Friday, 2 June 2017

Borges & Godse

A young Indian Professor, with the delightfully euphonious name of Manash Firaq Bhatacharjee, has suggested that Gandhi's assassin, Nathuram Godse, is somehow prefigured by the Nazi narrator of Borges's Deutsches Requiem.

Manash writes-
'The character of a German fascist in Borges’s work shares uncanny similarities with Nathuram Godse – both consider acts of bloodshed more honourable than inconsequential acts of apostolic service.'
On the face of it, this is bad 'Babu' English. We all understand that Fascists will resemble each other because they are Fascists. Ultra-Nationalist Assassins will resemble Ultra-nationalist Commandants of Extermination Camps because they share a belief in the political efficacy of murder. The resemblance between them is natural and genetic. It is not uncanny at all.

 There can only be an 'uncanny similarity' between things or persons fundamentally different in kind. One can say there is an uncanny similarity between a Fascist Concentration Camp Commandant and Mother Theresa because the humble Saint is of radically different kind from the Nazi beast. However, one couldn't say this of Borges's wholly made-up Nazi because, clearly, his life-narrative is based on that of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, who was similarly, if ingloriously, wounded in his sex.

Is Manash just a bad writer? Or is the fact that he teaches at Ambedkar University a clue to what he is really saying. Like Godse, Ambedkar thought India was better off without the Mahatma. Amebdkar wrote to the lady who would later become his wife (but who, because she belonged to the Bhramin caste, was ostracised by his heirs) in the following terms- ' "My own view is that great men are of great service to their country, but they are also at certain times a great hindrance to the progress of the country. Mr Gandhi had become a positive danger to this country. He had choked all the thoughts. He was holding together the Congress which is a combination of all the bad and self-seeking elements in society who agreed on no social or moral principle governing the life of society except the one of praising and flattering Mr Gandhi. Such a body is unfit to govern a country. As the Bible says that sometimes good cometh out of evil, so also I think good will come out of the death of Mr Gandhi. It will release people from bondage to supermen, it will make them think for themselves and compel them to stand on their own merits.'
As a matter of fact, Ambedkar was wrong. Gandhi's slaying was particularly opportune for the Congress party. It was he who was sidelined during his life-time- though in recent years his stock has shot up while Gandhi's has greatly fallen.

Returning to Manash's article and before rushing to judgement let us look at the remainder of the sentence I quoted. Manash isn't saying 'Fascists think bloodshed is honourable- no matter whose throats they are slitting'. Rather, that Fascists consider consequential bloodshed more honourable than some inconsequential action of a particular description ('Apostolic Service') which we will examine in a moment.

Since Godse killed Gandhi without regard to Dr. Ambedkar's wishes in this respect, perhaps Manash is saying  'Gandhi's actions were inconsequential. Thus killing him was utterly inconsequential and not honourable at all.  Godse killed Gandhi and then wrote some worthless self-exculpatory shite to justify himself before he was hanged. Thus Godse was like Borges's Linde, who only killed the 'good', obedient, Civic minded, Jews who queued up in orderly fashion to ascend the cattle trucks.  Indians think of Korczak's 'kinderplanet'- who breaks the law by getting his orphans to put on an 'Aryan' play- it is Tagore's 'The Post Office'- before yielding to the inevitable, albeit in a very different spirit to the corrupt and cowardly Rumkowski. 

Let us now turn to the term 'Apostolic Service' as used by Manash. What does it mean? I excerpt the following from an article in 'the American'-
An apostolic spirituality differs somewhat from a contemplative spirituality, whose central image in many cases is nuptial union between God and the person. The fundamental imperatives of the Christian vocation express themselves in both traditions. But apostolic spirituality views particular moments of prayer as means to enable the individual, as someone growing in intimacy with God, to serve the neighbor with more discernment and more fully. These differences of nuance between two traditions of spirituality bear witness to the Spirit’s action in the church, action which brings about a variety of gifts and charisms.

A famous story concerning Ignatius makes the point about apostolic spirituality. When told of a Jesuit much admired for his prayerfulness, Ignatius simply asked his interlocutor, “And how mortified is Father X?” By this he meant, how free is Father X from his false self, from disordered attachment to self, because only such freedom will allow him to be available to be sent to any part of the world at any time when service of the neighbor requires it.

In this little incident, we can find some of the principal features of an apostolic spirituality: prayers and “mortification” (taking measures, with God’s grace, to die to one’s false self) are instrumental, a means to something else. Love of the neighbor is where it all comes together, and freedom to be sent—freedom to be available to the neighbor in need—is the fundamental disposition of this spiritual path.


Inconsequential Apostolic Service, thus, appears to mean some self-mortification designed to show empathy for the suffering neighbour which however does not relieve that suffering at all. Gandhi pretended to be doing something for the victims of Partition- but it was just 'inconsequential Apostolic Service' or play-acting that is all. Godse too claimed to be acting for those same victims. Like Gandhi's Apostolic Service, his actions were wholly inconsequential- save in that some Brahmins in Pune got lynched and Savarkar's position as a loony-toons utterly beyond the pale was confirmed. Congress profited by Godse's actions and Gandhi's legend got a neat ending. The  political marginalisation of the RSS, too, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It acquired a sort of declasse respectability. In Gujerat, two old RSS chums- Shankarsinh Vaghela and Narendra Modi became Chief Ministers for different parties. Vaghela is still the Congress leader of the Opposition in Gujarat, while Modi is Prime Minister. Unlike the Youth cadres of other political parties, the RSS- which is supposedly apolitical- has a reputation for 'consequential' Apostolic Service. It is believed to actually do some good when it sends volunteers to the scene of a natural disaster. By contrast, back in the Thirties, the Gandhian Economist and Chartered Accountant, Kumarappa, refused to pay Gandhi's Ashramite for their services out of the Bihar Earthquake Relief Fund. Why? They were useless. Gandhi protested but in the end had to tap some other fund to pay his useless acolytes.
Nobody, nowadays, thinks Gandhian volunteers can do anything useful anymore than they think Mother Theresa's nuns aren't a sanctimonious money-pit. Every Gandhian or neo-Gandhian scheme- khaddar, basic education, bhoodan, fasting for a Lok Pal, etc- is now known to be 'inconsequential Apostolic Service' of a worthless type.  Still, it is better than assassinations or pogroms- which rebound quickly on the heads of their instigators.

Manash sees Borges as a Fascist himself. He writes- Jorge Luis Borges’s ideas on fascism are not much known or discussed.

He is rather infamous for his endorsement of General Pinochet’s Chilean regime. After travelling to Santiago in 1976 against good advice to receive a special honour, Borges praised Pinochet for saving freedom and order, “especially in an anarchy continent, a continent undermined by communism.” That act, it is believed, cost Borges the Nobel Prize. His discomfort with Soviet communism left him unimpressed by Salvador Allende. For Borges’s open dislike of his regime, Juan PerĂ³n appointed the writer “poultry inspector” at the ‘Buenos Aires Municipal Wholesale Market’. Borges refused the honour.


Borges was an old fashioned Conservative and saw Pinochet as a staunch anti-Communist embracing 'Chicago School' Free Market policies rather than the Corporatist populism of Juan Peron. On balance, this was a reasonable view. Allende had gone off the deep end. Even Chicago can't damage an economy or a polity as much as Chavismo- as Venezuela has learnt to its rue.
What was really troubling about Borges was his enthusiasm for Videla- whose despotic rule had no redeeming features- and his condemnation of Democracy- at least for his own country. Still, he was a bookish man who had lead a sheltered life. We can't judge too harshly the senility of a sage.

Returning to Manash's article, the following paraphrase is significant ' Linde discovered Nietzsche and Spengler in 1927, and upheld Spengler’s depiction of the Faustian characteristic as a soul yearning for pure and limitless space, against Goethe’s Faust, who was a disenchanted intellectual.'

Actually, Linde says Lucretius was more Faustian than Spengler's Goethe. Why? Lucretius has a purely Scientific theory of the World. Not God, but Fortuna- some stochastic process within Nature- dictates how things unfold in a manner which leaves scope for Free Will. This Epicurean atomism is not the slave of genetic determinism or some holistic Goethean archetype, rather it leaves scope for Nature itself to somersault. Thus, there may be some human project which overcomes the physical limits of the body. Heaven can be conquered, Time itself can be reversed. Christianity is the story of the son of a carpenter who becomes God and thus the incarnation prefigured by the Scripture he quotes. Brahm's German Requiem is, uniquely, a Mass for the living and suffused with 'Sehnsucht'- a type of yearning- which in Hegelian 'Protestant Grief' rises above reconciliation to the the finite.

Borges begins his story with a quotation from the Book of Job. Lovers of Ghalib may know that 'khagazi pairahan' in 'Naqsh-e-fariyadi'- i.e. the custom of appearing in court dressed in a paper document recording one's complaint- is a predicate of Job. He is the first figure in Universal Literature who says he will appear in Court dressed in his own petition.

Borges knew Al Arabi's concept of Barzakh from Miguel Asin Palacios. He was aware that by in investigating 'the limit' case of his own alterity- an erudite Nazi!- he was bound to come up against a Barzakh such as that at which Moses and Khizr encounter each other. What happens then is that mortality, or finitude, is imposed upon the one (kya kiya Khizr ne Sikandar se?) while the immortal wanders namelessly away.
De Lind also creates his 'limit' of his alterity in the poet David Jerusalem. He finds the latter's 'zahir' (which, we suspect, is actually his own) and forcing the other to think constantly of it, drives him to suicide. But this dissolving of the mirror means that De Lind ingests (or gains by 'ibbur') Jerusalem's characteristic quality as the poet of Happiness. This 'reverse Jesuit' correctly predicts that Europe will attain stability thanks to the brutal ethnic cleansing of German speaking people which was occurring at the time Borges wrote this story.

How does Borges's Gnostic parable relate to Godse- an intellectually unimpressive figure? The truth is, only Congress benefited from Gandhi's assassination. The RSS and Hindu Mahasabha would have lost elections anyway because they were no good at ethnic cleansing. The old 'bourgeois' parties, led by lawyers- rather than Doctors or School Teachers- were better at wielding the big stick and presiding blithely over mass killings and expropriations. After Gandhi's assassination, Brahmins in Pune got their comeuppance. Patel was quite content to use the RSS once he had shown them who was boss. It was the same story with Muslims. They were under no illusion that anybody at all, not Gandhi, not Nehru, had any special tenderness for them. Their job was to vote for Congress and keep their mouths shut.

Their political marginalisation of the RSS and Muslim parties meant, however, that their organisers and youth cadres were less noxious than the netas and youth cadre of other parties. Thus a respectable tailor may say 'my son goes to the Shaka'- even if the thug in question is actually a retainer of some local dynast- because this statement does not automatically mean 'my son is a rapist'.

Manash writes 'Linde and Godse uncannily share a similar language of rationalist violence and the territorial soul of the nation.' No. Linde is saying it doesn't matter whether Germans are ethnically cleansed by Slavs or it happens the other way around. Like Koestler's 'erudite Nazi', who justifies Hitler as uniting Europe so that its Economy can develop more rapidly, Linde's view is endorsed by History. Germany gained by having a smaller territory and taking back German speaking people to its East. Europe too gained by German willingness to act as the Economic nucleus for the Continent.

Manash is on safer ground when he says ' Both (Linde & Godse) consider acts of bloodshed more honourable than inconsequential acts of apostolic service.' The problem here is that the RSS has a reputation for consequential humanitarian work. Gandhi  has a reputation for folly or fraud masquerading as 'acts of apostolic service'.
Manash writes- 'For both (Linde & Godse) , the other is the disease, and the new resurgence of national spirit demands its elimination.' If this were true, neither would be interesting. Rather the monstrous aspect of both is the underlying theme of murder as a means to ingest the soul of the other. Godse was certainly useful, not to say Providential. But no one can cast him as Brutus to Ceasar. The man's mind was too mean. The same problem arises with linking this vulgar Erostratus to the Ephesian mystery of Borges's Linde. Cannibalism isn't Communion. It is the coprophagy of the shithead.

The curious thing about Manash's article is that he must have been aware that Gandhi often spoke of the ennobling effect of bearing arms and fighting- provided one did so in a dispassionate spirit rather than a desire for victory. Godse held no such view. He thought the Hindu majority should tyrannise over the Muslim minority- unless defeated in which case it should skulk or run away. In practice, that's what happened wherever it was incentive compatible for the land-hungry dominant group to dispossess the minority. It may be that some Religions are more aggressive than others. They still get a bloody nose and are chased away if it is profitable to do so. The RSS certainly appeared more aggressive than the Congress party. Its adherents wore khaki shorts and carried sticks. They were easily beaten to death by people wearing dhotis. There is a lesson here, as Gandhi was wont to say, which all who run can read. 

No comments:

Post a Comment