Superficial v.01: Marking the Aesthetic Territory

I’ve been extremely charmed and completely taken by Jacques Rancière’s esoteric philosophical doctrine on ‘aesthetics’ and its relationship with the realm of politics. His conceptualisation of the ‘aesthetic regime of the arts’ acts as a handy heuristic device to identify the role and influence of the arts in the public sphere.

The (high)art world is generally tied in with power and money; inaccessible to common uncultured senses; reliant on the largesse of rich, private patrons. Ofcourse, there are countless examples of those that have broken free from the specific rules, hierarchies, genres that have come to bind art forms but as a society we still find it difficult to articulate the value of art beyond the financial.

Recently, I was introduced to an interesting project called Superficial v.01(planned as a 10 part series) by an Indian artist, Vaibhav Raj Shah aka The Beauty Inspector. As part of this project that began in 2012(to be confirmed), Shah surveys different sites in Mumbai and leaves behind a graffiti tag or gives out sheets of paper commenting on the space, person or objects’s exterior aesthetic merit. His tags, in particular, serve as a sarcastic reminder and critique of the “marks”or performance-obsessed Indian society/mentality and exemplifies the everyday unruliness brought to you by local Indian artists through a new language of political graffiti adorning public spaces – all this at a time when cleaning up and beautifying public spaces has been high on the political agenda of the current Government but low on execution.

“I award marks out of a 100. To me, it’s a form of abstract satisfaction when compared to 100, a subjective idealism, would derive an equally abstract derivation of beauty. It is a subjective point of view, taken by objectifying everything around me.”
– Vaibhav Raj Shah 

Shah’s work is really intriguing and as an emerging artist on the Indian landscape I thought it might be a good idea to understand the conditions under which he chose to produce this. Stay tuned for my next podcast where I will be interviewing Shah and throwing in my own two cents about his work as an example of the aesthetic regime of art at play.

Until then, I leave you with a few pictures from his project that I found on the interweb (published without permission).

50589-1421314529-Vaibhav Raj Shah, Landscape Photography Breach Candy, 22x34 in50588-1421660302-Vaibhav Raj Shah

50587-1421314444-Vaibhav Raj Shah 92 100 Superficial, Acrylic on Canvas, 6

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The Indian Woman is Agamben’s Sacred Man

There is something profoundly bewildering about the schizophrenia of India’s treatment of a woman- a stubborn irreconcilability to the multiple manners in which she is constructed, portrayed and engaged with. She is devi (goddess), earth, mother, carer, breeder- delicate and pure; but also seductress, whore, temptress, tainted- bleeding and foul.

A baffling mix of personal experiences of reverence and contempt,  esteem and distaste, respect and derision constantly obfuscated my attempts to successfully characterise the nature and place of the woman in India.

Until, that is, I met Agemben and his sacred man. Agamben’s theory of the ambivalence of the sacred brilliantly illuminates the contradictory nature of the treatment of the homo sacer or the sacred man. The homo sacer is he who can be killed but not sacrificed- a banned creature who is simultaneously sacred and impure, sacrosanct and denounced. He is a singular embodiment of the pure and the impure, simultaneously auspicious and inauspicious, and condemned to a life of eternal vulnerability in his position as one whose killing cannot be sanctioned.

There could not be more apposite a conceptualisation. The Indian woman is Agamben’s sacred man. All at once, she is august and damned, hallowed and cursed, divine and repugnant, virtuous and obscene.

Crop top

Eyes won’t drop

She’s as vile as vile can be

Gaze averted

Long skirted

She’s a regular devi

The chilling reality that this contradictory, antithetical construction of the Indian woman translates to is a permanent state of incertitude- of being and remaining forever violable, rapeable, killable without reproach. It is this position of vulnerability that forms the foundational basis for protest and resistance against gender based violence in India. And from the ambivalence that frames this vulnerability, spring two unique formulations of the Indian woman in protest.

The first manifests itself through campaigns like Slutwalk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SlutWalk) and the Pink Chaddi Campaign (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Chaddi_Campaign). Where the Indian woman brazenly declares herself as sexual, material, carnal and provides her physicality, her venereality as the site for resistance and protest. Where the materiality of her body is not stifled or concealed, nor subtly alluded to, but front and centre of the revolution. Where her impurity is acknowledged and embraced, and then its characterisation as impure challenged.

The second construction  of the Indian woman is the very inverse of the first. It plays instead on the veneration of the Indian woman- her sanctity, righteousness and virtue. It appeals to the good and pious in potential perpetrators, beseeches them to reach deep into their moral rectitude and see women for the divinity they embody. The Abused Goddesses Campaign is the ultimate portrayal of this, depicting various Indian goddesses as powerless victims of abuse:

Goddess 1 Goddess 2 Goddess 3

Since my first exposure to these images, and profoundly more after my dalliance with Agamben, I have developed a strong discomfort with the latter construction of the Indian woman. Aside from its valorisation and fetishisation of victimhood, it serves to produce the good Indian woman, pious and worthy of protection, and its antithesis- the impure woman. It retains the element of uncertainty and susceptibility in its blatant appeal to potential perpetrators, dispensing with any focus on women reclaiming control of their own bodies and destiny. A venerated woman remains a vulnerable one.

Agemben has shown me that our accursedness will be our ultimate release. It is only through a visibalised, unapologetic performance of our physicality, our bodily materiality that we can liberate ourselves. Our impurity is our salvation.

Democrazy, Xenophobia and the unpalatability of Nandos

South Africans take pride in referring to South Africa as a Rainbow nation. This is because of the country’s diversity in race and culture. However, the recent attacks on foreigners in Durban and Johannesburg has exposed a truth that for many South Africans is a ‘tough pill to swallow’. The attacks have contradicted the rhetoric of inclusivity, human rights and ties to the rest of Africa. The violence against foreigners that erupted in Durban and spread to Johannesburg is not unprecedented, the violence is a reawakening of an unsettling monster that political leaders have failed to bury following the xenophobic violence of 2008.

The reminder of the logic of diminishing circles of inclusion in the country takes me back to two things that have defined my vitriolic hate for violence against foreigners. One being the research I undertook for my honours dissertation on Somali migrants living and working in Mayfair, Johannesburg, and the other being a satirical ad released by Nandos following the 2008 Xenophobic attacks. While the research provided powerful insight into the lived realities of African migrants in South Africa, it is the ad that invites South Africans to reflect on what it really means to be South African in a world characterised by the flexible mobility of people.

Mild, Lemon and Herb or Peri-Peri, Nando’s offers a casual dining experience, delicious chicken and some ingeniously crafted advertisements that hit a chord, commenting on South African current affairs. The ad which is still available on youtube was banned by South African broadcasters shortly after it was released. It was banned on the grounds of its ‘unorthodox’ way of tackling issues of diversity and xenophobia.

The ad begins with a group of ‘foreign’ Africans jumping through a fence at the South African Border, with the voice over artist saying, “You know what’s wrong with South Africa? It’s all you foreigners”.The ad continues to depict daily life with snapshots of the city capturing everyday South Africans in their stereotyped undertakings. The Asians are offloading shipped goods, the Afrikaaner is driving his ‘bakkie’ with his dog seated next to him and labourers at the back of the vehicle. White South Africans are in their car parked on a dodgy corner being approached by Nigerians. The South Asians are in a factory. As the voice over lists the different nationalities, “you Cameroonians, Congolese, Pakistani’s, Somali’s, Ghanians” etc they all vanish in a puff of smoke. Before you think it’s discriminatory to other African ‘foreigners’, Black South Africans including Zulu’s Tswana’s, Sotho’s and Venda’s are all called out and vanishing in a puff of smoke. The last shot is of a Khoi-san man, the ‘true’ South African who says,”I’m not going anywhere, you found us here”

“Real South African love diversity”.

On a historical premise, this ad is correct. All South Africans are in a ‘twisted’ way foreigners – all striving to live in a peaceful, happy and tolerant environment. The public broadcaster justified the ban to the ad stating that it enrages people and fuels xenophobic attacks. I didn’t and still don’t believe that this ad incites violence. On the contrary, it seeks to unite us and encourage South Africans to shatter the illusion that their problems can be solved through the exclusion of certain people. South Africa has had a brutal past, and the materialisation of those violent excesses in the contemporary moment needs good leadership to supress the rise in hate crime and uphold the democratic principles.

Conversations with the better half….I mean other half!

unruly photo

The husband: So, you need to write a blog right, what is the problem?

Me: Well I am not sure what to write about, maybe latest farmer suicides in India, they have been quite disturbing; to me the impact of the new land acquisition bill seems to be leaving the farmers with no choice but to protest by taking their lives. Their “entire existence is reduced to a bare life stripped of every right by virtue of the fact that anyone can kill him without committing homicide”. Or I could write about the time I was protesting for AAP- the anti-corruption movement. Though AAP managed to gather people from all walks of life, what I found fascinating in their fight against corruption was their involvement of urban Delhi youth. AAP in that moment was able to dent the understanding of citizenship in the minds of young Delhi-ites. For me, the youth and their engagement with the city expressed through this movement was an ‘event’ in itself. An ‘Event’ happens when the excluded part appears on the social scene, suddenly and drastically. It ruptures the appearance of normality, and opens a space to rethink reality from the standpoint of its real basis in inconsistent multiplicity. Delhi urban youth, whether voluntarily removed or excluded because of other factors were present in huge numbers. I would love to ponder a little bit more over this thought..and see where it takes me….

The Husband: hmm…. That’s interesting… I was thinking you could even write about ‘liminality’ (even I know the terms now!). I remember, post that lecture you went into a self-reflective mode. Do you remember telling my about your tryst with liminality? I found it quite interesting that your liminal experiences have been deeply connected with your drive to fight for equality in your own life. Feeling power by retaliating to a bunch of harassing drunk men in the streets of Delhi alone at night to me seems like a liminal experience.

Me: Wow, did you really make all those connections! So you do listen when I talk (smile to myself…) …. I guess if “to have been to the margins, is to have been in contact with danger, to have been at a source of power” (Alves 1993, p.915), I have been there, I have put myself in danger, I have taken chances, and I have felt powerful by exerting my identity as a woman. I guess I was ‘unruly’, taking risks just to prove a point that if a man could I could…it seems temporary and less liminal now because though I feel the same way my mode of expressing it has changed, there is a constant calculation of risk and effectiveness. I still desire the same impact but my modus operandi has changed.

The husband: Ok I have a meeting, got to go. I suggest write about one of the three and get it done!

Me: No, but you don’t get it, I still have a bunch of other ideas..can I please pleaseeeee share one more?

The Husband: (a bit irritated) ……..Fine 5 more mins!

Me: Maybe I can write about the film ‘Sixth Happiness’. I remember the first time I saw it, it created a rupture, at least somewhere in me, I changed the way I thought about sexuality and disability. It is the story of a disabled Indian boy (writer and lead character), with brittle bones and about 4 feet tall for life and his tryst with sexuality with lovers both male and female. The aesthetics of this film made me experience the power and politics of sex and sexuality through the medium of cinema. It brought to light the politics around the creation of aesthetics. Ranciere, made me think of the link between aesthetics and politics by analyzing the visible and the invisible, the audible and the inaudible, the thinkable and the unthinkable and the possible and the impossible. https://vimeo.com/58040363

The Husband: Ok….now this is getting complicated and I think you are on your own (just like I was during my entire masters!)

Me: Yes, I know its complicated, to the extent that I don’t know how much I understand some of these theories and how much sense I am making writing about them, but the point is that these few weeks have made me reflect on my own experience. I think I can now appreciate the Unruly lens and hope that I will keep going back to some of these philosophers, keep finding ruptures, participate in ‘events’ and continue my journey of being Unruly and trying to understand Unruly Politics!

Bibliography

Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Part two: homo sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 71-115.

Alves, J. (1993). ‘Transgressions and transformations: initiation rites among urban Portuguese boys’ in American Anthropologist, December 1993, 95(4), pp. 894-928.

Badiou, A. (2012) The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings. London: Verso.

Ranciere, J., et al (2006) ‘The distribution of the sensible’, in The Politics of Aesthetics,London: Continuum, pp. 7-46.

Mask of the insensible

The claps grew louder as I pushed him to the ground.  He scrapped with his open scars into the corner.

The slipping fingers engraved his defeat onto the walled graphite. The mask of his immunity now rested on the floor.

The army looked in affirmation. The chained cuffed hands were folded behind and lips were muted in ecstasy. The whirls of smoke blew from their trumpets. The assembling sparrows danced to the anthems. The rupture crawled onto their mantles. Truth of the veiled oppressed had emerged.

I tried to wash it but it was engraved. It was now part of me.

The real was waiting out there for me. The tracks were stranded in anticipation. I had to get back into merges of sand people.

I could hear their Laughter and whispers….the noise of the commons. The tapping of the footsteps, the joy of being delusional.

Yet I couldn’t go. I felt strange. It felt inappropriate to confront them. I was turning into something, which I didn’t know.  Something which wasn’t from amenity of these streets. Something which was lonesome in tavern of its own.

I sat on the wooden stool staring at the mirror. It was silent, yet in remorse. I tried to wash it but it was engraved, it was part of me now.

The noise of the crowd, the  whirling smoke, the inevitable wasn’t there.  I couldn’t see winds of victory.  My rupture had culminated. The shadows mounted like barren mountains.

The curtains had been shed, pied Piper was whistling on narrow alleys… Few nomads in tattered clothes were smoking pot in seclusion.

“What language do you speak” the superintendent asked me

With degree of assuredness I replied ” The language which you hear and feel. The language that silently grows onto mountains”

He grew impatient and said “Apart from  your mumbles I can’t hear nor feel anything ”

“You need to listen to it, you have to follow the tracks of the sparrows. It won’t come to you” I said rather philosophically

“Look it doesn’t make sense to me, it is important that you speak a clear language to make things easier for you” He said rather cynically

I didn’t know what to say. His gobbling eyes and thick mustache layered upon me  The paint of his skin grew thicker and eyes were paused over me.

The mirror was still staring at me, and I was staring at person that was someone else

“We act and perform as if we have no real faces.  The characters are our life. The blood of these  revives our soul ” I told him

“What your character do is your creation. You are responsible for their action. You have to pay for their rupture, you can’t wash them away” He said

My lips were colored in red. The face was spreading painted seas of the unreal. It was engraved. I couldn’t wash it away. I had to go back, but it felt inappropriate. It felt strange.

The hand were untied and army dispersed into narrow alleys. They were real, the stains of the graphite had been washed. The streets were again emblem of sanity, the noise, the puff and the footsteps were again the inevitable.

I tried to wash it but it was engraved, I was the rupture but that moment was my mask. And My mirror… possession of what I had left on narrow alleys of the sensible……

This prose depict masks and frames we cover onto our real on a daily basis. These masks are engraved on our sensibilities and have a life of their own. They speak a language and act in a manner which creates ruptures around us.

However this masks, which we embody subconsciously becomes real to us which we can’t wash away. Yet the actual real which remains in the sensible distances away from us. This leads us into zone of fragmentation where we both yearn for the mask but resonance and calling of the sensible disrupts what we mask in the unreal. 

 

References

Tilly, C. (2008) ‘Claims as performances’, in Contentious Performances, Chapter 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-30.

Ranciere, J., et al (2006) ‘The distribution of the sensible’, in The Politics of Aesthetics, London: Continuum, pp. 7-46.

Scott, J. (1990) ‘Behind the official story’ in Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.  New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 1-16.

Fanon’s book “The Wretched of the Earth” and Agamben’s concept of “bare life”

More I read about Fanon’s book “The wretched of the Earth” (1961) (In French: Les Damnés de la Terre), more I make connections with some Unruly Politics theories. I have for example recently used in one of my essay James Scott (1990) and his notion of hidden transcript- which he uses to unpack relationship between the powerful and the powerless- to understand Fanon’s description of the colonizer / colonized relationship. This specific relationship, and the concept of violence in the process of decolonization, is indeed at the heart of Fanon’s last book. His definition of the irruption of violence that precede decolonization, could be understood, I argue in my essay, as what Scott conceptualizes as the explosion that are created by the constant pressure of the wearing of a mask. Indeed, the powerless wears a mask when he is in the presence of the powerful in order to please the powerful. But such behaviors are not real, they are an act, because behind the mask, or in the backstage, which Scott defines as the hidden transcript, there is another reality where the powerless talk, critic and resist.

But Scott is not the subject of this post and I am planning to publish this essay here for the ones interested. Here I want to talk about Agamben (1998) and his concept of “bare life”, derived from the “Homo Sacer”. The concept of bare life will allow us to better understand Fanon, but Fanon will also provides a different approach in which bare life can be used as tool for Unruly Politics action.

The Homo Sacer is a condition that can be comprehended by understanding the two following concepts: (1) Bios, or political life which is life defined by its existence in society, (2) Zoé, or natural life, given by god, therefore sacred. Homo Sacer is someone that has lost his political life and has been reduced to its natural life. In other words it is someone that has been forced to bare life. The holocaust is the most striking example of the bare life in which prisoners were reduced to. They have been deprived of political life, thus couldn’t benefit from the rights entitled to any citizens; they were reduced to an animal condition. Agamben also argues that “sovereignty” is the power to define the boundaries of the area where an individual will be reduced to bare life, such as the concentration camps.

Fanon description of the colonized is in my opinion a good illustration of what Agamben characterized as bare life. But first I want to discuss the sovereign and his creation of boundaries to produce the area where bare life would be enforced. Fanon described the colonized world as separated into two towns. The “colonizer town” is made of concrete, of wealth and luxury, it is a place inhabited by white people. The “colonized town” is the complete opposite, it is a place where people are all pilled up together, it is an infamous area, where there is nothing except envy and jealousy to be in the colonizer town. The boundaries between those two towns are made of barracks, armed guards and other exemplification of violence and power. The sovereign from Agamben’s definition is in Fanon the colonizer because he is the one who has drawn the boundaries and created this area of exclusion. It is indeed in this area that the colonized have been reduced to bare life by the colonizer, through the use of violence, violence that is also used to maintain the colonized in this condition and area. Reduced to bare life, the colonized have been denied their political life, their Bios has been take away from them.

Even though the concept of bare life has a negative connotation, as it relates to reduction, deprivation, etc, it can also be used in a more positive way as a tool to re-enter the political life, or to challenge the sovereign who is restricting political life from people. It is this idea of bare life that makes sense as an Unruly Politics Action. “Human rights” movement came for example after the holocaust, where the bare life was exposed to the world. Bare life allowed for the creation of human rights. There is a ‘return from the realm of bare life to the political life’ (Khanna 2015). Other Unruly Politics actions such as self-immolation, hunger strike, naked demonstration, etc. are all using the bare life to which they have been reduced, to re-enter the political life, or to re-negotiate its access.

This is where it becomes interesting. Where Unruly Politics action uses the “condition” or the situation in which one is, bare life, as a tool to claim political life, I argue that the use of the process by which one has been reduced to bare life, and not the final condition, could be the tool for re-claiming political life. Fanon provides a good illustration of this idea, as his main argument is that the only way decolonization can be achieved, is through the use of violence. He argues that the only language of the colonizer is violence, and that because colonization and the reduction to bare life has been achieved and imposed through violence, the only response to this language is the use of violence. There are no negotiation or cohabitation possible and the colonizer must be destroyed and entirely replaced by the colonized. In other words, what Fanon says is that the process by which the colonized have been reduced to bare life, violence, should be used as the tool to re-claim political life.

Not only Fanon is best understood through Agamben’s concept of bare life, which is conceptualized by the colonized town, but he also provides an illustration of how the process by which one has been reduced to bare life could be used as a tool to re-enter political life. In Fanon’s book the process is violence, a rather extreme Unruly Politics mode of action, but it would be interesting to see in other examples how the process of being reduced to bare life could be used for Unruly Politics actions.

Bibliography

Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Part two: homo sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 71-115.

Fanon, F. (1961) Les damnés de la terre. Paris: Françcois Maspero éditeur SARL.

Khanna, A. (2015) SOUR 5 Session 3 The Body in Unruly Politics – death, life and everything in between (online video). Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyL9BfHCqX4   (Accessed: 11/05/2015).

Scott, J. (1990) ‘Behind the official story’ in Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 1-16.

Transgressive art

My interest for subversive art came together with climate change activism.  Some years ago, I learned the portmanteau word ‘artivism’ and got closer to artivists. This quote resonated with me: ‘The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible’ and I even had some artivist experiences in the streets of São Paulo!

Experiencing liminality during Carnival in Brazil
Experiencing liminality during Carnival in Brazil

Art has a potential that we, professional activists that spend most of the time looking to a computer screen, sometimes struggle to understand. Drawing lots of penis or ‘giant comedy phallus’, as the artist calls them, around potholes has much more impact than publishing a report about bad conditions of street pavement for cyclists. Unruly actions like these demand a quick response from the government. Indeed, that was the City Council statement: ‘Has this person, for just one second, considered how families with young children must feel when they are confronted with these obscene symbols as they walk to school?’

brilliant-street-artist-paints-penises-around-potholes-so-they-get-fixed-quick-image-5
Wanksy in action in the streets of Greater Manchester

Moving from the UK to Brazil, a stolen car became a symbol of the water crisis in São Paulo. The artist Mundano painted ‘Welcome to the Cantareira Desert’ on it and people started using it to measure if the water level of the reservoir was increasing or not.  This bothered the government that removed the car that had spent the last 20 years under the water in that place. Mundano then painted the car in a pillar to serve as an informal measure tool too. Official authorities painted over it less than a week later. These images travelled the world, I was  proud of Mundano when I saw his work in the Guardian and in one of the classes of the Sustainability module I took.

1000-horz

Unruly art is powerful because it contains the message on itself. It does not need explanation and it connects with peoples’ emotions. Can you guess what the following art is about? 140520_SPOT_MuralEventoDaPompeia.jpg.CROP.original-original

#GetToriesOut

Screenshot_2015-05-10-09-11-49-1

After reading Christina’s blogpost, I started to think about the dissatisfaction surrounding the election. Does the answer lie in electoral reform or in unruly action, or both? And then I heard about the anti-Tory protests.

Yesterday protests began in London against the newly elected Tory government, who won the general election with a slim majority. Protesters have used smoke bombs, and a number of people have been arrested. Strikingly, the protests were not initially reported in the mainstream UK media. The agitation isn’t only on the streets. My facebook newsfeed is dominated by people lamenting the outcome of the election, with articles like How to Leave the United Kingdom trending. Yet with 37% of the vote, the Conservatives still gained more support than any other party. It seems the nation is divided.

tories

The question everyone seems to be asking is What right do we have to protest a government that we elected?  I have read comments on youtube labelling protesters as ‘hypocritical socialists’ who can’t accept the democratic outcome. But was this outcome democratic? As Christina has argued, there are representational flaws in the system of First Past the Post, which allows a party to run the country despite the fact that 63% of voters did not vote for them. But the protests are targeted at the Conservative party and austerity measures, rather than attacking the electoral system. The message is Get the Tories Out rather than Get Proportional Representation In.

Representation through protest

Maybe rather than seeing protest as a means to change political representation, we should view it as political representation in itself. I think it’s unfair to paint the Anti-Tory movement as hypocritical. Millions of people do not have their political views given fair represention in parliament, and this heightens the need for other forms of political representation to be seized: people take to the streets to represent their own interests.

The figures that Christina presented below show how disproportional the seats are to the overall percentage of votes. I think this is most striking in Scotland, where around 50% of the population did not vote SNP and yet will have Scotland almost wholly represented by this party. I don’t think the percentages are even a fair reflection the views of the public, as people’s voting was strongly shaped by the First Past the Post system. People who might have voted Green voted Labour because they had more of a chance of keeping Conservatives out. Votes for the smaller parties are considered ‘wasted votes’, and so the voting percentages to some extent reflect tactical voting rather than true political views.

Proportional Representation?

I do have my reservations about Proportional Representation. PR is more likely to result in a coalition government, and I personally prefer the idea of a one party government that can quickly and effectively get things done. Even if we don’t agree with what they do, this can spark momentum to challenge this. And at least the FPTP system has kept out extreme parties such as UKIP, but will this too result in a backlash, with UKIP supporters seeking other forms of representation? I think these protests highlight the fact that people feel unrepresented by the election, so maybe electoral change is indeed needed.

So what now?

People are angry, people are disillusioned, people feel unrepresented. What’s the answer? Should we accept the outcome of our democratic system? Should we look to reform? Or should we protest? Are the current protests using the wrong approach by attacking the Tories rather than calling for electoral change?

These are questions that I would love to explore more, but for today it’s back to finishing up my term papers! What is striking is that it seems we’re entering an important time for British politics. Badiou would perhaps argue that we shouldn’t try and place a narrative on the meaning or objectives of the protests, but acknowledge them as events in themselves. There is a rupture in society and an opening up of discussion around our politics.

The disaster of democracy

david cameron Ed clegg sad nigel

On Thursday morning I went to vote before going to work. I felt proud as I stood in the queue at the polling station; empowered by the chance to use my political agency to influence the future of my country; grateful to the suffragettes who fought and died 100 years ago to allow women, me, this opportunity.

On Friday morning I felt defeated. Most of the UK was shocked. The exit polls on Thursday night indicated a status quo – Conservative government with potential top up by the Liberal Democrats. By Friday morning it was clear that the Conservatives had an obvious majority. The vote counting finished on Friday afternoon with the Conservatives on 331 seats – a slim majority.

And so, I have a problem. And it’s not sulking that the party I voted for isn’t in government. My problem is the system.

Our electoral system is elitist and disenfranchising

First Past the Post (FPTP) is democratic by name, but not by nature. Here are a few statistics for you:  (see here for the stats in full)

  • In this election, more people in the UK voted against the Conservative government (63%) than for it (37%). Yet they will be government for the next 5 years.
  • Labour received 30% of the total number of votes (7% less than the Conservatives), but 100 less seats in parliament than the Conservatives.
  • The SNP received less than 5% of the national number of votes, yet received 9% of seats in parliament (56 seats).
  • The Lib Dems received 8% of the national number of votes yet only 2% of the seats (8 seats).
  • UKIP received 13% of the total number of votes (yes, seriously) but only 1 seat (for this I am grateful). In a proportional system they would have 82 seats.
  • Greens received 4% of the total number of votes, yet only 1 seat. In a proportional system, they would have 24 seats.

The benefits of FPTP is that radical minority groups (think UKIP or Greens) don’t get as many seats as votes. The system favours the elites – the bigger parties who have a broader geographic spread. The bigger parties are over-represented. The smaller parties are under-represented. The voters are disenfranchised because votes don’t equal seats.

Now for my analysis:

The polls influenced expectations – and got it SO wrong.
The polls, right up until the exit polls were announced, predicted a hung parliament. They predicted that Labour and Conservatives would end up neck and neck (in fact, some predicted Labour with a one point lead) and that the government was up for grabs.

The only article I’ve seen with the right prediction is this one (which is well worth a read if you’re interested). Why aren’t pollsters employing these types of people to work for them? And is anyone ever going to trust a political poll again?

Coalition governments – a chance for reform of the system
After 2010’s hung parliament, the polls predicted another coalition government. Despite the UK’s scepticism of coalition governments (apparently less ‘stable’), I think they’re great. Some of the most effectively run, happiest countries and highest in human development indicators in the world have coalition governments (think Germany and Scandinavia).

Another coalition government would have shown the UK electorate that they are not so scary and not less stable. They do involve compromise, but I would argue that is not a bad thing. Coalition governments provide the opportunity for smaller parties to be in government, changing its flavour. I think several electoral cycles with coalition governments would prepare the UK population for moving to a more proportional system in the future. Unfortunately, we’re back to the old one party rule.

Scotland
nicola
Scotland is over-represented in the British parliament. Although it appears from the seats won that all of the entire Scottish population are SNP supporters, in reality, around 50% of Scots voted for SNP (similar to the number that voted yes in referendum!). Yet SNP won 56 of 59 Scottish seats. In a PR system, this just simply wouldn’t be the case.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m Scottish and am pleased for Scotland that they will have a stronger voice in an institution that has patronised them, marginalised them and taken them for granted for many years. This has been even more obvious since the sucking up to the Scots prior to the referendum, after which they’ve been duly shunned. The Scottish population is very different politically from the English (as are the Welsh population) and they feel disconnected from central government.

The Scottish got change for the better and will have a stronger voice in government; the rest of the UK however did not.

The end of the Labour party?
Labour needed their Scottish seats to be substantial competition to the Conservatives. They lost them and will struggle to regain them. Is this the end of ever having a ruling Labour government in the UK?

UKIP
Overall, the UK is becoming more nationalist. In Scotland these votes are going to the SNP (left-wing nationalism), in England to UKIP (right-wing nationalism). I was shocked at the number of votes UKIP got. I knew the UK was changing – dispersing the value of tolerance that has been encouraged by politicians and communities alike – but the stats provide quantitative evidence.

I think nationalist votes (and feel free to disagree with me) are unruly votes – I think people feel like the main parties don’t represent them, and so they are casting for alternative parties. They may not agree with all of their policies, but they stand for change. And change is needed.


Bringing agency back to democracy
So there a systematic choice: A majority system that favours the elites and discriminates against minority groups (and ultimately results in an unrepresentative government). Or, a proportional system in which every single person’s vote counts; that represents minority groups and majority groups equally, but could result in radical groups having a larger say in the governance of the country.

Which would you prefer? Or is there still another alternative?
How does the ‘system’ create and inform unruly behaviour?
Is there such a thing as an unruly vote?
Where is the exercise of the unruly within the system?
Is there such a thing as an unruly political system? And if so, how do we make it happen?

This revolution had best not be televised- Tinder and the zoe-fication of intimacy

First, a disclaimer: My intention here is not to homogenise the universe of individuals and their respective intentions, interests and interactions on Tinder. Nor is this meant to be some sanctimonious diatribe against particular attitudes or approaches towards intimacy. It is an attempt to employ some of the deeply compelling concepts I have recently been exposed to in order to make sense of a phenomenon that has come to be a curious part of my almost daily reality- to understand my particular experience of Tinder.

The nature of the beast:

Tinder is conceptually brilliant- it is an application that allows you to view and ‘match’ with potential romantic prospects in your immediate vicinity. These matches occur when two users have mutually expressed an interest in each other, based exclusively (well, almost) on an assortment of upto 5 pictures one is allowed to upload. Once matched, the Tinder-ers are able to exchange messages, and it is essentially up to them to take it from there in whatever direction they please.

Now this is the peculiar part. That direction, almost inevitably, has sounded something like ‘so will you sit on my face tonight or tomorrow night?’. The montage of screenshots below are but few of the more colourful conversation starters I have been treated to on Tinder.

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Agamben’s bare life:

This work has had an almost feverish hold on my imagination since my first exposure to it. Agamben, in his conceptualisation of sovereign power, distinguishes between zoe, or bare life, and bios, or political life. Zoe is essentially animal life, stripped of all political and social meaning, organism rather than citizen, representing the simple fact of living common to all creatures. Zoe, as I imagine it, eats, fucks and dies; rather than savours, makes love, and is mourned. Bios, on the other hand, represents life in society, with its associated political and social significance. The sovereign exercises its power through the production of bare life, through its monopoly over determining it’s people’s place between the realms of zoe and bios, nature and culture.

Agamben’s powerful framework has most often been used to understand the relationship between the state (or other articulations of the sovereign) and various entities- individuals, citizens, people. This blog seeks to explore if, much like an entity, a concept can be reduced to bare life- if an institution can be hollowed out, stripped of its broader socio-political meaning and significance, and rendered zoe.

The Zoe-fication of intimacy:

Mediated through Tinder, the complex, layered, poignant institution of intimacy is diminished to its most base, feral core- intercourse. This deeply involved experience is diluted to a politically, emotionally and socially bankrupt version of itself, singularly preoccupied with fornication. The sovereign here is the vulgar hegemony of neoliberal capitalism, pervading every aspect of our lived realities. On Tinder, we make sense of intimacy in the same way we have come to engage with every other element of our existence- in a commodified, transactional manner. In what is slowly becoming the only way we are capable sensing, being, interacting.

Tinder is the ultimate capitalist caricature- a virtual shopping mall for intimacy. Every element of its aesthetic is an exaggerated effort to make the experience appealing to the unidimensional neoliberal subject- the consumer. Individuals are relieved of their multiple intricacies and unabashedly marketed through reductionist imagery. The tone of this objectified, commodified aesthetic is so potent, so pervasive that it appears to extend its insidious influence into the limited space ostensibly open for human self expression- the description section. A curious majority of individuals on Tinder do not appear to self-identify as dancer, dreamer, cynic, misanthrope, hedonist, but as 6 ft 5, currently bearded, bendy. The very logic of Tinder is so firmly oriented towards transacting on coitus rather than facilitating meaningful connections that proximity forms the centrepiece of its mechanism. On Tinder, intimacy is, and only aspires to be zoe sans bios – quick, convenient, mechanical sex.

Liberation a la Tinder

But this dispiriting narrative does not do justice to my Tinder story. There is something deeply empowering about entering the realm of commodified sleaze with eyes wide open. Of being able to identify and declare yourself as a sexual being, and voluntarily, intentionally exposing yourself to a space designed for unapologetic, transactional physicality. There is a strong emancipatory potential to such witting, wilful vulnerability, of a blatant rejection of stifling public morality and social control, of an impenitent insertion of self into a realm of uncertainty- of experiencing liminality. Liminality (Alves, 1993) is a time of transition, a space characterised by social ambiguity, unsettled and unsettling. It is an experience achieved only through a transgression catapulting its subject into a social limbo. Within a liminal space, a state of communitas emerges, delivering individuals from the oppressive shackles of social norms and constituting a direct challenge to traditional human identities. Communitas liberates individual identities through a form of empowerment that is derived from an individual’s exposure to the uncertainty and insecurity inherent to entering a liminal space.

My time on Tinder has constituted a venture beyond the realms of the normative- an infraction of the what is demanded of a decent, middle class Indian girl. Tinder has served as my sexual rite of passage- allowing me to reclaim when, where and how I am, and am perceived as, a sexual object. My Tinder-aided communitas facilitated not a well harmonised merging of my multiple identities as daughter, Indian, student, sister, partner, but rather the emergence of an additional distinct, transcendent identity that rejected the insistence on conformity and reconciliation. My sexualness, an element of my identity I could not previously so much as isolate, was resolutely returned to my singular control. Tinder, in all of of its commodified obscenity, hosted my personal sexual revolution.

References:

Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Part two: homo sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 71-115.

Alves, J. (1993). ‘Transgressions and transformations: initiation rites among urban Portuguese boys’ in American Anthropologist, December 1993, 95(4), pp. 894-928.