30 September 2009


To Geetika Sinha


I wonder. I really do wonder if I don’t overdo it at times. Perhaps I do. But then, do I? And who’s to say if I really do or don’t?

Ah yes, life’s hard. Real hard. So many choices, so many options; this or that, now or then, thinking and thinking and thinking…

About what?

About what would be the correct response to a cultural performance.

Yes, yes, I can see you roll your eyes. ‘There he goes again’, you just said to yourself ‘rambling on about something as obvious as that! Really, what kind of bugger has these kinds of difficulties in figuring out something as simple! Response indeed! Respond any which way, it’s a free country after all!’

Exactly. Agreed. It is a free country. Theoretically, we’re all entitled to react in any which way to just about anything, and not just a cultural performance. I’m not questioning that, at least not here.

No, what I’m talking about here are the semantics of a viewer’s response to a performance, not as much as the response per se but the type of response: whether, to put it simplistically, it is intellectual, focusing more on its semantics and dealing basically with the varied philosophical ramifications, or whether it is superficial, willingly suspending disbelief to predominantly take note of material realities, sensory delights in all their magnificent multitudes.

Heck, what I really want to know is how can someone come out of a two hour long performance to just comment that the lead male was cute!

Yes, I mean, fine, agreed one notices such things-I in my turn thought a certain female character good looking-but to say just that and nothing else?

Is it possible that a performance should evince just such a response? Can a person really have nothing else to say about an excellent dramatic feat? To observe nothing but the looks of the actors on stage?

Even if one was extremely besotted with a particular person one would take in some amount of the dialogues of that particular character…would these not stimulate mental activity? Can the mind really be so completely turned off as to affect a total shutdown of the intellectual faculties?

I don’t think so.

But even as I say that, even as I deny the possibility of a complete shutdown and argue instead for an orientation wherein enjoyment supercedes analysis, what I’m concerned about here is the comparative worth of the two: which is more worthwhile and which should be given greater weightage, enjoyment or analysis?

As literature scholars, we’re conditioned to never accept a text unquestioningly. There’re always issues and motives, hidden or otherwise, and it is of paramount importance to identify and engage with them. To analysis a text-performance in this case-in our context is to actively seek out the politics of the artist, critique it from your own ideological standpoint and then apply the criticism to the larger social milieu, thus establishing its relevance to the present social structure. In doing so, in thinking about those issues, one goes forward onto other things, and other things, and so the chain goes on and on till one reaches a conclusion ostensibly far removed from the original topic but nonetheless linked to it by a series of interconnected ideas- which, interestingly, has also happened in this article right now!

However, even focussing on just the visual, sensory aspects of a performance too is criticism. If you like an actor, if you think s/he acted well, and say just as much, even that is passing judgment. In any case, saying just as much doesn’t really mean that you didn’t think of those issues or ideas: it implies, as I hinted earlier, that you choose to focus more on these visual aspects more than those analytical ones, and that they are, in the immediate context of your comment, more important to you than those latter ones. Perhaps you might go back home and think about them; perhaps you might not- perhaps you’re never really struck by these things.

And what if you aren’t? What if you always think of these so-called visual aspects, the sensory delights, and are never ever perturbed by avalanches of ideas? Don’t you become a lesser mortal? Doesn’t your incapacity, or refusal, to identify and critique make you backward, some sort of a retarded creature with stunted mental growth?

I would say it doesn’t.

After all, what ultimate end does analysis serve? You understand things more, you can see through artifices and constructs, look at them as they are, but then what? Few of us possess the power to actually affect any tangible change just through the dint of our criticism and even if we did, what is it for? To build, as it were a better world, a safer, happier place for us and the generations to come.

And is not the person making the most of the situation and enjoying the here and the now to the fullest abundantly more happy than the analytical critic arguing the nitty-gritty’s?

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