23 January 2008

Babyji - Part II

I don’t think I’ve been very fair in my comments on the book. Just saying something equivalent to “I like it” is hardly literary criticism. In my defence, of course, that was not what I was trying to do with that post, but if taken as criticism, it amounts to the worst possible kind.

So, one way among many in which the text works:

In those few crucial moments of decision in the novel, Anamika (the 16 year old protagonist) attributes her attraction towards women to something genetic, something natural. This works because it dislodges what the socio-cultural order dictates: being compulsorily heterosexual. Homosexuality has no scope within the prevalent moral universe, its justification must then lie outside morality, in something purer – science, biology, genetics or whatever else it gets called. One particular order (science, genetics, etc) gets elevated over another (the moral universe which prohibits homosexuality) in order to critique the latter. But if left simply to this, a huge problem with respect to agency arises: If Anamika can not help but be attracted to Tripta, Rani and Sheela because of her genes, what sort of choice does this leave her with regard to control over her sexuality?

From the norms of morality to the norms of science: If Anamika only just switches loyalties from one to another, her own role and agency throughout would seem to become questionable. And yet, this is not what happens. The justification for homosexuality is attributed to something congenital/ inherent but only so far as it helps critique conventional morality. A ‘scientific’ explanation is never allowed to take a stronghold in itself. It is used only as a tool. The second excerpt in the previous post, for example, illustrates this:

Science had told us this century that nothing was certain.” [emphasis added]

Science is represented as something relative, temporal rather than absolute truth or pure knowledge. The elevated status allotted to science earlier is found to be a ploy – strategically used to extract a space for homosexuality enabling Anamika to retain her agency. This is something which makes her actions, because they presuppose choice and will, all the more radical and transgressive.

19 January 2008

Said, Gramsci, and an 'inventory'

“The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.” – Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

Edward Said quotes the above in Orientalism along with another important observation:

“The only available translation inexplicably leaves Gramsci’s comment at that, whereas in fact Gramsci’s text concludes by saying, ‘therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.’

The task of finding out, knowing and collecting an 'inventory' is important, especially in cases where it is made to appear to be insignificant, non-existent and unworthy of attention. A question of perspective, in this case, is also relevant. According to who is it 'insignificant'? And who should be kept in mind while compiling this inventory? The reason I mention this is because it gives me a perfect entry point into a project I wish to begin, and perhaps have already begun in some way, on this blog. And dealing with the above questions would be necessary before starting out. But more on that soon!