Anger, Us & HumanitiesUnderground

On January 11, 2012 by admin

Prasanta Chakravarty

To the HUG blog, WordPress says: ‘you have reached the goal of 75 posts’. A year ago, one didn’t begin with any goal. It was an angry morning, I recall, needless perhaps, when this FB page was made in 10 minutes flat. Angry because of specific events at the place where I work, an anger also directed towards myself for being unable to really do anything, not being able to tell and get people together, for failing to think absurdly and yet strategically. Most of all, for opting out sometimes in difficult situations. That anger throbs in the ‘about’ section on the FB page still. There is also a hint of a purported ‘we’ there—a rather self-conscious ‘we’: those who care about and love art, literature and life in general. And a not-so-veiled reference to others those who do not care, and those who actually seek to demolish that zeal in conscious ways too.

A year later I wonder both about the anger and us. As I look closely and more empirically into the various categories under which individual essays have been slotted (and that slotting no doubt has a subjective bias) – I see 27 pieces under Political and 21 under Aesthetics. These are the largest ones, followed by Popular (17), Literature (15), History (13), Records (12) and Ethics (11). One can see that HUG, in a manner, wonders about the processes, inspirations and reception of literature and art. It is thoroughly invested in questions of form and symbols, no doubt. And yet, it will not let pass so easily and so liberally what goes by the name of such bunkum as world literature, local kitsch, communicative safe havens and so forth.

And yet I wonder about the robustness of the anger. The element of anger – so important for any oppositional position – how can that be without fanfare and yet be deeply involved, in order to gauge a problem or help come out of a predicament?  Or conversely: what about mitigating, whispering takes and positions that hark so sharply and so nonchalantly to positions of power and channels of prejudice that they are often taken aback simply by the hard hitting, expansive love of the writers for their subject matter? Authority is often most bewildered by largeness of heart; for it is precisely that which its worldview lacks and wishes to suppress. Such love channelizes anger, gives it a shape—does not seek to manage it or impart it with a meaningless woozy empathy. I notice that quite a few of our contributors have given rage such steely edges in their pieces and have actually spoken out against our antagonists despite never naming them explicitly. What I am trying to emphasize is the Underground element in our forum and its contours—for there is also an obverse problem: suppose (and I often feel that in the FB space at least) this becomes one more space for woolly liberal intervention?  It is a problem of being able to share a democratic space and yet mark its boundaries. One thing is certain among various uncertainties (a room for HUG, anyone?):  HUG  wishes to steer clear of such meaningless ‘rethinkings’ and ‘interferences.’ This is a place to relax and carouse too—not for busybodies to cast their nets. So, I am mildly alarmed when I see a surfeit of announcements about this music festival or that series on our education policy on FB . This salad-bowl approach compromises the Underground aspect of HUG, and tends to co-opt it into the so-called great synergy of humanities studies.

And this leads me to the other point about ‘we’ and ‘us’ here—the sharing members of this community. The FB blurb again evokes, I notice, an electronic cooperative group of sorts, that might—by its sheer sharedness of purpose and conviction in/about the humanities—be able to hold the antagonist at bay. Keep at tenterhooks at least. HUG, as a platform, a year or so ago, invoked the motley nature and the we-ness of art practitioners and critics alike, in a way that they come together in opposing the crassness of apolitical and the un-aesthetic being.  That motto I think still holds good – antagonistic politics and art cannot be exchanged for agonistic and humane worldviews. HUG baulks at such a prospect. But we had also talked about a reverse craftiness and insidiousness in the face of the marauding dogmatists of all hues – chiefly utilitarians and other rational sentimentalists now.  But perhaps this we-ness needs also to be self-reflexive, so as to steer clear of the easy hubris of righteousness. Do-gooding and instruction, this Horatian grammar school premise of ‘doing’ art – HUG shuns with all its might. So, while we mark and celebrate our collective platform, may we also not come into easy and premature consensus about our objectives. I wish that our we-ness remains forever unstable. May HUG retain a certain quirkiness and not get institutionalized into a purpose.

Prasanta Chakravarty  teaches English Literature at the University of Delhi.

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