Interpellation and otherness

Not only does colonialism embrace physical coercion, but also a set of beliefs to support it. It interpellates the colonial subjects by incorporating them in a system of representation by which the individual subjects come to internalise dominant values of the privileged part of society and think about their place in it in a particular disempowering way, which favours the colonisers. Interpellation, a term developed by Althusser, describes the way/s in which dominant ideas are made one’s own and how society determined views are expressed “spontaneously” by the colonised subjects. As colonial discourse also work through gratification (Althusser, Foucault), it makes the individual’s sense of worthiness depend on their representation of their assigned role with regards to the coloniser’s. We must bear in mind that discourses don’t reflect pre-given reality, but constitute and produce it.

althusser

In colonised locations, natives are usually required to work on the coloniser’s behalf, thus the language of the metropolis must be learned by them. Teaching English in India was argued as necessary in order for the natives to take English opinions (Macaulay). The result is the so-called mimic-men (V.S. Naipaul): they learn English, doesn’t look English and aren’t accepted as such. They are anglicised natives. They are expected by the metropolis to identify themselves with the middle-class bourgeoisie of the coloniser rather than with the indigenous masses (Franz Fanon), and although it may seem to expected to happen that way during the first stages, this fact is usually reverted later on, once native intellectuals they gain perspective. It is the next step, when native intellectuals can be regarded as a threat for the metropolis and when they can rewrite history from a post-colonial point of view.

Foucault5

The construction of otherness is significant for national representation, as identity is always defined in relation to something else. Borders are designed by people, and so are nations. They are fabrications, not natural phenomena. The myth of the nation serves the purpose of making people think of themselves as part of a greater collective, a sense of belonging that national symbols help to create. The invention and confection of history is central to the creation of nations and to colonialism. In reality there are so many versions of history as there are narrators.

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Colonized brains: ignorance and the victor’s version of history

A positive aspect of the social networks is the fact that we take a glimpse into other cultures and places throughout the world and talk to people with a different background. It is indeed very enriching, and it provokes some awkward situations as well! For instance, a young fellow from India, Vivek Singh, asked me about the history of his country before the East India Company poked its nose in there. It made me feel embarrassed to acknowledge my ignorance, as I explained to him how in the western countries – as stated by Walter Benjamin: “History is told by the victors”- we are only taught history when/only as much as it involves western people, and western versions of it only. I feel we have a huge gap in our knowledge, no wonder we may behave as hillbillies when we encounter cultures and behaviours different to ours.

Gramsci Foucault

I resorted to Ravi Kumar (www.hindicenter.com), who sent me some bibliography on colonial and post-colonial contexts in translation. I tried to fill the gaps by researching a bit and trying to reflect in order to answer Vivek Singh’s question: why were the colonial incursions in America and India so different?

We could say that time was an important factor, as more than one century separates both invasions. The way they happen was also particular to each of them; the Spaniards assumed to role of “gods” and took over, plundering, raping and erasing entire cultures with their microbes and swords alike. The British disguised it as commercial intentions only, while they publicised it as a “christianising enterprise” in their homeland. Their intentions were not as bare faced as that of the Spaniards’ because Indian society was very much developed, organized and sophisticated already, so they could not get away so easily.

India1795

They landed at Surat in 1612 with the permission of prince Khurram, who allowed them to trade there. A hundred years after that, in 1712, empires within India crumble, there are uprisings and invasions from Persia and Afghanistan. The East India Company take advantage of the invasions effected by other countries and the vacuum of power by the death of Aurangzeb (1707) to impose their own idea of an empire, displaying their own private army and plan to take direct control over the land in order to increase their profits. In the battle of Plassey (1757) they fight against the forces of the Nawab Surajudduallah of Bengal, backed by France -out of their own self-interest, I guess-. The Indian side fails, due to Surajudduallah’s General Mir Jafar’s treachery, who was made the new ruler of Bengal by the British as a reward for betraying his own fellow citizens -that sounds familiar throughout history, doesn’t it?-.

The Indians started to build alliances in order to better fight the British. In 1764, Mughal emperor Shah Allam II allied with Mir Qasim -Mir Jaffar’s son, who had turned against the British rule- and Shujaudduallah -ruler of Awadh- to expel the Brits. It results in another failure, in the battle of Buxar (1764); they were allowed to rule their areas but forced to acknowledge the East India Company as administrator.

The company started becoming a political force and its ambitions to gain control of India started to be obvious. For the next year they exerted their power through a combination of diplomacy and sheer force. By 1840 India was under its rule. The company exploited Indian resources, started introducing Christianity -which they were advised not to do during the first stages of their sojourn-, and developed an increasingly aloof, arrogant and racist attitude. They also introduced their language, a fact which is one of the basic and most common weapons used by colonialism. Indian craftsmen became ruined, as the Europeans living in India introduced cheaper products from British factories -a phenomenon which is also familiar nowadays, but the other way round, impulsed as well by the Europeans’ outsourcing-. The British established a kind of “apartheid” which resulted in the higher rank posts being reserved for their own kind. They also introduced the Doctrine of Lapse, allowing themselves to annex any land whose ruler died or which did not have a male heir -of course they practised gender apartheid as well-. India became an important site to exploit for Britain, thus Queen Victoria became the official ruler.

Diamonds in the dirt

There has been much talk here in Spain about the levels of poverty we are reaching. I am talking about the average citizen, or course, because as you must know, corruption in Spain stays mainly in the plain (and everywhere else) and euros in Spain stay mainly outside the country (they have a preferrence for Switzerland). Ana Botella, the former president Aznar’s wife (what a surprise, Cornelius Nepote) and mayor of Madrid (please do not miss her speech last year for the Olympics 2020, utterly ridiculous) decided to impose a fine which amounts to 1038 American Dollars (750 euros) on those who search in the rubbish. I think she has decided to take this measure to avoid a certain image which could affect investors’ decisions upon spending money in a ruined country. She wants us to look sleek and politically correct although it is only the political class who is taking the money. Oh, well… The Monarchy is taking the money too, I forgot, my apologies to the crown for forgetting their part in it. Both stink with corruption, stained with moral rubbish in which they feed. How dare they complain that the average citizen looks for food in the trash cans? Does it paint a poor image?

"La brecha", by González de la Cuesta.

“La brecha”, by González de la Cuesta.

The fact is that every time I go shopping or do some errand lately, I see up to three different people in three different spots looking for things among the rubbish. Usually, they carry a neat little shopping trolley, one of those made of cloth with two little wheels that we see at supermarkets and they proceed to their searching. Is there anything wrong with this? Job opportunities are scarce, and there is a lot of still edible stuff in the cans next to supermarkets. Why haven’t they regulated on throwing away edible stuff when there are so many people in need?

This is the society of programmed obsolescence, our dear consumer-based society in which we are valued for the amount of stuff that we consume and we are expected to support society by keeping on buying and discarding material things. This means that the rubbish cans are packed with usable stuff and this is no recent issue. I have picked up interesting things from rubbish cans myself. Part of my clothes come from discards of others and they are as nice as they could be. And I’ve always liked the idea of buying second-hand clothes: less waste for the planet, less influence by the companies that play with a certain image of women, less concern about hundreds dying in a clothes factory in Bangladesh which collapses…

I guess this is considered marginal and belonging to the lumpen-proletariat, but it does have a dignity in it. More than politicians and aristocrats can say in this country.

Hoffman’s death

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I have just read an interesting article related to P.S.Hoffman’s tragic death last 2nd of February. Its author was wondering why would someone who has been sober for the last twenty-odd years have a relapse on his addiction. According to this article, the experts assert that most people who have been able to stay sober for five years would stay so indefinitely. But an addiction is an ongoing situation in life despite remaining sober. It is enough to have one drink, to smoke one joint, to snort one line, to have one fix and our body will remember; whichever connections were rewired, they will remember and it would take little time to start a vertiginous inverted spiralling movement into addiction.

All those years gone by without the slavery of it, can make one feel one’s above it as if it never took place, can make one feel overconfident, can make one say those words: “I can control it”, “it’s just this one time”. It can make one put a larger dose into a body readjusted to sobriety, as it happens to so many people, causing death.

It is really a feat being able to stay sober for twenty-odd years being surrounded by Hollywood people, many of whom may see nothing wrong with using drugs as if it was part of their profession. Even ordinary people are usually bombarded with friendly invitations by others who do not see anything wrong with it, who do not consider themselves as addicts and just want to share something which is nice for them with others, disregarding the fact that some people are addicts. It just happens everyday. Alcohol, for instance, is used as a social facilitator in formal situations, and the minute you refuse to have a drink you become a weirdo and a suspect. They insist on your having a drink in social occasions. The only way to avoid it which comes to my mind is by getting out of the closet and saying “I’m an addict”, but it does not work, as people keep on insisting. They will insist and when the damage is done, nobody will help you, because it just takes one time to lose it and on many occasions, the same people who offered you whatever, will then laugh at your weakness. They will not make amends for what you lose. But anyway, this is only one of the factors implicated, the environment. There are so many factors involved, and we are just imperfect human beings.

So long, Philip Seymour Hoffman…

Be my Valentine: gift giving and other poisoned apples.

Anthropologists have looked into the matter of gift giving as a universal feature in human societies. In primitive societies, some of the reasons for it can be found in the establishment of bonds of kinship. Lévi-Strauss stressed the importance of the prohibition of incest in human societies as a way of making women available for “trade” by men of their tribe with men belonging to other tribes, more than as a way to ward off physical deformity or psychological damage. This was his particular extension of Marcel Mauss’s theories in “The Gift” (1925), which emphasized the symbolic rather than economic value of gifts exchanged.

Now, how do this apply to our society and our circumstances today, as we get ready for this Valentine’s social obligation? I understand that in Anglo-Saxon countries the Valentine gifts go to lovers and friends. In my country, Spain, it used to be for couples only, although due to the cultural influence exerted by the USA through TV sitcoms, some (especially kids) feel compelled to spend twice the money/effort/time. When I was a child, the only thing we did was to laugh at those who were dressed in red in St. Valentine’s Day, because it meant that they were in love, and we used to chase them in order to kiss them (they tried to escape, of course, that was the fun of it).

Nowadays, in adult terms, I find that gift giving is a double edge sword. What should we do with gifts? Ideally I was very much for personal gifts, and I try and make them myself, at least for the ones whom I regard as special people. But I’m afraid the chances to put my foot on it are similar. All the effort and love that you invest may not be appreciated, and I have seen some of such personal gifts been cornered or discarded. Some people are used to expensive stuff or high quality goods and as you are involved in a relationship, they feel free to give their opinion which is not always directly proportional to what you have invested love-wise. Should we just go to a shop and buy stuff with the little money that we have in these turbulent times of economical crisis? The stuff we buy may just be equally discarded… What to do then? I have always thought that a good criteria for gift giving is taking into consideration your lover/friend/relative’s tastes, hobbies & fields of expertise. My mother is always happy to receive some Black&Decker device for her birthday.

You can also bear in mind your own strong points: I paint as a hobby, and sometimes I give a painting as a present. Another possibility is a practical gift, although it is not valid for everyone, some people prefer to be the receivers of a frivolous object they do not really need, or would prefer to be given something that otherwise they would not acquire, like something “luxurious” (SPA bonus, massage, expensive perfume). I was very happy to receive a set of moulds for cakes last year.

The negative aspect of personal gifts is that if the thing you are giving away is criticized, it feels personal too. I was able to experience this not long ago and it made me rethink all my policy with this kind of stuff. Also, there are gifts that get too personal: once I received the book “The Whore’s Son” (I happen to have a son) by Richard Russo as a birthday present. I was astonished. As an explanation, the one who bought it for me, told me that it was a very famous author that she heard me talk about. I could not recall the moment when I was supposed to have mentioned Richard Russo at all. It was the very first time that I heard about him, but that person insisted through flattering my literary knowledge (as Freud’s saying goes, we are defenceless when it comes to flattery, or at least that is what that person might have thought). I have always seen that book as a show of hostility towards me (I know very well that person and she is capable of such a “detail”), and I do not like much its presence.

To sum up, I think I will change my policy towards gifts and stop gift giving and taking altogether.

High brow stuff and real life

It is really amazing… The level of abstraction that some minds have achieved. In those times when I feel quite down about my own mental capacities, my mind shifts to this question, drifting away from duty, as it is doing right now. I mean, how could all those theorists, essayists and scholars reach that level of abstraction if not for having their basic needs fulfilled?

In one of my previous posts I mentioned Einstein and the rules he designed for his wife, which included being spared the children presence, having any obligation towards his wife or having to clean, iron or cook at all. Sometimes I wonder, is it possible to mix daily stuff and high brow thinking in just one mind? Or, does one influence the other? What happens when one has to deal with thugs, traumatized people, bullies, cheats, busybodies, hand-to-mouths and spiritual destitutes -who are just part of REAL life – in a daily basis, make ends meet, take care of others, cook, clean, wash, put up with weird bosses and then one has to write an essay on, let’s say…, the importance of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories applied to the way an author’s identity conditions the meaning of a literary product from a diachronic perspective? Can you do that while you are thinking in your children’s timetables, your workplace deed in lieu of foreclosure, the shopping list, sexual harassment or bullying at work? How could Derrida or Lacan write those nearly indecipherable texts about whatever they are talking about?

Spleen and ideal (copy)The point is that there are innumerable societies within our society and our world and it is so different for people depending on their background… How can I feel identified with someone who seeks to be indecipherable in order to exclude the non-elite niche dwelling people? How can they get so far away from reality into their own world of concepts with no visible results in the improvement of their fellow men/women’s lives? Can we really afford to spend so much time in theoretical masturbation while there are so many things to improve at a practical level? Is it really better to spend our time enclosed in our ivory tower?

I marvel at Frederick Douglass, who learnt to read and write and became someone out of his own will power in the worst scenario possible. He, who interchanged bits of bread for literacy with poor white boys, who had to work like a mule, and was shunned, enslaved and oppressed. He certainly was not in an ivory tower and he made it and manage to help others in the process. He dealt with real life and its real issues.

Why worshiping other humans?

Yesterday, as I drove back home from the airport listening to the radio, I learned that The Genius Albert Einstein wrote a draft with directions for Mileva Maric to follow if she was to keep on living with him when they moved to Berlin. I could not but marvel at the content of that list, even bearing in mind that it happened a hundred years ago (to be compared with Wollstonecraft’s writings!). Peculiar!

Amongst the points that he made, we can find some pearls of love and companionship towards one’s own wife, that describe a servant-master relationship. Mileva, who had to forget about her own career when she became a mother, had to keep the house clean, with special care when it came to his dominions – bedroom and office – , serve three meals that he would eat in his quarters, renounce to any kind of personal relationship with him, except when social occasions made it inevitable. She should not sit next to him, go for walks , or travel with him. They should not have sex, or argue. She should agree to stop talking if he asked her to and should leave on his command. She should not despise him in their children’s presence – although he does not say if it worked the other way round as well -.

I started wondering why we highlight intelligent remarks and interpret antisocial behaviour as something to be admired as a sign of their excellence. We set it in the shrine as well, next to our heroes, as something to be in awe of . Well, I guess we look for some signs of genius in anything and everything they do. Their importance makes everything about them mythic. That slippery quality, genius, allows well-known artists (painters, film makers, actors) scientists, such as Einstein or some politicians, to abuse people, have sex with girls under age, or cheat the tax office. Together with their assumed godliness people around them seem to accept these unacceptable privileges without a blink.