Pascal Bruckner, an eminent French Philosopher gave a lecture on 4 january 2012 on the theme, “Has Love Marriage in the West Failed.” He traced the images of love and marriage constructed by western philosophy and literature. Bruckner emphasized how religion and social practices play a key role in constructing the ideals of love and marriage.

 

Debashish Banerji,  Professor of Indian Studies and the Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles delivered a lecture on 23 January 2012 based on the theme of the Special Issue of the Journal of Contemporary Thought titled “Punctuated Renewals: Rabindranath Tagore in The 21st  Century.” Dr. Banerji is the author of the book The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore (Sage, 2010). Dr. Banerji pointed out that Tagore's reputation in his time and in the 20th century has been richly deserved. But time leaves no man at rest, and public opinion on Tagore has grown more complex since his passing with both sharply critical voices seeking distance or a space of emergence from under his gigantic shadow, and the fossilization of adulatory phrases or images having stereotyped him into obsolescence. He tried to address the following questions through the lecture: One hundred and fifty years since his birth, does Tagore have any relevance to this postmodern and postcolonial discourse?, Or does he belong merely to a moment in history, exalted by his hour into a prophet mouthing “guru English” in a humanist canon, fated to a fossilized relic in an archive of cultural rituals or a simulacrum in anachronistic identity politics?

Dr. Satadru Sen from the Department of History, CUNY, New York spoke on “The Tagores and the Invention of Indian Childhood" on January 24, 2012 . He discussed the construction of the subjectivity and ideal of the child in various kinds of creative expressions of Rabindranath, and Abanindranath and showed how various discourses of colonialism and nationalism contributed to the shaping of ‘childhood’ in their works and Bengali literature at large. Dr. Sen’s  works include Colonial Childhoods: The Juvenile Periphery of India 185-1945, and Savagery and Colonialism in the Indian Ocean : Power, Pleasure and the Andaman Islanders.

 (p) The Colloquium on the Special Issue of the Journal of Contemporary Thought, “Punctuated Renewals: Rabindranath Tagore in the 21st Century”

 

Debashish Banerji & Monali Chatterjee at the Colloquium

 A colloquium based on the Special Issue of the Journal of Contemporary Thought, “Punctuated Renewals: Rabindranath Tagore in The 21st Century” was organized by Balvant Parekh Centre on 24 January 2012 . The objectives of the colloquium were to provide critical feedback to the contributors and to discuss Tagore’s relevance today. Dr. Debashish Banerji, editor of the special issue, Dr. Satadru Sen and Monali Chatterjee another contributor participated in the colloquium. 

Martin Sweeney, Expert in Assistive Technology, Los Angeles, USA and Dhruv Mehta,  Professor, Physiotherapy, Mumbai spoke on the topic ‘Towards an Inclusive Society: Able-Disabled-All-Together.’ on March 5, 2012 at 4pm. Martin screened a documentary made by his daughter Eva on living a dignified and meaningful life using assistive technology and help from experts. He also discussed various devices and technology that his daughter uses to make her life as creative and fulfilling as possible despite being differently abled. The documentary was an ample proof that one can be differently abled and yet very creative and original, Mr. Mehta discussed his experiences as a physiotherapist and reminded that sensitivity and compassion are needed while dealing with differently-abled people. He drew attention to the insensitive attitude of the society that becomes evident through terms such as handicapped, disabled, and vikalang.   Dr.Kalpit Bakshi, Eminent Orthopaedic Surgeon and President, Society for the Physically Handicapped, Vadodara chaired the talks.

Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar who was at the Centre for Contemporary Theory on a Senior Fellowship under the South Asia Program delivered two lecture titled Against Linguistic Essentialism: Towards a Vernacular Centered Theory of World Literature” on 11 July 2012 and Invisibilizing Feminisms while Talking about Gender Violence in Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate (May 6, 2012 Episode) on 13 July 2012 respectively. These lectures were part of the occasional lecture program jointly organized by the Forum and Balvant Parekh Centre.

In her first lecture Rashmi drew attention to how the linguistic turn in poststructuralist theory has trained us to conceive of language not only as the medium or the outer dress of creative and philosophical-scientific works, but rather as the very thing that constitutes our ideas and determines our grounding suppositions. Language not only determines human thought, language passes through us and is not fully subject to human intentionality. She emphasized that vernaculars are not part of the background but in fact occupy the foreground of creative and expository works in colonial and postcolonial societies and when brought to the foreground of critical debate as an object of inquiry, non-European vernaculars are all too often treated reductively as a locus for authenticity and nativist truth through the politics of regionalism and chauvinism. The exponent of modernity emphasizes the enabling violation of colonialism in forming a class of educated professionals for whom European languages occupy the place of mother tongue and who can therefore compete on terms of equality in the global economy. In her first talk Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar examined both positions of the traditionalist and the modernist in order to complicate these positions and also to note the common ground between them.

Dr. Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar’s second talk updated her co-authored book Female Infanticide in India: A Feminist Cultural History (2005) by discussing possibilities and limitations in Aamir Khan's opening episode of the television serial Satyamev Jayate. In particular she looked at how Khan's longstanding engagement with the popular achieves a commercial and critical success in his state centered and statist representation of gender violence in foeticide. She observed that in crucial respects Khan's analysis fails to take cognizance of the archived colonial history of female infanticide and remains oblivious of folkloric and bhakti early modern idioms of contestation between daughter devaluing and daughter cherishing traditions. In her opinion, by relegating to the margins the Indian women's movements, the woman activist and long standing vernacular traditions of protest Satyamev Jayate constructs an impoverished portrait of popular will as articulated in the democratic processes of the state by making women memoryless, passive and the subject of rescue through top down state and non-state institutions.

Rashmi offered a course titled The “Vernacular” in a Comparative Frame during the X Theory/Praxis Course of the Forum.  Rashmi is currently Visiting Scholar at the Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh and has taught in three American universities (University of Pittsburgh, Boise State University and University of Nebraska at Lincoln) as well as at Indraprastha College for Women and SGTB Khalsa College at the University of Delhi. Among her publications are the co-authored book Female Infanticide in India: A Feminist Cultural History (SUNY, 2005), interviews in The Postcolonial Critic (1990, republished in Polish 2010), Meera’s lyric (boundary 2, 2004) Bhats and Charans (Subaltern Studies vol. XII, 2005), Forum devoted to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Influence ( PMLA, 2008) Bhartendu Harischandra (Critical Quarterly, 2010) Rushdie’s Urdu (Interventions, 2010) Premsagar (boundary 2, 2012) and “A Conversation with Satya Mohanty on Indian Literature and World Literature” (Frontline, Mar 24, 2012). She is co-founder of the Hindi Urdu workshop series. Currently she is completing a book entitled World and Bhasha Literatures: Revolutions in Philology.

Indrapramit Roy from the Department of Painting, Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda lectured on the theme Teaching Art in the University: An Artist-Teacher's perspectiveon Saturday 11 August 2012 at 4 pm. Mr. Roy has exhibited his paintings at major galleries in six continents of the world, and represented India in Asian Art Exhibition in Macao and the Cairo Biennale, Cairo. He is the recipient of Kanoria Centre Fellowship, Inlaks fellowship to study at the Royal College of Art, London , Research Fellowship, Government of India and most recently the Fulbright fellowship, USA . He has lectured on various art related topics at Mohile Parekh Centre, Mumbai, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Kolkata, International Institute for Children’s Literature, Osaka , UArts, Philadelphia and ICCR, Hanoi , Vietnam among others. He articles have appeared in eminent art magazines and journals.

Indrapramit shared an insider’s experience of teaching art at the university level  and began with an observation that in so many other professions, the models of perfection is a given; the lawyer, the accountant and the doctors PRACTICE their calling, the managers APPLY their management skills, the plumber and the carpenter KNOW what they will be called upon to do. None of them have to spin the work out of themselves, DISCOVER its laws and then present them inside out to the public gaze- that is the lot of visual artists. In this they even differ from musicians where the laws are at least clear cut and well known. He pointed out that we do not remember artists who followed the rules diligently. We remember those who made art from which "rules" inevitably follow. He emphasized that this needs to be remembered while teaching art and displayed as a slide-show many renowned art works in which the ‘rules’ of the art school are flouted. He also briefly discussed how the norms followed by university for all disciplines with respect to curriculum, teaching, evaluation and selection of  faculty become detrimental and even damaging in the case of fine arts. More than 80 people including artists, faculty students and members of the Centre attended the program.

“Why Literature Matters” was the theme of the lecture by Professor Prafulla C. Kar on 22 September 2012. Dr. Kar first looked at the grim scenario and disciplinary decadence in humanities in general and literature in particular. He examined the subtle associations between art and life, artistic expression and inspiration from experiences, artist and the world through metaphors and allusions. A writer’s perspective of the world is similar to a fleeting, fragmented view through the perforated sheet in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.  Literature is mask-like on the face of life; it’s a parabasis (mask) hiding the face of the performer who removes it to reveal his face at the end- a moment of epiphany. The mask allusion has other dimensions when one thinks of Captain Ahab’s exhortation to “strike through the mask” in Moby Dick.   Aschenbach’s obsessive pursuit of beautiful, elusive, enigmatic Tadzio in Death in Venice is similar to the quest for the art-object, an inspiration or fulfillment. Professor Kar spoke of the ‘social critique’ and problematization that literature facilitates.

An Evening with three Gujarati poets

Raman Soni with Kamal Vora

Sitanshu Yashaschandra with Sameer Bhatt

Shinsh Panchal with Rajesh Pandya

As part of its occasional lecture program, Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences initiated a new series of events, “Expressions and Understandings.” This series reaffirms our commitment to multilingual endeavours that would bring in a culture of diversity to our Centre and its programs. On Thursday, 25 October 2012, the Centre organized “An Evening with three Gujarati poets- Kamal Vora, Samir Bhatt, Rajesh Pandya” from 6-8 pm.  In her introduction to “Expressions and Understandings,” Bini B.S. looked at the possibilities of encouraging multilingualism and giving a platform for plurality of ideas and polyphony of expressions and their interpretations. The culture of diversity is not forced homogenization. Raman Soni gave a brief introduction to the works of Kamal Vora and discussed the unique turn of idiom in the poet’s craft. Sitanshy Yashaschadra insightfully analyzed the poetic oeuvre of Shri.Samir Bhatt and spoke on the refreshing new voices in Gujarati poetry.  Shirish Panchal’s introduction to the works of Rajesh Pandya was an erudite overview of the poets work. Coming from three different locations of geographical and aesthetic topography of Gujarati Poetry, and each bringing in fresh concerns and tonalities in their unique works, Kamal Vora (Mumbai), Samir Bhatt ( Rajkot ) and Rajesh Pandya (Vadodara) read from their poems and interacted with the audience.  More than fifty poetry lovers attended the event and participated in the discussion. 

 

Vasudha Thozhur, a renowned a painter based in Baroda made an interactive presentation on her work, “The Anatomy of Celebration: or The Party Plot” on Saturday 27 October 2012 at 4 pm at the Centre. The narrative, juxtaposed with visuals, videos, photographs and paintings, examined the nature of ‘celebration’, with specific reference to our unique cultural and political context. The preparations and festivities extend over several days, and the manufacture of the paraphernalia required is an industry in itself. The scenario gives rise to several questions: Is this celebration? What are we celebrating, and how does it enhance our lives, if at all? Or is it merely a safety valve or a smoke-screen, sometimes provided by the powers that be, which obscures the poverty - material, emotional and cultural - that needs to be urgently addressed? In spite of these questions, the sheer force of the aspirations that are released actually create artworks/performances that are astonishing in scope and visual spectacle – as are the ‘Party Plots’,  a new genre in terms of public spaces that host weddings, functions and parties in Gujarat. Vasudha’s work, “The Anatomy of Celebration’ is an attempt to unravel the ‘plot’, to excavate answers, look at paradoxes, and grapple with media that would best express this attempt –thereby discovering a route that would lead back to the heart of the creative process, regardless of the accompanying disquiet. The participants, mostly artists and art students, discussed with the speaker the artists’ responses to the events and happenings around them and the way the contexts influence artistic creation.

Vasudha studied at the College of Arts and Crafts , Madras , and the School of Art and Design, Croydon , UK . Besides participation in exhibitions in the country and abroad, her institutional work has included lectures, teaching and workshops. Two grants from the India Foundation for the Arts, Bangalore , between 2004 – 2006/2009 – 2011, supported a research project,’ The Himmat Workshops’. Among other things, the project looked at ways of rooting art practice in ground and other realities as experienced in our location in India . Vasudha’s other interests include writing and music; text, both written and spoken, is incorporated in various ways into her practice. 

Christopher Pinney

Christopher Pinney, the distinguished anthropologist and art historian who is currently Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London delivered two talks. Dr. Pinney’s research interests cover the art and visual culture of South Asia, with a particular focus on the history of photography and chromolithography in India . He has also worked on industrial labor and Dalit goddess possession. His publications include Photography and Anthropology (2011, Reaktion & OUP: Delhi ) and Lessons from Hell: Printing and Punishment in India , forthcoming from Tara Books (Chennai). On November 6, 2012 he gave a talk titled “Gandhi, Camera, Action! Anti-Corruption Politics and Image Citation in 21st Century India .” He presented several visuals such as photographs, paintings, posters, and other forms of representations linked to the anti-corruption movement initiated by Anna Hazare in summer 2011 and analyzed how Hazare emerged as the iconic figurehead of anti-corruption politics. The Indian media drew parallels with the Arab Spring and suggested that he was a second Gandhi, “come again.” The talk explored the question of repetition and citation in popular Indian visual culture, across mass-produced images and film, engaging the manner in which aesthetics (and the politics which it animates) is both constrained and liberated by the need to always be “half-seen in advance.” Dr. Pinney suggested that the creativity of this citationality demands a theorization of bricolage as a logic which is performatively “hot” and expansive.  “Impressions of Hell: Printing and Punishment in Colonial India” was the theme of Dr. Pinney’s lecture on November 7. With a series of visuals, he explored how the Lithographic printing fast-tracked images of hell to new broader publics in late 19th century India . These printed karni bharni (“reap as you sow”) images reproduced a pre-existing manuscript iconography but intensified their scale through their proliferation and repetition. He discussed intensively on how printed impressions thus came to impress their viewers in new ways. These images offer an iconic replication of (mis)deeds through the form that punishments take, demonstrating one of the ‘concrete’ dimensions of mimesis, and in the process ally themselves to very specific practices of power (whose late 20th century incarnation in the Emergency is also discussed). He pointed out that mimesis entails the impossibility of returning to the off-stage what has been brought on-stage, as J.M. Coetzee observes. Coetzee also locates a danger and positivity in our demand to see (those things as he puts it that “we want to see because we are human”). We might think of this as the signature of the visible: its ratchet effect, the permanent effect of the positivity of mimesis which can never be deleted. He substantiated the power and the danger of these images by showing many images that can be considered to be visual metaphors. Over 70 people, mostly artists and students of fine arts and art history, attended these lectures.

 

William D. Pederson, Director of the International Lincoln Center at Louisiana State University Shreveport delivered a lecture on Understanding Barack Obama: The “Rational-Democrat” on Friday, 21 December 2012 at 4 pm. He observed that the United State’s forty-fourth president remains a puzzle to much of the public, pundits, and political scientists, yet there is considerable theory from political psychologists which helps to understand his motivation especially when put into comparison with other political leaders and presidents.  The argument of Dr. Pederson’s presentation was that three key factors help to explain his behavior.  First, as America’s first bi-racial president, he is a physical, social and intellectual outsider with “ants in his pants.”  Second, he resolved his “psychological marginality” positively by choosing to self-actualize through the political arena.  He enjoys working on resolving public policy issues rationally whether it is health care or preventing genocide in Libya.  Third, from an early age Obama has identified with America’s sixteenth president as its most psychologically marginal president who became the nation’s Great Emancipator and the world’s most successful democrat.  Both Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama possess active-flexible personalities with a “rational democratic” leadership style.  Pederson pointed out that the danger of that leadership style is that such leaders may overestimate the rationality of the public and their opposition as Lincoln did toward Unionists in the South and Obama has done with the modern Republican Party driven by extremist ideology.  

William D. Pederson received his Ph.D. in 1979 from the University of Oregon, USA.  After briefly working at the U.S. Department of State and the National Institutes of Health, he became the founding director of the International Lincoln Center at Louisiana State University Shreveport which holds the only presidential conference series in the American South.  Among his 30 books are James Madison (Ohio University Press, 2008); Lincoln Lessons (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009); and A Companion to Franklin D. Roosevelt (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).