Monday, October 11, 2010

The Politics of Representation

Yes, you've heard this before, and yes, you say (well, go with the conceit {aside, literary or metaphysical conceits are plays of thought or word and have very little to do with arrogance [or wait, writers do it to showcase to you their sparkling wit, so hold that thought], which is the meaning we've ascribed to 'conceit' today} for now, won't you? THERE - three different brackets - and correctly used, I might add - in one sentence. Who's your daddy? Rhetorical question. Promise.) you've thought about whether that subaltern - yes, that one - can speak. But have you thought about questioning the questioner posing you that loaded query?

What is it that 'empowers' one set of people - caste-class-religious markers - and renders others so mute, they become silent spectators bearing witness to theorising about them, not 'from' them? It is vital to ask - who speaks, for whom, to what end? of every piece of communication we come across. What entitles me to speak of the Rathwas and how they're coming to terms with the invasion of the 21st century in the form of mobile towers and the notion of 'connectivity'? What, for that matter, entitles me to speak about any 'other'? Can 'intent' be enough? Isn't it a shade loaded, given the history of 'voicing' we have to contend with?

Having said that, need I be a woman to write women? Need I be a Dalit-Minority-OBC to write about injustice? Isn't the idea overarching enough to give me an entry-point into it by the sheer virtue of belonging to the same species as the people I speak of? And whilst speaking about them, isn't there a parallel narrative playing itself out here, in the act of my speaking about them - what does this act *tell* you about me, in other words? Framing within framing, and spinning and spinning in that godforsaken widening gyre.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because we discussed it in a class I taught, tout simplement. My students think it is the prerogative of the artiste to speak. They don't see yet that the silences - those peopled by the aphasia forced on a community - are more eloquent than the words which bespeak the losses of these people; their pain. That silence is a tapestry, woven rich and true by generations of sufferers. Generations who grow up thinking there is no elsewhere. And perhaps there isn't. Perhaps theirs is the poetics of the mime. And mine the lot of *not* giving voice to it. Just indicating that there is a silence-shaped hole where it ought to have been.

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