Sunday, December 20, 2009

Aphorisms from Train Journey

1. Aphorisms are of great help for a nerd in exile. Pen reduces the length of stupidity.

2. What is most beautiful in thought is also the most abominable about thought. Left to itself thought degenerates into vegetarianism.

3. In the rarefied language and beefed-up muscles of the stars, there is a well-joined spider web. Behind their dark glass, they are completely blind.

4. The well-behaved girls do not parade the quality of their upbringing. Their behavior merely shows that they have bowel movement.

5. Alas! In silence, one finds volcanic violence.

6. Between a morning dream and mathematics, the child goes for the latter.

7. Our parents taught us all the lies about life. And when we started to revolt, they conveniently took shelter in illness, old age and old-age homes.

8. A dead man does not break wind. That’s enough proof that he has become gentle.

9. On the first day at college, the child thinks that at the end of the tunnel there is light. But in the end what they get is not light but a tunnel vision.

10. The self-professed sexperts tell young girls that the latter can control their men by giving blow job as men absolutely love BJ. But porn film teaches us that men love BJ not because they love BJ but because they love passivity of non-masculinity.

11. Nora first flirted safely with Rank at home. Then she fought with Helmer. Then she flirted capriciously with emerging service sector economy. She made woman the service animal of the capital whereas Helmer is yet to master the passivity of a blow jobed male actor. Both the heroine and hero are jokes!

12. What is insufferable about Amartya Sen is not just the outdatedness of his thought system but also his gigantean ability to do in the name of economics what every one of us did in our childhood and forgot: blabbering.

13. Only the woman has the guts to state the truth. But she cries immediately!

14. Raghavan Atholi adumbrates into nerves. His poetry captures what his fiction misses. His fiction hits sharply where his poetry fails. That’s rare in Malayalam writers.

15. The poignancy of E. L. Doctrow in “Billy Bathgate’ and ‘The Book of Daniel’ could not be construed alone against the backdrop of the disappearance of the American radical left politics in baby boomer paunches. It must be traced to the Old Testament, when Prophet Elijah, under profound depression and fleeing from Jezebel’s anger, took shelter on Mount Sinai. Waiting for a revelation from Yahweh, the Prophet was instrumental in creating one of the most arresting passages in the Bible:

“Then Yahweh himself went by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before Yahweh. But Yahweh was no longer in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But Yahweh was no longer in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But Yahweh was no longer in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with a cloak.”

This is not the imminent God of the most angelic of all philosophers, Spinoza. This is still the transcendent god of the Old Testament. But here Yahweh seems to be refusing to be the terrific other that he is as he is revealed to other prophets. Neither being in the violence of a storm, nor of an earthquake, nor of a fire, he conceals himself in the whisper of a gentle breeze. But it is precisely in this softness that he is transcendental terror at its purest. Why else did Elijah cover his face with a cloak?

16. When Lacan said ‘Marx invented the symptom’, he was lying. What this cryptic foe of Cartesian cogito meant was: ‘Hegel invented the symptom’.

17. In both ‘King Lear’ and ‘Merchant of Venice’ love gets quantified in markets’ terms. Cordilia’s flavored talk for feudal love has a quid pro quo in Bassanio’s choosing of the lead casket that exalts, more than anything, risk, the businessman’s gospel. Still we call the bastard son and his lovers, the villains.

18. In the year 1988, in the primary class we were all surprised when she said she was the daughter of Buddhist parents. Years later, in 1999, I accidentally saw her in a village in Palakkad, treating her patients and giving them medicines. Of recent, a friend told me she had left her medical profession and taken up prostitution. Few days ago, from the obituary note of a former film actor and drama artist I learned that she is his daughter.
This confirms my long-standing doubt that of all the people in the Axial Age, the Greeks were closer to the Real.

19. P. Govinda Pillai, who has edited the complete collections of E. M. S. Nampoodiripad’s nonsense, confirms that editing is an oedipal act in the strict Freudian sense of the term. Is it merely an accident that in Malayalam ‘Pillai’ denotes child and, as a surname, nair identity, nair being a community the women of which had sambandham sex with Nampoodiris?

20. Meat eating does not produce on the bourgeoisie table the profound guilt that our forefathers and foremothers felt after killing beings on the same levels as themselves. Instead the bourgeoisie has extracted the guilt from the particular and grafted it onto the universal so that at every moment in his life he laments ‘mea culpa’, the reason for which is forever beyond his grasp.

21. The loquaciousness that is characteristics of an average ugly Indian, rather than being, as Amartya Sen suggests, a testimony to the argumentative nature of Indians, is a psychological conservatism which ensures that nothing is transformed.

22. Man is insecure at its most in his search for security.

23. We must avoid all temptation to over identify with truth, not because of any metaphysical angst that dismisses truth as illusion but because in a fully reified world truth can only take the form of primordial innocence, which is nothing but violence at its purest.

24. Is it not an irony of philosophy and history that Hegel, who has put the following idea in the most sublime and tragic fashion, is considered a thug of western philosophy?

“Something becomes an Other, but the Other is itself a Some thing, thus it becomes similarly an Other and so forth to infinity. This infinity is the bad or negative infinity inasmuch as it is nothing other than the negation of the finite which, moreover, is consequently reborn as well, as it is not suppressed.”

Brilliant! This is philosophy at its speculative best. Bad infinity! Negative infinity! Finite reborn in infinity in infinite times! Has anyone thought of it, or better still, has anyone put it with such epigrammatic clarity?

25. Mandelbrot set is a child’s dreams come true!

26. What would Hegel tell the Russian-German mathematician Georg Cantor, whose theory of infinite numbers is as beautiful as Euclid’s theory concerning the infiniteness of prime numbers?

27. Kavya Madhavan’s post-divorce statements have an essential advantage over the actress as well as her films: they are interesting at least.

Under/Graduate English Education in Kerala

Let me begin by identifying what I see as the main issues in the present education system, that function as obstacles to an effective teaching and learning of English at the undergraduate level.
One, the surreal dimension of the student-teacher ratio in the classroom. Most often than not, individual teachers are forced to teach almost 70 to 100 or more students in a general English classroom, which actually limits considerably the teacher’s ability to meaningfully interact with the students or bring into the context of the classroom even slightly unconventional, let alone radical and innovative, teaching methods. The trouble is considerably accentuated when we consider the non-availability of audio-video aids for general English teaching, which is in fact an idea strongly suggested by the UGC for teaching in a classroom of this magnitude.
Two, the confusion regarding the status of English teaching at the undergraduate level in our university system. There is a widespread allegation, covert as well as overt, against the current English teaching, which often assumes the form of an indictment that our students as not capable of producing a single meaningful sentence even after the completion of the degree course. The tragedy, in my view, lies in the fact that we have not yet defined the purpose of English teaching at the undergraduate level. While most universities in the world view English studies as part of what can be called critical humanities, where the thrust is on the critical reading of a text, our undergraduate general English teaching, I presume, is geared toward developing the communication skills of the student. There is nothing wrong in our approach, given Kerala’s educational context and its requirements. In fact, it is laudable. But there is something terribly wrong when we try to develop the communication skills of the students with the help of texts that other universities would use as part of their critical humanities curricula. Or to put simply, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy or John Keats will not help the students of general English, whose command over English is abysmally low. They help only those who have a decent command over English, and also maybe, the guide lobby. Moreover, the present globalized political economy demands that students use an English that is slightly contemporary and is suited to the present demands, rather than a language of classical antiquity.
Three, the difference in socializations of students belonging to earlier eras and the present. The early mental world of the students of past generation was conditioned by stories, poems or songs that they heard in their homes. And hence they could conjure up a plethora of worlds out of such stories using their imaginative and intellectual faculties. The syllabus framed then fitted well into this mental-world. But today, barring the students from extremely marginalized contexts, most students of Kerala, which is fast becoming ‘a society of spectacle’, live in a world where there abound images all around them. They do not have to imagine a world. The world is constructed visually before them in the form of animations, albums, films, MMS, net tubes, etc. I do not mean to suggest that they are stupid on account of this (in fact, I have listened to some teachers categorizing the present students as dry. I do not buy that argument). Rather, the suggestion is that their imagination works in a different direction. The difference between the earlier generation of students and present one could be put neatly as the difference between imaging a world and performing a world. That is precisely the reason why things that could only be imagined in the wildest of dreams of the earlier generation, are being practiced by the current generation, on and off the campus. Whatever may be one’s moral persuasions, we have to agree that the current generation performs the world in tune with the world that is visually given to them. The general English syllabus of our university has so far been framed to satisfy the imaginative curiosity of the student. But insofar as it brings in a question of developing the communication skills, the existing approach has to be changed and the performative vitality of the student must be given preference.
Last, the failure of the current examination system to gauge the potential of the student. Most of you may agree that the current examination system is more suited to assess the memorizing ability of the student than to either test the critical thinking ability or linguistic skill of the student. If one has the ability to memorize things, in the current system one can, even without the application of one’s critical thinking faculty or linguistic faculty, easily come out in flying colors, creating a general impression that the student has used both. Worse still, in the present system, if a student has both analytical skill and linguistic skill, but he or she is poor at memorizing things under pressure, he or she may end up as big failure. It is high time we did away with memory-based examination system and introduced a system which would give more importance to analytical and linguistic skills of the student. This will have the advantage of taking much of the pressure away from the students’ already overburdened minds. I must also point out that the duration of examination is also bit strenuous for the students.