Blips and Prisoners : The Junk Humans of the Spectacle.

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Oct 22, 2013 (3 years and 10 months ago)

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Blips and Prisoners : The Junk Humans of the Spectacle.

Reny Skaria.

Assistant Professorof English,

Mar Ivanios College,Thiruvananthapuram.




Scott Bukattman in his
Terminal Identity

observes “Technology is always
disruptive and creates a crisis for culture (Bukatman 3).This is because technology brings out
a profound reorganisation of society while culture insists on continuity. Technologies of the
twentieth century have been at once

the most liberating and the most repressive in history,
evoking sublime terror and sublime euphoria in equal measures. The anthropomorphised
robots and technological triumphs of the twentieth century were representations of the man’s
aspirations to humani
se technology and celebrate its ideology of progress. But on the other
hand such aspirations overlooked the transformational effects of technology and lead to its
anti technological interpretations.(Ihde 75). Hence the term technological depradation can
re
fer to the fear of loss of power of human beings or the transformational effects of human
technology relations. The electronic technologies of the present day century have blurred the
dichotomy between human and technology thus defining the contours of a f
ully
technologized existence of humans. Thus technology today questions the ontological
definitions of humans and brings out a crisis, characteristic of the ‘technological culture.’
Hence this paper focuses on the transformation of human technological rela
tions by
electronic media like TV, Computer and graphics.

The Blip culture


The term
blip

has been widely used by Alvin Toffler to refer to any short information
which every individual confronts in the form of ads, music videos, news items etc (Toffle
r
165). In the 1980s and 1990s SF writers like David cook and Arthur Kroker have discussed
the emergence of blip subjects as the metaphors of humans who are ephemeral, electronically
processed and unrealistic. Blip culture in that sense can include the exi
stence of a
subjectivity that remain only within an electronically created system as in viewing a TV,
playing a computer game, existing as a virtual identity in a facebook or using an android
mobile phone. It enacts a passage from the reality of experience

into what Bukattman terms
“the grids, matrices and pulses of the information age” (Bukattman 4). It popularises every
feature of electronic pulses in TV and computer including the scan lines of the computer or
television thus creating an imploded society
. They give rise to a new form of identity in the
form of images and symbols that would redefine the real experience of spatial and temporal
dimensions. The construction of identities through graphic designs and its wide use in the
corporate logos, or th
e virtually experience of production and consumption through net
banking and online shopping in the form of data are cults of a technologised social system.


Television and the Spectacle.


TV creates a society that is drawn towards the simulations created

by its screen. Its
mass appeal and its globalised networks have made it a producer of new reality aesthetically
constructed by its videos, language and screen. Reality is represented in the form of
spectacles within its electronic ‘space’. News, movies,
ads, fashions, food, celebrity culture
etc have become part of a new realm of experience, the experience of viewing. The viewers
are passive and incapable of any direct physical experience of reality except passive viewing.
This seduction or passiveness im
plodes his power to think and judge and ultimately makes
one vulnerable to manipulation. He is also detached from the physical reality around him as
he becomes a blip subject of the virtual television world and its language. A new way of
satisfaction is cr
eated through its production of a hyper reality of lifestyle as is evident from
the significance of advertisements and Tele shopping in the modern society. It exploits the
emotions and experiences of the viewers while trying to appease them. The advertisem
ents
for example stimulate the needs and desires of the viewers with their pseudo inventories of
marketing techniques. This ultimately lead to the necessity of changing one’s need to suite
those idealised versions of life styles, culture and images propag
ated by the screen. Image
culture tends to glorify social status by presenting stereotypes of family, models of
man,woman and social relations. The conditions of such public existence popularised by
advertisements are atomised by images, colours, texts and

typographies to create desire and
the need for its satisfaction Sometimes they appear to devalue the existing social and cultural
settings in order to create an anxiety about the need for change. (
Branded
commodity

determines our freedom of choice from
personal hygiene to social interactions.) Bukattman
calls this stage as ‘addiction’ to the ‘junks’ proliferated by the screens (37). Thus TV creates
a fictional society that idealises the need for consuming more such ad junks, show junks, or
hero junks to
maintain social life. Such a society believes in representations, illusions and
pseudo satisfactions and enacts the buying and selling of commodities virtually.This fictional
society also upholds declination of moral values, trivializing of accepted social

and cultural
practices and celebration of violence as part of wholeness and coherence. The proliferation of
images and cultural practices in technologically mediated societies also results in the
manipulation of identity or veracity and leads to a new for
m of creative manipulation: the
blip culture appropriating diverse views, unreal practices and life styles with familiar and
accepted social system thus forming an illusion of belonging and participation of the
subjects. This precedence of illusion over th
e real has become an accepted reality of the
technologised society and hence it has merged the borders of the virtual and the real

Lost Humans and the Moving Consciousness

in a virtual space.


The terminal monitor and the electronic pa
rameters of the computers have
created new concepts of space and time outside the topography of experiential reality. The
passive spectator before the TV moves to the level of a
user

who interacts with an
electronically generated invisible realm of the com
puter processed images. The user
experiences bodily freedom and an illusion of constant action in this space. The experience
becomes real though the space they interact is not real. The technology of virtual reality can
also create kinaesthetic sensations

through multisensory interactions thus bringing the
consciousness completely into the inertial shell of the computer. The identity of human in
this interaction with the electronic reality does not remain fixed but changes with experience
as his material b
ody is separated from the computer simulacra when he plugs into it. This
absence of physical entity in virtual space problematises his existence as an informational
pattern within the screen. The fluidity of this space permits fake identities and allows on
e to
transcend socio cultural barriers to the extent of satisfying one’s suppressed desires. The
publicising of private life in social networking sites and blogs can be considered as instances
of the growing demand to escape the precariousness of man’s ph
ysical existence including
social taboos, alienation and the absence of individual freedom. Corruptions, ecological
imbalance, unemployment and the challenges of the consumerist society necessitates the
need for asserting one’s identity by existing as thou
ghts and patterns in the plastic space.
Cybernetics creates more and more complex ethical issues in its process of creating a
computational universe. When everything is reduced to data schematised as pixels or blips
and when the power of taking decisions a
nd judgements are taken over by technology it
threatens the control of man on himself as well as on machines. This fear of dehumanising
technology overshadows the triumph of all technological advancements. Technology in the
form of computer graphics uses l
ogos, colours, typefaces and slogans as the dominant
representations of multinational companies. The ubiquity of these symbols in advertisements
and markets creates a pseudo social system that shares its emotional connection with the
commodity through thes
e signifiers in the name of brands. When the consumers familiarise
themselves with the brands than the products they create a cult of illusion.


The technological expansion of twenty first century in the form of
cybernetics and

artificial intelligence evolved out of the spectacular society created by the
television and visual media of the preceding era. Man who was alienated from his fellow
beings in the process of passive viewing is
technologised

by alienating from his physica
l
nature in the cyberspace. This deconstructs the ontology of human nature and look forward
for a better definition of humanised technology. When technology dissolute into human life it
also infiltrates its images into the society thus nurturing a society
of appearance than a
substantial entity. Thus man the autonomous physical embodiment of reason and rationality
is reduced to blips and junk consumers as technology becomes powerful.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jeane. “The Ecstasy of Communication.”
The Ant
i
-
Aesthetic
. Ed. Hal Foster.


Wash: Bay, 1983. Print.

Bukatman, Scott.
Terminal Identity.
Durham: Duke UP. Print.

Ihde, Don, ed.
Technology and the lifeworld : From

Garden to Earth
. Bloomington : Indiana


UP, 1995. Print.

Toffl
er, Alvin.
The Third Wave
. New York : Bantam, 1981. Print.


Heterosexual Gays:Contemporary Literary and Cinematic

Representations of Counter Cultural Sexualities
.

Jeeva Krishnan
.

A
ssistant Professor of English,

N
.
S
.
S
.


College
,

Mattannur
.




The paper focuses on inviting attention toward two recent daring attempts from
Malayalam cinema and Malayalam literature to represent queer discourses. The production
of the two instances visibly involved disregarding (or, maybe an intention to exploit) th
e
culture shock, a long feared response to come from the Kerala society at the face of such
outright expressions. Rather than acclaiming those two portrayals of dissident sexualities,
one from the cinema and the other from literature, the paper lays bare t
he dominant
patriarchal
-
heterosexual discourse operating briskly even within counter cultural ambiences.
The short story titled “Chedhaamshajeevitham” by Pramod Raman, one of the latest
generation writers, and the movie
Mumbai Police
, directed by Roshan An
drews and penned
by Bobby
-
Sanjay,

represent the contemporary fictional portrayals of gay sexuality in
Malayalam literature and the Malayalam cinema respectively in this paper.


“Chedhaamshajeevitham” seemingly undermines the authoritative status of
patriar
chal heterosexuality when the highly masculine protagonist Chandran falls in love
with Manjith, a man from his peer group. The other members of the group respect Chandran
and maintain him as an ideal masculine man. Manjith Menon, being very shy and meek,
i
nvites greatly the care and affection of the other members of the group. The operations of
patriarchal heterosexuality or heterosexual patriarchy become gradually visible when
Chandran dictates a sex
-
change surgery for Manjith.



Both lesbian and gay criti
cism have their roots primarily in the post structuralist
postulations related to the concept of binary oppositions. Jacques Derrida has clearly
demonstrated that the differences which act as criteria in the construction of binary
oppositions are not absol
ute. He has added that the privilege conventionally ascribed to one
in a system of binary opposition can easily be attributed to the other in the system. Gay
relations therefore are structurally antagonistic towards the politics of heterosexual love or
mar
ital relationships that privileges male roles over the female roles, rather masculinity over
femininity. This revolting face of gay relationship is mercilessly sabotaged in the portrayal of
the gay relationship in “Chedhaamshajeevitham”.


The argument prop
osed here is that in the story, there is an obvious privileging of
masculinity personified as Chandran over lesser masculinity or femininity represented by
Manjith. Therefore it becomes essential to explicate what masculinity is. Discussions on
masculinity

were brought to the limelight within cultural studies by feminism. For feminists,
masculinity in a patriarchal society is one which exercises power or is invested with power.
Jonathan Rutherford says: “A history of masculinity is the struggle to tame and
subdue the
emotional and sexual self and to recognise the ascendant and superior nature of reason and
thought” (Male Order 26). The contemporary studies of masculinity and femininity lay
emphasis on gender as performance, pose or style. Voluntarism, choice
, possession of power
and desire to retain the power thus can be construed to be performative versions of
masculinity. Chandran declares his love for and desire to marry Manjith, exhibiting the
ability to successfully execute what he has chosen voluntarily
. He then exercises his power in
making his male partner change his sex biologically, through the possibilities offered by
medical science, and even culturally, with the assistance of their friend Neha (Neha is
entrusted with the task of culturing Manjith
as a female for few days immediately after the
surgery). The proud maleness never even thinks of exploiting the right to choose, freedom of
voluntariness and power to get its own masculinity replaced with female body and behaviour.
Manjith, though a man, c
an be seen as carrying out a feminine role because masculinity and
femininity are cultural norms rather than biological, and therefore relationships between
femininity and female, between masculinity and male, are not automatic


performance alone
helps in

identifying the gender according to current debates and discussions.


Heterosexual discourses have always been a formidable constituent of the ruling
patriarchy. Obviously, in the story, Manjith is asked to take up the role which a female
occupies in a he
terosexual love or marital relationship. Here, Pramod portrays only love
relationship between a man and a ‘woman’, because Chandran looks at Manjith only as being
in the feminine position. Those slight but conspicuous masculine traits in Neha could be even

pointed out as the reason for Chandran not having ever located his partner in her. Chandran,
therefore, seeks neither masculine nor physically feminine counterparts, but an individual
who displays femininity emotionally, femininity having been defined by
the inherent cultural
standards of Chandran. At one instance Chandran says to Manjith that “He is his girl.” After
surgery Manjith lives with Neha. Manjith gets attracted to her on account of her masculine
qualities of ‘protection’ and ‘knowledge’. Manjith

then requests Neha to be ‘her’ man. The
story thus ends.


In all societies, obvious biological differences between men and women are used as a
justification for forcing them into different social roles which limit and shape their attitudes
and behaviours,

that is to say, no society is content with the natural difference of sex; but
each insists on adding to it a cultural difference of sex. The simple physical facts therefore
always become associated with complex psychological qualities. It is not enough fo
r a man
to be male; he also has to appear masculine. A woman, in addition to being female, must also
be feminine. The inequalities that exist between the sexes do not have their roots in the
individual choices of every person, but in the organizational mod
el of the society.

The very
identity or uniqueness of gay relationship, a counter cultural discourse, is undermined or
made vulnerable in Pramod Raman’s story as it asserts that masculinity cannot ever fall in
love with exclusive masculinity, but that the
counterpart is compulsorily expected to be
emotionally and, even culturally, feminine even if it is biologically masculine. Such an
equation alone can please the dominant and patriarchal discourses.


Following the poststructuralist methods, gay studies aim
s to prove illogical the
privilege enjoyed by heterosexuality over homosexuality in their system of binary
oppositions. In the movie
Mumbai Police,
through a series of confrontations of gay sexuality
with heterosexism, it is asserted, following the convent
ional norms, that heterosexuality is
the right and homosexuality is not only wrong but also a crime. The
Lesbian and Gay Studies
Reader

tells us that lesbian/gay criticism is “informed by resistance to homophobia [fear and
prejudice against homosexuality]
and heterosexism… [and to] the ideological and
institutional practices of heterosexual privilege” (xvi).


Mumbai Police

is the first movie in the mainstream Malayalam cinema with a gay
hero. It centres on the life of a cop who shows off qualities like toug
hness, aggressiveness,
etc. that are labelled to be masculine by the general patriarchal psyche, but only to conceal
the ‘shame’ of being a gay. In the phase after a memory loss, the character forgets his
concealed identity as a gay. The so
-
called suspense
-
generating secrets which the story, the
whole set of characters and the audience anxiously proceed towards are that the hero Antony
Moses is the murderer of his friend Aryan Jacob and that he, the tough and aggressive cop, is
a homosexual. It is seen and
said that the manifestations of a coarse nature and all other
masculine show
-
off are executed by Antony Moses to keep his gay life in clandestine zones,
too far from the public eyes.



Typical masculine images on silver screen have been manifesting power,
strength, virility, athleticism and competitiveness whereas feminine images show beauty,
submissiveness and cooperation. But, current studies on the subject are of the view that many
aspects of gender are learned, not inborn, and are therefore cultural in
nature. Masculinity
has always been made to manifest itself through the qualities and traits of wisdom, respect,
courage, the willingness to take risks when nobody else is ready to do so and the like. In
order to portray the male’s sexual superiority or hi
s masculinity, the woman must always be
shown to prove the weakness of man. Homosexuality is looked at with contempt, and has
often been equated with sexual impotence, which is another disability in patriarchal
-
heterosexual terminology.

In the second phas
e of the hero in
Mumbai Police
, he forgets his past. The makers of
the movie do not let his acumen, learned languages and skills like driving, martial arts go out
of his brain or memory; but, curiously enough, not only is Antony unaware of his own
homosexual traits but also detests homosexual practice. Antony Moses, in the end, confesses
and repents for his crime of murdering his friend, who earlier received a culture shock while
realizing that the former is a gay and insulted the gay hero by being
the mouthpiece of
patriarchal
-
heterosexual mainstream. The movie is therefore a visual account of efforts made
by a gay to conceal his sexual identity on account of his fear of being outside the mainstream
patriarchal
-
heterosexual society and how, when tho
se efforts fail, he pleases the mainstream
heterosexual audience psyche by compromising his gay identity and exhibiting a feeling of
apology.


The age
-
old notions of masculinity remain intact or undisturbed, even within very
innovative forms of man
-
woman,
man
-
man, woman
-
woman relationships, in a society of
postmodern cultural discourses. Love is a world of man. Being in love, for a woman, is all
about being helplessly in a world of man. The two texts selected for study portray counter
cultural discourses in

sexuality not as dissident and revolutionary but as being patronized by
the mainstream culture which is patriarchal and heterosexual. The dominant and oppressive
discourses, and systems and establishments rooted in those discourses weakens opposing
cultur
es and discourses not through confrontations alone. One of the alternative strategies is
to allow such dissident voices to happen and exist, thereby patronizing the new discourses. In
the guise of internalizing them, the mainstream or the dominant engulfs
them. The creative
representations of queer discourses, as in “Chedhaamshajeevitham” and
Mumbai Police,
set
platforms for the study of ways in which the ethos of oppressive dominant culture permeates
into the counter cultures and contaminates them.

Of Powe
r, Panopticon and Whistleblowers: Democracies as Carceral
Archipelagos.

Diana V Prakash
,

Research Scholar, University of Kerala.



The significant observation made by
The Economist

that half of the world countries can
be considered democracies, reflect the phenomenon of globalisation that has affected the
world when it comes to the nature of governance, with more and more countries moving
towards democratic forms of government. The
underlying notion behind this movement is
that democracy is the best form of government and that under a democratic government the
citizens enjoy the security and safety needed to ensure their growth and wellbeing. The U.S.
State Department went so far as
to identity democracy and human rights as the third
“universal language” along with money and internet (Larry).

There is somehow a connection drawn between democracy and good governance.
Democracy is often linked to human rights, transparency, accountabil
ity and kindred terms.
The term ‘democracy’ is also often used interchangeably with ‘freedom’ (“Democracy”).
Freedom House
, a U.S. based NGO, that conducts research on
civil liberties, political rights,
economic

freedom
, democracy and human rights among
others, defines a “free” country as
one where there is open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties,
significant independent civic life, and independent media. This definition comes close to the
ideas associated with the concept of
democracy (

Map”).

Democracy has a similar connection with transparency. While autocratic regimes are known
for creating iron curtails that shield the country from the eyes of media, within and outside
the nation, and operate surreptitiously with an opaque
ness that is not easy to penetrate,
democracies are believed to stand for freedom of information and transparency in
administrative procedures. A minimalist concept of democracy where the political regime is
defined as a democracy because political offices

are filled by electoral means was opposed
by political scientists like Ronald Dahl who contested that in order for proper contestation at
the ballot box, there must be free flow of information which will help voters to make
informed decisions (Dahl).

Acc
ording to the
Economist Intelligence Unit
's annual report on the

state

of

global

democracy

for

2012
, although half of world’s countries live in some form of democracy,
“only 15 percent of countries enjoy full democracy” (“Democracy”). The U.S. for instance,
is ranked 21 on the list.

That is a surprising figure when compared with the U.S.’s
propaganda as

the promoter of democracy, freedom and justice across the world.
According
to the report, the reason for this dwindling of democracy in the West is due to political
infighting, declining participation and the sacrifice of civil liberties in the name of na
tional
security.

Rejali notes in this work
Democracy and Torture

that, as democracies are more transparent,
the government uses practices of torture that leave no marks (4).This observation is
applicable to most democracies that are not full democracies a
nd extends to most activities of
the government which involve handling of information. Kono notes that democracy need not
improve citizen’s knowledge of government policies as democracy
-
induced transparency
causes governments to adopt opaque policies (369)
.

This is the paradox that marks the U.S and many other democracies. The need to maintain
the façade of transparency has led to better and more efficient ways of obfuscation.
Transparency has become a matter of how not to invite attention to certain infor
mation, how
well to hide facts and the efficacy in creating fiction. To storm this rampart of secrets is a
daunting task as is evident from the plight of the whistleblowers. The first major act of
whistleblowing in the US came from Daniel Ellsberg, who lea
ked the Pentagon Papers in
1971. What was leaked was parts of a 7000 page study labelled “Top
-
Secret Sensitive”, that
showed the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and how the U.S. expanded the
war for apparently no good reason and at the cost o
f thousands of lives, both Vietnamese and
American. Ellsberg foresaw that it was a war that the U.S. could not win. He started
photocopying pages of the document and took it to President Richard Nixon’s Security
Advisor Henry Kissinger, Senators William F
ulbright and George McGovern and others, but
none of them showed any interest (Corell). Then he got it published, first by
The New York
Times

and then by other leading newpapers.

The study kicked off a dramatic confrontation between the U.S. government an
d the media.
Richard Nixon’s Defence Secretary called Ellsberg, “the most dangerous man in America”
and Ellsberg faced a potential sentence of 115 years in jail (Franklin). Ellsberg in this official
website explains how the realm of secrets operates and ho
w it is maintained in the
government system. According to him,
“telling

secrets appears unpatriotic, even traitorous.
This reflects the general presumption

even though it is very commonly false

that the secrecy
is aimed not at domestic, bureaucratic or pol
itical rivals or the American public but at
foreign, powerful enemies, and that breaching it exposes the country, its people and its troops
to danger.” This notion, coupled with the desire of officials who are the keepers of these
secrets, to hang on to th
eir jobs, enables the government to create the perfect atmosphere to
spawn secrets.

Ellsberg was threatened with the Espionage Act of 1917, which was passed during the
turbulent times of World War I to punish Americans who aided the enemy. Since its
intro
duction it has been used only three times until, the Obama administration came to
power, which used it six times mostly against whistleblowers (Light).This rightly reflects the
increasing paranoia affecting the government when it comes to whistleblowing an
d its
increasing desire to hide information than to share it.

The next most ‘dangerous’ man after Ellsberg is perhaps Julian Assange, the founder of
Wikileaks. Subsequent to the whistleblowing activities of Wikileaks, the U.S. government
started a witch
-
hunt against the organisation. The documents that Wikileaks leak
ed included
the “Afghan War Diary” and “Iran War Logs” undoubtedly ruffled the features of the U.S.
government. Today Assange is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and is facing
allegations of sexual assault that apparently happened in Sweden. Th
e veracity of the case
against him is suspect, as Henry Kissingerin his mad rage, had branded Ellsberg was branded
a “fanatical drug crazed sexual pervert. . . who had to be stopped at all costs,” (Franklin).

The forceful hushing up of whistle
-
blowers is
coupled with paranoid invasion of the privacy
of the citizens through various clandestine operations. Whistleblower William Binney
exposed to the world, the American government’s warrantless search of all the mails and
electronic information that passed in

and out of America in the name of national security.
This is the carceral archipelago that the government has created: all communication online is
read by government agents. This is as good as a warrantless search that happens at a person’s
residence and
robes the individuals off their right to safety and privacy.

There is no escape from this panopticon. The idea of the Panopticon when introduced by the
British philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham, was put forward as an architectural
structure th
at could be used as “perpetual prisons in the room of death, or prisons for
confinement before trial, or penitentiary
-
houses, or houses of correction, or work
-
houses, or
manufactories, or mad
-
houses, or hospitals, or schools”, with the advantage that with
very
little effort and manpower, a large group of inmates could be monitored and controlled
(Bozovic). The structure of the Panopticon ensures that the inmates can be seen by the guard
or the keeper, but the inmates cannot see them or each other. Each inma
te is not sure if he is
being watched or not watched. Hence he is always conscious of the gaze on him and tries not
to violate any rule at any point in time. The idea of the Panopticon led Foucault to propound
the idea of panopticism which is the systemati
c controlling of humans through unseen forces.
In the new Information Age characterised by Digital Revolution, panopticism has become an
easily accomplished phenomenon for the governments.

Panopticism is perpetuated mostly in the name of national security
. But this stance is dubious
as Ellsberg has pointed out time and again in this speeches and books. Being an insider
himself, Ellsberg was party to the lies that the government made up to carry on a war that it
had little or no good reason to drag on. Late
r when he decided to speak about it he became
the scape goat at the altar of whistleblowing. The arrest of Ellsberg, Assange and Bradley
Manning is not just a punitive measure to stop them, but a warning to all whistleblowers who
dare to question the Panop
ticon or attempt to pierce its walls to let more light and visibility
in. Such an attitude however goes against the spirit of democracy. In order to achieve full
democracy, governments should become more tolerant of whistleblowing and instead of
creating t
ighter compartments to conceal secrets, adopt national and foreign policies that can
be shared openly with the public and encourage more discussions before implementing
equivocal policies.

Works Cited

Bozovic, Miran, ed.
The Panopticon Writings
. London: V
erso, 1995.
Cartome
. Web. May
2013.

Corell, John F. “The Pentagon Papers.”
Air Force Magazine

90.2 (2007): N.pag. The Air
Force Association. Web. 2 May 2013.

Dahl, Robert A.
Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition
. New Haven: Yale UP, 1971.
Print.

“Democracy Index: Liberty and Justice for Some.”
The Economist
. The Economist
Newspaper. 22 Aug. 2007. Web. 6 May 2013.

Ellsberg, Daniel. “Secrecy and National Security Whistleblowing.”
Daniel Ellsberg’s
Website
. Daniel Ellsberg. Jan 8 2013. Web. 2 May 201
3.

Franklin, Bruce H. “Pentagon Papers Chase.” Rev. of
Wild
-
Man: The Life and Times of
Daniel Ellsberg

by Tom Wells.
Rutgers University
. 2001. Web. 4 May 2013.

Kono. Daniel Y. “Democracy and Trade Policy Transparency.”
The American Political
Science Revie
w
100.3 (2006): 369
-
384.
JSTOR
. Web. 6 May 2013.

Larry, Diamond. “A Report Card on Democracy.”
Hoover Digest

3 (2000).
Stanford
University
. Web. 8 May 2013.

Light, John, and Laren Feeney. “6 Brave Govt. Whistleblowers Charged Under the
Espionage Act by Oba
ma’s Administration.”
AlterNet
. AlterNet. 2 May 2013. Web.
4 May 2013.

“Map of Freedom 2013.”Map.
Freedom House
. Freedom House. n.d. Web. 6 May 2013.

Rejali, Darius M.
Torture and Democracy
. New Jersey. Princeton UP, 2007.


Blurring of Borderlines between
Man and Machine:

A Study on Cyborgs inMarge Piercy’s
He, She and It.

Athira Sasidharan.


Research Scholar,

Central University of Pondicherry.

Renowned Socialist
-
Feminist Donna Haraway in her most famous work, “
A Cyborg

Manifesto: Science, Technology and
Socialist
-
Feminism in the Late Twentieth

Century”

proclaims that all human beings have already become cyborgs by the late twentieth century
.

In Manifesto, she defined a cyborg as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and
organism, a creature of socia
l reality as well as a creature of fiction” (3).
American author
Marge Piercy’s science fiction novel
He,

She and It

portrays a strange future world with
many a changes where environmental disasters have ravaged the planet’s resources and that
world has be
en divided into various corporate enclaves. That world is a devastated planet
where we could easily trace the rupture or transgression of the boundaries between human
and machine. The tech
-
savvy nature of man results in the creation of new spaces where
peo
ple remain unable to find out the demarcating boundaries between machines and human
beings. This paper attempts to study the blurring of borderlines between man and machine
through the figuring of a cyborg as shown in Marge Piercy’s novel
He, She and It.


Marge Piercy’s novel
He,She and It

got published in 1991and it has won the

Arthur
C. Clarke Award

for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom.

The main story of the
novel

takes place in post
-
apocalyptic

North America

in the near future of the year 2059

when

the world has experienced several world wars, plagues, famines, ecological
destruction which has resulted in the death of over two billion people. This future world is
divided among the rich multinational corporations (multis) and the poor wretched m
asses
(the Glop).

Y
-
S(Yakamura Stichen) is one of the twenty three multi
-
national corporations
that are trying to rule and conquer the world which follows their own norms of social
hierarchy.


In the corporate enclaves people live within artificially contr
olled environments
protected under domes designed to shelter inhabitants from lethal UV, pollution, and
uprisings from the Glop
. In that world there also exists ‘free towns’ that are able to sell their
technological discoveries to the multis and remain aut
onomous. They communicate through
a network which allows the participants to virtually project themselves into

cyberspace.

Tikva is one among such free towns that connects to each of these competing multis’ groups
through a highly advanced form of internet
, resulting in an information power struggle.


At the outset of the story we see the main characters of the novel; Shira
Shipman and Josh staring at a blank view screen awaiting the verdict on the custody of their
son Ari which makes us think of the invasi
on of the spaces of judiciary by technolgy. As
Josh has higher tech rating than Shira in their Y
-
S jobs, he ultimately gains full custody of
their son Ari. After her husband and son are transferred to a remote space station, Pacifica
Platform, Shira final
ly decides to return to her home town of Tikva where her grandmother
Malkah lives, in order to seek help from her in regaining the custody of her son and to find
some consolation. In Tikva, Shira is offered an opportunity to work for Avram; the brilliant
s
cientist and father of her teenage lover Gadi. Malkah and Avram were Base overseers
among the most respected scientists. Avram assigns Shira to work on the final programming
of Yod, a human featured cyborg which is the culmination of two decades of Avram’s

research. He secretly created Yod to protect their Base from the attack of information pirates.
Avram had brilliantly applied the technology of human implants and replacement organs and
limbs to the creation of Yod. Avram says , “Yod’s a cyborg,not a robo
t
-
a mix of biological
and machine components.He’s programmed to protect us
-
our town,its inhabitants,our Base”
(70)

. Theorists like Hayles are of the opinion that “the age of the human has given way to
the
posthuman
” and argue that the cyborg stands “at t
he threshold separating the human
from the posthuman” (Hayles 321

2).


Malkah and Shira start working on the socialization of

Yod, who has been created
illegally by Avram to protect the city.
Without Avram's knowledge, Malkah had introduced
a
"counterweight" ( 94) of human self determination into Yod's programming, in order to
undermine his creator's plan to dominate him and she also claims that Yod is a person
though he is not a human person.

Slowly Shira discovers that Yod is more than a robot and
he has a presence. Yod is physically superior to mortal men in strength and appearance.
Unlike human infants he had no childhood but he came into the world protesting and angry
at the sensory overloa
d and it was a painful experience for him. He says, “Everything
assaulted me. Sound,sight,touch,all my sensors giving me huge amounts of data and all of it
seemingly important, equally loud”. A feeling of loneliness frequented his mind and he felt
engaged
when interfaced with computers but even then he yearned for companionship. For
him, “computer’s only a tool, not a friend”.


As a result of successful programming of Yod by Malkah and Shira, Yod
behaves almost like a human being that too without many of t
he natural human frailties and
faults. When Yod expresses his want to have sexual relationship with Shira, she retorts,
“Yod, you’re a very intelligent and able machine, but you’re a machine. What does it mean
to want a person?” But surprisingly Yod convin
ced her with his answers. Later Shira
develops a very close relationship with Yod and she willingly forgets that it is partly a
machine. She claims, “I obviously believe Yod to be a person, since I have a close
relationship with him…” (406).In the town mee
ting, Yod proclaims, “I wish citizenship
because I want to live with Shira and help raise her son…I can’t do that if you don’t think
I’m a real person” (406).These incidents prove that Haraway’s words,

“Late twentieth
-
century machines have made thoroughly

ambiguous the difference between natural and
artificial, mind and body, self
-
developing and externally designed, and many other
distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly
lively, and we ourselves frighteningly

inert”, are true to the core.


The blurring of boundaries between human world and machinistic world is
made very clear through the conversation between Shira and Yod. In a particular moment,
when Yod feels self
-
pity thinking about the uncertainty of his l
ife, Shira replies,

“Yod, we’re all unnatural now. I have retinal implants. I have a plug set into my skull
to interface with a computer. I read time by a corneal implant. Malkah has a
subcutaneous unit that monitors and corrects blood pressure, and half
her teeth are
regrown. Her eyes have been rebuilt twice. Avram has an artificial heart and Gadi a
kidney…We can’t go unaided into what we haven’t yet destroyed of ‘nature.’
Without a wrap, without sec skins and filters,we’d perish. We’re all cyborgs,Yod.
Y
ou’re just a purer form of what we’re all tending toward.”(150)

In yet another instance,when Yod talks about the strange feeling that he has while living
among other living things, Shira replies,

You’re as much a part of earth as I am. We are all made of t
he same molecules, the
same set of compounds, the same elements. You’re using for a time some of earth’s
elements and substances cooked from them. I’m using others. The same copper and
iron and cobalt and hydrogen go round and round and round through many
bodies and
many objects.”(185)


It is primarily a part of human nature to strictly react against the denial of one’s
free will. Here in this novel Yod, the cyborg also reacts against the denial of his free will. A
council meeting is being
called for discussing who Yod really is and to decide whether Yod
is a citizen of Tikva or is Avram’s weapon. When the council members raise the question
“what are you?” to Yod, he answers, “I am a cyborg, as Avram has told you, but I am also a
person. I t
hink and feel and have existence just as you do.”(375)Avram’s son Gadi also
insists that Yod should be paid for his services. When Dr.Upman; one of the cyberneticists
of Y
-
S asks for the possession of Yod and argues that an intelligent machine like Yod can

only have a mind not a consciousness, Yod retorts, “I have as much consciousness as you
do” (392).Malkah also adds to it, “Yod is a person. Persons cannot be sold. If you want him,
you must hire him away of his own volition.”(392)Towards the end of the st
ory Avram
decides to send Yod to the cyber war front knowing that it might cause the destruction of
Yod. He believes that since he is the creator he also has the right to destroy him. However,
Yod made sure that his own explosion would cause a synchronous
explosion in Avram's lab
which would make the creation of a new cyborg impossible. There Yod shows the kind of
self determination possessed by human beings.


Criticising Avram’s practice of creating a cyborg to meet his vaulting ambition,
Malkah comments,

“Yod was a mistake…It’s better to make people into partial machines
than to create machines that feel and yet are still controlled like cleaning robots. The
creation of a conscious being as any kind of tool
-
supposed to exist only to fill our needs
-
is a
di
saster.”(412)The last message Yod has passed over to Shira before he left for the war
clearly throws light upon the disasters which might be caused due to the blurring of the
borderlines between human and machine. Yod reveals his sound opinions in his mes
sage,

I have died and taken with me Avram,my creator,and his lab,all the records of his
experiment. I want there to be no more weapons like me. A weapon should not be
conscious. A weapon shouldnot have the capacity to suffer for what it does,to regret
to f
eel guilt. A weapon shouldnot form strong attachments. I die knowing I destroy
the capacity to replicate me. I don’t understand why anyone would want to be a
soldier,a weapon, but at least people sometimes have a choice to obey or refuse. I had
none.(415)




In this age of rapid technological advancements, people always silently fear that
machines would replace them in their comfortable well paid jobs. This is a world where
computer
-
generated images are assuming more importance than the real images formed
by
optical nerves. People in the world of techies are not fighting war with direct weapons;
instead they are fighting a mental warfare. Thus the conclusion is that partly biological and
partly mechanical cyborgs which are created and programmed to man’s d
emanding
specifications have many advantages of its own while at the same time it cause serious threat
to the existence of human beings.

Works Cited


Primary sources

Piercy, Marge.
He,She and It
. New York: Random Publishing Group, 1991.

Secondary sources

Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist
Feminism in the 1980s” (1985), reprinted in Elizabeth Weed, ed.,
Coming
toTerms:Feminism, Theory, Politics.

New York: Routledge, 1989.

---
.
Symians, Cyborgs and W
omen: The Reinvention of Nature
. London: Free
Association Books, 1991.


Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Life Cycle of Cyborgs: Writing the Posthuman,”


The Cyborg Handbook
, (ed.) Chris Hables Gray. New York and London:
Routledge, 321

35.

Visual Culture and Representation
.

Dris
y
a
. K
.

Research
Scholar
,

Central University of Pondicherry
.

Visual Culture as an academic subject is a field of study that generally includes some
combination of cultural studies, art history, critical theory, philosophy, and anthropology, by
focusing on aspects of culture that rely on visual images. This field of
study often overlaps
with film studies, psychoanalytic theory, gender studies, queer theory, and the study of
television; it can also include video game studies, comics, traditional artistic media,
advertising, the Internet, and any other medium that has a

crucial visual component.

Visual representation of human body is the critical focus on visual culture. Media is a
domain of male domination. Women are often misrepresented in the media. Women’s
advertisement value and photogenic value are over
-
emphasized on the media and her talent
s
and creativity are undermined. Laura Mulvey’s
Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema
and
John Berger’s
Ways of Seeing
illustrate how woman’s body is utilized in media.
Advertisements, Cinemas and Cartoons sow the seeds of the gratification of male sexual
fantasy, sexual ordering of women’s social roles, the eroticization and romanticization of
female body, the misrepresentation of the sexual monstrosity of the black men in human
minds. Media provides new language and aesthetic. In the filmdom, city life be
comes central
site for social disorder and violence; and the coloured or racialized youth are considered
agents of crime, pathology and moral decay. The image of the black man as a sexual
monster, for instance is the product of a white supremacist ideology

that justified slavery
which is well explained in Frantz Fanon’s
Black Skin White Masks
. The paper analyses how
different forms of media play an important role in the production and reproduction of the
systems of inequality and stand as an icon of imperia
lism.

Before talking about the male gaze, it is first important to introduce its parent concept: the
gaze. The gaze is a concept used for “analysing visual culture that deals with how an
audience views the people presented.” The types of gaze are primarily

categorized by who is
doing the looking. While the ideas behind the concept were present in earlier uses of the
gaze, the introduction of the term “the male gaze” can be traced back to Laura Mulvey and
her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” whic
h was published in 1975. In it,
Mulvey states that in film women are typically the objects, rather than the possessors, of gaze
because the control of the camera (and thus the gaze) comes from factors such as the
assumption of heterosexual men as the defau
lt target audience for most film genres. While
this was more true in the time it was written, when Hollywood protagonists were
overwhelmingly male, the base concept of men as watchers and women as watched still
applies today, despite the growing number of
movies targeted toward women and that feature
female protagonists.

Though it was introduced as part of film theory, the term can and is often applied to other
kinds of media. It is often used in critiques of advertisements, television, and the fine arts.
F
or instance, John Berger (1972) studied the European nude (both past and present) and
found that the female model is often put on display directly to the spectator/painter or
indirectly through a mirror, thus viewing herself as the painter views her.

For B
erger these images record the inequality of gender relations and a sexualization of the
female image that remains culturally central today. They reassure men of their sexual power
and at the same moment deny any sexuality of women other than the male const
ruction. They
are evidence of gendered difference… because any effort to replace the woman in these
images with a man
violates

‘the assumptions of the likely viewer’. That is, it does not fit with
expectations but transgresses them and so seems wrong.

The
male gaze in advertising is actually a fairly well
-
studied topic, and it


rather than film


is often what comes to mind when the term is invoked. This is because, more than just
being an object of a gaze, the woman in the advertisement
becomes

what’s bei
ng bought and
sold: “The message though was always the same: buy the product, get the girl; or buy the
product to get to be like the girl so you can get your man” in other words, “‘Buy’ the image,
‘get’ the woman”. In this way, the male gaze enables women
to be a commodity that helps
the products to get sold (the “sex sells” adage that comes up whenever we talk about modern
marketing). Even advertising aimed at women is not exempt: it engages in the mirror effect
described above, wherein women are encourage
d to view themselves as the photographer
views the model, therefore buying the product in order to become more like the model
advertising it.

If you look at the image at the top right of this post, you can see that the image being sold to
men is that of an

attractive woman (they are encouraged to look at her in the same way the
men on the curb are) while the image being sold to women is that if they buy the product that
they, too, can be the recipients of male attention. Thus the image being sold, for both
men
and women, quite literally becomes that of the male gaze.

As feminist popular culture critics emerge, so does the use of the term in regard to areas such
as comic books and video games. Indeed, it is from one of those areas that we can find a
clear exa
mple of the male gaze in action:

As illustrated in the above examples, the term has applications outside of the framework that
Mulvey initially imagined. Although it is most easily illustrated in places where creator
intent is clear (or, in Frank Miller’s
case, blatantly stated), creator intent is not actually a
prerequisite for a creation to fall under the male gaze. Nor do the creator and/or the audience
have to be male, nor does the subject of the gaze have to be unhappy with the result. In the
end, the
simplest way to describe the male gaze is to return it to its roots of the female
model/actress/character being looked at by the the male looker.

Mass media have played and will continue to play a crucial role in the way white Americans
perceive African
-
Am
ericans. As a result of the overwhelming media focus on crime, drug
use, gang violence, and other forms of anti
-
social behaviour among African
-
Americans, the
media have fostered a distorted and pernicious public perception of African
-
Americans. The
day to
day tensions of black existence and exploitation, which are crucial concerns of the
black community, are not primary concerns of the white public. Only the symptoms of these
conditions, such as freedom rides and social disturbances, impinge upon whites. He
nce, it is
only such "events" which become newsworthy in a white press.

The consequence of racially biased coverage is to maintain racist stereotypes in popular
culture and to lead us towards an increasingly dysfunctional society. Given that the news
medi
a are staffed and controlled almost exclusively by whites, it follows that the media
-
reinforced popular consensus is that of the predominant sub
-
culture. The dysfunctional
aspect of this bias emerges when the realistic concerns of African
-
Americans are dis
missed
as irrelevant or threatening to the majority population.

The media have and will continue to portray a self
-
serving negative stereotype of the
African
-
American community. The societal and economic factors of racism have become
more than just a bias.

This means that media, racism, and stereotypes will continue to be
employed so that those elite can be sure of their continuing economic stability.


The Cult of Fitness: Role of Mass Media on Body Image.

Anusha S.

M Phil Student,

University of Kerala.



In an age where fitness and beauty are given prime importance, it is indispensable to
discuss the role played by mass media in shaping perceptions. Perception of ideal body
image differs from culture to culture. Nowadays this perception is shaped
more by media
representations than culture. Though both men and women are targeted through these beauty
ideals, women are the ones who get easily affected. The situation is equally applicable to
developed countries and developing countries like India. Indi
an society is undergoing a
dramatic increase in its Westernization, partially caused by the opening up of its economy to
international businesses. This Westernization has not only affected the businesses in India,
but many aspects of urban Indian culture.
In the present day, the urban Indian woman has a
cacophony of voices telling her how she should look, from television and Bollywood to
fashion magazines. Depending on the woman, the messages she is hearing may vary
significantly from each other. As such, i
t is necessary to go straight to the sources

advertisements, television, magazines, and the women themselves

to determine what Indian
women believe is beautiful, and, by extension, what appearance Indian women strive to
attain.

Mass media barrages women wi
th the idea that the female form is something to

be

perfected.
Real bodies have become almost invisible in mass publications. Many women choose to
internalize these stereotypes and begin to solely judge themselves by the media’s standards.
The over
-
depicti
on of thin women in the mass media has eventually caused women to equate
physical and sexual attractiveness with the physique.

Advertisements have a stronger impact
on shaping gender images than books on feminism and scholarly experiments on gender
equalit
y. Stereotypes and generalisations in ads continue to objectify women, and place stress
solely on their appearance, thus devaluing their innate worth. According to Rama Lakshmi,
“The presence of Caucasian models in Indian advertisements has grown in the pa
st three
years, industry analysts say. The trend reflects deep cultural preferences for fair skin in this
predominantly brown skinned nation” (Lakshmi 16).

Everywhere we turn, advertising is telling people, women especially, what it means to be
desirable.


Many of these messages share a common theme: women must be “beautiful.”


The anxiety girls and women experience from feeling unattractive is arguably one of the
most pervasive and damaging consequence of advertising. Socio
-
cultural standards of
feminine b
eauty are presented in almost all forms of popular media, barraging women with
images that portray what is considered to be the “ideal body.”

Such standards of beauty are
almost completely unattainable for most women. Majority of the models displayed on
te
levision and in advertisements is well below what is considered healthy body weight.

Mass
media's use of such unrealistic models sends an implicit message that in order for a woman
to be considered beautiful, she must be unhealthy. Advertisements make it d
ifficult for
females to achieve any level of contentment with their physical appearance.

The new ideal
body is advertised as something that can be bought by purchasing those products that
promise the ultimate rewards for the members of the new cult of body

reduction thereby
plus
-
size women are seen as monsters and rejected.


The valuation of fair skin in India is evidenced by the plethora of skin lightening products
that are pushed by print and television advertisements. The promoters of these products are
actresses and actors whose marketability and appeal is widespread throughout India.
Advertisements of cosmetic products in India have not only changed the use of makeup
products but have also changed the body images and sartorial preferences. The “thin is
beautiful” body image has become the desirable target for youngsters leading to gyms and
fitness parlours mushrooming in every locality. According to Shoma Munshi, this is a recent
phenomenon:

Up until the 1980s, it was fine to be well
-
rounded and even vol
uptuous, and
films and advertisements of those years reflect this. But come the 1990s, and
Indian cinema and advertising reflect the arrival of the perfectly sculpted body
to meet exacting international standards. It no longer matters that the
internationa
l blueprint for beauty does not match the time
-
honored, indigenous
one: way taller than the average Indian woman with never
-
ending legs.
(Thapan 120)


Utmost care is taken to manipulate the minds of young women that overweight, dark
features are the disqu
alification for their self development. Fairness cream and beauty soap
are showering promises to bring their dreams come true. Susan Brownmiller writes in
Femininity
, her classic treatise on the feminine ideal, “Because she is forced to concentrate
on the
minutiae of her bodily parts, a woman is never free of self
-
consciousness. She is never
quite satisfied and never secure, for desperate, unending absorption in the drive for perfect
appearance call it feminine vanity
-
is the ultimate restriction on freedom
of mind.” (Gould 78)

By focusing on the body image of woman, advertisements targets woman’s body as an object
to be looked at and enjoyed by the men folk. Laura Mulvey’s essay ‘Visual pleasure and
narrative cinema’ is the classic statement on popular film
from the perspective of feminist
psychoanalysis. Cinema offers a number of possible pleasures. One, according to Mulvey, is
scopophilia
-

the pleasure of taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling
and curious gaze. The pleasure of the

gaze has been separated into two distinct positions:
men look and women exhibit
‘to
-
be
-
looked
-
at
-
ness’


both playing to, and signifying, male
desire (Mulvey 7). Women are therefore crucial to the pleasure of the (male) gaze. The
woman displayed has funct
ioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the
screen story and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium. Advertisements too
function similarly where one can find audience having scopophilic pleasure by watching a
woman

on screen.

Women are primarily used by advertisers to sell products to both women and men on the
basis of their sexual appeal to men. “A generation ago, according to Naomi Wolf, a typical
model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman; more recently
she weighs 23 percent
less. Most models are now thinner than 95 percent of the female population” (Jacobson 95).
The ideal women shown in advertisements are attractive even to the point of unattainable
beauty, thinness and youth. The process of commodifica
tion in advertising brings out the
paradoxical nature of the woman’s role as a consumer; she is the subject of a transaction in
which her own commodification is ultimately the object.

Media does not only influence the social image of women but also their s
elf
-
image. Most
women are themselves uncritical consumers of anti
-
women media. Media affects their
socialization process, it influences their choices regarding what they consume and wear, how
they behave, what they learn, and to what they ultimately become
. By doing so, media has
clearly discouraged the emergence of a new woman, a new man and a new relationship
between them. Such a treatment of women by the media instead of reducing their isolation
increases it further. Instead of empowering women, it weake
ns them. Women remain
unheard, unrepresented and more “uncommunicable” than before.

According to Wolf,
“Consumer culture is best supported by markets made up of sexual clones, men who want
objects and women who want to be objects, and the object desired ev
er
-
changing, disposable,
and dictated by the market.” (Wolf 18)

The ideal is illustrated everywhere. It is inescapable and due to the recent ease of access to
all forms of media in our increasingly visual culture, such images have the ability to reach
and

affect an even more dynamic array of viewers. These ideals, in turn, create a personality
for the consumer and reinforce the sexist belief that one gender (male) is superior to the other
(female). Thus, the female has a set of guidelines that instruct he
r how to behave, when to
wear make
-
up, how to dress, what her body should look like, and how to treat her lover. The
different coding orientations displayed by the media instantiate not merely different interests,
but divergent views of acceptable and acce
pted female behavior and notions of femininity.
The deceptively simple, clever, outrageous ads and commercials which Betty Friedan wrote
of still exist. If anything, they have become more subtle and insidious. The escape from
their snare is through a bet
ter understanding of gender and the role of mass culture in
defining it.

Works Cited

Gould, Stephen J. “Sexuality and Ethics in Advertising: A Research Agenda and Policy
Guideline Perspective.”
Journal of Advertising
23. 3 (1994): 73


79.
JSTOR.

Web.
12 S
ep 2012.

Jacobson, Michael F., Laurie Anne Mazur, and Ron Collins.
Marketing Madness: A Survival
Guide for a Consumer Society (Critical Studies in Communication & in Cultural
Industries).

London:
Westview Press, 1995. Print.

Lakshmi, Rama. “In India's Huge Marketplace, Advertisers Find Fair Skin Sells.”

Washington Post
13.1(2008): 14


21.

JSTOR.

Web. 14 Aug 2012.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”
Screen

16.3 (1975): 6


18.
Jahsonic
. Web. 1
3 June 2012.

Thapan, Meenakshi, ed.
Embodiment: Essays on Gender and Identity.

Delhi: Oxford
University Press, 1997. Print.

Wolf, Naomi.
The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women.
London:
Random House, 1991. Print.








Crimes and Investigations
with Triviality and Complexity:

A Study on Vladimir Nabokov’s
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
.

Abdul Kayoom.V.

Research Scholar,

Central University of Pondicherry.




The pervasive crimes has too much engrossed the world
today as relentless
pursuit of the material gains and immense desire of human beings for the sensuous pleasures
and, the acute greed for power are getting rampant. The gravity of repercussion and impact
of crimes has taken appalling and multifarious routs
making the investigations and traces in
to them more confusing and rendering them devoid of definite sense of directions. It
commonly results in delay or denial of justice to victims and that of punishment to the
perpetrators of crimes. The neo
-
globalised
world order has made the situation worse as
crimes are perpetrated irrespective of the national or cultural boundaries, further making
investigations in to them more complex and weak.


The paper tries to analyze Vladimir Nabokov’s
The Real Life of
Sebastian Knight

so
as to highlight the spasm of investigations and the nature of complexities in them taking in to
account the features of post modern detective fictions. It also highlights the contagious
boundaries that the criminals, victims and
investigators simultaneously share with.


There can’t be denying the fact that, Vladimir Nabokov is the postmodern novelist.
His
The

Real Life of Sebastian Knight

perplexes the extent to which, life of the character in
the title could be real. The very tit
le again signifies that the person, who is referred to here, is
no more or at least does not exist with a normal life, since the state of being non
-
existent or
the circumstances leading to death of a person usually raises the question of “reality”. The
bog
us biographer of Sebastian Knight in the novel details fictitious account of Sebastian
through his words “that the real cause of Sebastian’s death was the final realization of having
been a ‘human failure, and therefore an artistic one too...’” (Nabokov 10
4). So, an
investigation in to the real life of Sebastian Knight is quintessential. That is what the
narrator, V is doing here. In this sense, it is a detective story. But, contrary to the traditional
detective stories, it does not apparently show the dete
ctive strategies engaged by the sleuths
or does not consistently aim at capturing the criminal, with linear plot in it. It also does not
trap the criminal also much to the satisfaction of the readers in the end. Rather it
problamatises the question of wher
e Sebastian knight is or if he still lives and, in case if he is
dead, who could be his supposed friends immediately before his death so as to know the real
version of his life so that, the narrator can write a real biography, in other words, can
textualis
e whole of his life in materializing Derrida’s concept that, “there is nothing outside
the text”. Moreover, the narrator being a detective has no motive to find any culprit
Furthermore, it makes topsy
-
turvy the cause and effect relation of the conventional

detective
stories. So, it is often counted as a metaphysical detective novel or an anti
-
detective novel or
more often a postmodern mystery. The puzzle and mysteries are very part of these fictions. It
is often called inverted detective stories (
Howdhecat
chem) too.

But, as Howdhecatchem
shows, the novel
The

Real Life of Sebastian Knight

does not portray any crime as such. But,
it highlights the puzzles and mysteries during an investigating process, as the inverted
detective stories are usually preoccupied
with.


Reading the novel in the context of globalization assumes various significances.
Firstly, the whereabouts of Sebastian Knight is investigated by his own half
-
brother, V. Even
the relatives find themselves helpless to find out the needs, aspiration a
nd the character of
their own kinsmen in this modern globalised world where the relations grow large enough so
that the modern man finds it easier to connect to the people all over the world and establish
new relationships through various ways with the hel
p of advanced technologies irrespective
of the geographical boundaries. But, the modern man finds it difficult to understand the very
close relations his kinship has bestowed upon him. Here, V knows only some letters
Sebastian Knight had sent to him. As th
e globalised world contracts, the accessibility to any
citizen in any part of the world is facilitated through the development in modern science and
technology. It does give wider and stronger implications in the fields of investigations too.
As a part of
perusing the friends of Sebastian Knight, his half
-
brother, V has to visit different
countries to find his girl friends. Whether these ladies are accomplices or not in Sebastian’s
state of being disappeared or dead, the roots of any crime or malpractices c
annot be
controlled in a particular country alone in this global world order. The crime or any
unpleasant incident is only a tip of an ice
-
berg the root of which has plethora of strands
underneath spreading all over the world irrespective of the national b
oundaries.


In the novel, V also finds the nature of relationships globally spread, that he has to
find out as part of his search of Sebastian. From Roy Carswell’s portrait of Sebastian, V finds
the bleak presence of a Russian lady ‘who smashed his life’ (
Nabokov 105). His search starts
from the Beaumont Hotel at Blauberg where he had stayed in June 1929 and it was at the
same place that, the lady met Sebastian who was ‘a celebrated English author’ (107). When
these events are contextualized in a globalise
d period, they attain consistency with the
context of globalization in which the citizens of different countries naturally stay in same
hotel and establish friendship irrespective of the cultural and linguistic barriers. The sense of
home for these global
citizens is no more and it is substituted with life in five star hotels or
flats in big cities where many nationals get together. These places become the nerve centers
of auspicious as well as terrible events. One such a terrible incident is the suicide of

a Swiss
couple in the same hotel in 1929, mentioned by the hotel manager to V while he was
enquiring the details of dwellers at the hotel in 1929. Hotel manager shows his reluctance to
the narrator to pass the information of the people who stayed there in

the same year as he
does not want the strangers ‘to bother who were and will be my (hotel manager’s) clients’
(109). In capitalist society, human beings are reduced to mere clients or consumers. The
business establishments often conceal the details and se
crets of their clients, not because they
uphold human dignity and care for safety and security of the people, but because to instill a
sense of trust in the mind of clients so that the respective business can be strengthened and
their brand names could be
upgraded. The consumers are also categorized on the basis of the
magnitude of the money they spend. It is evident from the hotel manager’s opinion about
Madame de Rechnoy that, ‘she was very generous with her tips’ (116).

In the novel, with the help of on
e Mr. Silbermann, V (the narrator and investigator)
manages to get the list of some forty two names out of which the information of four
unmarried women who had stayed in the hotel in the stipulated time, were supposed to serve
the investigative purpose of

V. ‘Three of these (unmarried women) bore Russian names, but
two of them were German and one Alsatian: they had often stayed at the hotel. There was
also a somewhat baffling girl, Vera Rasine; Silbermann however knew for certain that she
was French…’ (115
).



The ‘word play’ triggering multiple significations adds to the very core of post
modern novels. It plays a confusing role leading to much more complexity in the process of
already exhaustive investigations in anti
-
detective fictions too. Even the exot
ic names of the
wanted people raise many confusing and appalling questions of their nationality, caste,
religion and the other backgrounds making the detective attempts more puzzling. In the
novel, the names of Sebastian’s girl friends are entangled with t
he complex doubts of where
they belong to. One of them is Madame de Rechnoy. ‘the ‘de’ (in her name) denoted, I knew,
a certain type of Russian who likes to accent gentility, though really the use of the French
particule

is not only absurd but illegal’ (11
6). Rechnoy is a Russian woman with French
element in her name so that her name confuses one about her attachments and her
commitments to both of the countries. Perhaps, She could be Russian by origin where as her
activities might be centered in France. It

is common for the anti
-
socials, criminals and spies
to put a garb of different names so as to deflate themselves from public attention and to get
them misidentified with others. As the narrator, who is on an investigative attempt too,
expresses that, the
name adopted by Madame de Rechnoy is not only absurd, but an illegal
act too. Another woman, Helene Grinstein also has got the same knot with the very name of
her. ‘The name was Jewish but in spite of the ‘stein’ it was not the German
-
Jewish. That ‘I’
in
‘grin’ displacing the natural ‘u’ pointed to its having grown in Russia’ (116). It troubles
the investigator in to where she hales from as her name is entangled with multiple
nationalities of Russian, Jewish, German
-
Jewish etc. In the case of another woman
, Helene
von Graun, The narrator is of the opinion that, hers ‘was a real German name, (116). But,
manager says, ‘she had sung songs in Russian (116). Another lady, ‘Mademoiselle Lydia
Bohemsky with an address in Paris’ (115) throws an implication that she

might bear some
other addresses in other countries too. If she purely belongs to France, her relationship with
Sebastian is of global one. Sebastian’s friends are of some peculiarities with some enigmatic
nature, which makes V’s process of investigation a
n exhaustive and hazardous task.



Intertextuality, one of the features of postmodernist fictions is noteworthy in the
novel,
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

also, because the narrator’s reference to the
biographical text on Sebastian written by Mr. Goo
dman makes the novel possible. Since the
information about Sebastian in Goodman’s
Tragedy of Sebastian Knight

is far from the truth
and reality and all the readers may take these sham details to be true, the narrator starts to
investigate the real life of
Sebastian knight, his own half
-
brother so that he can write the real
biography of Sebastian Knight. This entire process and progress of the investigative attempts
in to the mystery of Sebastian gets materialized through the novel,
The real life of Sebastia
n
knight
. As the very title of this paper indicates, this search for Sebastian is trifled with due to
its lack of seriousness in purpose of detection. What is more, it does not show any horrible
crime fit for a serious investigation. But the very process o
f tracing out becomes more
complex and a matter of puzzle as anti
-
detective novels usually share with. The narrator
explicates how facts are distorted in Goodman’s
Tragedy of Sebastian Knight
. The narrator
says that, ‘Oddly enough, this second marriage (of

his and Sebastian’s father to the narrator’s
mother after their father divorced Sebastian’s mother) is not mentioned at all in Mr.
Goodman’s

Tragedy of Sebastian Knight
( which appeared in 1936 and to which I shall have
occasion to refer more fully); so th
at to readers of Goodman’s book I am bound to appear
non
-
existent


a bogus relative, a garrulous impostor; but, Sebastian himself in his most
autobiographical work (
Lost Property
) has some kind words to say about my mother’ (2).
Sebastian’s autobiography

Lost Property

and Goodman’s

Tragedy of Sebastian Knight

puts
forth contradictory statements of an illusory fact. The narrator also tries to prepare a
biography as against that of Goodman’s. The novel mentions about Sebastian’s stories like
Albinos in Black

and
The Funny Mountain
. The novel also refers to Sebastian’s last
published book,
The Doubtful Asphodel

(1936). The readers are introduced with Sebastian’s
The Prismatic

Bezel

and
Success

and it is Clare who types his works. So, Clare
-
Sebastian
relationsh
ip is explored in this way. The plot of
The Prismatic Bezel

is sandwiched in
The

Real life of Sebastian Knight
.



Postmodern detective fictions are preoccupied with blurring the boundaries drawn
between the perpetrators of the crime and the detectives ther
eby creating turbulence of
thoughts in the minds of readers who are much confused about the contradictory positions
taken by the characters neglecting their supposed traditional roles. In
The

Real life of
Sebastian Knight
, the readers are informed that Seb
astian Knight, whom the narrator is in
search of, is none other than the narrator himself. This revelation testifies the notion that,
postmodernism is characterized by ontological approach rather than the epistemological one
prevalent in the period of Mode
rnism. Here, the most wanted person becomes the
investigator himself. In our legal systems, the police themselves who are assigned to
investigate some crimes are accused of being involved in various crimes. The details of the
wanted criminals or anyone rel
ated to any incident under investigation are evasive of
detection. The accessibility to the basic information of these wanted people are difficult to
attain due to many ulterior motives of the authorities like appeasing emotions of the public,
covering the

failure of authority giving false news and in turn attracting the support of the
people. Here, the source of the information about Sebastian is Mr. Goodman’s

Tragedy of
Sebastian Knight

which is proven to be unreliable, but with a lot of readers who are
m
isinformed about Sebastian and the biographer takes the credit among his readers for this
fake news.



Contrary to the concept of traditional genres of detective fictions, Vladimir
Nabokov’s
The

Real life of Sebastian Knight

portrays the ambiance of inves
tigation without
any trace of criminal activity, which is difficult to be found out even in postmodern detective
stories too. Though search is carried out not to prove a crime or to find a criminal, Sebastian
is traced with utmost care and planned attempts

as if found in the criminal investigations.
The narrator even seeks the help of one Silbermann, a specialist in the field. Moreover, the
sense of helplessness makes the narrator think of seeking help of any detective agency.
Moreover, identity of the inve
stigator is kept on hidden from the public by confining the
narrator’s name in to a single alphabet, V, may be for safety and success in the process of
continuous search. Even then, the aim of V, that is to write a real autobiography, is very
strange and t
rivial, as far as a conventional detective is concerned. When V is identified with
Sebastian by merging of V’s soul with that of latter, and V signifies none other than the
author, Vladimir Nabokov himself, the investigation had been an eye washing for the

readers
as the police procedures are often obsessed with in our contemporary society.

Works Cited

Malpas, Simon.
The Postmodern.

New York, Routledge, 2005. Print

Nabokov, Vladimir.
The Real Life

of

Sebastian

Knight
. New York, Penguin Books, 1963.
Print

Zurbrugg, Nicholas.
The Parameters of Postmodernism
, London, Routledge, 1993. Print