Safdar Janam Talk: Aijaz Ahmad
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Aijaz Ahmed: What I think I'll like to do, is instead of __________, traditions of culture, teachers of culture and so on. I had a thought, in fact I was dicussing with [static] to express their views first and then if I had to add anything I would add (laughing). Because I am sure the audience knows a lot more about these things than I do. ----, a couple of rather strong statements in the beginning and then [static[ say words, and then go on to say something about the forms of production and some drives code for ---. Sameer Anime has given a very provocative definition, which in the end I will accept, but I think (---). He says, [Static]. So that in its fundamental sense, culture is incompatible with commodity production. Once [----] But I guess there is something to be said for that, specially in consideration for popular culture. In fact, this title I never sent in writing. And very loosely said to friends [---------]
What is this popular in popular culture? What is the meaning of it, that's actually what I mean. A particular nation accept at the end of the day — there is something else that I want to say, which is just (as start is that?) Which is, as of now, today, the world we live [------------------]
And I would then propose that national cultures, as they are called, or other kinds of cultures — Muslim culture, Hindu culture, whatever — are actually very [---]. And they are materially lived. But the lovely achievement of capatalism is to be a single solution within which these values live. Which is why we cal [-----]. Now to the extent that commodity is the universal basis of this [?} it is very important for markets to function. [----] of immense variety and freedom, we get that. In other words, the civilization commodity [?] does not negate [--------------].
That is an enormous emphasis now on ethnicity... um.... communities.... little narratives as against the grand narrative and so on. And my argument is that it is to sustain the practical illusion of diversity within this unit, within this civilisation, produced by commodity production. Let these variants get played out. And the one grand narrative of — cultural grand narrative that never gets discussed in these high [places?] — is actually the narrative of capital [?]. That's one rather strong statement I want to make. Then I want to think about — before I use the word 'civilisation' and 'culture' and this overarching global civilisation of which there are these variant cultural forms. I want therefore go back to —
Sudhu: I am sorry Aijaz.
So that's the assertion that I want to actually now... First of all, think a little bit about these words that I've used. Civilisation and culture. These are old words. One of the problem in using words of this kind is they have many meanings. And there is no correct meaning. Because those meanings have been generated in very different kinds of contexts, contradictions and continents. These are conflictual words — people have fought over the meaning. So one actually has to know what the contextual means might be. But in its origins — and I want to think of these as English words because you know, the modern world as we know it, and therefore conceptions regarding the modern world that percolate in our heads, actually come from English.
Because our first encounter with the modern world happened through the agency of the British. So it's important to sort of think of certain words in terms... through which we think about these things. They are both very, very different words and very old words. One thing that I find very striking in the origins of these words is that the word 'culture' is very — many people know — was a noun of 'process'. And a noun of process of working on nature. And transforming it in... you know, through productive labour. So that it was originally a noun that had to do with, um, husbandry, with cultivation... That is why 'culture', 'cultivation', it is... etymologically they are the same words.
So it has very interesting relationship with nature. That it is not possible without nature. That it acts upon nature. And nature is transformed through culture. So that, for example, the... you know... rice as we know it is not a product of nature; it's actually a product of culture. This is not the grass out of which human labour produced a thing called rice. So that's where it comes from. Whereas the word 'civilisation' comes from a completely different background. And its origin of it had to do with bringing the criminal element of society under civil law.
So Roman conceptions of subduing the world of criminality and bringing it into the world of civility. And the opposite of it was — it was never connected with nature, but, in fact, with transformation of the human element — and the opposite of it was actually boundaries. So the act of civilising is, from the very beginning, civilising of human beings. Later on, of course it came to be, to mean something else. In culture, then, there is a very strong class element. Because very soon the word 'culture' came to be... to mean a number of different things, one of them being that aristocracy, the blue blood is by nature civil.
And cultural. Whereas it is perhaps possible to lift the rest — the commoner, the popular classes — to some level of culture through education, through pedagogy, through... And for that, the best means of education — the highest forms — in the British culture was literature and the arts. Hence the connection between culture and the arts. It is possible to transform the plebeian nature, to a certain extent, through giving them rigorous cultural training. Particularly through literature and the arts.
Whereas civilisation — the realm of civility — was always much more the act of organising society as a whole. So the word 'civilisation' has actually come to mean much wider amalgams of social processes which are historically produced within which, then, the work of education can go on. The world civilisation came to have very strong meaning of 'derived from enlightenment'. Of secular... civil, secular, democratic order for humanity in general. Essentially, universalist in character.
The word 'culture', on the other hand, became very favourite with the Romantics, both in England and the rest of Europe. And the decisive point in, with philosophers like Herder — the German philosopher — who, for the first time in this whole discussion of civilisation and culture, started saying that that universalist idea of a uniform culture through secular, rational education which the Enlightenment had proposed, needs to be modified because all peoples have their own distinctive culture. And for the first time, therefore, the word 'culture' came to be used in the plural. Cultures.
Variety of cultures and so on. Within this idea, within all this the idea always was that the plebs are not cultured, the common people are not cultured; they can be lifted into a culture. And that idea remained even when they started talking about national cultures. You could have a national culture, you could have Hindu civilisation, even though the Dalits, who were a part of your population were not really a part of that culture and civilisation.
You could educate them to a certain extent, bring them up to a certain level of civility — lower castes, untouchables, or whatever. You could bring them up to a certain level of civility — perhaps even in the modern idea— but they really adopt part of that. And yet, you can talk of an Indian culture. An Indian culture which is not shared equally around castes. Which can be internally hierarchical but it is in distinction to others that it gains its own individuality and its historical formation essentially among its elite or classes. And there I also want to think of another very interesting discussion.
Distinction in the English language. Which is between 'classes' and 'masses'. Classes — originally, the distinction was 'classes' consist of people who were property owners. And therefore, manifestly, have attributes of being cultured. Whereas masses are those people out there who don't have property, who don't have culture, who don't have that. Who are basically a threat to culture. So culture and anarchy pair and come ..[?]. Um, this distinction between 'classes' and 'masses', the 'cultured' and the rest and so on began to come into... began to come into a... it began to, sort of.... came under stress really after the riots of the industrial revolution and industrialisation of societies which required a much wider ... base of the educated population.
So the idea of accepting that, um... that, this... what was called 'culture' by the upper classes, could in fact be, to a certain extent, given to other people. Now before that, there was a sharp distinction between the practices — you didn't quite call it 'culture' — but the practices of the lower order (which the uneducated, the ungraceful, the untutored, the cultivated had) and a distinct realm of culture. Now when you began to educate people precisely into this world of culture, precisely through those instruments of literature and et al, then [weathered] the distinction between the truly cultured and 'culturable', so to speak. And first uses of the word 'popular culture' start at this level. And for the first time, popular classes come to acquire certain amounts of culture.
And yet the tension remains, because, beside from a very small part of big culture, of high culture, it was important to educate them, a different realm of writing is being produced for them. [..?] So two distinct kinds of literary production began. One that was really for the classes and another which was for the masses. And it's in this tension between real culture (high culture) and popular culture, that the commercial classes, the educated sections of the lower classes, began to lay claims to what was aristocratic culture.
And that came particularly in the realm of literature. Laymen started making those claims. The circulating library became one of the major instruments, actually. for this tension, where the literature of the high order came to be distributed among the popular classes. And fiction actually came to be seen, therefore, as a lower realm of literature than poetry because it was something that layman write. And this is something that every classes write. Whereas. actually, it did not have the taste, the cultivation, to grasp it because they didn't have the cultured attributes through which to truly grasp it. They didn't have, for example, classical education and so on.
So the first usage of popular culture is that. Now let me make a jump from that to say that what we call popular culture now is deeply tied up, the emergence of it, is deeply tied up with shifts in technology. And here we're talking about means of communication. Even the term 'means of communication' is relatively a recent term. It came up during the eighteenth century. Before that, the term used to be 'lines of communication'. Because communication before that actually meant 'to transmit', 'to transport', certainly 'to give'. But lines of communication were, in fact, roads, coaches... For human beings as well as for, for the postal system and things like that.
Those were the 'lines of communication'. The shift from 'lines of communication' to 'means of communication' comes very much when the word 'communication' changes its meaning to 'transmitting of meaning'. Transmitting of ideas. The first major event of it, is print technology. And the widest usage of it, of that, comes in the form of newspapers and particularly fiction. So that already by the early nineteenth century Hegel is saying that newspaper is the morning prayer of the modern man. You get up in the morning and you read the newspaper instead of getting up in the morning saying a prayer, so it's the modern man's...
And there are all kinds of ideas about of what the coming of newspaper did. One of the things that the coming of the newspaper did was that it introduced advertisements. Now advertisements, to start with, were the announcement that certain supplies of things have arrived. It was just an announcement. But gradually became ... a means of saying such and such thing have arrived in my shop and you should buy this rather than that — advertising in the modern sense as we know it. And by the late nineteenth century in the United States, most newspapers — there were a whole lot of newspapers— and most newspapers consisted actually of advertisements.
Bit of news thrown in here and there, just to call it a newspaper. Something like, you know, what's happening to the Hindustan Times and so on. [Laughter]. You know that is the editorial policy actually. I mean, it has been said by owners that that's what the function of the newspaper is. So, newspapers then become part of the... not only a commodity themselves but part of the selling of commodities. And, therefore, attractive presentation of commodities. Then comes the next set of technologies. Radio, first of all. And the telephony; which is to say the telegram and the telephone.
Now, I want to go through this very briefly because I want to make the point that what we now call the 'means of cultural production' or 'means of communication' are a very new phenomenon in human history. As of 1950, there was no trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific cable for telephoning. It's as recent as that. Before the second world war, only the United States and, to a lesser extent, Britain — and even in the United States, very few — had television. Television even in Europe is a late entrant into means of communication.
It is in the days of my — I mean, I was well out of college, when television, you know national television in the subcontinent was introduced both in India and in Pakistan. The same year; in the 60s or something like that, I don't really know about it. Even these, you know, let alone other kinds of technologies. So the modern age of globalisation as we increasingly call it, which begins to emerge after the Second World War, actually, at the moment of its beginning, only had telephoning, mainly, as a modern means of communication, other than letters and so on. The computer is invented during the Second World War.
And does not become — it's only in the 80s, early 90s that even in the west it becomes something that individuals, writers or intellectuals would use. I think it's around the 1980s that I become aware of something like a little computer that I could buy and in which I could store fifteen pages in one file. [Laughter]. And so on. One has to understand how recent it is. And how rapid a transformation of what we call popular culture, this has implied and involved. And one of the functions of this rapid rate is actually the obliteration of the period in human history when these means of communication were not the means through which human beings communicated with each other.
So that when these means come, the word 'popular culture' comes to be used essentially during the 1920s. And already people like Adorno and so on are dissatisfied with the word popular culture. The first — as soon as the word comes in; within ten years or so, Adorno begins to use the word culture industry with precisely the meaning that... with precisely the objection that we now have. That this is not a culture that is produced by the popular classes. Popular classes are the object of this culture. But its actual, fundamental characteristic as different from all previous forms of culture is that it's industry produced. Corporate.. it's a corporate production and its profit based production and so on. And so its naturally a culture industry; it's already in the 1930s.
And that is ... but that is also very Pressian because that is a way of seeing that this is good. But until now, what did you have? You had some film in a very restricted sense. The only really mass technological instrument, even in Europe, was only the radio. You had film to a certain extent and yet — let me add that as soon as these technologies came, they became extremely powerful political instruments. Mussolini's rise to power is difficult to imagine without the radio. I mean, the means through which he mobilised those masses of fascism.
And it was that mobilising ability of the radio. And then the film came which was much more contentious. Because on the one side there was the Bolshevik... I mean after the revolution, the Soviet masters who took over and produced some of powerful cinema to this day in the service of the revolution. And on the other side was fascist cinema. And the generalisation of the [?] among the German masses and so on. But through the showing of those films and all that. Broadcasting it on the radio and then showing it on the film.
It had become — it was a very contentious medium. It has become at the very origins of these new technologies, that they were politically very powerful. And that they had an immense potential for the manipulation of mass consciousness. Of producing what you could in politics — in political terms — call 'the mass'. By the way, what also interests me — this masses, classes is also something that is usually very interesting fashion of the communist movement. They are mass organisations. And there is the class formation of the party. The political party, the class formation. But they are mass formulations for the masses of peasantry, masses even of the working class, students... So that particular distinction is also very interesting. I could talk about that, but I won't.
So, the first consciousness stays among the left intelligence of what was going on with these new media actually comes in the late 1920s, 1930s. The sheer explosive potential to behave new forms of mass consciousness very rapidly, either revolutionary or fascist. So that the whole idea that the technology can be used for one or the other but that it has many distinctive [areas?]. It also then begins to.. question begins... comes, what do these technologies do? There is the study I've read from the 1930s. Survey. There is a woman in it who is saying, "The radio is the best friend of the lonely person through which I can communicate with the leaders of my time, with film stars, with sport stars. I don't have to be alone."
The very next woman whose — I mean this is the survey — the very next woman whose, um, interviewed in this survey says that, "I refuse to and will not allow my husband to buy a radio, because as soon as a radio comes into my house, people stop talking to each other; they just sit and listen. And I understood this very quickly because my sister had bought a radio and I find that when we go there my husband spends his time playing with the dial all the time and doesn't talk to me" and so on. What would be said later, with much justification, about the television. Already in the 1930s... What I am saying is that when these new technologies come, they have immediate effect.
And they have effects both at the end of mass... you know, heavier in hundreds of thousands and billions of people. But also in transformation of subjectivities. Of human subjectivities and human behaviour. And this is perceived very much already in the days of radio. In the First/Second World War they... when these radio and television becomes quite wide spread, first throughout Europe and then increasingly in the rest of the world. First in Latin America, then in the new independent countries.
One thing that you may wish to think about is that only the United States were these private enterprises. Everywhere else, they were state monopolies. Radio was state, and was seen as a pedagogical instrument. There was tremendous pride— which BBC has lost only within the last fifteen years or so— in claiming to transmit accurate information. And in organising social debate. These are the two great things about information. And responsible entertainment and educative programs.
All of which came to be... um... Let me first say, it's really in the last, in the period of new liberalism and deregulation that these fundamental instruments of human information and communication have become privatised and corporate entities. But by in large, by in large, TV and radio, privatisation of these... You know, the process is much longer but it's really from the late 1880s onwards that privatisation comes and now, by now, with WTO, it's mandatory to open up your [?] for private enterprise, for trans-national investment.
So popular culture as we now have it through these means, itself has been transformed in terms of its ownership. And with a change of ownership patterns the very kind of culture, the very kind of forms that they transmit... On the one hand, there is tremendous technological explosion. Cables are laid 1956, 1957 the time when the first telephonic cables are laid across the Atlantic and the Pacific. By 1980, there are over 800 such cables and some 70,000 [voice box?].
By then the satellite technology in fiber optics had matured. By then comes the computer into its form as a mass medium. The reason why computer was invented as a major technology was, of course, for military uses and for transmission of financial messages. Because for finance it's very important. To put it bluntly, what happen is that the... the stock exchanges of the world — Bombay, Tokyo, Frankfurt, London — cannot function as organisms, as units of the same organism, if there is any lapse... or rather they can — let me put it positively — they can all function as part of the same organism only if the time for the transmission of the message is reduced effectively to zero.
If that does not happen, then the time lag means that people cannot speculate on the same commodities and so on and so forth, because some people will get that information before others. So it's absolutely essential for them to get to that point. So the great... the great investment in these kinds of technologies, and the revolutionary changes in the level of these technologies that have come about, have actually come about for [fees] of military and finance. It is the by product of that investment which has created a situation of what we call 'popular culture'.
What you have in popular culture is, first of all, culture is everywhere. Culture is everywhere in the sense that, for example, you cannot walk on urban streets without encountering advertisements, billboards, selling this, that or the other. Which are visual images, which ingrained your senses. And the best of that advertising, officially as a [?], is essentially modernistic character in terms of its, um, methods of composition. Modernism no longer lives as a high cultural form. It as now lives as an advertising form, a graphic form in advertising.
[--?] Visual images are everywhere. Music, you know... In a really modern building you can't even go up in an elevator without having to listen to music. I can't, if I make a phone call to any of these... my bank, my telephone, whatever, I have to listen to this pirated music. And the facility of it — and that thing that woman said in the 1930s, "radio is the best friend of the lonely person"... the headset. You listen to music as you work. I see students studying while listening to music. This is what Adorno called regression in listening.
You really don't listen but you have that sound which does something to your unconscious. But consciously you are actually reading a book. But you need to do that thing to your unconscious. So no matter how good music you play — I mean it's rare that people play that kind music, but regardless of how good music you play, there is still a regression in listening. Music is everywhere. The visual image is everywhere. And the visual images are of such variety, and such constancy, that your way of looking is degraded.
I don't know how many people in this room — and certainly nobody without lots of grey hair— can even imagine a city without advertising. It used to be an astounding experience during the socialist period, going to Eastern Europe, cities like that. A city without an advertisement. Shops would have beautiful boards which would only announce the things that they were selling. Tobacco, newspaper, groceries, whatever. To have, you know, great majestic European cities, to actually see them in their classical beauty, without that intervention of a billboard.
See, I mean, in what we call — You know, what I want to think about in terms of 'popular culture' is this colonisation of the unconscious to which we are all subjected. From which separating out is a different matter. It is everywhere. During the colonial period a small number of people went to the colonial classroom for a few hours. Some of what they imbibed was colonial propaganda, some of what they imbibe was knowledge. But that was that. Now what you have is that the entire realm of this kind of popular culture, this invasion of, this kind of music and this kind of visuality, is so constant that there is very little time for you to live a reflective existence.
And that is what the aim of it is. Let me talk about —you know, and this is not accidental. Same thing — let me talk about some of the centralisation part. There are two corporation in the world who control virtually the whole of the collection of the visual images that are used in news. In television news. For print, three corporations. News, news information, news visual image too. You read the best of our newspapers, it is AP, it is Reuters, it is this, it is that. Something created by some local sub editor but by the rest, that's what you get. Centralisation.
Some eighty percent of the music that circulates over the global market is in the possession of about twelve multinational corporations, majority of them American, couple of them Japanese (the biggest of them actually Japanese now), in terms of ownership, a couple of them European. But it's not talking about these national distribution things like Hindi music and so on. But the music that is actually being standardised in urban middle class population, their form of standardisation or whatever — third, forth, fifth, whatever— is musical form.
It's essentially American pop music, whether you hear it in Malayalam, or Hindi or Japanese or French. Most of it is. There is local colour in it. But the basic form of the vast amount of music that is circulating in the world... That this is what I meant by there is a capitalist civilisation in which these are national values. What is called popular culture is, in fact, so centrally produced, and so centrally distributed... Then there is the standardisation of languages. Some 80% of all data, information data that has been digitally stored, is in the English language.
It is not incidental. It is the language associated with the two major imperialisms of the last two hundred years. First the British and then seamlessly onto the Americans. So... and you have come to a point where the... more than 50% of the world's population, which participates in this global culture, can function in the English language. Second, standardisation of language, standardisation of cultural forms and so on. Erm... And degradation of old forms of information transmissions as well as the visual forms.
You know, the great art form of our time, really, is the music video and the trailer. The condensed narrative that you get. That's where much of the genius of cutting and inter-cutting goes into it. So the highest professions — highest paid professions— are people who produce that. Decline of narrativity and so on. Now let me.... Ultimately, having given you such bad news, come to a proposition.
Which is that every technology that comes into being has the potential for liberation but given the structures within which it is owned, mobilised, used, it adds to the oppression. Contemporary societies are probably far more alienated capitalistic societies than were the 90s and, let's say, nineteenth Britain. It adds to your alienation. Now music is no longer something that you share. As in, individuals, of course, do. But as a social behaviour. Music has become something that has become private consumption.
Some fifteen years ago, in the month of March, I was in New York. Late march, early april, something like that. That time of the year in New York is wonderful because the weather is changing, it had just become pleasant. The sun is very beautiful and young people come out, hand in hand, arm in arm, lovey dovey... it's very nice, so I walk the streets. And on that particular day I saw something. Which I still remember that day, it was the first time I saw it, I've seen it plenty since. There was a boy and girl, hand in hand, walking on the street, with their own headsets. [Laughter]. And I said, my god, this is the end of romance.
The ... It's a... Ideologically, what they wish to do is an immense standardisation and immense individuation. It's a remarkable combination. Immense individuation. I, etc. So you think you are a subject of your own life, your own choices and so on. But what you choose is a set of standardised offers within which you choose. Immense standardisation. Anyway. Um, corporate ownership compared to the state ownership of information and artistic expression, have, in fact, become so cheap that very small communities of people, small number of groups, individuals can participate in that.
And then is the medium of the internet. And it can be highly regulated, you know, there is corporate ownership, whatever, whatever, but at the end of the day, it is not possible to put absolute controls over it. So something extraordinary has happened in our time. Which is that after, really, decline of the historic newspaper where you choose to read the newspaper to see what they've written... have to say in the editorial because you wish to learn, expected to learn something from it. You read for news, you read it for this, that and the other. There is an absolute decline of this kind of newspaper. And this has happened within my own life, you now within the last... not just my own lifetime, as I went from middle age to old age.
I have seen the decline of the Times of India, I have seen the decline of the Times of London, I have seen the decline of the New York Times and etc, these newspapers. So newspapers have become less and less readable and there is less and less reason, actually, to read newspapers in that sense. The historic alternative in the hands of opposition classes — and it was a great problem so long as you were needing print because print.... with print comes the problem of actually ... of circulation. So the historic alternative was actually the pamphlet or the newspaper which would be necessarily small circulation newspaper. With which you could not possibly hope to actually, um, confront that world.
Now with the rise of the internet on one hand, what has happened is that there is actually now a very powerful alternative media. Which takes all kinds of form. First of all, I can now actually follow the dominant media sitting in Delhi, across the world in the language that I know. And the moral luck out of that disaster of colonialism is that we learnt English. So, and every country in the world is more or less forced to have a newspaper in English, at least one. So you can actually do that.
During the Iraq war, for example, I used to read. There were days i would read more than twenty newspapers from different countries on the net. And then there are networks of, you know, websites and blogs and this, that and the other. There are people who keep tab over information outlets of the world and make a selection and give it you, out of sheer, selfless political service for others to benefit. Likewise, the technology of film and video so that the rise of the documentary has virtually a mass form. There are thousands of people in this country that make documentaries. It's possible to do it.
Circulation still remains a problem, a very great problem. But you can actually financially make a documentary in way that in the past you could not, with the new technology. And now, the coming of the video, where you actually can have... can think of alternative information and discussion platforms. Where you don't depend and wherein you can create a sort of a common sphere for exchange of information and so on and so forth. So what I am saying is that the same technology which was, in fact, utilised for maximisation of profits and really colonising the unconscious of the vast numbers of humanity that comes in contact with it.. um... that same technology also has a different kind of potential.
So that the very ground on which that kind of popular culture has come into being can also become a ground for contest. However, one last thing that I want to say is that this immense sort of expansion of the field of popular culture, information, entertainment, etc. It is now so huge that to contest the dominant forms, you also need scale. And therefore you need very different kinds of networks to do that. Because you know people who are involved in democratic struggles, in working class struggles, do not have economy of scale of that kind.
And unless you achieve a certain scale, you are just one of those voices on youtube. So in this sphere as in any other, there really is no alternative to social and political organisations and networks. You cannot contest that space unless there are actually organised people participating in that contestation. Otherwise you literarily become one voice on the youtube.
And one of the peculiar things that one has noticed — I should say disconcerted news that one has noticed — precisely on the media, on the net, and precisely on the question of this kind of net based radicalism — is that this participation in the net based popular revolt becomes a substitute for working actually on the ground. For social political organisations. Um, so that you actually have virtual communities which essentially replicate the virtual communities of various other countries.
So the technology facilitates... it can facilitate the creation of a very different kind of popular culture which would be properly popular culture in the sense of being the culture of the popular classes. But only if it is actually connected with political work. Let me just stop there — Just too much. I've talked a lot. Let's stop.
Sudhu: When we conceived of these talks, the idea was not to have formal lectures...
Aijaz: You should have told me first.
Sudhu: But to also have space... space and time for the interactive at the end of it. So therefore, the floor is open for questions, comments, reactions and so on. Just one request: don't make a... if you're only reacting to something, please be brief. Don't make a speech.
Audience member 1: I was wondering that TV is such a popular medium in every household... can you erase, can TV be used for [contestation?]
Aijaz: I think what is happening... one of the things that is happening now in response to this recession — which is global and affecting every country — that a discussion of regulation is again becoming permissible.
Aijaz: Even in those higher circles. That you need regulation. It's very difficult to reverse and, you know, the kind of process that has happened. You cannot any longer say that these fundamental media of communication and information should be collectively, publicly owned and all that. But I think perfectly possible first of all to think of a regulatory body. Again, not the sort of regulatory body that the Congress manipulates when it comes to power and the BJP manipulates when that comes to power.
You'll have to think very, very seriously about the public control in a class divided society, a society with such political degradation really means. It can't just be state control. In that sense, the state is not that much better than the market — not the sort of state we have. It is the state of the market. So anyway, that's first sort of regulatory bodies that you have to fight for, for the... And in that regulatory body there is a question of quality and quantum, of various types of programming. You require each channel to allot this kind of time for this, that or the other. So in other words, this very structure of public communication is something to contest. That is the first thing.
And the kind of discussion that is now taking place around the world — India is actually the country in which it is taking place the least— the whole question of regulation. I mean, we are now more neo-liberal than the Americans. So the new kind of room is coming up in that. And I think, you know, in India, actually, we are very lucky that we have wide numbers of people who participate in this media and who are progressive by orientation and inclination. So that's one story. The other is creating alternative means. And one of the things — I don't want to go on again, long — One of the things that I looking forward to is the way the technology is going, there is going to be a sort of a merger between the TV and the net.
And the TV as we have known it so far is a form that is, actually, I think, on the way out. Very soon, within the next couple of years you'll be watching your net on this box. And much of the thing that comes on the box with actually come through the net. So there is kind of a merger. You... So that's the other thing. And because the net technology is easier and if you enter the net field at this time. You know, by 'you' I mean really organised groups from the left, undertake this, you enter the world of the net now, you will be entering at the time that is very opportune in terms of the development of the technology itself. Because then you'd be, sort of, running with it before others jump into it, so you have an advantage there. So these are a couple things that I would say.
Audience member 2: Radio has not been that much used... claiming that space, radio is very easy to set up.
Aijaz: Right, right. In fact, I was going to say at some point that with all of these cutting edge technologies and so on, radio in fact played the fundamental role in standardisation of tastes. And that applies to the west as well. More people listen to the radio than the ones who watch TV. The music that gets played on the radio is very important for the formation of taste and so on.
Aijaz: And precisely the point you have made. That as a kind of technology it is so low investment sort of technology that you would actually have a network of radio stations covering much of the country. In... the kind of investment that can fall within the horizons of possibility.
Audience member 3: Except you transmit news on it. So much of the point of the communication will go. Politics you can't do.
Audience member 4: But you can communicate news in different fashions. People talking about that. If you look at the FM channels, they talk about so many things, within a particular class perspective. You keep on talking on those things, you will no get aggressive news
Audience member 5: You'd mentioned about these dominant trends of standardisation and control. Would you say that this is reflected in literature also? In the creation of literature? And regional literature for instance — What's happening on that?
Aijaz: First of all, you know my linguistic abilities are quite limited. So to talk about regional literature in India I would have to have a very different kind of capability. Um, there are two things that I would just say spontaneously to what you've asked. One is absolute universalisation of literary forms across languages.
And the classic one is that — is the novel. And the short story. The modern kind of short story. The narrative forms. You can write the novel in Oria, you can write the novel in Hindi, you can write the novel in english, the essential forms are the same, all the way from realism to magic realism. There's very little you can do outside these universalised forms. And with forms come ideologies. The forms are the visible structures of the ideological formations. The other is that something very interesting has happened, that modernism was actually the last rave movement which rebelled against the market. In literature, I am talking about. Which consciously created difficult texts which could not go into mass circulation.
The post modern in its widest sense, what you have got is that particular distinction between a mass market book and a literary classic has been erased. There is no such thing any longer as a novelist that is being talked about whose being influential on a very large scale and so on and so forth, who is also not a mass market success. There are about ten or less — fewer — Indian novelists who have made it to the big league around the world (with thousands have tried, I suppose) are the ones that one talks about. They're the influential ones. Treated as high literature and as objects of mass circulation.
That particular — and therefore... Now, see, in order to become a mass circulating work of fiction, there are certain standard things you must do. You know, ether are variations of it. I mean there is a way of reading the God of Small Things as an updated version of Lady's Chatterley's Lover on the one hand and [----]. This latest one, Slumdog Millionaire, which is based on some novel I suppose — I haven't read the novel— is the classic American tale of rags to riches, opportunity, the lottery. Just as the crorepati show was a post modern mediac form of the lottery. If you win the lottery, which you have equal chance of winning, you become a millionaire, crorepati, whatever.
But the basic form is rags to riches which is the American dream. By the way, I think the first half of the movie is just brilliant. Sorry, I'm not putting it down, I'm just saying that if you look at the formal construction, it is the classic formal constructions. So these literary forms, artistic forms, have been put to very different kinds of uses.
Audience member 6: There are two ways in which one ...er... means of communication, creates dependency — makes people dependent on. One is [---] The creation of desire. Through which one can create alternative desires. The other way I look at it is the sheer need of being part of the community. If someone drops a postcard, you have to respond back to it.
Audience member 6: Or you need to read the newspaper to stay updated. Or the sheer need to respond to an email or, er, actually have a mobile phone with you even if you don't want, one has to purchase one. And this is, er, which I look at as something that forces individuals to be part of that .... or expose oneself to that mode of distribution of whatever, propaganda or control. Is there an alternative one can have?
Aijaz: You've made two points. The first Marx wrote in 'Capital'. That the fundamental task of capitalism is to create new desires. Otherwise expanded reproduction cannot take place.
Aijaz: Now, the more the prices of over accumulation — that is to the say, the ability to produce — and, you know, beleaguered rates of profit, the more you need to sell and in order to sell, you need to create more desires, more needs. Which you may not. And it is indeed true that once you come in contact with something like that you start using it. So creation of new needs in the historic task of capitalism it has gone beyond all control in this created crisis of over accumulation. And the entire popular culture that was part of my argument, this 'popular culture' as we call it, its fundamental task is to create those needs.
Including to listen to new music, all the time. Obsolescence of music in this post modern age is amazing. You no longer listen to the same music again because it comes too old after two weeks. Then you have to have some other song. So those kinds of needs, certainly. The other part — you know, communication is something that human being absolutely need. There's a fundamental characteristic of human beings. They go crazy without communication. And it's not only human beings — animals too. And getting more means to communicate and communicating with more people is in principle a good thing.
Now the difference between receiving a postcard and getting an email are quite substantial. One is that you actually on a postcard with your hand. You did not expect instant gratification. See, the dangerous thing in the email is the instant gratification. You've sat and written it quickly and now you're waiting for that person to get into a chat. So therefore this post modern culture of instant gratification takes hold of your communicative habits. That's what I meant, that's part of what I meant by colonising your unconscious.
You're trapped into these... so that, in this whole world of instant gratifications, communication also becomes a form of instant gratification. Can you resist it? You can. I mean, I have a cellphone; more than half the day, it's turned off. Anytime I do any work, I just turn it off. All night it is turned off. I don't want to get up and answer somebody. At some point late in the evening I turn it off. In the morning, if I remember, I turn it on, around ten o clock or something. But it's an extremely important and useful tool. That sort of seduction of constantly; you have to work against the curve. You have to value silence. You can't be a serious writer if you don't value silence. Regardless of how much I talk. [Laughter].
Sudhu: Does anyone have any other questions? Alright. Thank you very much Aijaz.
Aijaz: Thank you.