Guernica today

Print edition : May 10, 2019

Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Reflections inspired by Pablo Picasso’s 1937 work of art.

THE orchestrated violence of the present system is reducing to passive pulp all initiatives of being—of life, of plants, of animals, perhaps even of unicellular organisms.

There are virus-like signals that we are being subjected to on an everyday basis that keep us in a paranoid condition of fear and suspicion, unleashing eidetic psychosis and engulfing the imaginary with prophecies of doom.

The crises of Global Capitalism are being chronicled by the very terrorists who succeed in the battle for ownership of the earth’s scarce resources.

Civilisation itself is equated with entropy as the Leviathan introduces modes of surveillance that can bomb out populations, foraging for food in the forests now reduced to glens and pastures and worse: minefields and museums of devastation.

Hiroshima was chosen as the target for the nuclear bomb because of fair weather that would help in imaging the apocalypse in greatest clarity.

Since then the laboratories for death have spread ubiquitously, with unmanned drones and CCTVs and WhatsApp devices that police information. One has to begin to question all this imaging of sound and fury, not knowing what the nightmare will yield, if anything.

Guernica happened in 1937, before Hiroshima, before most of us were born. Pablo Picasso was in his apartment in Paris, one presumes. Long before these bloated gargoyles was “The Scream” and not long after was Vietnam, the moonscape created for the play of finance capital.

Cinematography came into existence in 1896. So overwhelming were its silver grey tableaux of industrial realities that people felt that they were within them, imagining the sound of the mutely chugging trains arriving at platforms while fantasising about outer space, participating in gangsters’ founding of the white states of America with puritanical zeal. Doing all the ethnic cleansing necessary for the enterprise.

As towers were reflected by the wet streets of New York, electric light was amplified in the wet sleet of every Christmas, as were the horns brought by the slaves from distant lands with rhythmic counterpoints.

Suddenly, the near and the far collapsed, the high and the low fell into symmetries to replace the usual lateral notions of balance.

Thus, the intensities of volume enforced melodic improvisations, the depth of deep tints acquired chemical luminosity. All that glittered was certainly not gold. Modern times had turned the aristocrat into a tramp, desperately trying to cope with the assembly line.

Since the persistence of vision had to be set to mechanisms of intermittent motion, a new choreography for the burlesque emerged. Will it give birth to new music, sequence of tone, of line, narration as “movement” itself? Will this be an unprecedented universal, embedded in the transient but more truthful and eternal than the akshara? How would it free itself from the akshara and all the abstractions of tradition that had forged dance, sculpture and architecture into the intention of Duryodhana and his brothers to create the illusory palace of deception designed by Maya?

It was in those times—of Guernica, of the rise of the terrorist reich—that Rabindranath Tagore, Vallathol Narayana Menon, James Joyce, Jean-Paul Sartre, Virginia Woolf and many other men and women of literature and the arts turned to movement in itself as the divine sign.

It was not the analogue signal.

It was the world that we knew in prayer and epiphany; the subjectivity of the other as viewed by a compassionate observer. The whirling of electrons in photochemical bonding of molecules that welcomed the random flaw, the incursions of gems that could unravel the mysteries of a new order—tragic as it has turned out to be.

For me, the film Char Adhyay did illuminate the contradiction between self-realisation and self-determination, which we are faced with at every moment at this precarious juncture of history.

For the idea of self-realisation to survive, however, we will have to free our civilisation from the robotic onslaught of technicism as much as from religiosity and other ideological generators of false consciousness. The fully automated signal naturally enslaves the human body and mind by its extremely determinate responses to the stimuli from the environment, cutting down on the fortuitous as redundant noise and seeking redemption only in immediate profit. The self is thus surrendered to the corporate, and one’s right to the fulfilment of virtuous desire, above all, to be oneself, immersed in the knowledge of the other, is given up by the citizen to the state.

Terrorising governments of our times

The loss of agency is re-enforced by the terrorising governments of our times that bomb not only the alien but also the aboriginals who constitute the nation. We are turning ourselves into things by populating the markets where we ourselves are targeted. Thus, the mass audience is addressed, and a mobocracy emerges from the hegemony of number: images are digitised into discrete pixels and aggregated into red, blue, green layers of virtual illuminations, and the pure sonic equilibria divested of overtones are synthesised to reach our brain, almost skirting the subtleties of the minute continuum of threadlike colours of the inner ear’s vibrations. It took millions of years for us to evolve to this sensitivity of reception and for our imagination to open up to number itself. Do we need to deaden our material and spiritual skills into manuals of understanding the manifest with technologies that will not allow us to explore the unmanifest?

Knowledge as virtue has to be as defiant as Socrates, as stubborn as Gautama Buddha in seeking compassion, as courageous as Hypatia, as erotic as Madhavi to redeem us from this historic moment of sorrow, violence and denial.

If we have to create a museum for the future, we need to stress the individuated moment, the kolam, the improvisation that evokes the immanent in the present.

This can be done only if we attend to the particular fault that made Hamlet question all that is rotten in the avuncular state of Denmark. Why a gem is more precious in its awesome splendour can never be known fully, just as one can hardly ever predict the precarious intervals of sound that each composition lends to myriad interpretations. In the cinematography of outdoor scenes each second is different at every location unique to that transient cosmic event, even though it may seem as cyclically accessible as a sunrise or sunset. No software can deal with the complexity of significant practice if it reduces the random to the contingent and the contingent to noise, thereby eliminating the very processes that make us step from the known to the unknown. There can be no prescriptions for the work of art or of intellection, except the one of dissent in the interest of discovery.

No wonder that it is most difficult to find the concrete relationship between base and superstructure. Each time that we attempt to do so, the energies of the past are voided into nebulous forms that may or may not contain the vibrant present nor the deferred future, collapsed into prefabricated knowledge.

The challenge for us is to restore to our senses all the insights of overtonal montage and modulation, restore to our praxis a synaesthetic response that can accommodate the variations offered by the innumerable cultures of times and directions without collapsing them into a false simultaneity or function.

Only then will our interventions be multivalent and enriched in amplitude.

Kumar Shahani is a film director. The article was delivered as a public lecture on March 25 at the Senate Chamber, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.

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