Here is my talk at the 2020 Conference of the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology right before the pandemic upcurve.
I will slowly be uploading earlier presentations and talks on SoundCloud as well.
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.
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