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The Oasis of Now.

3 Aug

I wrote this essay for a seminar about democracy back in the spring, pretty well on a whim, once it became reasonably clear there wasn’t to be an Indian summer for the JNU protests. The midterm was a far more earnest affair about Laclau and Modi and Real Politics, and I’m sure my professor will be very grateful if you can enlighten her about what any of this has to do with democracy (in my defense, she assigned the Derrida and the Benjamin and it’s really all their fault.) She seemed to like it though, and it continues to amuse me, and it is sort of a companion to “Map of Lost Longings” if only in my own head. I was going to publish it, but I realized that I’m not done thinking it, not yet. Which means, naturally, that bogey was yanked away from her happy holiday. (It is far, far, far longer than Map, maybe move on now?) Anyway, onward. Oh, also, spoiler (?) alerts for the first nine seasons of the new Who. I haven’t seen the tenth yet, but I’m madly curious about the Return to Gallifrey.

The Prosthesis of the Other.

If you are looking for me,
I am beyond nowhere

—“The Oasis of Now” by  Sohrab Sepehri, translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati.

“I only have one language; it is not mine” begins Jacques Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other or The Prosthesis of Origin. A few pages later, he heightens (and arguably dissolves) the paradox into an antinomy: “We only ever speak one language—we never speak only one language.” Perhaps it is the verb that makes the second observation seem more quotidian than the first; it troubles my categories less: I speak in many tongues, but I express only myself. So long as the ipseity of “I”— a speaking-thinking-knowing subject—remains undisturbed, that’s an easy claim to accept.

What does it even mean, though, to “have” a language?

Treating language like a possession entails breaching the boundary between words and things, an unsettling provocation for anyone trained within the assumptions of a certain (mostly modern) rationality. To own a language is to exert a claim over a shared reality, an assertion that is both intimate and violent, and anything but natural. That is, I think, Derrida’s point: there is terror in language—“soft, discreet, glaring” (23)—and highlighting that terror points to the processes of historical and colonial usurpation that make more material hegemonies possible.  I speak, I have, the language I am given; I am trapped within the language that allows me passage, that makes my truths heard and hearable, inasmuch as I survive within the only history that makes me inevitable. Language makes reality credible and legible, and so makes reality itself.

morning-sun_hopper

Morning Sun, Edward Hopper.

I inhabit a world made by language and by the promises that it extracts. But what if I didn’t? What if I could slip, magically and at will, across idioms, making them legible to myself even as I remain a cipher to them? What sort of being can traverse, but not transcend, the trap of wandering meaning? What if I lived, precisely, within the “incommunicable” that Khatibi identifies: lost in the translation between worlds? Would such a chimerical, alchemical figure even possess an “I” to speak from? Is that the bargain, then, that the price of having the impossible, universal language—and thus the capacity to narrate a universal history—is to be deprived of a stable self? Is that the only sort of creature that isn’t destined to write, but instead writes their own destiny?

It was in search of this quixotic beast that I began thinking about Doctor Who.

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Tabernacle or Tomb?

19 Jan

One of the dilemmas I’m grappling with is that of an audience. Who am I writing for? It’s not that I write to be read – this would be foolhardy- but that the proposed reader influences how any text is constructed. It’s a question answered instinctively when you write for publication, even when that publication is simply your own blog. But I remain entirely at sea when it comes to writing as a graded exercise with defined guidelines. Partly, of course, it is that I carry it badly. Last semester I folded my words into my life, rather than the other way around, which is never a good idea for someone as chronically fickle as me.

The Dickinson essay below is a good example of the weird niche I currently occupy. I wrote it (and I admit this is dubious) for a “controversy” assignment, and while it was fun reading Dickinson for two weeks, I’m not sure where/how to pitch it, or indeed if I should pitch it. I’m leaning towards no: which self-respecting books blog would accept my solemn exegesis of her verse? (in less than fifty words!) Who else would care? Is this basically a blogpost pointing out that other people are writing blogposts? Is it only logical to expect my reader to know who Emily Dickinson is and why she is VITAL? If so, why bother writing it?

 Anyway. I fully expect y’all to consider this a purely rhetorical puzzle, so here’s another reason to read it. This essay has sentimental value: the first booksy thing I did in NYC was attend the launch of Paul Legault’s Emily Dickinson Reader. It was my first solo outing in DUMBO; I got spectacularly lost* and I kept circling this guy selling pretzels until eventually he took pity on a starving student and gave me one. It was a magic pretzel. I finally found my way down Water Street the next go-around and a great good time was had. I mingled. I sipped artisanal beer and made eye-contact and small lit-chat and was generally an urbane sophisticate** and a new din was born. All for the love of Emily Dickinson.***

 *Even google is stumped by Brooklyn.

** yeah, ok. I wore perfume and I scuffed my sneakers.

***tbh, I often find Dickinson fucking exhausting. So frenetic! So baroque! I know her well enough to misrepresent myself as a fangirl, but in most moods I’m.. conflicted.

Dickinson

Dickinson

All great poets spawn cottage industries of interpretation. Emily Dickinson, High Priestess of American Literature, is no exception. There is an Emily Dickinson museum, an International Society, and an academic journal dedicated entirely to explicating her riddling verse.  Several poets have written tributes to Dickinson, from William Carlos William’s “To An Elder Poet” to Adrienne Rich’s essay “Vesuvius at Home” to Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters.

 What is curious is the extent to which she survives in the popular imagination. There has been a novel written about her every year for the last five years, as well as six popular biographies, a parody, and a book inspired by her penchant for writing on envelopes.  In 2010, the New York Botanical Society held a Dickinson-themed flower exhibit. She was on Broadway in 1976, as the protagonist of The Belle of Amherst. She turns up as a larger-than-life puppet in the movie Being John Malkovich, a mockery of the Dickinson cult that Joyce Carol Oates expanded by writing a novella featuring a diminutive robotic Emily.  2013 will see a Dickinson biopic starring Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City’s Miranda. Popstars, a certain barometer of the cultural temperature, have also invoked the spirit of Emily Dickinson: Pete Doherty admits to “nicking her lines” because she’s “fucking outrageous”; Carla Bruni went so far as to set an entire poem to music. As Paul Legault writes in the introduction to The Emily Dickinson Reader, “Emily Dickinson used to exist. Now she’s doing it again.” The question, then, is why. What’s the secret to Emily Dickinson’s immortality? The best vitality, she once said, cannot excel decay. But what of that? 

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Blogaversary

10 Jun

I began keeping a diary when a cousin told me to write letters to myself, ‘so that you remember never to be such a dolt again’. It was sound advice, for all that it never worked, and I have never regretted taking it.  Besides, what in life matched the intensity of  ‘half agony, half hope’? Letters were clearly the path to love, and it was best to get practising.

So it was my first notebook was born.  In the twelve years since, my diary multiplied itself into 17 notebooks and countless folders, all sorted by subject and whimsy.  Last year, when I declared myself a writer, some of this copious chaos made its way online.  This year, I suspect it will unleash mayhem.  Hold on, etc. But not here. I have another blog! A “personal” one, heh. Welcome back, Nandini Ramachandran.

if fucking only

Back to bogey, I’m glad this blog has retained its low profile. I like that I can ramble on about boys and random reading and things on telly that get me in a tiff. I like that I haven’t had any scary spam and that my commenters only talk when they have stuff to say. People who’ve been with me from the beginning know that this blog’s journey has a long way to go.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of my arcana, and I promise to stumble slowly along heedless of the world’s spectacular lack of interest. Far in the future, a din-acolyte may even publish the selected ChaosBogey. That will be the day I turn over in my grave. Or, given my Hinduness, the day my ashes tremble violently with amusement as they swirl along the Ganga.

Well, anyway. Here be a poem. Courtesy a couple of Shelleys.

We rest;  a dream has power to poison sleep.

We rise; one wand’ring thought pollutes the day.

We feel, conceive, or reason; laugh or weep,

Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away;

It is the same: for, be it joy or sorrow,

The path of its departure still is free.

Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;

Nought may endure but mutability!

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Pulp History

1 May

in which bogey attends an awards function.

Happy May Day, all. This year, being a somewhat socialist/somewhat liberal, I decided to celebrate by recalling other ditherers in Indian history. Thus, the Romantic Revolutionary

 M.N. Roy straddles both ‘internal’ challenges to liberalism in the last century: socialism and nationalism. He used each to challenge the orthodoxies of the other, constructing an elegant (if neglected) analysis of self-determination movements along the way. Roy took upon himself the unenviable task of having faith but no obedience, and the price he paid for it was being right in obscurity.

No longer, etc. Bogey to the rescue!

In other news,

This post restores the original title of my Himal essay on Indian graphic novels, and was written to acknowledge a range of people. The good folk at mylaw allow me the freedom to chronicle my obsessions. One went from sniping about Kari to adoring Kavalier & Clay (Luna Moth is my inner superhero) to prophecies of interstitial living.

 I owe a great debt of thanks, further, to Bidisha Basu (of Leaping Windows) for putting me in touch with Alok Sharma. My gratitude to Alok is, I hope, well reflected in the essay, for he put me in touch with worlds I would had no hope of grasping without him. His documentary, once it comes out, looks to be a trove of info for comics nerds, especially those who would delve deeper than more Marvel this and DC that. I also owe Sarnath Banerjee, not so much because he helped my essay along- though he did- but because he redeemed my faith in human conversation.

Roberto Paez, illustrating Don Quixote

I was supposed to ask him questions about the ‘scene’ and industry finance and such, but our conversation soon drifted off into nerdy image/text deliberations and I abandoned all my Serious Relevant questions.

We discussed, in order: Luna Moth and the naming of Phantomville; psuedo-science; vicco vajradanti; Joe Sacco, ‘his abominable Gaza book’, and sexy locations in graphics journalism; empathy in writing; Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection; King Leopold of Belgium; Lewis Carroll; relative merits of the Scott Pilgrim and Ghostworld movies; Marshall McLuhan; the accurate pronunciation of Alain Robbet-Grillet and the mysterious tendency people have of acquiring accents after six hours at the Dubai airport.

 Things we didn’t talk about (but I wish we had) are Superman’s recent rhetoric about American foreign policy and the Swamp Thing cognition experiment. If you know you aren’t ‘alive’, but retain every memory of being human, what does that make you?  Do superheroes teach us a manichean ethic of malevolence/benevolence; do they ‘sublimate a culture of victimhood to manufacture one of enterprise and liberty’?  Do they foster a blind arrogance in human capacity? In human generosity? The American Dream is sold to us across millions of panels and genres: whether you read Archie or Flaming Arrow.  (Ok, so I made that last up. But she would be a neat superhero, non?).

For all the randomness of our conversation, it was not nearly as entertaining as the one the divine Kuzhali Manickavel had with a member of the Hyderabad Graphic Novel Project. They discuss kolams and fractals, speculate on furtive inspirations behind the Matrix trilogy, and decide that the classic song ‘If you come today’  is all about quantum indeterminacy.

VT Thomas, "Toms"

The Training of Trapeze Artists.

15 Sep

The first installment of my Rep Ipsa Loquitor column for mylaw.net, which talks about Aamir Khan, monkeys, and Midas. Do check out the website, especially if you’re in the legal field: it has all sorts of oddities and amusements.

The Bibliotheque Nationale.

“The diploma gives society a phantom guarantee and its holders phantom rights. The holder of the diploma passes officially for possessing knowledge, and comes to believe, in turn, that society owes him something. Never has a convention been created which is more unfortunate for everyone- the state, the individual, and in particular, society.”

Paul Valery

This Independence Day, a friend studying at NLSIU wrote an exam on Private International Law. The special repeat in question (more on those in a minute) was scheduled for the previous afternoon and postponed at the last minute at the request (presumably) of Rahul Gandhi’s security detail, which occupied NLSIU’s academic block all afternoon. ‘We figured the exam was cancelled’, said my amused friend that evening, ‘when we were waved away from the building by a guy with a gun’. Mr. Gandhi was coming later that day to address a student body directed to bedeck and bejewel themselves in his honour whilst refraining from spontaneous displays of political acuity.

That a politician could halt and censor the administration of the best legal school in the country isn’t the amazing part of this story (though is it only alumni who remember when Yasin Mallik was to be found waiting to give his talk at tea-shops outside law school?). Of the four people who wrote the exam the following morning, a final roadblock for the weary, only three passed. It was a somnolent public holiday, not to mention the Sabbath, yet the college revived itself from the festivities long enough to shaft someone. Maybe I reread Little Women a few too many times growing up, but does this sound like an allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress already? And I’m just getting started. If only a German professor could come rescue us.

The culturally appropriate reference here is probably 3 Idiots. Its themes will be familiar to anyone who spends time in institutes across the country: the suicides we avoid, the intellectual tyranny we try escape, vindictive and petty teachers, the formalisation of an education system focused more on job training and less on creativity. In science circles, this means the invention-cycle gets derailed and we expend our brains to help other people make discoveries; in legal circles, it means we care less about policy and big pictures and more about dodging regulation and honing the company line. Other elements in the movie are clearly theatrical. Colleges punish slackers, true, but they punish the genius maverick just as much. Rather, they define and distort such people until either the genius or the maverick in them is burned out. Perhaps, though, that is only my college. Did yours happen to fail anyone on Independence Day?

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