Sunday, February 28, 2010

She is the wound, the scene of the accident

eye-witnesses and victims: widowhood and spectacle in contemporary India by Nandita
The figure of the widow inhabits variously and simultaneously the figure of the witness, of the mourner, the symbol of trauma – of the wound in a “wound culture” that defines our “pathological public sphere”[2].

Mark Seltzer identifies what he calls a “wound culture” that operates in society today: “a public fascination with torn and opened bodies and torn and opened persons, a collective gathering around shock, trauma, and the wound.”[16] He goes on to define the public sphere that is defined by this wound culture as a “pathological public sphere”, one in which “notions of sociality is bound to the excitations of a torn and opened body, the torn and exposed individual, as public spectacle.” While Seltzer put forward his formulations in the context of his work on serial killers and the attraction of the “shock of contact” between “bodies and machines” (road accidents, airplane crashes and the like), I wish to extend this formulation of ‘wound culture’ to my purposes here. The imagery of people milling around the scene of the accident is not so very far removed from the media frenzy that produces the post-violence images that flood our television channels and newspapers after the incident: we eagerly flip through the newspaper for more information; we stay glued to our television screens, watching the gory images as they unfold. The production of collective subjectivity through the act of simultaneously watching the same images, is what makes this situation akin to the one Seltzer describes in terms of milling over the scene of an accident – evidence of a new ‘notion of sociality’, of collective public fascination with “torn bodies” – a term I use metaphorically here.  One of these images is invariably of the grieving widow, often in the midst of a violent expression of mourning, but also in calmer moments appearing more forlorn and dejected at her desperate situation.
The images of the scene of violence may endure through photographic and video images, as well as stories of witnesses, and maybe revisited over and over in the days following the actual act. Ann Kaplan identifies society’s constant desire to return to the scene of the event, over and over and in different forms – from television specials to movies, to more literary forms of reliving – as betraying a ‘traumatic cultural symptom’[17]. She problematises the representability of trauma, of images produced during such an experience: for her, “trauma is narration without narrativity – that is, without the ordered sequence we associate with narratives. Images are repeated… but without clear beginning, middle and end.” In my understanding, it is precisely this inherent ‘non-representability’ of a traumatic event that makes repetition and circularity or return the only way for society to attempt to come to terms with trauma. Yet, in a sense this ‘non-representability’ can be dealt with, traces can be recovered, by a ‘different kind of hermeneutics.’[18]
Through the trope, the widow – as witness, as victim, as mourner – gets constituted as a sceneof violence herself. Photographs are clicked, she appears on television news channels, in the ‘human interest’ sections of newspapers[19] – she becomes, to use Seltzer’s term in a slightly modified context, not just a public spectacle, but a “reproducible spectacle of pathological public violence” (emphasis added). Her new identity is established, recorded, preserved, and after a while, filed away, until a future moment when society wishes to return and revisit the moment of trauma once more. Unlike a photographic or video image, which captures a moment in suspended animation for eternity, the widow continues with her existence, away from the media glare once the frenzy has died down. But she is constituted and reconstituted in the everyday, through the practices that mark her out as a widow in her family, or in society as a whole. Every social injunction upon her: the conditions of her remarriage, her dress, her role in the household, her reduced social standing and economic circumstances – mark her out as a ‘wound’ – a wound that is renewed everyday, which we collectively ensure is renewed so that we are able to return and revisit it when we wish. Hence her place in ‘wound culture’ or the culture of trauma – not merely is she wounded, sometimes physically, always psychically, through the violence that has resulted in the death of her husband, she is the wound, the scene of the accident long after the stains of blood have been wiped of the sidewalk, she continues to be a spectacle that people can mill over and crowd around, continuously constituted and reconstituted as such.
Violence now comes to mark every aspect of this reconstituted identity.  She is constituted anew by an act of violence; the daily reproduction of her identity, as has been shown, serves to constantly renew her as a scene of violence, and in so doing, is a violent exercise as well. Beyond this, her new social role as a living representation of trauma is an inherently violent one: here I speak of the violence intrinsic to the act of representation itself. She is implicit in the process of representation of violence in our lives, what Seltzer phrases as the “violence intrinsic to the penetration of representation into real life.” He locates in such representation a danger that we may not be able to keep sufficient distance with respect to these representations, which at once represent (“penetrate” our “real life”), as well as draw us in to theirs. The danger is that one “might be devoured by representations”, that is to say, one is here referring to the “traumatic yielding to representation”. The widow, constituted by violence, reproduced as violence through violence, cannot escape her implication in the process that, in a sense, replicates and reproduces this violence, through a domino effect inherent in the act of the representation that she is mobilised into as victim/witness/mourner of violence. In addition to being enclosed within the trope, she too is subjected to these representations that she is a part of.
As viewers, we (the spectators) view the widow (the spectacle) positioned as a voyeur, we may even be “vicariously traumatised”[20] in the process.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blistering exposure to western aesthetic ideals

ET - 7 Feb 2010, C P SURENDRAN 

Vidya has played complex roles before in Pa, Guru and Parineeta. But unlike those characters, there is a startling clarity, uncharacteristic in Indian society, about Krishna’s amoral perspective of the world. She will do anything to get her way.

Krishna is the rural matriarch we always suspected was hiding in the attic of the ancestral home, but were afraid to acknowledge. As a people we are staunch devotees of prettification, remember? And suddenly here she is, in the dark of the cinema hall, near-bare, angry and unstoppable. And her whole attitude, we notice, is akin to the upright middle finger. It is just your kind of luck that it is pointed at you.

In Ishqiya,
Krishna barely talks, let alone relates, to anyone in the village except the recently arrived guests. She is a loner. Her expressions flit between stony anger and a sensuous availability. And both seem exchangeable. She frequently gives short, tight slaps to her men, husband or lover.

It is not just that
Krishna is constantly plotting and manipulating and playing one lover against the other. She is also shown associating with guns, revolvers and knives. Throughout the movie, weapons of mass destruction gravitate towards her. She pulls people towards her by their shirt scruffs. There is a constant violence in her in the way she stares, even if it is at the middle distance.

And, of course,
Krishna is hot. Her backless choli, her undone hair and a strange, heavy physical presence lend her an earthy individuality rarely seen in Bollywood’s female characters.

In short,
Krishna goes against the grain of Bollywood womanhood. And, in a strange, Ishqiya-kind-of-twist, it so happens that Vidya Balan is not the typical Bollywood heroine either. Forget the fact that she is from Palghat in Kerala in terms of her racial stock. The real thing is how those south Indian Brahminical genes contribute to the breaking of the zero-figure mould of Bollywood heroines.

Vidya Balan in this movie is not just sexy. She is sexy in a way that reinforces the old idea of buxom, plumpish Indian attractiveness, which, with our blistering exposure to western aesthetic ideals, is now a matter of nostalgia. In the movie, Krishna, too, comes across as a heavy presence.

Physically, she is hefty. Heavy shoulders, heavy frontal development, heavy hips, long hair. This is the mother that father long back dreamed of but dared not propose to for fear of castration. And when he finally picked up the courage, it was too late: cellulite had crept on the list as the eighth cardinal sin.

Vidya Balan’s rebel streak, be it the choice of her roles or the choice of bra size, is a political statement in a very politically correct place like Bollywood. The last rebel they had was Amitabh Bachchan, and that was in the 70’s, another millennium really.

In Ishqiya, Vidya Balan is at pains to be herself exactly as product endorsements recommend. But being yourself is a tough, 24-hour job. Vidya Balan has come good on her own terms, and clearly against odds. Which is why
Krishna doesn’t elicit your sympathy. But she wins your admiration. Just like Vidya Balan. Somewhere along the line, the artiste has merged with the character. And Bollywood is richer for the event.  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Child marriage continues to remain a big problem in India

NEW DELHI: Child marriage continues to remain a big problem in the country, with half the women getting married before attaining the minimum legal marriageable age of 18 years, according to a study released by health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad here on ...
More youngsters in villages have sex before marriage than their urban counterparts, reports a study of 58,000 men and women released by the Health Ministry on Saturday.
One in six (17 per cent) men in rural areas has sex before marriage compared to 10 per cent men in towns and cities, found the study by Mumbai’s International Institute for Population Sciences and the Population Council, New Delhi. For women, 4 per cent in villages had pre-marital sex against 2 per cent in urban areas.
Almost all sexually active young people in both cities and villages reported unsafe sex with multiple partners, prompting Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to underline the need for sex education and allied services such as condoms and contraceptives.
Times of India - ‎Feb 18, 2010‎
A section of women who are fed up with pre-menstrual tension and the pain of pregnancy would rather be men, a media report said citing a survey in Britain.
NEW DELHI: This could come as a shocker for those resisting introduction of sex education in Indian schools.
Premarital sex has been found to be common among young men but a higher percentage of women aged 15-24 years have had sex before reaching the age of 15... Premarital sex was also found to be more common in rural India 

Times of India - ‎PANAJI: Goa is emerging as a drug and sex destination, the state's apex commerce and industry lobbying group has said. The Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has issued strict caution to the state government, asking it to shore up its act on ...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Romantic love always ends badly

Heart-shaped screensIE »  Shailaja Bajpai 
Valentine’s Day celebrations were somewhat subdued this year on television, mercy be. In previous years, the news channels behaved like they were falling in love with love… The one place Valentine’s Day was not celebrated is on our TV serials. Or not so you’d notice. This is extremely unusual since soap operas celebrate everything else — birth, birthdays, engagements, weddings, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Holi — with tremendous √©lan, sometimes over an entire week. Perhaps it’s because romantic love is the one ingredient entirely missing from our TV serials or so frowned upon that it always ends badly. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Men and women married later in the West

"Hartman provides a fascinating, highly original, and ultimately challenging interpretation of the role of the family in Western civilization. The author is abreast of the current debates in family history, judicious in her comments, and extremely talented. There is much to reflect on. Highly recommended." CHOICE, D.C. Baxter, Ohio University

"This is a really exciting book, taking a bold stance about the nature of gender relations in Western society, and about the role gender relations played in a larger history. It's a big picture effort, by an imaginative scholar working from one of the key findings in comparative family history. It will cause debate, stimulate further reassessment -- in general, do what an ambitious historical synthesis should do." Peter Stearns,
George Mason University

"Mary S. Hartman has been a pioneering historian, a founder of women's history, the author of a path-breaking book about homicide. The Making of History; A Subversive View of the Western Past is her masterwork. What, she asks, made modern Western history different? Her answer, which most historians have neglected, is marriage. Men and women married later in the West. This apparently simple demographic reality has shaped culture, society, and history itself. Hartman's "subversive view" may prove to be canonical wisdom. A superbly adventurous book." Catharine R. Stimpson,
New York University

"In recent decades, historical demographers have mapped out the structural characteristics of the Western family over the centuries, and pointed to its distinctive features in historical global perspective. In The Household and the Making of History, Mary S. Hartman challenges demographers and historians alike to contemplate the cultural implications of one aspect of that household pattern: late age at marriage for women. Assimilating a huge volume of material drawn from many different historical subfields, Hartman argues persuasively that the household was (and still is) the locus in which potentialities for wide-ranging historical change resided, and that womenas place in that locus was much more one of agency than historians have usually credited. This is a fluent, provocative challenge to many current models of gender and of political and social change. L.R. Poos, The Catholic University of America

"What caused northwestern
Europe's extraordinary trajectory? ...Scholars of a macro historical turn have grappled with this question in various guises. Now, in this wonderfully rich and exciting book, Mary Hartman provides a satisfying answer to that riddle, and presents us with a new big picture."
H-Albion (H-Net), Anne McLaren, School of History, University of Liverpool

"...comprises an important contribution to world history as well as to the history of women and gender... one of the most significant recent works on gender and should be required reading for European and world historians and scholars of gender." World History Connected

"What caused northwestern
Europe's extraordinary trajectory? Now, in this wonderfully rich and exciting book, Mary Hartman provides a satisfying answer to that riddle...This is a bold prospectus...." H-Net Book Review

"Good historical syntheses of women's and family history show us what history looks like with their subjects at the center rather than at the margins of the story, but great syntheses suggest that our vision of history might not ever be the same...[Hartman] has provided us with just such a rare work of scholarship.... Over time, Hartman's analysis of household structure may prove to be a paradigm shift in how historians approach and explain significant changes in western history. It will also undoubtedly prove important for global historians as they search for new paths toward a comparative approach to the development of global civilizations. Hartman clearly sets out an agenda for scholars interested in women's and family history. Taking her path could be very exciting and rewarding." H-Women, Christopher Corley, Department of History, Minnesota State University, Mankato

"Hartman is certainly to be praised for her presentation of European peasant families, including the women in them, as agents of their own destiny and for calling for better integration of the analysis of gender into major global developments." Merry Wiesner-Hanks, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Journal of Modern History

Product Description
Contrary to previously-held views, this book argues that a unique late marriage pattern explains the continuing puzzle of why Western Europe was the site of changes that gave birth to the modern world. It contends that the roots of modern developments are located in history more than a millennium earlier, when the peasants in northwestern Europe began to marry their daughters almost as late as their sons. This phenomenon affords a more understandable account of items long considered as peculiar Western achievements, including the industrial revolution and mass democratic political movements. See all Editorial Reviews 

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Intense narcissistic need to see themselves as "champions of the oppressed"

In psychiatry we use the term "sense of entitlement" to describe the outrageous attitude of some of our more narcissistic clients who believe that the world "owes" them and they want to collect NOW. Patients with this type of attitude always want more. Whatever you do is never good enough for them, and they also generally show no gratitude or express any thanks--even when someone goes out of their way for them. Like the most spoiled of royalty, they merely expect that they should be the center of your world at all times.

This attitude is normally seen in toddlers, who want what they want and they want it now. Every parent has had to deal with this kind of whining. When you see this attitude repeatedly in an adult, then you know you are dealing with psychopathology. Many adults whimper at the slightest inconvenience, delay, or restriction. Why? Because, like toddlers, they are convinced they deserve what they want when they want it. They are "entitled" to it.

This sense of entitlement has seeped into the culture; and, the psychopathy it engenders is not a pretty sight. There's a lot of blame to go around, starting with parents unwilling to set limits; as well as the entire worthless "self-esteem" movement that hypes self-esteem at the expense of self-responsibility and accountability.

All these factors have led to a culture of entitlement which encourages dysfunctional and highly antisocial behavior where the only concern is for one's own needs of the moment and their gratification. Many other factors in our culture reinforce this sort of behavior and even reward and enable it.

The influence of the cult of victimhood grows ever wider as the celebration of victimhood and the sense of entitlement promoted by a quasi-religious leftist/Marxist dogma has become a way of life.

As I have noted many times before, this sad situation has come about in part, because so many of the clueless individuals on the political left have an intense narcissistic need to see themselves as "champions of the oppressed"; hence the constant need to find and maintain an oppressed class of people to champion. Is it any wonder that our "gay, mentally challenged, biracial male cheerleader looks to government to solve all his problems and reimburse him for all his "suffering"?

This attitude also dovetails nicely into the Marxist dialectic (which is the foundation of the entitlement culture) and its greedy, grasping promotion of envy and egalitarianism. The world is divided up into two groups, you see: the oppressors (i.e., white, male,heterosexual, Republican, Americans, Israelis; etc. etc) and the oppressed (everyone else).

The political left (and now the US Government) proudly stands in solidarity with the oppressed victims of the world; and it is worth noting that their stance is particularly ego-gratifying if those they champion are undeserving victims (i.e., similar to Alfred P. Doolittle's "undeserving poor"-- who have needs as great as the most deserving of victims; in fact, their needs are even greater).