{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Absence of Soul !

An extract from the important yellow book, Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America : Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent. Added few links for starters like me.

Ideological justifications were never in short supply. The bleeding of the New World became an act of charity, an argument of the faith. With the guilt, a whole system of rationalizations for the guilty consciences was devised. The Indians were used as beasts of burden because they could carry a greater weight than the delicate Ilama, and this proved that they are in fact beasts of burden. The viceroy of Mexico felt that there was no better remedy for their "natural wickedness" than work in the mines. Juan Gines de Sepulvedam a renowned Spanish Theologian argued that they deserved the treatment they got because their sins and idolatries were an offense to God. The Count de Buffon, a French naturalist, noted that Indians were cold and weak creatures in whom "no activity of the soul" could be observed. The Abbe De Paw invented a Latin America where degenerate Indians lived side by side with dogs that couldn't bark, cows that couldn't be eaten, and impotent camels. Voltaire's Latin America was inhabited by Indians who were lazy and stupid, pigs with navels on their back, and bald and cowardly lions. Bacon, De Maistre, Montesquieu, Hume and Bodin declined to recognize the "degraded men" of the New World as fellow humans. Hegel spoke of Latin America's physical and spiritual impotence and said the Indians died when Europe merely breathed on them.

In the seventeenth century Father Gregorio Garcia detected Semitic blood in the Indians because, like the Jews, "they were lazy, they do not believe in the miracles of Jesus Christ, and they are ungrateful to the Spaniards for all the good they have done them". At least this holy man did not deny that the Indians were descended from Adam and Eve: many theologians and thinkers had never been convinced by Pope Paul III's bull of 1537 declaring the Indians to be "true men". When Bartolome de las Casas upset the Spanish Count with his heated denunciations of the conquistadors' cruelty in 1557, a member of the Royal Council replied that Indians were too low in the human scale to be capable of receiving the faith. Las Casas dedicated his zealous life to defending the Indians against the excesses of mine owners and encomenderos. He once remarked that the Indians preferred to go to hell to avoid meeting Christians.

Indians were assigned or given in encomienda to conquistadors and colonizers so that they could teach them the gospel. But since the Indians owned personal services and economic tribute to the encomenderos, there was little time for setting them on Christian path of salvation.

Indians were divided up along with lands given as royal grants, or were obtained by direct plunder: in reward to services, Cortes recieved 23000 vassals. After 1536 Indians were given in encomienda along with their descendants for the span of two lifetimes, those of the encomendero and of his immediate heir: after 1629 this was extended to three lifetimes and, after 1704, to four. In the eighteenth century the surviving Indians still assured many generations to come of a cozy life. Since their defeated gods persist in Spanish memory, there were saintly rationalizations aplenty for the victor's profit from their toil: the Indians were pagans and deserved nothing better.

The past? Four hundred years after the papal bull, in September 1957, the highest court in Paraguay published a notice informing all the judges of the country that "the Indians, like other inhabitants of the republic, are human being". And the Center for Anthropological Studies of the Catholic University of Asuncion later carried out a revealing survey, both in the capital and in the countryside: eight out of ten Paraguayans think that "Indians are animals". In Caaguazu, Alta Parana, and the Chaco, Indians are hunted down like wild beasts, sold at bargain process, and exploited by the system of virtual slavery - yet almost all Paraguayans have Indian blood, and the Paraguayans tirelessly compose poems, songs and speeches in the homage to the "Guarani soul"

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


There is a road named A-B Road, which goes neither to A nor to B. If one considers it even worthy of being a problem, there can be two basic solutions to it. First and the practical one is to change the name of road (may be to where ever it goes). Second and more convoluted solution is to bend the road and make it to go to A and B. In real life, first one is the only solution. In art, first one is absolute no. Thinking of the second solution and finding hurdles might be the one way. Thinking that some crazy person might implement the second solution, and to imagine the outcome of that may be other. Art may give impression that the first one is a better solution but its aim is not to give it. Its aim is to show what happens when right ways are not followed for what ever reasons, who are effected, how they are affected, why such things happen again and again. Yes, it all sounds moralistic, and it is too. I feel all art is deep down moralistic. It is the heart of it, which makes it alive. Art, for one, is a way to communicate, share and resist solitude. Art, for two, is to create. Art, for three, is to imagine and hope for a better world. We imagine a lot, we use some of it to create, and we communicate only some of what we create. What we consider worthy of communicating and sharing as art has some basic quality. That basic quality is artist’s idea of morality. Do not think of it as a stepwise filter as I made it sound like, it’s instinctive. A real artist don’t create a patchwork of morality, he does whatever his instinctive morality guides him to do. That is the intrinsic personal part of his creation. Art is one which tells us how people confuse between gardening (of the type generally practiced by bourgeoisie house wives or retired husbands) and ecology, and at the same tell us something basic about the ennui of those city-gardeners. It does not prison itself; it observes freely and reports morally. Even in a devil-may-care creation, artist cares (I think that’s why people feel safe in hands of certain artists). Even if there is no morality in the text, morality lies in the judgment of selecting things which an artist wants to communicate. Here also selection is not a conscious act. That’s why some of the follies in what and how an artist want to communicate do not amount to an error in judgment but to collapse of his entire human faculty.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Jeanne Dielman: Second Day Report

I started to watch Jeanne Dielman 2 days back, after dinner. Jeanne Dielman is about the daily life of a widow living with her teenager son and is supposedly one of the greatest feministic works. Its 3 hours and 13 minutes long. First day I completed just above one hour and slept while it completed itself. The second day, I started earlier so that I can complete it fully. I couldn't but after 2 hours and 20 minutes, it has started to take its shape. It’s still about an hour from finish though but I am quite sure that it’s a masterpiece in itself. It does what I expect from great writings, to make a language and world of their own.

The perfection of Jeanne's activities, perfect multitasking of her daily jobs, the static schedule of her chores is reflected in the perfection of static framings, camera placements and most orderly editing. Camera is still and voyeuristic, strategically placed and observant, never interfering but always watching.

The film is justifiably 3 hrs long. The first half of the film is definitely an exercise to accustom the viewers to a certain pace, and this pace is not due to any technical or stylistic reason but is tied to the pace of Jeanne's daily world. As we become involved in its pace, we start noticing every detail. We notice that the sweater which Jeanne's son is wearing is small for him and the new sweater that Jeanne is knitting is to be made longer because Jeanne's son likes it so. Not to say that these details are important to understand the film or such observations will benefit us to understand the film better at a later point in any way, but to say that we become attentive and start to connect minute things. We observe the light switches turned on and off very carefully and wonder if they have something more than their usual function to light a particular part of house. Also there is some rhythm in all this, kitchen on, living room off, and so on. As camera follows Jeanne, light precedes her. Next time when she will leave an unwanted light, we will be the first one to notice and wonder what this slight break in routine might account for or amount to. We notice when Jeanne accidentally leaves one of her coat button open and we feel immensely relieved when she notices it and promptly buttons it up.

On the second hour (her second day) things starts to go slightly off the pattern they followed the previous day, successful multitasking which was on expert display yesterday go slightly wrong. The dinner is late, the potatoes burn. We slowly feel the tension due to this turbulence just because we have watched the first hour perfection.

There is a moment of absolute beauty in the second half, a moment which might have gone unnoticed or might have been overemphasized elsewhere. After the daily routine of Jeanne goes off the track and to confirm this, potatoes burn, Jeanne goes out to buy more potatoes, comes back, sits in her kitchen on the usual place, weary and little confused and anxious how today things are going out of her deft hands, begins to peel potatoes with a resigned face. Once she is done with one potato and is midway through the next, something happens, and her pace increases. She doesn’t cheer up, but her hands starts moving faster. A mild burst of physical energy betraying her mental state owing to her responsibility as a homemaker. It is a short moment where she mentally decides that she needs to complete her work. This is an unsung collapse and rise by our heroine - momentary and unvoiced.

Jeanne Dielman is amazing because it is so religiously straight but its effect is quite non-linear. As we begin to see the second day, first we try to compare it with the last day and while observing the differences, try to sort out something out of normalcy of Jeanne's life, and in a way, some of this tension is released when potatoes burn. It is, in all its modesty, as big an event as eruption of volcano in a Hollywood blockbuster. Now we smell there is something wrong under the surface.