Schedule and Abstracts: 19 December, 2011

Speaking the Unspeakable

19 December 2011

Venue – Conference Hall, Main Campus



10 am Welcome – Anjali Monteiro, Chairperson, CMCS.

Introduction to Seminar, Anurag Mazumdar, Ufaque Paikar, Mridula Chari and Shruti Ravi, Shivani Gupta, Co-ordinators.


10:15-11:30 am : Panel 1 Unspeaking Marginal Invisible

Humour from the ghetto-at the wits end: Vartikka Kaul, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Theodor Adorno’s once famously said that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’. Adorno was not just referring to poetry, infact his statement encompassed a wide ranging (and raging) debate between ethical and aesthetical means to represent and reproduce the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust. Later he also acknowledges that, ‘suffering (…) also demands the continued existence of the very art it forbids’

Positioning the Holocaust representation in a precarious moral and ethical framework has been a vexed question in post World War II period. By definition there must be a difference between a representation and its object un-represented, with the former adding its own version to the “original” it represents. In other words, any representation of the Holocaust in literature or art can never adequately convey the reality of a lived experience; it will always be bound to convey a representation of that experience particular to the situation in which it (the representation) was produced. So any form of representation is essentially a ‘representation-as’, in which case any representation is entirely subjective. The paradox around depiction of Holocaust has been made even more complex by multiplicity of the forms of representations, which encompasses genres right from documentary to comedy. Arguably the genre that faced most incongruous responses was Holocaust humour or Holocaust comedies. The redemptive tone of Robert Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful, came under scalding criticism for same reason and though the film was very successful, it cautioned anybody trying to refer to the holocaust is less-than-serious terms.

My paper however, is not concerned with the representations that came up after this terrible genocidal event, but with the humour and art that originated from within the concentration camps. How do we tackle with the issue of unrepresentability of holocaust, especially through the use of humour, when the victims themselves used it as a way of expression? The debate of such an authorship complicates the questions of ethics of representation around holocaustic events. The satirical art by artists like Horst Rosenthal, Pavel Fantl and Erich Lichblau, was made secretly in the confines of labour and death camps but have been fortunately preserved well enough to stand as a testimony of how humour stood as an expression for those who apparently had little joy to look forward to. Exceptionally acerbic and deeply sarcastic, one of Fantl’s paintings mocked the efforts of Nazis to cover up the atrocities at the labour camp in front of international organisations like the Red Cross as well as international Press. Breaking the News in Terezin attempts to expose the ‘Potemkin Village’ atmosphere of the camp during the Red Cross visit. Fantl depicts a group of inmates with signs, some incriminating, while an inmate who covers his face offers flowers to the visitors. The Red Cross representative is dressed as Santa Claus, and accompanied by a woman with pince-nez. The sardonic inscription reads: “The Red Cross has sent a delegation composed of the King of Switzerland and the Pope’s wife for a visit to the Terezin Ghetto”. Similarly, Leskley confronts the theme of disease and its manifestations in his paintings, with a satirical, perhaps hangman’s humour.  Terezinka, referring to diarrhoea, depicts a man running down the steps to the toilet, innocently dubbed ‘men’s room.’ The run down the steps, with pants that seem full, appears as an endless nightmare. Leskley’s aesthetic sense is significant, and the way he draws the steps suggests the long leaps of the inmate, and the sense of urgency conveyed as if the subject is going mad, shown by yellowish rays coming from his head.

This caricaturing and satirical impulse of the camp inmates has to be looked at something beyond just cynicism. The art produced in these circumstances does not fall under the conventional categories, as it’s not meant for a reception. There is no attempt for generating an affect for the audience and it works at the level of pure self expression. Presence of humour in such works of art gives the artist an opportunity to add a human dimension to the extra-human tragedy of the holocaust. Jean-Francois Lyotard had once commented that if one has to represent the Holocaust, he has to walk the ramp to the gas chambers and feel the deadly Zyklon B choke him. But if that were to happen, then no representation could ever be possible. Is it possible then to unlock this deadlock and look at the artistic self expression of those who lived on the edge of death as a testimony to their sense of alive-ness? Could this art be seen in the sense of a documentation of the terrible reality of the Holocaust? Can this satirical art produced in the camps be situated as an attempt to retrieve the human-ness and dignity that Nazis desperately sought to separate from the Jews. It’s often quoted that human being is the only animal that can laugh or has a sense of humour. This perhaps explains the risky proposition of making humorous art in secret, in the face of death by the Holocaust victims. This art is an intricate intervention into both surviving in as well as protesting against (reclaiming dignity and reason as one might say) a space meant to make animals out of humans. My search if to understand the impulse of such art and place it in the complicated relation with the issues of testimony and memory that are often discussed in reference to the Holocaust and pose the question that, philosopher and holocaust survivor, Sarah Koffman asks, “To speak in order to bear witness, but how? How can one speak of the ‘unimaginable’ – that very quickly became unimaginable for even those who has lived through it- without having recourse to the imaginary?”


Tracing Dalit women in Malayali literary public sphere: Deepika Alex, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

The development of literary public sphere of Kerala, both fictional and non-fictional is closely associated with the nature of evolution of Kerala’s public sphere, which emerged in the latter half of 18th century. Devika. J (2006) points out this fact that, in the 19th century, the modern public sphere of Kerala was formed by the same upper caste men who made use of the new opportunities in trade, education and government jobs and who also initiated community reforms. This public sphere was materialized through newspapers and journals, discussions, reading groups, where issues of public importance were discussed. And it never entertained any ideas that threatened the legitimacy of hierarchy based on caste and gender. The paper has as its backdrop, the Kerala renaissance, which has a very narrow connotation because of its communal nature, the public sphere that evolved out of it, and the evolution of Kerala’s press media, along with these, with very strict communal affiliations.

Against this backdrop, the paper explores how Dalits and women were excluded from this public sphere and how the impact was even worse for Dalit women. Taking away their agency from them and assigning stereotypical illustrations to define their identity, these Dalit women appeared in the fictional and non fictional writings of upper caste men and women as hardworking and obedient slaves, home breakers for savarna women, betrayed lover of savarna communist (progressive) man, unsuccessful and exploited mothers and wives, with a romantic emphasis on their dark colour, ‘free sexuality’, strong body and exploited selves. And gradually this tendency has entered Dalit literary expressions including their interpretation of history.

Again, the paper discusses the literacy and press media representation of Dalit women who are gaining power over their agency, devalued subjectivity and undergoing the process of self definition, in present day Kerala society. The two instances that are discussed are the literary image created through biographies, for C.K Janu, the leader emerged from the Adivasis of Kerala to assert the right of the landless and exploited and secondly the press media projection of a group of Dalit women who protested in Kollam guest house in 3rd may 2011, against the sexual exploitation of a Dalit woman sweeper in the guest house. What we can see is the tendency of mainstream media and upper caste literary creations to disown these women and ignore their self definitions, as they have transgressed the ideal notions of upper caste patriarchy regarding womanhood. In short the paper explores literary representation of the agency of these women, proving the fact that it strongly adheres to the expectations of malayali public sphere, finely fabricated according to the caste-gender hierarchy, right from the beginning.


Silence of the riots : Delhi and ’84: Aakriti Mandhwani, University of Delhi, New Delhi.

The proposed paper shall examine city spaces specifically with the purpose of investigating the politics behind the obliteration of certain events from the memory of a city, as seen in the case of the ‘84 anti-Sikh riots and Delhi. In a time when conflict was arguably engineered through a largely state-sanctioned communal rioting in its central city—deliberate suspension of law and order, control of prime knowledge creation centres like mass media and rumours being among its many weapons—it becomes increasingly pertinent for the fictional mode to take note of this short (the riots lasted 3 days) yet potent event in terms of archiving before it is irrecoverably lost to collective memory.

An extensive research revealed very little fiction based on the events of ’84 in the two main languages of Delhi, English and Hindi. The causes for any deafening silence maintained upon any violence are multifarious and very particular to that historical condition. Therefore, first, the reasons particular to the silence of ’84 shall be examined in this paper. Furthermore, the paper shall trace the trajectories of the few archives that did find circulation in these languages and shall pose tentative questions about their subsequent decline. The nature of censorship with respect to the written word—especially the fictional written word—shall therefore become the second subject for reflection.

During the course of research, it was also found that, in contrast to English and Hindi, even as much fiction has naturally been written in Punjabi, the major Sikh language, there were substantial fictional archives available in other Indian regional languages: Indira Goswami’s Pages Stained with Blood in Assamese, N.S. Madhavan’s story When Big Trees Fall and O.V. Vijayan’s as yet untranslated novel Pravachakante Vazhi (The Prophet’s Path) in Malayalam, Vaasanthi’s The Silent Storm in Tamil being some examples. Therefore, the act of translation—as it becomes necessary for filling voids in the archives of languages that suffered the carnage—shall also be dwelled upon, with particular attention paid to questions of authenticity.

The paper shall end with the uncomfortable—yet inevitable—deliberation upon the very nature of silences that arise out of trauma. Even as quantification itself is impossible, the paper, through comparisons to fictional responses to recent riots, proposes to end by edging towards this question: How much of the explanation for the gap in the fictional archive lies merely in trauma?

Discussants : Shazia Nigar and Nithila Kanagasabai


Tea : 11:30-11:45 am


11:45 am-1:00 pm : Panel 2 Counter Cultures: Contemplating Subversions

Dalit Chetna and aesthetics: Sneha Sharma, University of Delhi, New Delhi.

Identity creation—social or political, individual or communitarian, has always taken place through selective use of material, from the past and the discursive fields which surround it within a given political economy. The use of the word “creation” instead of “formation” is a conscious one and suitable to the context in which it is sought to be applied. It is meant to highlight the self-conscious modes of fashioning that have been adopted by the Dalit community in the post-independence era with the aim of political subject-formation. Various material and symbolic sources have been put to use for the purpose of “existential, political and ethical reordering of the Indian society” which has as its goal the emancipation of the Dalit subject. (Rao 1) As an ongoing process which finds Western ideas of secular liberalism emancipatory, it also finds itself hemmed in by structural entanglements produced due to a historical collusion of the colonial state and the dominant castes, especially in the cultural field. The third part of this paper will look into the oeuvre of Namdeo Dhasal’s work as an example of this mode of “self-affirmation” and its historical significance.

The caste system, representing the most exclusionary form of social inegalitarianism always sought legitimacy in religion but was curiously buttressed by the demands of governmentality in the colonial period. As Nicholas Dirks has explained, the colonial state was able to take caste and religion outside the domain of the political and redefine them as social categories and associational civic forms. It differentiated between the religio-ritual and the political. As a result, the appearance of caste politics within the Indian social domain, in later years, was seen as a sign of political backwardness instead of, a breaking down of superficially delineated spheres. What came to light was the way in which the State’s reliance on the colonial framework carried within it an ideological dependence on “traditional” forms of authoritarian power. The imagination of a new political collectivity was contingent, therefore, on the idea of the Dalit subaltern as a “stigmatized subject” but also as a “revolutionary figure.”  Strong political engagement was seen to be in need of  cultural reinforcement. The path it sought to follow was of a particularist approach hoping to build a humanist understanding which would aid in attaining citizenship for the subject.

This aim of creating a distinct political counter-culture has had a special bearing on the field of literary production. Due to its potency, a literary piece is considered as an intervention in the field and there is a constant call for life-affirming and engaged literature. The concept of a Dalit chetna or consciousness has become an integral aspect of Dalit critical analysis for determining whether a particular work belongs to the category of Dalit literature or not. “By Dalit literature, I mean writing about Dalits by Dalit writers with a Dalit consciousness,” is Sharankumar Limbale’s formulation in his Dalit Sahityache Saundaryashastra. Deeply immersed in Ambedkarite philosophy, Limbale’s conceptualization of Dalit aesthetics lays emphasis on a kind of experiential epistemology. As another critic has expressed it, “anubhava” (experience) takes precedence over “anuman” (speculation) serving as an “aesthetic corollary to the claims of social justice.” As a result of this emphasis on the particularity of experience, most of the corpus of Dalit literature is seen as mimetic and consisting largely of life-writing. The articulation of individual experiences of subjugation is seen as subversive but also representational for the entire community. However, the use of the notion of the “aesthetic” for Dalit writing has troubled many critics who view them simply as testimonies rather than works of imagination, chronicles rather than artistically conceived texts, lived experience rather than poetic experimentation, supply of material for the anthropological study rather than literary articulation. Rather than imaginary amelioration, Dalit writings, whether poetry or prose, seek to trouble and anguish, and therefore, have a particular polemical purpose which informs their literary and aesthetic decisions. The aim of portraying “the real, the sordid and the ugly” is meant not only to expose the historical experience but to also defy easy assimilation within the reigning tastes by making the reader cringe. The aim of this paper would be to look at the coordinates along which the mapping of a Dalit consciousness has taken place under the influence of this kind of a single-minded politics but also their constant destabilization due to processes of recuperating “subaltern” traditions in disparate sources like Buddha, Kabir, medieval devotee mahar Chokhamela to Phule and Ambedkar. What kind of aesthetics does this “literature of commitment” give rise to will also be a concern of this paper.


Away from keyboard: Nandita Roy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

Michel Foucault, in one of his late essays entitled ‘About the Concept of the Dangerous Individual’, writes that the legal system has devised a way to ‘urge and push the accused’ but when the subject remains silent, Foucault says that ‘he  does  not  play  the  game’. Games, if seen from the frames of reference of reality, present the option of anarchy and refusal of conforming to socio-cultural norms. The Foucauldian argument is to look at the state of silence as non-participation in legal and social systems. This paper attempts a reading of the new media of video games as a frame of reference which is removed from the Foucauldian model, while incorporating within itself the potential for an anarchic silence.

There is an epistemological link between games and illusions. The word illusion is derived from Latin illusio, meaning deceit. Illusio comes from the Greek phrase illudere, meaning ‘in play’. What are the illusions which play creates, apart from simulating reality and operating in a world of small rules which immerse the gamer? Like the Bakhtinian carnivalesque, the game world dwells in an alternate time and space which, being non-serious in structure, bears the ability and the responsibility to hold a looking glass to the ‘real’. The act of play, as opposed to work, is an activity whose virtual reward system is based upon the concept that the act in itself is the reward; the break or the breach from work.  This great unspeakable operates by creating illusions of play within systems of work – like the clever Tom who makes his friends whitewash the fence in Tom Sawyer. Similarly, is it possible for the game world to incorporate work within play while maintaining the illusion of play? These illusions that game/play can create, challenges the Foucauldian notion of non participatory silence as protest.

This paper will argue, with instances from video games ranging from ‘September 12’ to ‘Flight Simulator’ to ‘Crysis 2’, that within the structure of the game, where lies non-seriousness, also hides the potential for an unspeakable anarchy. The paper will attempt to locate these silences not outside the ludic space, but within it.  It will address the need to understand games as cultural artifacts that bring in the chaos of the carnival in the everyday by, as they say in gaming parlance, moving Away From Keyboard, or AFK.


Nation and its creation: Ufaque Paiker, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

The process of nation building entails a lot of sacrifices and sacrileges.  The documentation of the processes of nation building are not completely independent of the politics behind it  , therefore the same fact can be construed in different manner to cater to the perceived needs of a nation . The situation is even more precarious in the case of post colonial nations like India – where nation as a concept is loaded with the sagas of struggle for independence.  They have to confirm to the teleology of the emergence of nation. The teleology of nation has to traverse the path determined and defined by modernity. The package which is being sold out to us is heavily layered with needs and demands of nation and modernity. The aim of the paper is locate the creation of Indian nation in the context of burden of historiography of post colonial nations like India.

Discussants : Shweta Ghosh and Shivani Gupta


Lunch : 1.00-2:00 pm


2:00-3:15 pm : Panel 3 Rethinking Sexualities: Mythical and Fictional Narratives

Siva beyond ascetic: Ditilekha Sharma, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

This paper is an engagement with sexualities which are seen to be non heteronormative by the civilised society yet have survived through the ages. The objective of this paper is to look at the various sexualities of Siva. It also hope to understand whether Saiva mythology gives the scope to express ones alternative sexuality. An attempt has been made to understand how women’s sexuality has been constructed through the usage of these mythologies and try to reinterpret them such that these myths provide for agency for the women as well as a scope to alternative sexualities.

The rationale behind looking at alternative sexualities in Saiva mythology as an unspeakable subject is multiple. Firstly, Sexuality is a concept which is hardly ever discussed openly. It is looked at as something private and something that doesn’t need to be politicized. Nivedita Menon says that anyone who tries to raise the issue of sexuality as a political issue is inevitably put down saying that there are more serious issues to be dealt with. She feels the need to criticize the view that sexuality is a private matter and ‘normal’ sexual behaviour springs from nature. Secondly, the idea of a sexuality which is alternative and hence not ‘normative’ in the conventional sense is further marginalised with the view that it is unnatural. Thirdly, Hinduism as we understand it today has looked at sexualities, particularly the so called ‘alternative sexualities’ as perversion and hence a tabooed topic for discussion. Feminist circles have also largely avoided the religious domain on the pretext that it has bought merely subjugation for women. Hence the very idea of discussing alternative sexualities within the Hindu framework, providing an agency for women is a largely unexplored theme which has been unspoken. This paper tries to address this unspoken theme hence it is an attempt to speak the unspeakable.

Hindi TV serial women and sex: Neha Chaturvedi, University of Delhi , Delhi.

Family structures, sexual/romantic organisation and their representation in India has undergone a noticeable flux in the last decade. The objective of this paper is to trace the constructions of women and relationships in the Hindi TV. serials in the last few years. While there is an apparent shift towards a modern image of the woman and her roles, it is clearly yet another construct fulfilling the century long fantasy of the perfect woman who stands for a blend of tradition with modernity. This paper will try to locate the zones of exclusion in the sphere of sexuality and relationships. The much debated recent legal turns regarding live-in relationships as well as homosexuality are expected to figure in the popular media. These, however, seem to be the zones that are either altogether excluded or represented only to be tamed into heteronormativity. One sees a greater number of TV. serials than were ever produced, even as the cinema as well the internet increasingly allow for a vast variety of possibilities of entertainment. These serials have made their way even into the virtual world with their archiving on various sites, much in the fashion of any dominant ideology that reinvents itself for its survival. The consumption, hence, is not just restricted to the middle class housewife and grandmother figure and needs to be further explored. The absences and silences in this media offers itself for a rigorous enquiry. This paper then, seeks to explore the constructions of femininity and sexual organisation and its economic relation to consumption of TV. serials as popular culture which serves as both the mirror as well as the shaping influence of a certain section of the socio- cultural imaginary.

Taboo and transgression: Anamika Purohit, University of Mumbai, Mumbai.

‘Unspeakable’ for me would refer to all those absences, silences and repressions that lie or are placed outside the discursive field of a cultural or literary text. It may be the Althusserian ‘Absent/Present’, that is, those evaded questions or contradictions in front of which the apparent ideological coherence of the text would crumble. Yet one could suggest that a cultural or literary text is formed as much by its unspeakable as by what is expressed, and becomes a fraught terrain of contested and contradicted meanings. And this, as Pierre Macherey suggests, would not be a sign of imperfection in a text but reveals the ‘inscription of an otherness in the work’, the staging of that it cannot speak.

Drawing from the above theoretical framework, this paper attempts to investigate the manifestation of the unspeakable female sexuality, sexual desires and their complex intersection with caste, class and community in the selected short stories of Ismat Chughtai and Lalitambika Antherjanam. It attempts a symptomatic reading of the texts to unpack the ideological imperatives behind what becomes the unspeakable and to explore the gaps between telling and showing, that is, between what a text wants to say and what a text actually says.

It would also be important to look at how the unspeakable manifests itself during periods of crisis that threaten the coherence of the dominant culture (e.g. the trial of Kuriyedathu Tatri in Kerala in 1905). In such times the unspeakable is glimpsed through the cracks and fissures caused in the dominant culture only to be finally contained. This would entail attentiveness to the “historicity” of specific texts and the discursive, ideological and material contexts of their production.

Finally the paper would also attempt to interrogate the nature of the unspeakable. Is it, for instance in the case of the two writers, merely female sexuality? Or, does it lead one to an entire gamut of socio-political-cultural prejudices and pressures that impinge upon not only the bodies but also the desires of women?

Discussants : Aakriti Kohli, Sujatha Subramanian and Shruti Ravi


Tea : 3:15-3:30 pm


3:30-4:45 pm : Panel 4 Engaging Kolkata: The City and its Sub-texts

Fantasy and land questions in urban Calcutta: Debjani Bhattacharya, Emory University, USA. 

It follows that the first science to be learned should

be mythology or the interpretation of fables

‐‐ Giambattista Vico

How does one articulate fantasy within the realm of urban historiography? Is it the“incognito” that can be grasped only in the affective realm? Challenging the so‐called Cartesian rationality, Michel Foucault argues that it is the absence of an oeuvre that makes the history of the world possible. Taking that as a cue, this paper seeks to explore how the realm of the phantasm can open up possibilities for a different understanding of spatial ownership and belonging within the history of political economy regarding urban land, and thereby locate the landless at the heart of the land question. This paper will try to engage with these questions by reading the various narratives about the origin of the name “Calcutta” against an anecdotal and fantastic claim, recounted by the kaibarta (fisherman) caste. It will explore the possibilities of recovering a poetic and perhaps fantastic substrate to the geography of Calcutta. This fantastic substrate, I argue, works as an excess to reality, marks that absence of an oeuvre, which makes its articulation within mainstream urban historiography impossible. Instead of articulating what is perhaps untellable within a discourse, this paper seeks to show that fantasy often forms the basis of our rational discourse.

Thus the methodological challenge posed by this fantastic narrative is to open up the possibility of a different historical reading, one that instead of seeking closure would lead to a historical disclosure. Thus a historian has to be attentive to those seemingly unintelligible murmurs about the city, those which remain unarticulated or outside our rational discourses, in order to develop a different history of space and ownership. In this paper I wish to bring historical methodology to a crisis in order to understand what history can learn from fantasy, for the narratives that lie outside the disciplinary purview of urban history also render the narrators invisibilised in our urban spaces.


The surprising piece of empty land: Somdatta Bhattacharya , Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

In my paper, I shall study four of Amit Chaudhuri’s longer fictional narratives—A Strange and Sublime Address, Afternoon Raag, Freedom Song and A New World—focussing on his use of spatial metaphors, to uncover the often unnoticed practices of exclusion within urban spaces. Drawing upon David Sibley’s idea of ‘geographies of exclusion’ and other theories of space, and through a close reading of the fictional narratives, I shall demonstrate how the narratives frame the city space as a site of class struggles, where the minority segments are carefully kept at a distance. The cities that come alive in these narratives, especially the city Calcutta/Kolkata, combine management with elimination where all forms of ‘garbage’ (poverty, sickness, death, deviance) is either rejected or hidden away. I will look at these narratives to understand how they construct these ‘cleansed’ urban spaces and how the millions of poor living in the seams of the society are erased. Certain spaces in the city scape are framed as ‘diseased’, bringing into focus familiar upper-class notions of public health and hygiene to underscore the politics of exclusion. These narratives are also at times disrupted by unexpected forays into ‘other’ spaces. I will read these narratives also to see how they resolve the tension of these fleeting glances on the ‘other’ side of the city, and how the narratives distribute the onus of marginality amongst the characters that people their urban landscapes, where everyone oscillates between the roles of the oppressor and the oppressed. My reading will also analyse the spatial locations set up by the narratives to demonstrate how they affirm existent power relations within the urban landscape and become symbolic of the exclusionary politics of everyday urban life.


Slowness in the city: Anurag Mazumdar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

In the pre-modern marketplace, the idea of place and space often coincided with each other.  Post-modern societies largely obliterated the idea of conjunction between the space and place by allowing marketplaces to have interaction between imaginary forces and faceless entities. The conjunction of space and place allowed for a certain ‘slowness’ to penetrate urban life, particularly in the movement of people and wares in the market. With the advent of globalisation this slowness of movement in the city had been denigrated to the level of a vice that does not fit in with the conception of globalised cities. Slowness is rendered unproductive and hence ‘unspeakable’ in the larger scheme of planning, conceiving and accessing urban spaces.

The paper wishes to examine the politics that governs the construction of ‘slowness’ as a quality in the city with particular reference to a street in Kolkata called College Street. This thoroughfare is lines with pavement bookshops largely selling second hand books. This pavement market might change entirely with the construction of a book mall that is coming up on the other side of the street. Through ethnography of the street, the paper seeks to understand how and why ‘slowness’ is constructed in the city.

The paper will also look at the exchange of wares and the interaction of the shop-keepers and the customers. It will answer questions like – what contributes to the temporal nature of this space and how does it differentiate itself from existing spaces? What is the role of the pedestrian in this very act of slowing down pace? The paper will also examine how globalisation actually contributes to the lack/agency of ‘slowness’ in changing urban spaces.

Discussants : Arpita Chakarborty and Mridula Chari

4:45-6:15 pm : Panel 5 Film-making: Cultures, Ideologies, Practices

Absence of film sound in film theories: Shubham Roy Chaudhry, Jadavpur University, Kolkata

No one in their right minds would disapprove the fact that cinema is indeed an audio-visual medium. But in a more than a century long career of the medium, it has continuously suffered from a peculiar scopophilia. It is almost a century now when film-sound (i.e. sound printed on the film strip) has become a reality and there was never such thing called “silence” in films. Except for a handful of film historians in sporadic publications seemed to have noticed that sound exists and it needs to be talked about. Although historians like Rick Altman have strongly argued towards the importance and legitimacy of studying film sound, it remains the unspeakable of film theory. Is it merely a coincidence or is there a deeper and serious concern of a theoretical nature involved in this absence?

Surely there is a hierarchy of sound and image in films but that is not a natural one. There are moments in the history of cinema when a rupture occurs in the process and sound affects us more than visual. The lack of discussion on film sound is alarming with respect to that. This paper interrogates the conditions of such an absence and the complexities of such a denial, which in itself might be an unspeakable rule. In more ways than one, such denials create the absence of a theoretical framework and linguistic tools that would render the articulation of film sound possible. This paper argues that this is not merely a case of negligence or lack of research material, but there is a pattern to such denial. It would attempt to locate these issues in connection with the history of technology as well as the conventions of the discipline. This paper tries to speak of the unheard of film history, sound itself.


Testifying the limits of letter: Debaditya Bhattacharya, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The essence of the testimonial act lies in its imperative to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” of history; the desire to return to the historical ‘time past’ from the pledge of a ‘real’ present: “jo bhi kahunga sach kahunga, sach ke siwa kuch nahin kahunga.” The ‘truth’ or the ‘sach’, as pronounced in the oath, is “one” and irreducible to another, just as the bearer of this truth – as Elie Wiesel would write – can only be the teller of it:

Not to tell, or to tell another story, is… to commit perjury.

Testimonies, whether recorded or scripted, have come to serve as documentary proof in favour of the ‘real’ event in time. The witness-agent has, in effect, assumed the role of enabling an access to the ‘lost’ moment in history.

My project, inasmuch as it takes the testimonial narrative as its analytic specimen, would claim to show the ironies attendant on such dialectic of history-writing/speaking. The very intervention of the witness’ memory in recounting historical time makes its claim to ‘empirical’ truth suspect. Inadequate in terms of the currency of facticity, the historiographic ‘event’ of testimony can thus have as its ‘origin’ not the historian but an “author”. But, in light of the fact that the “authorial function” is a legacy of the literary/ written ‘Word’, how can the speech-act of testimony aspire to it?

History it cannot be by the fact of its loss of facticity, while literature it cannot pretend to be by its withdrawal from the purview of the ‘letter’. It is “too-less-history” and “not-at-all-literature”; its possibility lies in being the work of the ‘author’ – but, an impossible author of a speech-act. It is this essential “nether-ness” with regard to the disciplinary affiliations of the testimonial narrative that accounts, I maintain, for its appropriation within the ‘retributive-corrective’ space of penality.

On a psychoanalytic plane, traumatic testimony consists in the failure to assimilate the violent event within the cognitive structures of narrative memory. Therefore, every attempt at narrativizing it is simultaneously an attempt to know the event in full, to be the propreitor of it (and thus, the author-narrator of it). But, in that the testifier’s victim-hood precisely subsists in the withholding of full knowledge, the testimonial act effects a desire to return to that which cannot be [let] known. The will to knowledge is never consummated till the desire becomes a function of infinite deferrals and differences.

The state, in becoming the sole proprietor and evaluator of testimonies within the legal domain, has become – in Derridean terms – the ‘single’ authority to correct and make speech-worthy potentially infinite [because, violent] truths by the retributive violence of law. While ‘knowledge’ has can become the currency of a state-endorsed ‘regime of truths’, the inherent excesses of the testimonial truth are economised for courtroom consumption.

That the testimonial speech-act can, in two different ways, turn the victim into ‘an author’ is what I set out to prove. Consequently, I would show how, with repeated tellings, the memory of the actual ‘event’ gives way to ‘authored’ accounts of the same – each unwittingly different from the former in its deferral. In support of my argument, I would take as my analytical touchstone the 1985 film by Claude Lanzmann, Shoah. While, on the one hand, my thesis consists in making visible the arbitrariness of theoretical claims about the event of trauma testimony, it also urges an engagement with the same – prior to its co-optation by the discursive machinery of the ‘real’. It is an attempt to re-evaluate the testimonial speech-act as being more disruptively ‘literary’ than the commonsensical discipline of literature-as-fiction.


Displacing sex from the city: Shweta Radhakrishnan, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. 

‘I can hear the decadence calling.’- Samantha Jones (Sex and the City 2)

Magic carpets. Scherezade. Aladin and Jasmine.

When four New Yorkers decide to spend a week in Abu Dhabi, what you get is an Orientalist nightmare. In the 2010 American movie, Sex and the City 2, Abu Dhabi is built up to be a glamorous, exotic locale which is materially luxurious and modern but culturally repressive and ‘backward’.

This paper tries to explore the way American imperialist aspirations are justified and even glorified in the movie in the manner in which it constructs the unspeaking Muslim woman. The Muslim woman is portrayed as someone who has all the material comforts that money can buy but has none of the freedoms enjoyed by her less rich American counterparts. Constantly juxtaposing images of the four women from New York, against the burkha clad, silent Muslim women serves to reinforce American stereotypes of how Muslim women are less ‘free’ than them. And what is often used as a marker to judge modernity and freedom is Sex.

The constant assertion is the idea that ‘American-ness’ is the only way to have any agency – the only speech available to the unspeaking subject. This is specially reinforced in the last few scenes, where the quiet Muslim women suddenly take off their burkhas to reveal American couture and then become garrulous subjects. What grants them agency are their American labels.

The movie’s release date makes it more interesting to study. It came out the year after Obama decided to deploy 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan. While the movie made no statements supporting the country’s war efforts, its quiet reassertion of American cultural superiority, lends credence to the myth that there is a middle east waiting to be saved. This combined with the Middle East’s growing importance as a huge market for couture, made the movie’s decision to portray Abu Dhabi and its women the way they did easier to understand. What this paper seeks to study is how themes of imperialism – both cultural and political – are justified by the construction of Muslim women in the movie and how agency is granted to these unspeaking subjects by the act of consumption.


Real politik as unspeakable: Shahina Rafiq, University of Calicut, Calicut.

Discussing contemporary politics have traditionally assumed two positions in Indian cinema, ideally speaking: that of the commercial cinema, where entertainment is the out-and-out objective, or that of the art cinema, where ideal social realist paradigms are juxtaposed on realpolitik for ludicrous ends. At the turn of nineties, the history of south Indian cinema, however, witnessed the genres meeting in a third mode. This new class of cinemas have come to be recognized as middle-of-the-road movies, aligning neither with the commercially viable logics of commercial cinema nor with the ideal socialist aesthetics of art cinema. This class branded itself to be the best possible outcome when art meets market. The period saw a number of geniuses revolutionizing the cinematic aesthetics ‘tastefully’; Padmarajan, Bharathan, PN Menon, KG George to name a few, in Malayalam cinema. Of the many filmmakers who appeared, Mani Ratnam stands out for the nation-wide success he garnered. The proposed paper seeks to peruse a few cinemas from the director’s oeuvre that braved the theme of (south) Indian politics. Invariably, in all of them, we see Ratnam equivocating. There is at least a film where he has shifted his political bearing more than once (Iruvar(The Duo)). Politics, with contemporary implications, the paper proposes, is an ‘unspeakable’ for the middle-of-the-road genre cinema. Ratnam has tried to work out political realities on a national level in Yuva and Raavan. The results were less than commendable in both cases. The paper attempts an epistemic description of the middle-of-the-road films and seeks to locate why these logistics cannot accommodate discussions of realpolitik.

Discussants : Amol Ranjan and Nitya Menon


Frames of Reference 2011 : Call for Papers


The act of speaking calls the world into being; what is not said does not exist. Meanings are moulded, refashioned and regurgitated to suit the established order of things. In the process of resistance and negotiation of power, they set the limits of our thought and imagination. The ‘unspeakable’ refers to non-articulation, an exclusion from the peculiar process of the creation of meanings. It is not just that which is not spoken, but that which ‘ought’ not to be spoken, an exclusion even from resistance.

In art, literature, media, culture and politics, the ‘unspeakable’ is compelled to assume the form of the ‘incognito’. It surfaces at moments of rupture, through modes that speak to the realm of affect, emerging within the spaces of the non-rational and the deviant. It follows that much is at stake in maintaining a distance from the nebulous regions of what is neither seen nor heard. What governs the unspeakable? What grids of exclusion are used to define the unspeakable? What disciplinary mechanisms work to reproduce the site of the unspeakable? Whose politics makes it unspeakable? Is the distinction between the speakable and unspeakable more amorphous than we imagine? How does the unspeakable manifest itself in the everyday and in the realm of art and culture? How are certain arenas and speech deemed to be unspeakable as in the case of sexuality for instance? How does the law engage with the unspeakable in relation to hate speech or accusations of obscenity for example?

This seminar calls for papers that will interrogate that which is unspeakable in the various worlds around us and seek to understand the production and reproduction of the unspeakable. The seminar will also look at voices that are not heard because they transgress the codes that govern the articulation of the speakable.

Papers can be submitted addressing the themes below but need not be restricted to them:

1)     The city and its unspeakable(s)

2)     Imagining India: speaking the unspeakable

3)     ‘Modern, secular, democratic’: unspeakable(s) of a neo-world

4)     The unspoken and the unspeakable in Indian media

5)     Artistic expression and the unspeakable

6)     Literary/poetic voice and the unspeakable

7)     Censorship and the disciplining of the unspeakable

8)     The unspeakable in cinema

9)     Speaking the intangible: affect and faith

10)  Sexuality, obscenity and the regulation of speech

11)  Gender, violence and subterfuge of silence

12)  “New” media/ Digital technologies: contouring spaces of silence and speech


  • Abstracts invited from current post-graduate (M.A., M.Phil, Ph.D) students only.

  • Last date for sending abstracts – October 28, 2011

  • Please send your abstracts by email along with your contact details (email, phone no, postal address) and current institutional affiliation to the following email ID:

  • Selection of abstracts and intimation via email – 1st week of November, 2011
  • Last date for sending papers – November 28, 2011
  • The seminar updates will be posted on our blog.

For any queries, Please Contact :

9022952539 (Ufaque)

9820387103 (Anurag)

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