Archive for the ‘self-organizing’ Category

The Library of Performing Rights expresses a radical politics in both space and method. The physical space of the Study Room within which an unprecedented archive of performance and live art has bodied forth different collective assemblages, different kinds of expression of the performance of rights (the right to rights, the right to expression, the right to solidarity, the right to art…the Right to Performance?)

In terms of method, as a concept or approach to research and practice, rather than a distinct collection, the Library of Performing Rights is nothing less than an affective experimentation in practices of archiving live art, and an organisational ethics of becoming collective. “It is available as a place of action, a place of knowledge exchange, a repository of experience, and a context that others can use to support and advance their own work both at LADA and elsewhere.” This method, in other words, repeats with innumerable differences the practice of ‘performance’ and the practice of ‘human rights.’

Is there a Right to Performance? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. But a right to Performance would find another vector in the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political. This Right to Performance would constitute a kind of parallel project of the LofPR: a right to mark, through the intuited, stylised or spontaneous or habituated actions of the bod, a certain right to resist. Is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and the older Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The resources of the study room are the proper conditions for such a critical synthesis.

But can we even believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through the pornography of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates; that these acts of authenticating pain are precursors for violent imperialist interventions the world over is also something we now know all too painfully.

Is there something (un)Timely in the Library of Performing Rights? Something that is necessary just now, just in this way, in this expression of an urgent Yes! And an insistent, No! …but something that runs counter to our time, against it, and in solidarity with, for the benefit of a time to come? A vector of an indiscernible becoming In the performance of any right whatsoever, and in the right to performance first and foremost? Rather, what Aram’s moving piece “The Work of a Mother” shows is that the will to the Universal, which is what Rights discourse is always based in, is at best a heuristic, a stepping stone, toward another practice. This Other practice would work at the intersections of solidarities as her ethical and aesthetic practice suggests.

The Library of Performing Rights then would perhaps be another way into the construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of struggle. If contemporary performance studies after Foucault and Agamben, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough, has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are lived in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of those who find themselves misfits, neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, post-de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this image of resistance, and so then diagram the ethical system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

This explicit marking of systems of complicity, turning the tools of domination into the conditions of a repurposed emancipation, seems to my mind missing from a lot of contemporary identity work in the arts. This is an important place to begin a conversation. I have done fieldwork in a place called Chor Bazaar, where Dalit men expose their unprotected hands to harsh chemicals in the process of “stressing” jeans down to a murderous chic–all to be exported to the Global north. Thus, part of the system of complicity (as is noted in Aram’s Work of a Mother), running through the practices of the garment industry in California, Chicago and Mumbai links race, gender, and labour exploitation to an international supply chain of disposable clothing the world over.

So how does the The Official Unofficial Voting Station that Aram Han Sifuentes has created relate to what I have been constructing in terms of the Right to Performance, and the Performance of Rights?

The installation is itself a performance of a Right desired and denied–the right to vote and/or the right to (self)representation. In its performative repetition of the tragedy of contemporary Fortress Europe/Trumpeted (un)democracy, the Official Unofficial Voting Station stages in a kind of farcical and critical way the paradoxical and agonistic relation of organisations of resistance (e.g. LADA, independent arts practices, radical activist assemblages) to institutions that would grant access to or deny a Right to Performance. As I suggested above, for me what remains ethically crucial in performance practices that take rights as method and target is that the relations of complicity be explicitly marked; the correlation, even syllogism among rights, performance, and the individualised property-owning citizen of the capitalist nation-state. Thus, when we appeal to the language of rights especially in radical contexts such as LADA, the paradox of the ground, or guarantor of rights becomes legible: is it the commons or the bourgeois nation-state that grounds a radical assertion of rights, eg the Right to the City, to the World or even to Performance? In heterogeneous live art practices, such as the Official Unofficial Voting Station, the role of the white capitalist state becomes (re)markable in ecologies of both universal rights and singular performances.

The recent refugee “crisis” affecting nation-states across Europe has a history rooted in Imperialism + UN Human Rights + Racism + Islamophobia + neoliberalism. Rights discourse, in this regard, is part of the problem, but not necessarily part of its solution. In resonance, Nevins shifts the contemporary conversations on rights and justice by arguing for a “Right to the World” (2017) which would expand rights both as entitlements and sites of struggle: “the right to the world is particularly concerned with freedom of mobility across global space and with a just, sustainable share of the planet’s resources for all” (2017: 1351). While acknowledging that many heroic acts of solidarity and mercy have been performed across Europe daily by white Europeans, Nevins also insists that “the thousands of migrant deaths on Europe’s periphery in recent years—among other manifestations of violence—suggest that there is a crisis of a different nature that is paramount: not what Europe is experiencing, but, among other things, what the migrants have had to endure in trying to reach and pass through the continent. As reports, news articles and media images have made clear, the upsurge in irregular migration both manifests and has resulted in great amounts of human suffering among those fleeing their homelands…the dominant response on the part of the European Union, national elites, and the West and prosperous countries broadly, has defaulted to the bounded, exclusionary logic of nation-states via a strengthening of the boundary and immigration policing apparatus….Regardless, migrants continue to move and to challenge the putative right of nation-states to regulate their boundaries and the human content (in terms of non-citizens or “foreigners”) of the territories they claim. And in a world of growing inequality, persistent violence (of multiple sorts), and increasing ecological instability, there is little doubt that migration by those living on the global margins of stability and wellbeing will continue to attempt to move, climate and environmental refugees being one example” (Joseph Nevins, (2017) The Right to the World, Antipode Vol. 49 No. 5 2017 ISSN 0066-4812, pp. 1349–1367, 1350)

For Nevins, and many others, there is something fundamentally wrong if one embraces human rights. “After all, given high levels of physical, direct violence, environmental depri- vation, and profound socio-economic insecurity that plague many countries (violence, deprivation and instability in which the world’s most powerful nation- states are often implicated), the realization of human rights often requires the ability to go to spaces where the necessary resources are located. These sorts of inequal- ities and restrictions likely compelled Hannah Arendt to speak of the “right to have rights”. If having human rights is part of being human, denying people freedom of movement and residence—and thus the effective ability to access a host of other rights—is to essentially deny their humanity…” Similar arguments have been made from the perspective of postcolonial struggles and queer homonormativity. This right to have rights is reflected in the multiplicity of causes presented to Aram when she would ask her parents why they emigrated from Korea to the United States:

Their ambivalent answers, tinged with both sadness and hope, suggest to me the many ways in which human rights have become a set of predominantly nation-centric practices and discourses that work to “discipline human bodies in ways that contain them within national territories” (Nevins, 2017: 1353-1354).

Aram’s work links specific struggles through a practice of transnational, intersectional, and artistic solidarity. Her work explicitly politicises by relating sites that would otherwise remain mere monads, economic anamolies for a post liberal capitalism that can write these subaltern and postcolonial sites of struggle off as fodder for corporate social responsibility initiatives and neoliberalism’s externalities. Her work speaks to those who have not yet arrived, to those who are outside, those who may need or would like the right to move to “the city of Universal Rights”. In other words, her work allows us to understand the politics of mobility between place through a notion of place as processual, heterogeneous, and unbounded in that a place acts upon, and is acted upon by, other places (Levins, 2017: 1356).

In,

The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t

Aram notes that there are “91 million people in the United States and its territories who cannot legally vote. This includes: youth under 18, non-citizens, incarcerated, ex-felons, residents of US territories, and people without state IDs. This means that 1 in every 3 people cannot legally vote. 1 in 10 people 18 years old and over cannot legally vote.” This is important from the perspective of the Right to Performance that I argued for above: even prior to the right to vote, political expression is itself and must itself be performed.

As Aram’s Official Unofficial Voting Stations make clear, this performance of the right to vote is especially ironic from the perspective of the undocumented, the discontented and the disenfranchised. No easy Universalism here: “Each station is different. They range from taking ballots into prisons to museum installations to performative events.”

In a Mother’s Work, Aram writes movingly, “My mother and I both sew as a profession but our worlds are vastly different. I constantly question our differences: What is the difference from an artist who sews to reference immigrant labor versus an immigrant laborer who sews as work? I think a lot about our differences in relation to time, economy, access, agency, and the value of our work and labor…Grace Kwungwon Hong in her book The Ruptures of American Capital: Women of Color Feminism and The Culture of Immigrant Labor, breaks down the episteme of domestic space and women’s work as privileged white spaces that are exclusionary spaces, particularly for immigrant women of color. She starts the conversation with the question of who has access to privatized domesticity and who are these possessive individuals? How can we broadly apply concepts of this fantasized domesticity when women of color historically do not have access to private property and have been dispossessed? Or when women like my mother, are absent from the home because she is working twelve plus hour days, and when she is home, she’s sewing other people’s clothing? How does the notion of women’s work apply to my mother when domestic space is built upon it being a private space outside of the surveillance of capitalism, when work for capital and industry enters, contaminates, and infects the home? When the entire family that lives in this supposedly private space has to also participate in sewing other people’s clothing to make money?” In “A Mother’s Work” Aram touches upon what I take to be one of the central projects of both feminism and Marxism: the critique and practical overthrow of contemporary regimes of social reproduction in vastly different but directly or indirectly linked contexts; she shows that the twined circuits of capitalist logistics and ideologies of white supremacy necessitated that women of color literally and creatively develop ‘hacking ecologies’ of social reproduction that were by and large outside of capitalist social relations. There is a lot to say about this, and many many feminist and postcolonial scholars have unpacked the politics and the experimented with the method of this praxis of a postcapitalist social reproduction. I will instead leave you with an ambivalent but insistent image:

“We’d sit in the living room after dinner and watch TV as my mom would work on her alterations. Spending time with my mother meant sitting and sewing with her, so we would all contribute by ripping seams, ripping out bad zippers, sewing on buttons, and mending rips and holes of other people’s clothes. This is where I learned to sew. And it is here, from the beginning, where sewing became political for me and linked to my identity. And I will always see sewing from this place, inside this living room, sewing with my family to make a living as immigrants in this country.”

What Right is being Performed even in its denial? What performance would actualise this right?

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Why I am not a Brahmin. A dialogue.

 

Q. [Krodhit svar mein:] Why is it that you think it matters that you are not a Brahmin? The Brahmins certainly are not trying to claim you! And by saying that all you do is hurt the sentiments of one, quite class stratified community? You do nothing to caste Hinduism and its many oppressions through such a meaningless declaration.

 

A. [Garv ke sath:] I am not a Brahmin, I will say it again, I am not a Brahmin. I am a mixed caste, hybrid, anomaly born of the desire to overthrow Brahminism in all its forms.

 

Q. That’s a lot of ideological posturing! What does Dalit emancipation matter to you—you who grew up so privileged in your gender conformity?

 

A. Unlearning caste and heterosexist privilege through caste suicide: these are some of the processes of total emancipation.

 

Q. Caste suicide? Kya okard loge? [What will you uproot?] The caste question is secondary to the class question, don’t you know that yet?

 

A. All that is solid has been okarofied. It’s the end of the world, don’t you know that yet? It’s the end of the world, don’t you know that yet? There is a civil war that has been burning, sometimes raging across centuries in different forms, and with different effects, within and against different ecologies of what Ambedkar called custom, and for the benefit of what Du Bois argued was a matter of ‘real’ revolutionary change, for the benefit of a time to come. It is a caste, racial, and class war; its domain is psychic, affective, organisational, and social reproductive.

Here’s Du Bois at the Rosenwald Conference in 1933:

 

[T]he matter of greatest import is that instead of our facing today a stable world, moving at a uniform rate of progress toward well-defined goals, we are facing revolution. I trust you will not be as scared by this word as you were Thursday [Du Bois was referring to the audience’s reaction to a speech by Dr. Broadus Mitchell of Johns Hopkins University]. I am not discussing a coming revolution, I am trying to impress the fact upon you that you are already in the midst of a revolution; you are already in the midst of war; that there has been no war of modern times that has taken so great a sacrifice of human life and human spirit as the extraordinary period through which we are passing today. Some people envisage revolution chiefly as a matter of blood and guns a

 

nd the more visible methods of force. But that, after all, is merely the temporary and outward manifestation. Real revolution is within. That comes before or after the explosion—is a matter of long suffering and deprivation, the death of courage and the bitter triumph of despair. This is the inevitable prelude to decisive and enormous change, and that is the thing that is on us now. We are not called upon then to discuss whether we want revolution or not. We have got it. Our problem is how we are coming out of it. Qtd. and annotated by Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism, pp. 234-35.

Q. What of the question of revolutionary unity?

 

A. No unity without solidarity and no solidarity without radical equality. All emancipatory unity is more and less than itself.

 

 

Q. That’s sheer mystification, surely…

 

A. First, don’t call me Shirley. [Q: Groans.] Second, to continue: Because a preindividual Solidarity is first, all revolutionary subjects mobilized through the multitude constituting a free, insurrectionary, processual democracy assembled through a non-coinciding resonant unity, sometimes a Party and sometimes just a party, an emancipatory transindividuation, or what Deleuze and Guattari called a revolutionary becoming.

 

 

[…the conversation had gone on along this way for some time. Back and forth, fort/da, thesis/antithesis, seemingly locked in an abyssal blah blah. These conversations, our frank and open discussions, they made me sick and nervous, I had to eat pickles to get through them. And drink, how much we drank ya? S/he thought: All of It revolves around the complexities of how suvarna domination and non-suvarna ecologies co-exist in locked but graded antagonisms, hatreds, degradations, violences, intersections of emancipatory and caste power, and processes of expropriation and value capture, synthesising the different kinds of debilitations necessary for caste, gender, and racial inequality to reproduce itself. But the night was wearing on. We had both had our large and small packs, there was just time for ‘one for the road…’…Captain Jack will get us through this seemingly endless night…]

 

Q. [Refreshed and relentless:] Why do you insist that identity and authenticity are not crucial for non-suvarna aesthetics (is there even such a thing? Its like saying subaltern culture? What is THE culture of the non-elite? Surely, its multiple, internally and always divided from itself…identity is only the minimal degree of difference–Gabriel Tarde)… and what of the potential of identity politics for radical emancipation itself and more generally? Why this obsessive focus on technology and the distinction between intellectual and manual labor in Brahmanical life? Why this naïve negation [ahem] of mediation?

 

A. The white boys will always berate you with mediation, just like the Brahmins for not being Indian enough. But that doesn’t mean they can’t know how resonances become. What does Dalit and feminist emancipation in India have to do with technogenesis, that is, a nonlinear co-creation of becoming between material life and social practice, volatile bodies and vibrant matter? This is especially relevant in thinking through the material history of Dalit exceptionalisation and social reproduction: tools, the making of tools, the relegation to tool use, and the exclusion from certain other tool milieus (those associated with ritual and caste purity), the extemporaneous, necessary, and virtuosic stylization of tool-use: technology has been both a poison and a certain cure in Dalit history. It is the materialist tendencies of Dalit studies today that bring out this question of emancipatory technogenesis as a radical ecologism, this critique of and ontological overcoming of the singularly oppressive formation in India of the radical separation between manual and intellectual labor. As always, the question turns on habit and the customs that naturalize and mystify it. A politics beyond mediation is heralded in and indeed practiced throughout this long history of Dalit emancipation, of Black emancipation, even the emancipation of the body. This is Aishwarya Kumar on Ambedkar:

 

…he frequently replaces “fraternity” [solidarity??] with maitri (“friendship” or “fellowship”) in his final writings and, in an All India Radio Broadcast in 1954, equates fraternal sharing (which included the sharing of belief ) with religion itself. But traces of this shift are already evident in Annihilation of Caste. The fearless claim for a politics without territory or ground is already present in that lecture. There is no equality, he argues, without the sharing of freedom (and vice versa), no immortality of politics without a collective respect for the immeasurable singularity of every creature’s mortality. The irrefutable truth of impermanence alone lends politics its immortal value. The moral sovereignty of democracy over all other political forms and activities (or at least, the lack of adequate alternatives that might take its place) stems only from its promise to establish the everyday, even mundane, realm of “communicated experience” as the ethical and political ground of existence. In such a realm, argues Ambedkar, the social exists “by communication, indeed in communication,” and one’s failure is considered as justly sharable with others as one’s success. In true democracy, then, the sovereignty of the self is always mediated by one’s “reverence” toward the neighbor. Any other mediation of the multitude’s action by representatives, agents, priests, philosopher-kings, or demagogues of class war, compromises the spiritual sovereignty and task of the revolutionary subject. There was something profoundly insurrectionary and anarchic in this conception of the political. For here, the political subject came into existence only through incandescent acts of force and martyrdom, through its immeasurable freedom to posit a republic unmarked by the logic of transcendence. (138)

 

 

Inspired by Ambedkar, Dalit movements in postcolonial India have questioned the preformed categories of political theory: individual and society, caste and state, force and morality. A nonlinear counter-memory of these and other emancipatory movements would develop revolutionary diagrams of the preindvidual processes constituting both categories of thought and material reality.

 

Q. This Western High Theory you use–it is so foreign to India. Here, don’t you see, the struggles are about 2019, and only a foriegner like you wouldn’t understand that!

 

A. Spoken like a true authentikit curator.  I understand India by trying to invent a political philosophy that discovers as it composes. Let’s talk movement politics. The Dalit movements in the 20th century—not only under the ostensible, if rather lacklustre organizational leadership of Ambedkar—developed transversal solidarities. And transversal to this context of Dalit emancipation, the question of mediation takes on a charge different from that which it operates in Hegel’s negative dialectic. But more on Hegel another time… Let’s return to Ambedkar at Mahad, Aishwarya Kumar writes:

 

“I may seem hard on Manu,” [Ambedkar] concedes, “but I am sure my force is not strong enough to kill his ghost.” This affinity for force and forcing— and the invocation of ghosts and specters—is not merely semantic or rhetorical. Its sources are Shakespearean, but for that reason alone its logic cannot be seen to be any less concerned with Ambedkar’s politics and ethics than it clearly is with his literary and poetic sensibilities. Quite to the contrary, force was an irrevocable constituent of Ambedkar’s emerging ethics. In 1927, four years after his return from London, he publicly burned at a Satyagraha Conference in Mahad, a town just over a hundred miles south of Bombay, a copy of the Manusmriti. The ghost was now being exorcized by fire in classic satyagrahic fashion. “The bonfire of Manusmriti,” Ambedkar recalled, “was a very cautious and drastic step . . . taken with a view to forcing the attention of caste Hindus. If you do not knock at the door, none opens it. It is not that all parts of Manusmriti are condemnable. . . . We made a bonfire of it because we view it as symbol of injustice . . . because of its teachings we have been ground down under despicable poverty, and so we made the dash, staked all, took our lives in our hands and performed the deed.” (131)

 

Q: You see there is this minimal degree of mediation even here in this ‘event that exceeds Ambekdar’s own actualization’ as you might put it—mediation even if only as a kind of diffuse cultural genealogy of social action. Identity itself is always mediated by the social…

A: Identity has reality effects, it shapes what we think is possible. But it doesn’t really help us to compose with potentialities in mind. All of life’s plasticity makes it infinitely spongy, and if understood through an ethics of joy, infinitely giddy. Identity is also a habit of thought. Identity, Gabriel Tarde once said, is the minimal degree of difference. You just said that? It’s Tarde right? Yes, that same Gabriel Tarde that Ambedkar studied and wrote about. Tarde and Ambedkar: a Dalit monadology? It doesn’t matter, what matters are those hiccups in identity, when a sensory motor habituation goes caput for a moment or forever, when things break down or phase transition, that’s when identities are in flux. The tendencies, parameters of change, and capacities of identities always suggest a preindividual phase space that is better characterised as a non-coinciding resonant unity for singular and collective ontogenesis. Revolutionary ecologies of sensation.

 

Muriel Combes, in her brilliant study, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual puts it in this way:

 

Being “does not possess unity of identity which is that of the stable state in which no transformation is possible: being possesses transductive unity” (IG, 29; IL, 31). That being is more-than-unity does not mean that there is never any unity: rather, it means that being one occurs within being, and must be understood as a relative store of the “spacing out of being,” of its capacity for dephasing. We will call this mode of unity of being, across its diverse phases and multiple individuations, transduction. This is Simon- don’s second gesture. It consists in elaborating this unique notion of transduction, which results in a specific method and ultimately in an entirely new way of envisioning the mode of relation obtaining between thought and being…. (p. 6)

 

Q: There is an ontotheology behind this…pure ideology as they used to say.

A: No, there is an ontogenesis in the thought of this…

 

Transduction is first defined as the operation whereby a domain undergoes information—in the sense that Simondon gives to this term, which we have discussed in the example of molding a brick: “By transduction, we mean a physical, biological, mental, or social operation, through which an activity propagates from point to point within a domain, while grounding this propagation in the structuration of the domain, which is operated from place to place: each region of the constituted structure serves as a principle of constitution for the next region” (IG, 30; IL, 32). The clearest image of this operation, according to Simondon, is that of the crystal that, from a very small seed, grows in all directions within its aqueous solution, wherein “each molecular layer already constituted serves as a structuring base for the layer in the process of forming” (IG, 31; IL, 33). (Coombes, Simondon, pg. 6)

 

In his forward to Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Reda Bensmaia relates this to the context of the politics of Kafka’s writing–illuminating as well for a critical consideration of the politics of something like a Dalit aesthetics: “But rather than ascending to some singular—transcendent—figure or signifier, it is a matter of defining a space, a metastable force that does not refer to a subject but designates a vection, a movement of translation that belongs to preindividual forces. These forces seem to have already been traversed by an immemorial forgetfulness that makes it impossible to reduce the saying to the said and that refers to an experience for which only a collective enunciation can take responsibility…” (xii).

 

With neuromarketing we see how these continuous multiplicities (preindividual fields of multiphased potentialities) are immense and immeasurable, but susceptible to control. This phase space is both aesthetic and ethical—there is no distinction between the two.

 

Q: [Aside: I’ve got him soliloquising, time to pour us another round…] Go on, I’m listening.

 

A: [Watchful, but absent minded svar mein…] This won’t do, this won’t do at all. [Withdraws his glass.] Are non-suvarna peoples freer today that in Ambekdar’s time? This is impossible to say categorically because of the vast class and gender power differences within non-suvarna communities, but there are indications across India that Brahmanical caste hierarchies are as strong today as they ever were, and worse: if seen in linked contexts with the increasing precarity, indebtedness, and extractionism of neoliberal India (Mazzadra, 2014, 2018) which exacerbated already existing hierarchies and tendencies of suvarna accumulation and corporate-focused privatization, we can say that there has been a ramification and intensification of caste prejudice and discriminatory organisational practices. If we take the question of authenticity to be central or most important—as in: are you an Authentic Dalit/Feminist/Queer/Marxist/Indian/Hindu—then the problem of solidarity must be seen as central to any articulation of an emancipatory authenticity or an authentic emancipation. No one is free unless and until we are all free. The individuation of one ecology is bound up with the emancipatory ontogenesis of many others, indeed of all others…

 

Q. [With a rising screech like Arnab Goswami, in prime bullying mode:] This is all well and good, but you haven’t gotten to the crux of the problem, you seem to be skirting the real issue: what is the nature of politics to you? How is a radical and effective politics possible without an insistence on mediation: we want state power, don’t we? We need a revolutionary vanguard for that, don’t you see?

 

A. Why do you bring in the question of mediation, its still too early in the processes we are discussing. Think of Ambedkar, within and against Gandhi’s satyagraha ethics, burning the Manu Smirti at Mahad. How did that event exceed its own actualization, what in other words did that event actually do? It brought the question of power and capacity together for millions of Dalit and non-suvarna peoples in showing the poison at the origins of custom. What power do ‘we’ want? Who is this we? Where? Which power? Why this one and not that one? What is power—the vote, a voice, freedom, but also capacity, affect, affordance, force, movement—after Ambedkar, after his elaboration throughout his works of a profoundly radical concept of political force… Force for Ambedkar and Gandhi was radically embodied; for Gandhi in the service of the simple virtues of a romanticized and mythologized Man of God –harijan—the force of truth and the force of justice came together only after his decisive encounter with Ambedkar’s political ecology. But Ambedkar was a far more complex thinker than Gandhi; he thought of power in its material gradients (the famous thesis of the gradients of Brahminical power), and practiced emancipatory power as insurgent experiments in radical equality.

 

Aishwarya Kumar writes movingly:

 

Custom is not the antithesis of positive law; it is simply that which comes before the law. It is, Ambedkar argues in Annihilation of Caste, the ontological foundation of all authority. For custom, whose ubiquity gives it the appearance of an innocuous (and even civic) restraint, is in essence a regime of injunctions in which law takes its most surreptitious, enduring, and compelling form. Custom, he argues in a classically republican vein, is violence without the police, domination without interference. Custom gives the sovereign’s wish the form of voluntary acquiescence; in truth, it is voluntary servitude maintained by the invisible threat of ostracism and (if need be) police power. In a discussion of the pernicious longevity of the Manusmriti or the “Dharma of Manu [ancient India’s most significant lawgiver],” Ambedkar thus makes a subtle distinction between custom and law, between moral norm and police power. They are, he says, heterogeneous but inseparable. “Custom is no small a thing as compared to Law. It is true that law is enforced by the state through its police power; custom, unless it is valid is not. But in practice this difference is of no consequence. Custom is enforced by people far more effectively than law is by the state. This is because the compelling force of an organized people is far greater than the compelling force of the state.” Here, “the people” (in its organized, juridical sense) is a collective that acts surreptitiously, beneath and beside the state, without a display of force. And in this seeming nonforce of the juridical domain of everyday life are hidden the most visceral, intimate, and measured operations of law over life. Custom, its unsaid obligations and injunctions (dharma), is that through which law passes into life and life becomes inseparable from the law. Ordinary ways and acts of being human are thus made to pass through a maze of punitive ordinances. Touching, the sensory and most radiant core of humanity, the source of its most mundane feelings and sympathies, its greatest gift, is circumscribed within norms of intimacy and distance, approachability and unapproachability, its ethics and humanity sequestered from the shared spaces of civic and municipal life and put under the invisible (but always threatening and compelling) watch of police power. One henceforth touches the other only in the threatening shadows of the law. In fact, writes Ambedkar in a tragic fragment of Waiting for a Visa, the “untouchable” and the Hindu are touched constantly, even (and especially) at death, albeit not by each other but by the law alone. The custom of “not touching,” the norm of keeping distance, thus becomes sovereign among all Indic injunctions, an ironic marker of Hindu etiquette and civility (sadachar), at once mystical like the law and immeasurable like suffering. No God is sovereign enough to override this injunction, no mathematics precise enough to register this catastrophe. (118)

 

You know of course that Ambedkar radicalized Bergson? Ontologized him in a certain (post)colonial theatre of individuation…

 

Q: Solipsisms and blusterings, if not outright blunderings! Ambedkar himself—don’t you know this?—he acknowledged the mystical tendencies of Bergsonian thought. But invoking Ambedkar’s colonial-modernist intellectual genealogy doesn’t get us anywhere. And don’t turn him into a postcolonial critic a la Spivak avant la lettre! At that time, everyone who was thinking was reading Bergson, getting fired by his naive vitalism—–it made it big in SoCal, in fact its apotheosis was the mysticism of the California hippies for whom intuitive self-actualisation became overconsumption. See Adam Curtis’s Century of the Self… In fact, that’s where you should turn to for the great theorist of the 20th century, not Bergson or Heidegger but Edward Bernays, nephew of Frued and the person who came up with branding. We should think about how Ambedkar and Dalit emancipation itself has become a social justice brand, competing with Modi’s Svachch Anand brand…

 

 

A: Certainly, yes. But the question of what kinds of resonances Ambedkar found and with which ones he [but already he was part multitude] was able to compose a constituent power, the complex ways that his political theology of emancipation negotiated the romantic tradition of European thought–this is what is decisive, what made a difference both in the history of India and in the development of emancipatory thought and practice. But you are right: let’s return to the problem at hand: Why am I not a Hindu, sorry a Brahman. Hinduism is India’s First Brand—see the adds for Patanjali (pure, organic, Ayurvedic) products…First…

 

Q: Actually, I think the question has now become….

 

A: …first, there is no Hinduism beyond Brahminism, that’s why Kancha Illaiah’s thesis in Why I am not a Hindu continues to have radical implications for how we understand the forces that is re-organizing caste and class exploitation in India today. Why is there no Hinduism beyond Brahminism? All the terms—euphemisms, to me—that Gandhi came up with (sometimes collectively) for Hinduism were merely ideological mystifications of the primary role of purity in Brahminism. And isn’t this critique glaringly missing in Tharoor’s Why I am a Hindu? It is this organizing tendency toward purity—linked to the one-drop rule of racial purity in the USA not by simple analogy or sameness of the material conditions of struggle, but through a radical and materialist genealogy of social purity in solidarity with both Black and Dalit emancipatory queerontogenesis.

But purity has several aspects today in caste politics and globalized consumerism that overlap and intersect. What are these aspects? Let us return to a simplified notion of purity. Purity is tied to the health of the body (yes that same body-metaphor of Manusmirti infamy). To expel and keep external ‘impurities’ or elements and tendencies that decompose the body would a practice of a kind of [narrow] ecologism. It is this seemingly ideological neutral discursive formation that is the master sign of India’s New BrahmanismTM: The Ayurveda Man.

 

[Long pause, deathly silence, a gap in relating wherein the impossibility of ‘full’ communication becomes awkwardly obvious. Reeling in the years of feeling foreign…]

 

Q. [Sighing, sipping, wearyingly:] You have missed your second point.

 

A: [Unperturbed, and indefatigable:] …my second point—and this may seem contradictory—is that there is no one Hinduism. Thus, Brahminism becomes a capture-extraction-enclosure regime as protean as capital…the Sufi inspired Protestant Hinduism of the Bhakti tradition so important to the subsequent development of the force of Dalit theology, expresses a broader point: from Sikhism, to Jainism, to Bhaktism, to Buddhism these movements multiply the spiritual sources of purity itself (it is immediately ruptured beyond the enclosure of Brahminical mediation) but also produce ethical diagrams for organising the material resources for protest, insurrection, revolt, and refusal, bringing a crisis of difference (in practice, in processes, in ecologies of sensation) to the purity of Brahmanism. These emancipatory mobilizations were thus in their own ways both epistemological counter-memories and ontological emancipatory practices. For Ambedkar as well, the concept-force of purity was decisive in his radical ‘historiography of force’ (Kumar’s felicitous phrase) in the development of Brahminical domination. So then no Hinduism without Brahminism, but no unified Brahminism without the proliferation of innumerable sites of difference, refusal, and revolt. See the work of Sharad Patil…

 

Q: And so this is why you are not a Hindu? Because Hinduism is Brahminism (invented purity) and Brahminism is a violent unity?

 

[It was almost dusk, an owl hooted outside, as if in waiting.]

 

A. [Startled, as if brought back to attention:] I’m no Minerva, but yes we could say that. Pour another shall we? I was watching an episode of Shat up ya Kunal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVWSgFyaid0&t=1227s) in which Kunal interviews an activist from JNU, Shehla Rashid, and Dalit activist and recently elected Independent MLA representing Vadgam in Gujurat, Jignesh Mevani. Rashid notes we are fighting over crumbs, but still we are fighting over 8000 seats at JNU that the state has a legal responsibility to administer as partly reserved. Having worked in the corporate sector, she sharply observes there is of course no reservations in the corporate sector. Corporates want people with a good personality, by which they mean good English speaking, non-famished bodies. Bodies of privilege. Mevani argues that we need an alternative politics, which will emerge from the people’s movement. Modi comes with karma yogi, he says that street sweepers forcibly working in the gutters get spiritual happiness [anand] from their work. [This is a paraphrase:] “Why doesn’t he come down to the gutter himself and get some spiritual happiness? Our fundamental problem is Brahminical mindset, not Brahmins. It is the caste system that is our problem. The caste system is against the very idea of merit…” This doesn’t stop Brahminical forces from claiming a kind of reservation, elsewhere; Rashid point out that the right wing VHP is stopping the movement to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK by claiming multicultural protections…The two make strong cases against the caste system, but both are wary of how always Brahminism always obscures its own privilege by claiming victimage.

 

The interview poses another question, obliquely, however. When Mevani says why doesn’t Modi come down in the gutter and get him some happy vibes, he precedes that by asking why doesn’t the suvarna state develop technology to ‘humanize’ this demeaning work? So the question of technogenesis and emancipatory ontogenesis in radical anti-caste and feminist politics is linked, and in complex ways. The problem will still remain crucially about the limits and possibilities of human ecologies embedded in emancipatory, but not entirely human ontogenesis across life, matter, and force. The hand, Gandhi’s fetish, became a symbol of ‘honest work’ a celebration of the virtues of simplicity and of use vale (as opposed to the artificial commodities of exchange capitalism—he takes this directly from Ruskin’s Unto this Last!)—the Hand and its intensive sensibility of touch or hapticity is also a reminder of the relegation of certain populations, non-suvarna, ‘broken peoples’ to all kinds of ‘impure’ and hereditary servitude (See Gopal Guru, Patil, Ambedkar, Omvedt), and thus the ritual performance of the caste labor of social reproduction becomes a direct means of reproducing Dalit untouchability, forever sacred and impure. In fact, it is the Dalits of India who invented both aesthetics and technogenesis, in Dalit movements the two are synthesized. Jugaad practices throughout Dalit ecologies synthesize this mixed history of technology and ethics in a non-emancipatory ontogenesis. I say non-emancipatory because there is nothing that wills a free and equal commons in jugaad practice; the will of jugaad is certainly fugitive and extra-legal, but seeking a pure dynamism of connectivity…

 

Q. I must stop you here…

 

A. Why is it getting late?

 

 

 

What is the power of the monstrous? Where does it get this power? Jacques Derrida, who in his early work associated the future as such with a certain monstrosity (cf Derrida’s preface to Of Grammatology), said in an interview:

A monster may be obviously a composite figure of heterogenous organisms that are grafted onto each other. This graft, this hybridization, this composition that puts heterogeneous bodies together may be called a monster. This in fact happens in certain kinds of writing. At that moment, monstrosity may reveal or make one aware of what the norm is and when this norm has a history–which is the case with discursive norms, philosophical norms, socio-cultural norms, they have a history–any appearance of monstrosity in this domain allows an analysis of the history of the norms. But to do that, one must conduct not only a theoretical analysis, one must produce what in fact looks like a discursive monster so that the analysis will be a practical effect, so that people will be forced to become aware of the history of normality. But a monster is not just that, it is not just this chimerical figure in some way that grafts one animal onto another, one living being onto another. A monster is always alive, let us not forget. Monsters are living beings. This monster is also that which appears for the first time, and consequently, is not yet recognized. A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely, the composition or hybridization of already known species. Simply, it shows itself–that is what the word monster means–it shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no anticipation had prepared one to identify this figure. . . . But as soon as one perceives a monster in a monster, one begins to domesticate it, one begins, because of the `as such’–it is a monster as monster–to compare it to the norms to analyze it, consequently to master whatever could be terrifying in this figure of the monster. And the movement of accustoming oneself, but also of legitimation and, consequently, of normalization, has already begun. However monstrous events or texts may be, from the moment they enter into culture, the movement of acculturation, precisely, of domestication, of normalization has already begun. . . . This is the movement of culture. Texts and discourses that provoke at the outset reactions of rejection, that are denounced precisely as anomalies or monstrosities are often texts that, before being in turn appropriated, assimilated, acculturated, transform the nature of the field of reception, transform the nature of social and cultural experience, historical experience. All history has shown that each time an event has been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible, that is, of a certain monstrosity” (Derrida, Points 385-87)

There are some key tools for the method of ontogenesis in Derrida’s words. (more…)