literature

Jaded's picture

Between The Lines

Recently I came across Sara Ahmed’s fantastic essay ‘Feminist Killjoys (And other Willful Subjects)’ and have been re-reading several sections of the essay since. I identify with more parts of the essay than I can count, but one line that never leaves me is “[As a feminist killjoy] you become the problem you create” –- a single sentence that probably embodies the essence of my grandmum’s journals. Part of why I wanted to learn to read and think in my native tongue is because I want to read my grandmum’s journals, written in a pidgin many Gujurati’s. Apart from accounts of food items, daily expenditure and some chants dedicated to Krishna, there are extensive notes on translation and literary criticism of Oriya, Telugu and Bengali women’s literatures — in a different tongue altogether¹ — and her research of many texts banned in the British Empire. Most of the texts that are listed in her journals were banned because of “obscenity” under Section 292 of the Penal Code — not that big a surprise that most of these banned and censored texts were written by women and especially by women of the “lower sections of the society”. I couldn’t find most texts she talks of, but luckily I found Radhika Santwanam written by the Telugu poet Muddupalani in a great aunt’s attic — sadly, the text is in English but there were translator’s notes along with it, explaining their choice of words and consonants. Loosely translated, the text can be called “Enticing or Appeasing Radhika”, an epic erotic poem that talks of Radha and Krishna’s love affair — a text that inverses the male literary tradition of supposing the “male” as a locale of power when speaking of sexual agency.

I spent most of the last month reading this poem, in its many parts and verses, simultaneously shocked and in awe of Muddupalani’s audacity to speak so explicitly about female sexuality, of Radha’s encouragement of Krishna and her niece’s love affair, of the various ways Krishna has to woo and appease to Radha, a text quite “queer” by today’s “re-readings”. While the text is beyond beautiful, with its many deviances and silences, sadly this text has always faced heavy censorship at the hands of the Raj — interestingly when Muddupalani wrote it originally two centuries ago, her autobiographical prologue mentions no objections to the content or her context as a distinguished courtesan of the Thanjavur court². The Empire banned it for “obscenity” and “shamelessly filling poems with crude descriptions of sex” — cannot thank K. Lalita and Susie Tharu enough for keeping a neat account of all the charges levied against Muddupalani, ranging from ridiculous to incinerating and everything else in between — and for about 150 years after the ban Indian scholars maintained the same views about Muddupalani. In many instances, grandmum calls Muddupalani “adulteress” as this is the name she was known by. The more time I spend with grandmum’s journals, her accounts of the Raj’s censorship, read this exquisite poem, the more angry and fascinated — where fascination is the new disgust — I get.

Jaded's picture

Learning Relevance Through Erasure

One of the few things people connect with India besides Slumdog Millionaire and hub of cheap Third World labour are the epics Ramayan and Mahabharat — which are of course, anglicised to Ramayana and Mahabharata. Almost always, these epics are seen as the narrativisation of ‘the great oral tradition of storytelling’, basing this tradition in the past, which not only increases the net worth of such a text but also binds the epic with ‘history’; it’s seen as a ‘pre-colonial’ Indian¹utopia and as the ‘pure’ culture, while neatly obliterating the existence of more than a few hundred narrativisations of these epics — which are subjective to the caste and class of the community they come from — and they’re seen synonymously with Hinduism and our religions — meanwhile western epics like the Iliad and Odyssey are seen as Great Literature and not the representative of a population. Thanks to this pact with ‘history’, these texts are seen as — forcibly — situated texts that describe how Things Were Back Then and almost always read when mirrored with Christianity or the western gaze. So when the text turns out to have any contemporary beliefs or depict any ‘modern’ behaviour, it is hailed as a new ‘discovery’, when in reality these ‘discoveries’ have always existed in the texts. Insert quip about colonisation here.

Lately, there is a new surge of reading ‘religious’ texts through a queer perspective, which perplexes me to no end — for these particular texts, Mahabharat especially, have always been queer texts. I grew up with stories from the Mahabharat and have known tales of Krishna and Radha role-playing and switching genders, Arjun living as a woman for a year with a man’s mind, Draupadi as the daughter born of a man’s body — and these are a few instances I can remember without even looking at the texts my grandmum used to read. Agreeably, in most re-tellings of this epic, even these gender transgressions are somehow inserted into patriarchy — Krishna becomes a ‘womaniser’ who doesn’t mind ‘playing around’, Arjun is written and seen as a character who ‘just dresses as a woman’ while retaining his identity and physical form, Draupadi’s birth is naturalised — however what these studies do is anthropologically ‘carve out’ queer instances and characters, instead of just rescuing the regional-dialectical re-telling from the mainstream one. Not to mention, even these queer characters are seen through the Western lens and then we have debates and papers arguing just why Arjun isn’t a trans* character, without taking into account that being trans* across different cultures or that even ‘queer’ manifests in different forms here. Because of such ritual and continuous exotification, books like Devdutt Pattaniak’s ‘The Pregnant King‘ are a cause for wonder and amazement in the Western world — more like a mild case of, “I used to be Brown but now I Think!”.

Jaded's picture

Dusty Women And Our Spaces

 

Yesterday I was cleaning my grandmum’s cupboard as I do every winter on her death anniversary. We’ve given most of her things away, all that is left of this amazing woman are a few clothes, a few letters and many photographs for which I cannot be thankful enough. Every year I see these frayed pictures, and she’s always standing in the kitchen, or the veranda. Some pictures show her in room where the temple is. And a few are with me, standing beside me in the balcony, pointing at something far off in the distance. I’ve seen these pictures many times, today I couldn’t help noticing how in all of her pictures she is in one corner or a room. There are just two pictures of her outside the home space, those are when she went to her native place with my grandfather. This isn’t to say she didn’t ever travel out of the house or that she was kept confined. In fact, my grandmum has visited most of India and a few countries of the Subcontinent as well. But if you just see these photographs, you’ll see a woman always in a room, in a corridor or in the veranda; never is she idly sitting either. She’s either cooking, praying or showing something to her grand-daughters. If I were to construct her life on the basis of these photographs alone, you’d see a Lady who never set foot outside the house, was preoccupied with many household chores as one would expect from any Lady of her generation — or this one too — a life that revolves around others while she is lost in one of the other corners of the house. The truth is, there are many women who didn’t enjoy the class and social privilege my grandmum had, who spent and continue to spend decades in their homes. I don’t mean to intone that this is in any way a negative thing or just blame The Evil Patriarchy for it — how I wish it were that easy! — but rather point out how some spaces are so heavily hued with this blemish called ‘gender; till even their representative counterparts share the same inscription.

These gendered spaces aren’t unique creations of this country or any specific community, rather it is a universal disease. White Women’s writing and even movement has been heavily censored and controlled by their spouses or other male-relatives — from Christina Rossetti to Sylvia Plath — isn’t exactly a secret or a revelation. However, if these women had been Dusty, this LadyBrain thinks their disembodiment would have been much more severe — here we can place responsibility on the Empire all we want! Squee! — as the idea of a Dusty Lady being anything other than an object to be gawked at is a threat to Whiteness. Earlier this year a movie called Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts came out and I can safely say I’ve never seen so much loosely packaged neo-colonisation since AVATAR came out. Spaces, people, cities, people all open to lead the Whitewashed tone of the film into giving us a ‘well-rounded’ spiritual journey of a woman who wants to ‘discover’ herself, predictably in adequately exotic countries. For the most part, indigenous people exist in the movie to lend insights to the Poor White Woman who is simply lost, who has lost her appetite for life and simply mustappropriate other cultures ceaselessly to feel better about herself. At one point, the protagonist comes to India in search of ‘the spiritual’ — because White people come to Dusty Land for mainly two reasons leaving aside their fascination with Dusty Poor People: Either to feel closer to God in a language they don’t understand or to learnKamasutra — and quite predictably, we see the protagonist provided with a Dusty Lady (Tulsi) who makes her realise how lucky she is, to not have parents who will marry her off like cattle. Liz enjoys the kind of mobility and agency only White people can in movies and spaces like these, where she says “Perhaps you and your husband will be happy after all” in her parting scene with Tulsi. Another similar example that comes to mind is Elizabeth Russell from Lagaan — yes Dusty films can perpetuate Whiteness too. Insert appropriate gasps here — who is allowed physical as well as social mobility because of her pearly exterior, whereas Gauri is laughed at when she talks about the power Elizabeth yields. In addition, Gauri has to contend being the Third World Earth Goddess, one who soothes the male protagonist’s wounded ego, Elizabeth can openly defy her brother’s imperial policies and is rewarded in the course of the narrative. Even in many books, Dusty or otherwise, the same claustrophobic policing of gendered spaces is upheld when it comes to further erasure of hued women. As readers we’re encouraged by the narrative to sympathise with Jane Eyre while Bertha burns in the attic, to not question when Tagore’s Dusty women remain within the home sphere while his Memsahib’s coo exotically over the ‘enchanting landscape’. Even in Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines, women who identify as Western (though they may never be able to scrub off their hued epidermis) or who are Western are the one’s with any real complexity or nuances. Many Dusty Ladies are simply a litany of names, or are present in the scene just to make their lighter counterparts seem more ‘liberal’ or ‘emancipated’.

Bekhsoos's picture

Call For LGBT Papers!

Call for Papers (in English/French/Spanish)

Deadline:  December 15, 2010

LGBT/Queer Studies:

Toward Trans/national Scholarly and Activist Kinships

An International Conference

Madrid, Spain

July 3, 4, and 5, 2011

Note:  Gay Pride is July 2 in Madrid

Organized by the LGBT Studies Program & Minor

Chancellor’s Leadership Project

Syracuse University

Syracuse, NY, USA

We invite scholars and activists to join in an exploration of the methods, possibilities, challenges, and dangers of doing LGBT/queer scholarship, activism, pedagogy, and curriculum in a transnationalized and technologically mediated world. We want to address the many challenges of understanding and responding to the complexly lived lives of queer subjects, as they are shaped by local and global upheavals and opportunities. What does the ‘transnational’ mean? How are queer lives rendered visible and legible and affectively accessible? What matrices of power make some queer figures more visible than others? What new forms of scholarship and activism emerge as people, images, ideas, and capital move in rapid, uneven, and complex ways across national borders? How might practices of kinships, however tense or contingent, happen? How does, or should, the transnational turn shape our pedagogies and curricula? And how do we connect and collaborate as scholars and activists across the globe? These are messy knowledges, nuanced knowledges, framed by the local and the global in complicated and often surprising ways.

We are interested in a truly global conversation, and encourage submissions about and from all over the world. We hope too to produce some form of publication out of the conference.

Possible topics:

Representing the complexities of everyday queer lives

Working with queer archives and memory

Analyzing gay imperialism

Designing pedagogies and curricula

Sustaining scholarly relationships across borders

Engaging with queer suffering and activism across borders

Studying legal and political responses to queer suffering

Queer media and literature

Exploring queer diasporas and homonationalisms

Writing queer histories

Analyzing queer labor and immigration

Responding to the challenges of translation and access

We invite scholars and activists to submit paper proposals (no more than 500 words) or complete panels (of no more than three papers) that address questions like these from various perspectives. English is the primary language of the conference, and we will accept submissions in Spanish and French. Please submit paper proposals or panel proposals electronically <http://www.transnationalizinglgbt.com/index.php/madrid-conference/papers>

Please feel free to contact Margaret Himley (mrhimley@syr.edu> ) or Andrew London (anlondon@maxwell.syr.edu), co-directors of the LGBT Studies Program and Minor at Syracuse University, for more information or with thoughts or questions about this conference/workshop.

FilthyGrandeur's picture

Presentations of violence and gender in Twilight

 

Note: While I do not give a full plot summary, some of the analysis may touch on topics that reveal the plot.  Also, I embrace "the author is dead" perspective, since I do not know anything about the author or her motives.  This analysis is strictly an analysis of the novel in question, and is not a criticism of the author, though I do criticize the author's writing, which I consider to be two different things.

I recently finished Stephanie Meyer's vampire romance, Twilight. While it wasn't the most fantastic novel (certainly it took a lot of reading before reaching anything remotely climactic), it wasn't all that horrible. But it wasn't all that good, either. I didn't have high expectations for a romance novel as it was (admittedly I have read few, not having acquired a taste for the genre--yeah, studying literature makes you elitist. I'm no exception). This post will examine gender roles and gender presentations in the novel, as well as other problematic themes. 

arvan's picture

Call for Submissions - Literary Tattoos

THE REST IS SILENCE:

Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide

Edited by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS! We are seeking high quality photographs of your literary tattoos for an upcoming book. Send us your ink! Submissions are open to all kinds of literary tattoo work: quotations from your favorite writer, opening lines of novels, lines of verse, literary portraits or illustrations. From Shakespeare to Bukowski to The Little Prince in a Baobab tree, if it's a literary tattoo and its on your body, we want to see it.

All images must include the name (or pseudonym) of the tattoo bearer, city and state or country, and a transcription of the text itself, along with its source. For portraits or illustrations, please include the name of the author or book on which it's based. We'd also like to read a few words about the tattoo's meaning to you -- why you chose it, when you first read that poem or book, or how its meaning has evolved over time. How much (or how little) you choose to say about your tattoo is up to you, but a paragraph or two should do the trick.

Please send clear digital images of the highest print quality possible to tattoolit@gmail.com. Pixel resolutions should be at least 1500 x 1200, or a minimum 300 dpi at 5 inches wide. Text should be included in the body of the email, not as an attached document. Also be sure to include one or more pieces of contact information, so we can let you know if you're going to be in the book.

h/t to Tattoosday

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