The Wind Instruments

On December 19, 2015 by admin


HUG Editorial


# Humanities Studies in India at this Point of Time.

There are two sides to it. One, institutional studies of the humanities. By that we mean the study of the languages and letters, arts & aesthetics. We are advisedly narrowing down humanities into certain specific fields—not to restrict its ambit but to highlight a methodological breakthrough and rigour that is missing in the narrow sense to begin with. There are many worthy ways of getting into the question of humanities but we still do not possess a sense of independently gauging and defining what might constitute humanities in the subcontinent per se at this point of time. Nor is there any concerted effort to give it fillip and direction. It is a doubly difficult proposition given the heterogeneity of languages and their internal arguments and hierarchies within the humanities academia itself. In India, the once intense parley between the votaries of philological and hermeneutic approaches on one hand, and the then counter-institutional challenges to canon formation and so on on the other, has largely come to an end. There is a meek sense of mea-culpa among the erstwhile rebels within the academia and a vigorous return of parsing and textual studies as a fodder for nation building simultaneously. The coming together of these twin developments are not an accident. It is as a result and fallout of such a consensual unanimity that fields like digital humanities, area studies, book history, archive building, world-literature and so on flourish. Only a limited few within the academia have any sense of what goes beyond the shibboleths of the seminar hall, projects, the archives and transnational travel. 6 # Why largely Static and Undeviating?

Partly, the reasons are external—namely, systematic undermining of existing structures within our universities and colleges and lack of support for independent research institutions that would deal exclusively in the humanities. But external factors are sometimes beyond our control. A more significant reason is the lack of imagination and drive from the scholars themselves to independently or collectively break fresh ground. If seen closely, this is not surprising, for unlike history or sociology, institutional forms of humanities in India have been remarkably conformist and self-consuming. In order to pay lip service to social radicalism, it allowed the social sciences to define its scope, ambit and methods in the final decades of the last century.  It was the social sciences which worked as a bridge between hard sciences and the humanities—methodologically speaking. The result was a burgeoning of derivative humanities in the name of critical studies. The term culture studies was a trite and baggy offshoot of the same impulse. Barring some initial success such forays routinely accommodate unoriginality. On the other hand, there began a growing affair with philosophy and medical sciences by way of addressing the question of ethics within humanities. This is also imitative. Worthy as they are, in the long term, these forays could not help humanities reinvent itself. With no genuine critical tool within its own arsenal, humanities was left to flounder when it came to addressing contemporary developments in art and literature. By then, barring a minuscule and privileged fraction of the academic world, humanities studies had relinquished the disciplinary ways of interpreting the subjective and textual elements. It had forgotten the ways to recapitulate of the past and the techniques to churn the ordinary materiality of the senses. As a result of this two things have happened: one, a kowtowing to the social sciences with a shallow lip service paid to that fit-all buzzword: interdisciplinary.  One must always remember though that whenever that word is used there is always and always a prioritizing of certain disciplines at the cost of some other. It is never a level playing field.  And two, as a corollary to that, the humanities departments have lost touch with the intensity and the edge required of art and literature that would bring generations of students and researchers to study humanities. No amount of rethinking or probematizing around cobbled up refresher courses is going to bring forth any original verve within the academe. It is a fruitful thing to converse and work in tandem with other disciplines as long as you have your own priorities and aims periodically thrashed out from within the boundaries of your discipline. 1 #Are there some Other Ways?

Institutional study of humanities will continue to rely on its own routines and practices.  That is not going to change soon. An instance: poetry, in many ways, is the defining impulse of humanities. And poets abound. As long as humans live they shall hum and intone. But there has not been any path-breaking study of that primary impulse of humanities by our academic literary critics. We mean truly original and sustained work. None. Not even from beyond the antiseptic world of English studies. This is a fundamental lack. There is only one conclusion to be drawn: that the academia, more often than not, is unable to make sense of animated subjectivity, the imperatives of rhythm and repetition. It likes to play the string instrument which allows one to be the master of oneself. Whereas, flute, pipe or clarinet puts you beside yourself.  In her magisterial work Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, Susan Stewart has reminded us that the wind instruments are endowed with the force of possession which is a vehicle of transformation and self transformation. The academia is intimidated by the power of the wind. It painstakingly trains itself to be deaf to the voice of the choric, tragic and the lyric. So, we must move beyond the academia in order to relate to our basic impulses. There is a parallel set of places where humanities can be deepened. The market forces understand that parallel world best. So they form ententes with academics, publishers, authors and connoisseurs and give us this periodic jamboree of literary, art and crafts festivals.  They give us poetry reading sessions, film appreciation workshops and cultural retreats. These in turn lead to grants and fellowships. The tentacles are wide. And the level of optimism is infectious. Our institution and institutional builders have largely outsourced humanities to this world. In fact, it is increasingly mandatory for academics to be able to make themselves visible for their own good and to sell that visibility for the institution for which they work. Even if we ignore the political cost of such hobnobbing, this world has not given us, so far, any fresh insight or speculation so that we may make sense of how art and literature function in the subcontinent. 3 # Pathways Ahead?

There is no blueprint. One can only tentatively gesture towards some possibilities. Foremost, there must be a set of people who appreciate the value of failure and uselessness in life. Cheeriness, our impulse to be lovely, is a pathological condition. It is a scourge. Optimism must be discarded in favour of hope, as Terry Eagleton has so wonderfully iterated in his recent work. If we are able to clear those grounds and abandon whatever is being made available to us—then there are possibilities galore. The drama of life and the historical juncture at which we find ourselves today in the subcontinent are being felicitously and meticulously recorded and imagined  by our authors, playwrights, artists, poets. To understand the contemporary is also to understand a great palimpsest of heterogeneous traditions. And then hope to imagine a possible future. It is not too difficult to have a sense of what is being produced. We have to travel and enlarge our reading habits. Broaden our ambit of interactions and experiences. May be that will help us reconnect to the very synesthetic texture that is at the heart of the humanities impulse? As the recently deceased and one of our most original of poets Viren Dangwal had iterated about this joie de vivre  “O God, this life mired in sin/Though you are witness, I could not indulge more in it/ Most of it was out of reach.” And perhaps we need to marinate and assimilate that vast cache of gems for a long time before we can make any generalization about the humanities. Weigh options. Recalibrate our aesthetic and social assumptions. It is only then that we can think to come up with a fresh analytic of humanities studies. Only by moving beyond academia can we come back to academia in order to strengthen its roots. 2 _________________________________________

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *