable reticence on her part. It is also, shall we say, intended as fair warning. Happy birthday, Joni!

I have run out of clever birthday things to say, so this post is mostly poems and pictures involving cats. This is apt, for reasons that might appear apposite to folk aware of her only as the grandest bitch of us all (this is a compliment, as we well know, so hush outsider pansies).

Suffice it to say that the cat above is the only one I have ever met capable of curling up as definitively as Ms. Mistoffelees.

Continue reading

Of Nativity

20 Jul

I, too, am a native.

Saying this aloud, a mere whisper lost to the the deep night, is terrifying. The quick phrase feels like the slow stripping of all agency, a rape of my right to speak of the world and its concerns, forced to leave them to ‘better men’. To be native is to be blind and have one’s tongue cut off and limbs turned automaton. It was easier when I cut off my balls (rhetorically, you understand) and identified with femininity, however jaggedly and doggedly I fight the helplessness assumed of that affinity. Writers like Frantz Fanon give me the strength to remember that I would, nonetheless, prefer to be Injun over cowboy. Equally, he reminds me that as an urban mongrel with no ‘native village’ to speak of (wait, do university campuses count?), I am as much settler as native. Our homes shift upon residence.

Fanon

Two worlds: that makes two bewitchings; they dance all night and at dawn they crowd into the churches to hear mass; each day the split widens. Our enemy betrays his brothers and becomes our accomplice; his brothers do the same thing. The status of native is a nervous condition introduced and maintained by the setter among colonised people with their consent (sic)

I am rereading The Wretched of the Earth in memory of Frantz Fanon, who would have been 85 today.  So far I have made it past the preface and am already flooded by excerpts (as above).

The rest of this post is thus from memory and fourth year squiggles. Let me begin by conceding said memory is heavily reconstructed from aforementioned preface. In defence, you try jumping off the freaking Sartre-wagon. There is also a birthday rhyme to give Fanon’s bones a good bouncing about their grave. Besides, I strive to inject great guffaws into all your days, and disdain is small price for a grin.  If you feel the urge to chant Dryjhna! Dryjhna! Dryjhna! after the closing excerpt of post, please do tell. I will be gratified not to feel alone in all this wide world. If you continue to chant sporadically for the better part of a night, maybe there is something to be said for lunacy being a social hobby.

Continue reading

Res Ipsa Loquitor

14 Jul

Law School.

Requiem for a Dream

I started National Law School (hereinafter NLS or law school) when I was 17.  I entered a college of 400 people (the LLMs and sundry researchers we deemed too irrelevant to measure) in a class of 80. I was told at the time that it was the most broad-based liberal arts program in the country. By a miracle, I left when I was 22, a year and some ago today.  I left also with almost-80 people, but they were by no count the same 80.I know now that I was deceived, but only by a thin margin: India is not a country that trucks in the humanities.  I found in law school standards both duplicitous and dangerous, as well as unkind to the likes of me.  Even so, I can hardly deny that the average star in our firmament was obscenely bright; law school gathers oddities and outrages like so many moths to a flame. By the same counter, our douches are far douchier than your everyday college possesses, and far more of them exist than we will ever tell you.

A few years ago, two friends and I, tipsy on terrace-wine, postulated the existence of magic batches in law school, the batches that Shook Things Up. These batches come around every four years, we said, and ours was (naturally) the latest incarnation. I have very hazy memories of the reasons justifying this periodicity (almost certainly hokum) but to prove this was not a vanity project, we allocated the most dubious of credits to ourselves: as a batch, we had shed more batch-mates than any previously or (at the time) since.  We were also the most enthused of.. intoxicants, but hush.

With that, onward and ho.

Cartoons courtesy Steve Brodner.

A note on law school failure

The NLS system involves taking 4 courses every trimester: 12 in the course of an academic year. ‘Passing’ in law school implies acquiring a ‘B’ grade, or 50-55/100 in the given subject. The highest grade, ‘O’ , involves scoring above 70 in the given subject. The 100 mark evaluation is broken down into project-viva marks (35), examination marks (60) and attendance marks (5).

Upon failure to reach the 50% cut-off, one is allowed a ‘repeat’ examination during the holidays between trimesters, making internships more difficult to sustain, vital though they are to one’s career. There is no provision to resubmit projects and thus raise one’s score, and creative teachers usually find those 35 marks the more effective way to regulate their students. A project-total of less than 15 spells doom for the best examinee. The highest exam marks awarded in NLS range in the mid-40s.

The schedule is this: two projects each month for the first two months of term, finals at the close; and, in the early years, midterms. Only in the final year could the exam be suspended at the teacher’s discretion in favour of ‘research’.

Passing is further contingent upon minimum 75% attendance, in the absence of which one fails automatically, without repeat reprieve. Medical leave entitles one to a further 10%. This latter failed state, also applicable to those who fail to make it up to 50 post-repeat, is known as a “carryover”. People are allowed three carryovers per year which they must make up in the following; if they gather more they are trickled down one batch. The same result obtains upon repeat-failing any single carryover (i.e. one can’t carry over a carryover).

The onerous attendance requirement is what makes a difficult schedule a punishing one, and stacks the cards against people with irregular timetables.  Missing a month of class can, and does, tank a full year of exemplary behaviour.  An alarming, and growing, statistic in law school is the number of people who “lose” more than one year (this is an intuitive claim with no research except for observation). Consequently, any batch in law school is a hardy, backstabbing band that travels together; a herd of folk continually trimmed of the weak, the exhausted, the unlucky, replaced by similarly worn seniors.

Liberal Interpretations

The one thing mildly interesting about academic life in national law school is project writing.  Teaching is a shambles and course material is apportioned by an administration as fussy as a matron slick with illicit candy. Grading is, well, a joke. I was memorably failed in my final year because the teacher disapproved of my describing, in a paper on ‘transitional justice’, what the given society (Lebanon) was transitioning between and questioning how ‘transitions’ are measured and determined.  But the papers rescued the education for me: every trimester, I found myself a canvas or two that threw up absorbing problems. Every so often, I was granted the rare clutch of three, and once, remarkably, four.  Apart from teaching me a few things about research, the discipline provided a rhythm to my thought that my anarchic reading sorely lacked. On a reread of five years of slush, I find that I  doubled back time and again, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes to score an easy 1000 words. Some themes-culpability, choice, communalism, flexibility, freedom, gender- echo across the years. ‘Justice’ I consulted never once.

A project begins when one is handed a ‘topic’- a phrase, a concept, a thought, a movement- and allowed as free rein as teacher and imagination allow.  The usual project is about 5000 words, though beefy prospects impress teachers and butchers alike. Mine struggled valiantly to this goalpost, often flagging off at 4500 words, though they soar majestically on occasion. My last seminar paper sailed on for 15000 words of utter chaos.

The principle I followed in my monthly turnings-in was to find one thing interesting to read about and then jargon it up. Many projects, especially towards the close of law school life, were undertaken as psychological exercises- overblown diary entries- which is how I wound up with a seminar paper that was a manifesto and a tax paper about criminal jurisprudence.

Continue reading

Pitching SpaceTime

9 Jul

A pitch for the combined reading of

Ranajit Guha, History at the Limit of World-History and
Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject.

In two interlocking review-essays.

was roundly rejected.

for it featured most alarming graphs.

Limits, in math, are a clever, offside approach to concrete integers. If you apply them to functions, they can illuminate indeterminate relationships and make them almost comprehensible. Ranajit Guha attempts something similar in his book. He sneaks upon the Geist-of-the-world, the angst of world-history: Spirit, Reason, God, all wrapped up into one. He studies modernity-minted “stages” in history, laying out, in parallel, the invention of prose. He demonstrates, very effectively, the irrationality at the heart of rational-minded positivist historiography. He contests the view that historiography can be tied down to specific places, people and times; suggesting that E Pluribus Unum is a doctrine better suited to zealotry than to history.

To use the supremely rational art of math to make my point.

He contests a linear approach to history, like so:

Cartesian History

In favour of a reciprocal relation; or if that be too simple, a secant-function.

Inverse History

Reverse History

Though he concedes that sometimes a mere change in co-ordinates, from prose to poetry, does the trick.

Polar History

My approach was undergirded by Guha’s insistence in History at the Limits of World History that conceptualising history as a path along which we plod, qua Hegel, is flawed: what we need is a more diverse, fragmented historiography, the better to frame our fragmented selves. Different models need to be adopted for different phenomena: a narrative on colonialism can use reverse-history where one on the postcolony might find the inverse-history formula more appropriate, while globalisation can only be described as a polar phenomenon.

My other point was the ol’ paradox of rationality: an argument stolen from Mahmood Mamdani, among oh-so-many others. Those enlightenment-bogies, the neo-liberals, wage war masquerading as a defense of “liberal values”. They have inherited a particular thought-system from their forbears, as have we, to some degree: one which equates progress with rationality and rationality with mathematico-empirical inquiry. My outrageous graphs were an attempt to formulate those premises within drastically different arguments. Maths itself, it should be noted, sees no causality between reason and increment.

****

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: