Friday, October 09, 2009

In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics

Cesare Casarino, Antonio Negri

Cesare Casarino and Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics, U of Minnesota Press, 2008, 312pp., $24.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780816647439.

Reviewed by Jason Read, University of Southern Maine

 In Praise of the Common is a difficult book to categorize; neither a collection of interviews nor a collection of essays, it combines b
oth formats, becoming in the end something unique. It is also a book that not only became something different than was initially intended, but which also explicitly states this difference. The book was conceived as a series of interviews that would address the historical background of Antonio Negri's thought, the tumultuous period of political action and philosophical reflection of the Italian sixties and seventies that remains largely unknown in the Anglo-American world despite the popularity of Empire
and Multitude. However, as these conversations developed they became less about the past, less a matter of one person interviewing another about his experiences, and more about the present and future. The interview became a conversation. Unlike an interview, a conversation is determined less by an asymmetry between the one who knows and the one who asks than by the production of some common understanding. In Casarino's terms, "Conversation is the language of the common" (1).

Continue reading...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation

Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair

October, 2009
Cloth, 536 pages,
ISBN: 978-0-231-14724-8
$44.00 ($55.00 )
View Sale / £38.00

Arguing that intellectual movements, such as deconstruction, postsecular theory, and political theology, have different implications for cultures and societies that live with the debilitating effects of past imperialisms, Arvind Mandair unsettles the politics of knowledge construction in which the category of "religion" continues to be central. Through a case study of Sikhism, he launches an extended critique of religion as a cultural universal. At the same time, he presents a portrait of how certain aspects of Sikh tradition were reinvented as "religion" during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

India's imperial elite subtly recast Sikh tradition as a sui generis religion, which robbed its teachings of their political force. In turn, Sikhs began to define themselves as a "nation" and a "world religion" that was separate from, but parallel to, the rise of the Indian state and global Hinduism. Rather than investigate these processes in isolation from Europe, Mandair shifts the focus closer to the political history of ideas, thereby recovering part of Europe's repressed colonial memory.

Mandair rethinks the intersection of religion and the secular in discourses such as history of religions, postcolonial theory, and recent continental philosophy. Though seemingly unconnected, these discourses are shown to be linked to a philosophy of "generalized translation" that emerged as a key conceptual matrix in the colonial encounter between India and the West. In this riveting study, Mandair demonstrates how this philosophy of translation continues to influence the repetitions of religion and identity politics in the lives of South Asians, and the way the academy, state, and media have analyzed such phenomena.

Related Subjects


About the Author

Arvind-Pal S. Mandair teaches at the University of Michigan. He is a founding coeditor of the journal Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, and Theory.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sikh Students Conference sets a new paradigm of activism

Berkeley, CA June 24, 2009 – Sikh Students Conference UC Berkeley hosted upwards of 80 Sikh students from across North America to engage Sikh students on the topic of 1984. The event, organized by Center for Sikh Studies and Sikh Students Federation, engaged the philosophical underpinnings and foundations behind the event leading up to 1984 and the contemporary perception of 1984 by way of Sikh scholars including Professor Balbinder Singh Bhogal (Hofstra Univerity, Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies). Participants, consisting mostly of college students and young professionals, were hosted at UC Berkeley dormitories and were provided room and board. In addition to lecture and discussion with scholars, participants explored the bay area including Muir Woods, Ocean Beach, and wider Berkeley.

Lectures were followed by discussion, in which participants were afforded opportunity to present questions and comments. Scholars were Randeep Singh (UC Berkeley), Amandeep Singh (SUNY Stony Brook), Harjeet Grewal (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Prabhsharandeep Singh (Center for Sikh Studies), and Professor Balbinder Singh Bhogal (Hofstra University).

The conference began on the afternoon Thursday, June 18 with Rehraas Sahib. After Rehraas Sahib, there was Kirtan and Ardaas. Afterwards, Prabhsharandeep Singh explained the detailed purpose of the conference. Prabhsharandeep Singh said that any nation’s autonomy is connected with its ideological commitments and philosophical depth. For this reason, awakening the Sikh students’ appreciation for deeper thought was the purpose of this conference.

During Friday’s first session was Randeep Singh’s (student of philosophy at UC Berkeley) lecture. Exploring the roots of western secularism, Randeep Singh showed that colonized nations have tended to be influenced to this ideology. In India, Sikhs are also under this influence. Randeep Singh presented the trend towards secularism in Kantian philosophy and its implication for the modern nation state including India and India’s attack on the Sikhs in 1984 in particular. This effort traced back India’s constitutional secularism to its philosophical grounds and thereby demonstrated the force of India’s violence.

Amandeep Singh’s (Stony Brook University New York) lecture followed during the evening session. Amandeep Singh spoke about the attacks of 1984 from the perspective of theology of the event. He expressed his views in dialogue with John Caputo and Deleuze. He said that the event as the 1984 attacks are of sometimes of such a magnitude that they make some fundamental changes between human existence and time while transcending history. Professor Bhogal initiated discussion on this lecture and students participated in discussion. At the evening, students went to Meir Woods.

On Saturday, the first session began with Prabhsharandeep Singh’s lecture in which the major events since 1849 were narrated in a philosophical context and he explained the present-day situation of the Sikhs by centering his lecture around violence and metaphysics. Prabhsharandeep Singh explored the Sikh experience through the most significant events that are 1849 (British occupation of the Punjab) and 1984 (Indian army invasion on Sri Darbar Sahib Amritsar and several other Gurdwaras). The violence of 1984, as argued, is not mere political or military violence against the Sikhs, but a violence of metaphysics that was there long before 1984. Saturday Morning also marked Jaspreet Singh’s speech on United Sikhs’ humanitarian work and the scope of legal activism.

In the second session, Harjit Singh Grewal (University of Michigan) demonstrated that during the state oppression, the resistance shifts from violence to artistic expressions. Harjeet Singh uses the contemporary desire for autonomy as a lens to understand what is now memorialized as the Khalistan demand. Thus, Harjeet Grewal aimed to explore how the violent resistance of the Khalistan movement turned into the contemporary “fantasy of violent resistance”. Harjit Grewal’s speech was preceded by Gurvinder Singh’s speech on the impetus for dialoguing with the events of 1984.

On Sunday, Professor Balbinder Singh Bhogal (Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies, Hofstra University) discussed the difference between Sikh sovereignty and the rule of government. Professor Bhogal drew the difference between the coercive nature of government and the spiritual sanction of the Sikhs, showing that governance of the nation-state demands a silence of obedience whereas the Sikh’s strength invokes a silence of expectation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sikh Students Conference ||

Host: Center for Sikh Studies & Sikh Students Federation (UC Berkeley)
Start Time: Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 4:00pm
End Time: Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 6:00pm
Location: UC Berkeley Campus

The Sikh Students Conference will bring focus on the determining factors in the current Sikh situation as well as the trends among the Sikhs. The Sikhs, whose entity has been reduced to subjects after 1849, have been victims of the processes that defined the nature of the secular Indian nation-state. Such definitions represent the imperialist agenda to universalize meaning, construct a uniform identity, and deny any difference. The conference aims to contest the accepted definitions and break away with the conventions in Sikh activism. The conference is a result of the realization of having a fresh engagement with the area of Sikh studies in particular and the related areas such as theory and method in the study of religion and different branches of Western philosophical traditions that provide basis for theoretical approaches. Although the conference is mainly focusing on the 1984 attack on Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, the primary focus is on the philosophical trends that shaped historically-significant events or even the historical context itself.

Therefore, the conference is unlike venues that try to locate the Sikhs within any given space, whether it’s Indian secularism, or the American liberal democracy, but an attempt to locate a Sikh space. Because what Sikhs encounter in life, particularly in the West, is unavoidably complex, simplistic approaches are incapacitating. The few available venues are stifling potential. The Sikh Students Conference aims to foster the faculties critical and necessary for a real engagement with life and the issues.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Sikh Mothers You Know Not

Mata Gurnam Kaur, Shaheed Bhai Harjinder Singh Jinda's mother
who embraced martyrdom alongwith Bhai Sukhdev Singh Sukha
after punishing Vaidya for his crimes.


While the dawn was yet young a Sikh mother emerged out of

Space, and was seen moving towards the Golden Temple at


“Whither are you going mother?” said Dewan Kauramall. A minister

Of the Mughal ruler of Lahore.

“To the Guru’s Temple,” said she, “to-day assemble there the Guru’s

Khalsa, the holy ones, and I have come to bathe myself and my

child in the current of Nam.”

“But the opening of the temple to the Khalsa to-day is treachery,”

Said the Dewan, “The imperial forces are here to kill every one

That enters the temple.

To-day there will be a great massacre of the Khalsa.”

“What matters it, O good man,” said the Sikh mother, “if my blood

Be mingled with the waters of immortality, it is no death?”

“Have pity on your innocent child,” said the Dewan.

“I loved him so I bring him with me; this death is life for us. You do

not know,” said she and passed on.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

ਫੌਜਾਂ ਕੌਣ ਦੇਸ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਆਈਆਂ?

ਹਰਿਭਜਨ ਸਿੰਘ


ਫੌਜਾਂ ਕੌਣ ਦੇਸ ਤੋਂ ਆਈਆਂ?
ਕਿਹੜੇ ਦੇਸ ਤੋਂ ਕਹਿਰ ਲਿਆਈਆਂ,
ਕਿੱਥੋਂ ਜ਼ਹਿਰ ਲਿਆਈਆਂ
ਕਿਸ ਫਨੀਅਰ ਦੀ ਫੂਕ ਕਿ
ਜਿਸ ਨੇ ਪੱਕੀਆਂ ਕੰਧਾਂ ਢਾਹੀਆਂ
ਸੱਚ ਸਰੋਵਰ ਡੱਸਿਆ
ਅੱਗਾਂ ਪੱਥਰਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਲਾਈਆਂ
ਹਰਿ ਕੇ ਮੰਦਰ ਵਿਹੁ ਦੀਆਂ ਨਦੀਆਂ
ਬੁੱਕਾਂ ਭਰ ਵਰਤਾਈਆਂ
ਫੌਜਾਂ ਕੌਣ ਦੇਸ ਤੋਂ ਆਈਆਂ?


ਸਿਮਰਨ ਬਾਝੋਂ ਜਾਪ ਰਿਹਾ ਸੀ
ਅਹਿਲੇ ਜਨਮ ਗਵਾਇਆ
ਕਰ ਮਤਾ ਹੈ ਆਖਰ ਉਮਰੇ
ਇਸ ਕਾਫਰ ਰੱਬ ਨੂੰ ਧਿਆਇਆ।
ਦਿੱਲੀ ਨੇ ਜਦ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਸਰ ’ਤੇ
ਜੰਮ ਕਰ ਮੁਗਲ ਚੜ੍ਹਾਇਆ
ਹੈਵਰ ਗੈਵਰ ਤੋਂ ਵੀ ਤਕੜਾ
ਜਦ ਲੌਹੇਯਾਨ ਦੁੜਾਇਆ
ਮੈਂ ਰੱਬ ਨੂੰ ਬਹੁਤ ਧਿਆਇਆ।
ਫੌਜਾਂ ਨੇ ਜਦ ਸੋਨਕਲਸ਼ ’ਤੇ
ਤੁਪਕ ਤਾਨ ਚਲਾਇਆ
ਖਖੜੀ ਖਖੜੀ ਹੋ ਕੇ ਡਿੱਗਾ
ਜਦ ਮੇਰੇ ਸਿਰ ਦਾ ਸਾਇਆ
ਮੈਂ ਰੱਬ ਨੂੰ ਬਹੁਤ ਧਿਆਇਆ।
ਸੱਚ ਤਖਤ ਜਿਨ੍ਹੇ ਢਾਇਆ ਸੀ
ਉਸੇ ਜਦੋਂ ਬਣਾਇਆ
ਤਾਂ ਅਪਰਾਧੀ ਦੂਣਾ ਨਿਵਦਾ
ਮੈਨੂੰ ਨਜ਼ਰੀਂ ਆਇਆ
ਮੈਂ ਰੱਬ ਨੂੰ ਬਹੁਤ ਧਿਆਇਆ।
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਇਹ ਕੀ ਕਲਾ ਵਿਖਾਈ।
ਤੂੰ ਕੀ ਭਾਣਾ ਵਰਤਾਇਆ
ਮੈਂ ਪਾਪੀ ਦੀ ਸੋਧ ਲਈ ਤੂੰ
ਆਪਣਾ ਘਰ ਢਠਾਇਆ
ਮੈਂ ਰੱਬ ਨੂੰ ਬਹੁਤ ਧਿਆਇਆ।


ਸ਼ਾਮ ਪਈ ਤਾਂ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਬੈਠੇ
ਇਕੋ ਦੀਵਾ ਬਾਲ ਕੇ
ਪ੍ਰਕਰਮਾ ’ਚੋਂ ਜਖ਼ਮ ਬੁਲਾ ਲਏ
ਸੁੱਤੇ ਹੋਏ ਉਠਾਲ ਕੇ
ਜ਼ਹਿਰੀ ਰਾਤ ਗਜ਼ਬ ਦੀ ਕਾਲੀ
ਕਿਤੇ ਕਿਤੇ ਕੋਈ ਤਾਰਾ ਸੀ
ਭਿੰਨੜੇ ਬੋਲ ਗੁਰੂ ਜੀ ਬੋਲੇ
ਚਾਨਣ ਵਿਚ ਨੁਹਾਲ ਕੇ
ਅੱਜ ਦੀ ਰਾਤ ਕਿਸੇ ਨਹੀਂ ਸੌਣਾ
ਹਾਲੇ ਦੂਰ ਸ਼ਹੀਦੀ ਹੈ
ਅਜੇ ਤਾਂ ਸੂਰਜ ਰੌਸ਼ਨ ਕਰਨਾ
ਆਪਣੇ ਹੱਥੀਂ ਬਾਲ ਕੇ
ਨਾ ਕੋ ਬੈਰੀ ਨਾਹਿ ਬੇਗਾਨਾ
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਦਾ ਸਭ ਸਦਕਾ ਹੈ
(ਪਰ) ਵੇਖੋ ਜਾਬਰ ਲੈ ਨਾ ਜਾਏ
ਪਰ-ਪਰਤੀਤ ਉਧਾਲ ਕੇ

Monday, May 25, 2009

Gurbani Kirtan by Master Madan-Chaitna Hai To Chait Lai

The most promising vocalist Maestro Master Madan, who died at the young age of 14 yrs, sang only few songs which are everlasting with unmistakable intonations and deep soul touching. One could only imagine where this young Maestro could have catapulted to, had he lived his normal life?Master Madan was born of Mrs. Puran Devi and father Amar Singh, on December 28, 1927, in Khanna, a village in District Jallandhar of Punjab.Ghazals were written by Saagar Nizaami and set to music by Amaranaath, elder brother of the duo Husanlal-Bhagatram. Hiralaal was on tabala and Master Madana's elder brother Master Mohan on violin.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sojhi's Philosophical Prejudices

Randeep Singh Hothi

Professor Sahib I.J. Singh has produced some comments on the Sikh Research Institute’s Sojhi curriculum claiming that the forceful concerns raised in the face of Sojhi beg straightforward explanation — those questioning Sojhi are simply angry and cannot channel their emotions into efficiency. However, several deep and manifest concerns become apparent upon a study of the Sojhi syllabus for which mere “anger in the streets” cannot be an explanans.

Because Prof. I.J. Singh’s article brings not to the fore those very issues at stake motivating his article, an effort will be made to present some of what’s at stake with the Sojhi syllabus. We should be concerned with the substance at hand rather than ad hominem claims about people’s psychology.

At the beginning of his article, professor sahib says, “Now, critics are surfacing who are pointing to what they see as missteps and inaccuracies in the Sojhi offerings,” suggesting that some relatively minor mistakes were committed in the process of accomplishing some monumental task — as if those designing the syllabus merely slipped in a couple of places having valiantly climbed the summit of Mount Everest. But this isn’t the case. Because professor sahib does not discuss any of the issues that are at hand, they must be introduced.

One of the many theses of the Sojhi syllabus that stray far from gurmat is Sikh Research Institute’s rejection of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s deh saroop.

For instance, the second-grade syllabus includes a poem about Sri Guru Granth Sahib that says such indefensible remarks as, “The Book itself is not my king.” Another is, “Mere print removes not anger, lust, nor pride, But the ESSENCE that is found inside.” Another is, “Not a chaur waved in an arc, Has placed upon my soul mark.” Several of these lines are presented in the syllabus. For one more, Sojhi goes as far as to write in bold font, “No mere book with pagination, Inspires my soul to contemplation.”

Let us reflect here. Sikh Research Institute sells a syllabus to gurudwara sahibs that speaks of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a “mere book with pagination.” This is no mere “misstep” or “inaccuracy” as professor sahib says. Recall that it is in the second-grade syllabus that we find this poem.

If there is doubt as to whether this vicious language is an isolated incident, then please consider Sojhi’s proposal that the Dohra sung before Ardaas is wrong. According to SRI, the Dohra we sing:

is “inaccurate” or “wrong” because, as justified in the syllabus, “It dangerously brings us closer to becoming idol worshipers rather than keeping us away from it.”

As we can see, this rejection of Dohra works in parallel with the aforementioned poem in rejection of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

This goes to show that SRI has systematically thought out a philosophy and justification for its rejection of Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s deh saroop, in a method that pervades throughout the SRI syllabus. These aren’t just accidents, but systematic philosophic stances pervading the syllabus.

Instead of studying the Sikh vision and conception of idolatry, SRI has imposed its own philosophical prejudices that are not of the Sikh tradition, but within the tensions of the Western tradition of philosophical theology.

SRI shows itself to be working within a mode of philosophical discourse grounded in the tradition of rationalist metaphysics articulated in its premier form in Descartes’ Meditations. In this face of the Aristotelian scholastic philosophers’ failure procuring a wholly successful methodological approach to the sciences, we see Descartes embark on a new project to determine the possibility of establishing scientific knowledge on new grounds. However, instead of grounding knowledge on the basis of a teleological metaphysics grounded in the Being of God as per Scholasticism, Descartes grounded the possibility for scientific knowledge on the cogito — the thinking substance. This is, what we nowadays call, the mind. The ontological distinction between mind and body ever since has become a chasm in large part due to Cartesian metaphysics.

Sojhi’s translation of jot within the confines of Cartesian metaphysics leads to a rejection of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which is seen as merely contingent and finite — what Sojhi calls “idol worship.”

Of course, the effects of Sojhi’s approach pervade its contents. We can see the effects of SRI’s rejection of the Guru Sahib’s deh saroop in the extremely disrespectful language used for the Guru Sahiban. It would break any Sikh’s heart that such language should be used to describe Guru Arjan Sahib’s shahadat, so it will be located in the endnotes for those who must know (ii).

The pervasiveness of the Western metaphysical edifice in nearly all facets of the West including art, philosophy, pop culture, and politics cannot be overemphasized. We ought study those philosophical assumptions manifest in methodology that have resulted in such false scholarship, instead of mechanically imposing such assumptions on Khalsa school syllabi.

But, ultimately, what’s most important here is not only that Sojhi is inherently flawed, but also that individual-centric interpretations should not determine the course of study for little children. If one has peculiar thoughts about Sri Guru Granth Sahib, one may consult panthic scholars to correct one’s views. However, for SRI to publish its peculiar thoughts in the form of a syllabus, to slip into the minds of children under the radar, is not right.

(i) SRI must have meant to write “revered” here, as “reverend” does not make much sense. Typographical errors of this kind are common throughout the SRI syllabus.
(ii) Describing Guru Arjan Sahib’s shahadat, Sojhi says, “He was, therefore, deprived of food and water and put into hot blazing sand and stoned, which caused blood to ooze out of his head.” [emphasis mine].

Note: The author, Randeep Singh, is a student at the University of California at Berkeley. He will graduate with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in Spring 2009.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guardian of Language: An Interview with Hélène Cixous

Kathleen O'Grady

Introducing the work of Hélène Cixous is not an easy task; it involves describing several lifetimes of achievement.

I could describe the early Cixous who earned her doctorate for a thesis on the literature of James Joyce and was soon after awarded the prestigious appointment at the University of Paris VIII as Chair for the department of English literature. This Cixous has written a number of articles and books in both literary criticism and philosophy. Or I could describe the Cixous who discovered the world of creative writing, where she initiated a kind of fictional autobiographical style that has inspired writers, philosophers, and literary critics alike. Then there is Cixous the playwright. Her numerous plays, screenplays and even an opera libretto have been both popularly and critically acclaimed. But perhaps the personage that is best known internationally is Cixous the feminist. In 1974 she created the Centre d'Etudes Féminines at the University of Paris VIII which offered the first doctoral program in women's studies in Europe. This Cixous celebrates a theory of écriture féminine -- an ethical writing style (which women in particular can access) that is able, through a phonetic inscription of the feminine body, its pulsions and flows, to open up and embrace the difference of the other.

Combined, Cixous the literary critic, philosopher, playwright, and feminist has produced well over 40 books and more than 100 articles. This is not the accomplishment of a lifetime, but the culmination of several lifetimes, each united and infused by the solitary voice of a poet. As Cixous states herself, "I give myself a poet's right, otherwise I would not dare to speak."

Continue reading...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Interview with Julia Kristeva

by Nina Zivancevici

Parisian intellectual avant-garde to which she has belonged ever since. And though psychoanalysis remains one of the major orienting and formativedimensions of her work, especially as regards her reflections upon the nature of the feminine, she has also continued her research on the nature of language and examined the processes leading to the emergence of the work of art. As the theorist John Lechte points out, " because of the intimate link between art and the formation of subjectivity, Kristeva has always found art to be a particularly fruitful basis for analysis. " Since the 1960s, she has been a leading force in the critique of representation and her most recent book is a critical study of Colette's work and life, that is to say, one of the numerous projects that she has been energetically working on.

Q: When did you start getting interested in the notion of the "feminine"? Was it with the exploration of the notion of ÒchoraÓor the female voice in linguistics and semiology? Or rather, from that point on how have you arrived at the so-called feminist studies and writing understood in terms of their sociological and/or aesthetic significance?

J. Kristeva: It is very difficult to trace back my interest in the "feminine". I suppose that at the very moment in which I started asking questions about myself the question of the ÒfeminineÓ had already been formulated in my mind, so one could say perhaps it started in the period of my adolescence when I became interested in literature which necessarily asks questions about the sexual differences. But, you are right, in my theoretical work, this question is raised in a more succinct manner, perhaps also more discreet one, but which was nevertheless very intense

It must be said that this question is related to the notion of "chora" which directs us back to the archaic state of language . This state is known to a child who is in a state of osmosis with his/her mother during which language manifests itself as co-lalia , a melodic alliteration that precedes the introduction of signs within a syntactic order. The period during which I started developing this notion was that of the writing of my Ph. D on the avant-garde of the 19th century (Mallarmè and Lautreeamont) and I had understood how much of that, what we call hermiticism in literature, is connected to the rehabilitation, more or less conscious, of that archaic language. By the way, I was also at that time undergoing an analysis myself, and so became convinced that what we have discussed was really true.

Q: Is it difficult to "abandon" or at least to set aside one's mother tongue and write in another language ?

Kristeva: No, I haven't had the impression that I had abandoned my mother tongue by coming to France because I had learnt French when I was four or five and had been bilingual. It is true though that the transition from one mother tongue to the other is a real matricide particularly when one ends up expressing himself only in this second language and oneÕs rapport to the first one remains extremely limited, which is my case, but it didnÕt happen with me in that era (of coming to France). It was quite a gradual change.

Q: Given the fact that you have written a lot about the importance of the so-called "sick" states of mind, could you tell us whether they are related in any way to Art ? Would you see Art as the means of healing them or do you see it as an independent entity? Is Art a sort of "love" for you (the way Freud would have it) and a sort of human cure?

Kristeva: It has always shocked commentators when I affirm my agreement with the ancient Greeks who viewed art as catharsis or purification and I would add that it is a sort of sublimation for the "borderline" states, in the broadest sense of the term, that is, it comprises those characterized by fragility. If we analyze contemporary art, we get the impression that two types of fragility are examined by contemporary artists. On one hand, we have perversion, that is, all sorts of sexual transgressions. To this effect, it is enough to just browse through contemporary books or simply look at the "culture" pages of "Libèration" which review exhibitions to see that the form and the content of the experience serve as means of overcoming these states. They testify to the existence of these states, as well as that of a certain desire to make them public, or even share them with others, that is, to take them out of their closet which is a soothing action after all despite its commercial aspect since one turns a "shameful thing" into something positive. So you see, here we have something that transcends the notion of "cure" and is at times something gratifying.

Some think that these works are scandal-oriented, others think that they rejoice in ugliness , yes, certainly there are elements of such orientations in them, but, on the other hand, the existence of these works is also a research -- often in a very specific manner -- on the anticipation of difficulty of living.

Q: Does contemporary art have to do with Voyeurism, as is the case with the most recent literature nowadays which purports to describe the most intimate states of the body and the soul ?

Kristeva: Absolutely! This is ever the case with literature and when it does not try to treat perversion, it is deals with psychotic states, that is, the states of identity loss, the loss of language, the borderline cases which cohabit and coexist with delirium and violence, but all of this does not have to bear the imprint of something negative. Some think that these works are scandal-oriented, others think that they rejoice in ugliness , yes, certainly there are elements of such orientations in them, but, on the other hand, the existence of these works is also a research -- often in a very specific manner -- on the anticipation of difficulty of living. And Art can play an important role here since it can contribute to a certain creative assumption of such a difficulty. Nevertheless, I personally remain a bit skeptical of a certain drift or tendency of contemporary art to content itself with such, so I believe, feeble appropriations of these traumatic states. We remain here at the level of the statement of the clinical cases with an almost documentary style photography of these cases wherein the investment and the effort made in the exploration of new forms or new thoughts remains less visible. So, it is something regrettable which every so often leaves me with the impression that when I visit museums or read certain art books, I am looking into psychoanalytic or even psychiatric archives. But, perhaps this is an indispensable experience.

Q: But you haven't always felt this way- we remember the time when you wrote about BelliniÉ

Kristeva: That's right, I haven't always felt this way -- this is a very particular moment in art history which deepened and probed a certain aspect of a widespread existential malaise and discontent while neglecting the possibility of its overcoming.

Q: Well, along this line, you wrote in "Tales of Love" that "the psychoanalytic couch is the only place where the social contract authorizes explicitly psychoanalytic investigation, but "leaves Love out of it." However, we find this type of investigation in literature and art as well. You have recently analyzed the "investigation" of the writer Colette whose work deals extensively with love and emotions. Why Colette ?

Kristeva: Why Colette? Because in my trilogy on the feminine genius I tried to analyze the works of two dramatic women who represent the tragic aspect of our (20th) century, Hanna Arendt's on "Totalitarianism" and Melanie Klein's on psychosis, especially children's psychosis, and it seemed to me important (not only to me personally but also for the sake of objectivity) to pay homage to the other aspect of our civilization which is notably our century's source of joy, that is, the feminist liberation and "joie de vivre". And Colette excels in that appropriation of the national language in which she delights and leads to paroxysms of beauty that trace a path which goes beyond the scandal of a woman who asserts her liberty and authority. So, for me, she has become indispensable.

Q: In your novel "Les Samoura•s" you have shown a great literary talent and a certain sense of humor which is certainly lacking in your analytic work. Why have you stopped your literary production, that is to say, writing of novels ?

Kristeva: Oh, I haven't stopped it for after "Les Samoura•s" I wrote "The old man the wolves," then "Possesions," and now I am going to write yet another thriller which will be called, as it seems now, "Our Byzantium". IÕd like to continue writing in this polar style and with a certain political motivation. It will be concerned with the possibility -- or the impossibility -- of unifying Eastern Europe with Western Europe. It will deal with the Crusades and in it the modern characters would reveal their ancestors who had been in the Crusades, a catastrophic enterprise which eventually failed as you know, but which has been in its essence an attempt at unifying Europe, an unhappy attempt though. So, I am going to ask a question about the tragedy of this Europe which is now divided, and also this would be a way for me to visit my orthodox origins where I'd also attempt to revive some of my childhood souvenirs.

Q: That's right, the area of Eastern or Central Europe really belongs to "Byzantium".

Kristeva: Yes, we are Byzantium, that is, the Balkans, and I am very proud of the fact that I come from that region. And that's something which is unknown to the West. While it is true that what has survived of Byzantium is in a state of cultural decadence and terrible economic poverty with nothing in it that could seduce the Westerners, it is indisputably the treasure of our rich historical memory that is reflected, as far as I can see, in the dignified sensitivity of people who donÕt ask for anything but the minimum allowing them to continue living as the well-educated and highly intelligent men and women who should be less exposed to mentally exhausting pangs of melancholy and the socially debilitating impact of the economic predominance of the mafia that is the case nowadays.

Q: In your novel "Possesions" you started something quite interesting, something that you stopped pursuing after having written the first chapter though, and that particular thing is the psychoanalysis of art which also includes that of the artists and their respective works. Would it be possible to pursue research in this particular field, namely, an analysis of the history of art by following different works of art from different epochs?

Kristeva: I have really enjoyed myself writing about these different works of art, notably, on representations of decapitation, and I believe that the novel as genre, especially thriller which is an open genre and completely renewable allows for this type of digression in writing. But they have severely criticized me for it and told me that the book was too intellectual, very brainy and that the reader who wanted to know how the crime was being developed and the murder had to suffer by having had to wait. That was the malevolent reaction of those who have known me as an intellectual and who did not like the fact that I was going to write novels. So, there is a certain tendency in France, or perhaps elsewhere too, to put labels on people- if you are a teacher, remain a teacher, and if you are a writer, remain a writer, but the two of them at the same time- that you cannot be! So, perhaps I will continue in that direction , that of novel writing, I don't know. I have just finished the book about Colette, and my new thriller is still in notes and scratches, it is not articulated yet, but I am not sure that the fragments which deal with the so-called esthetic problems are excluded from it. It is true we cannot insert a dissertation in a novel, but perhaps we could set a basis there for it.

Q: I believe that one could read your book "The Intimate Revolt" in the light of your dialogue with Hannah Arendt. In fact, she was the one who has spoken of the misery of human beings who are not allowed to have "contemplative" ( read creative) life and who are thus condemned to lead an "active" life, that is, to have a miserable job. Is it the problem of our times that there exist such individuals who revolt against the fact that they cannot realize themselves? That is, who are angst-ridden and end up revolting against themselves?

Kristeva: I believe that you were right to make such assumptions about my eventual dialogue with Hannah Arendt -- I have been reading her work for quite a while and I'd say, in all modesty, that a lot of my writing, consciously or unconsciously, is tied to her thought . The idea of "revolt" was an effort to put myself in relationship with what we hear as "her own thinking" which, following Heidegger's, opposes and relativizes calculative reasoning. As she was very attentive to the work of Heidegger, she conceived of thinking as an inquiry, as an interrogatory process and opposed herself to the calculative framework which structures and characterizes contemporary behavior. My work has found itself a bit within this horizon but I also derived my experience from the psychoanalytical approach which relativizes everyone's identity as well as his/her past. Moreover, I derived my experience from literary works, such as Proust's "Recherche de temps perdu;" for instance, from his flexing of language, metaphors and the syntax. I tried to rethink the mental disposition which helps us carry on, the one which is not a mere repetition of a cliche, something which is like an act of rebirth, that is, rebirth which our thinking re-examines together with our interior life as well as the very opening of the inquiry. This is what I take "revolt" to be. So, it is neither an expression of simple existential anguish nor contesting a socio-political order, but re-establishment of things which we start again. And, in this sense, revolt which engulfs the psychic space is a form of life, be it the state of being in love, or an act of aesthetic creation or a project that could imply a very modest activity but which allows you to re-examine your past, that is, to interrogate it and renew it. And I believe that we have very few occasions in our daily lives which are quite standardized and banalized to work in that direction. The work that we do implies usually a repetition, the accomplishment of a given task. The type of mental functioning which I call "revolt" is something that we lack and it is very dangerous because if it is lacking, we risk confronting two prospective pitfalls: one of them is 'somatization' when the psychic space closes itself off and the conflict manifests itself as bodily illness or, in the other situation, we get into violence, vandalism and wars. So, Vive la Rèvolte !

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nietzsche and the Machine

Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida

Journal of Nietzsche Studies 7 (1994), 7-66

RB: I recall that in Of Spirit, in what is an extremely dense and complex passage, you criticize virulently the effects of Heidegger’s founding ’spiritualisation’ of biological racism. Whereas elsewhere (Spurs) you have recognized a certain necessity to Heidegger’s philosophising gesture - at least concerning Nietzsche’s empiricism - here the problems of this gesture - as one which spiritualizes biologism - is explicitly analysed within the political context of Heidegger’s engagement with Nazism. Let me quote the passage in full:

Because one cannot demarcate oneself from biologism, from naturalism, from racism in its genetic form, one cannot be opposed to them except by re-inscribing spirit in an oppositional determination, by once again making it a unilaterality of subjectivity, even if in its voluntarist form. The constraint of this program remains very strong, it reigns over the majority of discourses which, today and for a long time to come, state their opposition to racism, to totalitarianism, to nazism, to fascism etc., and do this in the name of spirit, and even of the freedom of the spirit in the name of an axiomatic, for example, that of democracy or ‘human rights’ - which, directly or not, comes back to this metaphysics of subjectivity. All the pitfalls of the strategy of establishing demarcations belong to this program, whatever place one occupies in it. The only choice is the choice between the terrifying contaminations it asssigns. Even if all the forms of complicity are not equivalent, they are irreducible. The question of knowing which is the least grave of these forms of complicity is always there - its urgency and its seriousness could not be over-stressed - but it will never dissolve the irreducibility of this fact. This fact, of course, is not simply a fact. First, and at least, because it is not yet done, not altogether: it calls more than ever, as for what in it remains to come after the disasters that have happened, for absolutely unprecedented responsibilities of ‘thought’ and ‘action’… In the rectorship address, this risk is not just a risk run. If its program seems diabolical, it is because, without there being anything fortuitous in this, it capitalizes on the worst, that is on both evils at once: the sanctioning of nazism, and the gesture that is still metaphysical. (Of Spirit. Heidegger and the Question, Chicago 1989, p. 39-40)

As Dominique Janicaud has noted in his L’Ombre de cette pensée. Heidegger et la question politique (Grenoble 1990), it would be difficult to find a greater accusation of Heidegger. My question concerns, however, the so-called ‘programme’ of logics which you allude to in this passage. I note that you make a similar, if more local, intellectual gesture in Otobiographies concerning the necessary contamination of Nietzsche’s text by Nazi ideology. There it is a question of a ‘powerful programming machine’ which relates, before any human intention or will, the two contrary forces of regeneration and degeneracy in Nietzsche’s early “On the Future of Our Educational Establishments”, dtermining in advance, before any historical eventuality, that each force reflects, and passes into, into its other. We are here, perhaps, at something like the ‘heart’ of deconstruction given its concern with what you call in ‘Violence and Metaphysics’ “the lesser violence” (Writing and Difference, note 21, p. 313)

My question, after this necessary preamble, is short: in what sense have, for you, all thought and all action up to today been inscribed within this machine? And, how do you understand those enigmatic words ‘absolutely unprecedented responsibilities’ of thought and action? In what sense, ‘absolutely’?

JD: First, I certainly believe that the contaminations discussed in this passage are absolutely undeniable. I defy anyone to show a political discourse or posture today which escapes this law of contamination. The only way to do so is in the form of (de)negation (Verneinung), the law of contamination can only be (de)negated. If it is true that these contaminations are inevitable, that one cannot side-step its law whatever one attempts to do, then responsibility cannot consist in denying or (de)negating contamination, in trying to ’save’ a line of thought or action from it. On the contrary, it must consist in assuming this law, in recognizing its necessity, in working from within the machine, by formalizing how contamination works and by attempting to act accordingly. Our very first responsibility is to recognize that this terrifying programme is at work everywhere and to confront the problem head-on; not to flee it by denying its complexity, but to think it as such.

Second, this means that the political gestures which one will make will, like all political gestures, be accompanied necessarily by discourse. Discursivity takes time, it implies several sentences, it cannot be reduced to a single moment or point. On each occasion one will have to make complex gestures to explain that one is acting, despite contamination, in this particular way, because one believes that it is better to do this rather than that, that a particular act chosen is in such and such a situation more likely to do such and such than another possible act. These gestures are anything but pragmatic, they are strategic evaluations which attempt to measure up to the formalisation of the machine. To make such evaluations, one has to pass through thought - there is no distinction here between thought and action, these evaluations are actions of thought. Whoever attempts to justify his political choice or pursue a political line without thought - in the sense of a thinking which exceeds science, philosophy and technics - without thinking what calls for thinking in this machine, this person isn’t being, in my eyes, politically responsible. Hence one needs thought, one needs to think more than ever. Thinking’s task today is to tackle, to measure itself against, everything making up this programme of contamination. This programme forms the history of metaphysics, it informs the whole history of political determination, of politics as it was constituted in Ancient Greece, disseminated throughout the West and finally exported to the East and South. If the political isn’t thought in this radical sense, political responsibility will disappear. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this thought has become necessary only today; rather, today more than ever, one must think this machine in order to prepare for a political decision, if there is such a thing, within this contamination. Very simply, then, what I’m trying to do is to prepare for such a decision by tackling the machine or law of contamination. For reasons that should now be clear, what I say is always going to run the risk of being taken in an unfavourable light, it cannot fail to lead to misunderstandings, according to the very same law of contamination. There’s no way out. As to the criticisms of deconstruction brought up earlier, one has indeed to assume the risk of being misunderstood, continuing to think in modest terms what is after all exceedingly ambitious, in order to prepare for these responsibilities - if they exist.

In the passage you quote I call these responsibilities “unprecedented” (inédites). What does this term mean? In your terms, what is their ‘time’? Rather than implying a heroic pathos of originality, the term testifies to the fact that we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation. After recent events - whether one gives them the name of Nietzsche, of Heidegger, of the Second World War, of the Holocaust, of the destructibility of humanity by its own technical resources - it is clear that we find ourselves in an absolutely unprecedented space. For this space one needs equally unprecedented reflections on responsibility, on the problematics of decision and action. To say this is not a piece of speculative hubris. It simply acknowledges where we are. We need the unprecedented; otherwise there will be nothing, pure repetition… The unprecedented is, of course, very dangerous. Once on these paths of thought, one is liable to get shot at by people who are in a hurry to interpret texts, who call you a neo-Nazi, a nihilist, a relativist, a mysticist, or whatever. But if one doesn’t take such risks, then one does nothing, and nothing happens. What I’m saying is very modest: without risk, there is nothing.

RB: Why did you write “absolutely unprecedented”?

JD: It was just a form of emphasis. Of course, the unprecedented is never possible without repetition, there is never something absolutely unprecedented, totally original or new; or rather, the new can only be new, radically new, to the extent that something new is produced, that is, where there is memory and repetition. The new cannot be invented without memory or repetition. So, two things: first, there can be no break, no experience of the break which does not presuppose a non-break, which does not presuppose memory. Second, contamination follows from this iterability which is constitutive of the unprecedented. Contamination happens because iterability inhabits from the very first what is not yet thought. One has to confront this paradoxical logic to be able to think the unthought.

R.B.: How does a certain affirmation of technology relate to what you have called in The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe “the promise of democracy”? I recall that for Nietzsche democracy is the modern reactive fate of calculative reason and that for Heidegger (both ‘early’ and ‘late’ Heidegger) democracy is “inadequate to confront the challenges of our technological age” (Spiegel interview of 1966). In distinction, and differently, to both Nietzsche and Heidegger, your work can be seen to affirm both technology and democracy. Although the promise of democracy is not the same as either the fact of democracy or the regulative idea (in the Kantian sense) of democracy, deconstruction does “hear” differance more in a democratic organisation of government than in any other political model; and there are no new models to be invented. If I understand you correctly, your affirmation of democracy is, in this respect, a demand for the sophistication of democracy, such a refinement taking advantage, in turn, of the increasingly sophisticated effects of technology. I pose the above question, then, with the following points in mind. First of all, democratic institutions are becoming more and more unrepresentative in our increasingly technicised world - hence, in part, recent rejections of “la classe politique”, not only in France and the United States; the anxieties which the question of a centralised European government raise form part of the same rejection. Then, in the second place, the media are swallowing up the constitutional machinery of democratic institutions, furthering thereby the de-politicisation of society and the possibility of populist demagogy. Thirdly, resistance to this process of technicisation is at the same time leading to virulent forms of nationalism and demagogy in the former Soviet empire, forms which are exploiting technology in the domains of the media, telecommunications and arms, whilst denying the de-localising effects of technology, culturally, in the domain of ideology. And, finally, the rights of man would seem an increasingly ineffective set of criteria to resist this process of technicisation (together with its possible fascistic effects) given this process’s gradual effacement of the normative and metaphysical limit between the human and the inorganic.

J.D.: Your question concerns the contemporary acceleration of technicisation, the relation between technical acceleration (acceleration through, and of, technics) and politico-economic processes. It concerns in fact the very concept of acceleration. First, it’s more than clear the idea of the acceleration of history is no longer today a topos. If it’s often said that history is going quicker than in the past, that it is now going too quickly, at the same time it’s well-known today that acceleration - a question of rhythm and of changes of rhythm - doesn’t simply affect an objective speed which is continuous and which gets progressively faster. On the contrary, acceleration is made up of differences of rhythm, heterogeneous accelerations which are closely related to the technical and technological developments you are alluding to. So, it makes no sense to “fetishise” the concept of acceleration: there isn’t a single acceleration. There are in fact two laws of acceleration: one derives from the technosciences, it concerns speed, the prodigious increase in speed, the unprecedenced rhythms which speed is assuming and of which we are daily feeling the effect. The political issues which you evoke bear the stamp of this form of acceleration. The second is of a quite different order and belongs to the structure of decision. Everything that I was saying earlier can now be said in these terms: a decision is taken in a process of infinite acceleration.

Second, taking into account these two laws of acceleration which are heterogeneous and which capitalise on each other, what’s the situation today of democracy? “Progress” in arms-technologies and media-technologies is incontestably causing the disappearance of the site on which the democratic used to be situated. The site of representation and the stability of the location which make up parliament or assembly, the territorialisation of power, the rooting of power to a particular place, if not to the ground as such - all this is over. The notion of politics dependent on this relation between power and space is over as well, although its end must be negotiated with. I am not just thinking here of the present forms of nationalism and fundamentalism. Technoscientific acceleration poses an absolute threat to Western-style democracy as well, following its radical undermining of locality. Since there can be no question of interrupting science of the technosciences, it’s a matter of knowing how a democratic response can be made to what is happening. This response must not, for obvious reasons, try to maintain at all costs the life of a democratic model of government which is rapidly being made redundant. If technics now exceeds democratic forms of government, it’s not only because assembly or parliament is being swallowed up by the media. This was already the case after the First World War. It was already being argued then that the media (then the radio) were forming public opinion so much that public deliberation and parliamentary discussion no longer determined the life of a democracy. And so, we need a historical perspective. What the acceleration of technicisation concerns today is the frontiers of the nation-state, the traffic of arms and drugs, everything that has to do with inter-nationality. It is these issue which need to be completely reconsidered, not in order to sound the death-knell of democracy, but in order to rethink democracy from within these conditions. This rethinking, as you rightly suggested earlier, must not be postponed, it is immediate and urgent. For what is specific to these threats, what constitutes the specificity of their time or temporality, is that they are not going to wait. Let’s take one example from a thousand.

It is quite possible that what is happening at present in former Yugoslavia is going to take place in the Ukraine: a part of the Ukrainian Russians are going to be re-attached to Russia, the other part refusing. As a consequence, everything decided up to now as to the site and control of the former Soviet Empire’s nuclear arms will be cast in doubt. The relative peace of the world could be severely endangered. As to a response, one that is so urgently needed, that’s obviously what we’ve been talking about all along. And yet, it’s hardly in an interview that one can say what needs to be done. Despite what l’ve just said - even if it is true that the former polarity of power is over with the end of the Cold War, and that its end has made the world a much more endangered place - the powers of decision in today’s world are still highly structured; there are still important nations and superpowers, there are still powerful economies, and so forth.

Given this and given the fact that, as l’ve said, a statement specific to an interview cannot measure up to the complexity of the situation, I would venture somewhat abstractly the following points. Note, firstly, that I was referring with the example of the Ukraine to world peace, I was not talking in local terms. Since no locality remains, democracy must be thought today globally (de facon mondiale), if it is to have a future. In the past one could always say that democracy was to be saved in this or that country. Today, however, if one claims to be a democrat, one cannot be a democrat “at home” and wait to see what happens “abroad”. Everything that is happening today - whether it be about Europe, the GATT, the Mafia, drugs, or arms - engages the future of democracy in the world in general. If this seems an obvious thing to say, one must nevertheless say it.

Second, in the determination or behaviour of each citizen or singularity there should be present, in some form or other, the call to a world democracy to come, each singularity should determine itself with the sense of the stakes of a democracy which can no longer be contained within frontiers, which can no longer be localised, which can no longer depend on the decisions of a specific group of citizens, a nation or even of a continent. This determination means that one must both think, and think democracy, globally. This may be something completely new, something that has never been done, for we’re here talking of something much more complex, much more modest and yet much more ambitious than any notion of the universal, cosmopolitan or human. I realise that there is so much rhetoric today - obvious, conventional, reassuring, determined in the sense of without risk - which resembles what l’m saying. When, for example, one speaks of the United Nations, when one speaks in the name of a politics that transcends national borders, one can always do so in the name of democracy. One has to make the difference clear, then, between democracy in this rhetorical sense and what l’m calling a “democracy to come”. The difference shows, for example, that all decisions made in the name of the Rights of Man are at the same time alibis for the continued inequality between singularities, and that we need to invent other concepts than state, superstate, citizen, and so forth for this new International. The democracy to come obliges one to challenge instituted law in the name of an indefinitely unsatisfied justice, thereby revealing the injustice of calculating justice whether this be in the name of a particular form of democracy or of the concept of humanity. This democracy to come is marked in the movement that has always carried a present beyond itself, makes it inadequate to itself, “out of joint” (Hamlet); as I argue in Specters of Marx, it obliges us to work with the spectrality in any moment of apparent presence. This spectrality is very weak; it is the weakness of the powerless, who, in being powerless, resist the greatest strength.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Birth of Tragedy

An Attempt at Self-Criticism

Friedrich Nietzsche

Translation by Ian Johnston

Whatever might have been be the basis for this dubious book, it must have been a question of the utmost importance and charm, as well as a deeply personal one at the time—testimony to that effect is the period in which it arose, in spite of which it arose, that disturbing era of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. While the thunderclap of the Battle of Wörth was reverberating across Europe, the meditative lover of enigmas whose lot it was to father this book sat somewhere in a corner of the Alps, extremely reflective and perplexed, thus simultaneously very distressed and carefree, and wrote down his thoughts about the Greeks—the kernel of that odd and difficult book to which this later preface (or postscript) should be dedicated. A few weeks after that, he found himself under the walls of Metz, still not yet free of the question mark which he had set down beside the alleged “serenity” of the Greeks and of Greek culture, until, in that month of the deepest tension, as peace was being negotiated in Versailles, he finally came to peace with himself and, while slowly recovering from an illness he had brought back home with him from the field, finished composing the Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music.—From music? Music and tragedy? The Greeks and the Music of Tragedy? The Greeks and the art work of pessimism? The most successful, most beautiful, most envied people, those with the most encouraging style of life so far—the Greeks? How can this be? Did they of all people need tragedy? Even more—art? What for—Greek art?

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

ਚੇਤੁ ਬਸੰਤੁ ਭਲਾ...

ਚੇਤੁ ਬਸੰਤੁ ਭਲਾ ਭਵਰ ਸੁਹਾਵੜੇ ॥
ਬਨ ਫੂਲੇ ਮੰਝ ਬਾਰਿ ਮੈ ਪਿਰੁ ਘਰਿ ਬਾਹੁੜੈ ॥
ਪਿਰੁ ਘਰਿ ਨਹੀ ਆਵੈ ਧਨ ਕਿਉ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵੈ ਬਿਰਹਿ ਬਿਰੋਧ ਤਨੁ ਛੀਜੈ ॥
ਕੋਕਿਲ ਅੰਬਿ ਸੁਹਾਵੀ ਬੋਲੈ ਕਿਉ ਦੁਖੁ ਅੰਕਿ ਸਹੀਜੈ ॥
ਭਵਰੁ ਭਵੰਤਾ ਫੂਲੀ ਡਾਲੀ ਕਿਉ ਜੀਵਾ ਮਰੁ ਮਾਏ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਚੇਤਿ ਸਹਜਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵੈ ਜੇ ਹਰਿ ਵਰੁ ਘਰਿ ਧਨ ਪਾਏ ॥੫॥

Letter to a Japanese Friend

from Derrida and Differance
editors Wood & Bernasconi (Warwick: Parousia Press 1985) p. 1-5.

10, July 1983

Dear Professor Izutsu,

At our last meeting I promised you some schematic and preliminary reflections on the word "deconstruction". What we discussed were prolegomena to a possible translation of this word into Japanese, one which would at least try to avoid, if possible, a negative determination of its significations or connotations. The question would be therefore what deconstruction is not, or rather ought not to be. I underline these words "possible" and "ought". For if the difficulties of translation can be anticipated (and the question of deconstruction is also through and through the question of translation, and of the language of concepts, of the conceptual corpus of so-called "western" metaphysics), one should not begin by naively believing that the word "deconstruction" corresponds in French to some clear and univocal signification. There is already in "my" language a serious [sombre] problem of translation between what here or there can be envisaged for the word, and the usage itself, the reserves of the word. And it is already clear that even in French, things change from one context to another. More so in the German, English, and especially American contexts, where the same word is already attached to very different connotations, inflections, and emotional or affective values. Their analysis would be interesting and warrants a study of its own.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Is Enlightenment?

(Was ist Aufklärung?)

Michel Foucault, 1978
translation by Mathew Henson, 1992

Today when a periodical asks its readers a question, it does so in order to collect opinions on some subject about which everyone has an opinion already; there is not much likelihood of learning anything new. In the eighteenth century, editors preferred to question the public on problems that did not yet have solutions. I don't know whether or not that practice was more effective; it was unquestionably more entertaining.

In any event, in line with this custom, in November 1784 a German periodical, Berlinische Monatschrift published a response to the question: Was ist Aufklärung? And the respondent was Kant.

A minor text, perhaps. But it seems to me that it marks the discreet entrance into the history of thought of a question that modern philosophy has not been capable of answering, but that it has never managed to get rid of, either. And one that has been repeated in various forms for two centuries now. From Hegel through Nietzsche or Max Weber to Horkheimer or Habermas, hardly any philosophy has failed to confront this same question, directly or indirectly. What, then, is this event that is called the Aufklärung and that has determined, at least in part, what we are, what we think, and what we do today? Let us imagine that the Berlinische MonatschriftWas ist Aufklärung? still exists and that it is asking its readers the question: What is modern philosophy? Perhaps we could respond with an echo: modern philosophy is the philosophy that is attempting to answer the question raised so imprudently two centuries ago:

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Baudrillard’s Philosophy Of Seduction: an overview.

To appreciate Baudrillard s philosophy of Seduction what is at stake in it and why it is important today - we should remember the historical situation from which it evolves, viz., the postmodern context, in which it appears that rational theory has autodestructed and truth is dead . This autodestruction is said to occur for several reasons, eg: 1) The first principles of any rational system or theory, or the first rules of any language game, cannot prove themselves without logical circularity, or else falling into an infinite regress of first principles. But if the first principle is dubious and unproven, then the whole system derived from it is also dubious and unproven. Therefore all systems are questionable and truth cannot be established. 2) Theoretical systems or language games contain within themselves their own criteria for deciding such central issues as: good evidence, proper test, right method, authority, reliability, validity, and value. The criteria differ with the system. Therefore, there is no independent position from which one could judge between the systems to ascertain which one is correct, if any. Therefore the systems are said to be incommensurable, ie, they can t be measured or judged against one another. Therefore, the correct system or the real truth cannot be established. 3) The question may be posed: Why be rational? If the modern rationalist uses reason to provide rational arguments for being rational then he or she is simply begging the question. For he or she is assuming the validity of reason to argue toward the validity of reason. 4) Epistemology (the study of knowledge) has been at the heart of the philosophical enterprise from the beginning; for it was assumed that, before we can hope to say whether this or that worldview or theory constitutes true knowledge we need to know what knowledge is. Therefore, we must study what knowledge is first. But to know what knowledge is presumes we already have knowledge in knowing what knowledge is. So an assumption about knowledge is always made at the start. But, once again, this initial assumption cannot be validated without circularity. Therefore, there is no proven knowledge or truth. 5) Can we now draw the sceptic's conclusion, then, ie, that the truth is that there is no truth? Obviously not, because that statement itself claims to be a truth, so it undermines itself. Hence: epistemology, rationalism, critical theory, philosophical scepticism, even deconstruction, all now appear aporetic. Rational theory in all its forms autodestructs. Therefore - modernity is dead. (May it rest in peace.)

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Secular Age

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Harvard University Press, 2007, 874pp., $39.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780674026766

Reviewed by Michael L. Morgan, Indiana University

This is a very important book and quite an extraordinary one. Some years ago, a colleague of mine began a review with a sentence that I have always wanted to use myself: "if I had written this book, I would die a happy man." The sentiment expressed by this sentence, that the book being reviewed has about it a kind of greatness and worth such that authoring it could easily count as the culmination of a fully worthwhile life, is one that I admit to feeling about Charles Taylor's monumental work A Secular Age. Taylor of course is well-known for his books on psychological explanation, Hegel, communitarian political philosophy, ethics and moral philosophy, and much else. Arguably he is one of the most influential English- language philosophers of the past half century. The scope of his thought is impressive -- history, political theory, ethics and moral philosophy, art, epistemology, and religion. But more to the point, it is the special way in which Taylor has bridged the gap between continental and analytic philosophy that is important and the way that in the course of bridging that gap he has shaped an historically rich and philosophically powerful conception of the modern identity and its social and cultural matrices.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue

Judith Butler

What is it to offer a critique? This is something that, I would wager, most of us understand in some ordinary sense. But matters become more vexing if we attempt to distinguish between a critique of this or that position and critique as a more generalized practice, one that might be described without reference to its specific objects. Can we even ask such a question about the generalized character of critique without gesturing toward an essence of critique? And if we achieved the generalized picture, offering something which approaches a philosophy of critique, would we then lose the very distinction between philosophy and critique that operates as part of the definition of critique itself? Critique is always a critique of some instituted practice, discourse, episteme, institution, and it loses its character the moment in which it is abstracted from its operation and made to stand alone as a purely generalizable practice. But if this is true, this does not mean that no generalizations are possible or that, indeed, we are mired in particularisms. On the contrary, we tread here in an area of constrained generality, one which broaches the philosophical, but must, if it is to remain critical, remain at a distance from that very achievement.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Heidegger on Art

Hubert Dreyfus

Heidegger is not interested in works of art as expressions of the vision of a creator, nor is he interested in them as the source of aesthetic experiences in a viewer. He holds that “Modern subjectivism … immediately misinterprets creation, taking it as the self-sovereign subject’s performance of genius” and he also insists that “aesthetic experience is the element in which art dies.” Rather, for Heidegger, an artwork is a thing that, when it works, performs at least one of three ontological functions. It either manifests, articulates or reconfigures the style of a culture from within the world of that culture. It follows that, for Heidegger, most of what hangs in museums, what is admired as great works of architecture, and what is published by poets, were never works of art, a few were once artworks but are no longer working, and none are working now. To understand this counter-intuitive account of art, we have to begin by reviewing what Heidegger means by world and being. . .

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Enjoy the Silence: An interview with Luce Irigaray

Interview by Julian Baggini

There are several reasons why Luce Irigrary might be thought brave, or foolish, to agree to be interviewed by me for tpm. First, there is a question of our respective genders. “Men and women do not generate language and structure discourses in the same way,” she has written. “And they cannot understand one another, nor even listen the one to the other, without first becoming conscious about such differences.”

As if that weren't enough of a potential obstacle to communication, Irigaray also agreed to handicap herself by talking in English, which she speaks and understands well enough, but not with true fluency.

Then there is the simple fact that tpm has its roots in anglophone philosophy, a tradition that has at best ignored and at worst mocked Irigaray, a thinker who in many circles is considered among the most important in the world.

Finally, there is the question of whether talking is the right way to encounter each other at all. “The first word we have to speak to one another is our capacity and acceptance of being silent,” she writes in her latest book, Sharing the World. “In this silence, the other may come towards me, as I may move towards him, or her.”

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Saturday, January 10, 2009


Prabhsharandeep Singh

This article introduces the work of the contemporary Punjabi poet and thinker Harinder Singh Mahboob. A prequel to a closer reading of Mahboob’s work, this article examines the nihilistic undertones that have come to suffuse recent Punjabi poetry through its interaction with the modernist thought process. This is examined by exploring the experiences associated with the 1947 partition of Punjab and the events leading towards it. Starting with a biographical account of Harinder Singh Mahboob, the article attempts to contextualize his poetical/philosophical experience. Mahboob’s sense of desertion, in his earlier poems, and the metaphysical transformation in the experience are discussed in light of prominent trends in modern Punjabi poetry. An analysis of his positioning in contemporary Punjabi literature provides a way to understand some of the ambivalent trends in the development of Sikh studies. His writings incorporate a strange combination of Western metaphysics, Sufism, and creative imagination that distinguishes his work from that of mainstream contemporary Punjabi poets and writers. The nihilistic suggestion of his work provide a fresh perspective on his creative impulse, simultaneously revealing a broad vision as well as unresolved inner conflicts.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tobha Tek Singh

Saadat Hasan Manto

Translated by Khushwant Singh

A couple of years after the Partition of the country, it occurred to the respective governments of India and Pakistan that inmates of lunatic asylums, like prisoners, should also be exchanged. Muslim lunatics in India should be transferred to Pakistan and Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani asylums should be sent to India.

Whether this was a reasonable or an unreasonable idea is difficult to say. One thing, however, is clear. It took many conferences of important officials from the two sides to come to this decision. Final details, like the date of actual exchange, were carefully worked out. Muslim lunatics whose families were still residing in India were to be left undisturbed, the rest moved to the border for the exchange. The situation in Pakistan was slightly different, since almost the entire population of Hindus and Sikhs had already migrated to India. The question of keeping non-Muslim lunatics in Pakistan did not, therefore, arise. While it is not known what the reaction in India was, when the news reached the Lahore lunatic asylum, it immediately became the subject of heated discussion. One Muslim lunatic, a regular reader of the fire-eating daily newspaper Zamindar, when asked what Pakistan was, replied after deep reflection: 'The name of a place in India where cut-throat razors are manufactured.'

This profound observation was received with visible satisfaction

A Sikh lunatic asked another Sikh: 'Sardarji, why are we being sent to India? We don't even know the language they speak in that country.' The man smiled: 'I know the language of the Hindostanis. These devils always strut about as if they were the lords of the earth.'

One day a Muslim lunatic, while taking his bath, raised the slogan 'Pakistan Zindabad' with such enthusiasm that he lost his footing and was later found Iying on the floor unconscious. Not all inmates were mad. Some were perfectly normal, except that they were murderers. To spare them the hangman's noose, their families had managed to get them committed after bribing officials down the line. They probably had a vague idea why India was being divided and what Pakistan was, but, as for the present situation, they were equally clueless.

Newspapers were no help either, and the asylum guards were ignorant, if not illiterate. Nor was there anything to be learnt by eavesdropping on their conversations. Some said there was this man by the name Mohamed Ali Jinnah, or the Quaid-e-Azam, who had set up a separate country for Muslims, called Pakistan.

As to where Pakistan was located, the inmates knew nothing. That was why both the mad and the partially mad were unable to decide whether they were now in India or in Pakistan. If they were in India, where on earth was Pakistan? And if they were in Pakistan, then how come that until only the other day it was India?

One inmate had got so badly caught up in this IndiaPakistan-Pakistan-India rigmarole that one day, while sweeping the floor, he dropped everything, climbed the nearest tree and installed himself on a branch, from which vantage point he spoke for two hours on the delicate problem of India and Pakistan. The guards asked him to get down; instead he went a branch higher, and when threat ened with punishment, declared: 'I wish to live neither in India nor in Pakistan. I wish to live in this tree.' When he was finally persuaded to come down, he began embracing his Sikh and Hindu friends, tears running down his cheeks, fully convinced that they were about to leave him and go to India.

A Muslim radio engineer, who had an M.Sc. degree, and never mixed with anyone, given as he was to taking long walks by himself all day, was so affected by the current debate that one day he took all his clothes off, gave the bundle to one of the attendants and ran into the garden stark naked.

A Muslim lunatic from Chaniot, who used to be one of the most devoted workers of the All India Muslim League, and obsessed with bathing himself fifteen or sixteen times a day, had suddenly stopped doing that and announced— his name was Mohamed Ali—that he was Quaid-e-Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah. This had led a Sikh inmate to declare himself Master Tara Singh, the leader of the Sikhs. Apprehending serious communal trouble, the authorities declared them dangerous, and shut them up in separate cells. There was a young Hindu lawyer from Lahore who had gone off his head after an unhappy love affair. When told that Amritsar was to become a part of India, he went into a depression because his beloved lived in Amritsar, something he had not forgotten even in his madness. That day he abused every major and minor Hindu and Muslim leader who had cut India into two, turning his beloved into an Indian and him into a Pakistani. When news of the exchange reached the asylum, his friends offered him congratulations, because he was now to be sent to India, the country of his beloved. However, he declared that he had no intention of leaving Lahore, because his practice would not flourish in Amritsar.

There were two Anglo-Indian lunatics in the European ward. When told that the British had decided to go home after granting independence to India, they went into a state of deep shock and were seen conferring with each other in whispers the entire afternoon. They were worried about their changed status after independence. Would there be a European ward or would it be abolished? Would breakfast continue to be served or would they have to subsist on bloody Indian chapati? There was another inmate, a Sikh, who had been confined for the last fifteen years. Whenever he spoke, it was the same mysterious gibberish: ' Uper the gur gur the annexc the bay dhayana the mung the dal of the laltain. ' Guards said he had not slept a wink in fifteen years. Occasionally, he could be observed leaning against a wall, but the rest ofthe time, he was always to be found standing. Because of this, his legs were permanently swollen, something that did not appear to bother him. Recently, he had started to listen carefully to discussions about the forthcoming exchange of Indian and Pakistani lunatics. When asked his opinion, he observed solemnly: ' Uperthegurgur the annexe the baydhayana the mung the dal of the Government of Pakistan. ' Of late, however, the Government of Pakistan had been replaced by the Government of Toba Tek Singh, a small town in the Punjab which was his home. He had also begun enquiring where Toba Tek Singh was to go. However, nobody was quite sure whether it was in India or Pakistan. Those who had tried to solve this mystery had become utterly confused when told that Sialkot, which used to be in India, was now in Pakistan. It was anybody's guess what was going to happen to Lahore, which was currently in Pakistan, but could slide into India any moment. It was also possible that the entire subcontinent of India might become Pakistan. And who could say if both India and Pakistan might not entirely vanish from the map of the world one day?

The old man's hair was almost gone and what little was left had become a part of the beard, giving him a strange, even frightening, appearance. However, he was a harmless fellow and had never been known to get into fights. Older attendants at the asylum said that he was a fairly prosperous landlord from Toba Tek Singh, who had quite suddenly gone mad. His family had brought him in, bound and fettered. That was fifteen years ago. Once a month, he used to have visitors, but since the start of communal troubles in the Punjab, they had stopped coming. His real name was Bishan Singh, but everybody called him Toba Tek Singh. He lived in a kind of limbo, having no idea what day of the week it was, or month, or how many years had passed since his confinement. However, he had developed a sixth sense about the day of the visit, when he used to bathe himself, soap his body, oil and comb his hair and put on clean clothes. He never said a word during these meetings, except occasional outbursts of ' Uper the gur gur the annexe the bay dhayana the mung the dal of the laltain. ' When he was first confined, he had left an infant daughter behind, now a pretty young girl of fifteen. She would come occasionally, and sit in front of him with tears rolling down her cheeks. In the strange world that he inhabited, hers was just another face. Since the start of this India-Pakistan caboodle, he had got into the habit of asking fellow inmates where exactly Toba Tek Singh was, without receiving a satisfactory answer, because nobody knew. The visits had also suddenly stopped. He was increasingly restless, but, more than that, curious. The sixth sense, which used to alert him to the day of the visit, had also atrophied.

He missed his family, the gifts they used to bring and the concern with which they used to speak to him. He was sure they would have told him whether Toba Tek Singh was in India or Pakistan. He also had a feeling that they came from Toba Tek Singh, where he used to have his home. One of the inmates had declared himself God. Bishan Singh asked him one day if Toba Tek Singh was in India or Pakistan. The man chuckled: 'Neither in India nor in Pakistan, because, so far, we have issued no orders in this respect.'

Bishan Singh begged 'God' to issue the necessary orders, so that his problem could be solved, but he was disappointed, as '(:iod' appeared to be preoccupied with more pressing matters. Finally, he told him angrily: ' Uper the gur gur the annexe the mung the dal of Guruji da Khalsa and Guruji ki fateh . . . jo boley so nihal sat sri akal.' What he wanted to say was: 'You don't answer my prayers because you are a Muslim God. Had you been a Sikh God, you would have been more of a sport.' A few days before the exchange was to take place, one of Bishan Singh's Muslim friends from Toba Tek Singh came to see him—the first time in fifteen years. Bishan Singh looked at him once and turned away, until a guard said to him: 'This is your old friend Fazal Din. He has come all the way to meet you.' Bishan Singh looked at Fazal Din and began to mumble something. Fazal Din placed his hand on his friend's shoulder and said: 'I have been meaning to come for some time to bring you news. All your family is well and has gone to India safely. I did what I could to help. Your daughter Roop Kaur ...'—he hesitated—'She is safe too ... in India.' Bishan Singh kept quiet. Fazal Din continued: 'Your family wanted me to make sure you were well. Soon you will be moving to India. What can I say, except that you should remember me to bhai Balbir Singh, bhai Vadhawa Singh and bahain Amrit Kaur. Tell bhai Bibir Singh that Fazal Din is well by the grace of God. The two brown buffaloes he left behind are well too. Both of them gave birth to calves, but, unfortunately, one of them died after six days. Say I think of them often and to write to me if there is anything I can do.' Toba Tek Sing

Then he added: 'Here, I brought you some rice c from home.'

Bishan Singh took the gift and handed it to one guards. 'Where is Toba Tek Singh?' he asked.

'Where? Why, it is where it has always been.'

'In India or in Pakistan?'

'In India . . . no, in Pakistan.'

Without saying another word, Bishan Singh ) away, murmuring: ' Uper the gur gur the annexe the be the mung the dal of the Pakistan and Hindustan dur fittey S Meanwhile, exchange arrangements were rapidly finalized. Lists of lunatics from the two sides haz exchanged between the governments, and the date o fer fixed. On a cold winter evening, buses full of Hindu ar lunatics, accompanied by armed police and officials moving out of the Lahore asylum towards Wag' dividing line between India and Pakistan. Senior from the two sides in charge of exchange arrangeme signed documents and the transfer got under way. It was quite a job getting the men out of the bu handing them over to officials. Some just refused t Those who were persuaded to do so began to run p in every direction. Some were stark naked. All effor them to cover themselves had failed because they 4 be kept from tearing off their garments. Some wer ing abuse or singing. Others were weeping bitterh fights broke out.

In short, complete confusion prevailed. Female were also being exchanged and they were even n was bitterly cold. Most of the inmates appeared to be dead set ag entire operation. They simply could not understs they were being forcibly removed, thrown into b driven to this strange place. I here were slogans of Zindabad' and 'Pakistan Murdabad', followed by figh

When Bishan Singh was brought out and asked to give his name so that it could be recorded in a register, he asked the official behind the desk: 'Where is Toba Tek Singh? In India or Pakistan?' 'Pakistan,' he answered with a vulgar laugh. Bishan Singh tried to run, but was overpowered by the Pakistani guards who tried to push him across the dividing line towards India. However, he wouldn't move. 'This is Toba Tek Singh,' he announced. ' Uper the gur gur the annexe the be dAyana mung the dal of Toba Tek Singh and Pakistan.' Many efforts were made to explain to him that Toba Tek Singh had already been moved to India, or would be moved immediately, but it had no effect on Bishan Singh. The guards even tried force, but soon gave up.

There he stood in no man's land on his swollen legs like a colossus. Since he was a harmless old man, no further attempt was made to push him into India. He was allowed to stand where he wanted, while the exchange continued. The night wore on. Just before sunrise, Bishan Singh, the man who had stood on his legs for fifteen years, screamed and as officials from the two sides rushed towards him, he collapsed to the ground. There, behind barbed wire, on one side, lay India and behind more barbed wire, on the other side, lay Pakistan. In between, on a bit of earth which had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh.