Feeling Good

One of the benefits of online communication with friends is that you get introduced to brilliant material once in a while:
Slumdog Millionaire is the type of film that depicts the horror of slum residents washing and drying their clothes right next to speeding trains as a kaleidoscopic, ethnic, patchwork mosaic; the scenes leading up to Jamal's mother's murder are an idyllic tableau of women doing their wash, exoticized and idealized. Boyle's visual style is all bombast and ego, zooming racks and aerial shots that minimize an audience's need to confront the realities of life in a third world ghetto. When all else fails, here comes more of the slo-mo, retard tingle attached to a long look at beautiful inamorata Latika (Frieda Pinto). Paired unhappily with dogme95 Anthony Dod Mantle's trademark ugly cinematography, the result is this jigsaw monster of a movie that seems to recognize the hideousness of its subject before forcing itself to plaster on a jester's smirk--the visual equivalent of a nice pat on the head. No doubt someone's already formulated the argument that it's just a harmless allegory of one illiterate urchin's predestined rise (Boyle reprises his own repugnant Millions in that sense), but a closing credits sequence that hijacks Bollywood's musical extravaganza with the entire cast of extras suggests otherwise. The cruellest irony of Slumdog Millionaire is that, like (wait for it) the also- impossibly-popular and instantly-dated Juno, it's an archconservative message that causes liberals to feel inordinately pleased with themselves.
PS. Congrats to AR Rahman. I am happy for him.

Zoned Out: Maths

After a tiring argument, "say what you want, but an eye for eye would leave the whole world blind!" concluded Dhimma
"Wait. I take your eye, and you take one of mine in return. Doesn't the story end with both of us with one eye?" asked Murun
-"Well...I guess. But what if I took one back from you after I lost my first eye because I forgot that I started it?"
"Then I'll be left with no eyes and I can't pluck your last eye even if I wanted to. Your conclusion doesn't add up even then. Do you want to rephrase?"
-"Ok. In a world in which people don't know their math or with selective amnesia, an eye for an eye would leave everyone blind!"
"No, it still doesn't make sense."
-"The geezer didn't know what the hell he was talking about, did he?"

Obsolete "Truth"

“Spirituality” and “mysticism” are some of the ideas that are given to mixed understanding by people and scholars of different backgrounds. As an atheist with an empiricist worldview, I tend to deconstruct all ideas of spirituality and mysticism, and ultimately reduce it to an actor’s experience within a structure. It is unlike Freudian psychoanalytic reductionism, though. I do not really try to or find it purposeful to “demystify” the “experience” a certain way. Just like all the inexplicably surreal dreams many of us have regularly. I simply dismiss them. They are irrelevant to life in a materialist, physically grounded world that follows rules that are decipherable by our basic, shared senses – either directly or through instruments. Its validity and accuracy aside, psychoanalysis may be necessary insofar as philosophical and epistemic reasoning – of the simplest kind, such as deconstruction – do not enlighten the visions of “enlightenment.”

Spirituality in of itself risks extinction if it is not communicated through a materialistic form. All mystical experiences – of “pure consciousness” or otherwise – have to be mediated semiotically even for self-explanation. Verbalizing it makes it even more distorted (or manipulated) with interplay of specific cultural signifiers and semantics. Even that, assuming the person has not consciously fabricated the said experience itself. So Ramakrishna may have been honest about all his “visions” but they were still a product of his environment. I do not care if it was his suppressed homoeroticism that subconsciously transfigured into his mystical experiences, they were all constructed nevertheless. How or why is immaterial. My interest and respect for him (whatever I have) comes only from his politics.

On the same token, God’s relevance is more important than God’s existence – it’s a point of ontological divergence. Advaita Vedanta’s notions of “absolute truth”, Brahman, “essence” etc., need to be treated as such. “Who are you?” is not that tricky a question. The answer “I am who you are asking it to” would rubbish all its non-dualistic connotations. All objects are perceived relationally and an object’s state devoid of its relation to the subject – in its “essence” – is of little value in the physical world. Actually, I disagree with the idea itself; that there is an inherent, singular “nature” or “spirit” for every object, outside of human observation. It's a notion akin to the "ultimate purpose" of human life.

Spiritualists seem to rely solely on analogical simplification when their obscurantist claims are deconstructed. The problem in doing so is that analogies are inherently meant to simplify and are hence circular. The way a straight train is made to climb around mountains by exploiting minor flexibilities in its path. (Yes, it’s meant to be ironic.) The only thing about spirituality that I find worthwhile is the philosophical analyses of phenomena in the material world within its terms. Such occurrences, however, are rare in most cases. Most of them have an uncanny, theologically motivated obsession with fatalism.

I do not see this as “Western philosophies’ inability to understand/accommodate the Orient.” It is rather unfortunate that our people were colonized when the West was busy philosophizing matter. Because, a land mass with languages as complex as any European language would have churned out its share of philosophers who would have propounded the same ideas – it’s an undeniable statistical probability. It is disingenuous and escapist to exploit temporal precedence to forward irrational ideas. Of course, rationality itself is a useless Western idea, isn’t it? Indians could have never come up with that on their own. It’s better not to talk about positivist, neuroscientific studies etc.

Experience tells us that for all the God’s supposed communication with its most ardent disciples – gurus and spiritual leaders – people end up doing what their political space allows them to do. A country such as India stands testament to this assertion. The ratio of god-men and inequities among the people is perhaps the worst in this part of the world. Most spiritual gurus here are supposed to have had some kind of “authentic spiritual experience” at some point of their lives. They meditate, fast, chant and do everything to achieve “nirvana” – a mental state that, among other things, keeps out the travails of the “real” world. Why seek political emancipation when “spiritual emancipation” puts you at a better place in the society? If only the poor and the oppressed learnt to fill their stomachs with spiritual food.

From Ramakrisha who convulsed at the sight of money to Jayendra Saraswathi who is bathed in gold coins, spirituality in India has sure come a long way. Most of the spiritualists, I would argue, are not really waiting for their Gods or gurus to say what to do. In spite of all their Sanskrit mumbo-jumbo, they exist and operate in the materialistic domain. It's just another weapon in their wide arsenal to achieve/preserve their elite status and social elevation. If nothing, some kind of respect for their "aura." They are the neo-hippies. “What about the unassuming ascetics by the banks of Ganges?” you may ask. All I can say is, “keep their weed supplies uninterrupted.”

True Postmodernist

"I wish my first word as a child had been 'quote,' so right before I die, I could say 'unquote.'"
- Zach Galifianakis

Podcast: Violence, Disenfranchisement and Statehood

Download mp3; download mp3 (Odeo Link)

1'-5': Protests in distant lands -- far from where it may actually have an "effect".
5'-12': An individual's interaction with the state; role of violence in maintaining a statehood.
12'-14': Nationalist arrogance
14'-19': Why should the systemically marginalized and the oppressed live by a state's laws?
19'-23': Periyar and Tagore on "India" the nation.
23'-28': Constructing nationalist loyalties; erosion of leftist perspective in mainstream media. (pothu putthi - common/mainstream sensibility.)
28'-35': Muthukumar's self-immolation; Tamil Nadu's indifference to protests and the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Related blog entries: நாகார்ஜுனன்; ஜமாலன்; முத்துக்குமாரின் கடிதம்.

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