Jun 18, 2008

International Seminar in South Korea

Literature in the Age of Internationalism
Uday Prakash
(This paper was read in the recently held International Byeong ju Lee memorial Literature Festival, 2008 in Republic of Korea)
Our language can be seen as an ancient city; a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.
Language is a labyrinth of paths. You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.*1

If literature is a verbal art form and if we accept it as an objet d'art of creating infinite possible architectures and structures in speech by an author, this quote coming from one of the most significant philosopher investigating the cryptic logic of language and mind, is of great help to understand the role and fate of literature in the age of globalizing or almost globalized (Internationalizing or almost Internationalized, we may call) world we live in.
From another point of view, what Wittgenstein had said, stands true to all works of language, from the time of epics and novels to newspaper stories and advertising copies, from poetry to a political party’s manifesto, a corporate media campaign and to a scripture. However, there is always a very thin line of ‘ethics’,’ aesthetics’ and ‘concerns’ which often separates literature from other constructs of the language. This we can feel if we look back to Wittgenstein’s time again, when he wrote these sentences. In a tormented and traumatized soul after the First World War’s catastrophes, his ascetic deviation from a turbulent power-capital centric world towards an exiled space of ‘abstinence,’ ethics’ and ‘religion’, he wrote his masterpiece ‘Philosophical Investigations’ and attempted to explore and discover a ‘logic’ under it. And while doing so, in my opinion, Wittgenstein was not working as a philosopher of language, but he was exerting himself in the language as an author because ‘author is the last philosopher of the book’ as said by Derida. Literature succeeds in providing an alternative world, a different space and time because: ‘Writing requires a break, with thought when thought ascribes to itself immediate proximity, a break with all empirical experience of the world. In this sense, writing is also a rupture with all present consciousness, being always already involved in the experience of the non-manifest or the unknown…’ *2
This ‘point of rupture’ with the ‘empirical experience’ and ‘present consciousness’ empowers literature, an objet d'art of language, to play its own role with its own power, in a world dominated and occupied by the other powers with their other roles. In a way, writing is ‘returning to a time before world and reaching to a time after the world’. It is speaking in language already spoken in elsewhere but with words, which reveal nothing, or something else. Writing is creating ‘signs’ which confront all other ‘signs’ manufactured and perpetuated by other powers through all possible technologies and affluence in world.
And it is here that literature attains its autonomy, emancipates itself to a privileged-private place. From here it might know about its own role, which only words can play. But then there is another crisis. As a famous proverb says –‘there is no inside whale to hide’ from the catastrophe and onslaughts of violent powers of greed and destruction. After all language is a product of world of reality. Therefore ‘word’ itself can never remain unscathed. Words are used, abused and exploited by the powers of reality. Words are wounded and contaminated. Recently in my trip to US, I bought a new collection of poems of Tadeusz Rozewicz, my most favorite Polish poet and was astounded to understand about another sphere where global forces might inflict injuries, the sphere of words:
‘Words have been used up
Chewed up like gum
By lovely young mouths
Have been turned into white
Ballon bubbles
Diminished by politicians
They are used for whitening teeth
and for rinsing out of mouths
in my childhood
words could be
applied to a wound
could be given to the one
you loved..’ *3
This poem’s concern about the basic nuclear component of poetry itself, in a lamenting spirit, reveals about the encroachment and invasion of techno-market-centric powers on language through everyday renewed technology. It consumes and exploits all verbal structures and manipulates and moulds them for its own tasks. The industrialized, commercialized capitalist world has become an outside world with invincible material connections and associations, and the individual (here poet) is living in the midst of that world.
If we probe this new world, it is ‘post industrial’ or ‘post-modern’ as it is generally defined and explained by sociologists and scholars. There are few who name it ‘post-colonial’ and there are others who term it as ‘neo-colonial’ or ‘late-capitalist’. There are few younger journalists and activists, who admit that now we all, irrespective of our nation and profession, have become ‘Citizen of Empire’. *4. The poem of Tadeusz Rozewicz, I have quoted above talks about the fate of word in context of this specific time which has arrived since the last couple of decades of twentieth century.
And indisputably this is the era of ‘globalization’ (or internationalization, as per topic of this seminar paper). It is typically defined as a time in which the sovereignty of nation states has declined and modes of exchange operate with increasing ease and speed across national boundaries, producing configurations of power that exceed the boundaries of the nation-state. It is said to have been ‘born’ with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of USSR as socialist super power and end of the Cold War. It is now a world of reality and virtual reality where an individual breaths and survives alienated from it and from himself. Most of the writers of the peripheral nation states or the third world countries or the developing countries witness this new ‘disni-fied’,‘Mcdonaldized’ or ‘pizzahutted’ *4 world on one hand and a world with ‘carpet bombing’ and bio-genetic terminator seeds and WMDs on the other hand, with instinctual skepticisms. The familiar world, they used to know, has become estranged and altered.
‘A reality belonging to the day before yesterday, a reality that long ago became its own ghost, is being conserved in rigid framework of phrases, prejudices, and hypocrisy. The end product of a vast machinery of research, investigations, analyses, statistics, conferences, reports and headlines is the comic strip, the embodiment of an illusory world of Everyman and No-man. Illusion displaces contradiction. The outcome of a multitude of ‘point of views’ is a hideous ‘uniformity’ of minds.’*5
This perception now appears a bit stale. Scenario now is much more changed and complex. As a result of multiplication and advancement of media and telecommunication technologies including cybernetics what Walter Benjamin had said in his most famous essay, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ or what Karl Kraus wrote about the printing press or Bertolt Brecht wrote about Radio, now appears stale, clich├ęd and sometimes juvenile. No other civilization in the past, had used and produced language itself in such a mammoth quantum. Just look around, it’s a big noise. Every channel and every electronic gadget, small or huge, is churning out language and converting it in to ‘chatter’ where words don’t posses any meaning. A language is reproducing itself, a language without truth, an endless meaningless chatter.
Language used and consumed for lies, biggest in it is the global industry of advertising. This is not merely the language of ‘Double Speak’ as George Orwell had thought in his dystopic prophecy of a totalitarian state. Liars of the past, Big Brothers and Goebbels appear tiny and dwarf when we witness colossal lies televised, screened, shown, thrown on masses, because the mind of the masses has to be manipulated through the power of ‘words’ and ‘images’.
In Samskrit, ‘pada’(word)has been conceived as Lord ‘Shiva’ and ‘artha’ (meaning) as Goddess ‘Parvati’ or ’shakti’. They were thought to be inseparable; any act of splitting them apart would have been a blasphemy. Everyone living on earth, which uses ‘pada’ (words) for his interest, is warned to have a restrain over using it excessively. Restrain and control in consuming and producing speech (Vaak samyam). It was thought that this universe has been born from the explosion of ‘nada’ (boom/ sound) which is the base component of speech or language. Poem is also born in the same manner like an universe. Through the explosion (sphota) of word (pada) meaning (artha) is produced which in a serial explosions of following words, form a sentence (vaakya) and through this process a poem (kavya) is born. This is what Bhartrihari had said in his treatise. It appears now, on the face level, an enigmatic, irrational, pre-scientific and obscure theory of genesis of a poem or an universe. But Derida in his Grammatology tells similar things in a little different style.
Now, if we look back again to the poem of Tadeusz Rozewicz, where we see that the ‘words have been used up like chewing gum’ by ‘lovely young mouths’ (of tv news anchors) and ‘diminished by politicians’ for ‘whitening their teeth’, then is it really possible now to compose a poem using same ‘used up’, ‘diminished’ words?
What after all a poet should do when a huge, demonic global commercial-political industry is using and manufacturing mammoth quantum of words every fraction of second? And that all for nothing but in advertising its product or lying to consolidate its power?
But, there is a hope. I now quote the last remaining lines of the poem:
‘Now diminished
Wrapped in newspaper
They still contaminate
Still reek
They still hurt
Hidden in heads
Hidden in hearts
Hidden under the gowns
Of young women
Hidden in holy books
They burst out
They kill.’ *6
And here is a hope for a writer or for literature to perform its role in a world where spaces for individual object de-art is shrinking every day. Word can still play a role. Word is ‘power inscribed in language’ so it holds a power, where all outside powers cease to exist.
But there is another plane where the process of internationalism is more concrete and physical. A strong storm of homogenization of cultures on international scale is on since the incoming of this ‘post-modern’ or ‘post-cold-war’ era. Peripheral countries and developing societies do not have any other option except adopting and accepting the economic policies and model of ‘development’ dictated by the rich countries of west, led by US and laid down by international organizations like IMF and the World Bank. India too is a country, with its multiple cultural-ethnic societies and sub-nationalities, which are undergoing through a complex and turbulent, process off late. In India, particularly, we witness a fierce resurgence and re-assertion of micro ethnic identities on rise and conflict since last few years. What Samuel Huntington had prophesied in his infamous book, contrary is the present scenario. These are not the ‘civilizations’ which are clashing against each other, these are much smaller cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious identities which are indulging in violent conflicts every day. Homogenization through mass consumer culture, riding on the multiplied media campaign and dumping of luxury products in the indigenous market, from cars and bikes to fast food and fashion, is consequently developing in to balkanization of a post-colonial nation-state than homogenizing and integrating it.
Recently, I have read a paper by Girish Mishra, a noted Indian scholar, I quote a portion below to elaborate my point of view:
‘Fukuyama rejects the view that globalization is leading to cultural homogeneity. There may be homogenization of certain aspects of the economy and the society, but, at the same time, there will be an affirmation of distinctive cultural identities. If the process of cultural homogenization takes place, it will be too slow to discern. “Many people think that because we have advanced communications technology, and are able to project global television culture worldwide, this will lead to homogenization on a deeper cultural level. I think that, in a way, it’s done just the opposite.
“For example, there is probably less mutual liking, more distrust and greater emphasis on the difference between the cultures of the United States and Asia today than there was
40 years ago. In the 1950s and’60s, Asia looked up to the United States as a model of modernization. Now, Asians look at American urban decay and the decline of the family and they feel that America is not a very attractive model. Communications technology has allowed both Asians and Americans to see each other more clearly, and it turns out they have very different value systems.’*7
One need not agree with this geo-cultural estimation of growing distrust between Asia and the West or the US, here does come a perturbing question about the state of minor, lesser developed, poorer and deprived human groups in this process of global homogenization. Accumulation of wealth in a small section of people where more than 40 percent of population lives much below poverty line and 60 percent of it does not have access to health, education, sanitation and towards basic civil amenities, any such ‘modernization’ stands fake and farcical.
Literature again becomes an arena, where the voices of the diminishing cultural identities and suffering subjugated masses can be heard. Literature, if resist to get itself commoditized by the alluring offers from the market, can unambiguously play a significant role in these testing times.
In my opinion in the age of end of all adolescence, in the age of dystopia and chattering ideologies, it is literature alone, which through its murmur of words and fragile sentences, can act as a vanguard of suppressed identities and individuals. Because literature has an ability to create a critique and a comic versus any hegemonic power, out to dominate and subjugate smaller beings on planet. Words are the Gods of small things. They remain immortal and defy their death. Words can laugh, cry, ridicule, mimic and dance against all forms of violence of powers, anywhere.
‘Writing is the beginning of a mass gesture: against all discourses (modes of speech, instrumental writings, rituals, protocols, social symbolic), writing alone today, even if still in form of luxury, makes of language something
a-topical, without place.’*8
Therefore, it is literature, which is finally ‘Internationalist’, not the market and never the politics.
Words remain eternal even after the world.
I request you to recall the beginning of this paper, where I had put a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein, to explain about the role of an individual writer and poet in the ancient city of language named literature, now I end this paper with a few words from Mahatma Gandhi, the father of post colonial independent India:
‘I do want that the winds from other cultures should enter in to my house, and I have let my doors and windows open to receive it, but I do not want that my foot gets uprooted, lose my balance and I get blown away with the winds. No way I want to go to the other’s house begging as a slave and no way I want to live like a emulator..!’*9


*1 - Ludwig Wittgenstine, Philosophical Investigation,’ Post-Modernism-Philosophy and the Arts, Edited by Hugh J. Silverman, Chapter 5, ‘In Situ: Beyond the Architechture of the Modern’, Stephen H. Watson p.p. 83, Published by Routledge, 29 West 35th Street, New York-10001.

*2 - Mark C. Taylor, ‘Back to the Future’. Ibid. p.p.15
*3 – Tadeusz Rozewicz, New Poems, Published by Archipelago Books, 25 Jay Street, #203, Brookelyn, New York 11201. (2007)
*4 – Robert Jenson, ‘Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim our Humanity’, City Light Books, 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133, 2004.
*5 – Ernst Fishcher, ‘The Necessity of Art’,Translated by Anna Bostock, Penguin Books,625 Madison Avenue, New York – 10022, p.p. 203
*6 - Tadeusz Rozewicz, New Poems, Published by Archipelago Books, 25 Jay Street, #203, Brookelyn, New York 11201. (2007)
*7 - Girish Mishra,’Globalization and Culture,’ yet to be published, 2008.
*8 – Roland Barthes, ‘Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers’, Selected Writings, Edited by Susan Sontag,Fontana Paper backs, p.p. 401, 1983.
*9- P.C.Joshi,’Parivartan aur Vikas ke Sanskritik Aayaam’,Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi,p.p.67, 1987

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