The Humanities in Ferment: Strategizing for our Times
An International Conference organized by MargHumanities as part of its Global Humanities Initiative, in collaboration with the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library from August 16-18, 2012, at Teen Murti House, New Delhi, India.
Day 1: August 16, 2012
9.00 am Registration
9.15- 10.00 am Welcome & Introduction
Mahesh Rangarajan (NMML), Welcome address
Brinda Bose and Prasanta Chakravarty, “Introduction: The Humanities in Ferment” (MargHumanities/University of Delhi)
10.00-11.30 am Keynote session
Michael Levenson, (University of Virginia), “The University, the Human and the Humanities”
Sukanta Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University, Kolkata), “The Humanities Today and Tomorrow: Changes and Challenges”
11.30-11.45 am Coffee
11.45-1.45 pm Interpretation
Chair: Michael Levenson
Rimli Bhattacharya (University of Delhi), “Reading Lies. In Many Tongues”
Rita Felski (University of Virginia, USA), “Postcritical Reading”
1.45 – 2.30 pm Lunch
2.30- 4.30 pm Intellectual Histories
Chair: Soumyabrata Choudhury
Helen Small (University of Oxford, UK), “Distinction”
Jairus Banaji (SOAS, UK), “Sartre, the Critique and the Interviews of 1969”
4.30 pm Tea
Day 2, August 17, 2012
9.15 – 11.15 am Passages
Chair: Rita Felski
Swapan Chakravorty (National Library, Kolkata), “Desh: The History of an Idea of Bengal and the Study of the Humanities”
Nicholas Allen (University of Georgia, USA), “The Humanities at Sea”
11.15 – 11.30 am Coffee
11.30– 1.30pm The Political
Chair: Jairus Banaji
Soumyabrata Choudhury (CSDS, Delhi), “Ambedkar contra Aristotle: A Contention about Who is Capable of Politics”
Rajarshi Dasgupta (JNU, Delhi), “Factory Noise: Poetics and Technology in Ritwik Ghatak’s Film Ajantrik”
1.30 – 2.30 pm Lunch
2.30- 3.30 pm Praxis
Chair: Moinak Biswas
Suman Mukhopadhyay (Filmmaker/Actor/theatre director), “’That way madness lies’: Chaos and Calm in the Urban Contemporary”
3:30-3.45 pm Tea
3.45- 5.45 pm Reclamations
Chair: Ajay Skaria
Sophie Rosenfeld (University of Virginia, USA), “History as Philosophy for Our Times”
Krishan Kumar (University of Virginia, USA), “’Civilization’ as a Concept for the Global Humanities: The Example of Arnold Toynbee”
Day 3, August 18, 2012
9.15 – 11.15 am Ethics
Chair: Sukanta Chaudhuri
Ajay Skaria (University of Minnesota, USA), “Daya Otherwise: The Notness of Ahimsa”
Milind Wakankar (CSCS, Bangalore), “Notes Toward a Critique of Historicity”
11.15 – 11.30 am Coffee
11.30- 1.30 pm The Digital
Chair: Rajarshi Dasgupta
Moinak Biswas (Jadavpur University, Kolkata), “Learning with Images in the Digital Age”
Souvik Mukherjee (Presidency University, Kolkata), “Digital Humanities, Or, What You Will”
1.30-2.30 pm Lunch
2.30–4.30 pm Closing Panel Discussion:
“Institutions, the Humanities and New India”
Mahesh Rangarajan (NMML, New Delhi)
Sukanta Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University, Kolkata)
Simi Malhotra (Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi)
Nandini Chandra (University of Delhi)
4.30 pm Tea
**As a part of the Conference, a photography exhibition on The Travelling Tent Cinemas of Maharashtra will be brought to the NMML by Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham, photographers/researchers who work out of Mumbai.
The Humanities at Sea
The global economic crisis has made visible many pressures in culture and society that were veiled by the idea of constant progress in the late twentieth century. The European Union, to take one example, was to the major powers a balm for the atrocities of the first and second world wars; to the minor it was legal security against the ambitions of the powerful. The concert between large nations and small can be traced back into the history of empire. Ireland inhabits an exemplary position in this regard. A part of the British Empire it was a hub of the Atlantic world that opened on to the Americas. A colony with a history of famine and dispossession, the island was connected to global pressures of exchange and trade centuries before this latest recession destroyed much of a national identity that had seemed secure since independence. Ireland’s imperial history was buried quickly after 1922. The collapse of the Celtic Tiger, as the boom economy was known, has had the surprising effect of bringing this past back to life. Now that the story of nation has failed the monuments of an old world order have come back into view, not least because we are entering a decade of centenary commemorations of revolutionary events, events that had their influence on other parts of the British Empire, most notably India with regard to Home Rule and mass public protest.
I would like to explore some of the ways in which creative work in the humanities has traced and drawn this global history of Ireland. This history extends to connection with other places including India, that other emerald isle. Using ideas of the sea as a connective metaphor I want to show some of the many ways in which art and literature can illuminate the hidden cost of cultural exchange. James Joyce approached this idea in his reflections in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was first published in 1916, the same year of the great rebellion that began the final movement towards independence. In A Portrait Joyce has his character Stephen Dedalus reflect on the word ivory and its consonants in other languages, as ivoire and eborio. This reminds the young man of his Latin schooling: India mittit ebur. If the world economy is made of an exchange of things, things make their world anew in the sequence of their transit. Small in scale, partitioned and caught between competing ideas of nation, empire and union, thinking about Ireland invites reflection on larger questions of culture and economy. With the humanities at sea in a rapidly changing contemporary world I will argue that our current crisis is a familiar mode with a long and complex material history. For, as Joyce put it, by thinking of things you can understand them.
Nicholas Allen is Director of the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and Franklin professor of English at the University of Georgia. He is writing a cultural history of the year 1916 and has published several books including Broken Landscapes: Selected letters of Ernie O’Malley (Dublin, 2011), Modernism, Ireland and Civil War (Cambridge, 2009), That Other Island (2007), The Proper Word (2007), George Russell and the New Ireland (2003), and The Cities of Belfast (2003). Recent essays have been published in The History of the Irish Book in the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2011) and Synge and Edwardian Ireland (Oxford, 2011). Allen’s work is located at the intersection between literature, history and visual culture. His interests include the study of modernism, empire and, increasingly, writing about ocean and archipelago. Allen has taught previously at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National University of Ireland, Galway, where he was academic director of the Moore Institute.
Sartre, the Critique and the Interviews of 1969
‘Harsh, both in style and tone’ was how Simone de Beauvoir described Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason in a famous set of ‘conversations’ with the philosopher/writer that she published in the mid seventies. But for her, his lifelong companion, the Critique was a visible sign of the real progress Sartre had made in the course of his philosophical career, and she said so. After the war, as Sartre moved rapidly to the left and identified with it in more explicit ways, ‘Philosophy became something political’, she told him, and asked why he had undertaken such a massive labour of thought. ‘I wanted to know where I stood philosophically’, Sartre replied. ‘In your relations with Marxism…’. ‘Superficially yes, but above all with dialectic…I moved from Being and Nothingness to a dialectical idea.’ That this was no afterthought but fundamental to the project as Sartre had conceived this in the late fifties is shown by an interview he gave in 1959 where he describes the work as ‘my present book on the Dialectic’.
The Critique was never finished and Sartre always saw it as an unfinished work. If volume one, the bigger of the two volumes, is complete, it is also abstract, and was always meant only as an introduction or prolegomenon to the second ‘historical’ volume. I shall deal briefly with the content of both volumes of the Critique, summarising what they set out to do, the broad movement through which each constructs the intelligibility of history, the major concepts that are developed at these different levels of intelligibility, and how Sartre illustrates the concepts he develops and the arguments linked to them with fascinating and often powerful studies of objects (ensembles, processes, real praxes) like the state, class struggle, colonialism, and the ‘institutional ensemble’ that was Stalinism. I shall look finally at the way Sartre himself looked back at the work and at Left politics more generally in two crucial interviews he gave in 1969, one to New Left Review, and the other to Il Manifesto.
Jairus Banaji studied Classics, Modern Philosophy and Ancient History at St John’s College, Oxford in 1965–72, and Modern History at JNU in 1972–75. For most of the late seventies and eighties he worked with the unions in Bombay, returning to Oxford in 1986 to start work on a D.Phil. which was later published as Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity: Gold, Labour and Aristocratic Dominance (2001). He is affiliated to the Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London. His most recent book is Theory as History: Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation (Historical Materialism Book Series 25) (Brill, 2010).
Reading Lies. In Many Tongues
Multilinguality is a human condition. In the Indian subcontinent multilingualism forms the basis of exchange in everyday life. If languages—as sound, speech and script; as the site constituting knowledge—form the warp and weft of the Humanities, how do they reflect in our curriculum development, our classroom practices, the regulatory and evaluation templates of research at the MPhil and doctoral level? These questions are posed against the shifting contours of ‘English Studies’ in independent India, particularly the last couple of decades. The paper takes as a historical peg Rabindranath Tagore’s idea/ideal of a world university emerging in the shadow of WWI, in a continuously spiralling trajectory from the impetus of a ‘national education’ deriving from the swadeshi years at the turn of the twentieth century. (An aspiration expressed in the chosen name for his university, the hyphenated Visva-Bharati.) I wish to juxtapose this with the conscious brand-making of ‘authentic’ ‘rustic idioms’, ‘street lingo’, and so on, amongst contemporary producers of self-designated ‘alternative’ popular culture—again, through the sieve of institutional practices that I am aware of. I suggest that the Humanities, particularly, literature in relation to the other arts, to history and philosophy will thrive, if we pay attention to new and older forms of orality—aurality in all the minute and nuanced registers that they still continue to live in everyday speech, in the performing arts, and in the legacy of print.
Rimli Bhattacharya has trained in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur and Brown Universities. Her research and publications are on performance history and actresses, comparative narratology, art practices and film. Her translations into English include autobiographies (Binodini Dasi’s ‘My Story and My Life as an Actress’, 1998) and novels (Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Aranyak, 2002; Tagore’s Char Adhyay, 2002.) In 1997, she was script consultant and production coordinator for Kumar Shahani’s film based on Tagore’s last and most philosophical novel, Char Adhyay. She has worked in primary education in various states of India for over a decade. From 2005-2008 she was involved in an international collaborative project on “The construction of the subject English in secondary schools in London, Johannesburg and Delhi” with scholars from Universites of London and Witwatersrand. She is currently completing a monograph ‘The Dancing Poet’ on Tagore’s thoughts on education, performance practice at the intersection of modernity. She has taught at JNU, MS University of Baroda and has been the Rama Watumull Distinguished Indian Scholar at University of Hawai’i at Manoa (2000), and ICCR Visiting Chair at the University of Pennsylvania (2008). She currently teaches at the Department of English, University of Delhi.
Learning with Images in the Digital Age
In a lecture he gave in 1982, published under the title, ‘Education of a Filmmaker’, Satyajit Ray repeated his faith in the perception of everyday life as the source of authentic image making. He started off with underlining the same principles in his earliest published essay in 1949. The aesthetic models to which his cinema adhered may have been left behind by cinematic developments, but it is curious to see how a spontaneous registration of everyday life has come to constitute the basis on which contemporary practices of sound and image, of filmmaking and New Media, develop their aesthetics and, to a large extent, their politics. It is ordinary people, until recently only viewers of the image, who now create that common basis with the help of cheap digital tools. This paper will talk about an experiment where an initiative of neighbourhood documentation has been turned into aesthetic and scholarly resource. It shall explore the axes on which research, documentation and aesthetic production have converged, namely the digital commons and the archive.
After teaching English in a government college for four years, Moinak Biswas joined the newly-launched Department of Film Studies at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, in 1993. The Department was the first of its kind in India, where he took a leading part in setting up programmes and facilities. He initiated the Media Lab, a centre for art and learning through digital forms, at Jadavpur in 2008. Biswas edits the Journal of the Moving Image, and co-edits BioScope, South Asian Screen Studies. He writes on Indian film and culture, and has recently written and co-directed the award-winning feature film Sthaniya Sambaad (Spring in the Colony, 2009).
Desh: The History of an Idea in Bengal and the Study of the Humanities
The word desh means many things in Bengali—space, village, country, nation. In the late nineteenth century and in the wake of the anti-Partition movement in the first decade of the twentieth, the word acquired shades of the Western connotations of community and nation-state. The piecing together of a supposedly lost history of Bengal and the identity of a fragmented nationhood meant that the study of the humanities would be the primary engine of national recovery, and that the discovery of desh, like Gandhi’s trip on a train through India in Attenborough’s film, would be the primary project of the humanities for the colonial academic. This would entail not just the antiquarianism of the humanists inspired by the Asiatic Society, but scientific and business enterprises that fuelled the swadeshi researches of Prafulla Chandra Ray and his students, the tours of initiation for nationalists such as Vivekananda, the recovery of manuscripts from remote areas by textual scholars such as Haraprasad Shastri and Dineshchandra Sen, and the educational reforms of Rabindranath Tagore. Is desh relevant to any project of the humanities after the waning of such cultural archaeology? Does it remain as something more than detritus, waiting for a fresh life beyond the stifling limits of debates on identity? The paper looks for clues to this renewal in the writings of some authors from the time—Akshay Maitreya, Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, Prafulla Chandra Ray, Swami Vivekananda, and Rabindranath Tagore.
Swapan Chakravorty is Director General, National Library, Kolkata, and Secretary and Curator, Victoria Memorial Hall (Additional Charge); he is on lien from the post of Professor of English, Jadavpur University, where he was also Joint Director, School of Cultural Texts and Records. He writes in English and Bengali, in areas spanning European early modernity, nineteenth and twentieth century Bengal, textual studies and publishing and print cultures, and has held visiting assignments at the Universiti Malaya, the University of Alabama and the University of London. His books include Society and Politics in the Plays of Thomas Middleton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), Conversations with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (with Suzana Milevska and Tani E. Barlow) (London: Seagull, 2007), Bangalir Ingreji Sahityacharcha (Kolkata: Anustup, 2006), and Shakespeare (Kolkata: Papyrus, 1999). His edited book Mudraner Sanskriti o Bangla Boi (Kolkata: Ababhas, 2007) won the Narasingh Das Award of Delhi University in 2009. He has edited three volumes on book history with Abhijit Gupta. He has recently been felicitated by Mitra Mandir, Kolkata, for his contribution to literature and culture.
The Humanities in India: Changes and Challenges
Instead of simply considering the changing (often adverse) social or official context for the study of the humanities, this paper starts by considering the challenges posed by intrinsic changes in the field, three in particular: new types of interdisciplinarity; the epistemology of postmodernism; the coming of the computer, and the rise of electronic media and communication.
These changes, incrementally linked and interactive, place the student of the humanities within a radically new matrix of knowledge and inquiry. They also call for new practical skills, an unprecedented reliance on technology, and new funding demands. These requirements, in turn, place the humanities in a totally new relation to society, politics and the economy – a relationship markedly at odds with that traditionally ascribed to the discipline.
The paper will look at the depressing results of the encounter, but argue that the solution lies in a more active engagement with the social, political and technological demands of our milieu. This in turn calls for redefining the ethos of humanities scholarship: only thus will the substance of that scholarship find full recognition and realize its active potential.
Sukanta Chaudhuri divided his teaching life between the English Departments of Presidency College, Kolkata and Jadavpur University, and is now Professor Emeritus at Jadavpur. His specializations are European Renaissance Literature and textual studies, in which fields he has published several books and over 50 articles. He has translated widely from Bengali to English, and is General Editor of the Oxford Tagore Translations. He has wide experience of academic planning and administration, including the chair of the UGC panel for English and other Western languages, and of the UGC curriculum development committee in this field. As founder-director of the School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University, he has played a part in introducing digital humanities in India. His current projects include charge of Bichitra, a complete online Tagore variorum, as well as editorship of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Third Arden Shakespeare and a comprehensive anthology of Renaissance pastoral poetry for Manchester University Press.
Ambedkar contra Aristotle: On a Possible Contention about Who is Capable of Politics
In Book VIII of his Politics, Aristotle uses the word “katharsis” to describe the effect of music on women and slaves in the city. Women and slaves, according to Aristotle, are only capable of being cathartically purified and ‘pleased’ – for them music can have no higher, ethical or political utilization. The diagnosis can be generalized : women and slaves – and other such ‘out-castes’ – have no subjective capability for the “becoming” or transformation that politics is supposed to effectuate or induce in the so-called subject through a sequence of social, cultural, aesthetics materials and contexts. The becoming-political is the capacity that defines the human animal beyond the mere cathartic threshold – beyond which fall women, slaves, ‘out-castes’…
In the Constituent Assembly debates after 1947, Dr B.R Ambedkar, at a certain point, remarks that the question was not simply to represent the marginalized and excluded sections/castes in the republic. It was as much a question of the habit, among these castes, of participating in those very debates that create newer and greater representations. Thus Ambedkar emphasizes the crossing of earlier rigid threshold such that the excluded castes enter into the zone of a ‘becoming-political’ whose subjective infrastructure consists of a kind of ‘habit’ of politics. The contention with the dominant (Aristotelian?) paradigm of a limited republican politics is that such an absolute widening of the subject of politics is possible. Along this widening of the very constitutive possibility of the subject of politics, at least three questions arise: What sort of ‘habit’ might correspond to a mode of political participation which must come in the wake of a revocation of and absolute break with all past socio-political habits? How to maintain the revocation even while inducing and inventing new political habits and reflexes? Thirdly, how to ground the subject of politics, which is unconditionally republican, when the paradigm of the paradoxical ‘political animal’ which must either prescriptively overcome its animal status (as with Aristotle’s prescription against women and slaves as cathartic ‘animals’) or politicize that very status (as with modern ‘bio-politics’ of the liberal, western type), must necessarily be rejected?
Soumyabrata Choudhury is a Visiting Fellow at CSDS. Recently he completed a manuscript on the limits of politics based on the axiom of sovereignty at IIAS, Shimla. He taught for several years at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU.
Factory Noise: Poetics and Technology in Ritwik Ghatak’s Film Ajantrik
This paper tries to open up what can be seen as communist art in the Indian context and to see if we can develop a new understanding of political art from the work of Ritwik Ghatak, particularly, his film Ajantrik. We explore a different way of watching the film, where the image is undermined by the sound and the human subject is undercut by the machinic, going against the grain of existing interpretations. The larger aim is to discuss how Ajantrik presents an unusual meditation on the difficult relations of artistic and political practice, creative life and alienated labor, community and capital, framed in the immediate wake of independence. What makes the film our contemporary is, however, Ghatak’s audacious juxtaposition of technology and poetics, which seems unthinkable in mainstream communist politics today. This paper is a reconsideration of that utopian audacity.
After working as a Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, Rajarshi Dasgupta is now Assistant Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He works at the cusp of political theory, social history and cultural production. He is particularly interested in the domains of Marxism, biopolitics and statelessness. He finds it an enduring challenge to consider the political and ethical implications of visual and sonic practices like film, photography and music.
This talks forms part of a larger investigation into the role of critique—or what I prefer to call the hermeneutics of suspicion—in literary and cultural studies. Why is critique so popular and so prestigious? Why is it often perceived as the most rigorous and radical form of thinking? And what kinds of questions does critique foreclose, dismiss, or ignore?
While the spirit of critique is one of endless questioning, this does not automatically imply a denial of the value of literature. Critique values literature, however, only to the extent that it can be shown to mimic the qualities of critique itself—that is, to engage in skeptical or subversive acts of defamiliarizing, denaturalizing, demystifying.
Yet we shortchange the significance of art by focusing on the “de” prefix at the expense of the “re” prefix: a work’s power to remake, reconfigure, or recontextualize perception. Works of art do not only subvert, but convert, they do not only inform, but transform–a transformation that is not just a matter of intellectual readjustment but also of emotional realignment. And here critique, which prides itself on the vigilance of its detachment, proves a poor guide to the richness and complexity of our aesthetic attachments.
What, then, might a postcritical practice of reading look? How do we develop forms of scholarship more attuned to the affective dimensions of reading and more willing to articulate the positive value of literary works for both academic and lay readers? I draw on the recent work of Bruno Latour, Marielle Macé, and Yves Citton to sketch out some possible answers to this question.
Rita Felski is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English at the University of Virginia and the editor of New Literary History. After receiving her B.A from Cambridge University and her Ph.D from Monash University in Australia, she moved to the U.S in 1994. She is the author of Beyond Feminist Aesthetics, The Gender of Modernity, Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture, Literature After Feminism, and the Blackwell Manifesto Uses of Literature, and also the editor of Rethinking Tragedy and co-editor of Comparison: Theories, Approaches, Uses. She has also published essays in such journals as PMLA, Signs, Poetics Today, Cultural Critique, Theory, Culture, and Society, New Formations, and Modernism/Modernity. Honors include the William Riley Parker Prize for best essay in PMLA, an Australian Research Council Major Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has been translated in ten languages. She is currently completing a book on the hermeneutics of suspicion called Schools of Suspicion: Critique and After.
‘Civilization’ as a Concept for the Global Humanities: The Example of Arnold Toynbee
Civilization, after a period of neglect and even of suspicion, has returned as a concept in several disciplines – history, political science, sociology, anthropology, and others. What is its potential for serving as a leading concept in the analysis of cultures and societies across space and time, on a global plane? I want to make the case for this, taking a number of examples of civilizational analysis, and focussing especially on the contribution of Arnold Toynbee in his great work, A Study of History.
Krishan Kumar is University Professor, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, and Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia. He was formerly Professor of Social and Political Thought at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England. Among his publications are Prophecy and Progress (1978), Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times (1987), The Making of English National Identity (2003), and From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society, 2nd ed (2005). He is currently working on empires.
The University, the Human and the Humanities
The paper engages the trans-national circumstances of higher education at the present time, taking as its focus the social geography of university life. It proposes a theoretical and historical framework within which the university is approached as a site of newly competing agencies and agendas, which change the terms of academic exchange but which often remain invisible and un-theorized. The regulatory procedures for review and evaluation, the material spectacle of academic architecture, the cultural tensions between modernity and postmodernity, the transactions between the individual and the mass, the phenomenology of the teacher-student relation – these are the inciting and intersections questions of the paper. At its center is a return to Virginia Woolf and her reflections in the opening chapter of Three Guineas. Here Woolf makes a radical demand for a transformed university, which she describes as the “poor college” of the future; in so doing, she places the question of the “human” – of deep character, desire, instinct and ideal – at the foundation of academic life. Three Guineas raises questions of theory and practice that bear closely on our own moment; it also generates a problem in the definition of personhood that becomes decisive in the later philosophy of Wittgenstein. The machine-body relationship in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations provides the crux in the final stage of discussion, which reconsiders the status of the human within the practice and prospects of the humanities.
Michael Levenson is William B. Christian Professor of English at the University of Virginia and author of A Genealogy of Modernism (Cambridge University Press 1984), Modernism and the Fate of Individuality (Cambridge University Press 1990), The Spectacle of Intimacy (Princeton University Press, co-author Karen Chase 2000),and Modernism from Yale University Press (2011). He is also the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Modernism (2000, 2nd edition 2011). Professor Levenson has been chair of the English Department and is the founding director of the Institute of Humanities at the University of Virginia. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation and currently serves as a Fulbright Senior Specialist. He has published widely, with essays in such journals as ELH, Novel, Modernism/Modernity, The New Republic, Wilson Quarterly, Raritan; among his public lectures are those at Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, and Oxford University.
Digital Humanities, or, What You Will
Digital Humanities, formerly New Media Studies, is fast becoming a popular addition to the Humanities curricula. The way it is often conceived of is as a means of creating e-texts and online variorum editions. While in itself a noble goal, this, however, is a very limited understanding of how digital technologies intervene in the Humanities today and is a case of missing the forest for the trees. Rather, one could take Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s (1987) concept of the ‘assemblage’ as a useful framework for describing the very multiple nature of the Digital Humanities. The various aspects of digital culture ‘plug in’, as it were, into the digital assemblage. For example, videogames that tell stories do so in a way that challenges traditional conceptions of narrative; similarly, they address deeper philosophical and sociological questions such as identity-formation, agency and involvement. Videogames raise questions about the level of free will that the player can exercise; the natureof the involvement of the player; and point towards how identity itself is experienced as unfixed (Galloway 2006) and as a ‘fold’. As Katherine Hayles (2002) states, in the above concerns digital media are not ‘new’, rather they provide a fresh focus on key concerns of the Humanities and the human. As opposed to earlier formulations, this analysis aims to reassess existing definitions and methodologies of the Digital Humanities and to engage afresh with how the Humanities per se need to be rethought especially from the point of view of technicity, identity and culture. This is especially relevant in the Indian context where despite a significantly prevalent IT presence not much has been done to examine how digital cultures have developed and how they constantly affect quotidian sociocultural processes.
Souvik Mukherjee has been researching videogames as an emerging storytelling medium since 2002 and has completed his PhD on the subject from Nottingham Trent University in 2009. His research examines their relationship to canonical ideas of narrative and also how these games inform and challenge current conceptions of technicity, identity and culture, in general. His current interests involve the analysis of paratexts of videogames such as walkthroughs and after-action reports as well as the concept of time and telos in videogames. He has published and presented in academic journals and conferences on a range of topics in Game Studies as well as on Renaissance and Romantic Literature.Souvik currently teaches English Literature at Presidency University and is interested in the development of Digital Humanities in India. More details about his research, publications and thoughts on the subject can be found on his blog ‘Ludus ex Machina’.
‘That way madness lies’: Chaos and Calm in the Urban Contemporary
This presentation will reflect on the varied experiences of simultaneously perceiving, performing and representing the conflictual in the urban contemporary, through encounters and engagements with the timeless, the universal, the local and the specific in political and cultural contexts and histories. It will draw upon knowledge gathered and gleaned from being continually writing, acting, directing and editing performances on screen and on stage that are based in Kolkata and its suburbs but are travelling across and beyond one city and its idiosyncrasies through art even while, often, questioning many paradigms of the arts as we receive and respond to them.
Suman Mukhopadhyay is now working on his 5th feature film Shesher Kobita, while Kangal Malsat, his 4th, is in post-production. Mahanagar @ Kolkata (2009), Chaturanga (2008) and Herbert (2005) are his previous films. Chaturanga was selected for 50 film festivals around the globe including the Montreal World Film Festival, La Rochelle International Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Sao Paulo International Film Festival, International Film Festival of India (Goa), Kolkata Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival. His first feature film, Herbert, got the National Award. The film has been screened at a number of national and international film festivals including Florence, Bangkok, Osian Cinefan, Zanzibar, Mumbai, Pune and Kerala. Herbert was officially released in the USA at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mukhopadhyay has done his film training from the New York Film Academy, and has done theatre productions ranging from European drama to major adaptations of Bengali masterpieces and productions of Indian plays, which include Raja Lear, Bisarjan, Teesta Paarer Brittanto, Mephisto, Raktakarabi, Little Clay Cart, Nagamandala, Man of the Heart and Fireface. He was a British Academy Fellow and invited to the Barbican Centre, London with the play Man of the Heart.
History as Philosophy for Our Times
At present, History is often taken by those in other humanities disciplines to be a sort of useful tool, a field of study that provides background or “context” for the more vital business of interpreting texts, works of art, rituals, or social relations. Historians have done much themselves to encourage this sentiment. What I plan to advocate in this talk is a new understanding of the work of the historian in which he or she uses historical evidence to weigh in on the biggest kinds of questions—about the meaning of life, of thought, of emotion, of truth—and in so doing makes illuminating the specificity of single moments and spaces in the world a step in the process rather than the end game. I call this kind of long-range, spatially unbounded, engage-in-the present history that I am proposing “philosophical history.” My plan is, first, to introduce this approach by reference to the work of Hannah Arendt and, second, to suggest its potential for creating conversations that cut across the humanities—not to mention the sciences and social sciences—as a whole. The central thesis here is that philosophy should not be left to philosophers alone. It is only by engaging in conversations about meaning that we, in different humanities fields, can talk to each other and make the humanities central to our culture, locally and globally.
Sophia Rosenfeld is Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of numerous scholarly articles on 18th-century culture, politics, and ideas, as well as A Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford, 2001) and, most recently, Common Sense: A Political History (Harvard, 2011), which won the 2012 Mark Lynton History Prize and is forthcoming in Korean and French translations. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, the Nation, and the Washington Post. She received her BA from Princeton and her PhD from Harvard, and she has also been a visiting faculty member at the Remarque Institute at NYU, the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris), and the University of Virginia School of Law. Currently she is director of a multidisciplinary seminar program in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia that she hopes is a good model for the future of humanities teaching.
Daya otherwise: the Notness of Ahimsa
Quite early on, Gandhi takes to describing satyagraha as a dayadharma. If he is so drawn to the term daya, that is because, following his relinquishment of the universalism and civility involved in republican democracy or ‘modern civilization’, daya comes to name the other civility and universalism which is also the other of the metaphysical universalism he relinquishes. This other of universalism is organized around two-ness, and the multiplicity proper to two. This paper explores his enagagement with the term daya on three registers.
It argues, first, that it is quite inadequate to understand daya and relatedly ahimsa as a weaker force than liberal tolerance—as an attempt to be more inclusive still by only setting examples for others rather than forcing them to do something. Ahimsa is thus for him a force greater than violence. This is one of the reasons that he opposes the renunciatory ahimsa he associates with some Jain and Hindu traditions. Second, for him daya becomes, as for the Jain thinker Shrimad Rajchandra who influences him so much, a way of affirming simultaneously the oneness and equality of all life. This attempt to hold together a radical unity (oneness) and ineradicable difference (equality of all life) leads him to question the idea of a ‘kinglike God’—a god modeled on the human sovereign. Third, the essay explores how this attempt leads to his distinctive thinking of advaita, as also to his argument that ahimsa is marked by a constitutive notness of being.
Ajay Skaria is a historian at the University of Minnesota. He is interested in questions of intellectual history and political theory, and is currently finishing a book on Gandhi, tentatively titled Immeasurable Equality: Gandhi, Religion and Politics.
One of the ways in which advocates for the Humanities attempt to express their value is by making comparative claims about how their work differs from that of the Sciences and Social Sciences. Arguments that seek to establish distinct objects and methods of study for the three major organizational divisions of the university have, historically, often gone further and sought to describe deep ‘cultural’ and characterological differences. In the main, ‘two’ and (more recently) ‘three culture’ debates have possessed a rhetorical attraction out of keeping with their very limited persuasiveness—and yet it is obviously desirable that any claim for the value of the Humanities should be more specific than the general claims one might make for any higher education. This paper will examine the grounds for asserting a distinctive value to higher scholarship in the Humanities, allowing for differentiation from the work of the Sciences and Social Sciences without traducing all three fields.
Helen Small is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Pembroke College. Her books include The Long Life (OUP, 2007; winner of the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Criticism, 2008), and (ed.), The Public Intellectual (Blackwell, 2002). She is currently completing a study of the defences of the Humanities that have been most influential in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and still exert some persuasive power. Her aim is to provide a taxonomical and historical account of the arguments, and to test their validity for the present day.
Notes toward a Critique of Historicity
This presentation explores the implications of Plotinus’s interpretation of Plato for the account of Aristotle and Plato that we have received from Heidegger. If there is a strong undercurrent of praxis-fetishism in Heidegger, and if there is a similar strain in our own modern reworkings of karmayoga (Tilak, Shukla, Gandhi), how can we seek to understand time not as a holding-back or keeping-in-reserve, but as a primary surplus (‘pleonos’)? What implications does this have for our notions of death, the afterlife, and finally for the individuation of the subject? In closing I would like to suggest how it is possible for us reread Hegel with these concerns in view.
Milind Wakankar‘s doctoral work, and his subsequent book entitled Subalternity and Religion, were on the relation between Kabir and the Marathi bhakti tradition, understood from both a modern and premodern point of view. This recourse to the pastness of the past, one not accessible to history, has now taken him back to late antiquity and beyond–his current work is on the Bhagawata Purana. He is a Fellow at CSCS, Bangalore, where he has taught courses bringing together the texts of Hegel, Schelling and Heidegger.
Closing Panel Discussion:
“Institutions, the Humanities and New India”
Simi Malhotra Mahesh Rangarajan Sukanta Chaudhuri Nandini Chandra
Simi Malhotra is Associate Professor of English and Coordinator, Office of International Relations, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi
Mahesh Rangarajan is Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi and Professor of History, University of Delhi.
Sukanta Chaudhuri is Emeritus Professor of English, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham
The Talkies in a Truck: Traveling tent cinemas of Maharashtra
A few hundred kilometres away from the cinema capital of India- Mumbai, tent cinemas accompany jatras, religious fairs which begin after the crop gathering season ends in October. With the journey of the touring cinemas, the magic of the big screen beckons remote villages in Maharashtra once every year, which are still located far from fixed-site cinema halls. The nomadic cinemas bring an eclectic collection of films- Bollywood blockbusters, Marathi social dramas, comedies, mythologicals, and even Hollywood action films dubbed in Hindi. Mostly a family-owned tradition, the cinemas have been
sustained through sheer ingenuity and enterprise, for more than six decades now. And yet, they are still to find place in mainstream academic and popular accounts of the evolution of cinema in India. The project attempts to ‘historicise’ the history of these cinemas, as well as to ‘provincialise’ it, by focusing on modalities which deliver the experience of cinema away from sophisticated theatres in the city.
The project also underlines the needs to study the unique interaction of people and projected media at a specific place and occasion. It is attentive to how films are constantly rearticulated through the specific historical situations of public exhibition and reciprocally constructed through a complex social interchange with audiences. The very idea of ‘exhibition’ situates the cinema as part of local histories. Over the course of the work across three seasons of the traveling cinemas, the world of the nomadic talkies unfolded along the axes of performance, geography, collective memory, history of exhibition. The traveling cinemas are an extremely potent contact zone of cultural flows: they stir and oscillate between urban and rural, religious and mundane, process of mechanization and mounting, recycling and refurbishing, and, European and ‘indigenous’ traditions of viewing and visualizing films- between theatre, pilgrimage, marketplace and the fairground. The project explores and
documents the touring cinemas by means of still images, interviews, participatory observation and archival research.
Photographer Amit Madheshiya and researcher Shirley Abraham have been working in collaboration on the traveling tent cinemas of Maharashtra since 2008. They received the Arts Research and Documentation Grant from India Foundation for the Arts, for the project. They also received a short term fellowship from the Cluster of Excellence, Asia Europe in a Global Context at Heidelberg (2009) and were selected for the Goethe-Institute / Max Mueller Bhavan 50 Year Anniversary
Grant Programme for 2010-11. They are now filming a documentary on the tent cinemas. They have presented the project at the Memory and Truth Conference at the University of Colorado in Boulder; Unconventional Advertising Conference at
LUISS University in Rome; Media, Communication and the Spectacle Conference at Erasmus University in Rotterdam; Traveling media in Asia and Europe workshop at the University of Trier; Inter Asia Cultural Typhoon at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies; Open Platform at the Hong Kong International Art Fair; Maharashtra Conference in Bratislava; Global Theatre Histories Project at Munich University; Asian Modernities and Traditions program at the University
of Leiden; Context of Spectatorship Conference at Hyderabad University; Urban Visualities Conference at Dakshinachitra in Chennai; SNDT University in Pune; Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts in Delhi; Film studies Department at Jadavpur University; Outlook Media Seminar at Hinduja College in Mumbai; and at India Foundation for the Arts in Bangalore. It has been a part of solo and group exhibitions at the World Photography Festival (London), World Press Photo (Amsterdam), Lucca Photo Festival (Lucca), Delhi Photo Festival (Delhi), Lumix Photo Festival (Hannover), Art Work Space (London), Cluster of Excellence (Heidelberg), Rathaus House (Heidelberg), Ardel Gallery of Modern Art (Bangkok), Centro de la Imagen (Mexico City) , Aperture Gallery (New York), Edward Day Gallery (Toronto) , Galerie Esther Woerdehoff (Paris), Gallery 21
(Tokyo), Edge Gallery (Hong Kong), Gallery Caprice Horn (Berlin), National Center for Performing Arts( Mumbai), Center for Asian Studies (Boulder), Annexe Gallery (Kuala Lumpur), Art and Architecture collaborative Beam (Wakefield), Bradford Mela and Play House (Bradford), Jnan Pravah (Mumbai) and Dakshinachitra Gallery (Chennai). For his work on the tent cinemas series, Amit has won the World Press Photo (2011), the Sony World Photography award (2011 and 2009) and the Grand Prize at the Humanity Photo Awards (2009).
Shirley and Amit received a fellowship from Tasveer Ghar/House of Pictures: A Digital Network of South Asian Popular Visual Culture, for a project studying dynamics of a unique public visual language, installing images of gods on tiles in street corners, employing them as sentinels against defilement of public spaces. In 2010, they also received a short-term fellowship from the Cluster of Excellence- Asia and Europe in a Global Context, Transcultural Image Database Project “Satellite of Networks”, for their project exploring devotional visual culture at the shrine of Sailani Baba in Maharashtra.