Writing as a Personal Act which is Political : From an Intimate Distance
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect”, so goes a quote attributed to well known writer Anaïs Nin. Returning to write this regular column “from an intimate distance” once again after a gap of some years is an act to sense my life both “in retrospect” and “in the moment”. Indeed, for me, writing has always been an expression of a conversation between life and letter. It is a way to experience life as it gets unfolded as much as it is an act of providing intelligibility to the moral agency of the self. In that sense, writing is a deeply personal act which is political at the same time.
The epoch making events that the state has witnessed over the last few decades have shaped my life as an individual just as those events have also refashioned the trajectory of our collective life. A retrospective look at those events revealed that existential relationship through a conversation between “life and letter”. For, many of those writings, beginning with my first one in print media in the first half of 1980s, stand as testimony of the relationship between writing and unfolding realities of life.
Writing as “Discourse”: Two Way Relation
Writing is not a mere “representation” of “reality” in words. And today, it does not even sound radical to say that it is an act in words in the real world to shape reality, its contours and substance. For the simple fact is that writing is a part of “discourse”, which is nothing but, in simple terms, what, how and why one sees the way one sees the world and responds to the same which shapes her world (and in fact her being). That is to say, “discourse” as an expression, beyond the commonsensical meaning of “written or spoken communication or debate”, carries a meaning that what you speak or write about reality is the reality that you sense, understand, relate to and create.
In short, like its counterpart expression “praxis”, “discourse” is a term that denies the traditional dichotomy between “theory” and “practice”. In a way, it is a complement to what philosopher Gilles Deleuze says, “Practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another, and theory is a relay from one practice to another”.
Writing is also an act of criticism which is political. It is a criticism, not in the traditional sense of merely an expression of disapproval of, or finding fault with, someone or something, particularly on the basis of articulated faults and mistakes. Writing as criticism is more than that, if not that. To me, writing as criticism is akin to what Michel Foucault, well known French thinker, puts what a critique is: “A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest…Criticism is a matter of flushing out that thought and trying to change it: to show that things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such. Practicing criticism is a matter of making facile gestures difficult.”
Writing in newspaper is an involvement in “public sphere”, that is, a space wherein individuals come together to discuss and identify societal issues and problems in order to influence political actions, a domain wherein state and civil society communicate. Incidentally, appearance of “editorial articles” in newspaper is considered by thinkers as an aspect of the emergence of “public sphere” in modern times. In that sense, the writing in newspaper acquires its political character all the more just as, more crucially, it stands as a mirror to the society that we live in.
Writing as invitation to make choices
In a way, it can be said that both print and electronic media in Manipur as constituents of “public sphere” embody that society and polity, what the people in that society/state think and do. Not only the news but also the editorials and opinion pieces that print media carry or the discussions on electronic media, all speak of what that society/polity is all about.
In this sense, it also reflects the challenges that society/state confronts and the choices which have been made or not made, something which have come to define and characterize Manipur as a society and/or a state. Thus, if one were to think of understanding and changing the state of affairs in the state, one must take writing, especially in media, seriously.
Incidentally, some twelve (12) years back, while introducing a memorial lecture (Arambam Somorendro Memorial Lecture), Shri Thounaojam Tarunkumar, a veteran journalist and editor of an erstwhile publication called Resistance, a man who has seen and experienced the churning in Manipuri society and polity, wrote:
“We all know Manipur, and Manipuris have gone through historically tumultuous times during our own lives. Yet, individually as well as collectively, we have tended to absorb all the slings and arrows that these tumults have served on us. Very few of us have chosen to engage these tumults in terms of raising the whys, hows, and wherefores, let alone the rights and wrongs of it. The choices that have gone unexercised in the wake of these tumults point to the debates suppressed in each of us and in the public sphere.”
Thus, writing in print media as a part of a “discourse” in “public sphere”, as a “criticism” is to bring out, not suppress, the nature of “choices” which have been made or those “which have gone unexercised” in the wake of those tumultuous moments in the life of the collective. It is a political act that I, as an individual person, not some shallow or dishonest “we” that hides a self seeking I, take full responsibility to set the terms of reference of engagement and the way we see, think, relate to and create our realities.
To conclude, I take writing, especially in newspaper, very seriously for the reasons I have stated above. In fact, writing in print media as a “here-and-now” act, a part of “action” (in Hannah Arendt’s sense of the term perhaps) in the “public sphere” is very different from writing technical publications for an esoteric academic community. It has been a privilege that one is able to lead a life which can have both forms of writing. I extend my sincere invitation to my readers to be a part of this new edition of “From an Intimate Distance”, to make sense of our shared life, make choices and define and determine its course…
Republish by special arrangement with People’s Campaign for Resurgent Manipur (PCRM http://resurgentmanipur.org;https://www.facebook.com/PCRM2022/).
(The author teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
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