Sunday, January 29, 2006

Towards a New Poetics and Politics of Being

It was an early morning. I had woken up at 4: 30. Before going to bed at 11: 30 the previous night, I was looking at Eleanora's book shelf and was happy to see many books of poems and novels. Eleanora had picked me up from the Italian small town of Ferara at eight thirty the previous night and was driving me to station that morning for me to be able to catch a train to Venice. There was a deep silence all around. I said: "Elenora! It seems you are a great lover of poetry." Eleanora said: "Yes, I am! I love poetry; poetry comes from human heart." The last night during our late dinner Eleanora had shared with me her involvement with the local branch of Attac Italy. Eleanora had told me that she was attracted to Attac because here she found a new mode of doing politics. I asked Eleanora: "What is the relationship between your love for politics and love for poetry?" In the midst of the dancing chorus of rains, Eleanora said, "For me both deal with human heart. Politics is not only about acquiring power. It is touching and healing human heart so that our existence can be lived with the tune of our heart spontaneously and in loving relationship with others."
Eleanora does not speak English and we had our discussion with the help of her Italian-English dictionary by her side in the dinner table. On our way Eleanora told me that she teaches "little people" in a school about environment. Her expression of "little people" for children reminded me of Gilles Deleuze who urges us to realize the creative possibilities and transformation in language when one speaks a language as a foreigner and even when one speaks ones" s own language as an outsider. Eleanora's translation of children as "little people" suggested to me that possibility. In Eleanora we find a new poetics and politics of being and becoming, a poetry and politics of self-cultivation and public participation. It is a poetry and politics of human heart which transgresses the familiar dichotomy between self-development and social commitment. We find this in many people across the globe who are striving and struggling for making possible another world. Helena is a leading figure in Attac in Sweden and Europe. She is completing her studies in international development at the Peace and Development Research Institute at the University of Gothenburg, at the same time as she is fighting for a better world beyond the imperialistic logic of contemporary corporate globalization. She and Attac want a democratic control of contemporary multinational economic forces which are guided by the sole motive of profit maximization. She, as well as friends in Attac Sweden, want Sweden to take a unilateral step in third world debt reduction.
Helena and her teacher and friend Hans have developed a notion of confrontative dialogue as a mode of engagement for critical conversation and collective action. During our meetings, Hans elaborated this: "The contemporary notions of dialogues are geared towards an apriori consensus or consensus as a goal. But we do not want consensual dialogue nor confrontational violence but confrontational dialogue. You can confront and at the same time be dialogical. You confront the other person with your position in order to help the other person also clarify her position. You are able to see from where the other person is coming."
Confrontative dialogue calls for not only argumentation but also listening. It also calls for self-cultivation. It is not satisfied with just a villainous construction of the other: the need for transformation here is as much personal as structural. It is no wonder then that Helena, a practitioner of confrontative dialogue, also practices meditation. She has also been a practicing Buddhist for the last years. Becoming a Buddhist was certainly an interesting turn in her life as she had begun her university studies in order to be a priest. Helena feels that many a times critical global justice movements are easily satisfied with a villainous construction of the other such as the World Bank and George W. Bush. But for her the enemy is as much inner as well as outer. Hence the opposition between politics and morality that underlie many critical thinkers today such as Jürgen Habermas is inadequate for her self-actualisation.
I was so happy to meet with a kindred spirit and seeker in Gerardo in Sao Paulo, Brazil, just a week after my recent meeting with Eleanora and Helena. I had gone to Sao Paulo to take part in a seminar on participatory democracy jointly organized by UFMG, a university in Bel Horizonte, and the city council of Sao Paulo. In my presentation I had talked about spiritual cultivation in the process of democratic participation and this immediately established a bond between us-- myself and Gerardo, as also between myself and many of his co-workers in the Participatory Budgeting Council of the City such as Paulo and Fathima. Gerardo is a young man, only 20 years now. He has finished his first degree in international relations and has been working with the participatory budget council of the city of Sao Paulo for a year. Participatory budgeting is an instrument and mode of popular participation in the spending of the money in projects that people themselves prioritize and formulate. It embodies a spirit of permanent mobilization and suggests the possibility for a democratic control of the economy. During our meeting, Gerardo told me: "I was born into a Catholic family. Over the years I have also opened myself to Buddha and Gandhi." I could not believe my ears when my friend, so young in age, told me: "The only thing you can be radical about is love. I started with spirituality and then came to politics. I want to do something concrete. There is no final solution. The final solution lies in being together."
During my recent journeys I have been touched by my meeting with another young person who embodies this ideal of welfare of all in a silent but inspiring way. Pratima is in her late 20s and works in an integral school in the tribal hinterlands of Ayodhya in the district of Balasore, Orissa in India. Integral schools are alternative educational experiments inspired by Sri Aurobindo and Mother's vision of integral evolution of humanity. Pratima was born into a Brahmin family and has a college degree. She has not got married. She teaches and stays in the integral school in Ayodhya and is not only a teacher but also a mother to her students. Many of her children are tribals and Dalits and they come from the neighboring hamlets where tribals and Harijans live. The village has a Government upper primary and middle school but these are located in the center and amidst caste neighborhoods and the children from tribal and Harijan hamlets do not feel welcomed in this school and are subjected to many humiliating comments not only from fellow students but also from the teachers.
But as the principal of the integral school in the village, Pratima invites them not only to the school but also to her heart. Most of the children here suffer from skin diseases and in the evening Pratima not only takes extra classes but also cleans their wounds. It was an unforgettable experience for me to sit besides Pratima one evening as she was cleaning the chimney glass for her evening class in the school which does not have electricity and hear her share her feelings: "I no longer feel my body as separate from their body." In her sadhana and struggle the mobilized categories of identity politics of Brahmin and Dalit are breaking down as she, a fair looking Brahmin girl, cleans the wounds of tribal and Dalit students. Pratima draws inspiration from Sri Aurobindo and Mother and in her silent, persistent and joyful work provides us the glimpses of transformation of religion and spirituality at a time in India when fundamentalist forces, in the name of religion and caste, are finding pleasure in burning others alive rather than touching each other's bodies and experience our common humanity.
Eleanora, Helena, Gerardo and Pratima embody a new poetics and politics of being. They are struggling for achieving another world, a world which can be truly "ours" in a meaningful way. Their aspirations and social struggles can be better understood and appreciated in what Fred Dallmayr, the soul-touching seeker and theorist of our times, writes about the calling of achieving our world at the contemporary juncture in his "Achieving our World: Towards a Plural and Global Democracy":
" (...) achieving does not suggest a form of technical construction or social engineering; rather, the term here has the connotation of practical labor or engagement - a labor in which the 'achieving' agents are continuously challenged (or called into question) by what needs to be achieved. (..) If the goal of 'achieving' involves the simultaneous transformation of achieving agents, [..then] the world can be 'ours' only in a highly complex and mediated way - assigning to human beings only the task of responsible guardianship rather than mastery or possession."
Eleanora, Helena, Gerardo, Pratima and Dallmayr urge us for a new poetics and politics of being and going beyond the contemporary logic of violence, terror and cynicism. But do we want to listen and take part?
Litterature and explanations
Global Transformations: Postmodernity and Beyond, Ananta Kumar Giri
Conversations and Transformations: Towards a New Ethics of Self and Society., Ananta Kumar Giri
Dalits are also known as untoucables. Brahmins are the high-casts in Hinduism

Ananta Kumar Giri is on the faculty of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.He can be reached at:

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