Monday, 4 March 2013

Bourdieu & Indian Politics

For many deeply provincial- i.e. foreign trained- Indian intellectuals, like myself, who came of age in the early Eighties, the writings of Pierre Bourdieu appeared not so much a revelation as a canonical expression of a previously 'unthought known'. At that time, it seemed obvious that historical processes are always structural and that structural transformations are only objectified at the level of subjective, individual, habitus. This enabled us to give content to Alok Rai's (whom I met at the durbar of a cartoonishly corrupt Iyer, U.P cadre, I.A.S officer)  notion of 'damaged modernity- at once embryonic and addled' as defining 'the field' of Indian political culture such that Huma, the legendary bird, the touch of whose shadows confers Empery, hovers over but does nothing to hatch such foul-smelling egg-heads as Indians refer to as the progeny of the owl and who rule the roost in New Delhi because, as the last Moghul wrote-
Bulbul ne aashaiana chaman se utha liya 
Uske bala se boom basay ya Huma rahay
(Now the nightingale no longer rests in garden bowers
Who cares if the owl nests or Huma hovers?)
Put less poetically, the Indian political 'field'- i.e. the arena for arbitrage operations between different types of Bourdieusian 'capital'- operates according to the laws enacted by a parliament of bird-brains impotent to hatch any greater mischief against the common-weal than that constituted by their own continued, craven and concurrency-deadlocked existence. 
In this context, it would be natural to gas on about the 'habitus' of the Indian political class- though it is precisely this style of reasoning which, ab ovo, vitiates our public discourse before it ever even encounters- not its alterity- no, Caste being what it is, that was never on the cards- but, apotheosis, for, as Zatalli tells Bedil- CheUrfi che Faizi ba pesh-e tu phus- what, facing us, now are the Pitr progenitors due the pinda oblation? So far have we advanced along their well trodden circuit, they are nothing save that flatus or anal eructation detecting which Gayatri Spivak consoled the sadly flatulent Matilal by quoting Derridera's assertion that upon the fart, at least, ontology can lay no brusque or bugger's hand.
 Since India, Hindustan, Bharatvarsha, is defined, for Indians, as always constituted by a heterogeneity of 'dharma-as-karma-overcomings'- i.e. India, in so far as it exists, is an ideal marga of meta-hexis simultaneously paced, shoulder to shoulder, by every desi habitus- it follows that it exists only as a hopeful Utopia of the Ernest Bloch type to which, in articulo mortis, the concurrency deadlock that is its proper inertial property, only gives voice when the other Hirschman options of loyalty and exit have been providentially- i.e. by lying technocrats or military men manqué - foreclosed and rendered cheerlessly phantasmogoric.
The 'scandal' of 1968- for France, for West Germany- the stumbling block to faith in Scholastic Sociology represented by this Yahoo repetition of 1848 when History reached a turning point but failed to turn- though Adorno was routed from his lectern by the naked breasts of his (German, and therefore ugly) students- was, of course, for India, a scandal in the common, not theological, sense of the word. The one true and tiger breasted Desi Goddess, whose eagerness for bloodshed exceeds that of pallid PhD Poli Sci jholawallah students, revealed her intention to 'Garibi hatao' - remove Poverty- and indeed, within a decade, no politician in India was left who, if not feathering a familial nest, disdained corrupt practices of the most shameless sort on behalf of his or her Party, which increasingly was a solitary or entirely personal cultus.
In this manner, Indians became Bourdieusian avant la lettre and in their belated jumping on his bandwagon- witness this negligent piece of tosh- one too readily detects the double bind of Metropolitan condescension and patronage towards a benighted Francophone colon because, after all,  for any Indian- 'Che Foucault, che Bourdieu ba pesh-e tu phus'- we have advanced on our progenitors in every degree of paranoia, and created a 'Gandu-nama' to which not Zatalli could hold a candle without risking more than his eyebrows.

A moment's thought will show this isn't really a paradoxical, or even a Socio-proctological, result because Bourdieu's field is heavily dependent on a particular type of epistemic reflexivity- a bit like Muth Rational Expectations or the Chomyskian notion of an i-language or Habermas's 'ideal speech situation' or Rawlsian rubbish- but, sadly, one bound up with a finitist Research Program- an inconsistently finitist one, as Nelson's recent debacle has shown- such that ontologically dysphoric positions are ruled out in advance, or diminished to sub-proletarian noise. In other words, what is banished from Sociology is precisely what makes a subject Sociological rather than purely Mathematical without, however, the salutary measure being taken of putting a lamed Politics out of its misery or profitably disposing of it to a glue factory. This wouldn't matter- and Cliodynamics wouldn't be silly- if people, in the main, didn't use language or the market or politics or whatever not to advance within the Muth Rational 'correct' theory of Reality but to mark their desire to emigrate from Reality, emigrate from inter-subjectivity, emigrate from that foundational aspect of Exchange which the genius of Graciella Chichilnisky has uncovered- viz. the necessity for Goldilocks preference diversity, not too little, not too much.
In this sense, the real world is like Rick's Casino in Casablanca- not only is the roulette table rigged, but the magnet is a strange attractor, it could go either way, it does go either way, till the qibla of Rick's hegira is finally decided for him and he emigrates into myth and legend and sophomore fantasies of Sophistication, stepping off the Warner Bros backlot.
Now it may be argued that 'ontological dysphoria' only exists in my mind and I'm just a drunken bum but, the problem is, most bloggers are drunken bums with ontologically dysphoric views of the world. Worse, most people, most of the time- even academics, even mathematicians- are exactly like me. We feel we are living in the wrong world.
Chomsky may see himself as following in the tradition of Plato's 'Meno'- where a slave boy is shown to have knowledge-as-anamnesis of Geometry- and thus his own individuating project, or reckless disregard for the truth, remains anchored, in some sense, in the real world- which is why he is ridiculous. However, such is emphatically not the case with my own preferred world, my own personal project of rendering myself fulminable from this, the infernal reality of my risibility, which gives rise to my patented brand of ontological dysphoria such that I am only at home in a world where Isosceles triangles relentless pursue a bitter blood feud with Vasco da Gama coz Virendra Fernandes stabbed me with his compass back in 1974 and, guess what?, Brother Morrissey caned both of us tho' Virendra was clearly the aggressor and the whole thing was witnessed by Isosceles who was only prevented from filing an f.i.r at the Gol Dhak-khana thana coz Pythagoras raped him but nobody believed him so he got a reputation as the choir-boy wot cries wolf all the time.
Why do I believe most people, most of the time are ontologically dysphoric? The answer has to do evolution- more particularly, the dynamics of convergent evolution. We can probably all agree that the reason there has been no genetic canalisation such that we are hard-wired for a particular 'universal' language is because the field dynamics of our out-of-Africa ancestor militated against the possibility. Hunter gatherer groups were simply too small- by reason of their mode of production- for the reverse to be the case. But, the fact that language use- at the neural level- is always convergently evolved- had other benefits and probably explains a lot about why we, as a species, think we are smart. But, this fact also means that all human communication has a big noise to signal problem since neither transmitters nor receivers are standardized. The advantage of having an ontologically dysphoric Lebenswelt is that all signal can be classed as noise till selectively 're-constructed'. But this means reflexivity- save in abstract areas, like price signals, which can be represented by a physicalist hexis- can't be founded in Bourdieuian 'habitus'. This is not to say something which looks like habitus aint ubiquitous. But it aint essentialist nor is it structural. It is ontologically dysphoric is what it is. 'Natural languages'- by Gold's theorem- are indeed unlearnable if our hexis, our habitus is Nature- thankfully; it isn't, we are ontologically dysphoric which is why the psychic cost of conforming is negligible, since there is no need to re-write any 'Darwinian algorithm of the mind'- i.e. re-program any context specific emotional-response-unit- and, in any case, the same convergently evolved mental module which detects Schelling focal points always, by default, provides enough points of similarity for the Socio-Criminologist to say 'lo! 'tis the same fingerprint, by Jove! Proof conclusive of the fine Italian hand of that bounder Moriarty!'

What has all this to do with Indian Politics?
Well, people of my generation were influenced by Prem Shankar Jha's Gramscian notion of an intermediate class which was, in essence, ungovernable and anti-national by reason of being chauvinistically casteist or communal or like chewing paan all the time and spitting all over the place.
Behind Jha, or Nandy, or other such soi-disant 'thinkers', was- we now recognize- a Bourdeiusian habitus dissimulating its virtuality in an attention-seeking manner at once hospitably histrionic and meretriciously manic.

In other words, as with Mill, Macaulay or Marx, Bourdieu too, in so far as he is taken up by Indians, possesses a revolutionary potential in the sense of permitting everybody to make a 360 degree turn- or not, if they used their compass to stab the boy in the next desk and it was confiscated by teacher.

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