The Emergence of the Indian Public Sphere

IndianPubSphereNalini Rajan in The Hindu:

As citizens of a nation in the making, Indian scholars have been deeply interested in the writings of Benedict Anderson and Jurgen Habermas. Anderson has discussed the ways in which print capitalism allows a literate monolingual population to imagine the nation through the newspaper and the novel. Habermas, for his part, has delineated his notion of the public sphere as a realm of free debate and rational argument.

In a country where, even today, one in every three does not have signature literacy, it is hard to straitjacket the complex idea of nation-building into the phenomenon of print capitalism. Some of the essays in this book pertain to pre-colonial India when barely six per cent of the population was literate. What is exciting about the descriptions of the colonial era is that they uncannily mirror the post-colonial state’s obsession with a strong law and order paradigm (see Rajeev Dhavan’s essay). If nationalist struggles and an emerging free press were seen as an infectious disease (because it spreads quickly) by the British colonialists, revolutionary movements and the free media are viewed with suspicion by the Indian state even today, as Ranajit Guha points out.

Undoubtedly, the Indian public sphere has rarely been based on the force of better argument. It has often assumed symbolic, non-constitutional forms of politics (see Francesca Orsini’s essay), like salt-making, drum-beating, horn-blowing, and bazaar gossip. Arvind Rajagopal dubs this dual nature of the public sphere as a ‘split public’ — a term that calls to mind Partha Chatterjee’s distinction between the ‘us’ of civil society and the ‘them’ of political society. C.A. Bayly calls the indigenous public sphere as the “Indian ecumene,” or the form of cultural and political debate that was typical of north India, before the emergence of the print media.

God Was on Everybody’s Side: An Interview with Jean Comaroff

Comaroff_jean_print In the Immanent Frame:

[David Kyuman Kim]: Jean Comaroff, tell us about the role of religion in your work.

JC: For me, as a scholar, religion has always been an exercise for a left hand. I started out working on these issues because I was interested in the relationship between politics and religion and the uneasy ways in which anthropologists at the time separated them. I was interested not least because, if you went to Africa in the 1960s to study religion, religion was assumed to be a matter of “tradition.” Already I felt that this term, in its then unproblematic usage, was less than helpful.

When I got to my field site, in rural northwest South Africa, the religious lingua franca was Christianity, African Christianity, which was inseparable from anything else you might call spiritual, religious, or moral life. I was Jewish in my upbringing, but the kind of Christianity I encountered was profoundly unlike the Christianity I had known about growing up in white South Africa, or when I subsequently lived in England.

There was concern among my advisors at the London School of Economics [LSE] because Christianity was regarded as a topic for comparative religion or sociology, not for anthropology. There was no anthropology of Christianity at that time, so it was really quite a struggle at that point to find relevant interlocutors.

At the same time, it was obvious that Christianity had long been a key dimension of local history. In South Africa, Christianity was inseparable from the whole logic of the way colonialism had been made and was then being unmade.

JD Salinger: reclusive, eccentric author of an undying masterpiece

From The Telegraph:

Salinger_1568328c Was JD Salinger best known, in later years, for being the most celebrated literary recluse in the world? After 1965, he withdrew from engagement with the literary world, emerging only at the hands of the occasional journalistic tale of stalking, in a furious-looking snatched photograph, or some unsubstantiated rumours. He made no distinction between a respectful inquiring scholar like Ian Hamilton and any number of scandalous muckrakers.

That wasn’t his real fame, however. The four books he published before that withdrawal have gone on selling in steady, substantial numbers. Catcher in the Rye in particular has never stopped being loved by a huge audience since it was taken up by the first generation of campus near-dropouts. The two stories in Raise High The Roof-Beam, Carpenters are the celebrated New Yorker oblique tender style at its pinnacle and summit. Some people thought that with Franny and Zooey, Salinger demonstrated a love for his fictional family, the Glasses, which no reader could be expected to match. For others, it stopped, exquisitely, on the verge of the sentimental.

More here.

The Ape That Never Grows Up

From Science:

Bonobo Chimpanzees have an aggressive reputation and often fight rather than share. Bonobos, on the other hand, are famously playful and friendly. A new study hints at a difference in how the two apes develop, suggesting that bonobos retain a youthful lack of social inhibition longer than chimpanzees do. Understanding how and why these two apes–the closest living relatives to humans–differ from each other could yield clues about how our own species evolved to be so social. Anatomical studies of ape skulls have suggested that bonobos' brains mature more slowly than those of chimps, says the lead author of the new study, Victoria Wobber, a graduate student in the lab of Harvard University primatologist Richard Wrangham. But no one had looked for corresponding differences in the development of social behaviors in the two apes, Wobber says.

So she and colleagues conducted experiments on about 60 apes of various ages at the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo and the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the first experiment, the researchers put a bowl of fruit in an enclosure and allowed pairs of age-matched chimps or bonobos to enter. The apes scored high marks for social tolerance if they shared the food, particularly if they came close together and ate from the bowl at the same time. Young animals of both species were good at sharing, the researchers found. Although older bonobos appeared to maintain their youthful tolerance, chimps tended to be less tolerant with age. In pairs of older chimps, the more dominant one often hogged all the food. And even when sharing occurred, two individuals rarely ate from the bowl at the same time.

More here.

Friday Poem

Jake Addresses the World from the Garden

……………Rocks without ch'i [spirit] are dead rocks.

……………..—Mai-Mai Sze, The Way of Chinese Painting

It's spring and Jake toddles to the garden

as the sun wobbles up clean and iridescent.
He points to the stones asleep and says, “M'mba,”

I guess for the sound they make, takes another step
and says, “M'mba,” for the small red berries crying

in the holly. “M'mba” for the first sweet sadness
of the purplish-black berries in the drooping monkey grass,

and “M'mba” for the little witches' faces bursting into blossom.
That's what it's like being shorter than the primary colors,

being deafened by humming stones while the whole world billows
behind the curtain, “M'mba,” the one word. Meanwhile I go on

troweling, slavering the world with language as Jake squeals
like a held bird and begins lallating to me in tongues.

I follow him around as he tries to thread the shine off a stone
through the eye of a watchful bird. After a year of banging

his head, all the crying, the awful falling down, now he's trying
to explain the vast brightening in his brain by saying “M'mba”

to me again and again. And though I follow with the sadness
above which a stone cannot lift itself, I wink and say

“M'mba” back to him. But I don't mean it.
by Jack Myers
from New American Poets of the ‘90s;
publisher: David R. Godine, 1991

Salinger’s Best Story

Chris Wilson in Slate:

J-d-salinger-term-papers I love J.D. Salinger, who died today, far too much to write about him with any perspective. Perhaps this qualifies me to eulogize his last anthologized workthe story of a man who loves and admires his deceased brother too much to write about him with any perspective.

“Seymour: An Introduction” was originally published in The New Yorker in 1959 and was printed in book form, alongside “Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters,” four years later. It runs about 120 pages and has no appreciable form, reading like an unedited, freewheeling character description. I know several avowed Salinger fanatics who have never made it through the thing, and I don't blame them: The story is dense, tiresome, and irritating. Its charm is difficult to diagnose. But I submit that it's the best story the guy ever wrote.

Narrated by Buddy Glass—the second eldest brother of the prodigious family that occupies the majority of Salinger's post-Catcher fiction—it takes place years after Seymour Glass committed suicide. There is very little plot. Buddy, like Salinger, has retreated to a bucolic existence in New England, where he is preparing a volume of his dead brother's poetry for publication. The story is a jumble of anecdotes, musings, and epic descriptions, punctuated by Buddy's still-raw anger and confusion over his brother's suicide.

More here.

In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits

Chris Anderson in Wired:

ScreenHunter_02 Jan. 29 09.36 Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.

This story is about the next 10 years.

Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits.

Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.

The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3-D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit. Anybody with an idea and a little expertise can set assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop. A few days later, a prototype will be at their door, and once it all checks out, they can push a few more buttons and be in full production, making hundreds, thousands, or more. They can become a virtual micro-factory, able to design and sell goods without any infrastructure or even inventory; products can be assembled and drop-shipped by contractors who serve hundreds of such customers simultaneously.

Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine. The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.

More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]

The greatest athlete for his age the world has ever seen

James Zug in Squash Magazine [July 2004]:

Khan Hashim 04 Hashim Khan, who I think can fairly be described as the greatest squash-racquets player of all time, made his American debut in the winter of 1954.

Hashim Khan, may his tribe increase, completely changed the course of events in the game of squash racquets.

The more I think about it, the more firmly convinced I am that the greatest athlete for his age the world has ever seen may well be Hashim Khan, the Pakistani squash player.

That was how Herbert Warren Wind led off his three epic articles on squash in the New Yorker, in 1973, 1978 and in 1985. Being the New Yorker, the articles were rigorously fact-checked, and all hyperbole was stricken with a red pen. These three sentences were true then and are true today.

Yet, Wind and the New Yorker got his birth date wrong. There is no birth certificate for Hashim Khan. Ned Bigelow, the founder of the United States Open and the man responsible for bringing Hashim to the US and thus revolutionizing our game, made a trip to Pakistan in the 1960s solely to dig up the elusive piece of paper. But the Northwest Frontier Province of the Raj four decades before independence did not focus on record-keeping, and after days of searching Bigelow declared that there was no extant proof of Hashim’s arrival in this world (most of Hashim’s children don’t know their birth date either). Hashim grew up thinking he was born in 1914. When he was first approached, in 1951, about coming to England to play in the British Open, he thought they would not let him play in the tournament if they knew he was 37. So he made himself 35, with 1916 as a birth date. A few years ago he changed it back to 1914. Many people believed he was born even earlier, in 1910 or 1912. Regardless, Hashim is now sticking to 1914, which makes the first of July 2004 his 90th birthday.

Many happy returns, indeed, for whenever he was born, Hashim can look back on a legacy greater than anyone else in the history of squash.

More here. Hashim Khan won the British Open seven times between 1951 and 1958, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest squash players of all time. He also won five British Professional Championship titles, three US Open titles, and three Canadian Open titles. Hashim Khan's son Sharif Khan later won the American Open between 1969 and 1981 an unbelievable 12 times, losing only once in 1975! It is good to note that in 2010 Hashim Khan is still healthy, and at age 96, still playing squash. Watch this video, Aps, and others:

Haiti and the hypocrisy of Christian theology

Richard Dawkins in the Washington Post:

ScreenHunter_01 Jan. 29 08.54 You nice, middle-of-the-road theologians and clergymen, be-frocked and bleating in your pulpits, you disclaim Pat Robertson's suggestion that the Haitians are paying for a pact with the devil. But you worship a god-man who – as you tell your congregations even if you don't believe it yourself – 'cast out devils'. You even believe (or you don't disabuse your flock when they believe) that Jesus cured a madman by causing the 'devils' in him to fly into a herd of pigs and stampede them over a cliff. Charming story, well calculated to uplift and inspire the Sunday School and the Infant Bible Class. Pat Robertson may spout evil nonsense, but he is a mere amateur at that game. Just read your own Bible. Pat Robertson is true to it. But you?

Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for 'sin' – or suffering as 'atonement' for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.

More here.

J. D. Salinger, 1919-2010

SalingerCharles McGrath in the NYT:

J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91.

Mr. Salinger’s literary representative, Harold Ober Associates, announced the death, saying it was of natural causes. “Despite having broken his hip in May,” the agency said, “his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year. He was not in any pain before or at the time of his death.”

Mr. Salinger’s literary reputation rests on a slender but enormously influential body of published work: the novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” the collection “Nine Stories” and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.”

“Catcher” was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Though not everyone, teachers and librarians especially, was sure what to make of it, “Catcher” became an almost immediate best seller, and its narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, a teenager newly expelled from prep school, became America’s best-known literary truant since Huckleberry Finn.

they wont be able to hear us scream


Human beings are making it harder for extraterrestials to pick up our broadcasts and make contact, the world’s leading expert on the search for alien life warned yesterday. At a special meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti), the US astronomer Frank Drake – who has been seeking radio signals from alien civilisations for almost 50 years – told scientists that earthlings were making it less likely they would be heard in space. Astronomers assumed that a standard technique for any alien intelligence trying to pinpoint other civilisations in the galaxy would involve seeking signals from TV, radio and radar broadcasts, Drake told the meeting at the Royal Society in London.

more from at The Guardian here.

burn burns


“There’s just so much shit isn’t there? With art writing. So much bollocks. People who’ve swallowed dictionaries. All that crap.” Damien Hirst dismisses the practice of criticism in his introduction to these essays by Gordon Burn, although he may be thinking of his recent detractors rather than Vasari and Ruskin. Conversely, he acknowledges his friend Burn as “an artist in his own right . . . . [He wrote] almost like fucking carving it out of marble”. Others agree: Burn, who died last year, won a Whitbread Award for Alma Cogan, a novel based unapologetically on post-war cultural icons. Sex & Violence, Death & Silence collects Burn’s “encounters” with the Pop Artists who rose to stardom in the 1960s, and the Young British Artists of the 90s. “Encounters” is Faber’s cool coinage for occasional pieces. It seems to imply that all these writings were composed on cigarette paper as the author abandoned parties at dawn. Yet Burn is always erudite, and his prose has a beauty that many of the YBAs deliberately eschew in their work.

more from Nancy Campbell at the TLS here.

Chopin: Prince of the Romantics

From The Guardian:

Chopinstory_1566196f Did they or didn’t they? It had been a year since the start of her doomed affair with the composer Frédéric Chopin, and George Sand took a knife and carved a date on the panelling of the bedroom of her country home at Nohant in France, June 19 1839. Was it the anniversary of the consummation of their love? This was the first affair that the sexually adventurous Sand had had without it going disastrously wrong. Or was it the date when the pair stopped having sex? The composer’s health was failing, and did his lover fear that strenuous activity might kill him?

The question is asked in this thoroughly modern biography, in which Adam Zamoyski seeks to sweep away what he calls the “sugary blur of sentimentality and melodrama” that has traditionally surrounded one of the masters of romantic music. The story of Chopin, the Polish child prodigy who played for the tsar at the age of 15 and went on to compose and perform some of the world’s most sublime piano music before dying tragically early at 39, has been widely told – as has the saga of the unlikely coupling between the fey composer and Sand, the swarthy, mannish, cigar-chomping writer, who had dumped her sick husband while on honeymoon in Venice and run off with the doctor summoned to treat him.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Factory of Tears

And once again according to the annual report
the highest productivity results were achieved
by the Factory of Tears.

While the Department of Transportation was breaking heels
while the Department of Heart Affairs
was beating hysterically
the Factory of Tears was working night shifts
setting new records even on holidays.

While the Food Refinery Station
was trying to digest another catastrophe
the Factory of Tears adopted a new economically advantageous
technology of recycling the wastes of past –
memories mostly.

The pictures of the employees of the year
were placed on the Wall of Tears.

I’m a recipient of workers’ comp from the heroic Factory of Tears.
I have calluses on my eyes.
I have compound fractures on my cheeks.
I receive my wages with the product I manufacture.
And I’m happy with what I have.

by Valzhyna Mort

translation by Valzhyna Mort ,Franz Wright, and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
from Factory of Tears; Copper Canyon Press, 2008

The Shocking Truth About Running Shoes

From Science:

Shoes Haile Gebrselassie, the world's fastest marathoner, once said of his early career, “When I wore shoes, it was difficult.” A new study reveals why: Humans run differently in bare feet. Researchers have discovered that sneakers and other sports shoes alter our natural gait, which normally protects us from the impact of running. The finding offers new insight on how early humans ran and raises concerns that sports shoes may promote more injuries than they prevent. About 2 million years ago, the ancestors of modern humans evolved the physiological “equipment” for running–long legs, large buttocks, and springy structures in the feet, among other features. Athletic shoes weren't invented until the early 1900s, and it wasn't until the 1970s that they found widespread popularity. So how did humans manage to run comfortably before the invention of purpose-built footwear?

Daniel Lieberman, a human evolutionary biologist at Harvard University–and an avid runner–decided to find out. He and colleagues looked at more than 200 shod and unshod runners in the United States and the Rift Valley Province of Kenya, which is known for its great endurance runners. The volunteers represented a spectrum of shoe experience, including adults who had grown up wearing shoes, those who had grown up running shoeless but who now wore shoes, and those who had never worn shoes at all. Lieberman's team arranged a trial in which each group ran shod (either in ASICS GEL-Cumulus 10s or in their own shoes) and bare and measured their running gait and the impact on their bodies. The researchers noticed a difference right away. Whereas shod runners tended to land on the heel of the foot, barefoot runners landed on the ball of the foot or with a flat foot. The unshod runners' style causes more flex in the foot's springlike arch, ankle, and knee and engages more foot and calf muscles, blunting the impact on the body and making for a more comfortable “ride.” As their feet collide with the ground–in this case, a running track–barefoot runners experience a shock of only 0.5 to 0.7 times their body weight, whereas shod heel strikers experience 1.5 to two times their body weight–a threefold to fourfold difference.

More here.

How the Great Howard Zinn Made All Our Lives Better

ScreenHunter_05 Jan. 28 10.54

Harvey Wasserman in The Palestine Chronicle:

Howard Zinn was above all a gentleman of unflagging grace, humility and compassion.

No American historian has left a more lasting positive legacy on our understanding of the true nature of our country, mainly because his books reflect a soul possessed of limitless depth.

Howard’s PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES will not be surpassed. As time goes on new chapters will be written in its spirit to extend its reach.

1264668497howard_zinn_speaks_columnBut his timeless masterpiece broke astonishing new ground both in its point of view and its comprehensive nature. The very idea of presenting the American story from the point of view of the common citizen was itself revolutionary. That he pulled it off with such apparent ease and readability borders on the miraculous. That at least a million Americans have bought and read it means that its on-going influence is immense. It is truly a history book that has and will continue to change history for the better.

But that doesn’t begin to account for Howard’s personal influence. He was a warm, unfailingly friendly compadre. He shared a beautiful partnership with his wonderful wife Roz, a brilliant, thoroughly committed social worker about whom he once said: “You and I just talk about changing the world. She actually does it.”

But Howard was no ivory tower academic.

More here.

An Interview with Howard Zinn on the State of the Empire

Wajahat Ali in CounterPunch [from April, 2008]:

Howard Zinn 786 At 85 years old, the indefatigable Howard Zinn still maintains the prolific activist and academic jab fueled by his political and social activism nurtured during The Civil Rights Movement. The esteemed historian and controversial rabble rouser’s seminal work, The People’s History of the United States, taught in high schools and colleges across the nation, has been adapted as a documentary, The People Speak, featuring readings by Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Viggo Mortenson and Marisa Tomei. Still touring and giving lectures, Zinn shows no signs of stopping, however his hectic schedule has slowed to devote more time for his family obligations. After nearly a month of back and forth emails and missed opportunities, Professor Zinn agreed to an interview reflecting on his historic and memorable time at Spelman College in the ‘60’s, his thoughts on the Democratic Party, his philosophy of dissent as democracy, and his hope for America’s future.

ALI: Your experiences and acts of civil disobedience at Spelman College are, by now, thoroughly well known. However, in the 21st century, one could look at the student body at many liberal college campuses and see that fiery protest and consciousness replaced by apathy and materialism. Where has that fighting spirit gone? You spoke against “discouragement” at the 2005 Spelman College commencement speech – what of it now?

ZINN: What you describe as the difference between the Sixties and today on campuses is true, but I would not go too far with that. There are campus groups all over the country working against the war, but they are small so far. Remember, the scale of involvement in Vietnam was greater – 500,000 troops vs. 130,000 troops in Iraq. After five years in Vietnam, there were 30,000 U.S. dead vs. today we have 4,000 dead. The draft was threatening young people then, but not now. Greater establishment control of the media today, which is not reporting the horrors inflicted on the people of Iraq as the media began in the U.S. to report on U.S. atrocities like the My Lai Massacre. In the case of the movement against the Vietnam War, there was the immediate radicalizing experience of the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality, whose energy and indignation carried over into the student movement against the Vietnam War. No comparable carry over exists today.

More here.

Daniel Ellsberg remembers Howard Zinn

From AntiWar:

ScreenHunter_01 Jan. 28 10.33 I just learned that my friend Howard Zinn died today. Earlier this morning, I was being interviewed by the Boston Phoenix, in connection with the release in Boston February of a documentary in which he is featured prominently. The interviewer asked me who my own heroes were, and I had no hesitation in answering, first, “Howard Zinn.”

Just weeks ago after watching the film on December 7, I woke up the next morning thinking that I had never told him how much he meant to me. For once in my life, I acted on that thought in a timely way. I sent him an e-mail in which I said, among other things, what I had often told others about him: that he was,” in my opinion, the best human being I’ve ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life.”

Our first meeting was at Faneiul Hall in Boston in early 1971, where we both spoke against the indictments of Eqbal Ahmad and Phil Berrigan for “conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger,” from which we marched with the rest of the crowd to make Citizens’ Arrests at the Boston office of the FBI. Later that spring we went with our affinity group (including Noam Chomsky, Cindy Fredericks, Marilyn Young, Mark Ptashne, Zelda Gamson, Fred Branfman and Mitch Goodman), to the Mayday actions blocking traffic in Washington (“If they won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government”).

More here.