oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)
Earlier today I was talking to [personal profile] jhameia and the following conversation just blew on it's own. Enjoy. 

Jha: Aw DAMMIT. The way my post is going, now I kinda want to talk about something else.
Me: What?
Jha: That's only tangentially related. About the construction of identity. How it's not a linear process, but a multidimensional process. That is very often unconscious.
Me: [nods]
Jha: The only time I've ever seen it critiqued obviously has been through Jameson's thing about simulacra, about how identity can be bought. We buy the clothing we wear that communicates something about us. And thus so much of our identity is mediated that way, through an economic process. In North American society anyway.

Me: Speaking of Jameson, let's not forget how he makes and fixes political allegories of Third World Writers.
Jha: Which kind of confused me when I first encountered it because in Malaysia, cultural identity is also mediated through community rituals.
Me: Yes, here also.
Jha: I have only read that one essay of his which I am still grappling with.
Me: He's good.
Jha: But SWM.
Me: But don't put race or culture. Things fall apart before Achebe can say
 WHUT. 
Jha: Maybe that's why he can think of identity in terms of economic processes.
Me: Ha. Definitely.
Jha: Because he's so SWM, we know those SWM, it's all about claaaaaaaaaaaaaassssssss.
Me: Absolutely, that's just it. JESUS ><''
Jha: That's the thing about steampunk though, it's an interesting thing to me because I
 STILL see those identities produced through economic processes. BUT. And especially with people who are looking to communicate a more culturally specific identity, there's ALSO an attempt to assert identity in ways that don't rely on economic modes. 
Me: Yes. 
Jha: Like, if I want to do Chinese steampunk, I already know the forms and function. It's a matter of putting it out there. But sometimes it also means I have to pay to communicate Chinese specificity. 
Me: 
But sometimes it also means I have to pay to communicate Chinese specificity.  I've been thinking about this for a while now. What gets lost/ what new meanings are made when we attempt to translate our cultures and contexts, the toll it takes on us, the space it puts on us. And our cultural memory -- or whatever remains of it anyway. 
Jha: That's where it ties in to the post I am writing right now. It's exactly about how to communicate our culture and how to recover it. How to reclaim the legacy. 
Me: Who can reclaim it, when? In which subject position?
Jha: I got a quote from Derrida's Specters of Marx
Me: Oh?
Jha: You've read that one? It's the one where he talks about ghosts, ghosts from the pasts, which are present, which need to be addressed, the ghosts are a result of a violence that has happened in the past. 
Me: Yes, I remember. 
Jha: Ignoring them only produces more ghosts, because ignoring them is a kind of violence? That one? 
Me: Making the present bear witness to the ghosts of the past?
 Implicating and complicating them? That one?
Jha: And there's this passage about inheritance. Yes, apprehending ghosts. That one. 
Me: Got it, go on. 
Jha: What POC
 do in steampunk is, APPREHEND the ghosts of our past, our cultural memories to address them. Not necessarily to exorcise them, mind, but to acknowledge their presence. 
Me: Yes. Sometimes talking about presence is to apprehend it. Apprehension comes before understanding, Butler says that, in Frames of War. 
Jha: Because ghosts are a part of us, part of our culture and it's our duty to translate them. And we translate them differently, according to whose ghosts, and according to our relationship to the ghost. 
Me: Duty? I don't know. But it's a voluntary conflict we take on. Because that's the only way we can apprehend our lived realities, make them translatebale so to speak -- to the larger political realities we navigate. 
Jha: I
 think, for some of us. it has to be a duty, because to ignore the spectre is to do violence, not only to the specter but to the present, so if we want to not do violence, then we do have to take up the task.
Me: Maybe. 
Jha: But that's part of why colonialism tramples on, right, because Whiteness refuses to apprehend and translate. 
Me: Yes, but I can't see it as a duty. 
Jha: If white people want to do right by POC and the violent shared history, then yes, I'd say it's their duty to take it up. Hmmmm maybe duty is the wrong word for it? 
Me: Because of where and how I live -- I am not in the (direct) presence of Whiteness as you are, for instance, I do have a legacy of (on going) colonialism, definitely. So when you say "duty", the times when I don't want to reckon with colonialism, it implies that *I* am falling short in some way -- which I have to do sometimes, just to deal with the "colonial legacy". 
Jha: Yeah and there's nothing wrong with that. We will always fall short and that's the other thing about ghosts.
 If things could be neatly settled with them, it wouldn't be that important to apprehend them. 
Me: Which is why I said "voluntary conflict" -- it's hard to navigate, but it's a journey we have to undertake knowing full well what the ghosts could bring in their wake. 
Jha: Some of us have no choice, though, but to undergo that conflict and the things the ghosts bring with them. 
Me: Oh definitely, but we have to decide to apprehend it, and the attempts to parse what goes on, once ghosts come back alive. Voluntary, because even when we say "no choice", there is agency, I'd think. It's not a choice, sometimes mediated by coercive contexts. But the apprehension *has* to be voluntary -- for history to bear witness to the present. 
Jha: Hmmm. But taking up duty is often a choice, no?
Me:
 Ha, not where I come from. National duty, familial duty, filial duty.
Jha: Right. I'm thinking in the sense of, if you don't take up this duty horrible things happen. 
Me: Expected choices -- that's a sad pun for you.
Jha: Yes. 
Me: Duty as a word and meaning means something specific to many POC, which is why I wouldn't use it though I see where you're getting at. 
Jha: Mmmm. Yes, I can see now. 
Me: I know, what you're getting at is the "POC who has chosen to apprehend chooses to put it out there for other POC", because many have similar questions/issues and they may build a system of solidarity/resistance, etc. 
Jha: Yes, but I am ALSO
 thinking through the duty of white people to apprehend because of their privilege. 
Me: Again, different white people have different duties, no?
 Duty becomes in many instances, a favour or an act of benevolence. I am extremely skeptical of duty and all that it implies, as you can see. 
Jha: That's the other thing to square with...how do white people enact a duty towards victims of their inheritance without turning it into an act of benevolence? (You know, besides shutting up and sitting down)
Me: By understanding there is no benevolence to be doled out. We are not subjects of their duty
Jha: Yes. They are. 
Me: We are active participants of their choice. We decide if their choice is something we want to apprehend -- which is different every time it takes place across various contexts and people. 
Jha: *nods
Me: We are agents of choice, of articulation and at some point we can be active together to talk of our duty to each other. But today we need to have full control whether we want to apprehend their choice to talk of a shared violent legacy. I can see how easily this can become a supremacist dialogue (from any end) -- which is why
 I said it depends on context, every single time it changes. 
Jha: Yes. 
Me: Love this dialogue, thank you for making me think in this direction 
 
Jha: Well, now I am farther away from where I originally wanted to be and don't know how to go back to write what I meant to say!   
Me: Ha. 
Jha: THE THEORIST'S LIFE IS SO HARD.
Me: But, I LOVE such deviations! 
Jha: Me too! But it makes writing harder. 
Me: HOW ELSE WILL OUR LIVES HAVE ANNNGGGST!!
Jha: Especially since I am trying to do this publick intellekchual thing and make sure it's easy enough for someone off the street to understand it.  
Me: Ha, yes   


oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

Lately I've been very busy translating things -- French things to English, diluting some literary Gujarati with the help of my grandma and strangely, also my thoughts from English to my native tongue(s) as this summer break she helps me read in a few tongues that have been rusting inside me since the past few years.  For a long time, English has been my go-to language and my native tongues occupy a secondary position, of horrid pidgins that mix many tongues and dialects -- which are hilarious at best and painful at worst -- and a language I must use with family, with people who aren't fluent enough in English, a language that is substituted for English and even then I barrel this tongue with English words -- I don't see this as a necessarily bad thing, just illustrating how no matter how hard I try, my native tongues come to me as an after-thought. Sometimes, my grandma will ask me to read પાની and instead I read "water" in my head, and to save face say the Gujarati word out loud -- but she knows anyway that it doesn't come to me 'naturally'. Generally we smile at each other when this happens, she asks me to try again and I instruct myself to think in my mother tongue, and it works for a while. Then in about two minutes, she asks me to read a whole sentence and I am again judging it by English syntax and grammar forms. I don't need to learn to speak read write in these tongues, those I did as a child either in school -- where the State you belonged to dictated the tongues you'd learn  -- or at home where we speak our mother tongue. It's thinking in different tongues that I am working on and so far, miserably failing.

For years, my English and the 'talent' to say things well have been indistinguishable from my identity as an upper-caste Hindu lady, "who will one day go to the U.S. also and write big-thick books for people to read" to borrow my cook's words as she describes who I am and what I will do -- according to her -- to her neighbours. She says fondly, "Look at her English, I want my daughter also to speak like her! How fast-fast she goes, sometimes talking liddat on the phone and marking something in study books also" as her neighbours smile politely at us. I've gone to this neighbourhood since at least the past decade or so, I used to play with many children who now don't speak with me at all, and if they do only in English -- They say, "How you do" and I used to say, "ठीक हूँ" -- and they'd get embarrassed and I'd get angry that no matter what I did 'those people' don't want to speak in their native languages -- it's taken me a lot of time to see how them addressing me in English was their way of leveling ground between us and me stomping all over it and patronising them and replying in Hindi was nothing but my privilege raising its head. English still remains for us a class and a cultural marker, a certain kind of English that you speak marks you from which part of the city you come from -- if you code-switch and say, "I don't know, ask ajoba no" for instance, pegs you from North Mumbai -- and the more 'unadulterated'¹ your English is, the better education and class background you are assumed to have. It didn't help that I am 'convent educated' -- a phrase we treat as a synonym for 'Good English And Decorum' -- and was taught by British and Indian nuns who'd both tell us that "Your native languages can stay at home. Here we speak English -- like people". So we'd speak at lunch in our native tongues, but even that stopped as we grew older and English was just more convenient; plus by then, speaking in English meant Serious Business².

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)
Jaded

March 2012

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