Friday, August 17, 2012


            When a girl was molested in the streets of Guwahati, a few months ago, there was a journo at hand capturing every single moment of the assault in his cam and got it later streaming in the Youtube, of course pixellating the image to smooth the sensibilities of the viewer. Debates came in quick succession and fingers were pointed at the skewed ethics of the photojournalist. How vague are the lines that separate right and good! It is known that all our moral judgments are based on a value, which depends on one's station. It was reminded that it was the duty of the journos to report and reproduce the event rather than preventing the event. That is a very professional view of things, of that sort of coarse and heartless professionalism that drove the Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Carter to a desparate end. Martin Luther King is reported to have stopped a photographer who sought to intervene when an outrage was committed against him suggesting that the latter should record the events and bring it to the world so that the world shall know them and thus it is not just a single instance of outrage that is prevented but all the future recurrences. Perhaps we are confusing the photographer's "right" with our "good." What if the photographer is only saving the records to bring it later to an audience who are ready to decide on the course of actions? Such newsfeeds should be maintained to bring a consolidation of events around us and to trigger corrective actions. That is the most natural thing we can expect from man.
            The problem does not stop there. We are confronted by a situation where every other person is wielding a camera and is quite senselessly adept at it. We have become a lot obsessed with the delights of vision. When everybody becomes a self-styled reporter the reporting is taken into a realm that transcends the primary, actual and immediate capabilities of man. We record events out of fascination. When everybody runs the cam then who is the target? One has the provisions to broadcast the video captures as raw as he meant it and get it running. Doing so would displace the responses that the report could generate to a virtual plane, where anonymity is the order and where nobody really cares. Suppose a brutal act of assault is taking place before a crowd and nobody cares to intervene. By later presenting a video footage of the same, sourced by various onlookers, we are depriving the victim of that justice he should have received immediately in space and time. What is the good of elevating an event to a plane of discussion and ideational exchanges when action was precluded in the first instance? We are a folk who have reserved stock words to express our pseudo-commiserations. There will be a time when even the most violent turnout in one's life becomes only a piece of information for the world whose emotional appeal, if at all there is any, will be systematically painted over by the diktats of the technocosm.
            Susan Sontag has aptly observed that a camera is "the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood." She also notes that any knowledge derived from a photograph is not ethical or political and that it is at the most sentimentalist and that photographs cater to an aesthetic consumerism. Attempts have been made to reproduce a historical event using photographs and cinema and we shall call this supplement to historiography as historiophoty. Certain emotions are better conveyed in visual or imagistic depictions rather than verbal discourses of the traditional historiography. It was firmly believed that the pleasures of man are largely scopic and that of women tactile. This is the very reason that man is capable of ocular assaults- the very look which can engender a sin. This is yet another reason why the girls are always skimpily clad in the silver screen even when their male buddies will compensate superfluously for their deficit. That seems to be an old story if we believe the social watchers of our times- women have started ogling at men now and so you understand why the heroes move about baring their abs. This is no minor indication. The very sense of sight has overwhelmingly run over all other faculties of man. Just pay attention to the advances made in display technologies that we relish in our television screens. It is a race to capture even the finest detail and with the advent of ambient modification techniques we will be tempted to take the projections for reality. The designers may cut down anything but not the screen size. Read with this the deluge of reality shows that can go to the most ridiculous extremes. We are concocting reality.
            When an event is caught in an amateur cam (we can spare the journos because they are condoned by certain interpretations of their professional ethics) does the photographer makes an ethical evaluation of the situation- something like him saying that he caught it in the tape because it was an infraction which needed to be publicized? Very often, it is not so. When we speak about moral judgments, some are of the opinion that our moral judgements are drawn from sensory appraisals. We may call it a "Humean" version. There is the "Kantian" line which suggests that there involves reasoning behind all our moral judgments. Controlled experiments regarding the moral judgments one makes reveal that sense and reason play non-exclusive roles and so it is aptly suggested that men are "Rawlsian" creatures in their moral judgments. It was John Rawls who suggested that there is an inherent moral grammar which determines our moral valuations. The amateur photographer is largely the one who is detached from the gravity of the situation and is only concerned with the rarity of the sight. The intelligentsia who dwell on these problems are equally clinical. They represent the opposite poles of sense and reason. In the age of information proliferation, even the slightest of microhistories are prone to get global attention if sourced through the appropriate channels. This should not be a violation of the privacy that the dignity of the individual justly demands. As men we should be keener on coming to the rescue rather than feasting on the flesh of a violated, mangled or wrecked body.
            Sontag writes in Regarding the Torture of others that the lynching photographies, like the ones from Abu Ghraib are maintained as trophies. This happens in our place too, when the vigilante groups or individuals commit an atrocity in the name of an ideal they believe and represent and eventually circulate the record of the act in the web. Even when the act is blatantly criminal, they maintain a daring impunity over publicizing it. This is the case when an onlooker or a perpetrator take the photographs which is exactly the journos' cup of tea. This ubiquity of photographs reveals a wide spectrum of emotions which can never be treated as one and the same.
            There is a very poignant message in the Jackie Chan starrer Police Story. A team of police officers are led into a deadly trap and are killed by a gang of cult gamers. They make that fatal operation into a video game and post it in the Net. Knowing that the whole plot is centered on the depression Chan is in, unable to reconcile with his state as "the one who lived to tell the tale" and accusing himself for the death of his team, presumably the most devastating phrase found in the script is "they made you into a videogame."
Ephraem maria gilbert
Capuchin ashram Thumpoly
14 August 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Patricio Guzman draws an interesting relationship between archaeology and astronomy in his renowned documentary film The Nostalgia for Light. In the extremely arid setting of the Atacama in Chile, are arrayed some of the mightiest telescopes of the world. The site affords a lucid view of the sky. Hand in hand with this comes yet another geographical peculiarity of the Atacama- near zero humidity which means that historical remnants that can be unearthed from that terrain will be almost freed from the ravages of water. This presents an even more lucid picture of history. What calls for an unlikely matrimony of astronomy and archaeology is the fact that deep in the Atacama lies the mass graves where the dissidents in Pinochet regime were condemned to silence. There are women who scour this impossibly vast terrain with spades looking for the shards of their dearest ones- a feat of endurance that matches the immensity of the Atacama. Some of them were wishing that the telescopes could zero in on the ground as meticulously as they were combing the skies and bring out their beloved. Here the telescopes watch out for the origins of universe, an anthropically fine-tuned entity, and contributes to the knowledge of genealogy of man even as the archaeologists unearth those specters which points to the genealogy of terror. As John the Heretic of Gibran says, the wolves may kill the sheep in the night but at the break of the day all we see the blood and know what happened in the cover of the night.
It is not yet time to forget the Wikileaks episode which brought a brand new vision of the contemporary world construed in the eyes of the major players in world politics. It exposed the "paper trail" of classified information taking the ordinary man into the depths of what happens in reality contrary to his superficial perceptions. A paper trail is the lineage of documented evidence maintained in all the administrative machineries. The common lot is lured into believing that all the determinants of their lives are perceptible to them. Those in power do not want a popular reading of the reality or history. Reality is as they dictate it. In the increased bureaucratic settings of contemporary governments, there is only a selective dispensation of information. The media and the entire government machinery can be complicit in presenting a particular perception as a reality and nothing else. Nobody expect the loci of power to tell the truths, these days. The more immediate the history, the more vehement will be the effort to skew it as one feels. The immediate past is the greatest weapon in the hands of a propagandist in this age of media coverage whose strategies are dictated by the circulation departments. A piece of news is in vogue as long as it generates revenue. Why should there be a paper trail at all if it would transpire the truth at some later juncture down the road given that it is truth that needs to be suppressed at all costs? Truths have to be politically correct. The maintenance of the written documents is a vital part of that blame-game strategy that can ensue at any time if the operational details leak out. There should be always a space available to pass the buck. History cannot be undone.
There can be cases of historical instances getting petrified in the collective psyche of classes of people. Years of struggle and mythmaking can lead to some sort of siege mentality in people. The very identity can become permanently referred to a historical event or situation. Luis Bunuel who thanked God for still keeping him an atheist wanted to convey this fixation for history in his "heretical movie" The Milky Way. It is an exposition of various Christian heresies that confront the ways of two impoverished pilgrims. What is worth noting in the story line is the predicament of various religious affiliations to posit themselves in contrast to others to get themselves demarcated. The cases of religion getting a patriotic hue and any incursions on religion getting treated as treacherous have something to do with the historical consciousness. In the post-patriotic identities designed to suit the neoliberal economies historical oblivion has become a requisite to effect a destructuring of the workforce. It is only by proposing that history has reached its finality that a sense of accomplishment and ultimate dignity can be effected. The cult behaviour rampant in all walks of life is a signifier of an anticipation of an imminent eschatological or apocalyptic finale. History is yearning to come to a grinding halt.
Fukuyama drew inspiration from the development of natural sciences to understand human history. The progress of natural sciences is cumulative and directional. The logic of modern science is to make an economic reading of history that leads to capitalism. He speaks of thymotic pride in man, a concept first proposed by Plato. It is the spirited aspect of man whose satisfaction is crucial to his dignity. This satisfaction cannot be afforded by ordinary man in an authoritarian regime. Therefore democracy becomes the best option and history should have come to end in its developmental sense by the establishment of democracies, which exactly is not so. The problem of recognition is always there, the unquenchable thymotic pride. So we design irrational forms of thymos like nationalism, sectarianism but given that these options are detrimental to capitalist designs we design still more irrational forms of thymos. Since recognition is at stake we get more individualistic, a situation whose glimpses we have now. The eternal race for recognition and approval, the "i-you-he" types of game are catching up again with the barrage of social networking media. It is no accident that Facebook is providing a view known as "timeline view" in lieu of the "wall view." After all it is a bit of personal history which one can tamper with. The obsession with history never dies.

[1] ^Z (Ctrl+Z) is the key combination for an undoing an operation in computer-aided editing. Can we undo history or atleast some parts of it to pamper ourselves?

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Sic transit gloria mundi*”: quoted the Italian premier on hearing the ignominious death of Col.Gadaffi- a mere rhetorical remark and not a didactic one. That we are not concerned with a virtue until we find it lacking in our adversaries, we observe with Nietzsche. Our epistemological and ethical quests have taught us to treat the other as a mere object and ensured that an inescapable dichotomy is maintained. As a result the inauthentically constructed or constituted human nature enters into a labyrinth of complex power relations. The papal election was once followed by the illustrious ceremony of burning a ball of flax mounted on a gilded pole with the exhortation of the above mentioned: *“Thus transits the glory of the world,” serving a grim reminder against hubris.
Imagination goads man to further the limits of his exertions. All the technical advancements of our times are augmentative rather than therapeutic. The classical attributes of God- omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence- seem to lure man into their realizations in the temporal realm. This is to be read together with the death-of-God trends in the contemporary worldview. The plight of the technologically, informationally or cognitively disadvantaged sections of the society signals the new equations of power that takes apolitical forms but nevertheless presenting an increased existential impact. Social watchers speak of zombification of the society where corporate greed has made zombies out of men drawing away all the vitality. Mimetic contagion impels men to herd-thinking and increased levels of socio-cultural claustration and poses hermeneutical ceilings. Hannah Arendt has observed that the leader of a mob appeals to the generic or biological needs of the mob and hence cannot lead to an effective social reconstruction. The decadence in our public and private lives is a clear indication of the mob compliance that is latent in our collectivities.
Reflecting on the word “authority” can be enlightening. It is double headed and hides within itself connotations of a making (authoring) and of an enforcement or administration of a set of norms. The objectivity of moral norms has always been objectionable. Consider the case of a religious rule. There exists a sort of realism in understanding this rule. The rule has to precede the congregation of adherers normatively and constitutively of its lifestyle. It is inauthentic to think that the rule can be disposed to suit the congregational contingencies. There is objectivity of a norm, which at the same time warrants concretization in an intersubjective real-time situation. When a keeper of law presumes himself as the author of the law it becomes purely whimsical and subjective. In that case the sense of “authority” can be suggestively and conveniently explained by the term auctoritas. Let me posit it as an embodiment of an obfuscated distinction between being an auctor in the genitive sense and in the administrative sense. The objectivity shall never be lost sight of and the subjectivity shall not go untouched.
The Nativity reminds us of a dialogical discourse. Arendt classifies actions as those which are meant to fabricate or make and those which are meant to communicate acknowledging the intersubjectivity. Action can become the most dangerous of human faculties. The monologic discourses that govern the world actions can become constitutive of reality. The theocratic world view, reeking of an authoritarian God, gave way to a Christophanous ontocracy in our religious understanding. This was effected by Incarnation. By Incarnation God became perceptibly pervasive of all realities. Every moment of our life should, hence be open to the public aletheia- the gradual disclosure of the whole. There should also be the admittance of non-sovereign qualities of human freedom. God the Auctor-par-excellence subjected his auctoritas to the non-sovereignty of human condition.
This makes the life of Jesus, a kaleidoscope of miraculous activities, a celebration of spiritual spontaneity and a preparation of the unexpected.

Text of Times

Advisory: Wherever one comes across the word ‘text’, do not understand it merely as a written group of letters, but as any experience or events where somebody(thing) else is involved.
We all are accustomed to hypertexts, especially those net-savvy who have seen the cursor magically turning a pointed finger when placed over certain text in a webpage. Well, that is just the tip of the iceberg of what is informationally available beyond.
Before a computer started to connect to other computers, it was just a tool but now it has become a portal to look into a virtual world created elsewhere and where you can peek into someone else’s projects. That signals the rising of a digital culture or more aptly what José B. Terceiro has dubbed as the homo digitalis in lieu of homo sapiens. Incidentally, the word ‘digital’ literally means ‘pertaining to fingers.’ When one speaks of information at the fingertips it sounds as if the information is ‘present-at-hand’- vorhanden (to borrow from existential phenomenologists)- as reified. When a piece of literature is seen just as a juxtaposition of chunks of texts which are situationally disparate in their origins (eg. When one fabricates an essay by fishing the material out from a searchable electronic text) what is at stake is the coherence of the idea. Conversely, an author who has created an original piece may find it difficult to find a reader who has enough willingness to traverse an “unsearchable” text (by ‘searchable’ we mean that which is able to return results for a particular ‘search string.’) Suppose one is reading a voluminous printed text which has no subject index. In that case a reader who is looking for a particular idea in the text will be bound to follow the logical structure of the work. In that way he tentatively participates in the original logic of the author. Then there is a more degenerate option at hand- to make a cursory scan over the text, one that is disinterested about any other details, and to locate the one that concerns us. What the computer search algorithms of our times have accomplished is the augmentation of that disinterested search. No matter how intelligent the algorithm is, it cannot represent the participation in the mind of the author.
Hypertext links can facilitate a non-sequential reading of the text. One of the most important aspects of information revolution is that it can accommodate private schemes. One wants to read on Sartre and goes to a Wikipedia page, and one finds numerous openings for digressions and random access of diversified topics concerning Sartre. This way, one develops a private scheme of interpreting the text on a pragmatic basis. This is the great tragedy that can befall on an author- when a reader approaches the piece of literature with a vested interest the authors scheme is aborted. That is inevitable, some may say, but it shall not be forgotten that the worst malformations of ideas have been triggered by a text being torn out of context. These private schemes or customizations are possible, as is familiar in digital media players too, by way of playlists (a playlist is a list of music to be played which the hearer can pick; contrast this with the earlier ways of cassettes which would play only sequentially and one had to traverse the length of the tape mechanically to reach one’s hotspot. That is called a sequential approach). Nowadays all the information storage devices are built with the idea of random access in view. (So you get what you wanted at click of the mouse.) To accommodate an element of surprise in the sequence (playlist) some shuffled modes are possible, but be assured that there is no absolute uncertainty over what is going to play but only a diminished probability. In real life this can amount to a nomadic wandering vis-a –vis a guided tour. In a private scheme we pre-ordain the events. A private scheme is detached from the original rendering, is pragmatic and often exclusivistic interpretation of the original text. Very often we miss the silence intended between the lines of the text- a room for brooding over. In a private scheme the utilitarian chunks of texts are juxtaposed in a very dyslogistic manner which often has no relation to the source.
St.Cyprian has made a very insightful comment as he said that the Word of God remained silent when He was led to the Cross. It is the very nature of word to communicate, but when it remains silent know that we are treading on a plane where no words can avail. In the hegemonical plot that leads Jesus to Calvary , atleast under the mirror of time, the script of the high priests was being enacted. It was their private scheme and they took it to be ordained course of events. Therefore the silence that pervaded Calvary and the Sepulchre was musical to their ears until the tomb tore open and let Him out, whom nothing can contain. There the silence is broken and the Eternal Disordination happens.

Transit Us

I feared that the verb ‘transit’ would be intransitive, but hopefully it is not. It plays double and gives me enough space to work my legs both ways. The inquisitive nature of man had always had overtones of accusation, a sense of angst and an orientation to salvation. It inevitably involves a release from the monotony of daily routines or general procedures. Philosophical endeavours thus poised on the verge utter non-conformity and many of the mystical writings from any part of the world sounded like narrations of escapades often spilling over to erotic symbolism. The adventurous medieval soul expressed itself with full import wherever it was involved. Thus it is with the same recklessness that sent Francis flying in his mail and tapestries that he approaches the burning bush of God’s love. We should start to speak of these singular experiences as paradigm shifts rather than conversions, because no such transformative action takes place in a mediocre soul; even God finds it unpalatable. To know that ‘transit’ admits passive and active modes makes us all the more accountable, sparing us the trouble of locating a first cause for our demeanours for which none but we are responsible.
Foucault speaks of ethics as ascetics. Ethics becomes self’s relation to itself and is therefore part of both the history of subjectivity and the history of governmentality. This reminds one of the need to take constant care of oneself- an intensification of relations to oneself. The alienation from the self is the greatest impediment to wholesome axiological experience of any given situation. It robs us of the basic certainty of our experiences. Foucault quotes Seneca as saying Disce gaudere - learn how to feel joy, that which will never fail one when one has found its source. It is a de tuo - from your own store- which implies that it is the very self and the best part of you. This realization led the early philosophers to have recourse to ascetic styles of life. By their out-of-the-ordinary behaviours they came to be called as atopos- unclassifiable. This is to be seen as a way of eminence by which the philosopher attempts to transcend the banality of the situations. This is in stark contrast to dystopic lives which are malignantly out of place and contra-communitarian. Asceticism necessarily warrants social involvement. The essential psychic content of the spiritual exercises of ancient philosophy is the feeling of belonging to a cosmic consciousness. As Seneca calls it, ‘a plunge into the totality of the world.’
It is, therefore, no surprise that in the Canticle of Brother Sun each cosmic element is seen to be an appreciation of matter and thought to possess a profound splendor. Imagined (oneiric) images of material things have their roots in the soul and ‘every landscape we love is a state of soul.’ It is noted that the adjective ‘precious’ Francis adjoins to the elements of nature is used elsewhere by him only in relation to the Most Holy Body and Blood. The theological intuition of Francis regarding the universal fatherhood of God was inseparable from a profound affective and aesthetic experience.
Does it not rhyme well when Max Weber proposes Buddha, Jesus and Francis as archetypes of world-denying love (Liebesakosmismus) and posits that such a stand is more akin to mysticism rather than asceticism? The religiosity of the congregation transferred the ancient ethic of neighbourliness to the relations among brethren of faith. It moves in the direction of universalist brotherliness which goes beyond all barriers of social association, often including that of one’s faith. There existed a sense of generalized reciprocity among kinsmen in pre-congregational societies but the expectation of reciprocity was indefinite. This gets absolutized in religious brotherhoods. Weber believes that Jesus was quite deliberately homeless as he invited others to this life of zero-establishments. In Buddha the superhuman compassion bridges the vast gulf between eternal silence of transcendental wisdom and the preaching of the truth in the world. Similiarly one may very well think that in the Incarnation, God himself tried to bridge a communication gap putting an end to his supposed status of absconditus. God so loved the world. This is reminiscent of Heinrici’s co-incarnational model of communication. There is an intrinsic relationship between world-denial and love. Our love for man is entirely dependent on God and as we are obliged to love everyone, we can do that only in the respect in which everyone is equal, i.e., in the relation to God, whose children they are.
As Onam celebrations came to a close, something strikes my mind, incidentally. Three teams went up for a bicycle slow-race taking turns on the only two bicycles available, one with a rickety seat which gave its rider a visible disadvantage. It occurred to none (me culpa!) to fix it. Rather lots were cast to condemn a team to this bike. In such an exercise we preclude a positive action and localize the naturality in time and space tying to the singularity of the action of taking lots. Thereby we adopt an arbitrary turnout as a determinant. It works well with lotteries but not with men. If only we could transcend and transit over the conveniences of a false conscience and associations to delve into a cosmic liturgy.

An I for an eye

Sartre has spoken: “In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposing team.” Watching an amateur football game where the instincts are not subjected to a legitimacy check, one may rephrase the above as “ the presence of others in my team.” It is just an innocuous reminder of a momentous trend to monologically resolve the contrasts and hence to preserve oneself. Ironically, this act of reconciliation is not by sharing of space with the other but by re-asserting oneself in the scenario. This leads to the rise of insular entities which are not thoroughly secluded but protruded on a grid of inter-relations.

Lives are getting reduced to monographs and cyber profiles are posited as a mode of existence. Octavio Paz has commented that monotony is an attribute of immensity. Transcribed into social realm, a quest for personal immensity can lead to a monographic representation of oneself. In the levels of communicationa monographic expression can become monotonic and its constitution can become monolithic. The Virtual World (read as cyber world) has changed the way we think of the world. It has given us a sensible substratum to project oneself, but being in vogue can become a matter of life and death in the virtual world. Tenability and viability in the virtual world has added a new dimension to the longing for our immensity. People come as profiles, enumerating a bundle of categories (which largely serve the commercial interests of hidden players). Constant status-updates and customizations of personal space and the volume of communication, as a norm, suggest a dynamic virtual life. One can catch up with it and even turn up in the halls of fame in the virtual world. Every virtual activity ultimately boils down to a nondescript and extremely personal expression of a self which is conveniently called by a username. A cyberpersonality secures the liminal space of his existential microcosm from the macrocosm of the virtual world by a password, technically a private key which is very vulnerable to an incursion by a "bad other." When these sort of monographic expressions become the order of the day, what is at stake is the readiness to face the concrete reality man-to-man.
The monotony of monographic existence can be very heady Monotony transposed into eternity gives cyclicity. Cyclicity is the mark of man's sacred exercises as Mirce Eliade has shown. A search for a meaning in the cyclicity or the recurrences of life and understanding them as scaled down versions of a cosmic cycle has been the thrust of a variety of religious traditions. The celebrated Tea Ceremony in Zen Buddhism reveals how a unique instance is possible even when the framework remains rigidly essential and canonical. Monotone is the sound of universalization and as such it overlooks the beauty of particularities. Music takes our breath away and syncopation even more. Nevertheless in an actuarial mode of understanding life there are no particulars, only eventualities. Foucault speaks of a carceral continuum running through the society. Accordingly, discipline is understood as an economy of the body. Structural similarities exist between monastic formation and penal confinement. What robs the charm off
the latter is the tiring monotony of that life reminiscent of the infraction each moment and thus reliving the moment of infraction in a vicious circle, it is a monolithic existence. Monastic discipline is an orientation towards a soteriological point. This renders fluidity to that life.
So far an attempt was made to draw a distinction between adopted and inflicted versions of monographic existence.