Monday, April 11, 2016
by Mathangi Krishnamurthy
Welcome to April. It is already the fourth month of the year, and I meditate as I write, on the simultaneous passage and non-passage of time. Everyday the newspaper tells me of a number of unbidden catastrophes, accidents of fate, so many lives snuffed out as if life were not, as I think it to be, certain and plan-worthy. The rude interruption of children, men, and women, to and fro in the business of life, and the visitation of deep and unthinking sorrow upon all those whose lives they touch.
Those lists I peruse a couple of times a week, "Ten Ways to be more Productive", "Fifty Tips to Happiness", and "The One Secret to finding your Purpose in Life", all tell me to stop reading the newspaper. But this I cannot do. Long years ago, I was taught by well-meaning, upstanding, middle-class family members, that to be engaged in the business of the world, one must read the newspaper. And after all, if I am not nationalist enough to yell out praises at the nation morning, noon, and night, I can, at least, in good old Benedict Anderson fashion, read the damn newspaper.
Why, pray, you ask, are you so melancholic? This isn't on me, I plead. I am in the throes of PMS. Now the thing, of course, is that I may or may not be. Not that PMS is not real. But its symptoms, ranging across 200 or more possible sensations, and consequences, provide a wide ambit of possibilities. And within this ambit of possibilities, it feels as though my body gives me the permission to feel all those things that I keep tightly suppressed for worry of work, schedules, time, and money. So for a couple of days a month, I feel free. To not be cheerful, or happy, or certain, or plant my feet on the ground. I feel the freedom to be burdened, and uncomfortable. And this of course, is a gendered function; not a function of the female gender mind you, but a gendered function. For both, the inability and ability to show emotion, are deeply gendered propositions. The one that gives in to deeply felt traumas, and hysteria, and dislocations is weak, and not in control. But the one that is otherwise controlled, but feels compelled at key moments to give in to emotion is primal. And I'm in the throes of a primal PMS.
I ask as to what all this means. Whether the flailing, and the uncritical absorption of the world yield results too confusing to come to anything at all. Whether I should spend my time and energy in the pursuit of this world, even. Whether I am not better off harking back to some long forgotten belief in a deus ex machina.
In futility, I return to the acts that anchor my world, reading and writing and cooking.
I finished reading Part I of Knausgaard's "My Struggle". It is everything people say it is. It is a life, and a set of unfinished moments. It is memory, and it is truth. It plods, and yet it moves. This is, also, a good time in life to read this book, for as James Wood says, in this interview, this interview, "It's a tragedy of getting older."
One of the things that intrigues me about the book is its seeming masculinity, or at least its desire for such. The more years of feminist theory I teach, the more I become interested in masculinity. This of course may be the poverty of my discursive inhabitation that I still do think only in binaries. But to temporarily escape this charge, let me reiterate that I'm interested in these states of being, and not in their pre-determined attachment to male and female bodies. In the interview with James Wood quoted above, Knausgaard says, "I'm very well aware of the fact that women are objects in this book, because that's how it is for me, and I wanted to show that. I'm aware of me doing it. Every time I see a woman, I think, How would it be to have sex with her?....These are things that you not supposed to say. We are told, This is wrong, that is wrong, we shouldn't think this way. But the difference interests me a lot- the difference between what you should do and what you really do."
The beauty of located thought, of course, is that the two can and do co-exist, and it is not a battle of wills, but a different set of locations. That I understand gender as fluid, but inhabit my body as woman, are not contrary sets of assertions in the world, one being normative (in feminist theory, at least), and the other phenomenological. These are different histories, and different compulsions. They come with costs, and rewards, and at all times, we inhabit them simultaneously. And I think Knausgaard does himself and gender an injustice by performing naiveté.
So yes, I read some more, and write less. As I contemplate my state of uselessness in the world, I realize that I need a skill. I feel an invisible Anait pressing down my back. For those not in the know, Anait or Anahit is the heroine of one of those old Armenian stories in Russian storybooks that we of pre-1991 India devoured. King Vachagan meets Anait when out in the countryside and is impressed with her intelligence. He wants to marry Anait but she will not have him unless he learns a skill. After all, how long will kingship last? Perhaps she of a feudal Russia was prescient. So Vachagan learns to weave carpets. And when in trouble, he sends word to Anait by weaving her codes into a carpet. He is rescued, and she vindicated. Rescue notwithstanding, I need to be apprenticed. Perhaps I will learn how to develop film. Or blow glass. Or weave baskets.
Many winters ago, on a visit to Jaipur, we watched a craftsman make a block-printing woodcut in minutes. He ran a practiced hand over chisel and wood and turned to us with a crooked smile as he handed over an exquisitely curlicued piece. In the next room, another craftsman dyed alternating portions of cloth with similar woodcuts. When my father asked him if he enjoyed his work, he unequivocally declared his boredom. We are all bored. Of skill, as much as lack thereof.
Only theory makes sense. And helps make sense. Of love, and loss, and desire, and impossibility.
I spent all day reading René Girard, attempting to understand triangular desire, and the holy trinity of mediator, subject, and object. Simply put, it means this. A likes C because B likes C. You see, A actually likes B and therefore must like all that B likes. But because in many cases, there is only one C in the world, A will eventually end up fighting with B over C. So there goes desire. But what of love? In despair, I return to Barthes.
"A Lover's Discourse" is an extraordinary text, but it is also an extraordinarily apt text to read when one is out of sync. Barthes reminds you that what you feel or think or do may be singular, but you are not alone. You participate in the discursive milieu that defines, in the case of this particular text, the plight of the lover, of the one who pines, the one who waits, and the one whose love is already a lost plot.
Am I in love? -- yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.
Posted by Mathangi Krishnamurthy at 12:05 AM | Permalink