Listening to Homi K Bhabha was much more comprehensible than reading him, at the India International Centre on August 1. Then again, Bhabha himself mentioned that since he is accused of being dense, he has tried to be lucid as possible in the talk. He was lucid, to a great extent, not that I understood everything he talked about — about ‘affect’ (or was it ‘effect’) that a literary text creates in the context of culture, the difference between catharsis and cathexis, meaning that in a text, there is no denouement, but a reenactment of the same theme over and over again, purportedly to arrive at an ‘affect’. As, Bhabha said, “Affect is the afterlife of our experience,” where the experience is made temporal, no, it’s not sublimated in the traditional sense.
The subject of his talk was ‘Art and Insecurity.’
Bhabha explained this referring to the poetry of the 9/11, as opposed to the socio-political dialogue of the time, and by referring to W H Auden’s poem, made famous in America post-9/11, ‘September 1, 1939.’ His reading of the poem in the context of the theme of his discussion was indeed extraordinary, especially, how Auden hated the most quoted line of the poem, “we must love one another or die.”
Personally, it was an exciting evening for me, to see Bhabha in flesh and listen to his voice, the man who wrote, ‘The Location of Culture’ and edited ‘Nation and Narration’, two key texts during my days as a student of literary theory. It was nice to see the hall filled with people, including student types. Bhabha has an arresting presence, and it was nice to notice that he spoke in a neutral accent, not at all Americanized.
The evening also saw unveiling of two books — Rukmini Bhaya Nair’s ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’ a novel about, I am not sure, there’s a girl in a convent who is schizophrenic, there’s the ghost of Sylvia Plath… and Hoshang Merchant’s new collection of poems, ‘Sufiana ‘.
Of course, I got a copy of Hoshang’s book, signed. It is nice to see his poems in Kavya Bharati put together in one collection, and it’s nice to see HarperCollins doing to.