How are you? I'm asking folks. How am I? I try to write in bite-sized texts and emails.
Yesterday, my body fell into a kind of shock as I read the news from India. It is a visceral, continuous shock—waves of fury—at the Indian government's handling of the coronavirus situation, putting millions of human lives at risk, exposed to starvation, battened about as if they did not matter. The fear that this government does not know, does not care, and will manipulate ceaselessly to improve its image, to lash down at people it sees as threats, all the while the most vulnerable people have and are risking their lives to make lives better for some.
And, when I wrote that to people, one of the responses I received was ...silence. I imagine these folks navigating the limits of empathy, not knowing what to say, titrating.
And, a part of me wonders: hasn't it always been hard for America to get not-America? And, how so many people don't understand the privilege of their ignorance—what it is to know your body-blood-ancestors to be linked to a land that is unbearably far away.
It is sometimes easier to distance from the knowing of our connectedness, given the mass illusion that technocapitalism can connect us all. The starkness of the body knows differently. I hope it will teach us differently.
Here are some ideas to honor the changes we are experiencing during these times of crisis, and to take care of ourselves as we practice social distancing, shelter in place, or realize we need to quarantine.
Spring Equinox with Starhawk: A Ritual for Loss and Renewal: Watch the replay.
Scribd is offering one free month of reading.
Tour the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico.
I will be updating these resources often.
A remark made three or so weeks ago by Jairaj Singh on Twitter gave me pause. Singh commented on a tweet from Kunal Kamra: “The Sadhguruisation of Kunal Kamra on full swing.” Singh was not a fan of Kamra’s observation about the phenomenon of relationship insecurity. And, he showed his disdain by comparing it to Sadhguru's homilies. It left me disturbed, this equation of a Modi-CAA supporting pseudoguru with an anti-establishment stand-up comedian. It seemed to echo a tradition of intellectualism in postcolonial India that considers anything less than rationality to be an excessive, unreliable intervention in the public sphere.
My objection is that such an intellectualism—perhaps rightly suspicious of possible manipulation by what Eva Illouz calls “a public emotional self”—ends up censoring any process that does not regurgitate parameters familiar to it. That, perhaps, idealizing rational expression in political and social actors too quickly becomes a shaming if these actors share their own inquiry process beyond the pale of the secular, rational ego.
Inquiry is a precursor to arriving at insight and wisdom. Sometimes, we mistake the process for the conclusion. A.H. Almaas writes, “The aim of inquiry . . . is not to arrive at conclusions but to enjoy the exploration and thrill of discovery.” I do not myself agree with Kamra’s conclusion around insecurity in relationships. And yet, he has the right to his investigation, and to be fallible in the process.
It is my contention that the very ceding away of the process of inner investigation by rationalist secularists in India may have allowed religious nationalists to co-opt it towards their insidious, insular purposes. The language of insight and wisdom is being weaponized by pseudogurus and spiritual narcissists to manipulate and deceive. Instead of letting them have it, we need to retrieve our access to the rich inner ground of meaning that gives rise to interconnected visions of humanity.
There is a difference between the performance of wisdom and the innate discrimination of wisdom. Wisdom emerges through the process of questioning of our selves and worlds, and trusting what we are apprehending through our subjugated faculties. This metaphysic of the unfolding truth of experience, of a situation, scares those for whom dogma provides the bastion of certainty upon which they rest their fortresses of intolerance. This is precisely why wisdom practices are essential today.
By instituting rites of belonging that privilege a narrow band of rationalism over other onto-epistemologies, progressives merely replicate the binaries that Hindutva nationalists want us to buy us into. Instead, let us create borderlands of belonging, and invite each other into allowance and solidarity. It is all interconnected—relationships we create between self and other, with the world we find ourselves in.
Writing helps me make sense of the world. The presentation I had proposed for the ASWM Conference—"Staying With the Trouble, Reweaving the World: A Speculative Manifesto for the Visionary/Poet" (see abstract below)—is helping me be with the world right now: line of flight to my role in these troubled times.
We live in a world where the problems before us signal no straightforward solutions. Biological systems are breaking down, forests and other living species are imperilled, oceans and soils are being poisoned—and far right regimes are displaying unspeakable cruelty against peoples they label as “other”. We urgently need new configurations of being.
Such a time may be unprecedented in human memory, but it is not out of the reach of visionary memory—where pasts, presents, and futurities fold into and emerge out of each other. Accessing and bringing to the fore—for their community—knowings from this cosmic womb was the charge given to ancient seeresses and prophetesses. In certain cultures and periods, the same persons held both prophetic and poetic functions.
Patri-kyriarchy and colonialism have sought to graft their rationalist, disenchanted ideologies upon these mantic cultures. Yet, not all modes of sibylline and creative flow have been subjugated. Throughout myth, literature, and history, prophetic women and poets have posed challenges to structures of domination, at times radically restaging history through their interventions.
Bearing this context in mind, this presentation explores how the visionary/poet today may listen to what is dying, what has died, what is emerging, and what wants to be known. It asks how the healing of the visionary/poet might tie in with the healing of the world. It considers how she may stay with the trouble, and how she may weave the disconnection within our webs into threads of connection.
See also the amazing lineup of the presenters at the conference.
While my dissertation is currently under an embargo, the dissertation defense video is available to watch via the department's YouTube channel. It can be viewed below. For those who are interested, I have also included the abstract below. Excerpts from the introduction and literature review were published in the journal, Integral Review.
Claiming Voice, Vitality, and Authority in Post-Secular South Asian Borderlands: a Critical Hermeneutics and Autohistoria/teoría for Decolonial Feminist Consciousness
This dissertation uses Gloria Anzaldúa’s borderlands framework to facilitate the transculturative process of shifting into a new consciousness in the border zones of kyriarchy, coloniality, and modernity. The borderlands are conceived of as an alternative to that which is written in history. De-linking from Western modernity’s assumption of universality allows me to make a claim to a modernity that acknowledges the histories of Western colonialism and imperialism. It further enables me to reconstruct meanings and practices found in transnational spaces configured as the Other: tradition, the past, nature, the feminine, the “primitive,” the household. I enact this decolonial recovery at the edges of my South Asian/brown postcolonial feminist subjectivity.
The borderlands framework makes possible a profoundly relational onto-epistemological praxis, in which I examine the configurations of voice, vitality and authority in my experiences, identities, and motherlines. I contend with the dominant narratives of brahmanical patriarchy continuing in the lives of women in India. The post-secular sacred locates as essential a critical interrogation of all forms of oppression. Engaging the self in relation to culture, I utilize borderlands thinking and aesthetics to recover and resignify complex images of female identity, and to suggest an episteme of the sacred for healing and liberation of post-patriarchal possibilities. The critical mobility of spiritual mestizaje invites me into a wholeness of sorts that forefronts the grandmothers, the foremothers, and the experiences of women of color on their own terms.
The dissertation locates itself within a transdisciplinary post/decolonial feminist research paradigm. It accomplishes its tasks of deconstruction and reconstruction through the processes of feminist critical hermeneutics (Schüssler Fiorenza) and autohistoria/teoría (Anzaldúa). Both methods of inquiry make possible a processual and relational epistemology that challenges the borders around the modes of knowledge creation.
I woke up to the wonderful news that my dissertation won the 2020 Kore Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Mythology. Am overjoyed and honored! In their email, the Award Committee wrote:
"The ASWM 2020 Kore Award Committee is proud and honored to inform you that you have been named the winner of the 2020 Kore Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Mythology. Your dissertation, "Claiming Voice, Vitality, and Authority in Post-Secular South Asian Borderlands" is especially recognized for its daring work in methodology, vision and scope. The importance of decolonization in scholarship is vital and your bringing that to the foreground is both bold and necessary. As a reader, I felt challenged and opened by the work, and wanted to apply what I was learning to my own scholarship. Your beautiful writing is a joy to read."
I join an amazing list of scholars who have won the award in the past.
So, we are in a world with less and less certainty. All of us in India, Iran, Iraq, Kashmir, US, UK, Australia...
This is when we turn to our ancestors and foremothers - the angry ones, the ones who held on to their hope and vision, the defiant ones. This is when we bring each other within our circle of care.
This, more than ever, is when we rely on our ability to develop new rudders.
Just breathe in this body. Just breathe into that space, its patterns of folding, contours and dissolving, difficulties and expansion.
What is not into form is also right here, along with all that did form. We have inherited information and signatures that have shaped us, and our DNA is not just form but space, and space is infinite possibility.
The answers are within us - and will come into the play of possibility through relationship, through conversations, with each other. The answers are not only within us.
Just breathe through the body.
With each other, we can go into what feels heavy, because we have a way back when we are together.
Since there are so many interesting books in the world, I start many more books than I finish. I sometimes watch movies in twenty minute chunks. Art, I believe, is not only what museums choose to display, but what gets created when we explore the unknown.
This is by its nature an incomplete list—still, here is some of what I liked in 2019.
And Also These Books:
And also Article 15 dir. by Anubhav Sinha.
And also Interior Landscape, a collaboration between Ashwini Bhat and Forrest Gander.
I have four poems in the October-December issue of The Indian Quarterly. Thank you to the most amazing poetry editor, Sampurna Chattarji, for the attentiveness with which you read these poems!
(I was invited to write a guest post by Zoe Tuck.)
Sometimes I wonder about the resistance to poetry or art perceived as inaccessible. Part of art's job is to not be accessible - at least, not immediately; at least, not to the consciousness arising from the noise and frequencies of the modern, capitalistic world. I am gesturing here to places that are outside the hum of activity - hum of the ordinary - as places where poetry can linger.
I also want to discourage our tendency to want to turn our world into text that makes sense - and for our texts to complete a human supremacist arrogance that we may fully know and control the world. Poetry, at least, must escape the grasp of the Cartesian thinker.
Instead of the commonplace definition of accessibility, where we the readers want to be served a clear soup - pre-digested if possible - I wonder about a different definition for accessibility. Does the poem have doors through which we can enter, or chinks through which we can slip in/something can slip out - to mutually interact - changing our very bodies? Is the being before us translucent? Is she dark, savage, deviant, other? If she is not immediately accessible, is there something in our linguistic ecology or onto-epistemological paradigm that is not allowing us to know her?
The binaries of accessibility and inaccessibility can restrain the poet in the exercise of her occupation. (Though, really, I like certain kinds of restraints.) To stay with "the perpetual ignorance of poetry, the induced chaos from which a poem begins" (Derek Walcott) is wisdom of a different order. Then something beyond graspability can move within the poem, reach for us, allow us to become our own other.