Avinash Mishra: A Governing Tone of Stoic Regression

On April 25, 2016 by admin

avi

HUG
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जो अकेला है
उसे और डर दीजिए

जो प्रतिबद्ध है
उसे और उदासीनता दीजिए

जो भूखा है
उसे और नारे दीजिए

जो सताया हुआ है
उसे और अवसाद दीजिए

जो हत्यारा है
उसे और समर्थन दीजिए

जो छीन सकता है
उसे और ताकत दीजिए

जो पिछड़ा है
उसे और आरक्षण दीजिए

To the solitary

Give more fear

To the committed

Give more nonchalance

To the hungry

Give more slogans

To the afflicted

Give more ennui

To the killer

Give more reinforcement

To the marauder

Give more muscle

To the backward

Give more reservation

 

Such eloquence is like gold dust shining beneath a silvery eddying river.But a most perilous eloquence.Here is a transitional move in contemporary Hindi poetry. In the times of shrill and settled regimens of social polarization, a serrated, reckless bit of aristocratic dissociation; a proud distancing that has escalating regression inbuilt into its mood and structure.

What is the aesthetic problematique here? What relations of forces joust? What concealed morality is violently unearthed by effecting a satirical reversal at the end?

The primordial elements in music are balefully unconcerned about human predilections. The forces of willed nature hover around: fear and indifference, pleadings and a cultivation of ennui, creaturely cruelty is soaked in the unleashing of raw power. And then a conceptual chiasmus, an intrusion of the social by naming and satirizing the one that cannot be touched in progressive circles: affirmative action and social reservation. Or is it that this ironical reversal is already thought out before the very structure of the poem is laid bare? Can social satire withstand the weight of a vital aesthetic principle? Is the force and power of a new poetic principle arriving with a terrible regressive potential—a reminder of the banality and treachery done to art in the name of social commitment in Hindi poetry writing since the 1970s, which can only be purged so violently? Who decides the limits of poetic expression? The wise, committed masters keep a leash on what can be said and what must be left untouched. And the lid is blown away by such violent satire. We are stunned by the starkness of the move.

There is no metaphysical comfort in acts and conducts but rather a logical progression to the limits of all that is intrinsic and primordial.


Movement I—Fear and Aloofness:

जो अकेला है
उसे और डर दीजिए

जो प्रतिबद्ध है
उसे और उदासीनता दीजिए

The vision is unforgiving and hence it arrives with a possibility of transfiguring art. All pathological discharge—dismay and dread, fear and trepidation—must be thrown to the wind. A heroic egoism is at play here.By acknowledging fear as a primary motivating force man usually rationalizes his life. He takes the first step towards security. Which is another name for society.

But primal forms of fear—a hunch that life is not worth living or the fear of eventual obliteration—such stirrings could elicit other emotions.If one does not come to a contractual transaction with fear, there are only two options: either give oneself willfully and masochistically to fear’s demands. Or transcend it by summoning a self conscious subjective force—“Pour on. I will endure” as Lear declared to the invading storm. Yes, testing forms of courage must be inundated with the pelting ways of pitiless fear.That is the only route by which the scale of commitment can turn minimally moral. Moral courage is a commitment that fundamentally smirks at virtue. It takes in fear differently. In the face of capricious heavenly wrath, the initial reflex reaction is bewilderment. Faced with the calamitous forces of nature perhaps, our very creaturely fibers shake to their foundation. We could transfer bewilderment into trembling, like a guilty thing surprised—as Kierkegaard guides us in Fear and Trembling. Abjectness in that case presupposes submission. The obverse is to swim along with the forces. In the face of intimidating evil an ego, a principle stands forth. The willed individual seeks vile and ingratitudinous bouts of fear so that he can summon moral courage. This way lies freedom.

Solitude before all else. And solitude is the original commitment. Commitment is not an aim. It is a resolve to shun all that is available. And such are the times that every bit of our existence is being made available—primarily radicalism. Social commitment, as and within available forms of solidarities, is only worth relinquishing. There is no benediction. Commitment is pure phlegm. The rigour of nonchalance is a punishing form of commitment. The power of aloofness is not disinterestedness, but its obverse. Detachment could give you poise but it could also give you an original form of irresponsibility which is vital for cultivating commitment. Indifference and recklessness make one fearless. Fearless to the routine forms of corporatism and other specializations of partiality. “L’art, mes enfants, c’est d’tre absolument soi-meme,” wrote Paul Verlaine. By “absolument soi-meme” he meant the transcendent subjectivity, not the ego. The absolute self in poetry is what creates and responds to rhyme and meter, the sensual and the expressive. Only the poet himself: as a reckless classical aesthetic principle, as a detached vocation, is the only one who is able to shun all tailor made sources of busy involvement.His objective ego is yet not systematized into prejudgment and prescription.

This mood, such startling militancy, is transitional in Hindi poetry of our times.

Movement II—Slogans and Ennui:

जो भूखा है
उसे और नारे दीजिए

जो सताया हुआ है
उसे और अवसाद दीजिए

 

The first inklings of irony. Sloganeering is a travesty of solidarity. It is an egotistic move, a daily routine. The slogan, in its originary intention, is supposed to be a memorable motto. The slogan’s power is in its repetitive force. It could be chant in a clan-ceremony or a war cry of militia. There is a rhetorical nature (the form) and a unified purpose (the social expression) to every slogan. In earlier times they were utilized primarily as passwords to insure proper recognition of individuals at night or in the confusion of battles.  Progressive slogans are different though. They are battle cries for the hungry. They have a definitive trajectory. The claims and the pay offs are for a group of people—a class, formed out of a definitive idea of collectivization.

Sloganeering degrades this very powerful purpose. It turns slogans into taglines and straplines. The mark of the signature shifts to utility. It can turn catchy. It helps a cause turn into service and then into a product. We would then consume slogans at rallies and roadblocks. The action uncoupled from a slogan may turn the slogan into a memorable image. Have our slogans become jaded too? The intended audience for social awareness—can they be influenced by a certain degradation of the slogan into sloganeering? Have we lost touch with the poetic materiality of the political slogan? Has the very repeatability of the slogan, its very basis, outlived its utility? A new world of slogans is yet to be born. The old adages have become truisms.  The hungry and the lost are left bereft with mere adjectives paired with describing nouns. Who shall take responsibility for such an academization of activism?

For the hungry are the most afflicted and chivied. The afflicted are marked and they in turn mark—a dissonance. In their lives and in others who show solidarity with their condition. The destruction of the audibility and visibility of existence is a passageway to ennui.After the destruction and construction of the phenomenal world, this wing beat of longing for primordial lethargy.Could such tragic aesthetic detachment be a shying away from a clear denunciation of social antagonism? Is this the price or a conscious choice to keep away from the false and ineffective prophets of social progress? Ennui has to do with experience of time. It could again be a test of endurance rather than a psychological condition. Affliction leads to distancing.  Is this consistent with the overall theme of the poem: resisting banality and mediocrity? Only the drifting abyss of ennui reveals the being as a whole. Or is this more of a behavioral existentialist tedium borne out of familiarity and repetition. Can affliction empower the victim or is that an anesthetization of our social material condition, a luxury that only decadence or wisdom can afford?

Is boredom a kind of inverse vanity of existence? “…for if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us”, as Schopenhauer would say.

Movement III—The Wreak

जो हत्यारा है
उसे और समर्थन दीजिए

जो छीन सकता है
उसे और ताकत दीजिए

In the esoteric empire of spiritual aristocracy those who have the power to destroy must destroy. A remote ethos is carefully nurtured. Esoteric its prophetic call. All around us a timeless spectacle of butchery and ruination—carrion men groaning for burial. Destroying a well-laid out pattern of creation is condign—fitting and deserved, effected continually by the blind gods of our material existence.

Punishment and retribution are outside of the pail of consequentalism.  What underpins the moral principle behind unalloyed power?  Payback is a debt. But the debt is not to the society but rather an original form of tallying up the price to pay for our audacity to have been born.

Payback is also a response in kind. Invoking the principle of equality for punishment, Emmanuel Kant writes: “whatever undeserved evil you inflict upon another within the people, that you inflict upon yourself.”  The marauder is not particularly invested in inflicting any personal-emotional suffering on another fellow being, but is involved in a completely different kind of value system: the pleasure at being able to wreak a cosmic form of vengeance on the very idea of vulnerability.  To secretly encourage the powerful pillager is to sublimate vengeance, placing such a moral universe against all forms of fraternal and equitable living. One wonders if there is not some form of haunting megalomania here in thinking that one can individually wreck a cosmic form of vengeance? Particularly if one eschews any kind of community. Since the dismissive aesthete is solitary, making a virtue out of solitude, can there be a multiplying of this vengeance? If so, can individual action/non-action be cosmic, outside of the individual’s mind? Could it not become restricted to inflicting personal suffering on one or few others at best?

This is the seed and grain from which springs all amoral ideas of just dessert. This form of hyperbolic aesthetic excess hits at the root of social contract motivations where the victim has the right to punish those who perpetrate injustice, by transferring that right to the state. And thus the social is born. And the constables of taste are brought up.  In the face of such severe tokenism innate within the very axioms of contractual equality, here is the crucial move. The social is altogether denied—as mundane, jaded and finally treacherous. And after such realization, a rare amalgamation: Mishra appears to be placing right in front of us a mysterious piece of moral alchemy— a combination of two primal evils of moral wickedness and suffering are transmuted into good.

Suffering through punishment is an intuitive idea. But it is a perilous prospect too. The regression happens when we realize that if suffering is good in itself, then punishment is not necessary as a bridge connecting the suffering and the individual bad acts. Suffering becomes fungible.

Of course, this whole hyperbolic move could be ironical and playful—we are left unsure.

The Coda: An Anxiety Regressive

जो पिछड़ा है
उसे और आरक्षण दीजिए

A startling move on various counts.First, the dramatic reversal.The poet invokes conceptual chiasmus—a crisscrossing of overlapping rhetorical space. This immediately changes the tonal quality of the poem. These last two lines turn into a clinching couplet that would now govern the poem. The detachment turns acerbic at the same mundane level which the poem has been denying so far. To invoke reservation/affirmative action in such a poem is to shift the very fulcrum of the spare power of the poem. So far we were witnessing an aesthetics of disavowed deception being transposed into an aesthetics of deception embraced with conviction. But this switching directly to the zone of the social at the end means the conviction is not about timeless durability but rather about certain social anxieties that the poet harbors. Gone are the epiphanies and the poem comes down to the level of hastening social antagonism through irony.

This also shows another lack: that the poet either has not digested the intricacies of affirmative action so that he can use it as an effective tool in a social satire or that he has a predetermined social conviction which he has no other way to convey but through irony. Instead of becoming a trenchant nonchalant comment on the games of sociability and our contractual existence, the poem gives in to that very unease and consternation. Yes, it now turns nervous and stressful—the very opposite with which it had started its journey—that is to say, by taking on the emotion of fear.

The real damage that the last two lines does to such a heightened poem is that it shows a certain smearing and social baggage may not be easy to relinquish in contemporary Hindi poetry. That some of the new voices, instead of purely creating a new idiom, may once again descend to satirizing old wounds. Or: if there are new social contradictions, the poet is unable to deal with them in a nuanced manner and is taking an easier route to regression effected through irony. As readers we are left at a loss about where the centre of gravity of the poem may lie. This becomes a poem of mixed genres.The poem with such a socially redemptive conclusion becomes secularized into a mere natural setting for the profane struggle over political power. The aristocratic distancing of the aesthetic is severely compromised.

Italo Calvino had reminded us in his pronouncements on the classic that it refuses to acknowledge the avalanche of current events. As a result, a classic is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of a background noise. Or conversely: a classic is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible immediate concerns are in control of the situation. In other words, classic literature can have a salutary effect of tempering our high sensitivity to every breaking piece of news and distracting view of trivia.

One single poem does not decide much. It cannot be cited for  making any sweeping generalization about contemporary Hindi poetry. But such powerful voices like that of Mishra’s would do well to remember Calvino’s words, especially if and when he takes the quill to engage with all that is merely ballistic. Satire is great art provided it is nuanced. It could well be that such biting regression is a part and parcel of a retrogression that classicism itself harbours deep within: that it has no way of halting its backward-reaching search for the classic original in timeless, hierarchical and anti-democratic values. If that is the case, then we have to wait and see what shape Mishra’s writings takes in the days to come.

 

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