Wednesday, January 31, 2007

'your new dogma is just not sexy'

I still haven't finished reading this epic account of 'why men and women don't want sex'.

It began at Dr. Helen's, and Feministe picked up on it, especially quoting from the more exquisite comments left on the first blog.

I got it from Crooked Timber.

Here's one gem, naturally by Anonymous, from the 160-odd comments that appeared on the original blog:

Personally, I have given up on women – for reasons based on aesthetic, economic, and karmic criteria.

* Aesthetically — I no longer pursue relationships with women because by-and-large, modern American females are no longer particularly desirable. Feminism has largely extinguished femininity, replacing it with the modern, aggressive, masculinized Go-Grrrrlz careerist prototype. In pursuing masculine forms of power, women have remade themselves into poor imitations of men. As a heterosexual man, I am not erotically attracted to my own gender. So, why should I be attracted to faux-men in skirts? (And no, I do not wish to see women sequestered at home barefoot and pregnant.) But please don’t ask me to find ball-busting, affirmative-action professional diversity princesses with toxic feminist entitlement attitudes and the requisite uncritical certainty in their moral, intellectual, and emotional superiority (over lowly, subhuman men) — DESIRABLE as potential relationship partners.

Women chose to be ideological when they accepted feminism. And sorry girls, but your new dogma is just not sexy.

* Economically – I avoid personal relationships with women because, quite simply, a basic cost:benefit analysis will prove that the obvious risks far outweigh the presumed benefits. Forget about having to pay for the dates, the flowers, the jewels and all the other tokens on her toll-road to sex.

This is where one must talk about the lethal anti-male legal system that forty years of feminism has imposed. Marriage now is a system for expropriating a man’s wealth, and nothing more. It’s the only so-called “contract” where two individuals state their vows to form an inviolable partnership, unless one of them wakes up some morning and decides to bail because s/he is bored, inconvenienced, or unfulfilled. (And 70% of the time, the aggrieved party is female.) The Divorce Courts are where men are systematically harvested just like corn is de-tassled. The radically dead Bolsheviks would be embarrassed today to see how feminist gender capitalism has so exponentially exceeded naïve communism in achieving the redistribution of the oppressor’s wealth to the victim class!

Even co-habiting with a woman is dangerous now. She has 911 on the cell speed-dial and knows all about the Domestic Violence intervention squad that she can summon 24 x 7 to arrest the man on any false pretense she might wish to express. All 50 states have rape laws that provide up to 30 days after an alleged sexual act for the woman to decide (retroactively – maybe those Valentine’s Day flowers were an insufficient token of supplicancy?) that she was in fact raped. And, marriage is no sanctuary from this jeopardy, thanks to “marital rape” laws that codify the same female subjective standard of proof.

Oh, and if this wasn’t enough legalistic terrorism, the law now says that if I buy a woman a drink and she later comes to my bed, I may have coerced her and deprived her of the act of consent, so on her allegations alone I would be subject to sexual assault charges. Puts a bit of a damper on the romantic ambience that dating intends, yes?

So, economically speaking, women have become an expensive, risky luxury commodity that I have elected to decline. I also avoid loan sharks, prostitutes, and politicians for pretty much the same reasons.

I am taking a yoga break, to do some deep breathing. More when I calm down.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

the Dishonesty of Parzania

This post is in some sort a response to Bharadwaj Rangan’s review on his blog. Mine is not a review of Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania. I saw the film more than a year ago in Trivandrum and my recall of the film is not accurate enough to warrant what could be called a review or something that might or might not persuade a reader to watch the film. I am more interested in some questions surrounding the narrative strategies of the film itself.

Rahul Dholakia has based the story of Parzania on real events that happened to the Mody family in Gujarat in March 2002. A Parsi family living in a chawl loses the older son while fleeing from their home. The father is away and the mother, while running down the stairs, manages to keep her daughter by her, but her son, faced by a few members of the mob, cannot follow. Did he manage to escape? Did one of the families that had refused to house them just a little while before, finally take him in? Was he killed? We never find out. Parzan becomes another statistic amongst the thousands who went missing in the Gujarat carnage.

My problems with the film are numerous, but I will set out only a few of them.

The first question that ought to be pretty obvious but which no one seems to have asked is: what kind of a story is this? Is it fiction? If it is based on real events, would it be fair to call it an interpretation? An interpretation of what? A troublesome central character, such as Truman Capote, whose motivations one is trying to understand?

Or is it intended as a representative meta-narrative of events in Gujarat? What, really, is the purpose of narrating the story in this way rather than, say, in a documentary format; after all, this is supposed to be based on ‘real’ events.

Nearly five years after Gujarat (I use the word ‘Gujarat’ advisedly, as a marker of an event rather than as a State) few of the documents that emerged from the events of March 2002 have made their way into the mainstream. One of the few films to emerge from this time, Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution, is a documentary that has consistently run into trouble with the censors. Screenings have been blocked time and again. Dholakia seems to have had less trouble with the censors, getting away with a few minor cuts, considering the volatile nature of story. That should tell us something.

Another related question is, in what form does an artist choose to depict harrowing events and why? In a post-modern sense, a viewer or reader ought to be freed from the intentions of the author, whether the work is a book (such as Fireproof) or a film (such as Parzania), but when a filmmaker makes a statement like the one below, my alarm bells start ringing.

Dholakia says, “One of the most important aims of the film is to help Dara and Rupa Mody find their son Azhar.”

I admit I am reading this astonishing statement of purpose a whole year after having seen the film and disliked it. And even were this quotation only partially true, or taken out of context, it is indicative of a myopia that I think runs like a blind thread through the film.

Let’s take Parzania at face value, as a straight narrative of terrible events in one family from a minority community that has, thus far, not been especially singled out for persecution. This is as focused or narrow an area of experience as one could find, in the large, chaotic canvas of Gujarat. Under the circumstances, I would expect a brilliant, hard light falling on this small area of the canvas, illuminating it so that the characters and events it depicts are unique and whose lives tell us something we either did not know or had not seen in just this way before. Better still, I would expect that it raises at least some questions about the nature of such violence and what it means to live through these events and stand witness to it.

Instead, you get a story that has repeated itself across the face of Gujarat – this time I’m talking about the State – in every mohalla and chawl from Naroda Patia to Gulbarg Society, Chamanpura (where 40 people, including the ex-MP of the Congress, Ahsan Jafri, were burnt alive).

What are Parzania’s formal or intellectual underpinnings? Apart from the naïve and probably throwaway statement I’ve quoted above, Dholakia, in the same news report, has these two rather telling things to say about the film. Both these statements have to do with selling or distributing the film in Gujarat:

“Selling an English film of this kind is difficult ... But I feel language is immaterial as the subject holds universal appeal,” Dholakia said.

“I don't anticipate any trouble if people view it as a story about a family trapped in the riots and looking for their son, which is what the film is about,” said Dholakia.

Statement One: An English film is difficult to sell. Not necessarily a film about the Gujarat riots in Gujarat.

Statement Two: As long as it’s viewed as a small story about one family, it ought to rock no boats.

I did mention myopia earlier on, didn’t I?

So Dholakia wants the audience to come in to the theatre, to see an English film about a minority community that has integrated so well as to be indistinguishable from the majority community (in one early scene, the children are told the story of how the Parsis first came to India; my memory is likely to be inaccurate, but I think the story goes of how the ruling king presented the arriving Parsis with an almost overflowing bowl of milk to indicate that there was no room for them. At which point, the leader of the fleeing Parsis added sugar to the milk, thus indicating integration as well as a sweetening of the of the whole).

Dholakia would have us look at this as a small, intense, personal loss. We are not asked to question, either within the framework of the narrative, or outside of it – in the interviews he gives to the press, for instance – what it means for this story to be told in precisely this way.

I’m taking a short detour here to quote from Zadie Smith’s recent article in the Guardian.
In it, she talks about the cliché:

What is a cliché except language passed down by Das Mann, used and shop-soiled by so many before you, and in no way the correct jumble of language for the intimate part of your vision you meant to express? With a cliché you have pandered to a shared understanding, you have taken a short-cut, you have re-presented what was pleasing and familiar rather than risked what was true and strange. It is an aesthetic and an ethical failure: to put it very simply, you have not told the truth.
And a little later,

Fictional truth is a question of perspective, not autobiography. It is what you can't help tell if you write well; it is the watermark of self that runs through everything you do. It is language as the revelation of a consciousness.

Any filmmaker worth his salt will have to engage with the ways in which he presents or re-presents the truth of a narrative. I’d go further and say, he would have to engage with the nature of truth itself, and what role memory has to play in revealing or concealing it. You would have to have the mastery of a Resnais to talk about horrors such as Gujarat. Resnais himself could not bear to make his film Night and Fog [1], on the concentration camps of Germany except as a reconstruction from old photographs and exhibits, and shots of the empty shells of Auschwitz, with a voice over that is nothing if not an examination of the nature of violence.

It is hard to take a film that is as uncritical as Parzania is. It questions nothing and asks that you accept what it offers – which is pitifully little – as a sufficient lens through which to view and understand the events of March 2002. The characters, no matter how well portrayed (which I have reservations about as well, but I’ll let that one go) amount to little more than types picked off the newspaper pages following the carnage.

If the intent is to pull at our heartstrings, that is easily done. But is this enough? We move from one tragedy to another with the restless eagerness of the disaster junkie, and heaven knows, our newspapers and televisions give us enough. I ask again, is this enough?

In my post about Michael Hanecke’s Caché I talked about the devises the director uses to question within the film a ‘truth’ that he had carefully set up just a shot before. With the absence of such formal doubt and questioning, Dholakia’s film comes across as exploitative and fundamentally dishonest.

It is easy to bludgeon an audience into a quiescent stupor. No doubt people will pour out of the theatres with tears in their eyes because they’ve shuddered vicariously at someone else’s disaster and feel safe in the knowledge that, because it has Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika in it, this is only a story, only something to be experienced temporarily and forgotten.

If that is what Dholakia wanted, of course he has succeeded. It is only a pity that our filmmakers ask so little of themselves.

[1] Please read Philip Lopate’s excellent article about Resnais’ film: it sets out some of the other reasons I’ve barely touched upon in this post, for why some other method of narration about Gujarat might be more truthful and effective.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Decisive Moment

Like some great photographs, this one was entirely serendipitous. We were getting ourselves some tea on the first day at the Jaipur Lit Fest, when I spotted these two gentlemen. Please note that no one posed for or compelled anyone to pose for this photograph. Cartier-Bresson would approve.


And will post later tonight about Jaipur, though the Jabberwock, the Babu and Amit have pretty much covered it all.

Good to be back, and expect much posting from now on!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Moonset over Madhapur

I've been trying out my new Nikon Coolpix. I must admit, that though there are several advantages, I haven't yet got used to not being able to twirl my shutter control and aperture as I please. Most times, I 've no idea at what settings a photo has been taken and that is a little annoying!

3 January, 6.15 am.

Posted by Picasa
Goodbye for the present, and see you all in ten days.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"no sane reader wants any war poetry"

Todd Swift writes in response to an article in the TLS:

Firstly, no sane reader wants any war poetry at all - surely, it's only a necessary evil of combative times. What they expect, if there is a war, is that the poetry written during wartime will, at the very least, "handle" the pressure of experience placed on language and the living (and dying) at that time;

Secondly, the requirement to "challenge your assumptions" rather begs the question of what those are, in the first place. Poetry is not a debating chamber, only. If one's assumptions are that Christ died for our sins, that one shouldn't kill, that war is a last resort - well, one hardly wants or needs Satanic verses espousing a holocaust simply for the sake of throwing off dusty old ways for shiny new ones. T.S. Eliot's sublime Quartets are blessed with very much establishing convictions, not simply shaking an apple tree to see if any Vicars fall;

Thirdly, the rather simplistic idea that only poetry anthologies with self-evident titles contain a "political agenda" is a little old-fashioned. Every poetry anthology constitutes a micro-canon, and therefore establishes and defends its own set of values, hierarchies and traditions;

Read the rest here.

Todd's point is that the war poets are there, but not necessarily in the places the TLS is looking. But I'm not sure I agree with Todd when he says, "no sane reader wants any war poetry". No sane person wants war, but we want the poetry about it, because we want to remind ourselves of what we do in the name of peace.

And while we're on the subject of war poetry and Nthposition, here is one from the anthology Todd is talking about, that also features in the film, Voices In Wartime. In the film, Bentham reads the poem out herself and if anything can convince one of the need to hear poetry read, this should do it:

War - the concise version

Rachel Bentham

contention between people
this is how we begin
specific conflicts
armed hostilities

the "art of war"
– it’s certainly not a science,
but doesn't art create?

strategy and tactics
been in the wars?

war baby
war bride
war crime that which violates
international laws of war as if laws are effective
in wartime

war cry
war of attrition
war of nerves
war grave

war weary, just reading the words.*

More war poetry on an ongoing basis

*Wasted a lot of time trying to keep the formatting of the poem but it ain't working. Sorry. More things to figure out.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How Frank John O'Hara received a rejection letter

John O'Hara, in a letter to Harold Ross, January 1939:

Dear Harold:

I have decided to reject your rejection of this piece[1] and to give you a chance to read it over again. I think you often are unduly influenced by bulk—that is, when you get three pieces at a time you think they can’t all be good, and then you go beyond that and think none of them can be good. The result: three rejections, which, of course, are unsalable elsewhere.

As a matter of fact when a writer writes in spurts, as I do, there is just as good a chance that everything he produces in a spurt will be good. In this case I happen to agree with you that one of the three pieces you just rejected is not the best I ever wrote, and that another of them could stand some rewriting. However you too frequently reject flatly when a piece could easily be salvaged. That is my squawk about some pieces. In the case of the enclosed I honestly think you ought to read it again.

[1] Unidentified; probably “that collage piece” mentioned in 8
February letter to William Maxwell.

The rest of the letter at the wonderful blog, Today In Letters.

Update: much mortified at having got John O'Hara mixed up with Frank; thanks Cheshire Cat.

I wish someone will tell me how to do a strike-thorough, so it doesn't look like I've sneakily altered the post in fundamental ways without acknowledging my carelessness.

Besides, I like strike-throughs.

Update 2: Van the Man Ludwig has shown us the way!

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Jaipur Lit Fest

I could no better than to direct you here.

Incidentally, the Lit Fest is only one part of the larger Jaipur fest, which has some very interesting performances, workshops and so on.

Yeasterday's reading of Ranjit Hoskote's poetry at the Kalakriti festival was preceded, much to my dismay (and eventual enjoyment) by an inauguration, complete with speech and symbolic desecration of pristine canvas by participating artists.

The first artist, from Pakistan, did some flag type thing which he took ages over, with no corresponding increase in the worth of art. Another artist, also Pakistani, drew a black outline of a square at the base of the flagpole and signed in the empty space it held. One bird and one craggy mountainous structure completed the non-human representations on canvas. Everyone else drew faces, or eyes, or caricatures of faces, or tortured faces carved out of mountain-sides, or suggestions of nose, eyebrow and lip. It was all rather overwhelming.

So we went and recruited our strength with samosas shaped like pouches, canapes with corn, and chocolate-filled thingys. And tea-coffee.

Ranjit's reading was short and sweet. 'Fugue', a tribute to Nissim Ezekiel, went down rather well with those present. WIsh he's read more, though.

Vidya Shah was sublime.

I feel I am suffering from intellectual indigestion.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ranjit Hoskote's reading at Kalakriti Art Gallery, Hyderabad

Just passing the word.


invites you to a reading


from his book Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems,1985-2005 (Penguin, 2006)

Date: Sunday, 7 January 2007
Time: 4.30 pm
Venue: Kalakriti Art Gallery,
468, Road No. 10,
Banjara Hills, Hyderabad
Tel: +91-40-6656 4466

This Reading is part of the Krishnakriti AnnualFestival of Art & Culture, held in memory ofKrishnachandra B Lahoti.

Other events include a recital by Vidya Shah later the same evening, and a Jazz concert featuring Jeo Alvarez, Louis Banks, Shefali, Gino Banks & Sheldon D'silva at 7pm on the 10th.

More details on their website.

Friday, January 05, 2007

In which Chi Wen Tzu invents the haiku (I am a poet/and you did not know it!)

(ok, ok, forgive.)

And, according to Roger McGough, The Spotted Unicorn is where the diary entries of 'an indecisive and yet inventive and brilliant poet...shed surprising new light on a little-known period of ancient history.'

28 February

Young wife try to appease husband
with gift of poetry book. Title?
New Generation Chinese Poetry.

Finding poems too long and impenetrable
decide to invent short, snappy verse-form.

With aid of abacus
Chi Wen Tzu ponder on its construction

First how many lines
then how many syllables
Eureka! Haiku.

[Editor's note: Having invented the haiku, Chi Wen Tzu wrote several thousand before going on to invent the sonnet, the villanelle, the limerick and the Malaysian pantoum. The few that have survived illustrate the wide breadth of his poetic vision and seem almost to pre-date some of the best-loved poems in English literature.]

There is some corner
of a paddy-field
Forever CHina.

Wandering lonely
as cloud. Then heart leaps. Behold --
Golden pagodas!

On snowy evening
stopping by neighbour's dark woods
horse leaves steaming gift.

Sing of dappled things!
Freckled lggs and pickled eggs
Budgies' wings. Nipples.

In forest of night
Panda! Panda! burning bright
Soon, bedroom carpet.

This is the night-mail
ossing the border. Oh no
Leaves on track--turn back.

If you can keep head
in time of Revolution
-you will be a man(darin).

Mongol hoardes swoop down
on missionary and wife.
Noble six hundred!

Oh my luve's like red
red rose, pink, pink carnation
green, green grass of home.

Do not go gentle
Rage Rage Rage Rage Rage Rage Rage
Against lots of things.

Far out in cold sea
And not waving but drowning
Man see funny side.

They mess you about
Most honourable parents
(But who gives a fuck?)


Now that all the dogged cheerfulness in the face of the new year is mercifully over, I can now emerge to say hello.