Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Of Anonymity Crisis and Hendiadys

We, as the part of the Dept of English, under the DRS SAP-I programme had organized lectures and a workshop on 18 and 19 Sept 2009 to conclude a series of colloquia dealing with the theme of Identity which we had organized over the past six month. We had Prof Aniket Jaaware from University of Pune and Prof Nivedita Menon from JNU New Delhi. Students were quite enthusiastic about the whole thing and I too learned a couple of things from this very productive workshop.

I was fascinated with Prof Jaaware's guest lecture ` Language and Duplicity in Hamlet' which though was not part of the theme of the workshop was extremely insightful and lucid. Prof Jaaware shifted the focus away from the traditional approaches to Hamlet which have largely focused on his ` delay' in murdering his uncle to the use of language in the play. Prof pointed out that this was one of the most verbose plays and there was just too much language and people simply talked too much.

One of the preoccupations in the play as Aniket rightly pointed out was the verbal duplicity and linguistic manipulation of discourse. He drew attention to how Hamlet manipulates words of Polonius and Claudius by twisting them in different ways. Aniket noted that the idea of duplicity would also include `dualness' and talked about how there was often an extra character - for instance `Rosencrantz and Guildenstern' and `Voltemand and Cornelius ' . Aniket also talked about an essay by a noted Shakespearean scholar GT White which focuses on a figure of speech called `Hendiadys' in Hamlet. The figure expresses a single idea using two nouns instead of a noun and its modifier e.g. `He drinks from the cup and gold'. Aniket also noted that the whole idea of delay is only in the mind of Hamlet himself and the critics. No other character is concerned with this problem in the play, not even the Ghost. Hence, the center of duplicity is the figure of Hamlet himself.

Aniket's other lecture was very interesting too. It addressed the question of Identity and the notion of difference. He focussed specifically on the problematic relationship between identity and anonymity with reference to the urban armed resistance. Though armed resistance is about assertion of identity, in the urban context, it uses anonymity in a strategic ways. He said that the fictive identity ( fake identity cards, ration cards, fake driving licenses etc) are to treated very seriously and to be considered almost ` authentic' as the armed guerrillas in the cities cannot afford to be caught for ` improper parking'. Hence the politics of armed resistance in the cities uses a very different kind of identity politics where the `real' identity is often concealed and the fake one is treated as if its authentic.

Prof Menon spoke about the politics and predicament of feminism in contemporary India. Her presentations were extremely lucid and thought provoking. I had not acquainted myself with some of the key ideas of the third wave feminism. My reading of feminism was restricted to the French theorists. After Dr Deeptha's presentation in one of the earlier colloquia and after Prof Nivedita's discussion, I am definitely interested in this area.

Yours truly discussed Aniket Jaawre's essay ` Eating the Dalit and Eating with the Dalit' ( see K Satchidanandan ed. Modernism and After, Sahitya Akademi). I shared my apprehensions about confusion in the essay arising out of unclear distinctions between ` Varna', ` Jati' and `Untouchability'. I also pointed out the confusion arising out of lack on emphasis on the distinctions between ` modernism' and `modernity' in the essay as leading to a certain misunderstanding of the historiography of the post-independence Marathi poetry.

The workshop was inaugurated by the respected Dean of Arts faculty. During his inaugural speech he called Rajan Barett my colleague by the name `Dr. Sachin Ketkar', not once but thrice.
It was befitting of the workshop organized around the theme of identity. While making my presentation on Aniket's essay , I introduced myself as Dr. Rajan Barrett. The respected Dean of the Arts faculty, with his harmless lapse of memory had ushered in an ` anonymity crisis' of sorts in me. Taking away Rajan's identity had resulted in the loss of my identity too. I suggested to Rajan that we have now start resembling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the department. He said that we should rather be called the grave-diggers. I wonder whose skull are we going to find under the ruins now. Is it Yorrick's skull?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


We, at the Department of English, MS University, are doing a very interesting and probably unique academic experiment under the aegis of the UGC DRS SAP-I project. Our Dept is granted this project to research the ` Identarian Movements in the Western India in the period 1960 to 2000' by the University Grants Commision. This year we started a translation project called `Retrieving the Sixties: Culture in Gujarati Periodicals in English Translation'. The most interesting part of this project is that around 60-70 undergraduate and postgraduate students of English literature in our Dept are translating articles from Gujarati periodicals which had appeared in the decade of the sixties. The articles range from ones on literary subjects and problems of working women to tatooes, and our students were excited and happy about the idea. The students will work with teachers to finalize their work and we hope to publish it in future.The first stage of the project was the Translation Workshop we had on 29 Aug and it was great fun. The bright idea was Deeptha's and probably what we have on our hands is unique as far as the Dept of Englishes go. The Depts of English are notorious for their lack of direct engagement with immediate cultural environment ( some even complain that they are apathetic towards ANY cultural environment). We seek to remedy it by having teachers and students engaging actively with Gujarati culture.
The Sixties was a culturally exciting decade for many cultures across the globe. Think of the Vietnam War, the Hippies, the Chinese aggression and linguistic formation of the states in India. It was also the moment of Little Magazine Movements of varied sorts.This decade was also momentous in Gujarat. Various issues and debates of this significant phase of Gujarati cultural history are reflected in various periodicals. We felt it is important for the present generation of students to reconnect and reengage with the multiple currents that shaped Gujarati culture of this decade in order to understand some of the key issues of our own time. Translation of articles, which appeared in the sixties, can be a stimulating mode of retrieval and negotiation for the present generation of Gujarati youngsters.
In the post-Globalized world, it is imperative how we `read' the history of twentieth century to understand ourselves. In this light, I think the project becomes a very interesting one.