Rereading Indian Literature: Kamala Das and Meena Kandasamy
Rereading Indian Writing in English Kamala Das (1934 – 2009) Meena Kandasamy (1984 - ) Selective Reading of the Poems Monday, 5th November, 2012 Refresher Course ASC, Uni. Of Mumbai, Mumbai Dilip Barad Dept. of English M.K. Bhavnagar University Bhavnagar – Gujarat firstname.lastname@example.org www.dilipbarad.com
Let us define . . .• What is literature? (Terry Eagleton Pg. 1- 14)• What is Indian Literature? (Umashankar Joshi and the Idea of Indian Literature – K. Satchidanandan – Indian Literature Pg. 31 – 44)• What is ‘Alternativism’? (A.K. Singh – Alternative Systems of Knowledge: A Study in Process and Paradigms’ 27 Pgs.)• Where to relocate Indian literature? (E.V.Ramakrishnan pg. 44)
Terry Eagleton• Is it objective or subjective?• Is it a mirror, or photographic or X-Ray image?• Is it the response of readers?• Is the undercurrents of social change captures in lit?• “Literature does not exist in the sense that insects do, and that the value-judgements by which it is constituted are historically variable, but that these value-judgements themselves have a close relation to social ideologies. They refer in the end not simply to private assumptions by which certain social groups exercise and maintain power over others.”• (From Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983))
Umashankar Joshi’s Idea of Indian Literature• His significance – partial rejection – S. Radhakrishnan’s statement - ‘Indian Literature is one written in different languages’…• His recognition of the complexity of idea, the gaps and silences in the earlier formulations, the inherent plurality of Indian literature, the importance of translation in the understanding and sustenance of the idea and the need for a relative and comparative approach ratherthan an absolute and normative one.
• He recognized possibility of the idea being hijacked by the right wing Hindu ideologues – idea means upper caste Hindu community.• He was careful to distinguish himself from these dogmatists who refuse to recognize the multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi- cultural nature of the country and its literature that lends itself to a pluralityof readings.
His rejection of Nihar Ranjan Ray’s opinion• He arrives at a dialectic standpoint by refusing to accept a standpoint and rarified idea of Indian literature --- opposing Ray’s opinion that idea itself is untenable – given the fact that literatures in the country are written in different languages and belong to those languages rather than to an abstract non-literary entity called India.• … India has eighteen languages to speak but her thinking is one (Subramania Bharati – tamil poet)
A.K. Singh – Alternative Vs /as Revolution• “Probably, humanity to a large extent is either fatigued with revolutions or it is incapable of affording yet another disenchantment with revolution and their failures.• In such a situation, an alternative is an alternative to ‘revolution’.• Since the romantic self or human psyche remains fascinated with the myth or romance of the revolution, the ghost of revolution haunts us despite a not so pleasant tryst with the history of revolution.”• Critique as Alternative: End of Postmodernism and Altermodern as new Modernity.• (From Indian Literature – March-April 2012)
E. V. Ramakrishnan• We need to relocate Indian literature in the context of caste gender, region, religion etc., where issues of everyday struggles for subsistence in a living society find their expression. . . The struggle against hegemonic structures of power defines the nature of lower-caste subjectivity.”• (From the Pedagogical to the Performative – Locating Indian Literature: Texts, Traditions, Translations. Delhi 2011)
Let us recall . . .• - that infamous "f" word… man-hating feminazis . . .• Simone de Boeuvir: "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. (The Second Sex)• Helena Cixous: “Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard.” (The Laugh of Medusa)• J. Lacan: ‘Otherness of language – in that gap desire is born’ (pg. 57-59-OUP)• Julia Kristeva: ‘foreignness of language’ (pg.63-64-OUP)• Northrop Frye: The Archetypes of Literature• Carl Jung: Collective Unconsciousness
Let us reread . . .• Kamala Das (1934 – 2009):• "If I had been a loved person, I wouldnt have become a writer. I would have been a happy human being…I suppose I started writing because I had certain weaknesses in my system. I thought I was weak and vulnerable. Thats why we attempt poetry. Poets are like snails without the shells, terribly vulnerable, so easy to crush. Of course it has given me a lot of pain, each poem. Each poem is really born out of pain, which I would like to share. But then you live for that person, the sharer of your pain, and you dont find him anywhere. It is the looking that makes the poet go on writing, search. If you find someone, the search is over, poetry is over."
• When Kamala Das wrote about ‘musk of sweat between the breast’, ‘menstrual blood’, ‘male/female body’, ‘female hungers’, ‘beat sorry breasts’, or ‘stand nude before the glass’, it was considered as ‘a far cry … a fiercely feminine sensibility that dares without inhibitions to articulate the hurts it has received in an insensitive largely man-made world’. (Iyengar 680)
Kamala Das – a stranger to herself• An Introduction• Poet emerges as a poet struggling to express her genuine sensibility in ‘man-made’ language.• The words as signifier do not signify the signified.• Julia Kristeva calls this signifying capability which is not derived from the meanings of the words ‘the semiotic’. It evokes, she maintains, the sound produced by the rhythmic babbling of small children who cannot yet speak.
• The semiotic exists prior to the acquisition of meaning, and psychoanalysis links it with the drive towards either pleasure or death.• These sound effects, as they reappear in poetry, are musical, patterned; they disrupt the purely ‘thetic’ (thesis-making) logic of rational argument by drawing on a sense or sensation that Kristeva locates beyond surface meaning.• The surface meaning in Das misguides us… (pg. 43 – 45,46)
‘An Introduction’ The language I speak Becomes mine … Its distortions, its queerness All mine, mine alone. …You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing Is to craw or roaring to the lions . . It is human as I am human, don’t You see?
• Words with negative connotation…• Lacan – the lost of real…• Frye – archetypes of tragic animal realm – poet’s real is dissatisfied… “My man, my sons, forming the axis While, I, wife and mother . . . Insignificant as a fly . . . (A Widow’s Lament)
Krishna – the language• The language is the prison within the limits of which she has to articulate herself.• Her address to Krishna in ‘Krishna’ is symbolic address to the language: • Your body is my prison, Krishna, I cannot see beyond it. Your darkness blinds me, Your love words shut out the wise worlds din. (Krishna) (Pg. 43)
An urge- Language of one’s own… At sunset, on the river bank, Krishna Loved her for the last time and left … That night in her husband’s arms, Radha felt So dead that he asked, what is wrong, Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said, No, not at all, but thought, what is It to the corpse if the maggots nip? (The Descendants) (pg. 44)
Obsession with sex & body• And, I loved his body without shame (Winter) • Getting a man to love you is easy Only be honest about your wants as Woman. (The Looking Glass) • Stand nude before the glass with him So that he sees himself the stronger one And believes it so, and you so much more Softer, younger, lovelier.
Gift him all, Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts, The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your Endless female hungers. (Looking Glass)Some beat their drums; others beat their sorry breasts And wailed, and writhed in vacant ecstasy. (Dance of Eunuch)
• I met a man, loved him. Call Him not by any name, he is every man Who wants. a woman, just as I am every Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless Waiting. • But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me. I shrank Pitifully. • (An Introduction)
• I drive my blue battered car Along the blue sea. I run up the forty Noisy steps to knock at another’s door. Though peep-holes, the neighbours watch, they watch me come And go like rain. Ask me, everybody, ask me What he sees in me, ask me why he is called a lion,A libertine, ask me why his hand sways like a hooded snake Before it clasps my pubis. Ask me why like A great tree, felled, he slumps against my breasts, And sleeps. (pg. 50)