Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Georg Simmel’s work on culture |Urs Fuhrer

The origins of the term “culture” can be traced back to the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, who claimed in his Tusculum Disputations, 2000 years ago: “Cultura animi philosophia est.”

This formulation makes sense only if “cultura” denotes a process, as it also does in “agri cultura.”

The cultivation of land, plants, and animals was the congenial basis on which Cicero postulated a cultivation of the mind, which we called philosophy.

Cicero’s approach had long receded into the collective memory of the European nations when the Baltic vicar Johann Gottfried Herder took it up 1800 years later in his Ideas towards a Philosophy of History of Mankind, which appeared in 1778.

For Herder, culture also denotes a process, but one which he relates to the central goal of his age, i.e. enlightenment.

Along the Herderian line of reasoning, Hegel came up with his idea of culture as “objective spirit.”

The era of the “cultured individual:” the 1840s to the 1920s

Hegel’s “objective spirit” inspired metaphors for a new orientation towards culture.

The guiding metaphor of the theories of objective spirit, was that culture was the “coagulated spirit” that, through the hermeneutic-understanding view of the subject, becomes re-subjectifiable.

Excerpted from: Cultivating Minds: Identity as Meaning-making Practice, Routledge, 2004.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Know Thyself!

Cultivating a Sense of Self! Celebrating “YOU!”

Thoughts from a teacher to his students | Rufus

We, as human beings in general, and as learners in particular, always regard the cultured self, which is conditioned by the society in which we live, as the true form of self-identity that establishes our individual worth and merit!

Any personal development, professional growth or career advancement is always seen from this ‘vantage’ point of view, that we fear and dread the very fact to be different!

‘Why did you take to Engineering?’

“My parents forced me into it. So I had no other option.”

‘But why-o-why?’

“That’s the way of the world, they say!”

‘What do you mean by the ‘way of the world’?’

“The way society goes about doing things in general.”

‘What if you don’t go by the ‘normative’ dictates of ‘society’?”

‘I probably would be stereotyped as a ‘cultural misfit’!’

Many of us are, like this pavapetta learner, easily swayed by the ‘dictums of society’ imposed on us, the restrictions and the clutters, the pressures and the pulls, from parents and kith and kin, that inhibit our free selves, the stale, clichéd normatives of society that stifle us from celebrating the true, liberated ‘self’ within us all!

‘Society’ hates it with such fierce venomous hatred, when you try to celebrate your own personal space, by moving away from the basic givens!

‘Society’ looks down upon you with contempt when you attempt at venturing into a field that people would call ‘highly insane’!

‘Society’ would even call you a ‘misfit’ if your thoughts, your ideas, your way of life and your sense of self, is way out of the box!

But you can’t blame society for it!

Cos that’s the way society has always been!

At the same time, there have been great thinkers, stalwarts and philosophers down the ages who have always celebrated the sense of ‘self’ –

To Aristotle, “Knowing oneself is the beginning of true wisdom!”

To Pythagoras, ‘Only if you know yourself, you can then know the universe and God!’

To Swami Vivekananda, ‘The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong!’

To Jiddu Krishnamurti, ‘To know yourself you need not go to any book, to any priest, to any psychologist. The whole treasure is within yourself’ and so, ‘the more you know yourself, the more clarity there is’!

Similarly, there have also been a host of motivational experts who have exhorted us all to ‘dare to be different’!

From Edward de Bono, who’s given us tips to go out of the box in our thinking,

To Steven Covey who’s given us motivation enough to prioritise the individual ‘character ethic’ over the ‘personality ethic’,

To Daniel Goleman who has prioritized the ‘emotional’ over the ‘Intellectual’,

To Malcolm Gladwell, who’s given us the 80/20 principle, where the 80% of the work are done by the 20 percent of the participants,

To Norman Vincent Peale, who’s waxed eloquent on the power that comes along with positive thinking, to help people suffering from huge inferiority complexes and those having lost faith in themselves to come out of these quagmire stuff, and regain self-esteem and faith.

Well, yesss! The courage to be yourself is a great challenge in times when society wants to boss over you, when society wants to play Big Brother, and let it have the final word in your life! at any given point of time, with its dangerous tentacles in such myriad forms!

But… just pause, think and reflect about it for a moment!
Were you born to swim with the tide, and obey the dictates of an insane society that has its own list of prejudices and endless malice that could cast their vituperative sway over you?


Do you feel you need to think out of the box, celebrate the person that is you, by cultivating a high sense of self-esteem, and getting for yourself an ‘identity’ that does not succumb to the wiles and dictates of an insane majority, and be an achiever!

The answer my friend ain’t no longer blowin’ in the wind!

It’s up for grabs right in front of you!!! Either you make it or break it!

And yesss!

There are quite a few possible ways to celebrate your sense of self-worth!

I would like to enumerate just two for the moment, down below –

First and foremost,

Cultivate your Sacred Space!

Yes! It’s a sacred space! Every individual who wishes to have a high sense of self-esteem must needs do this in her life for sure!

People who tend to follow the crowd, the passive majority, are always known for their fickle-mindedness! (Julius Caesar, Shakespeare)! They ain’t gonna have a sense of self-esteem anytime, anywhere! Blame it on whatever you may!

Friday, 5 October 2018

The Courage to be Yourself!

I chanced upon a lovely read, titled, The Courage to Be Yourself, edited by Al Desetta, a book that celebrates true stories from 26 young minds, teens to be specific, on how they all faced peer pressure, teasing, bullying, exclusion, or just feeling “different” from everyone else.

Giving a peek from the delightful Introduction to the book, for y’all, and then, me thought of suggesting a story for you to read, by Dwan Carter, which was such a huge inspiration to me, and a must-read for us all!

Just excerpts from the Introduction –

Nadishia gets harassed because she doesn’t wear the latest designer clothes. Rana, who is Arab American, becomes the target of hate after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Cassandra’s friends make fun of her for sitting with kids from other races in the school cafeteria. Yen gets teased for being Chinese, Jeremiah for being gay, and Jamel for not wanting to smoke marijuana. One anonymous teen is so afraid of being ridiculed for liking musicals that he keeps his tastes a secret. All these writers ask themselves tough questions: Why does everyone have such a problem with me? How come people can’t accept me for who I am? Is it okay to be different? Should I change myself to fit in?

This book, The Courage to Be Yourself is about the conflicts that teens go through when they get labeled and judged because they seem different. Differences can be threatening. Most people trust what they’re familiar with and fear the unfamiliar.

Labels are hard to avoid. You make statements by the friends you choose, where you sit at lunch, where you hang out, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the way you talk, and even the way you walk. At the same time, people make assumptions about you because of things you don’t choose or have control over, such as your race, physical appearance, where you live, or your sexual orientation. People are quick to judge by using labels because, in a sense, what else do they have to go by? We’re all limited by our own points of view and the groups we belong to—our families, neighborhoods, schools, and cultural backgrounds.

It’s okay, and even important, to belong to a group, because groups help people feel secure. But it’s important not to let groups define individuals. When race or dress or sexual orientation—or another label—is all you know about an individual, that individual becomes less of a person. And that can lead to conflict.

The underlying message is that, one way teens can solve conflicts with each other is by understanding and respecting the differences among themselves. And part of that process involves understanding and respecting yourself.

The teens in this book have used conflict to become stronger, better people, and you can too.

The choices and changes they made weren’t easy—their stories don’t always end happily, with all difficulties solved. Some writers lose friends who mean a lot to them, others continue to be teased and harassed, and many continue to struggle with difficult emotions.

But that is exactly also the value of The Courage to Be Yourself.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Teacher's Day Musings from Literature!

At the dawn of yet another delightful Teachers’ Day that acknowledges and celebrates the power and the charm of the teacher, their esteem and their value, and how they shape and mould and impact and influence their students for eternity, here’s a small gleaning from some of literature’s most endearing teachers, both in writers and in their writings.

I believe these personal literary gleanings, would sure motivate all of us to becoming better teachers in the delightful and noble service of dispelling the ‘darkness of ignorance’ from the students entrusted in our noblest care, towards making them better human beings and better citizens of this great nation.

Here’s wishing y’all a Happy teachers’ day and happy inspirational reading too!

Here goes -

1. Teacher Recommends his prodigious Student Achebe!

In 1957, Achebe went to London to attend the British Broadcasting Corporation Staff School. One of his teachers there was the British novelist and literary critic Gilbert Phelps, who recommended Things Fall Apart for publication.

2. To Amis, School life was more rewarding than even family life

To Kingsley Amis, thanks to his teachers, his School was more rewarding than family life. Amis attended Norbury College, where at the age of eleven he had his first story, ‘‘The Sacred Rhino of Uganda,’’ published in the school magazine.

Amis writes enthusiastically about his years at this excellent day school, recalling the broad range of social strata from which its students were drawn and its humane spirit of tolerance: ‘‘I have never in my life known a community where factions of any kind were less in evidence, where differences of class, upbringing, income group and religion counted for so little.’’ Academic standards were high, and Amis, specializing first in classics and then in English, maintained a level that earned him a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford.

3. Aristotle, the “most brilliant student” of his master Plato!

Teacher nicknames student as ‘the reader’!

At age seventeen, Aristotle was sent to Athens to attend the most famous school in Greece, the Academy of the great philosopher Plato. At the time, Athens was the intellectual center of the world, and Plato’s Academy was the center of Athens.

Aristotle won recognition as the master’s most brilliant student, and his energetic gathering of research and general love of books led Plato to nickname him ‘‘the reader.’’ During his time at the Academy, Aristotle studied mathematics and dialectic, a form of argumentative reasoning. Aristotle spent twenty years at the Academy, until Plato’s death in 347 B.C.

4. Camus inspired to read widely by his teacher

Albert Camus was greatly inspired to read widely and deeply by his high school teacher, philosopher Jean Grenier, Camus was well versed in the classics of Western philosophy, including the works of Plato, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche—all of whom influenced his work.

5. Chesterton says, ‘I prefer to change society through my teaching’

As a literary journalist, Chesterton was very much in the tradition of the Victorian sage. He was at once a teacher and a literary artist. He sought to change society through his teaching, using symbol, parable, and religious allegory as the most effective way of doing so. Like his close friends George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, he preferred the role of teacher and prophet to that of literary man.

6. Plato’s Treatise in honour of his Teacher

The Republic is a philosophical treatise by Plato. In this text, Plato outlines much of the political theory of his teacher, Socrates.

7. For Dahl, it will be harsh memories of school days!

Roald Dahl recalled in his short autobiographical story ‘‘Lucky Break’’ that the ‘‘beatings at Repton were more fierce and more frequent than anything I had yet experienced.’’ Standing six feet, six inches tall, Dahl played soccer and served as the captain of the squash and handball teams but did not excel in academics. One teacher commented on the fourteen-year-old boy’s English composition work: ‘‘I have never met a boy who so persistently writes the exact opposite of what he means. He seems incapable of marshaling his thoughts on paper.’’

Friday, 10 August 2018


Post-Graduate and Research Department of English

“Marx Today”

Call for Papers

The Post-Graduate and Research Department of English, S B College, Changanacherry, Kerala, is organizing a two-day International Seminar on 3rd and 4th of September 2018 on the Topic: “Marx Today”.

The conference on Marx is organised around the life and works of Karl Marx in the context of the two hundredth year of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Das Kapital.

Political thought and philosophy are incomplete without a Marxian dimension. Marx’s 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy posits a notion of politics that sets subjective agency in relation to its objective determinants. Marx here contends that human society “inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.” The problem of politics, in other words, is how to correlate specific sites of struggle to the deeper structures that condition them.

However, the enduring relevance of Marxist intellectual thought remains a point of spirited debate in the ideological history of the late twentieth century. With the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union, the emergent currency of postmodern concepts, and the rise of new social protest movements in the spheres of race, gender, and sexual orientation, Marxism came to appear the ‘signifier par excellence of theoretical hubris, redundancy and
error’ (Pendakis and Szeman 2014).

In the twenty-first century however, propelled by the succession of economic and ecological crisis scenarios, Marxist criticism has experienced a critical resurgence. Fredric Jameson, David Harvey, and Alex Callinicos have provided new formal readings of Marx’s seemingly ‘inexhaustible’ text (Jameson 2011). 

Accompanying the apparent epistemological exhaustion of post-structuralist approaches, what palpably remains are the visible signs of an underlying crisis – secular stagnation, intensification of racism, sexism and xenophobia, militarised state repression, ecological collapse, deepening inequality and general human suffering for vast segments of the population.

In the face of what some have argued is capital’s terminal crisis, our political world seems singularly unable to tackle the problems it has created and desperately needs to solve.

But times of crisis are also times of possibility and the conference seeks to posit both questions and answers that address the matter of “The relevance of Marxism Today”.

Proposals on all topics of relevance to Marxist theory and practice are welcome, including but not limited to:

Economic Thought
Cultural studies
Marxian Literary Criticism
Political Thought
Marxism and aesthetics
Protests, Political Movements, Manifestos
Literature as praxis and theory
Marxism, ecology, and the Anthropocene

Papers from teachers, research scholars and students of Universities and Colleges in India are invited.

Dates to Remember

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Confy @ BITS, Goa

Literature-Cinema Interface

January 31-Feb 2, 2019

 BITS Pilani, Goa

Call for Papers 

This conference traces the various modes of engagement that exist between some of the globally dominant literary and cinematic forms, without limiting itself to the age-old domain of adaptation. It tries to locate these engagements and negotiations across three geopolitical formations and locations of culture, namely region, nation and trans-nation. These three locations work as contact zones where the literature-cinema interface manifests in various forms. With the emergence of transnationalism and comparative film studies as methods in cinema studies, multiple modes of literature-cinema negotiation are becoming increasingly evident with cinema studies borrowing concepts such as ‘world literature’ and ‘comparative morphology’. In the Indian/South Asian context, these locations are entangled with issues such as the language question, regional nationalisms, the crumbling idea of a federal republic with an increasingly stronger unitary governance, linguistic identity politics as manifested in popular cinemas and literatures, translational politics and the formation/development of certain national centres for the production of various modes of translation, India’s cultural/literary/cinematic negotiations with the trans-nation before and after globalization/economic liberalization etc. 

With contemporary India as its primary site of inquiry, the conference moves towards inter-continental geopolitical engagements without considering Indian regional/national and literary/cinematic questions in isolation. Apart from thematic and ideological associations with the trans-nation, it involves participants beyond the borders of the Indian nation (from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), transforming itself into a discursive space where the conceptual apparatus meets with the narratives that inform and shape the former. Narratives from the margins will also significantly feature in the conference, with panels and plenaries on and from the Indian North-East. Moreover, a panel and a plenary will be devoted to Goa and its distinctive history of colonial and postcolonial politico-cultural engagements as manifested in indigenous literature and art.

Possible topics for presentation might be, but are not limited to, the following:

Transnationalism as Method
Comparative Cinema Studies and the transnational question
South Asia’s Cultural Engagement with the ‘West’
Cultural/Literary/Cinematic Migration within South Asia 

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Environmental Humanities: Theory and Praxis in Australia and India

Seventh International Conference
Organized by

Indian Association for the Study of Australia, Eastern Region

12-13 January, 2019

Astor Hotel, Kolkata

Concept Note

With the publication of Lawrence Buell’s Environmental Imagination in the late 1990s and consequent debates on the relevance of Environment to humanities disciplines, there emerged a growing consciousness of linkages between humanities and environment. In other words, this critical mode of studying literary/political/historical texts in terms of environmental activism opened up a whole range of interdisciplinary studies. Gradually, Environmental Studies came to open up a new interdisciplinary space which could inflect on environmental issues in terms of history, political science, literature, law, philosophy and so on.

But what led to the development of Environmental Humanities as against Environmental Studies?  Ursula K Heise  posits a distinctive argument: “…quite a few environmentally oriented humanists and social scientists have felt disgruntled with environmental studies programmes that, for all their pathbreaking interdisciplinary work, have often limited their reach to the natural sciences, civil engineering and a few experts on law and policy”( Introduction: The Routledge Companion to Environmental Humanities, 2017)

Under the general rubric of Environmental Studies, a new intersection of critical orientation began to develop. Critics began to distinguish between “nature writing” and “ecopoetics”. “Nature writing” seemed to be looked upon as a genre articulating just an imaginative perception of nature as it is. But “ecopoetics” began to question the ways how nature has been ravaged and destroyed by mankind. This even gave rise to another sub-genre “ecofeminism” which created a binary between “man” and “nature” (envisaged as woman). In this way, it called for a gendered perception of nature.

It is possible to locate three distinctive phases of the study of environment: Environmental philosophy in 1970s, environmental history in 1980s, ecocriticism as well as ecofeminism in 1990s, thereby negotiating multiple forms of interdisciplinary domains in the context of the study of environment. Such collaborative paradigms gradually led to the development of Environmental Humanism as an interdisciplinary genre.  

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Ideological State Apparatus | Peter Brooker
A description introduced by the French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser in an important essay in his Lenin and Philosophy.

The concept develops Antonio Gramsci's emphasis on the operation of ideology in civil society, and has been extremely influential on a range of work within Literary, Film and Cultural Studies.

Althusser distinguishes between two kinds of state apparatus: repressive state apparatuses (or RSAs - for example, the penal system, police and army) and ideological state apparatuses (ISAs - including religion, the legal system, education, the family, culture and communication).

The first are coercive in their operation, while the second function to unify society through ideology and reproduce a regime through consent.

The latter are relatively independent of the state, though they serve to ratify and legitimize it, and to function, says Althusser, 'beneath the ruling ideology which is the ideology of "the ruling class".

Althusser's concept is an important aspect of his critique of traditional Marxism and his re-reading of Marx.
Deterritorialization | Peter Brooker

A key concept in the philosophy of Deleuze and Guatarri, and especially elaborated in their Anti-Oedipus (1984) and A Thousand Plateaus (1987).

Their philosophy depends on a particular lexicon, including, in addition to the current term, rhizome, flows, nomadism, strata and assemblages.

The concluding section of A Thousand Plateaus comprises a brief summation of some of these terms. Here 'assemblages' are described as always 'basically territorial' composed of different contrary aspects:

In the first instance they are both non-discursive bodies and discursive utterances ('content and expression'); in the second, they are defined by their constitution as 'territories' and by a counter 'deterritorializing' interior movement that agitates for change.

Animal, social and political assemblages are therefore seen as dynamic combinations of reterritorializing forces that seek stability and the 'lines of flight', creative energy or DESIRE, that 'cut across' or deterritorialize a given assemblage and 'carry it away'.

The 'Conclusion' of A Thousand Plateaus further distinguishes in abstract fashion between 'relative' and 'absolute' types of deterritorialization.

The first takes place in the actual world and can take a 'negative' form when the lines of flight are blocked, or 'positive' when the lines of flight escape the forces of repressive reterritorialization.

'Absolute' deterritorialization refers to a deeper movement in the 'virtual' order of things, acting on the 'molecular' rather than 'molar' plane of existence.

'Deterritorialisation is absolute,' write Deleuze and Guattari, 'when... it brings about the creation of a new earth'.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Essentialism | Peter Brooker

A term describing the assumption that human beings, objects or texts possess underlying essences that define their 'true nature'.

This illustration from Amy Hayes Stellhorn and her team, i guess, sums it up quite elegantly!
An 'essence' is fixed and unchanging, but has a double existence: as both the inherent or innate property of an individual object or being, and the abstract, external essence governing the type to which all examples conform.

From Aristotle onwards there has been a long debate in European philosophy on the very existence of essences, their relation to appearances or natural forms, and the accessibility of this essence to human knowledge or perception. A common recourse - to a secular age, a last resort - has been the idea of the creator in whom the essence and knowledge of all things are seen to reside.

The most thorough-going critique of this tradition has been made by Jacques Derrida who argues that western philosophy as a whole is founded on a 'metaphysics of presence' - that is to say, upon a belief in a transcendent first cause or point of pure origin. All such thought, he argues, is 'centred' upon 'an invariable presence ... (essence, existence, substance, subject)... transcendentality, consciousness, God, man and so forth'.

Derrida's method of Deconstruction has inspired a wide critique of the binary oppositions that invest a first term in a series - such as speech/writing, nature/culture, man/woman, God/human, the real/representation – with the authority of a governing fixed point.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Ecosophy, Assemblage and the Symbiocene...!


At the start of The Three Ecologies, Felix Guattari reminds us of the ‘ecological disequilibrium’ that threatens ‘the continuation of life on the planet’s surface. Alongside these upheavals, human modes of life, both individual and collective, are progressively deteriorating’.

Guattari catalogues the degradation of the soil, water, and air, the massive economic crises, the increasing gaps between the wealthy and poor, the unfettered racism and sexism, and he argues that we need a new type of theory, a new philosophy, that can help us grapple with all of these overlapping problems.

Guattari writes, ‘political groupings and executive authorities appear to be totally incapable of understanding the full implications of these issues . . . only an ethico-political articulation—which I call ecosophy . . . would be likely to clarify these questions’.

Guattari advocates ecosophy as an ‘articulation’ that foregrounds overlapping spheres of reality, and the ways these overlapping spheres can be articulated in new ways toward transformation. He highlights both mentalities and materialities as he advocates for an ecosophy that engages with the material, social, and ideological ‘registers’ of life.

All Our Social Problems are Interdependent

According to Guattari, our social problems are interdependent and spread through multiple registers or fields of existence, so we need a theory capable of engaging with these overlaps and inter-dependencies. He argues that we need to enunciate new assemblages of existence; we need collective assemblages of human-nonhuman that ‘assemble’ to form spaces and modes of being that subvert capitalist trajectories of destruction.

Guattari is calling for a more radical way of understanding and engaging with economics, social development, and environmental damage. His call for more radical change is not new, but he adds something new with his insightful discussion of the interactions, relationality, and also dynamism of the ways that the material, social, and ideological fields interact and shape each other.

Ecosophy, as a term, has not only been used by Guattari. For example, the term ‘ecosophy’ was first coined by Arne Naess.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

An Alternate Reality in an Alternate living, spent on Trees!

How would you like it, when a youngy nobleman of very high rank, suddenly, one fine day, climbs up and up, higher and higher into the trees as an act of rebellion and never ever decides to come back down to the earth?

There’s this young Italian nobleman by name Cosimo, who nests himself comfortably within the branches of hugey trees, and then - surprise of surprises - resolves to be perched there amongst the trees, the rest of his entire life!

From here, settled amongst the branches of the trees, he does a soulful connect with the great minds of the Enlightenment with vigor and gusto, and towards the end of his life, steps onto a better, wiser and higher plane.

Interestingly, Calvino, oops Cosimo ;-) comes up with wonderfully unique and ingenious answers to the pressing problems of humankind such as food, hygiene, clothing, friendship, etc.

Although superficially the story might look weird, there’s a wonderful thread of enriching philosophy or ecosophy that runs deep through its storyline.

Although he’s now a man so confined to the branches of the wildest of trees, he is still able to get the most revolutionary of thoughts and ideas, thanks to the books!

In fact, Calvino portrays Cosimo’s whole life has being guided passionately by three things: books and books and books!

Some of the descriptions found at the beginning of the book are so throbbing with the solace and the luxuries of Nature: on the nature of each tree, the animals, the sounds and scents.

The young baron’s resolve to lead an arboreal existence, makes him one of the most believable characters in the entire gamut of world literature. The alternate reality that enthralls the reader skyhigh with such intense wisdom, connecting so subtly with memory, history and nature, is unique and so one of its kind!

A few excerpty lovely lines from the text for us all -

On a fig tree, though, as long as he saw to it that a branch could bear his weight, he could move about forever; Cosimo would stand under the pavilion of leaves, watching the sun appear through the network of twigs and branches, the gradual swell of the green fruit, smelling the scent of flowers budding in the stalks. The fig tree seemed to absorb him, permeate him with its gummy texture and the buzz of hornets; after a little Cosimo would begin to feel he was becoming a fig tree himself, and move away, uneasy.