The Constellation of Singularity

On May 18, 2017 by admin



Adrita Mukherjee, Mantra Mukim and Rohan Kamble


[Review of The Deed of Words by Pothik Ghosh, New Delhi: Aakar Books, 2017. The authors are reading for the M.Phil in the Department of English, University of Delhi.]


For any new form of art, which in its epoch might be censured as being too ‘political’, in its trajectory from the streets, where it was born, to the hallowed grounds of academia is characterized by hostility and diffidence. The tenuous bond that had been forged between art and politics in these incipient stages does strengthen over time and yet remains a conundrum that continues to attract further rigorous analyses and study. Do art and politics constitute non-overlapping magisteria or are they inextricably entangled with each other? What are the dynamics that drive the sustenance of the politico-aesthetic interface, assuming that there is one?

Pothik Ghosh’s The Deed of Words is a welcome addition to this area of study.

Ghosh swerves away from the conventional path of tracing the political affiliations of authors in their literary oeuvres. Instead he looks at a literary work as a reified entity which by its sheer existence and peculiar aesthetic arrangements necessitates ramifications which are political. Its ‘being’ invariably inflects the domain of what we construe as the ‘political.’ Ghosh’s contention that Akhtaruzzaman Elias in his novel Chilekotar Sepai foregrounds the universality of the struggles in the meditational specificity that they posit is a significant argument in the book. The description of the struggle manages to transcend the boundaries of identitarianism and representation that the politics of capitalism follows. This leads us directly into a caveat: the insurrectionary potential of the identitarian struggles, one has to admit, is derived precisely from the adhesive forces which forge the identity. If the moment of insurrection, the culmination point of localized insurgent forces, results in a new subjectivity emerging which is resistant to ‘externalized determination’ doesn’t it invariably lead to the subsumption of infinitely different space-time configurations under the rubric of the counter-totalization; the force of singularity?

If the ‘savage mind’ is a de-identitarianising force it simultaneously dissipates the revolutionary potential that one can find in the underbelly of struggles driven by a mixtures of identity and principles. The non-identity that emerges as a result of the insurrectionary moment will inevitably have to confront the question of newer modes of identification and representation. This yet unresolved question Ghosh may wish to confront more squarely. This question has forever vexed the serious independent left positions but given the current geo-political climate, takes much more ardency.

The crisis of capital (capital itself being a moving contradiction) is that it wants to eliminate singularity, the book argues. This is a significant thrust in the book. At this moment, even as there is a will to eliminate the same, singularity is constitutive of capital. It does not lie outside of capital but is significant as a formalization: it can be a moment of launching the critique of capital. But how?

One can relate this insight with the insurrectionary politics that the first essay of the book locates in Elias’ work. The moment of insurgency is the moment of break or rupture: an event that harbours the potential to transform the reader-writer relationship, which is that of capital. The expression of this break is one that collates both spontaneity and form—something that can also be seen in Walter Benjamin’s conceptualization of the allegorical. Elias’ description of Tamijer Baap chasing the ashen clouds away in Khowabnama is precisely this moment of a break. That is to say, there is a desire to experience “that past when it was present as its own emerging.” Herein lies the politics of the break, of insurrection.

Regarding the moment of rupture and the consequent dream of the implosion of capital: this transformation will occur only by stretching the finite, historically defined moment to the monstrous beyond. Tamijer Baap then becomes an allegorical figure harking to that break. Allegory and politics, therefore, cannot be separated. Politics of insurrection, that is and within this framework, the insurrectionary mind as revealing itself to be a constellation of forces. In other words, the constellation of singularity wherein lies the break and its potential, then, to transform passive practicality.

The constellation of singularity, in the text, is the proletariat. One notices the relentless counter-capital strain of the work. One underlines how in Ghosh’s mind the proletariat not at all a sociological group but a living, material concept that questions ideas of historically bound identities.  This is an extremely crucial point of departure for the political way of reading literary texts in the way that Ghosh has conducted.

Another entry point to this critical work is to notice how the act of reading literature for Ghosh has a use-value, which is non-relational. Unlike the circuit of capital where the value of a commodity is determined by its exchange, literary experience is valued singularly on how it, the work itself, is consumed. Literature, for Ghosh, thereby never becomes a tool for political didacticism as it can never be exchanged for politics. As his reading of Muktibodh makes evident, literature rather becomes politically productive only at the moment of its non-relationality, that is, its withdrawal from exchange.

The issue with Ghosh’s argument here is the ease with which he brings together Marxian theory of value with the concept of singularity, particularly Badiou’s. In Capital, Vol I, use-value actually exhausts the object of consumption, that is, if object A is consumed rather than exchanged for object B, then the utilization of A would limit any possibilities of exchange. Thus, it is surprising that Ghosh deploys the concept of use-value to theorize literature as an excess that cannot be supplanted or redistributed for any empirical uses including that of consumption. If use-value is a relation of consumption that exhausts its object, how can literary experience have one such value since the literary work never completely exhausts its field of content/style nor is it ever exhausted by a reader? Is it not singular precisely because it slips these valuations based on consumption?

In Ghosh’s reading of Capital, he feels use-value actually allows for a relationship of excess between objects. The object far from being exhausted realizes its potential, its multiplicity, only when it evaluated as use-value. This allows a relationship with literature which experiences the excess of meaning therein without necessarily harnessing it for exchange.

One wonders why at all does Ghosh wants to delineate a materialist dialectic from a Hegelian-idealist one? The more fundamental question is that despite the asymmetry that Ghosh argues exists between literature and other discourses why does he still retain the dialectic? In the wake of the “event”, which Badiou thinks is governed immanently and by its own logic, it seems a little baffling to still vouch for a dialectic.

Ghosh responds by demonstrating first how Hegelian dialectic is unsustainable because it assimilates all kinds of negation within a totalizing spirit, which would mean erasing any potential the event had in terms of its immanence or autonomy. A materialist dialectic on the other hand, he argues, allows literature, politics or any other ontic or epistemic form to recognize its limits through its determinate other.

Ghosh’s political and aesthetic investigations are both driven by his understanding of singularity. However, it seems rather odd that literature, whose temporality is so distinct from that of politics, could be conceptually similar to the latter when it came to singularity. Since literature is produced and consumed irregularly unlike politics, which seems to have some kind of infrastructural continuum, one is curious to know as to how Ghosh negotiates this problem while reading literature politically. Ghosh’s work suggests that he is looking at literature as a procedure, where being is carried out in non-being. Thus, regardless of the discontinuity literature as an event remains effective even in its immediate absence.



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