Friday, August 11, 2006

The English Patient: Reading the Re-presentation

Media representation of the Sikhs have been quite reflective of the theoretical violence that has been inflicted upon the community from various circles. The Sikhs have been re-presented according to an orientalist discourse that intially operated within the power dynamics of colonial rule and was exclusively adopted in the construction of Indian nationalism, strictly modernist in it nature. The Sikh body is located within its own authority structure, one that involves an immersion in a particular kind of religious praxis that places the self within the Word (Shabad) as the locus of true Being, rather than the rational ego. This is why it naturally resists an alien Imperial authority, such as the colonisers and indigenous contemporary rulers bring for both assume the ego and reason as ultimate centers of authority. This is also why the Sikh body is treated so harshly and violently.

The Sikh body negates the experience of presentness central in the imperialist discourse and sings Shabad in all times which is radically disturbing for the commodification of both music and text. It traces authenticity of the Being in the moments created by the Guru both in the Shabad as well as practice, thereby challenging the authenticity that has been established via well thoughtout design of imperialism. As it terms the imperialistic design as illusory, for the Sikh body, its too ususal to come under attack. The Sikh body is so conspicous that it would come under attcks such as its misrepresentation in Hollywood, mockery in the bollywood, and manslaughter in the streets of Punjab and Delhi.

Although the re-presentation of Ondaatje's Kip in the movie comes with a kind of 'sophistication' bollywood has just realized to have, the orientalist twist in the movie is quite obvious for the audience that has read the novel. In this article, Nikki Singh has explored the transformation of Kirpal Singh's character from the novel to movie. The article explores how "Ondaatje sensitively portrays Kip’s development from a colonial false consciousness to an authentic post-colonial Self", and how "Ondaatje’s book which ends in a postcolonial consciousness is subverted and perverted into a colonial text by Minghella et al." Nikki Singh explains how the Sikh body can never be dissociated from Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, a place that provides it with the transformative moments. As Kirpal Singh's inner journey and his experince of the Harimandir are absent from the movie, "without history and identity the Sikh sapper effortlessly glides in and out of Hollywood's phantasy world."

The article concludes by quoting Said’s claim “that systems of thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions—mind-forg’d manacles—are all too easily made, applied, and guarded" (1979:328). In support of the authenticity of the concluding remarks, I would suggest to see this orientalist disturbance with Ondaatje's Kip.

Prabhsharandeep Singh

1 comment:

Prabhsharanbir Singh said...

You have suggested that media mis-representation of sikhs has occured due to their different understanding of life such as "an immersion in a particular kind of religious praxis that places the self within the Word (Shabad) as the locus of true Being, rather than the rational ego", which is alien to the imperialist discourse. This is true, there is no doubt about it. However the above mentioned factor is by no means the only reason working behind their mis-representation. The violence, theoretical or physical, which sikhs have endured throughout their history, has been always unusually fierce. It is always extraordinarily terrible. It seems that whenever someone in authority confronts Sikhs, he/She becomes more cruel than he/She is in ordinary circumstances. It can be suggested here that it is due to the wholly other response-ability and majestic radiance of their very existence, which is unbearable for an ego trying to master the whole of creation instead of participating in its play.
Imperialist or orientalist discoure, these are two names for the working of western metaphysics, is like a chronic corn. You cannot defeat it by sheer fighing. Because first of all, before your becoming aware of this disease, it is already part of your identity. It has already inhabited you. So you will have to realize that you are not fighting an outside enemy, but an inseparable part of your identity. Now, you see that you are facing an aporia. See how:
You have said,"The Sikh body is located within its own authority structure". What you have stated about the Sikh Body in the subsequent portion of the quoted line is fine in itself. But you have also talked about its own authority structure. Both these words, authority and structure, are somewhat bitter fruits of the tree of western metaphysics. Authority and Structure, thats what the Sikh Body resists and fights with all its might. Look, how covert is the language of metaphysics that it has succeeded in sneaking into and contaminating the very voice which is trying to fight it. The Sikh Body has no authority structure. It is Vismadic participation in the play of creation. It is so fluid that it resists any conceptualisation. Only poetic( poetic not in ordinary sense, but in the manner of Heidegger) and musical saying can capture its glimpses. The task before us is very very arduous. We need a new language to articulate the Sikh Body which would be able to secure itself against the virus of western metaphysics. This post-metaphysical language would be poetic in its nature as Heidegger has also suggested. But this task lies beyond the reach of mortals. It can only come about through Grace. And Grace can occur only when someone capable of enduring it has been arrived i.e. the complete man, the Khalsa, the Gurmukh.
You have mentioned the English Patient, the novel as well as the movie. You have also pointed toward the difference between the two. The movie is more under the swell of orientalist stance than the novel. It suggests that the novelist is freer than the director in expressing himself. The film director is more under pressure of mob mentality than the creative artist. This is related both to the economy and nature of movies and fictional works. So the resistence against orientalism should rely more on literature as a mode of expression than films.