Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Measure of Life

Preity Zinta has taken to twitter to "admit" that yes, she has gotten married to Gene Goodenough. And asked that the jokes begin. But this random bit of internet trivia, of a no doubt important event, brought me back to the experience of my not good enough week.

I was having a not good enough week. The days I have noticed seem divided, into much more than good enough, in fact, the soul and substance of life, and never will be good enough. Between these two extremes, I waft pendulum-like waiting for some balance. And why, pray, are things not enough or too much to feature in any category of measure? And why does my appetite, vacillate between the vamana's, unsated and unfulfilled, and obscure Roman emperors, vomiting it all out to make room for more? Part ennui, part the truth of meaninglessness, part the excess of hysteria, and part summer, it is a heady cocktail. But a large part of this, is life.


Kanhaiya Kumar is back in the world, and produced what in my mind is the Amitabh Bachchan of recent speeches. And yes, this is a compliment. That one can rouse sentiment in skeptics is no small achievement. But like all else, one sees the speech, and not the life. The surface mirrors nothing. It is, after all, the surface. And yet, it is not nothing. The everyday is made of surfaces, and the sooner we start looking at it, the sooner we abandon the pursuit of meaning and the future at the cost of the present moment. And yet, can we look at the present moment as situated in the past and future? What forms of vision do we need to cast our nets wider?


I finished reading Part I of Knausgaard's "My Struggle". It is everything people say it is. It is a life, and a set of unfinished moments. It is memory, and it is truth. It plods, and yet it moves. This is, also, a good time in life to read this book, for as James Wood says, in this interview, "It's a tragedy of getting older." 


One of the things that intrigues me about the book is its seeming masculinity. Or at least its desire for such. The more years of feminist theory I teach, the more I become interested in masculinity. This of course may be the poverty of my discursive inhabitation, that I still do think only in binaries. But to temporarily escape this charge, let me reiterate that I'm interested in the -ities and not in their pre-determined attachment to male and female bodies. In the same interview, Knausgaard says, "I'm very well aware of the fact that women are objects in this book, because that's how it is for me, and I wanted to show that. I'm aware of me doing it. Every time I see a woman, I think, How would it be to have sex with her?....These are things that you not supposed to say. We are told, This is wrong, that is wrong, we shouldn't think this way. But the difference interests me a lot- the difference between what you should do and what you really do."

The beauty of located thought, of course, is that the two can and do co-exist, and it is not a battle of wills, but a different set of locations. That I understand gender as fluid, but inhabit my body as woman, are not contrary sets of assertions in the world, one being normative (in feminist theory, at least), and the other phenomenological. These are different histories, and different compulsions. They come with costs, and rewards, and at all times, we inhabit them simultaneously. And I think Knausgaard does himself and gender an injustice by performing naivete. 

In other phenomenological worlds, I had myself a rather hedonistic dinner. Turmeric and lemon couscous with parsely and almonds(again), tomato and cucumber tzatziki/ raita, roasted bell peppers and zucchini, and pan-seared paneer, marinated in galangal and chilli paste. And wine. It was one of those more than good enough days. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Another False Start

Things come back into being like the longing for old, and summarily interrupted friendships. Sheepishly. I wonder why I haven't been here for so long. Because even as I write, I realize the pleasure that flows into every word, and the little gleeful anticipation of these sets of rituals, this writing of self and world. I think I am now back, having cheated on this space with other glitzier ones. After having consumed all the possible pleasures of other kinds of displays of self that will no doubt continue in their own parallel universes, I think I find the need to be back.

I am writing a book. Or at least I think I am writing a book. It is an academic one, out of which I am attempting to squeeze out a narrative. After all, the impetus for the book emerged from narrative, and from the stories of call centre workers. Yet, there are other compulsions, other ways in which one seeks to be visible to people other than those that speak in the book. And these are ethical questions that I wrestle with. Wish us all luck.

On other fronts, being off Facebook is unsurprisingly cathartic. Someday when I have exhausted the number of projects that clutter my desk, I will think about Facebook, and its remarkable ability to render ugliness, beauty, and all wonder into two-dimensional status messages for consumption. And I am so guilty of it all. I consume myself, even as I consume others. In the month that I have held back from this aforementioned daily buffet, I find myself calmer, and more willing to be hesitant about the world. It's nice.

But yes. More here. More soon.

What other things can I tell you about that will possibly help us share some beauty, and some temporary kinship? Here are my top three:

-- I was incredibly lucky to attend the Kenyon Review Writers' Workshop last summer. To have a week to craft a piece a day is both laborious, and immensely luxurious. I knew this all along, that much like the annoyance that is math homework, one has to write everyday in order to get anywhere. But I forget. And remember at the moment of crisis. Just like the night before exams. This is my attempt to not forget. Some of these pieces that emerged from the workshop have been published in 3quarksdaily. Go have a look see. I write about the new yearanthropological sartorialistscall centre love, and an almost love, so go take your pick. And follow the website anyway.

-- The Chennai Photo Biennale has been on since February 26, and what a joy it is to have these bourgeois pleasures. And these moments of knowing the world haltingly. I was reading this rather long but rather nicely written article on the stupefactions of the permanently connected world, and contrasting it with my evening yesterday of walking slowly by pictures sans captions, stories untold, and petrified people and locales. Such a lovely break from constant presence and movement. If in the city, do check it out.

-- Cooking is part of this life again. A fog has lifted. For lunch today, I had a turmeric and lemon flavored couscous plate with roasted carrots and yellow zucchini, feta, almonds, and mint, with a tomato salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. For dinner, I had varan bhat. And let me not distract myself with the pleasures of this food not the Gods, but of the mortals. For this mellifluous combination of lentils, asafoetida, sugar, salt, and ghee which makes us grateful for this life.