Kishore. Sorry, you're not theoretical enough mate

I’ve noted that Kishore’s article has taken some stick in the Indian blogsphere (read here). He seems to be accused of being too theoretical and prone to jargon. This article is a response to Kishore. Forgive me if my comments rake the finger further through the wound (… of your detractors that is) but my problem with your piece is (1) that IT IS NOT THEORETICAL ENOUGH; and (2) that, if the aim is to overcome the current “darkness of emancipatory politics,” as you put it, then there is more room to expand the liberationist conceptual microcosm you use into a wider UNIVERSE OF WORDS, NOTIONS, PHRASES, TEXTS AND CONTEXTS.

You point out that in order to reinscribe “a subaltern politics [that] has to propose radical emancipation” such must be done “within the framework of Leftist thought,” and that, in your own context of intervention, “this will require empathising not just with the subsets of social formations (Dalits, Muslims, Christians) but the subaltern within them, for e.g., women, homosexuals, children, non believers”.

Here is my “theoretical” questions (for which I bring back old texts by Stuart Hall): How do we establish, I insist, theoretically and intellectually, a way to go about the construction of politics around “unity-in-difference”, a way, that is, for opening up political spaces of concrete transformation? Where do we draw the line, the “arbitrary closure” for effective intervention whereby “the politics of infinite dispersal are also contained to avoid them become the politics of no action at all”?

Obviously, since we both are avid, should I also say fervent, consumers of Zizek’s intellectual products, and are hence well aware of the contradictions we must face in our attempts of theorising politics in a postpolitical time, a tentative answer to these questions comes from Zizek himself. Until recently, you will agree with me, we had to read text upon text from scholars of all kinds where ways of thinking were suggested across the once demarcated (essentialist) terrains of identity. The idea was always to produce insights into the cultural constructions of identity in relation to nationality, race, gender, sexuality, religion, diaspora and so on while, of course, class would disrupt, complicate and even haunt and inflect upon the formation of all other categories but always making sure that no hierarchical gradation of priorities took place. According to Zizek (2004, pp. 98, 101):

“The problem with this formulation is that, in the postmodern ‘anti-essentialist’ discourse regarding the multitude of struggles, ‘socialist’ anti-capitalist struggle is posited as just one in a series of struggles (class, sex and gender, ethnic identity…), and what is happening today is not merely that anti-capitalist struggle is getting stronger, but that it is once again assuming the central structuring role. The old narrative of postmodern politics was: from class essentialism to the multitude of struggles for identity; today, the trend is finally reversed. [This] does not mean that class struggle is the ultimate referent and horizon of meaning of all other struggles; it means that class struggle is the structuring principle which allows us to account for the very ‘inconsistent’ plurality of ways in which other antagonisms can be articulated into ‘chains of equivalences'”.

Whether this could be the beginning of an answer to the issue of “infinite dispersal” in identity politics (subaltern or otherwise) I leave it open for discussion. On a more personal, tête-à-tête vein, however, it also occurs to me, particularly after attending Spivak’s e-lecture in my computer, that like with “secularism” and “the state”, there could also be room, perhaps, to “re-invent and nurture an abstract understanding” of ‘class’. Since I notice that you are somehow worried about the elitist position we occupy (I suppose that both as intellectual/academics and as privileged consumers…) this approach would certainly allow us to operate some “homeopathy of self-abstraction”, as Spivak put it, to “synecdochize” our position, as she also mentions in the lecture, to insert our ‘petty-bourgeois’ part within the whole of class politics without worrying too much about, say, my retired parents being once a farmer and a blacksmith; to allow, in other words, that the Gramscian war of positions that often takes place in our particular minds does not prevent us from nurturing a universal(ist) form of Luckacsian “class consciousness” regardless of someone coming from a Bengali middle-class or a family of Venetian gondoliers. By the way, in the terrific book of short essays and fiction “Marginalia” by Joseba Sarrionaindia we are told that “[O]nce upon a time there was a blacksmith hammering away a piece of iron. When he was asked what he was making he said: -Well, if it comes out straight it’ll be a nail and if it bends it’ll be a hook” (1988, p.122). So there is no much point in being too hard on our selves. We keep on doing our job, we keep on knocking our words away and something useful will always come out of it, which is also the nearest analogy I can find of what doing philosophy with a hammer is according to Nietzsche and his repeated calls for active nihilism.

Water buffalo as symbolic of ShudrasBack to the political then, I am still intrigued with the second part of your text. There you direct us to a link where Dr Kancha Ilaiah attacks Hinduism outright (I will/can not comment much on the overall message despite his “stance strik[ing] at the core of the problem”, as I believe he does since you say so). As you mention also, it seems that “the politics of Illaiah […] possesses the possibility of real change” not least because he “promotes a Zizekian transformatory “violence””. You go on saying that “I admit I am slipping into a dangerous territory” and the case may well be that you were indeed slipping into a dangerous, again theoretical, territory but I cannot see how Ilaiah himself takes this step. In other words, I don’t see how he embraces, say, ‘divine violence’ understood in Zizek’s words (2008) as “the explosion of resentment which finds expression in […] organised revolutionary terror” (157), this being why, moreover, “we should fearlessly identify divine violence with positively existing historical phenomena [revolutionary Terror of 1792-94, Red Terror of 1919…], thus avoiding any obscurantist mystification” (167). I take it that this is what you mean by “transformatory violence” which according to Zizek belongs to the “order of the Event” as opposed to “mythic violence [which] is a means to establish the rule of law” and belongs to “the order of being” (169). I do also understand that Ilaiah grasps rather well the workings of ‘structural violence’ (Johan Galtung) and “symbolic violence” (Pierre Bourdieu) in the caste system that the Brahminical-Hindu dominant order/formation seeks to maintain and reproduce (again, forgive me if I worded this wrongly). These comprise two of the three forms of violence that Zizek identifies too in his book. First the “symbolic violence embodied in language and its forms”, an instance of which, I think, is encapsulated in Ilaiah’s following words:

“To begin with, they should sit down with the Sudras to rewrite a true Hindu religious holy book. It should be an egalitarian, spiritual democratic book written by the people’s covenants. But again, for that, I think we the Sudras should be allowed to initiate the writing”.

And second “the fundamental systemic [uncanny] violence of capitalism, no longer attributable to concrete individuals but purely ‘objective’ systemic, anonymous” [12]. A systemic, objective violence which refers to “the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems” (1) and which Ilaiah captures in this metaphorical passage:

“Look at the reality. Eighty per cent of the milk in India comes from buffaloes. Buffaloes are the native Indian animals, but they do not have any rights to be protected in the Constitution. Because the buffalo is a Dravidian animal, whereas the cow is an Aryan animal. The buffalo is a black animal and we are black people. We low caste people represent the rights of the buffaloes. Cows cannot be sacred and buffaloes cannot be devilish and yet India can become modern. It is not just possible. All Brahmins in India have been consumers in the history of India. They were never the producers. So, this has to be debated.”

What seems to happen, however, is that there is no room for debate because as Ilaiah continues:

Even the Brahmins in the Communist and liberal parties are not ready for a debate. The people in the press are not ready for a debate. Because all these structures are headed by Brahmins. The question is inconvenient to all of them. (Underline mine)

Obviously paradoxical to an external observer such as myself could be that the violence built in the very social structure/caste system seems to impinge upon the cultural/symbolic order of the Communist party itself, which, from what I read in other contributions to this site, yes, it certainly strives on paper to overcome all forms of discrimination while also, universal(ist) ideology notwithstanding, being tied up to concrete determinations (and privileges!?) on the ground. After all, therefore, it also seems that grounded, local, territorialised… customs, traditions, (hi)stories… fill in with specific, context-bound meaning the empty conceptual containers (democracy, freedom, solidarity…) from which forms of concrete universality arise and are fought out in circumstances that defy context-free abstract, metaphysical thought.

Kancha IlaiahBut having said this, I still don’t see how and when Ilaiah calls for forms of violence that correspond to Zizek’s third category: the “subjective” violence which constitutes “just the most visible” (10) form of the triad Zizek builds up in his book, the violence which is enacted by “evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds…” (9, 10) but also by organised revolutionary social agents, say, in pursuit of a higher transformatory ideal. In this very site I do read accounts of very visible riots, revolts and mayhem carried out on the grounds of various deeply entrenched, it seems to me, religious and social rivalries; but I don’t see Ilaiah’s clearly stated and reasoned hatred for Hinduism resulting in a call to arms, so to speak.

This is why, perhaps, my own little, particular way out of this debate is resorting to the concluding sentence of Zizek’s latest book (“Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do” (183)) and embrace his call for the most violent, terrorist act of them all which, given the present circumstances, is just to “Learn, learn and learn” and also, as Spivak says it in the lecture: “to learn how to learn from the other”, a practice that this site, for instance, guarantees fully.

Leave a Reply