Personal Notes

Image of Dark River

Dark River. Jagannath Panda. 2012. Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi.

Saitya Brata Das



Where Truth is Sought…


ometimes and suddenly, we encounter the moment of choice and decision that we cannot evade has to be made: to become slavishly complicit with the princes of the world, wash their feet, and get morsels of worldly benefits that fall from their table; or, to get ready to give up, if necessary,many worldly benefits, but, retain our absolute fidelity to truth, to one’s own conscience,knowing that truth is always persecuted.

What should one do: head towards the straight and narrow path or seek the wide way where multitudinous crowds throng, the road where everything one sees is crooked? Every great decision is always either/ or – as Søren Kierkegaard likes to say – and there is no middle path. In fact, the middle path is the great illusion of the petty bourgeoisie.

There are only two ways in life, for every third or fourth way is still only the second way; for truth is always the singular and irreducible. It can only be a one-way street. This is the essence of tragic thought: the thought of the two in their incommensuration; there is no dialectical third to totalise and include the disparate within it. To live tragically then, is to live at the extreme limit of thought where the decision emerges out of the abyss of freedom.

What erupts out of this abyssal freedom is nothing less than the radical demand of the Unconditional: call it Truth or Justice. This unconditional demand can never be arrived at in a calculable process of conditioned negotiations of practical politics. To talk it out with the other party in a roundtable style approach, where each one plays his/ her card, and to see how much each one is ready to manoeuvre to arrive at the inured solution of mutually negotiable demands: this is the gravest illusion of secular parliamentary democracies. Such a ‘solution’ does not know anything of the unconditioned demand of life, of justice and truth.

Dialogue then has its limits. For example, what is there to converse with an establishment that has replaced all speech with horror, where every word is a murder, where every sentence an annihilation of humanity? All talk of ‘reformation’ is sheer complicity from the perspective of the vanquished, and those who are oppressed by history. Their claim of justice is so absolute that only the unconditional satisfies them; the rest is only untruth and a betrayal of the truth.



For Infinite Contestation…


he tragic decision demands an infinite contestation: not the contestation of one hegemonicregime trying to replace another regime, but infinite contestation with any and each hegemonic regime in one place, at any point of time. The tragic thought, and its finality, introduces the thought of death into politics. To introduce the thought of death into politics is to think of how to weaken, destitute and to break given hegemonies. The thought of contestation, which is the thought of death, can be understood as “tragic thought”.

We must be able to find out, with infinite vigilance, the phantasm that operates, supports and anchors the hegemonic regime; uproot it from its ground, and exhibit it as what it really is: a mere phantasm and not truth, a mere myth and not history. For all hegemonic regimes are mythically founded; in other words, they are based upon a fiction or a phantasm, whether it is the racist Aryan identity for the Nazis, or communism for Stalin, or our very own Aryan nationalism.

The tragic thought grounded in infinite contestation must pierce through the mythic phantasm of the political regime to disrupt unravel  and de-constitute the law of its being. And it is poetry, art and philosophy that must bear the cry which pierces through the murderous speech of the hegemonic power. This is why art and philosophy are the highest activities of the human race.

This is why every hegemonic regime would either like to appropriate and domesticate the artistand the philosopher and the writer; or, to banish her from its domain. In any case,the poet, the philosopher and the artist, are hostile to the constituted order of the politicalregime; by their insubordination, indeed by their mere presence they exhibit the truth that is indigestibleby the powers that be.

This is the paradox par excellence: by their very being at the limits of the world, they salvage the world from the shipwreck of humanity. Only infinite contestation, already opened by an opening of pure affirmation, can keep our world alive. It is poetry, art and philosophy, emerging from the depth of thedark earth that keeps the promise of the new future. When everything is said and done, and at whatever stage of progress or regress humanity finds itself, it is this promise alone that remains fruitful.



Hic et Nunc!


he infinite contestation must be unleashed each time, infinitely, here and now, especially today,and at this precise place more than ever before. When the destruction of the life of the spirit isnearly complete (the destruction of the University life in this country, under the regime at place,is only one example among many), when ‘the document of barbarism’ (Walter Benjamin) behind the glorious civilisation called India is now revealed to us in the bright light of history in allits ugliness and horror; it is precisely here and now that we need to unleash the infinite contestation in its purity and infinity.

The space of the University is not one space among many, of a national life. It is the very space,the only remaining space in today’s world that conserves and preserves the life of the spirit. Itis out of this space alone, in today’s world of advanced capitalism, of mass consumption, that thespirit can unleash the infinite contestation in the name of pure affirmation.

By infinitely interrogating the hegemonic regime which constantly serves the interest of the dominantclass/ caste/ gender, the community of teachers and students within and outside the space ofthe University affirms a form of life freed from the cages of the law; a life liberated fromthe bondage of any oppression.

This is why the hegemonic regime and its intellectual servants have recently made attempts to de-politicise the space of the University, and purge any elements of the spirit of thinking and questioning.

These attempts of the conservative regime to de-politicise education mean nothing other than that we should accept their domination without critique, subversions,deconstructions and resistances. It is not for nothing that the dominant regime – this one at placeparticularly – always prefers technological education which is supposed to be politically neutral.

The truth is that technology is never politically neutral: not only are technologists and scientists often, politically and socially, the most regressive but technological domination has always been a handmaiden of political and social domination.

Therefore, it is not surprising that our pseudo-mystics who revive some obscurantist elements of Hindu mysticism, often eulogise technological power. By selling us the cheap idea of technological progress, the mystics of political authority want us to also buy their authority and domination in the name of progress. We can find the secret of this nexus here. This nexus constitutes the mystic foundation of political authority. All legitimacy-seeking authority evokes myth as the very foundation ofpolitical domination.

Hic et nunc! Here and now, the decision of existence must be reached on the basis of the immeasurability of either/ or, and it is only from within this space called the University, where such a decision may erupt and surge, the decision to say ‘no’ to any oppression and domination, and the refusal to accept injustice, in the name of an absolute justice or truth.

--With permission of author. This is a modified version of the essay that appeared in gufftugu under the title: Truth is always persecuted.” 
--Image of Dark River by Jagannath Panda courtesy Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi .

Subrata Das
Saitya Brata Das teaches English Literature and Philosophy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has published peer-reviewed articles extensively, He co-edited (with Soumyabrata Choudhury) “The Weight of Violence: Religion, Language and Politics” published in 2015 by Oxford University Press.

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