Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

"Wild Fictions": Towards Day 12 (Thurs, 2/26/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
for Tuesday,
read 3/4 through The Hungry Tide, to p. 238.
I also put up a link to Wild Fictions, a long essay by Ghosh about
the power of storytelling, which begins by asking, "What are the
tales that animate the struggle over Nature that is now being
waged all around the world?" He then shares a lot of literature,
legends and folklore...

by Monday @ midnight,
make another webby post about what you are seeing in the novel/
what questions it (or our discussion) raises for you/
what you would like us to focus on

by Friday @ midnight, either post about your site sit
(or if you haven’t done this yet), visit someone else’s,
and either post about that or leave them a note there…

By the time you leave for break, you should have done seven of these "
outside" postings (due on Friday nights), four “inside” ones (due on Mondays),
and two web events. Check your portfolio on Serendip, and if you
don't have a total of 13 postings, or owe others from missing class,
this is the time to catch up…with something currently relevant.

if you want to talk w/ me next week about your next web-event,
if would be best to e-mail over the weekend to reserve a time

II. On Tuesday,  we looked at Haraway's notion of the
inter-relation between training (academic work) and play,

between having directed goals and spontaneous engagement
(she argues that the former enables the latter, though Amala and
Rosa challenged that, suggesting that "play" in a classroom like this one
is "faux," only apparent because the students can't see the underlying intent...

We didn't get to talk about another key term of Haraway's--"queerness"--but it's linked to play:
"queer politics…are at the heart of agility training; the coming into being of something unexpected….
something outside the rules of function and calculation...opening up what is not known to be possible" (223).

"God is definitely not queer….a little overfocused on keeping kinds distinct…the sixth day is where…
human exceptionalism is sharply posed…licensed cultivation and husbandry of all the earth
as stock for human use" (245).

Queerness, like play, refuses teleology, refuses determinism, refuses clear categorization.

Where our discussion really took off, though, was
with Abby's notion of literature as a  ‘contact zone':

The text becoming-with/coming into being with the reader,
the reader becoming-with/coming into being with the text….

...and whether optical illusions (like the duck-rabbit) allow for this
Nkechi said no, and I think I now understand this--
because it's a game,  in which the artist toys with our perceptions--
the exchange isn't really bi-directional; there is no "becoming with."
You can't go anywhere with the optical illusion: it's determinate,
the range of play is limited, the invitation not really open.

I picked Ghosh's novel, out of all the eco-story possibilities,
because it picks up on many of our themes--
this possibility of co-construction, of humans in the contact zone;
the fluidity of identity--and of place;
a consideration of both the power and limits of language and translation,
the relation between science & the humanities,
between humanism and environmentalism.
And it gets us out of the U.S...beyond our borders!

Amitav Ghosh is my age (minus 6 years);
he was born in a Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta, and
educated (among other places) @ the Delhi School of Economics;
he got a D. Phil. in social anthropology @ Oxford.
He now lives in NYC, teaching comparative literature
@ Queens College and English @ Harvard.

We are reading the fifth of his seven novels, most based on very careful research, and placed
in historical settings around the world of the Indian Ocean; he’s also published a lot of non-fiction,
including some of those essays I've linked to on the course homepage.

This novel (as you can already see) shuttles between the myth and history written down by Nirmal,
the memories and present day experiences of Piya, a scientist; Kanaii, a translator
(and his aunt and uncle), and of Fokir, a fisherman (and his family);
and Horen, a friend to all. So you've met all the characters.

You'll also have seen that Ghosh’s style is what we call “postmodern”: it’s not linear, but
time-traveling, cross-cutting, filled w/ all sorts of braided/unbraided sub-plots,
appropriate for "braided" people in a  "braided" setting.

Ariel: I want to expand on what Marian was saying about how creatures in themselves…
can embody a contact zone…because we are filled with contradictions…and when
people are brought outside of their comfort zone,
these complicated dichotomies can be brought to light.

Grace Chung, a student in the ESem where we read Pratt's essay on "Arts of the Contact Zone,"
also argued that each of us is a contact zone, in unsettled relationship with/to our culture....
(hers in relation to expectations of high-achieving, music-and-math Korean American children).

So it's not just that--biologically, as per Haraway--we're made up of multiple different species,
but also that--culturally, as per Ghosh--those different parts may exist in tension, need to be negotiated.

What I've planned for today again takes its inspiration from Abby's post--
"Would the right interface between reader and text—the right contact zone—be able to [again, in
Ariel’s words!] “simplify complex entities that intersect in surprising (and sometimes inexplicable ways)”?

It also draws on an essay about the novel,
Laura White's
“Novel Vision: Seeing the Sunderbans through Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide.
Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
20.3 (Summer 2013): 513-513.

Count by 4's, to break into four groups:
4. focus on the map: what do you know, from looking @ it?
what does it tell us about the setting? from what p.o.v. is it drawn?
3. focus on Kanaii, as an observer: what is his p.o.v?
what does he bring into focus that the map does not?
2. focus on the Bengali script Kanaii is reading while riding on the train:
what perspectives does that add?
1. focus on Piya: what role does/will she play in the story?

Return to report back...what do we know, so far?
What perspectives are we missing?

From Albert Camus’ 1957 lecture, “Create Dangerously":
"there is but one possible realistic film: the one that is constantly shown us by an
invisible camera on the world's screen. The only realistic artist…is God….
All others are…unfaithful to reality…reality cannot be described without effecting a choice…
cannot be reproduced without exercising a selection…The only thing needed…is to find a
principle of choice…And such a principle is found…in the future…the true object of realism
is what has no reality yet….This aesthetic that intended to be realist therefore becomes
a new idealism….a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world...a perpetually
renewed wrenching apart….."

amus’ 1957 lecture, “Create Dangerously.” A couple of bright spots:
“Art cannot be a monologue….
the reality of a man’s life…lies also in other lives that give shape to his…. Consequently, there is but one possible realistic film: the one that is constantly shown us by an invisible camera on the worlds’ screen. The only realistic artist…is God….All others are…unfaithful to reality…reality cannot be described without effecting a choice…cannot be reproduced without exercising a selection…

The only thing needed…is to find a principle of choice…And such a principle is found…in the future… the true object of realism is what has no reality yet….This aesthetic that intended to be realist therefore becomes a new idealism… a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the must be a perpetually renewed wrenching apart…..The loftiest work…maintains an equilibrium between reality and man’s rejection of that….the artist can value the myths that are offered him only in relation to their repercussion on living people…our only justification…is to speak up…for those who cannot do so…Let us not look for the way out anywhere but in the wall against which we are living….” - See more at: /oneworld/trauma#sthash.d0Pt7wWe.dpuf

White makes the point that Ghosh's novel is concerned with "ways of knowing," in particular
with the difference between detached observation of and extended immersion in a place.
She points out that the opening scenes of The Hungry Tide juxtapose a map of the Sunderbans
and a scene of travelers orientating themselves to the area. The map provides a precise,
visual representation of the Sunderbands, but it also represents the type of distinct overseeing
that Ghosh distinguishes from a lived sense of place. The map arrests time, providing a static
representation…a contrast with the opening narration that accentuates movement…in a transitional
space, a crowded train platform….Kanai reads a written text while riding on a train…his deceased
uncle Nirmal’s…narration disrupts the linear movement of the train by imposing the time of myth….
simultaneously, he offers numerical measurements …..

An instrumentalist understanding of the land causes outsiders to view it in terms of fixed,
economically valuable assets….In contrast, the label bestowed by the inhabitant conveys
a different understanding…their name focuses on...the shifting interaction of the tides
With this complex introduction…Nirmal accumulates various ways of knowing the land:
through metaphoric visualization of the divine, through numeric calculation, and through the
meaning of names—also distinguishing between reading a map, hearing a story,
and seeing it first-hand

I wanted to take time ("wait!") with this opening section, in
order to prepare you for the technical innovations in the novel:
"the multiplicity of time frames and perspectives in these opening scenes
also introduces Ghosh’s formal innovation, his challenge to linear ordering,
and his counter-strategy of rhythmic movement that reflects
the watery geography of the Sunderbans….

Ghosh’s descriptions of the landscape do evoke a palimpsest…mangroves reshape the land as they
“silt over the past”…Images of a layered past recur through the novel….Ghosh critiques the primacy
of the visual and offers the tide as an alternative that reflects auditory and kinetic experiences….
vision fails to orient inhabitants….the tides create shifts in position and perception…..the landscape
confounds the ability of the human eye to oversee and compose order…preventing the single point
perspective that is necessary for linear mapping...

the novel arrived in India as a European import…privileged a ‘rational outlook on life,’ and required a
‘commitment to naturalism and realism’…Ghosh’s rhythmic organization must be considered in this context
as continuing negotiations between the novel form’s colonial heritage and the alternate ways of knowing
that emerge from specific embodied and geohistorical locations

“Part of the idea…was to shine light on this area that is little known within India….
even within Bengal, the Sunderbans is really a kind of area of darkness…”

Ghosh proposes that alternative practices facilitated by extended immersion in the place could
enable viewers to see the Sunderbans…novels can help to achieve this necessary transformation of vision.

The Hungry Tide…interrogating the intersections between local and global knowledges…
a concept of epistemic disobedience…practices that challenge the “detached and neutral point of observation”…
the epistemic zero point, the position from which the knowing subject maps the world
while erasing his own specific, embodied location….disrupting the illusion of neutral, universal knowledge….

his own use of English…his Western education and part-time residence in the USA…afford Ghosh
a view of India from both inside and outside…uses his position between cultures to circulate a
multifaceted picture of the Sunderbans to middle-class Indian and global English speaking readers…

thoughts related to those Teresa posted, on the “mindset” of
learning to perform, on being helped by the belief that ability is learnable...?

[in contrast to Ariel's mentioning how science as a subject tries to offer a humbling, subjective perspective,
"I believe that science has always been a political practice to shape the world."