Saturday, April 7, 2012

Feminist literary theory- politics

Feminism is a phenomenon whose existential reality to being grows all the more needful while its ideological, theoretical constituents are being reduced to bleached aphorisms. Its reality, beyond literary, pedagogical circles has proliferated ubiquitously while its encapsulation into palpable forms has alienated it from its own moral stance. We perhaps need feminism, always have but that need is intensified by our growing awareness of the lacunae within the interstices of this noble, august, rarefied conception of equality that had destabilized structures of power and control. Nowhere is the gap between concept and reality, theory and practice, manifest forms and contextual contiguity more blaringly visible than in feminist politics.

I find myself, in attempting to locate myself under the canopy of feminist thought, both amazed at its altruism and struck by its banality. As a literature student i've internalized the word feminism without understanding its intrinsic premises. Feminism can contain vastitudes yet define itself by the merest parochialism. Burning bras is as feminist a thought as it is to educate a girl. The smallest act of self assertion is imbued with political overtones because public/private, personal/political have blurred. And because a feminist sensibility, itself a literary construct, is so inextricably woven with exegetical dynamics that feminism, which questioned the fundamental premises of powerful institutions has now itself become a redoubtable one.

Somehow, to call oneself a feminist implies one is against men, the patriarchs. And while enlightened feminists eschew such breezy generalizations it remains, at a grassroot level, a fulcrum. An insinuation of alternative gender readings or misreadings into dominant cultural discourses undermines the logocentric, phallocentric, presuppositions of male supremacy. And as feminist theory evolves it embraces the protean fact of feminism's widening sense of itself as though each time a newer understanding is arrived at a newer reality is overlooked and necessitates re examination.

Stereotypes exist within feminist circles as well. Strident, vituperative demonstrations cause a self indulgent chuckle by those in power Look, they seem to be saying 'the poor dears are at it again.; And journalism objectifies feminism, mass culture trivializes it and metonymic representations rob it of its overarching panoply of layers and reduces it to kitsch grotesquerie. And this happens because we are growing increasingly expressive as a civilization, aware of injustice, aware of channels of redressal yet articulating seems to have replaced acting. Unsurprisingly the more we are ranting about inequality the more we are in complicity with perpetrators of it and the more complacent our co existence with it.

This is not to divest feminism of its transformative power. Apostasy is essential, dissent is necessary but its rendering into reductio ad absurdum, a de rigeur thing, is sucking the juices out of feminism's ideals. A woman is raped, expect the feminists to be up in arms, an incident of female foeticide and hey presto a new Ngo is created. Forms of restitution are inevitable but their lapsing into mere compensatory lip services, which is how 21st century patriarchy sees it , has made this attempt at seeking justice a mere valedictory gesture.

The forms patriarchy takes are very subtle. Where women's increasing political importunity was seen earlier as alarming or hysterical it is now being treated with self indulgent solicitude. A department of women's studies, a course on afro american women writers are as much ways of rebellion as reconstitution of anomaly into a patchwork kaleidoscope whose putative iconoclasm underpins its eventual submergence into the very structure it sought to oppose.

It is fashionable for young impressionable literature students like us to identify ourselves as feminists, to be suffused with righteous indignation, but such virulent ideological positions are counterpointed by the essential acquiescence women have to men, their absorption through osmosis, of newer patriarchal tools of containment which confer a patina of equality but actually obliterate the possibility of it.

Which is not to say the inroads haven't been made. Metamorphosis, self realization and the right to live full lives are certainly both being promulgated and stressed. Women's lives have changed but for many the fact of their disempowerment still remains a palpable fact. Feminism has both rippled and billowed and folded inwards. This simultaneous expansion and shrinkage has imprisoned it behind postmodern representative spaces. In attempting to make itself heard feminism has, many times, unfortunately caricatured itself and willy nilly succumbed to contemporaneity.

To redefine feminism is both essential and nugatory. Our foremothers irradiated the filaments of identity under whose flickeringly resilient luminosity women have eked out a whole mode of becoming. Gusts of wind make the flame waver, undulate, tremulous, about to be snuffed but each onslaught reaffirms the iridescent kernel of continuity and progress. The opalescence is undimmed. Yet, a redefinition of it is essential because the indeterminate, kinetic world is bursting at the seams, snagging under the weight of containment and desirous of spilling out. As newer ways of  answering back will unfurl, as anger, of however viscerally immutable a nature, take new forms, as backlashes will impede, as newer battles of self abnegation and self stigma will be fought, as both within and without women will seek to transform the world by transforming themselves feminism will remain, despite strenuous asseverations, a nebulous abstraction, a humane, transcendental signifier whose transfiguration into the quotidian will remain unambiguously ideal and realizable. And as the configurations of what it means to be feminist will change, its transmogrifications will kindle newer ways of seeing. And while skeptics of the 21st century foretell doom and optimists undiminished growth we, as self proclaimed feminists, have to burrow deep and understand at a holistic level, what being a woman, a man, a human and a whole being is all about. Sheathed in smug self congratulation at our gratuitous forms of recompense as we are the larger picture may recede as we walk towards it. But it may recede yet will always be visible, beckoning with intimations of  traversing its unplumbed mysteries because it is only amorphous hope, its unwavering  steadiness that will propel a polemical change and usher in the possibility of a brave new world, tantalizing yet attainable.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Deepa Mehta's polemical movie Fire got into innumerable controversies because it dared to portray love between two women, a love for which there is no word in the Indian language. Not only was patriarchy, which had always suppressed women's desires threatened by fear of emasculation but the very premise of marriage, i.e procreation , its rationalization was rendered questionable. The fact that the desire to live , to live with desire, was promulgated shocked the sanctimonious pundits who immediately banned the movie.

Sita And Radha, consecrated by custom, are used as metonyms to subversively create a space where alternative forms of sexual orientations could be explored. The young Sita's husband, conducting an affair with a chinese slut, selling pornographic movies underhand emblematizes the objectification of sexuality that constitutes postmodern culture. The servant boy who, in the guise of showing the old invalid matriarch, the ramayana, actually watches porn and masturbates in front of this crippled woman symbolizes the baroque apparatus of commodified sexuality, replete with gratuitous insatiability, that dehumanizes and denatures the emotional reality of sex. And Radha's husband, whose self abnegation is carried to unreasonable excess lies beside his wife and doesn't touch her, just to prove his resistance to temptation.

The two women come close together due to the respective emotional bareness of their respective lives. Lesbianism isn't presented in the movie as a orientation embedded intrinsically. Rather it becomes a funnel through which issues of gender, class, religion and liberation are underscored. The two women aren't born lesbians but become so in the course of their engagement with each other. Soldered, in more ways than one, by patriarchy, which sees them as objects, religion, which mythologizes them the two women learn to lean on to each other emotionally.

The love scenes are delineated with a poignant immediacy which transcends parochialism and throws into doubt prurient possibilities. The delicacy of eroticism, the crevices of flesh, every orifice of which becomes imbued with sensuality, the iridescent moistened bead of sweat, the fragrant breath of cardamom, become surcharged with meaning so that love, not sex, hunger for communion, not desire for physical satiation are interwoven into love's topography. Each kiss, each caress, each gesture through touch represents the emotional reality of sex and its movement towards a realm of being beyond the physical.

The fascinating thing about Fire is also the affirmative message it sends out of a human yearning for completion, self sufficiency and the right to choose and stand up for one's choices. In the endless quest for this liberation the movie's excellence lies in its navigating through the interstices of lesbianism which makes it both a palpable reality and a mosaic of this kaleidoscope of self realization that our lives lead up to. Sexual orientations are not inviolable choices interlocking mankind into an intractable circuitous routes of self destruction. Sexual orientation is a pathway, a conduit that funnels us through to this chimera of self fulfillment which we as individuals are moving towards. The more we advance with confident leaps towards this vision, the more it recedes. The endless horizon stretches and stretches. But Fire gives us a glimpse of the nobility of this vision beyond gender, religion and culture. The fire destroys , obliterates the dross and from its charred remains emerges the incandescent kernel of our existence, the meaning of life and by implication life.