“There are two kinds of poets. Poets and local poets. Those who write in big and reputed magazines are poets. The rest are local poets.”
Prasun Bandyopadhyay, Poet’s Preface, Collected Works
This is a fine moment. On facebook, we are now 10,000 of us, and counting. And many more outside: those who routinely visit, interact and send us feedback. We receive good wishes and messages from the tiniest of towns in India as well as from such far flung places like Uganda and Chile. We started with 300-odd kindred souls. Then this platform gradually became animated and acquired a life of its own. It grew far wider in scope and participation than we had ever imagined. This continues to surprise us pleasantly.
This is a space for all of us and this is an opportune moment for us to collectively acknowledge, without being self-congratulatory, that we have, in fact, been silently doing something here, howsoever small its scope might be. And that we are growing and evolving. Disagreeing on details about the many ways one can think about the humanities as a vocation, as a passion and as a way of living, but keeping the argument going—an impulse we had felt in the originary instant (and still feel) that certain other kinds of people—powerful people—are ill at ease with. These people abhor the flight of imagination and fear the biting edge of invested analytic thought.
But this is also possibly a moment to take stock of things. For once, we are also mildly worried about the growing numbers on this platform. Does it take away from the underground spirit which is also kind of sectarian in temperament? And yet it is democratic to get on board as many members as possible. We simply wish every single one of us to have a larger sense of what humanitiesunderground stands for. And we think it is incumbent on us to clarify that aspect anew, to and for ourselves. This moment of introspection and speculation comes after taking into consideration what we have learnt over the past few years, once the site was open to everyone, and it is primarily based on the feedback that we have been receiving steadily from all of you.
The second aspect that we need to consider is the actual content and quality of the humanitiesunderground site and the corresponding space on facebook too. Again, there is a democratic proposition that one needs to be catholic and broad; accept ideas from far and wide and debate over them. But is this a space merely to air our brainwaves, a space for indulging in mental jousting and announcing talks and seminars? Or to let lose our solitary flights of fancy? We think we need to highlight emphatically the partisan nature of this endeavour.
We have, interestingly enough, received a great deal of feedback from members of our facebook group-page about what should or should not go on it, in order to sustain the brazen edginess that many say they are drawn to HUG for. It was in response to very strong urging from many of you that we changed the character of the group from ‘open’ to ‘closed’, since the increased number of members meant that posts that were irrelevant or even downright opposed to the spirit of the group were creeping into our space. Now, post the ‘closing’ of the group, while we do sift out advertisements and so on, we have still been putting the rest up on the page as long they speak widely to the humanities. But we have begun to agree with many of you who have indicated to us that our facebook page may eventually be in danger of losing its distinctive character by indulging too far a certain democratic sense of ourselves. We have been told by you that we would do better by HUG if we were to be rigorous and even autocratic in choosing what does, and does not, address directly our passionately shared beliefs and concerns, and in fact, if we were to remain bold and intrepid by declaring – through our sieving of what goes on the HUG page and what can be left for many other worthy pages/groups to carry – what our politics are.
This emboldens us as we move forward across the 10,000 mark into possible future centuries to play the bat on the front foot, as it were – to give ourselves the guiltless right to collectively decide that announcements and posts that are perfectly valid and relevant for humanities questions at large may in fact dilute the rather more diabolical, quixotic or irreverent issues/ideas we love to juggle with in our humanitiesunderground blog, its facebook page and our margHumanities outfit. Henceforth, therefore, encouraged by you all, we shall try to streamline our contents by being more alive to the nuances of posts and notices, and upload only those which we think are challenging us to think productively along the paths we have chosen to tread. In other words, what we all believe to be part of a borderless broad humanities, however laudable, is irksome, and will no longer find a space on our page. We hope that this will answer the demand for a more rigorous humanitiesunderground group-page post this 10,000 member mark.
It is important to clarify the very nature of humanitiesunderground—based on our perception and your feedback—because there is just no use having one more watered-down, all-encompassing space for the humanities people. Just as it is useless to carp on the regressive and self defeating ‘humanities in crisis’ story—a stimulus we had abandoned right from our inception. Those ways may gain us a wider audience but this is surely not a popularity contest we are in. In fact, our whole endeavour is to steer clear of populism, not to worry about the number of hits. And to keep away from two significant ways in which the humanities is often thought of: as a disinterested realm of ideas and as a surrogate location to carry on a shrill social activism.
How does one remain invested in the humanities then, the underground way? The short answer: by keeping the antagonist guessing, by keeping everyone on tenterhooks and taking unexpected turns when things seem to ossify around ideologies and dogmas. And yet making choices that cock a snook at hauteur and pomposity, sentimentality and opinion-mongering. And surely and silently working against top-down or exploitative manoeuvres around us in all walks of life and assiduously keeping away from that rampant malady: seeking an ethics of peace and goodness as a response to slick thoughtlessness that is all around us. Hence, we call the forthcoming book with the first set of essays and creative work— Shrapnel Minima.
Recently all of us witnessed a post on the Art of Living phenomenon on our facebook page. Many of you will remember how that post refused to withdraw from visibility, stirring the collective imagination of our members for days. Unknown to you, the editorial team had a short and heated discussion before it was put up in public. But once we had debated on it, we were convinced that it should be posted, for there were certain things in it that were absolutely in sync with the humanitiesunderground spirit—a spill over of linguistic and tropological excess, biting satire, a rambling and lazy spirit of utterance, taking apart asinine pomposity without any righteous or moral baying for blood, and yet with every line smacking of serious irreverence. This one howled irresponsibility in the sinews. Or rekindled the fire of that central responsibility of all art: to be utterly, thoroughly and wildly irresponsible. This is what pamphleteering should be, we felt. This is what the art of pamphleteering has been—in the East and the West, for centuries.
Therefore, one way to concretely realize what we are leading to is to follow the changing nature of the humanitiesunderground blog itself. The first set of essays and interviews, collated from the first two years of its existence, have been analytic, reflective, literary-critical and imaginative. And most of the articles and creative pieces were directly written in the English language. Many were from our academic or creative friends. Our net has widened since. And we have been hunting and collecting countless jewels casually strewn across other languages, in journals and booklets and pamphlets in lesser-known locales—in South Asia and abroad—and trying to make them available to the English speaking world; works that are politically independent and aesthetically nuanced. We ourselves, in our limited scope, have been translating from a couple of languages. But we take this opportunity to seek from all of you essays and fiction translated in English from other languages, which have not been part of the usual alleyways of circulation or power.
The other way to think about humanitiesunderground is to relate it to the activities of margHumanities—a forum we had started in the wake of the onslaught of the ‘liberal’ governmental policies in humanities studies, particularly when such policies started undoing and ravaging the rigour and force of academic training at Delhi University. That damage continues unabated. Humanitiesunderground is an independent body as a blog but it is also an ambassador of sorts on behalf of margHumanities in a loose way, which was born later. For we soon realized that the question of academia was not merely an issue of and for the scholars within the walled and halloed spaces of our public institutions. The idea is to travel beyond such spaces, and to be able to plug the outside world of messiness and turbulence into our classrooms and corridors for study and analysis. It will be impossible to break the stranglehold of the communicative liberal spirit around which there is such a powerful consensus at this point of time—in India and across the world – unless we are able to connect with the wider world, to join our mohallas and colonies to our schools, universities, reading groups. The Kantian idea of a scholarly-public is simply irrelevant—both conceptually and culturally—as far as HUG is concerned. This is not an agonistic space. If anything, this circle is a college situated in fouler air, a university unbound in messier volume.
You will remember that MargHumanities, other than engaging in the smaller workshops and brainstorming sessions, had facilitated the first meeting of scholars and intellectuals from across several disciplines in 2011 at NMML, New Delhi, and we had a scintillating and yet low-key three days of serious discussion about pressing contemporary issues concerning the humanities. Its ambit was largely conceptual, international and scholarly.
Early next year we plan to hold our second such meeting—this time, in keeping with our evolving nature, we wish to bring together a host of people who have been working silently and painstakingly for decades in running and writing in little magazines in some of the remotest parts of India along with a young bunch of bloggers who have set the virtual space ablaze with radical imaginations and a spirit of defiance. All these people have a burning passion and an unerring knack for that spirit which is so dear to margHumanities and humanitiesunderground: irreverent, dissensual, witty, straightforward, resistant, laidback, playful, passionate. All of them, in their own way, have rejected the literary circuits of power and ambition and have played a fiery political-aesthetic role in the boondocks of our nation. It will be a privilege for us to get to know from some of them in the rawest of terms what humanities mean or ought to mean. And in the process, we are also trying to find out ways of taking and building up our common interests with artists and organic intellectuals working in other, non-metropolitan parts of South Asia.
These are the ways we are evolving. And evolving with you, for as we have stated time and again, our means are limited and we can merely give you a platform—our common sphere of conviction. We do not have any financial or corporate or institutional backing. We do not have much of a worked-out blueprint. And we often move merely by our instincts and experience. Naturally we are prone to errors—all the time. We are content in our smallness and yet we wish to remain rigorous, brazen, nuanced—trying to make sense of our times through the humanities. Our editorial decisions are all debated with a passion that is all yours. We can feel that in every feedback and many posts that we witness here.
Keep us going by staying with us. And by contaminating the spaces you each inhabit with the humanitiesunderground spirit.