Rusted Gearwheel of Mortality!

crow

Rain pelts the ground like mournful tears of all the angels in all the heavens and all the demons in hell.

Tears caked in the blood of mankind; tainted red with the stains of eternal punishment for infinite sin. .

They wash over him like bile pouring from the mouths of a million demons; seeping their venom deep within, leaving only humid residue without.

He walks on, nonetheless. As if fueled by a promise too cherished to be deemed untrue, as if beckoned by the master of this domain himself; as if being told that only by surviving the horrors of the vestibule can he earn entrance into what he seeks.

He soldiers on, therefore, too desperate to be frightened, to frightened to be brave. As if encased in a spell of forward motion, he chases each step with another even when every iota of common sense at his disposal shrieks with terror at him to turn around and run away.

Until finally, he finds the door.

Crafted as if by the hands of the god of all monuments, it rises beyond his ability to see. It’s a gleaming shade of white…human bones waxed and rubbed to an almost blinding shine as if to mimic the sun’s brilliance at its most vicious.

Carved within the bones are the horrific scenes he has witnessed all around him of people in various stages of dying. Some burning, some rotting, some turning to flakes of ash and pools of murky black blood. Recorded within the door for all of posterity, and beyond.

A warning?

An attempt to discourage would be trespassers?

But he isn’t here of his own volition… he isn’t here by any ironic consequence of his malevolent choices… he’s just there, as if deemed worthy, as if desired.

An invitation. The thought forms in his head without his express knowledge or consent.

A promise of deliverance from all the horrors and all the suffering you see divined into this door and in all of existence behind you. A pledg,e that beyond this door, you will find what you seek, what all mortals seek: Salvation.

His heart drops to his toes as the carved figurines in the white door begin to writhe and move and bleed. Turning the surface before him as red as the ground beneath him, the sky above him, the human remains all around him. It drips to his feet and burns away his boots creeping into the pores in his skin. He tries to move but the blood holds him fast like the lustful eyes of a beloved promising sin coated in so much passion that it remains sin not at all, but becomes benediction instead. Momentary and incomplete benediction but benediction nonetheless. The pleasure that rises from the pain is almost erotic. He feels himself aroused at the prospect of peace so consuming and complete that with it in his grasp there would be nothing left to desire.

Seduced, he raises one hand and places it on the blood laden door.

A scream rises from all the contorted faces carved before him that transcends whatever euphoria he had come to feel and leaves him petrified, as if his veins had purged all life blood in him to the floor beneath his feet.

The door to hell swings only once.

Once you enter, you cannot leave.

What you seek may be worth your soul

But is it worth your mortal dreams?

The staccato wail rises from within the blood curdling scream. Almost like an after thought, a memory of a nightmare, foreboding beyond reason, beyond help. Beyond omen.

The song of the dying fills his head like guilt, occupying every faculty, every last ounce of resolve. He lets his hand fall away from the door, such fear filling his heart that his owns breath begins to abandon him. Coming to him in spasms, almost as if too frightened to be exposed to the dread surrounding him.

He wills his feet to move and they seem to comply, the soul salvaging screams overthrowing the kingdom of darkness allow him to follow his own lead.

But only for an instant. For in the next instant, before he can shake of the rapture to tear his eyes away from the grim tableau bathed in crimson laid out before him, it begins to merge.

A merging that seems like the most unholy of all unifications. Corpses ripped asunder coming together to complete each other. One severed leg affixing itself to a stray torso, a contorting tongue flowing into an eye-less face.

It gathers speed, moving faster and faster with every breath he draws. Whizzing together in a grotesque dance as if propelled by a central magnetic pull that will leave no limb dismembered.

The blood flows faster, sucking his feet in deeper. He is soaked up to his ankles in the blood of countless ghosts. And then it begins to take a shape he had wished he would never had to see again.

A face begins t o form, a mosaic of billions of mangled faces fusing together to make one.

No is what he wants to scream as it begins to appear closer to recognition.

But it’s too late to even formulate a thought, or contemplate a response. Before he can close his eyes, before he can turn around and cower, she stands before him.

Her eyes, her nose, her lips. Formed so perfectly by the haphazard ensemble of broken bodies that even with the grotesque constituents, it is still beautiful. And once again he finds himself lured into the depth of those murky brown eyes that had brought him to search for deliverance at the doors of hell itself.

And then the rage returns.

Seething with a fury that can only be borne of true love, he steps forward. Places a trembling hand against the door of human bones transposed with her face and pushes it open.

The song of the dying rings out again in a desperate admonition.

Yes. He murmurs as it drowns in her laughter.

Aap-beeti of the Society’s ire

eggplantHe’s like an eggplant, who’s a bit under-crooked and a little long-necked, contorted enough that he would probably lose in a beauty pageant against rounder or more symmetrical aubergines.

Across the globe, ugly people stand quietly in the corners at parties, alone, unwanted, irrelevant. The guests gloom into constellations of 4-5 people, and the uglies drift in the space between like gloomy asteroids. They wonder if this is how life will always be, a melancholy shadow of standard human experience, or if it’s just a passing phase like puberty or baby teeth. They fear others are making friends, achieving professional success, and being loved at a vertiginously higher rate based on Facebook newsfeed impressions and film/television portrayals of people their age. And do they deserve their exile from the mainstream sexy demographic?

Of course they do!

Their first violation of the social contract was in emerging from the womb, thereby increasing cumulative global repulsiveness, a new wart on the face of humanity, one more unwanted animal. How dare they inflict this aesthetic discomfort on fellow citizens? They could’ve not existed indefinitely, but no, they demanded manifestation, and thus, a hideous sperm merged with an equally hideous egg. And they cohabitate with us, the handsomes, as if they are equal, but they are not. God framed their fearful asymmetry and so condemned them to a life of reduced Human Value.

Even our own neurology, evolved over millions of years, recognizes their diminished value as people. In study after study, uglies are more likely to be perceived as dumb, submissive, antisocial, mean, psychologically unstable, and basically every other negative trait you can think of (less delicious?). They’re more likely to be found guilty of a crime and receive harsher sentences from juries. They’re perceived as more dangerous than attractive people. They’re less likely to be hired, and on average, they’re offered lower salaries by employers (10-20% lower!). Even newborn babies, innocent little babies, prefer sexy faces to their lopsided monster faces. The whole universe, every atom, looks upon the ugly person and cringes.

Some might equate this appearance bias with discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and class—all forms of bigotry with long, horrendous histories. A 19th century Chicago ordinance against ugliness reads: “”Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting subject…shall not…expose himself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 for each offense.” This attitude lives on today in the L’Oreal executive who allegedly ordered a store manager to fire a salesperson who was not “hot” enough. Or Abercrombie and Fitch’s controversial practice of only hiring people who fit their conception of youthful physical perfection.

But it’s not just perception; science is confirming all our prejudices against irregular faced people, and best of all, no one can argue with science. One recent study in particular found that attractive people actually are statistically smarter than ugly people, while another study found that most criminals are ugly (i.e., a direct correlation between moral fortitude and sexiness). Is it possible attractive people’s higher IQs and lower rates of criminality might be due to years of validation from society, special attention/encouragement from teachers, and greater access to love/support? Could their lifelong struggle against a hostile cosmos in which every creature they encounter discharges billowing black plumes of apathy at them have taken a toll? The answer is no. Science.

If we look at media representations, we see ugly* people often cast as villains to provide visual shorthand for their ugly personalities (see: Walder Frey, Voldemort, Ursula, etc.). Or other times, they’re cast as pitiable supporting characters (see: Gollum, Hurley, Paul Giamatti, etc.). Regardless, they’re rarely the protagonist in mainstream media, and since the protagonist is who viewers typically identify with, the message is clear: ugly people do not matter. Their ontological experiences, stories, their very lives are as disposable as snapchats (another thing no one wants to look at).

We even refuse to listen to ugly people’s music despite it being unnecessary to see their misshapen faces to enjoy it. Somehow, knowing the melody originates in the vocal cords of an ugly person ruins it. No kidding, there are actually studies to confirm that listeners’ ratings of a song are significantly affected by the singer’s appearance, even when rated by highly trained musical evaluators. And even if you’re the rare successful “ugly” musician, the ugliness must be commented on ad nauseam (see: Steven Tyler, Brittney Howard, Lady Gaga, etc.), as if ugliness is your defining characteristic.

Every day, I’m grateful I don’t have prosopagnosia, so I can differentiate the noteworthy people from the organic detritus, the genetic affronts to God’s perfect world. If we couldn’t see each others’ skin suits, if we were just souls floating around, we wouldn’t know who mattered. We would have to find new reasons to hire people and make friends. We would have to give equal attention and encouragement to children, never knowing which child is secretly gross as hell. We would have to acknowledge the abominations because there would be no visual indication of their grotesqueness. What would be beautiful then? A world where I can’t organize people by hot/not is a world without meaning.

*lacking conventionally attractive physical traits.

A stroll through the flanders field of Law

The truly great need no synthesis. They absorb whatever experience offers them. Their intensely creative personalities act like a fiery furnace, melting away contradictions. What emerges is either a harmonious whole or a creative parallelism with parts that mutually fructify and supplement each other. The truly great do not need to trim edges, as it were, to make genuine experiences fit with each other. They preserve them intact. And if their experiences appear contradictory, they build an emotional bridge spanning them allowing both the landscape and the water to be seen. Lesser mortals resort to logical means of harmonization. (David Weiss Halivni)

The law of nature is no longer conceived of as something static and eternal. It does not override human or positive law. It is the stuff out of which human or positive law is to be woven, when other sources fail. Such is the eclecticism that emanates from Halivni’s writing as revealed in his articles on freedom with which he relied upon the ideas of his predecessors and his contemporaries. These affinities and resemblances of ideas so pervade his writings that their interpretation eludes the apparatus of citation and footnote. His unfailing nobility of thought reminds one of Plato, as does his persistent striving to find beneath the social flux the realities of social justice. His search for principles of value behind precedents resembles the agelong search for natural law. Yet his reality and his natural law are not eternal, immutable formulas. His writings assume a belief in human progress which is typical of American idealism. His respect for the moral traditions of a people is akin to Savigny’s, but is strongly influenced by Holmes’ view that continuity with the past is only a necessity. In his quick and righteous indignation at those who act from impure motives, he shows sometimes the Puritanical sternness of Kant, at other times the more humane idealism of Stammler. This is, perhaps, his dominant thought. Yet in his insistence upon the appraisal of legal rules and legal institutions in terms of their social consequences he carries forward the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and the sociological jurisprudence of Holmes and Dean Pound. Finally, in his avowed and often exemplified distrust of conventional formulas and in his insistence that the rule must fit the case and not the case the rule, he shows that faith in the power of reflective problem-solving, as an interplay of data and ideas, which is typical of the thought of John Dewey. Halivni’s philosophy of law and Justice is thus representative of the best that has contributed to the Global intellectual tradition

A discourse on gluttony!

Not vglluttonyery long ago, I visited my ‘mind palace’, to steal a term from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, and burrowed deep in order to determine where and when it was that I first encountered the world of buffet dining. The culprits, as it happens, turned out to be a hotel in Wales, UK, and the year 2010. For a Pardesi, the idea of unlimited servings from a varied offering of dishes at a fixed price at all Middle-eastern and Desi restaurants was intriguing, to say the least. My parents painstakingly explained to me the etiquette of buffet dining, i.e., using a fresh plate every time one goes for more food, not breaking the line just because one wants to skip a dish in favour of another further down the spread, and not using the serving utensil of one dish in another, to mention a few. Thus, armed with these etiquette I joined the multitude of millions who had come to believe buffet dining was the epitome of epicurean delight, and for years eschewed the ala carte when choice so permitted.

Fortunately, with the passage of time, one learns to appreciate the finer things in life, and to discriminate between the crass and the sophisticated. Hence, it was only inevitable that buffet dining would one day lose its place on my pedestal of all things fine. For the buffet, stripped of all its facade, is essentially an exercise in mediocrity and an ode to gluttony.

For the restaurateur, the buffet is a chance to dispense with the logistics a complex ala carte requires (not to mention the opportunity to serve leftovers that otherwise may have to be disposed of); given that the generally acceptable quality of buffet meals ranks below that of ala carte, the restaurant owner may cut costs by selecting second rate ingredients. For the chef, the buffet allows him or her to prepare dishes en masse without dedicating time and effort to monitor the outcome of each dish or to avoid less than flattering feedback from an irate diner in case a particular dish turns out less than desirable. Truly, when was the last time one saw a buffet diner complain to the chef?

For the diner, this format grants the excuse for gluttony. We Pakistanis are at close to our worst when it comes to food; the sight of food, and that too in abundance, triggers some primordial chord in us, and our dining manners at a buffet, in general, are not too far removed from those one may see on a farm. People clamour around the serving tables jostling one another for leverage, if you haven’t experienced such a sight, serve yourself a sight by visiting a chamkeeli manicured wedding at some banquet hall in Rawalpindi, and the serving ladles and spoons will fly thick and fast as the entrees are whipped into plates that soon become roving mounds of food, the fear being the food will run out before the second serving! The food is devoured in haste and with sloppiness, interjected with bouts of eructation. Norms of dietary intake are ignored; meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, fried food and barbecued preparations are all devoured in one sitting, At the end, after the desserts have been washed down, the diner is likely to have a stupefied and glass-eyed look as the ill-effects of over-eating and indigestion start to register.

Gluttony has existed in many forms throughout history but has attained its perfect manifestation in the form of the buffet meal. One can only thank age for imparting a sense of discretion and understanding of what things in life are worth valuing and continuing with, and as such the passing of the buffet meal from my culinary preferences is no more a loss to me than would be the loss of Hamilton from Formula 1

Hindutva’s fetish for discipling the errant others


10slide5
The right to religious liberty is widely regarded as a crowning achievement of secular-liberal democracies that guarantees the peaceful co-existence of religiously diverse populations. While all members of a polity are supposed to be protected by the right to religious liberty, religious minorities are understood to be its greatest beneficiaries in the protection it accords them to practice their beliefs freely without fear of state intervention or social discrimination. Conventional wisdom has it that religious liberty is a universally valid principle, enshrined in national constitutions and international charters and treaties, whose proper implementation continues to be thwarted by intransigent forces in society such as illiberal governments, religious fundamentalists, and traditional norms. Insomuch as in India, followed by other countries in general, are supposed to be afflicted with the ills of fundamentalism and illiberal governments, then the salvific promise of religious liberty looms large. In this brief post I would like to question this way of thinking through a consideration of the career of religious liberty under Modi’s Government in India

As I will show, far from being a universally valid, stable principle, the meaning and practice of religious liberty and how within one year, it has dramatically shifted towards the abyss in India, often in response to the reinstatement of Hindutva’s at helm, bringing local regimes of socio-religious inequality. Rather than treating the history of the sub-continent as simply one of aberration from the norm of Western tolerance, I would highlight how India has engulfed in adverse to its secular normative claims, by rejecting the philosophical framework towards harmonizing religious liberty and being careful in not buying into its presuppositions. For the last 52 years, India has entirely escaped any kind of international scrutiny of what’s been called India’s ‘hidden apartheid’— abuses stemming from the caste system. Now this clearly advocates for an audit towards the self-proclaimed mandate claimed by HIndus to make every Indian a Hindu in a fixed period of time, working through either on collaborations with communal’s involving colossal financial and social resources (including knowledge systems and technological capacities), or using the same unitary, exclusive, and hegemonic paradigm of cultural and religious monopoly advocated by Indian and Hindu nationalism. In terms of conceptual models, there seems to be little difference between wanting to reconvert all Indians into Hindus and seeking to convert all Indians into giving them religious autonomy, has now been proved to be nothing but a simplistic slogan. “India for Hindutva’s by 2100” seems akin to the world-view of Hindutva because it refuses to respect the plurality of religious experiences and expressions.

Of course, the practical difference cannot be ignored: Hindus are an overwhelming majority closely associated with political, economic and social power while Muslims are less than a handsome percentage of the total population without any realistic chance of economic and political influence at a national level. Quite aware of this vulnerability, and fully affirming that the Hindutva agenda must be subverted, what I am calling for is an internal debate within Muslims about the objective and implementation of mission activity within a pluralistic world-view. Monolithic models are always hazardous to the survival of the “other” in its divergent forms, and must be resisted — irrespective of which religion or culture is asserting itself as the “Self”.

Of the myriad facets of this colonial construction, I will stress that the production of the “Indian identity” involved a dual process. On the one hand it construed an homogeneous identity which could “capture” these varied and differentiated peoples; on the other, it posited an essence of this constructed identity which could bind it together. In India this was done by utilizing religion: the first objective was accomplished by construing India as a unitary and homogeneous entity, religiously one; the second goal by uncovering the fact that the essence of this religiousness was Hindu.

Let’s reminisce how colonialism fabricated an “oriental other” in India to legitimate the dominance of the Western self. Orientalism was, so to speak, the philosophy that fuelled the colonial machine. With regard to the production of knowledge it was driven by a twofold agenda: circulating forms of knowledge that “proved” the passive, irrational, traditional, immoral, backward and exotic nature of the Oriental (Eastern) world, and routinized the active, rational, modern, moral, progressive and realistic nature of the Occidental (Western) world. The logic of this body of knowledge implied that it was natural and beneficial that the self (West) overcome the other (East) for the sake of humanity’s progressive evolution. Thus this knowledge is integrally intertwined with power: to colonize, to dominate, to educate, to covert, to guide and control.

Hence the use of such a toxic experiment ended up in resurrecting the menace of Hindutva in India, albeit programmed for the purposes of uniting the nation under the “Indian” banner, it was hijacked under the curse of nationalism that took over the project of construing India as a unitary and homogeneous entity which uncovered the fact that the essence of this religiousness was Hindu. Faced thus with the real and supposed onslaughts on its monopolistic dominance, and haying tried different forms of meeting the challenge, such as reform and revivalism, this anathemic ideology finally settled upon an adequate strategy by reincarnating itself as pan-Indian political-national Hinduism. This group, as the dominant and leading class, reworked and recast Brahminic ideology, from the vantage position of social dominance, to suit the times as an ideology of state power, simultaneous to their claim to appropriate the state itself. . . [Thus] the emergent Hinduism was at once Brahminical as well as national.

Though in committing such an attempt to reconstruct a united India, the framers of Hindutva failed to respect the will of communities who wanted to be part of their nation, but were constrained to its hierarchical Hindu idea of a community under the principle of the varnasrama dharma. One cannot but be struck by the concerted attempts of the nationalists to demonize communities that assert their cultural and religious difference in the face of Hindu nationalistic forces. But the tendency among Hindu Nationalists to tame all heterogeneous and plural forms so that they fit into the unitary construction of a religiously-synthesized India, towards a disciplined pan-Indian identity is simply an opportunistic deployment of a single noble principle. The contradictions and paradoxes internal to the conceptual architecture of this theory is a grave threat to religious liberty itself and its global history.

Here I must, say that one must point to the many instances of violence unleashed on minority communities in India, that resist the pan-Hindu identity; let us take again the Dalits and Muslim minorities as examples. In a methodical and widely-researched monograph, Human Rights Watch documents the increasing violence directed against Dalits: “Between 1994 and 1996, a total of 98,349 cases were registered with the police nation-wide as crimes against scheduled castes. Of these, 38,483 were registered under the Atrocities Act. A further 1660 were for murder, 2814 for rape, and 13,671 for hurt.” It goes on to give a frightening picture of the rise in recent mass murders in Kashmir and the Muslims in general over Beef including the mass graves of some more than 4000 innocent Kashmiri’s.

What vigilant and beneficial response can uphold the human right to be religiously different in India? For something concrete and positive must be done to support the forces resisting the Hindutva phenomenon! The first aspect of a helpful response has to do with what ought not be done. In seeking a solution to this unitary, exclusive and hegemonic ideology one must be careful to repudiate it as a paradigm. The general temptation, after all, is to fight one form of exclusivism with another form of the same, leading to a situation of competing fundamentalist or essentialist paradigms.

Particularly in situations of social conflict and political uncertainty people opt for elementary, facile and unequivocal categories. The need of the hour is to get out of the colonial and national models which sanction the rejection of a plurality of religious expressions. Only then can one embrace an alternate model which empowers all religions to live out their difference, while holding the variety of human communities’ self-expressions within a humane framework. In order to be relevant let me be concrete. What does this rejection of the colonialists’ and nationalists’ paradigm mean for the world-view of Muslims in India?

By way of conclusion let me play with a contextual metaphor which comes from this discussion of multiple religious participation. Consider a model for the pluralistic living of various religious communities along the lines of a large, traditional, rural household in India. Many families from one lineage live in this large ancestral house, each with their own appointed portion. The house is rectangular, with many well-designed portions to accommodate many nuclear families from the same lineage. In their own portion of the house the members of each nuclear family live in autonomy and security. They evolve their own rites, relational patterns, language and social practices. There is much freedom for creative and contextual symbolic expression. These expressions, however, must not contravene the fundamental values and practices of the lineage.

Two common areas bring all members of the household together. First, there is a large, open foyer which leads into a corridor linking each of the portions with the front entrance. This foyer, along with the corridor, is used as a space for social interaction with each other and for entertainment of common visiting friends and relatives. Second, there is an opening at the back of each portion which leads into a common play area. This area, which is secured from the outer world, is where intimate intra-rela-tionships happen between various members of the lineage. Children can play here safely, and various common facilities are shared to meet the needs of the larger family. Some basic rules, worked out among all families, must govern relationships with the aim of guarding the autonomy and security of each family unit, and enhancing the welfare and honour of the lineage as a whole

This metaphor emphasizes that the autonomy and security of each community’s religious experience and expression must be guarded by all members of the extended family, and that the interaction within the common spaces of the house must be governed by mutually agreed codes of conduct allowing for free exchange of ideas and not leading to the theological “annexing” of one unit by another. Succession from the lineage is strongly discouraged; but so are homogenization and hegemonization within the lineage.

I would be wrong to assume that religious liberty in India consists of simply protecting certain Hindutva’s or Hindu extremist individuals from the exercise of state power (that is, advocating for co-existence). The people who are supposed to benefit most from the modern principle of religious liberty—namely, religious minorities, especially Muslims—are at the mercy of Hindu’s willing to transform them by virtue of their subjection to tyranny, the calculus of state and geopolitical power in unique and unpredictable ways. This shift, from a group-based understanding of religious liberty to an individualist one in international legal discourse is more than a conceptual shift; it is direly affecting the substantive meaning and practice of religious liberty as well as the kinds of subjects who can speak in its name in India.

Contemporary India, like today, is at an autonomy towards allowing a systematic attack against various expressions of religious and cultural plurality. The move to project and promote a nation which is unitary by way of its common Hinduness is gaining ground. I have argued here that the ideological model of a monolithic and homogenized India, which fueled the Indian national movement and still fuels contemporary Hindu nationalism, is an extension of Western colonialism. Thus instead of countering the colonial framework, the nationalists appropriated it. This may have been helpful in galvanizing all communities to oppose colonial rule and achieve together Indian independence, but this same unitary and homogenizing ideology has been quite destructive in the hands of present-day Hindu nationalists. Their agenda disciplines both those who stray from the core of the Indian-Hindu value system, and all those others who must be enlightened by “eternal truth” and be reintegrated into the organic — but highly hierarchical — Hindu dharma considered binding on all Indians.

Indeed, if the universal promotion of religious liberty in India has been ridden with colonial and neocolonial agendas, then how does one grapple with the legitimate and important question of providing protections to religious minorities across the country? What other procedural, legal, and social mechanisms do modern polities make possible that can be separated from the exercise of geopolitical domination, interests, and power?

In concluding, let me last point out that these contrastive deployments of restraining religious liberty in India are globally interpreted as the cynical instrumentalization of an otherwise noble principle in the service of realpolitik or corrupt ends. Seen in this way, the principle itself—its logic, its aim, and its substantive meaning—remains unsullied by the impious intentions of the empires, actors, and states that sought to promote or subvert it. Such an argument needs to be complicated for several reasons or else such a separation would be imminent not just conceptually on geography but practically on futile intractability of politics from all human rights struggles of our times

The facade of content

0,,6471949_4,00

It was the autumn of my discontent. A time when the ghost of Midas, condemned to forever roam the living world, had come to roost in me. The eternity of aimlessness has mutated him, I can assure you, and instead of gold, which despite the moral of the story would actually have been rather nice, everything I touched during those beknighted months would turn instead to shit. They were dark days, desperate days. Days so heavy with the burden of despondence that waking up was more unpleasant than dreams of having died.

I have never fully recovered, to be honest. Life is probably better than it has ever been, in strictly socially viable terms, at least, but the sense of invulnerability is never coming back. This is a good thing, I’m sure I’ll be told, and in all earnestness too, I know we are basically helpless shapes just floating aimlessly within our own illusions of control, but it’s not. Not really. Not even for a minute. Invincibility is the greatest of all highs, you see. It’s the best of feelings. It’s top of the charts and will never ever be displaced. When you feel invincible you look at the world like it’s a puzzle you can solve, as opposed to one that you can’t even begin to understand. You know shit, when the feeling of invincibility is upon you, you believeshit. And belief, my god, is the strongest of all temptations. Belief, ultimately, is the root cause of all good and evil in the world, and the feeling of invincibility, both good and evil, much like the perfect woman, is ultimately a product of belief. But whatever it is, it was quite clearly upon me just when the mutated ghost of Midas the cursed king chose to hole up where my soul used to live.

Arguably, it was gods way, or the world’s way, or fate’s way of setting me straight and/or extracting the pomposity out of me. But one would have to believe in all those fancy things to subscribe to such an easy interpretation. I don’t know why it happened or to what end… I just know that it did come to pass and almost a decade later I’m still reeling from the assault.

There were lessons learnt… for better or worse… lessons that define whatthefuck I now am. I have no way of knowing whether I drew the right conclusions or not, because the lessons don’t really ever stop coming as long as you live, but one of the lessons itself is to make a fucking decision and then fucking stick to it because whether it works or not is not really up to you anyway and indecision is one of the worst weaknesses a person can be afflicted with. Also learnt that love mustMUSTmust always be embraced with your eyes open wider than your heart. And also that you can’t really help but be blinded by love. How the two can go hand in hand is a mystery to me, but believe me when I tell you, they can. And although even then love is 70 parts pain to 30 parts pleasure, once its chosen rather than assumed, it’s a lot more meaningful.

But most important, and perhaps also the most powerful of all the worms of wisdom Midas planted in me before he finally, mercifully left, is that we are not invulnerable, we just are not. Maybe we aren’t meant to be maybe we are incapable of it, but the bottom line is that the shit will hit the fan and it will catch us not only without an umbrella but with our pants down in a pool of quicksand which we will be unable to get out of ourselves and so we mustMustmust sink in, be submerged, drown and die and be absorbed in order to survive and get back up on our feet again. But none of this, none of the lessons/worms of wisdom can ever actually help because once the stupor of invincibility has been experienced, the rest of our lives are spent hung over from it.

Sanctioning the Grammar Nazi’s

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640

Language pedants should ask themselves what really drives them in their policing efforts: genuine concern for sliding standards or a sinisterly hidden form of one-upmanship?

A few months ago, a friend of mine and a very clever one at that began a text message with the words “its going to be a long night”. As I rode the waves of shock and smugness, imagine my delight when I then found the missing apostrophe inelegantly wedged between the Y and the S in the word “trolly’s”, an obvious indication of his inability to know a possessive adjective when he sees one or pluralise words properly. On reading the text, I could have reacted in one of two ways: stay quiet for eternity but for ever hold on to this text as a private adjunct to his every future accomplishment, or rib him until the cows come home. I went with the former.

It was not until I was on the receiving end of some no-holds-barred grammar “nazism” (not that I condone the word’s being bandied about but given its status as a much-used marker of grammar militants, I’ll use it as shorthand for now) that I was revolted at my own snobbery. Having written “here” instead of “hear” in a fleeting moment of lapsed concentration. I’d like to think autocorrect had a role to play but I may have to admit to momentary abdication of consciousness – I found myself castigated by a friend who was far more forthcoming in her criticism than I had been some weeks previously. And thank heavens, for had she not been I may have for ever remained in a most abject state of heathenness as far as she was concerned; me, who gets visibly and audibly excited over the likes of the subjunctive.

People’s reactions to poor use of grammar are manifold: quiet smugness, mock derision, actual derision, outrage and on-the-spot correction (usually accompanied by derision or a cursory tut for your troubles) probably constitute the most common. But while mockery and outrage may have their place – David Cameron’s pledge to make children illegal Tweet in a recent Twitter gaffe could well have incurred both, while the state of grammar teaching in schools and an application for a writer’s job replete with errors might trigger the latter – it’s the smugness at others’ mistakes and the accompanying assumptions we make that we ought to reassess.

Had my friend not butchered me for my own inexcusable spelling mistake, for example, she might have gone on to make all manner of judgments about my education, knowledge and intelligence. (By labelling my error “inexcusable”, I’m surreptitiously foisting a judgment on myself.) She might never have known I am just as much a stickler for good grammar as she is if she had kept her opinions to herself and not given me the chance to explain.

In light of this, I now subscribe to the belief that we should sometimes give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to spelling and grammar errors, especially in a world of hurried messaging and autocorrect. Mistaking “its” for “it’s” and “your” for “you’re” does not a criminal make; knowledge of the correct forms may not necessarily be lacking, and we cannot make the assumption that it is.

Likewise, chortling at a grammatically challenged friend whom you may have put on a pedestal by warrant of their intelligence is surely a sign,  albeit a subtle one, of our implicit desire for others to fail, or to look daft, lest we one day have to experience the same fate and feel like we’re the only ones exposed to such dismal humiliation.

Perhaps the least excusable reaction to poor grammar comprises the associated judgments made about somebody’s intelligence. This argument must not be conflated with one that says we should go easy on children when it comes to correcting grammar in the classroom: it is of course vital that young people are afforded a sound understanding of language before they leave school, and things may well be changing to that effect.

Rather, it’s often the case that declaring oneself a “real grammar nazi” can mask a crude form of one-upmanship, one that finds its basis in unsolicited pigeonholing of others and a hidden self-righteousness such that you wouldn’t otherwise find in them. Would we be so quick to judge someone for struggling with basic maths – working out percentages, for example – or forgetting all their secondary school French, two elements of the curriculum likely to have been inculcated to a far greater degree than English grammar?

Granted, we may be more exposed to grammar on a daily basis, but it’s no good just seeing something the workings behind which you’ve never really been shown; the quality of grammar teaching varies between passable to barely there in Britain, so poor grammar ought not to be ascribed to an inability to process information.

While it’s of paramount importance that good grammar is upheld and taught well, a bit of self-reflection is needed before we sneer at others’ mistakes.

The labyrinth of self-flagellation

maxresdefault

Cornelius Castoriadis, Crossroads in the Labyrinth (1978) ”To think is not to get out of the cave; it is not to replace the uncertainty of shadows by the clear-cut outlines of things themselves, the flame’s flickering glow by the light of the true sun. To think is to enter the Labyrinth; more exactly, it is to make be and appear a Labyrinth when we might have stayed “lying among the flowers, facing the sky.” It is to lose oneself amidst galleries which exist only because we never tire of digging them; to turn round and round at the end of a cul-de-sac whose entrance has been shut off behind us—until, inexplicably, this spinning round opens up in the surrounding walls cracks which offer passage.”

Luce Irigaray, J’aime à toi (1992) ”I am militating politically for the impossible, which doesn’t mean I am a utopian. Rather what I want does not yet exist, as the only possibility of a future.”

The terrain suggested by a co-incident reading of the two quotations above configures the path of our Governance structure’s primary orientation. Examining these two quotes together is dictated by this path, not by some sort of pre-configured or presently contrived affinity.

Castoriadis’ rumination disengages thinking from all Platonic derivatives that map the journey to Enlightenment, which would pertain to a whole range of transcendentalist aspirations, revelations, epiphanies, but also intentions of perfectibility, including any pretensions to arrive at a clearing. He sees thinking as a peculiar mode of architecture in which the instrumental is always secondary to the creative. That this architecture is labyrinthine means that it is ultimately without end, despite its many, its ubiquitous, dead-ends. It is without end because, on its own terms, it is interminable and boundless, because the limits that emerge on every turn are of the thinker’s own making. Castoriadis’ mode is to leave behind the elegy-inducing Rilke for the enigma-provoking Kafka, recognizing in the latter’s vein that the labyrinthine galleries of one’s burrow are one’s thoughts in-the-making, with yet an important deviation: not as ideal projections of self-making (as for Kafka’s paranoid architectural creature) but as wondrous openings of self-othering. In this respect, thought becomes quintessentially poetic, that is to say, creative/destructive: a (self-)altering force that sometimes produces cul-de-sacs and other times opens windows onto chaos. Indeed, Castoriadis’ description of how a dead-end becomes a window onto chaos is one of the most dramatic encapsulations of his entire way of thinking. To think is thus to enact an austerity towards yourself and alterity towards the world. It is not to derive or emerge from an alterity, and surely not to desire austerity as telos—the labyrinth, a space resplendent with otherness, is always one’s own.

Whereas on the contrary, Irigaray’s personal account clarifies that the utopian and the impossible are hardly identical. This is not because the utopian may also be in fact possible, but because desiring the impossible is an entirely real and actual way to commit oneself to what is possible in the future. Her emphasis on “what does not yet exist” does not entail investment in a predetermined or providential element that will come to be in the future—some sort of future nascent in the present. Rather, “what does not yet exist” is configured as a permanent condition of alterity within present existence, a kind of unknown variable in the equation of what may come to be possible in the future, an equation that obviously carries no mathematical consistency but remains permeable to the ever unpredictable contingencies of human action. This condition, therefore, knows no time as X factor, it is achronos but it lies, nonetheless, in place across the entire range of history’s temporalities, perhaps as an already inscribed heterotopia. It is a condition open to the indefinite possibility of something whose “nonexistence” as “the only possibility of a future” is a presently existing condition, insofar as without this X the equation (present or future) cannot be constituted. The coveted object in both quotations, therefore, is some measure of the impossible, of what indeed appears impossible because the horizon of possibility in the perception is rendered inadequate by the reigning preconception. The impetus here is to imagine that human beings are characterized precisely by their daring to make the impossible happen, which has nothing to do with making miracles but it does have to do with encountering and acting in the world with a sense of wonder. Enquiring what animates and encapsulates this daring for the impossible will lead us to the fact that human-being, as a living condition, is immanently differential, which to say that alterity is intrinsic to it. The way of this inquiry is to contemplate an admittedly impossible concept: self-alteration. Strictly speaking, self-alteration signifies a process by which alterity is internally produced, dissolving the very thing that enables it, the very thing whose existence derives meaning from being altered, from othering itself. In terms of inherited thought, this is indeed an impossible concept at least, within the conceptual framework that identifies alterity to be external, a framework, I might add, that is essential to any semantics (and, of course, politics) of identity. Such framework cannot but vehemently defend, by contradistinction, the bona fide existence of what can thus be called without hesitation “internality,” even if, in a gesture of cognitive magnanimity, it may accept a fragmented, fissured, indeterminate, or even boundless internality. But internality thus conceived, however “open-ended” it claims to be, cannot enact self-alteration because alterity will always remain external to it, precisely so as to secure its meaning. Having said that, lets concede that this framework of an internally/ externally conceived distinction of identity and difference gives meaning to the language I am using at this very moment. It is, inevitably, the framework that enables us to build communicative avenues by positing totalities and identities that we consider recognizable even if we might significantly disagree over their content. I understand that, in this framework, self-alteration is an impossible concept, but I have a hunch that it is nonetheless possible, that it takes place in the only way anything can take place in the world in history, as history. At the limit, the conceptual inquiry I am suggesting, labyrinthine though it is in its own turn, configures its groundwork in the world of human action, not in the universe of concepts and propositions.

To conclude, it would be essential to add, following this Castoriadian terminology, that autonomy signifies a particular sublimation: a politics of sublimation that confronts the definitional heteronomy ‘experienced’ by the psyche when it encounters the social-imaginary, the nature of subjection in Butler’s terms; the effacement of sexual difference in Irigaray’s, as the pleasure of/in the force of alteration itself. This sort of sublimation would enact a subject whose psychic reception of society’s Vorstellung, enacted, in turn, by the psyche’s translation of society’s imagistic/affective/representational flux into its own terms would consist in a poietic experience: A performative experience of self-othering, which moreover signifies the non self-referential poetic pleasure of altering one’s world. In this respect, it seems apt to recall John Cage’s often quoted phrase “Art is self alteration” provided, however, that we don’t take it to mean a sort of artistic redemption or self-actualization (in some New Age sense), but that self-alteration names the core process by which our worldly existence can be radically transformed, which is also, after all, the deepest significance of art: the radical transfiguration of form. To this end, self-alteration cannot be conceptualized or articulated if the self remains a notion within the signifying limits of identity. The process of self-alteration is deadly to the sovereignty of identity.

Fountain of an earthly muntaha

Lotus_Tree Indeed love is a malady that afflicts all people with unprecedented democracy. That it infiltrates all lives without consideration for caste or creed or color of skin or depth of coffer. That it invokes the divine euphoria as well as the crippling sorrow in all its victims irrespective of circumstance. Circumstance being the aspect that is usually held responsible for most love stories culminating in tragedy.

I however believe that the nature of love is tragic. That from the moment you recognize the symptoms, you should say, a silent prayer for your heart and good bye to your innocence. Nothing can rip apart your naiveté and idealism like love gone bad. And love does go bad, I have a billion lives scattered across history to bear witness to the integrity of this claim. Love inexplicably, inevitably goes bad. But not ultimately, no. Not Ultimately, not for me, Godforbid never for me. Sometimes, it redeems itself from the very bottom of the putrid barrel of wasted romanticism, like the phoenix rising from the ashes and reclaims the optimistic imagery of a freshly inflicted heart as improbable reality. Blessed truly are those, who have the strength of conviction to stand steadfast through the toughest trials of a withering entanglement to find their way to destiny, Most however, are not blessed. Or not steadfast enough to weather the stormy mid-life of all romantic relationships. Most give up. Their conviction and their commitment. The hope and the vision. They give up on the dream they had crafted together, because they fail to realize that only at its worst is love at its most resolute. They fail to see the truth beneath angry words and hateful gazes and pompous smirks. They tend to take everything at face value, giving into the reality that has been constructed around them by millions of spoiled lives constricted by illusions of nobility and forthrightness. They fail to recognize their egos getting in the way of the simple things that had made the love such a prized and miraculous experience to begin with. And in all this failing, lies the undoing of the maze of fantastic dreams that the lovers had built for themselves to attain a purpose for their interaction.

To ferment a goal to be accomplished for this seemingly absolutely inexplicable rush of feelings towards a basically normal human being. The world revolves simply around two people, you and your beloved. Nothing else exists, the wind blows merely to blow her hair in your face so that you my swoon upon the fragrance of her perfectly groomed tresses. But for the unfortunate ones, In either case though, gender-wise, the spell wears off soon enough. And the lilting fragrance turns into too many eggs and the split ends and craggy curls take center stage. The things, quirks rather, that you once found endearing begin to make less and less sense in terms of logic and propriety and it becomes exponentially harder to absorb all the nuances of a very different animal in the name of love. This is where most couples surrender, for this can last a long long time. Sometimes much longer than the happiness did. And so , at least for a little while, almost all couples continue to bear each other in a perpetual state of disgust with a few bright moments reminiscent of the by gone glory sprinkled haphazardly in between just for the sake of fetid irony. Those of us who are lucky to survive the onslaught if miserable, heart breaking companionship, or masochistic enough to bear with being crumpled up like badly written poetry every day, make it through and find the light at the end of the tunnel The lucky us, including myself, have conveniently found out that being in love is bloody brilliant, I tell you. This is happiness, the epitome of happiness, she is my very reason of happiness.

This is going to be a legacy, I assure you, this is going to be everything, I ever asked for, this is more than enough, this is benediction, this is blessing for every Sajoods I made all these years, this is Allah’s own warm and tender embrace. This is my existence’s earthly Muntaha