Jaaware’s Destitute

On May 9, 2019 by admin

Practicing Caste-F.cdr

Prasanta Chakravarty

In his book Practicing Caste, on Touching and Not Touching Aniket Jaaware takes caste as an instance in order to transport us elsewhere.We are not yet born, he says. So, he wants us to travel with him to the island of Hokkaido, and especially to Fukushima, and take a little pause with the ainu, an outcaste group which lies at the bottom of the traditional Japanese society. We could also go to Yemen and learn the language of the al-akhdam, who harbor negrito features on their cultured bodies.  Jaaware wants us to see that there are other worlds too, with similar sets of primary and primal distinctions based on questions of pure being. In this our primary condition we are everywhere the same, making segments and boundaries of living all the time and trying to obliterate our common creaturely state. This is the condition of living. In our variegated living, humans shall continue to live as one in bringing others close or keeping them at bay depending on some inexplicable and unknown equations that they will invent (or have invented already) from within their chosen sect.

Caste is an instance. Destitution is the state of being.

Aniket Jaaware was wracking his brain and soul about the destitute, immersing himself as one more creature in the throes of destitution. He wanted to deliberately forget (his term is oublierring, from French oublier and English err) not just the hitherto deliberated upon history and sociology of caste studies but more importantly, the language of certainty and sociability which is also the language of our present ethical conundrum about destitution. The real problem to him was the condition of intellectual destitution—that we do not know where to go with our creaturely sense of fallenness, humiliation and abandonment. To bring rumination down to touching and not touching, therefore, is to break down a seemingly insurmountable problem into the basics and try addressing it afresh. And therefore, Hokkaido and Yemen. These are not geographical places to him, but insignia for a huge inchoate and unknown future, the elsewhere where the destitute of the world can say: just us, instead of getting into the infinite spiral of identity and victimhood. Only internalizing such a realization can perhaps open up the realm of freedom.


There is Nothing Called Society

There are several intimate cuts among ourselves; we will interact with some people and not with other animals and abject bodies. This is how groups, clans and segments work. Samaj is not society—there are divisions and hierarchies. These are real striations. Consequently, there are only forms of sociability (love or hate at first sight) in our living interactions. Beings interacting in sociability are deeply and phenomenologically bound to each other, though such bindings are invented through interactions. Sometimes these differential bonds turn ephemeral and transcendental and leave certain traces when some member(s) decide to quit a loyal sect or group—through exile, voluntary or otherwise, and through death.

In ordinary circumstances we have sociable encounters with our alterity—with those who are from other segments but live within the communal space. Jaaware calls this the state of pathologically nonchalant non-sociability. Even civility seems to be too abstract for any exchanges to happen among individuals here. Others with whom we interact are rather obstacles to be overtaken or circumvented. The destitute are produced in this manner as obstacles. The destitute are not adversaries or competitors. They are simply not like us. Our parks and clubs, washrooms and corridors, gymnasiums and bazaars—all are made into kosher territories so that certain creatures can be hounded and pulverized. Being-in-the-world means that such a form of sociability has to be reinvented in and through every single encounter. This manner of interaction is customary. The fragility of this customary mode of sociability directly leads to violent and demanding impositions and maniacal postulations against the destitute enemy, the unknown person(s) whom we know as the interactive other.

Jaaware gives the example of a performance artist who goes up to strangers and does ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’ things: “touching them, jumping up and down in joy in front of them, picking a speck of dirt from their cheek (grandma’s spit), carrying a portable toilet and sitting on it in public with pants down, standing half-naked with just a jacket on in front of a painting, grabbing and eating food from someone else’s plate at a party, lying down in an art gallery and holding people’s legs and not letting go, posing nude beside a sculpture of a nude, standing half naked beside a clothes rack, asking people to dress her.” This is a control experiment in order to explore the way sociability actually takes place. By starkly deflating its operation we realize the power and ubiquity of sociable interaction. The artist is asking people to invent sociability by improvising or formulating human interactive methods right at the moment of her performance.

This is exactly what one could see unfold after Aniket Jaaware’s death. Or the obverse of it rather. It was spring time and his material body had just been cremated a few days ago, along with his famous ear-stud! A really good discussion on his book was arranged at the Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi. And academics like me heard his video-recorded voice waft across the hall – and the hall indeed was choc-a-bloc.  There was hope for something grand and gone for the audience. And therefore collegial sociability was everywhere. That is the only mode in which each makes peace with the other just before and after such discussion sessions: in the foyer or the rotunda or at the car park outside. These modes of temporary communality we carry to the hall itself (perch ourselves at the right spots, greet other fellow beings with a certain collegial air, preface questions later with polite humility, and so on).You keep on performing something ‘social’ – yourself as an academic, a journalist or as an intellectual – while being constantly individuated. This was the ‘silence’ part of the ‘social sciences’, as Jaaware had already predicted. Did he presciently envisage the process of his own memorializing by his sociable colleagues and well wishers? There was Jaaware’s voice coming across to us but not his nonchalant form of comic challenge to this whole mode which he knew he would be subjected to after being gone. It is in this manner that a great intellectual is canonized socially, and permanently made into one of us? This is not to say that he was making the very idea of social interaction banal in absolute terms so that he could be righteously out of it. He could perhaps see all interactions with a comic distance/irony without letting cynicism creep in.

There are archetypal sociological studies of the phenomenon of suicide of the destitute animal, but there is no sociology “of the girl’s falling body as it falls while she, high on this or that form of joy assisted by acidic chemicals, thinks she is flying, there is no sociology of her joy as she flies before she splatters her blood and brains and bones six stories below,”Jaaware says. Similarly, there are ways in which mob psychology or the behavior of a crowd can and has been explained, but none to map each little move of the ‘flash’ crowd in its violent or silent actions, or about the individual troll coming together with other such souls to extract vengeance or show purposeful righteousness. It is here that Jaaware marks the stubborn nature of not touching someone—a phenomenon that we call the actual practice of caste. The destitution of caste arrives to us through such a cognitive force stereotyping, always mediated through ways of sociability.

The workability of future, on the other hand, is always done by temporalizing the space of the social: that we can change the future by doing something in the present. It opens up the past present and future hope for the destitute of the world. The future is unknowable and yet you wish to make it workable. In distancing himself from the very ideas of compromise and workability and by not offering any social blueprint of a temporal future when all human beings will have no problems in touching oneself as well as touching others, Jaaware teeters on the brink of determinism. Disinheritance and destitution then would seem natural.  In fact, there is always this play and conjunctive possibility of finitude and creaturely initiative that haunts us. More on  this soon.

We were considering the notion of segmented sociability, “a phenomenon that works at a lower level than society,”something that works at the level of solving problems. Solving the problem of untouchability and destitution is the problem of segmentation. Is Jaaware saying that if we get rid of the tricks of the social, then we can rid ourselves of the issue of caste itself?  If such a thing happens there are two possibilities perhaps. One, that we go back to a traditional form of living with the ancient structures of sociability in place. That will mean the thrown idea of caste (that the finitude of existing in a caste is irreversibly predetermined) existence is made timeless and universal. This mode of thinking valourizes a hierarchical system where barriers of identity are naturalized as communal living. One can also reach the obverse conclusion:  that if such a temporal idea of sociability thwarts full resolution of the condition of destitution exemplified via the enactment of touch, we can in fact think in terms of radical difference of living.  Naturally, from such a realization a larger kind of plurality of a common existence may materialize.

I think Jaaware shuttles between these two poles. He keeps the notion of destitution tautly balanced between the condition of phenomenological existence as suffering and the possibility of endless tropes and differential measures by which, instead of highlighting the finitude of our identities, we would seek out and revel in some radical elsewhere where we can be just us. You and you and you make the us: “We have been told that we must constitute us, ourselves, in a limited manner. Me, my family, my friends, my clan, my caste. This limits the us to ourselves merely. We must reject this limited us.” The constitution of quick autobiographical we-ness is what he rejects, for that assumes human hubris of correcting destitution through means of social projects merely. To that he places a great wager and hope for altruism: “Birth is, in that expanded sense of time (evolutionary time), one iteration in a recursive process, or unknown algorithm, and not the final determinant of anything at all, just as death is not. ‘They’ will die too, perhaps after they kill us. In as much as we are living and dying together at the same time, we are also cause and effect together at the same time… Can the us change the direction of time? Let us hope.” Nothing is any final determinant in our creaturely interaction with one another. Everything is possible we can oublierr all unnecessary baggage and think in terms of the commonality of existence. Hope belies all notions of determinism in Jaaware, which always tries to appear through the back-door. There is a great utopian fiction in Jaaware’s conception of the togetherness of destitution. He wants to summon that unspoken language of changing the direction of time and traversing elsewhere. There is this deep, angry and hopeful longing for reconstruction once the units and fragments of the sociable are de (con)stituted by looking closely at the de-stitute.

The difficult point is that customary and acquired protocols and actual empirical processes of segmenting creatures into the destitute (that is to say, our own conversion into creatures of segmented identities) cannot easily be breached. Reinstitutionalization is once again merely a workable non-solution, since the deeper cut remains unchanged. Alterity stubbornly continues to fester as pathological identities rather. The question remains: how do we relate to those we do not know? How do we sensually and phenomenologically deal with other physical bodies that are outside and beyond us and our known circle of existence? How do we traverse the difficult path from one body to another, one destitute to another? Jaaware’s response is that we can expand our horizon of expectation and project it onto other sociabilities. Hence, Hokkaido and Yemen. The habitual invention of our own kind of sociability must be dropped. It is only then that we would realize the existential condition of destitution that binds all of us. Only in such a circumstance might alterity cease to be a wall of incomprehension and division but rather could become “a hinged turnstile or door which can open both toward the inside and toward the outside.” Only in such a situation can one think of the movement towards temple-entry and the movement towards access to water—not as protests but as rearticulating the possibility of traversing to another destitute sociability.

Traversing between divergent sociabilities is a possibility—not in understanding and correcting destitution with any quick-fix, but by living it. Is destitute living enough though? Jaaware takes us to the limits of untraversablity by considering the vertex of death which seems to be the end of all destitution and the discussion of it. Even that gap, between living and extinction, can be traversed perhaps through language and memory and imagination. Our body is scattered in death and has become part of things but those things (marrow-blood-brain—now turned into pure matter) will live on in language and tropes. That (a sense of our biodegradability) does not solve the question of destitution. Can it be addressed, though, by returning to where we are and only by dispossessing everything, and by considering that some other primal unity is living and dying and living again with matter?


Literature between Things and Humans

Can there be a category called destitute literature? Is not all literature also somehow imbued with destitution in so far as it deals with material suffering, abjectness, tribulations, contradictions and conflict? But when we think of destitution and art, it is assumed almost that the ethical is the consequence of the literary: “as if the literary production were the consequence of the ethical superiority of victims of political and social domination, exploitation, suppression, oppression and hegemony.” Jaaware contends that literature itself cannot bridge this distance between the political and the ethical; that “Dalit literature might have been revolutionary—but it should not be confused with revolution itself.” A generous use of affects ought not to confuse the literary and the political. In fact such a route might short circuit the full power of the very condition of destitution, which always lies in the immediacy of the political acts of suffering and humiliation.

At the heart of such a claim seems to be a project of truth hunting that will lead to some ethical core or to an authentic idea of destitution: the truth of caste-injustice, for instance. Experience itself would then surrogate simultaneously for the political and the literary. And experience is registered through affect, which is always a romanticization of the ego. There seems to be no discord between style and content in constituting such an idea of the literary-aesthetic. The idea of truth is already ethically and discursively been operative in society, and in such a view—fiction ought to rearticulate that very truth. Such an ethical move finally can only relate realism with a certain didacticism, though it will be always mediated through the authentic genres of autobiographies, confessions and memoirs. The nature and power of the fictive will find very little articulation.

That does not imply at all that fiction and narration merely lie behind any aestheticized notion of ‘disinterested interest’ in the post-Kantian sense nor is it that any New Critical concept of the autonomy of art and its tropes and ambiguities brings us closer to the destitute. In this context Jaaware refers to the writings of Baburao Bagul, whom he finds truly modernist in the sense that he directly brings us to the gruesome lives that are narrativized, and later reveals to us its ethical fallout “as the reader gets to read the impossible performative situations in which the characters find themselves.” The ethical is always the condition of the impossibility to turn ethical, and yet one performs actions that will have consequences for oneself and for others. And the disjunction between style and content gets hammered time and again in the process. This is the reason, according to Jaaware, that many of Bagul’s narratives end at what is often called a double bind. The ethical complexity is of such an order that it is impossible to take any superior righteous or correct position. Mere exhortations will not do—in both life and in social interactions one has to take the full power of the fictive immediacy of destitution. It is in these ethically impoverished moments that the literary and the political are likely to come together.

The question about destitution cannot start with birth or biology. Nor with physical anthropology or racial or other essential typologies. It is a natural order of existence that had been constructed by humans—there turning to destitution as a fact of life or custom.  This is a kind of stylistic choice that a group of people makes about others. To believe in mapping a preexistent future by speculating positively on transformation, or mapping a preexistent past by speculating positively on memory or custom are such stylistic choices. These are styles or tendencies of sociality, as we have discussed earlier. Often these two tendencies—looking forward as hoping to fulfill a project or looking backward nostalgically and deterministically, interpenetrate. But these tendencies are manifested always as and through certain empirical markers—which are felt and material.

Markers are actual things/happenings through which the condition of destitution is brought into practice—for instance, by touching a thing or another body one not only carries out an act but also leaves a trace of an encounter. This may be allowed, or not, depending on certain injunctions. The injunctive regulations on a person or a group of people to touch or not touch another body or thing actually means regulating presence and absence. This fundamental marker will lead eventually to higher level regulations about intermarriage or inter-dining. The metonymies of bodily presence are submitted to such commands of exclusion at the most basic level. At the heart of destitution are regulations on both things and people. You cannot stop touching things as long as you are alive and yet you are asked to cease from touching certain things or people. Even the shadow of a lower caste person is a kind of material trace that cannot be grazed by the Brahmin. That is how the most intense matter of physical revulsion turns into a trace.  The material act of not touching and the force of the injunction cohere at a point, giving rise to the predicament of ostracism. The gradual and chronic normalization of such ostracism is the condition of destitution. The regulators of destitution do not allow the diffusion of markers into a free-for-all—that is to say, one set of sociable people serve an injunction on touching or not touching, since they actually are scared of the mushrooming of the traces into multiplicity and randomness. Hence they desperately clutch on to the fundamental markers of identity. It is this diffusiveness and unconnectedness that urges us to forge the strongest of bonds, something that can only be recalled and something that will outlast the demise of the body.

Traces will not be domesticated. Traces are errant. They are stubborn reminders and forever-present possibilities—which is where the domain of art and literature lies too. Institutionalizing defeats the very purpose of recalcitrant traces, which were born in the first place from touch. Those traces are the ones that may defeat all narrow boundaries of small sociabilities. The traces are where the figures of speech lie too. The object of encounter or the regulations to an encounter can turn to art by means of expressing and suggesting the electric power of touch. Literature in such cases is both denotative and connotative, both as acts in and of life but also as fictive ephemera, having a certain excess and subtlety that only art can suggest through the use of the figural.  As Jaaware points out profoundly, things are even more destitute than humans and other animals, or everything exists as matter and also as an excess to matter: “We include here the accidental but scathingly erotic touch of a table, or a cousin or some other person, a cushion perhaps, or the door handle or tap if it matters, or, as always the painful cut from the knife accompanied by onion smell and tears, distraction and randomness; and therefore, there was an attempt to regulate these acts.”

It is not that Jaaware uses the literary in order to make a case for relations between things. He rather tries to map how our relations with things can include people if mediated through metonymies and other tropes.  Literature is a matter of extension through spatial and temporal concomitance.  “I do not touch shit” can be extended by saying “I do not touch those who touch shit.” In our polymorphic existence the literary may happen if we realize how certain dos and don’ts function, since we touch only those things that seem sociable to us, as our own. These things are also often transposed to people. There is a touchable ownership of people and kin and lovers and children. The moment we have moved away from the hunting-gathering stage, we begin to regulate and manufacture the destitute from among ourselves and begin to distance him.  Regulation on touching things is transposed onto other people through metonymies. This extension of the one whom I wish to radically dispossess from my existence is the destitute. Literature tries to explore these partially understood regulative processes that begins viscerally and remains in the world as traces amidst us.

That means destitution is a promiscuous possibility. Jaaware has time and again emphasized the eroticism of the traces. “Incest is institutional; promiscuity is random,” he says. Destitution is beyond all measures and refuses to be institutionalized. Hence, the fear. And the deployment of regulative mechanisms to stem it. The promiscuity happens owing to a primal fear of mixing caste barriers—what he calls the beforehand-mixedness. In fact all marriages and sexual relations are incestuous possibly, if we go back in time—until we reach the mitochondrial Eve. Literature, on the other hand, is a celebration of a promiscuous trace that goes far beyond our austere and ascetic incestuous and adulterous relationships. At the core of addressing destitution is this fear of the randomness of promiscuity. That is why we wish to bind it through sociological analysis. Only a topological measure (figures of speech, symbols, explanations and syllogisms, alamkara, apophantic significations, other heuristic devices) of the visceral nature of the act and event of destitution can come close to realizing what it actually is. As Jaaware says: “The melody must destitute itself musically.”


Touch Itself

Touch as such, or the lack of it, where destitution resides, is neither philosophical nor social. It is present right here among us, in its full visceral presence. Jaaware wants to decipher that bit, mediated through the ‘social prose of the world,’ the ways of which we have indicated earlier, when it gets written, by touching others and by touching oneself too.

In order to keep his subject absolutely simple and material (touching and not touching bodies—objects, creatures and humans), Jaaware uses words like density, inertia, surfaces, planes and so on. These are words that bring us closer to the physicality of the condition of destitution and forms of attachment. But these are also words which prepare the ground to breach the distance between the literal and the figural. To begin with, Jaaware tries to rigorously define touch by negating three possibilities of considering matter. One, the empirical stimulus response interactions, which can only lead to behaviorism. Second, and this follows empiricism: residually phenomenological possibilities of touch which can only deepen one’s vertical attachment to the world. Third: there cannot be any transcendental-eidetic reduction of the tactile senses of our interactions.  To have interest in the nature of sociality of touch means to have an abiding sense of the materiality and the reality of touch itself, like in this statement: “While talking and feeling of the wind on the skin, we talked of the rate at which particles strike the skin being proportionate to the least density that is touchable.”  Here is where the real touch and the question of the sensory density reach the zone of the fictive. The fiction is real since scientific words like density can be made fictive once the contact point between the wind and the skin actually turn into a miraculous possibility, which is where the real and the fictive merge.

Touch is also a space which is to rigorously do with the surface of things. Inside means touching a memory or something at some phenomenological depth which shall cancel the power and stench of the moments of intensity. That is not his objective. Indeed an inside can be reached only through a cut—cutting the plane of the surface. This means one has to be attentive to touch itself, the warmth or the lack of it, which is the foremost and only condition of destitution.

Destitution is the caressment of distancing from the surface. Destitution is such a form of ostracism.

The literal meaning of touch is evident: we touch something in order to touch that thing. But the figural meanings of touch could be felt through such devices as metonymy, allegory and metaphor. These are contents of touch, not form. This is where the realm of the material and the realm of language and rhetoric coalesce. The form common to all these is: contact. For instance, to touch the feet of elders or the idol of god is a case in allegory (although objects touched—feet, are cases in synecdoche). You are touching the realm of the sacred. Similarly, to refrain from touching a person’s dress or shoes or shadow are cases in bringing the figural relationship of allegory into the realm of banishment and exile. This form of creating the condition of destitution is an everyday happening—like keeping a deliberate distance from the waiter, the garbage collector, the taxi driver and the door keeper. These are forms of immediate ostracism, happening normally and viscerally but have allegorical possibility in taking us to the zone of disposability. Metonymic and metaphorical touches could be to apprehend figuratively certain kinds of fetishism perhaps, like foot or hair or leather.

The fundamental position of the condition of the destitution of the touching animal is to consider the just-born. The neonate is also an automaton—a creature in the exact sense of the term.It is a blob of matter until it experiences touch itself and get a sense about touch by means of primary interactions with the mother and other close ones. The lifting of the baby is the first step towards disciplining the body, stopping its free movement. It is only gradually that the neonate transforms itself into a unitary body-with-parts and turns into a child. The next stages of disciplining then begin—of deportment and strictures and limits over touching oneself and certain other bodies. This is the process of bildung. The point about the right kind of contact gradually makes itself manifest in us. Touch becomes an instrument of sociability. The attitude of the body now changes, Jaaware concludes, and at an allegorical level, a will develops about oneself and other bodies too.

These stages lead to a juncture when the being is able to manipulate distance (by means of calibrating intimacy) from other beings and bodies. It is also a state of helplessness that begins from a realization of the separation from the mother and then traverses to other objects and people. A territory is created whereby touch and intimacy become places to be defended. There happens a zone of possession and another radically outside of it: “That which we touch repeatedly becomes our possession, imparting a synecdochic bit of our self to that object or person.” Hence, toys, clothes, lovers, wallets, private property—we are enveloped by these our possessions. Beyond this territory lies the other—the one who cannot be touched. There is the field of regulation, the extension of which is caste or such-like forms of the other, who is the destitute. The distancing act in time and space from another body or a group of bodies thus turn hierarchical, discriminating and social.  This distancing act is that of envelopment, mediated through an ontological sense of distrust and disgust. This is at the root of destitution: to get into the chronotope of revulsion about an object or a group of people whose very shadow cannot be touched. This is where the allegory of touching and not-touching initiate and then the territories and certain time-space travel with us.


The Thrown Project and Liberty-Beyond-Death

Are we doomed to remain destitute, especially those who are chosen by modes of sociality to be kept distinct and ostracized? This is a strand that is a consistent and constant reminder in Jaaware’s framework. This comes from an acute realization of not trying to skirt the issue of touching which is direct and immediate. The framework takes the full account of the complexity and figurative expanse of such a simple gesture, which is what the domain of the rhetorical limns.  But we started this essay by suggesting that there is a tremendous sense of hope about the idea of our common material existence too in the framework—that is to say, once we level with the real issue of what it means to actually practice caste, we would really notice how circuitous and jejune this project is, how very limiting its politics of imitating its own identity looks like.

Jaaware painstakingly unfolds to us the condition of the cast out and the abandoned. There is no skirting the immediacy and the power of the skin and its traces that determine relationships. One wonders about the political condition of the visceral nature of the destitute, once we realize the finitude of our existence? After the knowledge of our thrown condition and realizing the process of bildung through which we learn to give in and participate in the condition of creating the destitute, what are the possibilities of the just us? In fact, one of the startling prospects that Jaaware shows to us is that all of us live in potential destitution—not only by endlessly and helplessly creating the conditions of distancing and abandonment, but also by being caught in the net of such exclusion ourselves. This is why he finds the state of the Brahmin to be so infinitely pitiable: caught in the web of excluding the untouchable, the Brahmin has to live a life within little boundaries and small strictures. The largeness and heterogeneity of life eludes him; the very joys and risks of touching the other being beyond him.Therefore he is doomed in a condition of small sociality: “All human beings are dalits, but not all human beings have, in society, the function of dalits.” Our functions are of a different order than our conditions of destitution. Functions can be ossified into identities but the condition of touching or not touching is a trait that is of a material and fictive order that speaks to our common living.

The dual notions of the elsewhere and the promiscuous, which we had stressed earlier, could have opened other vistas and horizons. But how does one achieve such a mode of generosity if one is constantly and simultaneously aware of the creaturely thrown condition on one hand and our institutionalizing freedom into a future project of social parity on the other. What lies beyond the spiral of acceptance of finitude and the ever-receding idea of progress,for the destitute being? Jaaware’s response is that there cannot be any solution unless we give in to our inner altruism and openness. No other project can diminish our limited sense of replicating identity unless we are munificent and embracing of life itself.  He has thoroughly refuted any notion of seeking humanity but has joyfully embraced an animality that only kills for food. There is a constant sense of the corporeal, and therefore the limits of the corporeal. The final condition depends on what we do with ourselves—a condition that is not yet born. There is immense utopia in  Jaaware’s thinking, though he debunks any kind of social blueprint for the future. In fact, this utopian hope is what forecloses all speculation about immediate projects of realizable justice in the book. This is an attitude, a kind of pulsing that leads to a sense of transgressing all limits of our finite small existence around social conditioning, especially since we are aware of the finitude of our material ties.

It is important to note that Jaaware never makes destitution synonymous with abjection or misery. In this sense has kept himself outside of the kind of work done on abjection by Julia Kristeva (though the dynamism or pulsation is there in him, like Kristeva) or Judith Butler. He takes the body/object elsewhere. The jettisoned object, the radically excluded, is not a victim ever, but rather is entirely unaffected since he is a real object working on this earth and deeply materialized as such.This is because in Jaaware’s scheme of things, the other is never infected and therefore there is no scope for the casteist person to ever feel vindicated in his project. The casteist is himself in a condition of stasis as long as he accepts and continues to mark the limits of touchablity. The coupling of the outcaste and the casteist persona will remain forever in a locked state of combat unless each realizes that destitution is the condition of living and can be transcended only by embracing radical difference, which is also our common destiny and hope. His destitute rather makes a mockery of the exclusionary matrix by voiding its concerns.

Certain strands of thought have tried to disturb the inside and outside of our bodies taking a cue from deconstruction. Kristeva is the obvious instance. Steven Shaviro, following such a line of thinking, while discussing David Cronenberg’s visceral films, points to the body’s capacity to disturb certain categories of inside and outside and take flight: “The polymorphousness of living tissue has the capacity to traverse all boundaries, to undo the rigidities of organic function and symbolic articulation. New arrangements of the flesh break down traditional binary oppositions between mind and matter, image and object, self and other, inside and outside, male and female, nature and culture, human and inhuman, organic and mechanical.”The living tissue can traverse indeed but the binaries are quite rigid and they decide the condition of exclusion in Jaaware. Therefore he actually refrains from breaking the binaries by highlighting aporia and instability. Instead, right from the outset he creates a serious binary of the outwardly/materially tactile and the inner points of bodies that can be only reached through orifices, cuts and through the heart. But he keeps away from the innards and the inward movements of our soul. This is because his materialism is severe and exact. His investment is in the real and the literal—and then the transferring of the real into the fictive takes place.  This, one suspects, happens because there is an urge to bring together two kinds of real together in Jaaware’s conceptualization of the untouchable: the lived and the material.  He does not splice open binaries so that one can affirm instability but works with the binaries by creating possibilities of a dialectic clash in other zones: between the animal and the human, the object and the being, touch and rhetoric, the literal and the figural and finally between finitude and freedom. Consequently, the text is a taut with open-ended possibilities until in the final pages of the book he knowingly gives way to free flowing and joyous exhortations in and through language, thereby affirming utopian possibilities of our common living. He sets us free from all pressures of sociability.

Life lives in things—in and through sizes, figures and motion. Densely. But life is also not a conjunction of, and confrontation with, inert mass. Lived experience itself is perhaps the flow of an abstraction of the real life. That is the realm of the lifeworld, where the forms of matter and the senses are engendered into a rhythm of becoming. Friedrich Engels said that “The material world that is perceivable through the senses and to which we ourselves belong, is the only reality: and our consciousness and thinking, however suprasensuous they may seem, are only the product of a material bodily organ –the brain. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter.” There is no sensible or mental given. There is always a material content of sensible and sensuous life.At the heart of Jaaware’s method is the philosophy of thing, but a throbbing philosophy of thing, a kind of investment in the concreteness of living.He has mediated the material content of our living through touch, so that we do not wander into the spiral of sensible relativism by delving into the vertical depth of any phenomenological abstraction. Hence, his repeated insistence on the surface and the real conditions of destitution. But how can such concrete consciousness be thematized and extended?

Tran duc Thao has tried to bring forth a productive encounter between Husserlian phenomenology and dialectical thinking by rigorously building up a philosophy of thing. It is not a coincidence that Jaaware refers to his works more than once in his book. The question about our animal existence and conscious use of human labour and processes of production (including production of the social) is brought into a confrontation with each other in Tran Duc Thao. With Descartes it was possible to dissociate sharply between body and soul, between mechanistic materialism and transcendental idealism.  Scientific thought established itself over this dissociation.  However, what positive investigation cannot meaningfully take up is the query: “how could objects take on meaning for human life and how could man himself emerge as an objective reality?”

The disjunction between object and subject made it conversely clear that far from being a mechanical development in space, nature was a continuing process of great becoming which elevated all matter to life itself. Every form appears as a historical formation in a universal process. All living forms become more and more differentiated as the process of division of the cells keep happening through the interchange of matter. What is stressed in this line of thought is the material content of all sensuous experience, a route that straightaway takes us away from all mysticism (pure and regressive interior feeling) and gross empiricism (pure scientism) at the same time. The processes of formation, deformation and reformation of all matter are also a traffic and passage between the physical and the chemical, which implies at the same time identity and difference/non-identity. This is very crucial to understanding the notion of the futility of practicing identity at a second order (social) level later since all matter also forms and reforms through non-identity. The very phenomenon of life is dialectical. Therefore, forms are both living and non-living since all living forms develop through physio-chemical processes in element and matter, which is nothing but substance in circulation. In the words of Tran Duc Thao, “In as much as life transcends matter, it suppresses matter by preserving it—the negation resulting necessarily from preservation, and the preservation being implied in the negation.” The argument does not superimpose nature over matter, but describes the real process that constitutes life in and through the movements and motions of matter.  Nature is a necessity through which matter finds freedom. Consciousness itself is nothing but the oculo-motor determinations: “Life constitutes in real absorption of environmental matters. All consciousness is the consciousness of the self and the object at the same time.” The exterior becomes the interior.

This dialectical process between matter and nature and between consciousness and objective reality is of paramount importance for appreciating the location from where Jaaware is initiating his dual critique of the futility (and the stubborn nature) of caste practice, and the sociological and progressive processes of institutionalizing the very promiscuity of destitution. If physio-chemical processes determine the fundamental dialectic between being and becoming, between matter and life, then all other categories of destitution and exclusion are mere human ways of trying to discipline what is fundamentally promiscuous and variegated: which we also know by the name of life. Every act leaves a trace that gets repeated and newness develops. Fresh dispositions thus happen till such dispositions get ossified, and the process starts again.Ways of attraction and repulsion begin very early on. Nervous pulsations accumulate and we anticipate, grope, act, repress and start again. This is how all forms develop, die and return anew. We start touching and then repress the very process right at the outset of childhood, often helped by our parents. Attractive or repulsive sensibilities are retained as sensations that constitute lived experience. That mode of disciplining is carried over to caste practice eventually. The enduring of pulsating touch or non-touch thus turns self-identical, penetrates into the immanent past and is projected onto the infinite future. Anteriority, that endures, is projected. The disciplining of freedom through the practicing of destitution is effected in the outer world through manipulation and detour of various kinds. The external effects make matter potent and punishing, but the anteriorizing of forms starts early on as the cells multiply and its effects are retained through life-practices. Unless we realize this fundamental dialectical process, nothing can erase traces and differences of destitution (through matter and memory and fiction, traces shall travel). Not even death. Especially not death. We shall continue to practice the ways of abandoning others and alienating ourselves.

Given this our thrown condition, we are now in a position to return to the possibility of freedom. It is quite evident that freedom from the condition of destitution can take place from within the bowels of such thrownness that is essentially material, immediate and tactile. So an exit can happen by taking a full measure of finitude, and not by some overhauling that is hastened and mediated through a project of futurity. That sort of hastening or institutionalizing of destitute condition in fact can only give rise to and perpetuate forms of complementary or competitive schismogenesis— which Gregory Bateson had described as “a process of differentiation in the norms of individual behaviour resulting from cumulative interaction between individuals.” Schismogenetic conditions create a radical split in mutually aggravating ways among groups or individuals to the point of no return. The processes of such identity formation is akin to an arms race whereby each group keeps revving up its primal thrown condition until the conflict among groups escalates to an absolutely ontological dimension, where there remains no scope of any further maneuver. Instead of correcting the conditions of the natural givens by any sociological fix, one way is to keep tracking the dialectical processes and realizing that any escape from destitution can only happen collectively and at the level of bare life.

Therefore Jaaware concludes his exploration with destitution itself as the condition of liberation:

First a quotation from Emily Dickinson: “I’m Nobody! Who are you?/Are you-Nobody-too?/ Then there’s a pair of us!/Don’t tell! they’d advertise –you know!”

Advertising means getting busy with trying to make somebody out of nobodies and in the process manufacture new nobodies. It is only when you and I realize that each one of us are destitute-nobodies, in every which way right from the beginning, that our very attempts to create such distancing based on touch shall make no sense.

And then another quotation from W.H. Auden: “And always the loud angry crowd,/ Very angry and very loud,/Law is We, / And always the soft idiot softly Me.”

Any notion of traversing to elsewhere means first confronting the here and now and then a collective leap to some unknown horizon. To consider elsewhere is to realize we are alive and talking. That is a good point to initiate change—foremost within parts of us, by embracing our inner invisibility. Elsewhere is to do something. Elsewhere means learning Korean and Chechnya Russian and Magyar and going somewhere, anywhere. Elsewhere is district nine and the alien ship. Elsewhere is thinking together like animals since you are I are both nobodies. With an oracular voice, Jaaware ends his exhortations: “We are to help us, without god/s. We the People?” Elsewhere is We the People with an interrogation mark.


Select Bibliography

Bateson, Gregory.Naven: A Survey of the Problems Suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a New Guinea Tribe Drawn from Three Points of View. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’New York: Routledge, 1993.

Engels, Friedrich. Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. University Press of the Pacific, 1886/2005.

Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. trans. A. Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Jaaware, Aniket. Practicing Caste, On Touching and Not Touching.  Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2019.

Kohler, W. The Mentality of Apes. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1956.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.

Schilder, Paul. The Image and Appearance of the Human Body: Studies in the Constructive Energies of the Psyche. New York: International UP, 1978.

Shaviro, Steven. The Cinematic Body. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Duc Thao, Tran. Phenomenology and Dialectical Materialism. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1951/1971.


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