Q&A with Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay

Since The story of Bharat published in [dia•foria n°5 involves and touches so many psychology and indian culture references, we decided to set up a Q&A with its author, Debaprasad Badyopadhyay, in order to clear up some of the mysterious aspects of his novel. The interview was made on April 29 2011.

Q1) The character in the story is an academician studying languages who is erelong forsaken by the institutions because of his (too) experimental researches. Since you’re also a linguistic Assistant Professor, are there any more autobiographical references in the plot?

A1] Bharat was a linguist, not a polyglot ― he was not just studying languages. He was supposed to analyze language by deploying grammatical rules of fragmentation. He was bored with this type of meta-speaking on speaking (i.e., linguist’s job). He was not an “academician” even; he was a (s) talker of wisdom. He was perceiving blooded body of his language, when language was treated as an “object” and subsequently fragmented into parts by deploying formal linguistic techniques. He took his recourse to an altogether different zone ― silent zone, the space outside of mainstream linguistics. It is at a time a withdrawal and a rejection (foreclosure) of violent other. He was not “experimenting” with anything as he was against the scientific truth-seeking experimentation that objectified the (non-/) human-existence. Instead, he posed himself as his subject (not as an object) of his study–he wished to bypass violent other by posing himself as a mum. From his primary anti-Chomskian hypothesis of crippled creativity (“one may not create infinite sets of sentences out of finite sets of words, if one’s body is appropriated by the violent outside sociality”) he switched over to silent zone of non-linguistics. Linguistics, as it stands today, is least bothered about the semantics of groaning, crying, biting (even at the time of intercourse or foreplay, the time of act-pleasure-desire) breathing, mourning, sigh (of relief or of depression) etc. Bharat, at a definite juncture of his life, could not distinguish between abnormal and normal way of speaking. Linguists, especially technocrat-linguist, as scientists, vehemently discarded him for such position. He was forsaken by his institute for one reason: he was not a mimic man.

Yes, there were autobiographical references, but the central character, Bharat, was altogether different from me. He was not as hypocrite as I am. His character was built on the basis of some ideals as well as idols, which were not matched with my live experiences. He might be my alter-ego… this much I can say now regarding “autobiography”. A self-reflexive narrative with a third person-reference is something different from so-called auto-biography. Here in this text on Bharat, the division between fact and fiction is blurred. In other way, when we are writing something, even in case of “scientific” writing, we are not able to escape our anthropocentric subjectivity. The so-called objectivity is mere pretension.

Q2) One of the meanings of “Bharat” is India. Are you suggesting that such an experience could have only happened in India or within an eastern context only?

A2] Bharat (proper name) is different from Bhaarat (India), though the mythology told us that the name of Bhaarat (India) was derived from the name of Bharata the zombie (Sanskrit Jadabharata), the character I had anachronistically introduced in the narrative.

Bharat’s experience was a glocal (global+local) experience. If you do not have to believe the position of India in the corruption index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_in_India), the proliferation of illegal and so-called “unethical” activities in India is now an open secret and a matter of public discontent. Bharat suffered too much as a colonized Indian citizen. His political-geographical zone was controlled by a regimented Marxist Communist party (that is a mask! The party is now totally ignorant about Marxism. A type of vulgar Marxism is practiced here.) And when he was awarded by the central government and went to South-Western India to attend a “non-residential” fellowship (please note the paradox: he was attending a non-residential fellowship by leaving his residence), he was also tortured by another religiously fanatic political party for his non-collaborative strategic hyper-secular stance. {the paradox is that you need to spend money in order to take advantage of the awarded sum}

The sociology of “literate” academic tribe and its subsequent (un)holy nexus with the political parties (in a form of patron-client relationship) is yet to be written with so-called empirical evidences. We then have to use new terms, viz. “academic mafia” “academic bureaucrat” etc. to describe the situation.

However, I have some questions regarding the concept of “corruption”: What is the “norm” and what is “deviation”/”corruption”? Is there any universal norm, posited as a genetic endowment of the homo sapiens? For the time being, I do not think so.

Q3) At a certain point of the story you introduce another character, Bharata (the matter). Despite I could find some similarities with Bharat’s situation (they both end up retiring from life as we know it and they both reach a “silent state”), I’d like you to explain it a little bit more, if possible. It seems to me like one of those typical Buddhist stories (called “koan”) which can’t be understood straightly. I mean, they (koans) always give the reader that unfinished/incomplete sensation which can be revealed only inside (sort of enlightenment). Is that the purpose of it?

A3] You would find different interpretations of silent zones/silencemes in different Indian philosophies (I am including all the so called “illiterate” Sahajiya and Sufi or Vaisnava saints, viz. Nanak, Kabir, Dadu, Lalan et. al. within this constructed category instead of confining myself only to Sanskritic texts). I would wish to sum up this with few technical words and according to my interpretations.

There are four types of “languages”: baikhari (speaking in waking-state [jagrat] with arbitrary ephemeral epi-phenomenal utilitarian sign-systems, falsest state), madhyama (speaking in falser dream-state or svapnavastha), pasyanti (unspeaking in a deepest sleeping-state or susupti; false-state) and paravak (‘para’ means ‘beyond’ and ‘vak’ is speaking); this transcendental unspoken and unspeakable zone is to be achieved by practicing certain formal or non-formal techniques to be found within the body. It is neither true nor false, but we cannot describe it by means of baikhari, madhyama etc. It is something “beyond” logos and not related to “God” per se. Supreme God is perceived in deep dreaming, i.e., a false state). At this level, silenceme would gulp down non-silenceme (a la Lalan). What is to be mentioned is that the different body-parts and channels within the corporeal are related to these four states of (non-) speeches.

However, I am resisting myself from explaining the logic or/and epistemology behind such categorization and gradation of falsehood and languages. That needs more space.

The ultimate goal is to achieve such paravak with the help of our own body without deploying any formal method. Cessation of desired labor is to be desired here (Bharat did that) ― a typical non-contradictory contradiction or aporia. Subject-object-merger occurs with identity in difference as small i is (not) merged with the big I. However, we have to “return” to the practical world after achieving that (….) for the sake of “lokosamgraha” (roughly speaking, social commitment/engagement). We have to tale the stories of paravak, supposed meta-zone of silenceme, by means of subtle baikharito other.

If I would have to write Bharat’s sequel, I would like to show this journey of Bharat towards paravak by utilizing the association between Indian music and architecture, which is again connected with the taxonomy of the body, which is altogether different from physiology. There was an interesting debate between Nirmal Kumar Bose and Stella Kramrisch: were the bodies of the “Hindu” temples constructed on the basis of physiological corporeal or meta- physiological conjecture of body? Mira Mukherjee showed the path when she introduced Visvakarmas to us. The so-called metaphysical body is evident in the so-called “Hindu” architecture. The baikhari-jagrat, madhyama–svapna, pasyanti-susupti association might be established here with many sadhaniya (that is to be practiced) margas or paths. Kavir, Dadu, Lalon, Rabindranath Tagore (though they were not writers of papers in academic journals) and other sahajiyas with the authors of Mandukyoponisad, Vakyapadiya and Tantraloka can be consulted to attain the level of paravak. The question is: why then was I fragmenting brittle baikhari, when I was waking up?

Now let me switch over to the concept of “inside (body)”. At the stage of paravak, we are told that the identity and difference between inside and outside is blurred. Let me elaborate it with the example of famous Siva-(a “Hindu” god)-phallus along with the vagina of the holy mother goddess of the “Hindu” community. In the icon of Sivalimga, (penis of Siva that is symbolized as phallus) penetrates the vagina and what the Hindus have worshipped is a penetrated body-part. They are perceiving the moment of copulation from the womb as well as from the outside. The perceivers are simultaneously within the womb of the holy lady and not within the womb. Perceivers’ positions are (not) within the body of the mother and they are perceiving the penis of the father; and they are pouring white milk upon the phallus from the outside. Inside is out and outside is in ― soul’d out and in….This fuzzy “inside-outside” was elaborated by Derrida through the concept of ‘hymen’. Thus, it is very difficult to describe (in terms of crude baikhari) such aporia. Therefore, what you/I are/am thinking as inner feeling, it may be an outer feeling or better to say, it may be an interior-exterior feeling.

Basically the reason why I inserted the story of Bharata is that such mythological character withdrew himself from the desired labor/work and the contemporary Bharat did the same thing.

Q4) You once told me you were “searching for a different type of communication… an interaction of silence but that is to be explained at length with our ephemeral arbitrary signs of language” (I’m quoting your own words). After reading Bharat’s story I had the feeling of a rebirth, a new genesis of the character whereas your words seem to indicate silence as a point of arrival. What do you think is the right interpretation?

A4] Regarding communication, taking cue from the last answer, I must add that the different body-parts (four to seven points within the individual body ― different schools think differently), when are connected by the body-channels, are supposedly non-detachably connected with the whole universe ― part merges with the whole – particulars have become universal(s) ― this is the trajectory of small i to big I. At this moment, there is at a time an identity and non-identity with the Universal. As I cannot depict “it” with crude baikharis (there are also subtle baikharis), I could not help myself but to use the term “silenceme”, though I know this much that I do not know nothing about transcendental absolute/universal silenceme. I am really skeptic about that. As a non-practitioner of such “theory”, I have a personal problem with the epistemology and ethics of particular-universal merger.

Let me now explain the detachable and non-detachable relations. At this moment, suppose that we are connected by some non-eco-friendly electronic gadgets like CPU, satellites etc. , i.e. we are connected in the web ― we have some definite relations. These relations can easily be disconnected according to our whim or by some catastrophic situation. However, may you detach the quivering and leaves when you are perceiving quivering leaves? This is another type of non-detachable relation, which is de-sign-ated as samavaya. The small-big I relationship/communication without any instruments is something different from the anti-green techno-centric communication network between you and me.

Q5) Could this new type of communication be linked to Marshall McLuhan’s pre-literate man? He was one of the first to become aware of the prominence of vision upon all our senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing) and its effect on our way to interpret reality unlike the pre-literate man who lived in an auditory pattern context instead. Do you think we’re really moving “back”, so to speak, to such a primitive-like condition due to the electronic multi-connected galaxy (web) we’re into as McLuhan said?

A5] I wish to answer your question without mentioning the name of this greatest media-guru: Marshall McLuhan for some personal reasons. The Meta/petite Narrative of Bharat and even his yet-to-be written sequel are no way related to the great concepts of McLuhan.

I like to distinguish between two types of web: (a) anti-green techno-centric synesthesia; (b) synesthesia with corporeal non-detachable connectivity. The first one, though I am using it now in the electronic web, is a legitimate possibility. However, keeping in mind the forthcoming disaster due to anthropogenic global warming, I do not have any commitment to such practice. At this catastrophic moment, we need to subscribe, not the sustainable development of such conspicuous web-dependant communication (kindly note that Bharat was a dissenter ― he was against computational linguistics), but the sustainable retreat from cyber-colonization of electronic capitalism that is controlled by the invisible hands of the Masters of the Universe (a la Adam Smith), who are promoting market fundamentalism by utilizing the greatest metaphysics: ‘money’ that makes unequal as equal. You may eradicate such monetary control by the invisible hands (not by means of violence), but you cannot resist the supposed anthropogenic ‘natural’ disaster.

In case of non-detachable corporal-antennae-connectivity or samavaya, which is to be attained with the help of our body-medium instead of web-medium, it would be simultaneously a self-massaging (care of self, i.e., Epimeleia Heautou) and messaging. A different type of writing– arche-writing (a la Derrida), which is not merely an inscription or en/de-coded flow of signals on papers or on illuminating electronic monitor respectively, but a writing inscribed within the literate body. The term “writing” is used here in a robust sense of the term and therefore, official definition of literacy is at stake. Secondly, here we find the role-reversals of our sense organs as it was once found by Rabindranath Tagore and Jean Paul Sartre. In their proposals it was told that after the end of utilitarian baikhari-interaction, you could hear with your eyes or skin, see with your ears, lick with your nose etc. Here you can talk about music as a performance. Barthes called it as musica practica and Christopher Small coined the term “musicking” – a verb instead of a noun.

Here I must mention that I am deeply influenced by Rabindrasangit (Musicking by Rabindranath Tagore) and I am now searching clues of corporeal-points in his compositions (I have put a label here: “dehotattver gan”, songs on the theory of body, following our Baul-tradition) or songs of the body-theory that I have depicted earlier.

However, when I was, in the previous paragraphs, ascribing relative importance to (b) by condemning (a), I did the same mistake as Rousseau did: condemning writing by writing books on anti-writing. It was not possible for me to connect with you without (a), even I might not communicate with others without (a). I must admit, that is my fault, I am incapable of attaining (b) ― that’s my limitations and my limitations (though I am possessing unutilized potentialities) prove nothing. My docile body is now too tired to cope with such machine.

However, you may consider or interpret my paradoxical position (in fact, it is not a paradox, but a case of non-contradictory contradiction) as a ‘return’ to the world of utility (a) from the transcendental silenceme (b) for the sake of lokasamgraha. No, I am joking, I have not attained such state of paravak… your question stimulates me to write Bharat’ s sequel.

Q6) John Cage, the american composer, can be considered one of the great masters of Silence that’s why you cited his works in Bharat’s story. Do you agree with his statement on the purpose of music which is “to sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences”? Or as he put it in another way: “to imitate nature’s manner of operation”, that means to act purposelessly?

A6] I do not know the pre-determined “telos” as such ― it came to my life as a ‘spark’ (Sanskrit sphut, to blossom). I am saluting John Cage as he is continuously rescuing me from my personal depressions. Alike Tagore’s songs or Baul’s songs, I am also overwhelmed by Cage. I do agree with Cage in this regard as I am totally disturbed by the proliferation of industrial noise. The world is now “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Q7) Is Mitra a woman? According to the previous chapters of the story Mitra is a man because you refer to him with “he”. But at the end of the story when Mitra and Pancajani move to another room to have a sexual intercourse you say “Pancajani is expecting a super-woman, a heroine from Mitra” which is somehow connected with Bergman’s Silence because of the two (lesbian) sisters. Could you please clarify this doubt I’m assailed by?

A7] This paradox was deliberately used to confuse sex/gender-identity, which is another theoretical problem! Mitra is a male, but Pancajani is searching super-woman and thus it is related to LGBT sex/gender debate. It reminds me of John Cage who when asked about sexuality replied citing a peculiar mushrooms feature: there are multiple male and female types in the mushrooms species that result in a sort of compatibility/affinity which is why one kind of mushroom can only combine (have sex with) with another specific type of mushroom and so forth. I guess he wanted to exploit the same affinity model among human beings too, breaking gender issues apart. For John Cage the male/female model was a bit too simplistic view of nature’s complexity.

Last, Debaprasad would like to add some words about the closing of the novel, the ending line especially although he’d like to remark he’s an atheist:

“He (Bharat) was then hearing the sub-sonic sounds… he was shouting a word, sphota (something equivalent to spark), a key term in Bhartrihari’s linguistic philosophy.”

This last sentence of Bharat’s narrative would lead him unto the so-called “rebirth” within one’s life and that will be elaborated in the yet to be written sequel. At that time, I must explain the linguistic philosophy of “sphota” (spark).

In fact, Buddha himself was a disbeliever of “rebirth”, which was one of the 10 akthayniyas (not to be spoken and discussed as talking about god or rebirth is wasting one’s valuable time. This term is also important in the context of silenceme). Buddha rebuked two of his disciples for questioning about the status of rebirth. According to Buddha, one could perceive several “rebirths” (jataka) within one’s own life with a static (sthavira) name if s/he was not a victim of negative reification. Thus the term, mahasthavirajataka (A static proper name with several births within one’s single life) was coined. Bharat and Bharata – both of them were reified in the positive sense of the term. It was a liminal juncture of their lives as they had chosen withdrawal from the alienated/estranged labour (karmavirati).

Let me elaborate further the concept of identity and difference in subject-object merger by using another technical term bhedabheda — a much discussed phenomenon in the Indian Philosophy — it is at a time identity (abheda) and difference (bheda) in between Big I and small I — positive equality as well as negative equality.


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