Sunday, March 28, 2010

Notes from the classroom

Having assigned the ten students in my feature writing class a short assignment, in which they were to write the first instalment of a column to be called "The personal is political", I could not stop my pen from picking itself up and joining them in the furious scratching on paper. This is what emerged....

Sitting in the classroom, the fan whirrs above my head, casting a rapidly rippling shadow over the lined book-page (does a moving object "cast" a shadow?), making my words seem like they are emerging from under the waters of a flowing river. How is the act of writing, this movement of thought from mind to page, a political act? What is the exercise and expression of power that it implies? Is the political resident inherently in the symbols we create, consciously and otherwise (for one might argue that there can be no true unconscious, everything one does is the sum of deliberations over time)? The fact that I use one turn of phrase rather than another--is that political? Is it that I carry ten pens, none of them costing more than twenty rupees, to ensure that my words do not run into an inkless vacuum? Is it that I write--and mostly think--in English? Is it that I sit here, at the head of this cloth-covered table, striking the pose of writing teacher, with the power to tell my students to bend over their books and apply themselves to a task of my choosing? Does the labeling of these acts and their attendant intentions trivialise what most of us understand as politics? Is the political in fact restricted to the popular understanding of the term "politics"? Or does the fact of being a human being occupying--naturally and otherwise--certain positions in relation to others (always, in relation to others), constitute an essential politic-ality? And here my pen pauses.

Because what that implies is that every act, every thought, whether in performance or interpretation, must be framed, unframed, reframed, as political.

And that's what this space is about. About looking at our lives--one's life--with a microscopic intensity, bringing to bear on it all the harshness of ethical illumination, so that it is rendered clear, its antecedents and possible consequences made visible.


So that we can then take each step that we do take (and reflect on those we do not take) with full awareness and responsibility.

One might then say that such intense reflectivity/reflexivity robs life of spontaneity. On one level, perhaps this is true. But on another, it calls for an internalisation of the process of reflection in a way that makes all thought, all action, ethical, or sensitive to consequence.

And maybe that is one way in which we can hope to live the good life.