Sunday, March 3, 2013

The presence of English in India at the crossroads chapter 6

Probal Dasgupta

Kumud Chandra Dutta Memorial Lectures 1997 (Dibrugarh University, Assam)

Published as ‘The presence of English in India at the crossroads’, pp 1-132, in Probal Dasgupta, Udayon Misra, Amaresh Datta (2002) English at Crossroads: The Post-Colonial Situation: Kumud Chandra Dutta Memorial Lecture Series, 1997-98. Guwahati: Students’ Stores.

Posted here chapterwise; this is the sixth of six chapters. In the text itself I call the chapters ‘sections’ and the sections ‘subsections’.

6. The narrative basis of cognition

6.1 Self‑knowledge as potential writing

This final section, which unpacks the key notion of the Basic Narrative, investigates the implications for the humanities of a model of cognition on a reclothed planet in the sense of the earlier sections of the argument. Let us try and put the problem in terms of a question that might be faced by an individual who accepts the conclusion that an unnarrated life is not worth living. If this is how you know, such a person might ask herself, how then do you live? How do you know about living, or talk about living, or nearly write about living, or restrain yourself from writing about living? How does your very self‑knowledge have the form of a potential writing?

This question becomes vital if, as we have been arguing throughout, the potential is the real, or, as existentialism once held, truth is subjectivity.

This section is organized as follows. Subsection 6.1 sets the stage for the conceptual enterprise and summarizes the argu­ment. Subsection 6.2, Premises, reads the basic narrative in terms of a rearticulation of life, knowledge, and the novel as a metagenre. Subsection 6.3, Methods, links the risk element of the story to the semantics of Utopia and the pragmatics of Ideology. Subsection 6.4, Contexts, exemplifies some uses to which this ac­count might be put by literary critics in characterizing particu­lar types of novels. Finally, subsection 6.5, A Conclusion, wraps up the overall argument of the book, turning from the individual self to one's larger identities, including the national self.

Many contemporary accounts of the self endow it with the form of an inner dialogue or conversation. This of course we share. In our overall argument, the dialogical element in the account of linguistic knowledge LK provided in section 5 involves a dialexis with a dialectical twist. This leaves us with an unaddressed tension ‑‑ unresolved it must remain in any theoriz­ing at such an early stage of our understanding of the matters discussed here ‑‑ between the outer or "practical‑instrumental" component and the inner or "conceptual‑counterfactual" element in any account of a coherent, self‑directed life that acts out what it thinks it knows.

As we address this tension, it helps us to assume the common dialogical premise that the novel is a prototype of narrative that embodies the medley of various linguistic voices in a real arena. What we add is the new and possibly slightly perverse idea that you and I are always about to burst into a novel but kindly leave the world uncluttered for the relatively few who actually do write novels. This is in keeping with our emphasis on the element of the potential in any cognition.

Although the rest of our argument makes it important to deploy our understanding of the novel in the service of an in­creased understanding of processes of self‑imaging and identifi­cation, the structure of the move made in the present section makes it inevitable that we emphasize here the tools used. In other words we look more carefully here at the basic narrative that haunts every self as a potential novel, and less carefully at the thematics of self and identification as a whole or in dialogue with the theory of linguistic knowledge. So be it. We do wish to provide some tools of direct use for the humanities proper if greening is part of our enterprise.

I propose to characterize The Novel, then, in terms of the novel‑writing potential present in all of us. This  potential takes the form of being ‑‑ unconsciously, which is a qualifica­tion to be understood throughout ‑‑ about to burst into a novel that one keeps postponing. One says: Wait a minute. Let me first see what the others have been writing. My novel will have to make sense to them. So one keeps reading and comparing notes as one prepares to write. I would go so far as to say that  even people who actually produce novels don't get out of this waiting state simply by writing something. For what they write is never the real thing. The real novel, the perfect Making Sense,  will Hundred All Our Ninetynines. Now you see why I need Utopia to handle that level.

Now to clarify my terms. BASIC NARRATIVE: our life as an element always about to burst into novelhood. PRAGMATICS: practi­cal‑ideological principles of reading and writing which generi­cally solidify a particular novel in its genre or multiple‑genre identity. SEMANTICS: the theoretical‑utopian principles that dissolve a novel into the metageneric flow not enslaved by that novel's generic or other affiliations. This dissolving connects the flow of all novels to the basic narrative.

I propose that a semantics of utopia and a pragmatics of ideology can viably characterize the general fact of the novel ‑‑ the general relation between fictional genres such as detective fiction, adventure fiction, science fiction, romance. The specif­ic model developed here uses a pragmatics to articulate generic conventions as ideological scaffolding. In contrast, our semant­ics deals in the utopian currency providing the principle of traffic between such specifications.

We define utopia as an architectonic visualization where the parties to some explicit or tacit negotiation arrive at some settlement based on a sustainable understanding. This counterfac­tual telos, which renders intelligible all scenarios deviating grossly or minutely from the telos, is in our account rooted in the basic narrative. This for us is the bionarrative where the reader/writer spontaneously and unconsciously situates herself.

At the basic narrative interface, life shimmers into art. Our model rests on the (optional) claim that the basic narrative postulates a utopian telos as a concomitant of the self‑defini­tion of a person as a Planner. We argue that planning as an activity of handling arrays of choices and metachoices, since it subtends rationality, projects a utopia that spells out the shape of such Reason as a blueprint for valid settlements.

The advantages of such an account are twofold ‑‑ I say "such" and not "this" as I claim no special virtues for this particular implementation of what I hope is a sound programme. First, this programme in principle links fiction theory to theo­ries of choice and action in the social sciences, via the Ration­ality and Planning connection. Second, it makes fiction theory more user‑friendly if the user is a person for whom making sense of oneself as a life‑planner has some direct bearing on making sense of how and what one reads.

In pursuit of such knowledge, what gadgetry?

In plain language, inside every one of us is a saint and a goon. I call them the Cultural and the Technical. So people alternate between asking what is possible, a cultural‑utopian question, and what is practical, a technical‑pragmatic question. Politics is the art of the possible, the tricky and ambivalent negotiation between our Goons and our Saints, who seem to still want  each other to wear these saintly and ghastly faces. Polit­ics goes lumpen when it cherishes Hitler and it goes utopian when it prizes Gandhi, sorry to pretend that cartoons can be concepts, but perhaps concepts are often cartoons too, so maybe we're even.

It helps to wonder if we broach any cultural‑pragmatic or any technical‑utopian questions as well. I think we do. This has some bearing on the narrative work of novels. Bending the words Comedy and Tragedy to our purposes, let me say that tragedies are about characters pursuing utopian questions, while comedies show people exploring pragmatic ones, and that this or that mix of the cultural and the technical goes into the cuisine of genres and specific novels as individuations. We revert to these issues when the time comes. This is a glimpse of what the gadgetry can do.

6.2 Premises

I assume that we are in a postmodern period, despite the fashionableness of saying so. I even assume that the refusal to buy grand narratives characterizes the postmodern condition.

I take it that universal master narratives claiming to have all the Factual answers have abandoned us. But we have picked up this universal servant narrative. Call it Fantasy. It seems to know how to keep the Fictional questions flowing.

I'll be polarizingly cartoonish about it for expository clarity. The classical novel belonged to the period that took nations very seriously. Novels affirmed, prototypically, the na­tionally specified independent individual. (Please ignore the great Russian novels declaring that such an entity cannot come to pass under Tsarist conditions.) The postmodern novel internation­ally sings of the interdependent person, a self‑conscious mask or persona and not a principle of moral individuation. Its cross‑national flow merrily meanders into a complacently differentiated market placing some Kunderas, Rushdies, Calvinos on a certain centre‑stage, and preventing many of the real cross‑boundary flows from reaching any serious or tangible visibility. I grant this, and cannot base my reading of the flow on this market alone. But  the flow itself must be real. It is in fact so strong that even this stupid market, which compulsively tries to arrange that a tiny segment should hog a lot of the attention, ends up acknowledging the demise of the national tradition currencies.  

Hence my claim, still couched oversimply modulo future hedges and qualifications, that Fantasy does for today's interna­tionals what Reality did for yesterday's nationals.

One formal feature of Fantasy in my sense is the way it interweaves the conventions and possibilities of the fictional or creative imagination with those of factual or analytical dis­course. At the postmodern point, the distinction between fiction­al and factual writing gets blurred. One would imagine that the genres were, if not breaking down, at least in the throes of a crisis.

Does it seem perverse to claim precisely at such a moment that generic conventions matter so much that our pragmatic ac­count of ideology should examine them? Well, our move only ap­pears to fly in the face of the new imperatives.

For the novel becomes a metagenre, in such a period, and serves as the most convenient vehicle of Fantasy, the universal servant narrative. We become conscious of the ways in which different generic types of speaking and writing work for us or work on us. And we start wanting to talk about these types and their effects. Our talking needs a place where it can be carried on properly. The new novel, trying to be such a place, becomes a metageneric sea that can hold all genres of experience and make their modes available for inspection and response.

To return to the listing of premises, I take it that real life today is dealing with an explosion of types of writing. Once upon a time it may have been important to try to extend genre theory from writings to speakings. But there are all these new ways to write and send messages and submessages, with the gradual proliferation of technologies of message production, distribu­tion, transformation, and aggregation, with the often remarked incalculable and rapidly changing effects. Such writing and sending of messages raises a new question of Telling. This is not best addressed in terms of some touchingly archaic dichotomy pitting the formally dressed‑up public Writing of knowledge against the Speech of experience in an informal privacy that doffs the standard uniforms. Public power and private resistance no longer come in such simply legible packages. Hence the in­creasing difficulty of reading the old novels in terms of a speaking individual against a written society. Hence too the diminishing usefulness of theories of fiction that keep staring at those novels before they look at anything else.
But this is not to say that we can abandon theoretical continuity. We still need genres. Speech vs writing remains a useful tool ‑‑ among many others. We still need to make sense of a unique spokenness of experience or a life that precedes art. The basic narrative interface idea responds to these intuitions.

Where is my basic narrative? It is not enough to say it is in my life, for so is everything else. Where is it, more specifi­cally?

My basic narrative is at an edge. My Self‑Possession or sense of being a self who plans a life, at this edge, meets my Doors of Perception ‑‑ my conceptual need to co‑imagine others who live out the amplitude of their lives in terms which I, coming from my hang‑ups, can understand, as lives that impress me to the point of affecting the way I read my own life, its plans, its crashes. My basic narrative is at the point at which I, although about to burst into fiction, keep comparing notes with my colleagues. They and I work together towards a new Telling which no longer categorially distinguishes constructed fictions from lived lives. We posit the basic narrative because it enables us to see the non‑writers of fiction as sharing this liminal zone with each other and with the authors. This makes the basic narra­tive a useful explanatory zone.

Why should I want to write a novel? How does it matter whether I speak up or wait? Whatever the practical importance or trivialness of my looking before I leap, or my writing, or my getting published, our architectonic point here has to do with my novels as an idealized embodiment of my self‑knowledge. The reference to my fiction writing, then, serves as  a coding device in the present account. It helps me to see my validation, my self‑knowledge as a Telling I defer or relativize to other tell­ings. And self‑knowledge is where the self distances its activity from its reflexive talk. I am on edge, if you wish.

This sense of edge gives me an inside, of possibilities, and an outside world, of the actualities that my eventual real novel, which never gets written, will hit like a sledgehammer. Mean­while, and we are always in that period, the inside spells the cultural starting point where visualizations and verbal begin­nings precede actions, and the outside spells the technical zone where actions count before words do.

I assume, to complete my credo, that saints live for the cultural and always conceive of actualities in terms of the best possibilities. I assume also the existence of a Faustian pact with the Devil which sells out to what one claims are the impera­tives of practice, thus mortgaging the very existence of the cultural to a technical reading of the Scene and its realpolitik. The goon is my figure of speech representing that pact and its often ghoulish implementations. No society, no individual self‑management system, can entirely devote itself to one of these ideals. I speak thus of contradictory but equally real moments of actual existences. It would be naive to contrast this approach to any homogenizing Realism. The  postmodern zone watches, aghast, as the old realisms fail even as basic anchoring devices!

6.3 Methods

From these premises, various methodologies can follow. Here we develop one implementation.

For utopia to involve a semantics and ideology a pragmatics, we must be in the business of interpreting some meaningful state­ment. Such a statement must then occur. But a narrative, however basic, cannot stop at a speech act, not even at megaspeech. It needs to amplify its enunciation to the volume of actions that speak louder than words. For the expression‑signifier of a novel is not the vicissitudes, as in drama, but the production of content as knowledge realizable in action. In this sense, the novel harbours the duality of life and knowledge directly in its process of enunciative production. This, perhaps, constitutes the novel as the universal metagenre, and the basic narrative as the general servant narrative of our postmodern times.

Thus, the novel simultaneously produces and watches the theorization of life as knowledge. This is clear in the bildungs­roman, where the primary life of a child is shown growing into the secondary knowledge embodied as a valid cycle of interactions with a chosen community turning that child into an adult. This choosing itself is part of that child's coming of age, earning the right to choose and to reshape partners to share adulthood with. The adult is the knowledge that that cycle of interactions leading to that particular brand of maturity is one of the valid paths to Maturity or Knowledge. Since all novels feature adults, they all embody this series of gestures, if only elliptically.

Conversely, the novel both produces and watches the return of knowledge to life as life. The consumption here confirms and recycles the maturation novel's production of knowledge. That in the novel which presents play as a self‑validating principle of fun, as a core of unexplained zest for living, always bears the decipherable mark of a perceptive enjoyment. Only a human crea­ture, whose nature is to understand what it is about, can feel joy and know it is feeling this. That the mutual reflection of fun and its knowledge lock into an intense oscillation is the core fact of humanness. This process is familiar from many pas­sages where novelists of various degrees of power bring us read­ers to fountains we can or cannot drink from, depending on wheth­er our experiences and tastes, prior or expanded, allow us to partake of what is being offered.

We thus have a basic enunciation that all novels formally share. They all affirm the polarity of life as the expression and knowledge as the content of a mutual tail‑chasing process. Life matures as knowledge which reattains reality as pure, self‑perceptive joy of life. "Knowledge is content" and "Life is expression" can never occur as separate enunciations of reality. But this only begins the work of fiction theory ‑‑ or of a novel.

The work is to flow along with the question of how the mover of the process, the character in a novel ‑‑ any character, not just some central protagonist, for around every character re­volves her version of the novel, and so forth ‑‑ the question, I was saying, of exactly how such a mover of the cycle of life and knowledge proposes her particular hypothesis. Every character throws a message at the world. "How about...", says this working hypothesis, or "What if...?" And some characters are passionately involved in pushing their proposal.

How do you hold, push, sell, handle your hypothesis? Do you propose it with a clear sense of putting the idea at stake ‑‑ the sense  that the more you leave its disposal to some non‑you, the more reality you and your proposal gain? Or do you fiercely try instead to become both proposer and disposer, or equivalently to alter your context so drastically that the world, in disposing of your proposal, must do what you tell it to, because you have bent the context to your text, putting yourself at stake?

The answers to that question determine the choices I will call Comedy and Tragedy, pressing into unaccustomed service two ancient and often more rigorously defined words.

A proposer who leaves the proposal's fate to uncontrolled disposers is in a state of comedy. One who is given to trying to bring even the disposal process under control is moving into the tragic. This need not imply positive vs negative endings, of course. Comedies can end unhappily, if things don't work out, if risk‑taking ends in a crash for the character or the hypothesis. Tragedies may end up portraying apparent satisfaction, with the character pulling off the stunt of bending the world to meet the idea and  then contemplating the metaphysics of what ended up happening and what it all means at some kind of inner level, or what have you. What I am suggesting is that a comedy involves placing an idea in the world and seeing what happens. And a tragedy is about trying to turn an idea into a world and compel­ling things to take the shapes that must follow from that idea.  

Why dwell on this rather unusual version of the comedy‑tragedy distinction? I've already answered that. To repeat, I am suggesting that tragedies feature characters pursuing utopian questions, while comedies show people exploring pragmatic ones. Recall that the utopian mode involves putting the cultural first. Likewise, the pragmatic mode gives primacy to the technical. Various combinations of the cultural and the technical determine the individuality or this or that genre, this or that novel. Which means that a critic using our model can make a certain kind of sense of their individual contours in these terms.

Pragmatics in such a model is concerned about how readers follow a novel relative to what is at stake. In a tragedy, on this analysis, the whole world that is compelled to embody the proposal  is at risk. For the proposer has tried to take over the disposal process. In a comedy, what is at risk is the more limit­ed set of investments surrounding the proposal in a preexisting market which will let the hypothesis and the creatures hanging on to it either float or sink. This is going to mean two very dif­ferent sets of conventions of presentation and reading. In the sense I wish to develop, pragmatics will then give you two dif­ferent sets of ideological scaffoldings that shape your progress as a reader, and the ways you can respond to the novel.

Utopia is about the possible, visualizable settlement that provides a sky to what you see. Ideology is about the ground realities you negotiate as you make your way around a particular novelscape. I turn now to the operational notion of a context, a place which cannot exactly omit either ground or sky. But we don't yet know how to draw both ground and sky on the same map!

6.4 Contexts

Consider Adventure Novels, Spy Novels, Science Fiction, Business Fiction, Crime Fiction, Punishment Fiction, War Fiction, Tourism Fiction. What scaffoldings do readers and writers set up around such edifices to make their reading or writing work? That is the issue which I am suggesting a generically specified prag­matics that postulates an ideological groundscape can address, coupled with an unspecified semantics that handwaves at a utopian skyscape.

I begin this list with adventure and end with tourism. The adventurer, or the tourist, is a tripper, a trajector. Her risky trajectory interweaves her stakes with those of other agents, bystanders, and victims. These fellow passengers join her in co‑specifying what such trajectories mean in principle and how they work in practice.

Novels are easy to read and write when the trajectory wears a generic mask, or when the novel, equivalently, sports a readily definable action line. A theory of fiction should correspondingly find well‑defined generic conventions easy to characterize.

I am proposing that a pragmatics of ideologies should build a set of paths ready for the action network characteristic of each genre of fiction, defining the narrative ground on which the characters conduct their trips. These paths can often be defined in terms of the time‑honoured Motive, Means, and Opportunity of detective fiction for the actions themselves. But all genres do a double take and provide ring‑side seats for spectators, detec­tives, and other interested bystanders to watch and replay the actions as moral and strategic manoeuvres. These cognitive ac­tions that crucially co‑construct the novel's profile and also obey transparent generic conventions do not fall into criminolog­ical patterns quite so readily.

Thus, in a novel of crime and detection, the build‑up gives you a social landscape where the body will lie, and you admire it while you wait for the perpetration of the first spectacle. Conventions do not require suspense here. For the crime to occur at a striking or puzzling bend in the narrative contour is a plus if you get it. Why should this be so? Why are second or third murders part of the build‑up of suspense as the chase goes on? Why does the first body not have to come at the end of a nail‑biting wait? This is a question that the pragmatics I advocate is supposed to know how to handle.

I offer the following answer just to illustrate the game one is trying to play: The first crime creates a Problem which sets in motion the process of Examining the Scene, Pursuing the Agent, and Restoring Order. It is that process in which the examining, the pursuing, and the restoring agencies, often not identical, occupy protagonistic locations in the line of action and take the risks that define their individual profiles. Suspense performs its diegetic labour as part of that process. In the preambular zone of setting the problem‑stage, suspense is an option, but it is wasted on that low‑attention region, unless some author enjoys using it as an ornament.

It may be useful to compare this suspense device with the poetic device of line‑end alliteration, better known as rhyme. Alliteration at the end of a verse does an organizational job in most poetic systems. There it works on your medium‑term atten­tion. If you happen to use it at the start of a verse, as in  the fricative‑rich beginning of "Four faithful friends are all it takes / To clean your act and raise your stakes", it is an orna­mental game, not an active device. But the takes/stakes allitera­tion visibly affects how you read and write such verse. Likewise, initial suspense is of less moment than medial suspense.

I draw this parallel with rhyme to make the point that pragmatics does not necessarily connect actions to transparent motives or bring them under rational coordinations. Rhyme does not exactly flow from the material you want to express in a poem. It is a generic convention of rhymed versification, neither transparently intelligible and cost‑free, nor a totally opaque mechanical convention. It provides benefits, structuring as it does the attention and expectation patterns of the listener. And rhyme also has costs. Minor poets often end up saying weird things because the rhyme forces them to. Likewise, the need to create suspense may lead an author or a reader to plant or culti­vate a lot of false suspicions in the middle of a detective novel. Ideology is a structure of formal expectations that shape what one can see by way of content. Pragmatics provides an ac­count of such a structure in terms of possible paths that action patterns can take given the generic compulsions of the form.

How does utopia get into such an act? All this looks quite tame and familiar, doesn't it?

The utopian or principled component of the reading and writing of a novel of murder has to do with the deeper mysteri­ousness of the fact of murder as such, as a human fact. As one reads in practice yet another story of a murder, one also reads it in theory as a story of Murder. And one is moved, at the semantic or sense‑making level, to ask: What is the fact that people perform the extreme action of committing killing? How does this fact make sense under a sky which sees all grounds meet at the utopian horizon where the parties to all conflicts and dia­logues can in principle either settle them or imagine settling them?

One possible way to approach an answer is to say: It is true that the characters as portrayed in a detective novel are built around the fact of a murder. If you remove the fact, the generic conventions collapse, and no detective novel remains. So of course a utopian construal cannot intrude into the pragmatics of reading or writing such a thing without destroying the genre. And surely you cannot redeem the General Novel by destroying all the Particular Novels type by type. Having said all this, however, it is also true that novels portraying a murder go to great pains to explain who the murderer was, or who the victim was, in a way that allows us to locate the deed on a map of existing human responses to extreme situations. The conventions whereby we agree to construe killing as an intelligible response to a certain configuration are themselves under scrutiny every time a novel activates them for us. At one level, we are asking: What would it take for characters such as these to have not gone over that brink? Can we measure the distance that separates the particular configuration this novel holds up for us to look at from a slightly ‑‑ or massively ‑‑ different pattern of such lives which would not have collapsed into a murder story?

I may have made it sound as if I was talking preachingly about the undesirability of murder, and implying that novels are supposed to portray the Good Life and Morality and all that. The point, however, is about all obviousness. Generic conventions create the obvious. The obvious is ideology. Murder novels are simply a readily available example.

To see that the point is more general, try the romance genre. You don't think a utopian would be against love, do you? Well, everybody knows that the conventions of a romance, too, impose repetitive and predictable requirements which drive the mechanics whereby the writer and the reader agree to turn a romance into a quick read.  And I do want to suggest that here, as well, the utopian component of the reading and writing of a romance proceeds to ask if we know, or can learn, how to construe the particular configuration that has these people generically melting into each other's hearts and minds in terms of its dis­tance from some ideal of mature mutual visualization. To make this concrete, let us put it to you that maturity involves a serious mutuality whereby the parties to such a Harmony (not a Conflict, fine, not a Conflict) are able to read each other's life‑texts ‑‑ including what they individually can and wish to put at risk, on the basis of the compulsions which drive them but which they are beginning to modify in the light of jointly formu­lated projects ‑‑ into a serious, and therefore unstable and repeatedly negotiable, interweaving. 
Please substitute for this your favourite definition of mature mutuality; this particular definition is not my point. The point is that utopia is concerned with cancelling the excessive gentleness of dramatized sentiment exactly as it is concerned with cancelling the excessive destructiveness of dramatized hatred. Utopia, as it works in this theory, is about bringing all novels together in the flow. The basic narrative constitutes that personal edge of yours, where you are trying to understand and make sense, from your point of view, of the life‑knowledge recy­cling, embracing comic and tragic, and not excluding any of the genres. Utopia helps the basic narrative to remember to embrace all the possible genres, and to read them all as inflecting the same massive set of human issues in terms of some specific gener­ic conventions playing up some of the effects to facilitate the task of reading and writing anything at all. This is a first account.

It does not satisfy. It does not respond to the compulsions of the postmodern predicament that I reminded you of. Let us then abandon the cartoonish level, and be serious for a change. I promise you that this will be very brief.

Generic conventions exaggerate to make some kinds of intel­ligibility work efficiently. The cost is that other kinds become impossible. Postmodern work has been trying to redress the bal­ance. Fantasy is a medium in which the types of reality‑effect that characterize various genres flow into each other. How is this free flow accomplished? By placing the generic conventions themselves on the stage, as masks to be noticed together with the characters and actions they bring into visibility. One therefore exaggerates the exaggerations in magic realism and other narra­tive performances of our times. This second‑order exaggeration puts the genres themselves on the line.

Correspondingly our account must allow for metanovels where the novelistic conventions are part of what is at risk. The pragmatics of the reading/writing ground of novels of that order of complexity must place the pragmatic principles of the rela­tively naive and genre‑bound first‑order novels in the stuff that goes into the story line. You thus have secondary expectations that activate and deactivate particular packages in which primary expectations are switched on and off. Such a process of meta­switching can only be driven by an operative utopian machinery that brings the sky herself down to earth and performs hair‑raising operations on multiple grounding sites which the simple maps I have been spending most of my time on are grossly inade­quate examples of.

I think it is in this specifically postmodern context that the work I have been suggesting, of drawing pragmatic ground plus semantic sky portraits of a whole gallery of generically speci­fied contexts differentiating on the basis of shared principles of skyscaping, really gets interesting teeth. Whereupon the notions of ideology and utopia start helping us to make sense of the novels our best authors and readers have been labouring to bring forth. This, I'm afraid, is where I get out of the way. My own understanding of how these tools can be of service take you only so far. The rest of the way is a matter of travelling with the novels themselves, or with the basic narrative itself. I leave it to You, literally, if You are your basic narrative, always already stylized prior to, or coterminous with, your living itself.

6.5 A Conclusion

It is time to finish the overall argument. Now that we have explored some tools whereby an individual can look at the way she normally ‑‑ if unconsciously (a hedge whose importance Chinmoy Goswami has reminded me of) ‑‑ narrates herself into continued existence, we return to the bigger domains that she identifies with, including the nation. We have been arguing that we need to understand and strengthen processes weaning us from the nation. But there is no doubt that we are still at a stage of development that makes the nation an organizer of all our identities. It thus continues to be perceptually salient.

Indians must therefore face the question of how we are going to carry out the narrative management of our Indian identity once we become self‑conscious about the tools used in this process, like the English language.

As usual, there is no body of All Indians that can face this question together as a single general question. We are dispersed in all sorts of positions as potential narrators. Our narratorial positions have to do with what we are learners of. Only as you learn something does it come across as a fresh, new cognition. It stays with you as a moment you can revisit, and you can hand it down to others so that they face its newness the way you once did ‑‑ but there is no simply storable knowledge. We have just looked at the fact that a person's basic narrative handles knowledge in narrative terms. This must also hold at the national levels, for there is no one national level. National narratives can only work in contact with the fresh moments of learning where knowledge is alive.

In other words, we can only narrate as we learn. And no single mega‑management can manage the sprawl of all our learning. Hence the inappropriateness of the monumental Olympian nation building target that the typical twentieth century nations have been chasing. You see, or perhaps you don't see unless you want to, learnings never do add up to a cumulative knowing. Children have to start with a broken down, piecemeal box of toys only a bit different from their predecessors' toys. Toys become tools only gradually for each generation, as things add up. They add up differently each time. There is no tool to tool transmission. It is always tool to toy to tool. And, if the adults are of good cheer, tools always remain also toys. Because of this factor, the illusion of tool to tool transmission chains is not robust enough to mathematize into an aggregation of national knowledge as a single mind.

What happens when a would‑be enlightenment tries to build such an aggregation by the sheer force of teaching energies? What happens when you force the minds of children to zoom out of the toy mode into the hyperspace of tools instantly? You give them violence to promote the necessary speed. It colours their pleas­ure. They become knowing children. That knowingness is sickening not only when it is a case of the erotic gone bad. The premature­ly overschooled whiz kid syndrome produced by the knowledge sweat‑shops all over the planet parades before our initially shocked eyes a panorama of childish knowingness in all domains of knowledge. After such tools, no toys. This is the picture of the planet's cultural denudation.

Given the impossibility of aggregation, it seems likely that Indian learnings struggling to narrate themselves will do much of their work in the desirable disarray of Indian languages playing the role of learner‑friendly conversation networks. Since Indian languages are able to embody the learner position with some articulateness thanks to the colonial and nationalist past, it is going to seem natural for self‑conscious learners in India to use them that way. Recall the dialexis principle in our anti‑naturalism section. It follows from dialexis that only from the varied positions that are taken by the learner (and which remain continuously connected via the counterfactual internalized teach­er figure) can living knowledges be formulated conversationally and thus exist at all. A clearer understanding of this relation between the dialexis principle and the availability of knowledge as sparks needs to be worked out in the context of a general theory of significance that takes both literary form and abstract formalizations seriously in its proposed summations.

The option of developing knowledge production and distribu­tion cycles in all seriousness in the Indian languages them­selves, breaking the current monopoly of English in this sector, will stop looking merely theoretical, and meet obvious practical needs, once the mental life of English in India matures as a meta‑flow of knowledge‑flows aware of the Olympian, growing past its present incarnation as a confluence of simply Olympic‑achievement‑cheering knowledge‑streams with no consciousness of the unhealthiness and therefore unsustainability of the planet's Olympian enterprise. This day is not too distant. The physical life of English in India seems about to give way to the self‑distributed materialities of on‑line shooting.

What non‑utopian reasons do I have for saying this?

Begin with an empirical reason. The document or the book has been making room ‑‑ without completely disappearing ‑‑ for the movie, the song, and their cyberspace retakes. As this process waxes, the factors which have made the Indian English film indus­try lag so far behind the book business will come into their own. You see, cyberspace favours natural options that the lazy mind finds itself comfortable with. The affluent society has been busy training its products to crave physical creature comforts. But creatures do not materialize their comfort by physicality alone. This craving as it matures is becoming a thirst for mental com­forts ‑‑ and the resulting articulate body bursts into mind.

Continue with a conceptual reason. Greed inevitably sophis­ticates itself. The greedy person stops focusing physically on directly inspectable actuals and moves on to mentally expectable potentials. Now, greed and related low emotions make the crowds tick. Ergo, the evolution of greed makes it possible to give teeth to the hope once expressed by Jibanananda Das that today's instant gratification seeking crowd (today's "bilol bhir", in his Bangla) will melt away historically. Instead of aggregating as nations that watch their physical health indicators in a measured economy, then, future crowds will congregate as communities ‑‑ perhaps not quite what Gandhi would have wanted, but perhaps of the virtual or cyberspatial kind.

Even if the direct reality of wind and water is unable to attract people back out of the affluent Olympian living rooms where television watching consumers of virtuality instantiate Plato's Cave, the indirect reality that you and I find our indig­enous language as a regional set of conversations a relatively cosy subspace to inhabit will prevail over an excessively global English even within the boundaries of our nation, even within the way we tell various narratives in the various niches of our selfishness. For selfishness too is an ecosystem which diversi­fies its niches in ways we have to make friends with.

I am outlining merely an expectation about a slightly less obscene general selfishness scenario. This does not sound like something to hope for. But it is a threshold that the masses will attain, I would like to predict. "From this ridge, new peaks will rise." Once the cyberspaces regionalize, especially in the criti­cal domains of media dand educational materials as well as in the public domain of creative writing, the general level of people's willingness to be critical and therefore a free society will go up. And all else will be added unto us.

Which us? Who are we? Let us do it by place names and what we think these names carry, even if these thoughts are about to melt into unknown tomorrows. We live in what we imagine is an India that once invented the narrative as a developed form. At any rate we live in an India that continues to keep its epics and other big narratives alive. I am predicting, with some hope, that we are all set to also become a laboratory where we all realize that the persistence of English is a certain relation between us as a public and our knowledge resources as replenishable flows. As we grow into full possession of this realization, we will do the right thing and let our precious possession slip through our fingers, as all flows must. And our English will give way to an interflow of knowledge‑flows that will strike us as natural enough to tap our willingness to sustain it as part of our action of continuing to narrate ourselves into new learnings as our innermost realities.
Our wheel comes full circle, on such a telling of the story which is us. Our country gets ready to bring the story of story‑telling at a national level to an appropriate happy ending. Why an ending? Well, the national level itself is being phased out. Knowledge as such is finally going global right before our eyes. This does not take a naive aggregative form, but uses both cumu­lative and differentiative manoeuvres. And we need the full power of the humanities and the social sciences to unravel all the tangled skeins. As we learn how to face and to participate in this serious globalization of knowledge, we will find it increas­ingly obvious that the earlier and slower internationalization of the natural and formal sciences that co‑occurred with the rise of the Olympian age was merely a first draft of this larger mingling of our identities and narratives.

Needless to say, the present set of reflections on these matters is indeed very much a first draft, a comment I make with no sense of embellished understatement, but simply as the unvar­nished truth. These reflections await critical scrutiny with the usual mixture of looking forward and trepidation.

Boulton, Marjorie. 1960. Zamenhof: creator of Esperanto. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Dasgupta, Probal. 1987. Toward a dialogue between the sociolinguistic sciences and Esperanto culture. Language Problems and Language Planning 11:305‑334.
Dasgupta, Probal. 1997. Esperanto, the theoreticals, and guestli­ness: some captions. Osmania Journal of English Studies, Theory Special Issue.
Fettes, Mark. 1991. Europe's Babylon: towards a single European language? History of European Ideas 13:3.201‑213.
Jakob, Hans. 1995. Servisto de l' ideo: 50 jaroj che Universala Esperanto‑Asocio 1908‑1958. Antwerp: Flandra Esperanto‑Ligo.
Janton, Pierre. 1993. Esperanto: language, literature, and com­munity. Tr. Humphrey Tonkin et al. Albany: SUNY Press.
Lins, Ulrich. 2/1990. La danghera lingvo: studo pri la persekutoj kontrau Esperanto. Moscow: Progreso.
Privat, Edmond. 4/1957. Vivo de Zamenhof. Rickmansworth: Esperan­to Publishing Company.
Sircar, Badal. 1988. Je aasaa kare. 282‑303, Naanaa mukh: naatxok kobitaa probondho onnaanno. [In Bangla.] Calcutta: Anjali Bose.
Sircar, Badal.1991. Ni esperu.[In Bangla.] Calcutta: Anjali Bose.
Waringhien, Gaston. (Ed.) 1948. Leteroj de L.L. Zamenhof. 2 vol. Paris: Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home