Thursday, November 02, 2017

A quote from Tristes Tropiques

 " My hypothesis, if correct, would oblige us to recognize the fact that the primary function of written communication is to facilitate slavery. The use of writing for disinterested purposes, and as a source of intellectual and aesthetic pleasure, is a secondary result, and more often than not it may even be turned into a means of strengthening, justifying or concealing the other. (p. 299)"
P.S. A response from Ramarao Kanneganti to the above post on Facebook:
The initial written communications were for accounting, to support private property. It also is used for organizing and governing people. As such, it supported and enabled the existing governance structures: slavery, monarchy, feudalism, colonialism, imperialism etc.

It also enabled opposition to the existing governance. Which is why, it was controlled in the olden times. For example, reading and writing were controlled in Egyptian and Indian civilizations. In Sumerian times, it was controlled by a guild.

Incidentally, in Sanskrit, writing is considered inferior and looked down upon. It was the elaborate oral traditions that sustained the memory of the traditions, not writing. It exerted more control over dissemination of the information than writing ever did. 

When the control was challenged, say like Martin Luther (with the advent of printing press), it led to fight against the existing governance structures. What we see with twitter and FB is exactly that. Brexit, Trump is the outcome of challenge to the existing controls and traditions.

Next, we understand there is a secondary purpose to writing: literature, preserving history, culture, arts and such. The big question is, are they intertwined with the primary? That is, does Indian classical music support caste system?

The facts look indisputable. Like any German alive during the WW II are guilty either by action or inaction, any literature that does not talk about slavery (or caste system) is complicit in it. Anything positive that art does reflects positively on status quo, which is built on a hierarchical system that is exploitative. That is what Sri Sri meant, perhaps “గతమంతా తడిసెను రక్తంతో కాకుంటే కన్నీళులతో”. 

Still, it is a difficult question. We have only one history, even if we interpret in radically different ways with the current day assumptions. Most reform movements are about changing the primary function, retaining and embellishing the secondary function of writing. For example, when we retell Mahabharata from the perspective of Ekalavya, or from the perspective of Chitrangada, we are trying to change the primary function of writing. 

I see the conflicts between marxists, Progressives, and Dalit intellectuals on these separation and acceptance of primary and secondary functions of written communication, in particular its history.

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