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Conflicting Interests?: Towards Day 14 (Thurs, 3/5/15)

Anne Dalke's picture



I. coursekeeping
web event due this Friday @ midnight

* by midnight on Mon, Mar. 16, when you've just gotten back from break, please post
a mid-semester evaluation of "what's working" and "what needs working on" in this class
(please post this as a comment to my query, so all the evaluations will be in one place).

* when we return we will start the third section of the course, in which we will really
be digging into the language of representation--looking @ both genre and grammar.
The central question here will be--if we are thinking ecologically--do we need to reorder
the literary genres, and maybe even some of our deepest grammatical presumptions?
[Example from gender studies: the singular "they" to allow for non-binary representation of gender.]

We'll spend our first class, when we get back, working through your mid-semester evals
and your second web events, and also looking again @ two texts we've already seen,
Audre Lorde's poem, Outside and Elizabeth Callaway's ppt, A Space for Justice--
before we start to do some "keyword" work.

III. On Tuesday,  we talked about
* our identification with characters--esp. Fokir,
* our distrust of language (and of what the book tells us),
* our relation to revolution (esp. scientific revolution), and
* we identified both what a 'barometer" does--takes a very rough temperature of everyone in the room, on a clearly stated topic--
and what it cannot do--get @ the nuances, the layers, the complexities of ideas. It works to kick off, not to summarize, a discussion.

What we didn't get to was the "meta-textual" quality of the book, the way in which it situates itself within a literary tradition.
Caleb, Marian: what would you have asked us, had we time? About Rilke's role here...?
He's not native, indigenous…what does he know about the tidal country?

Rilke is accessed only via translation...and mentions animals' knowledge 
that "we're not comfortably at home/in our translated world” (p. 172).
Nirmal--and then Kanaii-uses Rilke to summarize all meaning.
How do you understand his role? Or some of his particular poems, such as
"inside us we have...loved/a fermenting tribe.../all this came before you" (p. 298).

What's the role of poetry, more generally, in this prose?
"torn...between the quiet persistence of everyday change and the
heady excitement of revolution--between prose and poetry" (p. 180).
""It's just social service--not revolution" (p. 320).

IV. For today, I want us to focus on two particular scenes in prose,
as a way of digging into what this fiction tells/teaches us;
in neither of these does Rilke sum up the meaning for us.
he first is about the relationship between two men;
the second has to do with the relative value of two species.

1) Fokir tests/judges Kanaii (pp. 265-273):
Maddie: I am curious if Kanai will ever change his mind about Fokir after…seeing first hand the knowledge and experience that Fokir has on the river…

"serving as some hapless traveler's window on an unfamiliar world...tempted to heighten the inscrutability of the surroundings through subtly slanted glasses...a way of underscoring the insider's indispensability...there were times when a translator's bluff had to be called" (p. 265).

"His anger came welling up with an atavistic explosiveness, rising from sources whose very existence he would have denied: the master's suspicion of the menial; the pride of caste; the townsman's mistrust of the rustic; the city's antagonism toward the village...literally beside himself...a proxy for the inscrutableness of life" (p. 269).

"the act of interpretation had given him the momentary sensation of being transported...into another...the instrument of language had metamorphosed--instead of being a barrier, a curtain that divided, it had become a transparent film, a prism that allowed him to look through another set of eyes, to filter the world through a mind other than his own...his own vision refracted through opaque, unreadable eyes...seeing...a vision of human beings in which a man such as Fokir counted for nothing...Fokir wanted him to be judged" (p. 270).

"his mind, in its panic, had emptied itself of language....the sluices between his mind and his senses had collapsed...swamped by a flood of pure sensation...words...euphemisms...replaced by the thing itself, except that without words it could not be apprehended or understood. It was an artifact of pure intuition, so real that the thing itself could not have dreamed of existing so intensely" (p. 272)

"there it was, directly ahead, a few hundred feet away...watching him with its tawny, flickering eyes"...."there was nothing there…if it had been there, you wouldn't be here now" (pp. 272-273).

What has happened here? How do you interpret/make sense of this scene?

2) At the end of the novel Piya returns to study the dolphins:
"I don't want to do the kind of work that places the burden of conservation on those who can least afford it" (p. 327).
This is all well and good--but it wierdly displaces "the tiger question," as first laid out by Nilima, picked up by Kusum, analyzed by Kanai:

"Those people are squatters; that land doesn't belong to them...what will become of the forest, the environment?" (Nilima, p. 177)
"Just imagine that! They were providing water for tigers! In a place where no one thinks twice about human beings going thirsty!" (Nilima again, p. 200)

"This island has to be saved for its trees, it has to be saved for its animals, it is part of a reserve forest, it belongs to a project to save tigers, which is paid for by people from all around the world....Who are these people, who love animals so much that they are willing to kill us for them?...this whole world has become a place of animals, and our fault, our crime, was that we were just human beings, trying to live as human beings always have, from the water and the soil. No one could think this a crime..." (Kusum, pp. 216-217).

"aren't we a part of the horror?...Isn't that a horror...that we can feel the suffering of an animal, but not of human beings? was people like you who made a push to protect the wildlife here, without regard for the human's not you who's paying the price in lost lives" (Kanai, pp. 248-249).

What is Ghosh inviting us to think-and-do here?
How do you interpret/make sense of/respond to this debate?

What are the relative needs-and-wants of tigers and settlers?

There is a deep conflict between the needs of humans and the needs of animals; consider
the horrific backstory of the novel: that 1000s of people were displaced from their homes,
to make room for a nature preserve; that Piya is heartbroken @ the murder of the tiger,
who has killed several villagers; and that the novel actually fails to solve (even to address)
the complicated question of balancing the need for a safe habitat for the tigers,
with the need for a safe habitat for humans.

It ends instead with an optimistic tribute to Piya's idealism, by focusing attention
on the study of dolphins she will conduct--and thereby really blinks on the larger question
the novel has raised, about the conflict between humanitarian and environmental concerns
(though I did read one critique that said we just need to reconsider the closing scene of the novel
as a starting point….the rhythmic patterning of the whole challenges us to resist the urge for closure….).