Monday, November 25, 2013

Deposing the listener

'Are you speaking to me?' asks a frightened youngster to the middle-aged man sitting across her in the tube-train in London. He has been looking in her direction for fifteen minutes now, but not at her. She frowns and hides behind the novel in her hand. He continues his speak. He is speaking animatedly of colonial imports and exports from Jakarta, Indonesia and trade sea routes unacknowledged by historians of the imperial colonies. This man would be just another stranger going to work this ordinary morning, newspaper in hand if it weren't for this little detail. - that he is speaking to no-one in particular with devoted attention. The row of commuters sitting along him and opposite him become increasingly edgy and shifty from behind their book shields and tabloid shields. He would go on even when the train empties at the next station and I walk away feeling disturbed and unsettled by this incident. Consensus would conclude that such behaviour is aberrant. He must obviously be insane. This man was having a 'conversation' with the entire imagined people in the train coach, equally and unconditionally - a conversation where himself was the only person he was talking with yet is his thoughts were on offer to the 'all' that he was not speaking to. It makes me think of expressions of soliloquys and the vulnerable face of human expression that it brings to the fore. The soliloquy is often used as a theatrical technique to give the audience insight into the actor's thoughts while not being heard by the characters on stage. Imagine this theatrical trope trickling out of the stage and into everyday life where the listener is deposed and dispositioned.

The word 'Selfie' was declared the word of the year 2013 by Oxford dictionary. Self-timed photographs and selfies in the digital age seem be non-instituionalised familial descendants of the self portraits of artists we are so familiar with, be it Van Gogh or Amrita Shergill or Pushpamala N in present times. Selfies also speak with the similar unconditional command of the soliloquy. You don't wait for an audience - you are your own audience within your urgent condition.
Images from left to right: Screenshots from Autumn Sonata(1978)  Liv Ullman , Ingrid Berman., Persona (1966) Liv Ullman, Portrait -  Frida Kahlo
[Late Latin sōliloquium= Latin sōl(us) only, sole + loqu(ī) to speak]

Ingmar Bergman in his films Autumn Sonata(1978) and Persona(1966), makes his woman characters (brilliantly played by Liv Ullman, Bibi Anderson and Ingrid Bergman) engage in long, tumultuous soliloquies before the camera. The camera becomes the petrified spectator, as we watch and listen to the characters speak their most internal thoughts aloud naturally and circumstantially. Through the camera we witness them speak to no-one in particular yet to every-one. There is freedom from the tyranny of reciprocity in the narrative solely driven by unleashed moments of speaking to the void. Characters bathe in their own aura, after the ebb of hysterical deliriums, mostly from stubborn minds. ( The words 'aural' and 'aura' are in this matter not so far from each other. The soliloquy exists on that fine line that separates the etymology of the two words i.e a perception by listening in the former and a perception possible without listening in the latter.)

The listener exists in her absence
Confronted by a person who doesn't care if you existed as their audience but at the same time whose being entirely depended on it, the listener is put into the most precarious of positions. We are taunted, dismissed and captivated. We exist precisely through our absence in the speaker's voice. In this moment of nakedness, no pretension, no protocol, no courtesy defends us from them - the soliloquists. Persona embodies this stubborn mind's wrath - when one chooses to speak/ not/ listen/ not/ talk/ not/ exist/ not/ react/ not/ remember/ not/ forget/ not/ record.

Woody Allen's latest film Blue Jasmine(2013) poignantly and eerily hinges on the image of Jasmine speaking to herself in delirious states. Succumbing to a traumatic past, she is entangled in a mental time warp, a kind of seizure ( allegorically in sync with the economic seizure of many countries at present ) that rewinds, forwards and tries to change the course of events in the past mentally but is ultimately condemned to exist within a looped soliloquy. The stranger sitting on the park bench next to Jasmine silently gets up and walks away as the camera edges away too, leaving Jasmine staring infinitely across and beyond the camera.

The silently clicked self-photograph is one small channel to this internal ebb - an acknowledgement of those modestly immodest times when you realize that 'this' right now, right here needs to be inscribed. You get over the inhibition of judgemental eyes and set your camera on a timer, find a suitably high ledge to place it on, and run back to position yourself within your inscription. The narrative is internalised. The listener is successfully made dispensable in the internal moment and pushed out into the every-one/no-one sphere, which is often social media - facebook/ twitter/ blog. This act gains strength in its willingness to reveal a weak moment in an increasingly singular world. Personal records get made by the second by this accumulative uploading of anonymous faces inscribed within their memorable moments. A vast tableau vivant emerges of rather vulnerable and helpless individuals battling their soliloquies where internal distances further away as physical distances collapse. 

'Are you listening to me?' 

Canon Self-timer - 10 seconds. Clicked at 3.17pm on Sunday, 24.11.13.
Time to resume position - 6 seconds. Time to think - 4 seconds.
 [interiors] London, U.K 

PS: 'I dispose of you by being intimate and impersonal[..]' - Gertrude Stein

Monday, October 28, 2013

Work of sight

Jean Luc Godard in Les plages d'Agnes- as seen through Agnes Varda's eyes, by me
Agnes Varda reminisces how Godard gave her the rare privilege of letting her see him without his famed sunglasses. 

"I loved his beautiful eyes and his cinema"

This image is a special moment for me as I look at a pair of eyes that I have only mostly seen through or shared a vision with. Being confronted with the eyes of the seeker whose vision you have comfortably shared, through his camera is almost like coming face to face with an alter-reflection , a moment of suspense undone in a film noir.

Godard in this image may as well not be looking, or looking at someplace else, beyond and far behind me. The distant gaze is both projected outside of him and back into his sight . Its like a mirror that reflects the distance it sees. The dark pupils are opaque and yet piercing, infinite and zero at the same time. Staring into the zero or 'shunya' (more complex Sanskrit translation for the 'nought') is at the same time gazing into the infinite, constantly battling the limits of a horizon and wanting to see more.

L'inconnue de la Seine ( 1880's)

The Unknown woman of the Seine , L'inconnue de la Seine , whose death mask became an inspiration for many literary works and speculations is also an image of a woman who could be seeing into the distance, despite her death; a state of forced blindness despite sight where the slightly bulging pupils behind the eyelids perhaps are an indication of the eyes open even when they are closed.

मरने के बाद भी आँखें  खुली रहीं , आदत  जो पड़ गयी  थीं तेरे इंतज़ार की  

 Faiz Ahmed Faiz 

French writer, literary theorist Maurice Blanchot in his Thomas the Obscure, 1941, speaks fantastically of this dichotomous sight

"It was night itself. Images which constituted its darkness inundated him. He saw nothing, and far from being distressed, he made this absence of vision the culmination of his sight. Useless for seeing, his eye tool on extraordinary proportions, developed beyond measure, and stretching out on the horizon, let the night penetrate its centre in order to receive the day from it. And so, through this void, it was sight and the object of sight which mingled together. Not only did this eye which saw nothing apprehend something, it apprehended the cause of its vision. It saw as object that which prevented it from seeing. Its own glance entered into it as an image, just when this glance seemed the death of all image."

The blinding turmoil of the eye seeing into absolute darkness is an exhilarating moment- one of hitting the opaque surface beyond comfortable reach; of encountering a resistant world of images refusing to reveal itself as anything else but itself. The pendulum keeps oscillating.

#interesting read - Merleau Ponty on The Primacy of Perception   

Thursday, October 24, 2013


The potential of beginnings is on my mind.

A dispersal of points. A setting forth.  A series of beginnings and no ends- perhaps a most precarious method of functioning today.  False alarms, panic starts, carburators that refuse to ignite but are in the continuous labour of combustion. Bollywood films with only first halves ( which would spell paradise for the scriptwriter!)

In one of Edward Said’s earlier books, Beginnings: Intentions and methods, he suggested that the literary form of the novel was a step towards a manner of institutionalization [my reading] of the story teller. The novel involves a pre-disposition - the writer who consciously chooses a method of expansion to tell a story. Either the story begins with an intention of being a long one or is an episode that promises to churn more. Either way, a potential is realised in the ‘beginning’ and harnessed further. What of the storyteller who is not keen to know the end, or the one who has foreseen the end too soon and would rather not execute this foresight?
We are left with a folder full of empty word files, others with just two lines or paragraphs, each carrying immense possibilities and a writer who is content in creating these moments of possibility in the unwritten and eventually never writes. 

"A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order."

Jean-Luc Godard

The Mobius Strip

I came across this quote as a status update on Facebook a few days ago - "Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. For death is certain to one who is born; to one who is dead, birth is certain; therefore, thou shalt not grieve for what is unavoidable." These images of the cyclical are all too familiar. What begins ends, what ends, begins. But what if nothing ends and it is completely vital to shift gears and begin elsewhere just to save yourself from one kind of endlessness and begin another. A violent proposition of constantly spiralling out. An asceticism that pushes towards discomfort and constantly escapes the comfort of its routine.


The archaeological site is a site of projected possibilities into both the future and the past. An end point  and a beginning at once, waiting, pausing and pushing the moment of the action just a few more centuries away. Like Apu who decides to miss his train and stay at home one extra day.[Aparajito (1956) Dir: Satyajit Ray]

"Imagining oneself as a child is like running backwards. Imagining oneself ancient is funny, like a dirty joke." 

Agnes Varda 
The image below is a frame from Agnes Varda’s film Les plages d'Agnes (the Beaches of Agnes) (2008). 

For a long time I struggled with this image that has ever since been my obsession. I see in my imagination, the trapeze artist swaying from one trapeze to another, tossing into the sky further and further until one fine day managing to hook onto it with an umbrella and hang in suspension until further notice. The umbrella has a pencil point with which the trapeze artist can write on the sky, draw tails and signatures of acrobat-kin. But the imagination was in a spasm of trying to actualize an impossible image. The sky and the universe as being an ever expanding material that refused to show itself. 

Yesterday , while wandering in the Science museum in London, I found this. 

The caption reads as follows:
Glass Sphere
This rare example of a celestial sphere belonged to Stephen Demainbray, a lecturer whose collection becae amalgamated with the royal collection. It was designed by Robert Long in 1742. The Instrument was used to demonstrate both the real and the apparent motion of the heavens by turning either the Earth globe or the glass globe. The glass globe is engraved with the major constellations.

Here was an image of the world and its sky- with a beginning, with a circumference. The glass globe as the sky helped me stand outside of it. Made it possible for me to imagine my trapeze artist finally having a surface to fall into. Skyfall was within reach.  

The moment of labour is the one suspened in between the two bars - mid–air when she turns and begins her next journey to the other trapeze, without a safety net below her. It is the work of a beginning. A moment of courage that begins by the momentum accrued by her self set in motion by the trapeze pushed by the friend on the other side, her acrobat-kin.

Beginning now.