Exploring cinema, censorship and its impact– Book Review by Dr. Usha V.T

Exploring cinema, censorship and its impact   USHA V. T.

TOPICS arts, culture and entertainmentbooks and literaturebooks and literaturenon-fiction

USHA Review of Censorium

Cinema is unarguably the most powerful medium of the present with tremendous affective and performative potential. In terms of performance art-forms evolving from myth to modernity, from ritual to theatre, cinema has grabbed the space within and outside the human mind. Small wonder that within a few years of its emergence, the medium has swiftly seeped through the corners of the open edge of mass publicity through its performative dispensations, namely the element of anonymity that characterizes any public communication in the age of mass publics: in the sense that what makes cinematic communication public is not just that “it addresses me” by way of public channel, but also that “it addresses me insofar as it also, and by the same token, addresses unknown others” in the shared public sphere.

Barring perhaps the ubiquitous internet and social networks, cinema’s role thus in creating a symbolic authority has only increased over the years in the collective sphere in a sort of geometric progression. But the reach that this wields is so often curtailed and constricted by the powers that be. Technically freedom of art-forms and their power of expression reside in the people and the state that is their political expression. But in actual practice who is it that articulates it? Who sanctions the energy that is palpable in the streets and theatres, its legitimate expressions? Politicians? Activists? Movie Stars? MNCs? Courts? Censors?

Through what kinds of language can the provocations of performance — on stage, screen or street — be measured and judged? Is it through claims to tradition and ancient lineage, heritage and moral community? Or through sensitive norms of progress, rationality, decency and taste? This leads us to the serious issues discussed in William Mazzarella’s Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity.

Reasonable restrictions

In India, freedom of speech and expression is ensured by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution but is also limited by Article 19(2), which allows the government to place “reasonable restrictions” on this right “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.” This provides the government with a wide net to seize and censor almost anything that is disfavourable.

The question that naturally would surface is how far is this censorship compatible with the constitutional provisions of a democratic nation? In many ways then censorship not merely silences speech but it also produces authorized forms of truth. This pertains not only to cinema but figures in the larger issues of all human creativity. It is argued that struggles over free speech and the dynamics of governmentality have their distinct regional and national histories. However, even from its inception, cinema has a global history, and thus to follow its evolution vis-à-vis censorship is to trace a graph of disciplinary technology that proliferates normalized understandings of subjectivity, sexuality, and citizenship in the lines of Michel Foucault.

William Mazzarella’s Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity is an ethnographic project that is set forth in five interpretative chapters exploring the elementary forms of mass publicity, the grounds of the censor’s judgment, the impact of censorship, its aesthetic distinction and finally a discussion on aspects of obscenity and the public forum. The introduction that leads up to the issues is so excellently set forth that it makes a groundwork for the reader to get the rest of the acts together in terms of the situation through colonial and postcolonial periods.

This book is eminently readable and the arguments are easily accessible because they are set forth in a jargon-free language. The data that is referred to is also from popular media. This is not to imply that the thesis lacks theoretical framework; but on the other hand so much of the density of the theoretical arguments that it resorts to are softened through such tender and accessible language that doesn’t for a moment appear to moralize or sermonize even when the author is forced to take up sensitive issues of culture, class, gender and morality.

For instance, the image of the “pissing man” that is sustained in the argument from beginning to end is not intended as an object of ridicule or even to mock at a culture that engenders the same — it is done with a sense of shame and a complete recognition of the situations of modernity that declassifies humans in terms of literacy and illiteracy. It is deemed obvious that authoritarian censorship thrived amid a servile citizenry and Indian public for ages had been looked upon as affected with an underdeveloped political rationality. Centuries of foreign domination and colonial burdens have repeatedly submitted the people into an abject servility and an equally over-compensatory assertion. If the British had plundered India’s resources, then successive post-Independence governments had done all too little to bring enlightenment to the citizenry. And then there is this political reason to cater to the vulnerability of Indian masses because it becomes easy enough to provoke an illiterate mind rather than a literate one.

Test of obscenity

The naïve argument that one often hears in support of censorship is: This is not America, this is India!And “the common man” is a polite name for the pissing man, invoked as always in the third person, in other words the imagined audience. Of course, meaning is always a function of the context, and every imaged object has its social and historical context. The meaning of indecency and obscenity has also undergone timely changes. Mazzarella quotes Justice Khosla on pornography as appealing against the notion of inadvertently applying tendency as a test of obscenity: “Anything may have a tendency for almost anything. A lamp post may be taken as a phallic symbol, a convenient object for canine relief, a source of light, evidence of civilization, something to lean against when waiting for a bus or something to demolish in order to demonstrate a sense of rebellion or discontent. So what is the tendency of a lamppost?” So how is one to go about making a list of bad things to be banned? Cinema threatened colonial authority on account of the roving eye of the camera that could move freely in close proximity or long shot. And imposing censorship on its transparent images was like making them a little more visible.

Thomas Metcalf argued that the British colonial policy in India was driven by a constant tension between universalizing ideals and particularizing practices. Film censorship, as early as the 1920-s, manifested this doubling. As patron/police, or ma/baap, the colonial government represented both an auratic exemplar of civilization and a supposedly impartial guarantor of the separate rights of India’s communities.

Cinema spoke directly to both of these impulses. In postcolonial times these double standards continued in the levels of the censored and the censors, nevertheless it is a mistake to think that censorship is simply a reactionary discourse, because in its most drastic reactionary moments it reveals a radical tendency in mass publicity. Mazzarella goes on to argue that understanding obscenity as a tendency of image objects opens up a useful way of thinking about mass publicity in general. If the censors have already exposed themselves to the corruptible then they themselves are corrupted thus and in no position to judge or debar. The issue thus crosses aesthetic and moral boundaries and moves into the psychological.

Censorium is at once a documentary on censorship and a theoretical space for hair-splitting analyses.

Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity by William Mazzarella, Orient Blackswan, 2013. Rs. 795

Keywords: Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass PublicityWilliam Mazzarella

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The Hindu Review of Murali Sivaramakrishnan’s Space Within 2013

TODAY’S PAPER » FEATURES » METRO PLUS

September 28, 2013

Nature, his muse

 Artist Murali Sivaramakrishnan has many shades to himself as to his paintings, all inspired by nature
COLOUR AND CONNECTMurali SivaramakrishnanPHOTO: G. KRISHNASWAMY

COLOUR AND CONNECTMurali SivaramakrishnanPHOTO: G. KRISHNASWAMY
Afirst look at his frames and the impressions are of swift strokes, an indulgent preponderance of greens and blues. Move closer and they seem to jump right out of the canvas.
Walk away and then an orange sunburst spilling over a row of lilac strokes warms your heart. Right opposite, an arresting canvas simply layered with many hues of blue conjures images of icy blue mountains, deep dark woods and mysterious oceans, plumbing the depths of the soul. Though most of his paintings are abstract, it is not hard to understand why Murali Sivaramkrishnan calls Nature his muse.
What is interesting is the artist has many shades to himself as to his paintings. Growing up in the seventies in Kerala, Murali is a sort of a Renaissance child, who revelled in a world of art, music, photography, literature, natural history and cinema in his salad days. Though his bread and butter come from his being a teacher, who currently heads the department of English at Pondicherry Central University, Murali says, “I am an artist who combines different roles and identities.” A published poet, literary critic, bird watcher and conservationist, Murali does don many roles.
“Back then I was part of the Kerala Natural History Society which was a forum for nature lovers. We had easy access to galleries, museums and to the masters in every sphere,” recalls Murali. His interactions with Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Laxman, M.F. Husain and Sunderlal Bahuguna (of the Chipko movement) have made him a richer man, he feels.
Clearly Nature inspires more than his art — as an academician, he sees ecology and the environment through a literary lens, something which also spurred him to found the Indian chapter of ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and Environment).
The self-trained artist acknowledges that his works are greatly influenced by K.C.S. Paniker. “I could identify with Paniker’s progression from landscapes to abstractions, something which happened to me naturally.” Murali too started out with watercolours till he found his expression through abstractions.
“As a young man I helped with fetching and carrying when a gallery was set up for Paniker in Trivandrum. I touched the master’s paintings, which was an experience. I got to study his technique closely,” says Murali, whose enthusiasm is fresh in the retelling, even after decades.
Taking art closer
Some may dismiss abstract art as only for intellectuals, being difficult to comprehend, but Murali defends, “We are used to accepting landscapes and representations of reality because they are familiar, like a student who praises a teacher who teaches him what he already knows. The possibilities of abstractions are infinite and demand an effort to understand the artist’s language.”
But the more complexity the artist explores, the more he demands from his audience, he admits. Yet, Murali repudiates the perception of an artist as an isolated creature. 
“Artists cannot distance themselves from everyone else. As someone who studies aesthetics, I believe I have a responsibility to speak about art, interpret it and take art closer to the man and woman on the street.”
Murali has exhibited in almost all the southern states. His one regret is of having passed over M. F. Husain’s invitation to display his watercolours in a show sponsored by the master painter. Circumstances then were to blame, he says.
A Fulbright scholar, Murali has travelled extensively across continents for lectures, treks and finding communion with Nature.
No art is complete, but part of a process says Murali — the process of finding one’s own idiom of expression.
Space Within , Murali Sivramakrishnan’s 15th solo exhibition will be on till September 20 at the Kala Kendra, Bharat Nivas, Auroville.)

by OLYMPIA SHILPA GERALD

Regimes of Narcissism, Regimes of Despair

Ashis Nandy identifies despair and narcissism as the predominant psychological states in the prevailing political culture

Regimes of Narcissism, Regimes of Despair Ashis Nandy; Oxford University Press,YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road,New Delhi-110001. Rs. 595.

That in our own times the fate of an individual lies in the politics of interest groups which could determine not only the general quality of his/her life but also the mode of termination of both individual and community — either self-willed or inflicted from without — is surprisingly a fact quite well-known. In India today, much like in the rest of Southern Asia — what he calls the South as opposed to the developed countries of North America and Europe — Ashis Nandy identifies in the prevailing political culture two predominant psychological states: narcissism and despair. To characterise their institutionalised forms and inner dynamics, he dubs them regimes of narcissism and regimes of despair. This book close-examines compelling socio-political issues in terms of mass ideologies and as vectors in the inner life of individuals.

The social flux and moral anomie we see around have condemned large sections of men and women to live on with a vague sense of loss, anxiety and repressed anger. When ethical and moral values are invalidated and abandoned, many are blind to the hand of any agencies in these, and learn to contain anger through forms of consumerism and immersion in the world of total entertainment — which often goes by the name of normality. Living in a hedonic, secularised world, quite unable to decipher the reason why its hedonism seems evil to others, the cultural sensitivities of the globalised middle class, as Nandy points out, have further narrowed in recent times. In the essay “Terror, Counter-Terror, and Self-Destruction”Nandy underscores Jean Baudrillard’s observation that “evil is there, everywhere as an obscure object of desire.” As suicide bombers have made their presence felt in over 12 countries now, their act appears as wanton terrorism declared by the death-defying on the death-denying. The former as he points out, thrives on a theology of martyrdom, the latter on a psychology of this-worldly individualism and narcissism. In some contexts the idea of despair too has become central to our understanding of contemporary subjectivities much in line with the early hard-hitting modernist writers and artists like Kafka, Camus and Van Gogh. Even Nietzsche and Dostoevsky cannot be understood without this corollary of despair.

Eight essays ranging from issues of nationalism through terrorism and counter-terrorism, ideologies of humiliation and happiness, notions of the sacred in religion, ideas of tradition and modernity — wrought together in terms of a common interrogative stance relating to the individual and the nation constitute Ashish Nandy’s book. The range and reach of these interrogatives is indeed massive and for readers used to Nandy’s earlier works, proffer prolific views on an equally broad socio-political and intellectual span. In “Nationalism, Genuine and Spurious”, he engages with the political position of Tagore and Gandhi vis-a-vis nationalism in the early part of the 20th century. Obviously not having access to a vast array of socio-political terminology available today both Tagore and Gandhi have phrased out their positions in different ways, and Nationalism, in their eyes, as Nandy proposes, is an ideology while patriotism, as he distinguishes the term, is a sentiment and thus an emotional state. Tagore used something like 12 to 15 expressions to denote one’s love for one’s country, ranging fromdeshabhiman and swadesiprem to deshbahakti and swadesh chetana. But he used none of these as an equivalent of nationalism. Gandhi too appears to have recognised in the version of nationalism a touch of the shadow of Europe. However, despite these visionaries, versions of nationalism became part of the social evolutionist baggage exported to and internalised by a defeated civilisation veritably open to globalisation and exploitation.

Controversial figures

In two essays “ The Demonic and Seductive in Religious Nationalism” and “Coming Home” Nandy resorts to the biographies of two controversial political figures — Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Madanlal Pahwa — in order to explore the deeper psychological reaches of violence and religious nationalism. Both Savarkar and Pahwa were victims of a perverted social order. “Savarkar is the name of a blown-up, grotesque temptation inherent in the Southern world’s encounter with the global nation state system and with religious traditions that facilitate internalisation of the core principles of western nationalism.”Pahwa’s life history on the other hand is read as “the story of a person battling memories of loss and exile through violence”; “and an unapologetic killer…who also was a victim of the ethnic cleansing in Punjab during 1946-48, seething with anger at what had befallen him and the Hindus in Punjab.” The process of dehumanisation is deliberately effected through hate-propaganda, and benumbing the victims as dangerous and contaminating. In many ways humiliation achieves the pathological substitute for dominance and genocide. The essay “Humiliation” explores among other things the consequence of colonial burden and shame and their impact on the political culture; it bespeaks of rape victims, blacks, dalits and the spectrum of dehumanisation in political history. This technique of pathologisation is fast becoming a post-colonial version of the colonial technique of infantilisation.

“Happiness,”likewise is a unique exploration of the contexts of this psychological state that holds tremendous implications for the present consumer culture. “The presently dominant idea of happiness,” Nandy writes, “being subject to individual volition and effort, ensures that the search for happiness has a linear trajectory… Perfect happiness comes when one eliminates all unhappiness.” Nandy’s essay focuses on the emerging idea of happiness as an autonomous manageable psychological variable in the global middle-class culture.

“Return of the Sacred” and “Modernity and the Sense of Loss” enquire into the political geography of religion, and dwell on the process of how the modernity of traditions has become a source of cultural pride, a prop for cultural nationalism. In a time when religions have apparently regained their popularity, and the compatibility between Vedanta and quantum Physics, Zen and psychotherapy are now subjects of bestsellers, “few dare to reverse the process and justify or criticise nuclear power or stem cell research from within the frame of Islamic ethics or Shaiva Siddhanta”.

The book is well produced and indexed in handy format no doubt, but one hopes that the proof-reading could have been a little more meticulous, taking care to avoid silly spelling errors and omissions in an important document by a senior academic. Regimes of Narcissism, Regimes of Despair, is not Nandy at his best, though, but the eight essays would serve to transfer the incessant critical spirit and irresistible inquiry of a socio-political intellectual attempting to interrogate a fast changing present, looking at politics and society through the prism of persons and their selves in order to ensure that the intelligent human is not overwhelmed by impersonal institutional structures and invisible movements of history. As Nandy himself notes: “these essays are about an India that is no longer the country on which I have written for something like four decades.” The critical minded reader is in the end left questing for more.

(Murali Sivarama-krishnan is Professor of English in Pondicherry Central University)

Gish Jen:Tiger Writing– A Review

Tiger Writing by Gish Jen

Tiger Writing by Gish Jen

If there is one major aspect of writing the self then it is located between seeking independence and experiencing interdependence . The entire history of Anglo-American Modernism has been the formulation of the work of art and literature as an autotelic object, or an independent being initself , quite distinct from the interdependency that constitutes raw life. Writers like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust desired independence from all and everything — including culture, family, and language — and the great illusion of the irreplaceable uniqueness of the individual — one of Europe’s finest illusions — blossomed forth. The aesthetic of the Modern was conceived in such a desire to be independent. Nevertheless in the contexts of writing that has changed over the years, multicultural issues and pluralistic perceptions in the fast lane of life in the present have altered the concerns of the evolving narrative self as fully evidenced in Gish Jen’s exploration of her own writing and the cultural phenomenon of literature in America. Gish Jen is a writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of four novels including the acclaimed Typical American andWorld and Town .

Gish Jen’s Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self , is a three-part lecture she delivered as part of the Massey Lecture series in Harvard. The forum obviously offered for this second generation Chinese writer in English a specific reason to delve into herself and close-examine her own cultural and literary situation. The book is thus a testament and a manifesto for interrogating the closure of the self in the context of the West and the cultural necessity of opening up to the larger issues of interdependency in a globalising present.

In his essay Why I Write , George Orwell confidently gave “four great motives for writing” that he feels exists in every writer. The first of these is sheer egotism — to be talked about, to be remembered after death etc. The second is aesthetic enthusiasm — an investment “in the impact of one sound over another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.” Then there is historical impulse — the “desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.” And finally, political purpose — a “desire to push the world in a certain direction,” which he finds in every person. For Gish Jen there is another motive: the fascination with the western narrative per se . She discovers that the novel is fundamentally a western form, and her fascination with the classics of modernist writing she had encountered even from her childhood helped her locate the narrative strands as drifting toward a sort of narcissistic solipsism, as quite distinct from her own Chinese roots that she soon identified.

Tiger Writing is a remarkable achievement on account of its sobriety and unique perception of difference between what Gish Jen considers as the West and Asian narratives. The novel needs to be located within the ambit of anguish and joy and not constrained in terms of a narrow self-exploration as she desires.

Individualism

Growing up in America as the second daughter of a Chinese immigrant Engineer, Gish Jen was well exposed to the wealth of classical modernist writing. Eventually with her discerning critical eye she was able to discriminate the appalling casualness of pronouncements like Lionel Trilling’s about how Thomas Mann “said that all his work could be understood as an effort to free himself from the middle class, and this of course, will serve to describe the chief intention of all modern literature.” With a characteristic Chinese clarity recalling Confucian insight, she dismisses this as ever being true of all times despite the special evocation of the radical political agenda in both Mann and Trilling.

Further there is a distinction in the interior exploration of Mann and Kafka and eventually Milan Kundera as she discovers. Gish Jen cites Kundera: “For Proust, a man’s interior universe comprises a miracle, an infinity that never ceases to amaze us. But that is not what amazes Kafka.” It is the involvement with history that discriminates the Kafkaesque.

Gish Jen’s thesis is that there is a distinct trait to individualism in the aesthetic of the West, while its Asian counterpart is one that liberates the self from its own mundane-ness through its involvement with the everyday and the rest. Individualism intensifies from the East to West, as pointed out by Richard Nisbett, she says.

In the end, what is ultimately required is an integration of the individualist and the interdependentvisions — “a balance of independence and interdependence, I might say today.” “We need both interdependent and the independent self. But how interdependent of me to see them as two poles of human experience that cannot be disengaged!”

Gish Jen, we must remember, is a second generation Chinese American western writer — and she thinks critically and thinks at times in terms of even us and them . However her sensitivity to her own roots and the transparency with which she focuses on these textures is what makes Tiger Writingremarkably interesting.

The book as we have it now is divided into three sections, and the first section is entirely devoted to her father’s autobiography which he wrote when he was 85. Here the focus is entirely on non-episodic experiences and what we could term as personal history. The items described are external objects and the narrative reads like a map of external experience.

The second section is an exploration of art, culture and the self in western especially white middle class intellectual tradition. The third is suitably entitled “What Comes of All That”, and is a critical exploration of the integration of interdependence and independence. Gish Jen cites John Updike’s use of a “fervent relationship with the world” as a critical touchstone, Updike “affirming with this a nose-pressed-to-the-glass-ness that seemed to me the opposite of nose-pressed-to-the-mirror-ness .”

In conclusion the author resorts to an observation from Czeslaw Milosz on poetry which could be true for fiction as well and which lends the title to this book:

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent;

A thing brought forth that

we didn’t know we had in us,

So we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out

And stood in the light, las ing his tail.

This element of surprise and discovery that takes place in a work of art that leaps straight at both the reader and the writer is in the end that which matters, and Gish Jen’s translucency as a novelist with an astute critical sense is that which leads us through the pages of this extremely interesting narrative. Tiger Writing is thus at once a text of critical exploration and a manifesto.

( Murali Sivaramakrishnan teaches English at the Pondicherry Central University )

Two New Books 2013

Two New Books from
Authorspress,New Delhi

Communication and Clarification:Essays on English in the Indian Classroom        

Murali Sivaramakrishnan

  • Sri Aurobindo’s Aesthetics and Poetics:New Directions  

  • Murali Sivaramakrishnan

Mantra Pushpam

Yopam puspam veda
Puspavan prajavan pasuvan bhavati
Candramava Apam puspam
Puspavan, Prajavan pasuman bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanam bhavati.
Agnirva Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Yo gnerayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovagner ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Vayurva Apamaya tanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yova Yorayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati|
Apovai va yorayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Ya Evam veda
Yopamayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Asowvai tapanna pamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo musya tapata Ayatanan Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apova Amusyatapata Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Candrama Vama pamayatnam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yascandra masa Ayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Candra masa Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yo pamayatanam veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Nakshtrani va Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo Nakshtrana mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Nakshtrana mayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye evam Veda
Yopamaya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Parjanyova apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yah parjanyasya syayatinam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai parjanya Syayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye Evam veda
Yopa maya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Samvastaro Va Apamayatanam
Ayatavan bhavati
Yassavatsa rasyaya tanam Veda
Ayatavan bhavati.
Apovai samvasara ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam veda
Yopsu Navam pratistitam veda
Pratyeva tistati
Rajadhi rajaya Prasahya Sahine|
Namo Vayam Vai Sravanaya Kurmahe
Samekaman Kama Kamaya mahyam
Kamesvaro Vai Sravano dadatu
Kuberaya Vai Sravanaya
Maha rajaya Namah.

The world is all made of water and forms the basis of everything and is worthy of our prayers. As water is cool so also is the moon –cool like flower and water. He who understands this gets all prosperity [read with progeny and cattle].

Fire is also a producer of water and air is a producer of fire. Sea water rises as vapor in the skies as clouds and falls as rain to give us warmth and prosperity; Sun is also related to water. As we see the star [through astrological position] which determines rain and prosperity, we see the relation of stars for all this prosperity through water. Each year we get rains, and in order to get our rains the year around, the seasons count as equally important. The world revolves on water like a boat sailing in the ocean and he who understands this gets all the prosperity. [read with progeny and cattle].

This mantra is taken from Taithreeya Aranyakam of Yajur Veda. It is normally sung in a chorus by all the priests together after performing any Yajna or Pooja.

In summary, this stotra explains how water is the basis of this universe.

He who understands the flowers of water,
becomes the possessor of flowers, children and cattle.
Moon is the flower of the water,
He who understands this fact,
becomes the possessor of flowers, children and cattle.
He who knows the source of water,
Becomes established in himself,

“Why I chose Pondicherry University to pursue a PhD” –By Mark A. Shryock

Choosing a university for Ph.D. Research is a daunting task which is made all the more difficult if you are considering universities outside your own country of origin. Although I am an American, I have been a professor of English at a South Korean university the last four years. I wanted to pursue a PhD in English specializing in the study of literature and the environment from an interdisciplinary point of view or what is called ecocriticism. Ecocriticism is a new a field and there are only a handful of universities in the world that have strong English departments in this area. Most are in the United States with the University of Nevada Reno arguably being at the forefront with its strong ecocriticism faculty and involvement with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE).

Mark A. Shryock

Mark A. Shryock

In the Eastern half of the world there are five universities that are heavily involved with ASLE, located in Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, Japan, and India. Pondicherry University is the intellectual home of Ecocriticism Studies and the ASLE in India. This is largely due to the work of Dr. Murali Sivaramakrishnan who heads the English Department at Pondicherry University and is founder and president of ASLE India. The fact that Pondicherry University is one of five universities in the East associated with ecocriticism and the ASLE is in and of itself a profound and compelling reason for me to choose Pondicherry University for PhD research.

But for me, the main reason for choosing Pondicherry was the strong English Department that has developed and the chance to work directly with Dr. Murali. One of my deep interests is consciousness studies involving the ecology and evolutionary dynamics of whole systems. I was already familiar with a small part of Dr. Murali’s broad and interdisciplinary work when I cited his paper, ‘Involution and Evolution: Some Conceptual Issues in the Contexts of Indian Discourses’ in an earlier paper I did during my MA research. Dr. Murali has written numerous books across several areas, has lectured worldwide, and has created paintings, photographs, sculptures, and poems of world renown. He is well known at University of Nevada, Reno, and the ASLE, having won a Fulbright Postdoctoral Travel Grant to teach and do research there in 2006-2007. I especially love his new book “Learning to Think Like Myself” which left me stunned for a couple of days after reading it because it echoed so closely some of my own thoughts and doubts about the cost to my family for wandering the world in search of wisdom and understanding, and the loss of rootedness and home you trade for this privilege. For me, the opportunity to study under Dr. Murali is the most fortunate opportunity of my lifetime. When people ask me why I am studying at Pondicherry, I know I cannot really explain to them how blessed and fortunate I feel, but I always have the thought “My God, why would I study anywhere else!”

There is an intellectual excellence at Pondicherry I have never seen or felt anywhere else. Recently, at the India National ASLE Conference at Pondicherry I was amazed at the depth of articulation and understanding in the research presented. I had been used to presenting in a much more informal manner. I was outshined by every other paper presented. That Pondicherry has such academic rigor and passionite students and faculty only deepens my belief there is no better place in the world for me to pursue my research than Pondicherry University. Combine this with the warmth of the students and faculty, the beauty and location of the campus, and the low cost of an education that I do not feel I could get anywhere else in the world, why would I go anywhere else?

–Mark A. Shryock — markshryock@yahoo.com