Sunday 3 March 2024

'A Bias Towards the Present?' ❤️

Time Present and Time Past! ❤️

3rd March 2000

[this day, 24 years ago from my personal diaries]

#memoriesfromdiaries

#presentism #anachronism

This past diary entry dated almost a quarter century ago, jotted down by me, on 3rd March 2000, has two lovely anecdotes for the present!

Both events are highlighted in red!

First and foremost,

Cleaned 15 photos for Rs. 75/-

Judging by today’s yardstick, the phrase, ‘Cleaned photos’ might be considered quite anachronistic!

The Cambridge English dictionary defines anachronism as,

‘something placed in the wrong period in history, or something that belongs to the past rather than the present’.

The purpose of this post, hence is to highlight the importance of anachronisms to literary studies in general, and memory studies in particular; on how anachronisms could serve as a powerful tool for the periodization of history and memory.

Gerard Genette calls them “narrative anachronies!”

For example, consider the following two sentences -

‘I need to write an inland!’

Or

‘I need to clean the photos’

Well, writing an inland and cleaning the photos have become obsolete or anachronistic by all means!

Hence the above two sentences might sound quite weird to anyone who hasn’t seen an inland letter anytime in their lives or hasn’t known the process of ‘cleaning photos’ – which involves taking their negatives to the photo studio, - being extra careful not to expose them to light while removing the film roll from the camera, etc.

Writing an ‘inland’ and the ‘cleaning’ of photos, could then be periodised or pigeon-holed to a specific time-frame in history, that predates the arrival of the email or the arrival of digital photos!

As eminent critic Scupin Richard rightly points out,

Anachronism hence becomes a lovely liasioning agent connecting the present with the past!

Still, to each their aura and their glory!

Hence it becomes next to impossible to judge one era in time using the yardsticks of another period in time!

Just because I didn’t grow up with a mobile phone, (or didn’t even know much about mobile phones) until I finished on my College studies, doesn’t necessarily mean that, I should assess and evaluate today’s kids and their tryst with the mobile phone, using our past generation’s yardsticks, ways and manners!

And if at all I try doing that, I’m being a presentist!

Yes, a presentist is one who mixes present-day thoughts, values and perspectives to analyse or interpret events or objects of the past!

But fortunately or unfortunately that’s exactly what the New Historicists do!

So what then is Presentism?

Jeffrey R. Wilson in his insightful critical essay titled, ‘Historicizing Presentism: Toward the Creation of a Journal of the Public Humanities,’ gives us a very interesting take on presentism.

Here goes -

There’s always been tension between historicism and presentism.

The term presentism originated in the twentieth century in the discipline of history as a pejorative for the faulty understanding of the past in terms of the present.

Defining presentism as “a bias towards the present or present-day attitudes, esp. in the interpretation of history,” the Oxford English Dictionary gives 1916 as the term’s first instance (“Presentism, N.”).

The term didn’t register a significant presence until the 1940s; its prominence crept slowly upward until, in the mid-1980s, its popularity skyrocketed.

The term is now more popular than ever, most memorably addressed in the 2002 essay “Against Presentism,” by the historian Lynn Hunt, president of the American Historical Society at the time, who wrote, “presentism besets us in two different ways: (1) the tendency to interpret the past in presentist terms; and (2) the shift of general historical interest toward the contemporary period and away from the more distant past.”

That’s an introduction to anachronism and presentism for you dear reader!

Secondly,

The Samata Party leader Mr. Nitish Kumar was sworn in today as the new Chief Minister of Bihar, by the Governor Mr. V. C. Pande. The Governor’s decision had evoked widespread criticism as well. However, this swearing in, has gone into the records, since his government lasted only a mere seven days in office.

A little history should help –

Well, Mr. Nitish Kumar was the founder of the Samata Party (SAP) - in 1994 along with Mr. George Fernandes. Within two years, Nitish was elected to the Lok Sabha, and he also served as a Union Minister in the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, since his party had then joined hands with the National Democratic Alliance.

In March 2000, Nitish was elected Chief Minister of Bihar for the first time with the suggestion given by the Vajpayee Government at the centre.

While the NDA had 151 MLAs, Lalu Prasad Yadav had 159 MLAs in the 324-member house. Both alliances were less than the majority mark that is 163. That’s hence the Governor’s decision evoked widespread criticism. Unfortunately, Nitish resigned before he could prove his numbers in the house, since he found the numbers stacked against him.

Smt Rabri Devi, who took over from Nitish, went on to be the Chief Minister of Bihar from 11 Mar 2000 to 06 Mar 2005!

Interestingly, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi was also the Governor of Bihar during Smt Rabri Devi’s tenure as Chief Minister.

On an aside –

Prof. Gopalkrishna Gandhi is 79 years old, and he is now serving as Distinguished Professor of History and Politics, Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana (India).

Added, Prof. Gopalkrishna Gandhi has also translated the Tamil classic, Thirukkural, written by the sage poet Thiruvallar, into English, in the year 2015.

And guess the publisher? 

Mr. David Davidar!

Well, most of us MCC-ians would have sure known Mr. Davidar, founder of Aleph Book Company, [formerly CEO with Penguin], and an illustrious alumnus of Madras Christian College, who is quite popular for his novel, The House of Blue Mangoes, which contains memorable nuggets of his blessed time in MCC! 

Saturday 2 March 2024

'That’s the kinda question only people of Dr. Nirmal’s stature and calibre can ask you' ❤️

How Our Seniors Continue to Guide Us all the Way…

Blessed Musings on our Former Professors

On How I Learnt to ‘Deal with’ Derrida and Deconstruction! 😊

#drnirmalselvamony

#shiningstarsmcc

Well, this post is to acknowledge the love and the care of our senior (retired) Professors, who continue to guide us all - although they’ve retired well over 10 or 15 years ago - just for the sheer love of literature and for their love of MCC!

Just two days ago, when I was waiting at the Chennai Central Railway Station, about to board my train, I was thrilled to get a call from Dr. Nirmal Selvamony.

When I told him that I’m on my way to Mettupalayam, the next question he so spontaneously asked me was,

‘So how many books are you taking with you for your long train journey, Rufus’? 😊

That’s the kinda question only people of Dr. Nirmal’s stature and calibre can ask you.

Indeed, thus far, in my more than two-decade long association with him - Dr. Nirmal has never asked me about any person, or any particular event or issue so far at any point of time.

The only things he shares with me are his academic papers, that he keeps writing by the month.

Sample a few I’ve posted here.

His critique of Springer is so true, since they’ve not lived up to their calibre and expectations of late! It takes such great integrity and moral courage to critique a Springer kinda publication!

I still remember how Dr. Nirmal used to proof-read his research articles word by word, any many times!

Just to make sure that the article does not have even a small typographical error anywhere on it.

I’m so happy that our I & II MA Students and Research Scholars continue to make a beeline to his home, just to interact with him and be inspired and enriched in the process.

Writing the First Draft of this Blog Post, right now! 😊

Since I’m on a train journey myself now, returning from a Conference, I would like to take this opportunity to recollect yet another similar train journey that we had - thanks a million to Dr. Nirmal Selvamony, for giving us the chance to accompany him on a long train journey all the way to Phagwara, Punjab, from 9th to 11th February 2007.

9 - 11 February 2007, ASSM College, Punjab 

Well, this was almost two decades ago! Aleena Manoharan, and myself, we had accompanied Dr. Nirmal on this wonderful train journey to Phagwara, for a National Conference on ‘The Legacy of Saussure and the Contemporary Indian Experience’.

This was the memorable Conference in which I mustered all the courage to present my first ever paper on Derrida and Deconstruction!

Till then, Derrida was almost an anathema to me, since I considered him too scholarly for my little head!

However, our lovely train journey together, dispelled all the colossal doubts I had on Derrida!

This blessed journey that lasted almost 36 hours to New Delhi, and then again a blessed five hours to Phagwara from New Delhi, was an intellectual awakening of sorts for the two of us – Aleena and myself!

8th February 2007, New Delhi, Good Samaritans Institutions

Aleena Manoharan (Dr. Aleena is currently Professor with CMS College, Kottayam), and myself, we were his PhD Scholars back then, and hence we seized the blessed privilege of joining him on this long train journey.

We had a blessed II AC coupe all for ourselves, and hence, we had our exciting conversations, theme by theme, topic by topic, making sure that, either of us carefully alternated to give Sir his much needed tea or coffee reinforcements, from time to time! 😉

Dr. Nirmal patiently clarified all my doubts on Derrida, and dispelled the ‘myth’ or the ‘rumour’ that Derrrida was quite a hard nut to crack!

Even today, at DMC College, I was blessed to touch upon Derrida, in my Plenary Talk at DMC College, thanks mainly to Dr. Nirmal who guided me in my tryst with Derrida!

He also gave me key points to present my ideas on Derrida with reference to his concept of ‘aporia’.

Coming back - 

You see Punjab in February is as cold as could be, bordering from 10 to a perfect zero degree Celsius as well!

In this cold weather, we even went around the city, visiting the lovely Golden Temple, the Wagah Border and a host of other exciting places as well.

The students who were in charge of our hospitality, taught us some very good Punjabi as well!

Those blessed days were also blessed days for me, as they marked a turning point in my approach to Deconstruction.

I slowly started devouring any book that contained even the slightest ‘traces’ of Derrida.

Yes, the pun on ‘traces’ is intended! 😉

Later on, when our HoD asked me if I could teach Deconstruction to the II MA Class, I gladly agreed!

So yes! This blog post is to thank such great stalwarts of our department, who have always been a guiding light to us all along!

In fact, I’m writing this post even as I am returning from my lovely Goa sojourn, where I met with Dr. Susan, who again, along with her vibrant husband Rayson, did their PhD under the able guidance of Dr. Nirmal Selvamony!

Such is the inspiration of our retired professors on an entire generation of students and staff - who still continue to guide and lead us in every way!

Blessed we really are!

Well, dear reader, do you know something about a Journal that was founded by a legendary Professor of the Department of English, in the year 1986, that was entirely funded by him and his family?

Well, English: A Research Journal was born purely out of the personal initiative of Dr. P. Rajani, Department of English, MCC, who also became the Journal’s founding Editor.

Eminent scholars Dr. Claramma Xavier and Dr. R. S. Chandraleka have also been part of the Journal’s Editorial Board.

On a very heart-warming note, I came to know that the journal was almost entirely funded by Dr. Rajani and his family, with solid academic support from Dr. Rajagopalan and Dr. Nirmal Selvamony, who’ve been a great source of support to him, by helping him edit the essays. Dr. Nirmal Selvamony was one of the regular contributors of essays to this journal as well.

Pranams to their commitment, devotion and dedication!

The Editorial note by Prof. Rajani to this introductory volume, beautifully sets out the scope of the Journal in a nutshell, which I’m sure would be a great source of inspiration to all ye researchers and young faculty members!

Here goes –

A research student engaged in serious academic work needs to have a formal and meaningful outlet through seminars and journals.

While the former need is sufficiently met, the dearth of literary journals in the Madras University area has virtually stifled research publication.

This journal is, therefore, founded to promote research-oriented writing among staff and students of the English Department of the college.

What a noble aim! What a lofty vision!

The Department of English stands tall today, thanks to their love and service-minded devotion to their profession, nay, vocation!

Well, you may want to read more on the Journal of our Department [back then], and its committed contributors, in our past post HERE.

Friday 1 March 2024

'Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! has become the paradigm or the very epitome of a family movie!' ❤️

International Conference @ DMC College | Goa

#goamusings #thedaytoday

1st March 2024

Early in the morning today, I went for a stroll down the streets of Mapusa, Goa, and I was quite fascinated by all things Goan!

Their architecture especially is something that requires a vivid detailed description in a separate post altogether!

This Portuguese architectural legacy beautifully blends the Mughal, the European and the Indian into an amalgam that gives Goan architecture its own unique aura of sorts!

On either side of the roads – one could see roadside shops selling eggs, milk and coconuts in makeshift tables spread out for the purpose!

And these temporary shops disappear within two hours into the morning, when traffic reaches its peak, and the sun gets into ‘intense’ mode! 😊

DMC College is situated in a lovely hill that overlooks the Mapusa region of Goa.

We all had our breakfast in College. So happy to see two of our students from Chennai had made it to this Conference. Gautham who is presenting his paper, said that he had come all the way from Chennai to Goa, to present his first paper. So proud of you Gautham and Ezhil!

Sharp at 10 am, the Conference started in the Conference Hall. The invited guests lit the lamp, and this was followed by the Key Note Address by Dr. Vivek Sachdeva, Professor & Dean, University School of Humanities and Social Sciences, GGSIP University, New Delhi.

The Mobile Book Van @ the Conference Venue

His talk was on the topic, ‘New Cinema Form and Shifting Ideologies’.

Confining the scope of his talk to Hindi Cinema, Professor Vivek spoke about the impact of OTT and the new avenues for film distribution, that have changed the way films are made today, and on how we understand the OTT platform as a ‘new space’.

This ‘new space’ must be seen in relation to globalization, liberalization, digital revolution, and the post-pandemic scenario, etc, and for this this I'll fall back on narrative theory, he said.

Excerpts from his talk -

By new spaces, I mean, OTT has opened up new platforms – today, Turkish, Iranian, Korean films and a lot of South Indian films are made available online, based on subscriptions.

Moreover, they are simultaneously dubbed into multiple languages as well.

Some Hindi films were released on Amazon Prime even before they could be released on screen.

They've created a neo-cultural space for cinema through the OTT Platform.

This new space is an alternative space!

However, this alternative space is also controlled by consumerist ideology.

It's not a space of enunciation or alternative ideology but only a space for alternative consumption!

It has changed the relationship of viewers with cinema.

The old cinema was based on class-based stratification where those who cannot afford the luxury seats, were often seated in the front rows, or on the ground!

Imaginary communities watched the same movie together.

The use of Hindustani language also became a tool of resistance against British Raj.

It contributed towards fostering and imagining the nation.

Immediately after independence, depictions in Indian cinema included, themes of reforming rich brats or hardened criminals, and the challenges before India as a young nation, and the responsibility of young Indians towards society.

The poor were a regular constituent of the cinemas of the 1950s.

In contrast, the nature of cinema changed after the introduction of multiplexes. It increased the cost of living, and the poor were excluded from these cinema halls.

Films like Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994) offered a spectrum of affluence. The folk songs and traditional rituals and Diwali celebrations have influenced society to such an extent that society has become bollywoodised! In short, Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! has become the paradigm or the very epitome of a family movie!

New cinema today is made with the newly emerging New Middle class, with the beginning of liberalization in India.

The new middle class with better pay package gave a fillip to consumerism.

These spaces were ‘spaces of consumption’ were food, high-priced popcorn and cinema were consumed at the same place!

Privatization of internet services with ‘broader’ bandwidth gave boost to video content on internet.

The first OTT was BigFlix launched by Reliance Entertainment in 2008.

The policies of liberalization allowed Amazon [2016] and Netflix [2017] to set shop in the Indian market, as a result of free economy.

Movies began to be watched in laptops, and became a highly personalized experience which has eventually affected the form, and the narrative experience as well!

A new genre, the Web series - a serialized form of narrative emerged because of the OTT Platforms.

TV adaptations of serialized visual Narratives.

However when it comes to OTT, the content part is tutored.

TV serials and TV series are different in their essence and they are based on the structure of narratives.

Web series like Mirzapur are based on crimes in remote parts of India. The Delhi police in fact appreciated the makers, because it was so close in the storyline to the Delhi police records.

[But we must also remember it is just a narrative of Delhi police record.] 😊

The tone and tenor of representation changes in web series.

Mirzapur – the TV series highlights the nexus between money power and political power in society.

It tells the pressures of middle-class families, happily married women, their hidden sexualities etc.

This way focalisation assumes significance here.

Crime is no longer contained to the metropolis. Mumbai is not only a city of opportunities now but also a city of crime.

It differs from Italian new realism as well. It makes the films deceptively realistic, since they're made of lesser-known casts and crew as well. It lacks the dramatic acting and sounds which are associated with Bollywood.

These pseudo-realistic movies produced a reified image of rural India that's originally not there.

Away from the family, it gives them an individualised perspective to experience a story away from the gaze.

One drawback of these crime thriller series is that, they fail to give a socio-economic perspective to the crime, which used to be part of the new cinema of the 1950s.

Newly imagined gender roles are also shown, which blurs our perspective towards good and evil.

OTT has given space for alternative Narratives that have not found a space on big screen. Eg. Deepa Mehta!

OTTs hence are like online parlours with different packages.

They have emerged as an alternative space with new kinds of Narratives, but they have also become capitalistic!

OTTs have hence resulted in affecting the other forms and modes of cinema produced in the country.

In the context of ideology and habitus, the question that I would like to leave with you today is – 

Do you think art can transcend these metrics?

Signed off Dr. Vivek Sachdeva!

Then Dr. Geetha Bakilapadavu spoke on ‘Film and Ideology’.

Dr. Geetha is with BITS Pilani, Goa Campus.

Dr. Krishna Manavalli, Professor & Chairperson, Dept of English, University of Mysore, spoke next on ‘Christie Calling: Adaptations of Agatha Christie in Hindi Cinema’.

She began her talk with an interesting anecdote!

The queen of crime fiction – Agatha Christie - after a failed marriage and a traumatic divorce, or rather two years after her divorce, while visiting friends on an expedition in Iraq - she chanced upon Max Mallowan, an archaeologist who was 14 years her junior.

She found him quite engaging. But Max was sceptical, and so he asked her -

I don’t think you’d find life with me interesting. Won’t you be disturbed by the fact that so much of my work has to do with corpses?

She reassured him: "I adore corpses and stiffs."

With that began an exhilarating romance, and they lived happily ever after. 😊

The genre of whodunit films.. hasn't received much justice, said Dr. Krishna.

Where's the reader in the translation?

Where's the viewer in the adaptation?

asked Dr. Krishna, before signing off on her Plenary Session!

On the whole, it was a very engaging morning session of Plenary Talks!

In the afternoon, while going for our lunch, all of a sudden, I saw a familiar voice beckoning me from quite nearby!

It was Dr. Susan Deborah! 😊

It’s been ages since we had last met in Goa, some six years ago, and so it was so delightful to meet up with Susan. We missed meeting up with Rayson though! [Rayson, btw, is Professor with BITS Pilani, Goa Campus.]

She had arrived just in time to chair the afternoon’s session.

With the Speakers, Paper Presenters and the Organisers

I was so happy that we could talk over our lunch together.

It also reminded me of our vibrant Assam sojourn that had happened exactly 12 years ago, where we had presented our papers in the Conference in which Professor Gayatri Spivak was the Key-Note Speaker! 😊

It was such a joy for all three of us back then, to spend three days in the intellectual company of Professor Spivak in Sibsagar College, Assam.

PS: You may want to read more about our memorable Assam Sojourn, and our rendezvous with Professor Spivak, on our past post HERE.

Thursday 29 February 2024

'If the basis of all education is knowledge wielded by love then society can be transformed' | How A Single Comment Can Augment Your Perspectives for the Better! ❤️

So What is Literature 2.0? | Goa Musings

#thursdaymusings

#anecdotalevidence

#blogcomments

29th February 2024

This morning, at 4.45 am, our train chugged into Thivim Railway Station. Prof. Subhash from DMC College, Goa, was there at the station, to receive me warmly.

Then, on our lovely car drive to our hotel, I learnt a lot of local specifics about North & South Goa, about Konkani’s five alphabets [and hence five scripts] - Devanagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam and Perso-Arabic scripts that are currently used to write the Konkani language, about the famous tourist attractions, about how, for every two kilometres the language varies when it comes to Goa and how community plus geography determine the dialectical  variant of a particular region, etc etc!

But that’s meet for another post!

Today, just a few minutes ago, at 9.45 pm, we drove back from our lively dinner time at Jacob’s Creek, where our conversations over literature, culture and society went on and on for hours!

As I got back to my room, the first thing that I had resolved was to write a post on a lovely comment that I had received on our academic blog yesterday.

Well, for avid bloggers out there, this post is meant to motivate you to share your precious thoughts, of all hues - because you may not know how much it is valuable and useful to someone who is desperate to get inspiration from that particular post of yours! 


This comment was for a post [that I’d written exactly nine years ago, in February 2015] on this, our blogging site!

It was a critical take on Bertrand Russell’s “Education and Discipline”.

Back then, there were hardly any good critical summaries available for this wonderful essay by Bertrand Russell, and hence I took some quality time off to write and post a wholesome and simplified critical summary on this highly philosophical treatise!

And it felt so happy to to see a lot of encouraging comments for that post! Just posting a few here!

Today, I had received another such comment for this post, which said,

Russell’s earlier work, ‘On Education’, is also significant.

Well, this lovely comment, is the spur and the motivation for this post!

In the era of Digital Humanities, to rephrase a typical New Historicist parlance, these comments could also be called anecdotal evidence of the highest order!

This takes us to the concept of Literature 2.0!

In this era where the text assumes an entirely different avatar in the digital platform, it becomes all the more imperative on our part to know more about Literature 2.0!

What exactly is Literature 2.0 then?

Well, Literature 2.0 is basically about websites that host literary works – a poem, prose or play, on their platform, and also abundantly make use of user-generated content for their readers aka end users.

In this respect, Literature 2.0 helps in enhancing user interactivity and collaboration.

And this could also be called a kinda New Historicist reading since, it is also characterised by a ‘parallel reading’ of the text alongside its socio-cultural and socio-historical conditions, which form the co-text to the text, thus enhancing and amplifying the meaning of the text!

The ‘Textuality’ of the historical specifics hence become equally important in the production and the interpretation of the text! In other words, the historical specifics of a work of art, say a text, gets embedded into the text!

This reading and interpreting of the ‘Text’ in the context of the co-text includes both the literary and the non-literary as well, which make it ‘anecdotal!’ [Anecdotal Evidence].

In short, it is these anecdotal materials that prove valuable for the New Historicist to lay bare their truth claim that, meaning production is dependent on this so-called ‘fragmented stuff’ [reader responses of any sort, be it in social media, on You Tube, on blog posts, etc), that facilitate the shaping of an event or a story into ‘formalized facts!’

To sum it up, the anecdote or the anecdotal evidence helps in refashioning the historical reality as it really ought to have been!

Again, that’s simply because of the fact that, anecdotal evidence helps us to take into account the felt experience of the other as well!

So what is the book that the person has mentioned in the comment and why does it assume a lot of significance to enhance the original post?

Well, it’s Russell’s book ‘On Education’, in which Russell says that,

If the basis of all education is knowledge wielded by love then society can be transformed.

How true he proves!

It’s not knowledge alone that the child needs, but knowledge that’s wielded by love, that the child needs, and that can transform society for the better!

The comment, then, is an excellent exemplar to Literature 2.0!