Prose – Sanjana Kumari

Imagining Digital India in City



The city is evolving every day. It is as new to the digital revolution as the revolution itself. Nevertheless, what used to be mere imagination in olden days has become the reality that creates the cushion for imaginations for the next step of evolution. The beauty of the city lies in its ability to manage both imagination and reality. It has adjusted itself to the ever-changing nuances of the digital realm. The massive organism that the city is, it makes it intriguing to observe the minute details of the digital revolution breathing inside its system. This paper is an effort to decode the processes that are operating in the city as a part of the digital realm and also making conspicuous changes to the cityscape and its working.

Key Words/Terms: City, Cityscape, digital revolution, digital realm, imagination, reality


  1. The Raw City

Urban Spaces have been the new cradles of economic growth and cultural intermixing for a considerably long time now. The cities across the globe have evolved through a variety of stages, although not necessarily the same ones. The first cities represented settlement units of hitherto unprecedented size (Childe, 1950). This, however, does not imply that they stood anywhere in comparison to the twenty first century cities in terms of population as well as complexity of processes at work.

The simultaneous processes of urbanisation, globalisation and industrialisation have reinvented the idea of a city in the contemporary times. However, it is widely understood that even though there has been a change in the character of the city, its raw nature remains the same. Cities are regarded as the powerhouses of economic growth, a melting pot for various cultures, the hubs of innovation and imagination, the carriers of a million dreams, and the leaders of the global settlements. Gordon Childe in The Urban Revolution pointed out ten characteristics that he deemed to be integral to almost all cities of the world. His paper included population, diversification of economic activities, standardisation of weights and measures, presence of infrastructure, trade and commerce as some of the ten characteristics. The contemporary city, however has grown beyond these basic ideas. However, it would be safe to assume that a huge number of the cities as they appear today do have the building blocks based on the ten characteristics referred to earlier.

  1. The Intercultural City

The city has become increasingly intercultural in nature owing to the fast paced churning of ideas and the availability of right tools to turn them into reality. The city in the contemporary world is a portal into ‘realised imaginations’. Everyday hundreds of thousands of people enter the city to make something out of themselves, to prove themselves and to create an association with the idea of the city. The city has come to be associated with success, growth, positivity, and opportunities, all of which are the attention-seekers for those deprived of them. It is also made apparent that the city hardly disallows entities to become a part of it. The intercultural city that lives with diversity is different from places that channel people into one worldview (Wood & Landry, 2008).

However, the image of the city as talked about above has also been emphatically pronounced due to a bigger reason. The advent of digital technology has secured a sure shot place in the life of the city. It can also be said that the intercultural city became so because of the digital revolution.

  1. Imagination in the City: The Digital Way

As said earlier, the city has long been the hotbed of imagination and hope. Imagination, however, has made a great deal of changes in the way the city functions and views the future. The digital technology has changed the face of the city. It has affected its daily life and also the way it carries itself. Over the last few years, we have seen a huge variety of familiar objects and surfaces – from televisions to bus shelters – transform into networked sensors that gather, process, store and display information (Anderson, 2012).

From dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn the city makes its way through the mesh of digital technologies to make life easier for its inhabitants. There is an alarm on the smartphone to wake it up, milk delivered to the doorsteps through a digitally placed order, cab aggregator service to book a cab in a few moments, navigation to help it steer through the large network of roads and lanes, real time traffic information to keep it punctual, online music to listen to on a smartphone while travelling, social networks like Facebook and twitter to post about how the start of the day has been wonderful, pictures to take from a camera installed on the smartphone and so on. The city deals with its finances sitting on a laptop. The digital revolution has set in motion forces that have so much to do with bridging of distances, simplification of problems, and reduction in troubles.

Browsing one minute, searching the next, we move seamlessly from private to shared information environments, offering insight into packages of urban experience (Anderson, 2012). In order to understand the level of impact, one needs to consider an errand as small as ironing of clothes. With the digital prowess, it is perfectly possible to “get the inside track on where to get shirts ironed fast and cheaply” (Anderson, 2012). The growing dependence on digital media can be seen in the growth patterns of the city too. The coming decades are being called the decades of the ‘digital city’. There are townships being established that are integrated internally through networks of information which is available for all their residents to use. The hi-tech planned cities coming up across the globe are looking towards digital media to try and create a perfect example of place branding and city imaging. The concepts are not as new as the context. It is in context of the digital world growing together with the urban world that these concepts have broken their boundaries.

The city’s daily life is being constructed everyday with the help of the digital revolution. The kind of fairs it will attend, the concerts that are going to be a hit, the street food festivals consisting of cuisines from unknown lands are all the examples of the dynamic characters of the city. The fact that the city entertains this amount of information and action made available to it by the digital technologies is in itself enough to understand their impact on its daily life.

The question of inclusiveness is the next when it comes to creating a future of imagination for the city. Is the imagination class-sensitive? Does it take into account the gender gap which still exists in the city? Does the digital advancement decrease the stereotyping the city tolerates every day by the means of its constituents?

It will be difficult to assume that digital technology has brought about a massive change in the inclusiveness in the city. However, it is visible that the diversity of the city has been regarded much more because of digital technology on one hand and discarded on the other. The latter is so because of the exclusion of many of the city’s constituents in understanding the ‘digital’ side of the city. The digital itself is being made into an exclusive object for the use of a handful of people. If this is not looked into, the exclusiveness will increase thereby defeating the purpose of intermixing of cultures and people in the city.

The imagination of mankind is brought to match with the reality in the city. The reality, in turn, creates a platform for more imagination to crop up and help the city rediscover itself. Imagine an arrow that appears on the pavement or on your sunglasses to tell you which way to go, or even a docking station that unfolds as you approach to lock up your bike (Anderson, 2012). The cities are brimming with quests and explorations for the future. This is why this paper has been titled From Imagination to Reality to Imagination, because the cycle goes on and helps the city establish new landmarks.

From reality to imagination goes the path to the city’s conversation with digital technology. The speed with which the city has been accepting the conversion to the digital media is unprecedented. It is an indispensable part of the social as well as the economic fabric of the city today. The digital realm has brought the city together like never before. In creating realities out of imaginations, the city has done itself a tremendous service.

  1. Conclusions

The digital makeover of cities across the globe has resulted in a lasting impact on the daily life of the city. From running basic errands to getting factories set up, the tasks have been getting easier and the system more efficient. Not just this, the advent of social media has made the city more accessible and informative. Where there was nothing some years ago, the city finds information on its own history and geography today. From struggling to pay bills to booking travel plans on the internet, the city sure has come a long way in organising its everyday life.


  1. Digital media and urban spaces by Barbara Anderson on RSA, 2012 –
  2. The Intercultural City, by Phil Wood and Charles Landry, 2008 (Book)
  3. The Urban Revolution, by Gordon Childe, 1950 (Journal Article) –

Sanjana Kumari is a reader of Geography and writes from Delhi, India.




Prose – Michel Leiris


The Sacred in Everyday Life


[When this text appeared in “For a College of Sociology, ” it had already been read at the session of January 8, 1938. More information will be found under this same title in the lectures for 1937-38.]

What, for me, is the sacred? To be more exact: what does my sacred consist of? What objects, places, or occasions awake in me that mixture of fear and attachment, that ambiguous attitude caused by the approach of something simultaneously attractive and dangerous, prestigious and outcast—that combination of respect, desire, and terror that we take as the psychological sign of the sacred?

It is not a question of defining my scale of values—with whatever is of gravest importance to me, most sacred in the ordinary sense of the word, at its summit. Rather, it is a matter of searching through some of the humblest things, taken from everyday life and located outside of what today makes up the officially sacred (religion, fatherland, morals). It is the little things that are required to discover what features would allow me to characterize the nature of what is sacred for me, and help establish exactly the point at which I know I am no longer moving on the level of the ordinary (trivial or serious, pleasant or painful) but rather have entered a radically distinct world, as different from the profane world as fire from water.

It seems obvious that we should first examine everything that fascinated us in childhood and left the memory of that kind of strong emotion. For the material pulled out of the mists of childhood is what, out of all we have available, has some chance of representing the least adulterated.

Thinking back on my childhood, I remember first a few idols, temples and, in a more general way, sacred places. First there were several objects belonging to my father, symbols of his power and authority. His top hat with the flat brim that he hung on the coat rack at night when he came home from the office. His revolver, a Smith and Wesson with its small barrel, dangerous like all firearms and even more attractive for being nickelplated. This instrument he usually kept in a desk drawer or in his bedside table, and it was the attribute par excellence of the one who, among other jobs, had the responsibility of defending the home and protecting it from burglars. His money box where he put gold pieces, a sort of miniature safe that was for a long time the exclusive property of the provider, and that, until we each received one like it as a communion present, seemed to my brothers and me the mark of manhood.

Another idol was the salamander stove, ‘ ‘La Radieuse, ” adorned with the effigy of a woman resembling a bust of the Republic. A true spirit of the hearth, enthroned in the dining room: inviting with the warmth she gave out and her glowing coals, and formidable, for my brothers and I knew that if we touched her we would burn ourselves. At night when I would wake up with fits of nervous coughing, the spasms symptomatic of “false croup,” they would carry me next to her and there, besieged by some supernatural nighttime evil, ravaged by a cough that got into me like a foreign body, I felt myself all at once become someone of importance—like a tragic hero—surrounded as I was by my parents’ worry and loving care.

As for places, there was, first of all, the parents’ bedroom, which assumed its full meaning only at night when my father and mother were sleeping there—with the door open, so they could look after the children better and where, by the faint glow of the night-light, I could dimly make out the big bed, epitome of the nocturnal world of nightmares that make their way through sleep like dark simulacra of wet dreams.

The other sacred pole of the house—the left-hand pole, tending toward the illicit, in relation to the parental bedroom which was the right-hand pole, the one Of established authority, sanctuary of the clock and the grandparents’ portraits— was the bathroom. There every night one of my brothers and I would shut ourselves in, out of natural necessity, but also to tell each other animal stories that went on like serials from one day to the next and that we took turns making up. That was the place we felt most like accomplices, fomenting plots and developing a quasi-secret mythology that we picked up again every evening and sometimes copied out in notebooks, the nourishment of the most strictly imaginative Part Of our life: animals who were soldiers, jockeys, airline or military pilots, launched into contests of war or sports, or detective stories; murky political Schemings with attempted coups d’état, murders, kidnappings; drafts of a constitution that was to ensure an ideal government; the poorest of all sentimental affairs that were usually summed up in a happy marriage, followed by bringing a lot of children into the world, but not necessarily foregoing a final episode of widowhood. The invention of instruments of warfare, underground passages, snares, and traps (sometimes even a pit concealed with leaves, its sides provided with very sharp blades and spiked with stakes, to pierce whoever fell in and cut him to bits); many battles, fierce struggles (on battlefields or racecourses); after each battle, detailed statistics with the exact number of prisoners, wounded, and dead for each of the opposing sides, which were, for example, the Cats and the Dogs, the former royalists and the latter republicans. All that we duly recorded in our notebooks, in the form of accounts, pictures, maps, sketches, with tables summarizing it all and with family trees.

Of these long sessions in the bathroom, besides the series of legends we invented and our pantheon of heroes, it was the very secrecy of our meetings that was most clearly marked by the sacred. Granted that the rest of the family knew we were there, but behind the closed door they did not know what we were talking about. There was something more or less forbidden in what we were doing, which, moreover, brought us scoldings when we stayed shut up in there too long. As if in a “men’s house” of some island in Oceania—the place where the initiates gather and where from mouth to mouth and from generation to generation, secrets and myths are passed on, we endlessly elaborated our mythology in this room, our clubhouse, and never tired of seeking answers to the various sexual riddles that obsessed us. Seated on the throne like an initiate of higher rank was my brother; I, the youngest, sat on an ordinary chamber pot that served as the neophyte’s stool. The flushing mechanism and the hole were, in themselves, mysterious things, and even actually dangerous. (Once, when I ran around the opening pretending to be a circus horse, didn’t my foot get stuck in it, and then didn’t my parents, called to the rescue, have a terrible time getting it out?) Had we been older and more erudite, we doubtless would not have hesitated to consider these things directly in touch with the gods of the underworld.

Compared to the parlor—an Olympus closed to us on the days visitors were received—the bathroom can be looked on as a cavern, a cave where one comes to be inspired by contacting the deepest, darkest subterranean powers. There, opposite the right-hand sacred of parental majesty, the sinister magic of a left-hand sacred took shape. There it was, also, that we felt the most cut off, the most separate from everyone else, but also the closest to each other, the most shoulder to shoulder, the most in harmony, in this embryonic secret society that we two brothers formed. All in all, for us it was that something eminently sacred that any sort of pact is—like the conspiratorial bond uniting the pupils of the same class against their teachers, a bond so firm and compelling that very few, of all the moral imperatives commanding adult consciences, can be compared to the one with which children forbid themselves to ‘ ‘rat on” each other.

As far as outdoor places are concerned, I remember two that, with time’s passage and ideas since formed, seem to have been permeated for me, a religious child in other respects, with a sacred character: the sort of bush-country, a no man ‘s-land that extended between where the fortifications lay and the racecourse at Auteuil, and also that racecourse itself.

When our mother or older sister took us for a walk either in the Bois de Boulogne or the public gardens adjoining the Paris greenhouses, it often happened that we would cross this ill-defined space. Contrasted with the bourgeois world of houses, just as the village—for those belonging to so-called savage societies—can be contrasted to the bush, which is the hazy world specific to all the mythical adventures and strange encounters that begin as soon as the duly staked out world making up the village is left behind, this was a zone where the scarps were really haunting. We were told then, if we happened to stop and play, to beware of strangers (actually, I realize now: satyrs) who might, under false pretenses, try to take us off into the bushes. A place apart, extremely taboo, an area heavily marked by the supernatural and the sacred, so different from the parks, where everything was planned, organized, raked, and where the notices forbidding you to walk on the grass, though signs of taboo, could only endow them with a sacred grown cold.

The other outdoor place that fascinated my brother and me was the racecourse at Auteuil. From a bridle path that skirted it in part, my brother and I could watch the jockeys—in many-colored silks and on bright-coated horses—jump a hedge, then climb a grassy hill behind which they disappeared. We knew that it was there that people (the ones we saw gathered in the stands and whose noise we heard at the finish) made bets and ruined themselves for the sake of those riders in glittering finery; as had my father’s former colleague, who, having once been a man with ‘ ‘horses and carriage, ” had gambled away his entire fortune and now often touched my father for a dollar or so, when he met him at the stock exchange. Of all places the racetrack was most prestigious because of the spectacle that unfolded there, and the considerable sums of money won or lost there; of all places the most immoral, as everything there hangs on good luck or bad, and the place my father, disturbed by the idea that we might become gamblers when we were older, thunderously denounced.

One of our greatest joys was when the starting signal was given near the spot where we stood. The starter, in a redingote, on his horse muscled like a wrestler,a big brute next to the thoroughbreds in the race; the racers dancing in place like roosters, swaying like swans, gathering for the start; then the lineup finished at long last, the pack’s sudden gallop and the sound of horseshoes on the ground, whose deepest vibrations we seemed to feel. Though I have never had much taste for sports, from this period I have kept a sense of wonder that makes me look at any sports spectacle as a sort of ritual display. The paraphernalia of the jockeys’ tack, the white ropes of boxing rings, and all the preparations: the procession of those entered in the race, the presentation of the contenders, the function of the starter or of the referee; everything one senses of the background, as well, in the way of liniments, massages, dopings, special diets, meticulous regulations. You would say the protagonists act in a separate sphere, both closer to the public and more isolated from it than performers on a stage, for example. For here nothing is false: Whatever might be the importance of the staging, the sports spectacle whose ending is theoretically unforeseeable is a real act and not a sham, in which all events unwind according to what has been determined in advance. Whence, an infinitely greater participation at the same time as a much more intense consciousness of separation since the beings from whom we are here separated are not conventional mannequins—blurry reflections of ourselves, with nothing basically in common with us—but beings like us, at least as solid as ourselves and who might be us.

During this time when we were mad about races, my brother and I often used to imagine that when we were older we would become jockeys—the same way that so many boys from poor neighborhoods can dream of becoming racing cyclists or boxers. Like the maker of a religion, the great revolutionary or conqueror, it would seem that the champion has a destiny, and that the dizzying rise of one so often the product of the most deprived portions of the populace is a sign of unusual luck or magic force—of a mana—that in one leap lets him get to the top and reach a social rank that is, of course, somewhat marginal but out of proportion to anything that common persons have any right to reasonably expect, no matter what their birth. In certain respects, he reminds one of the shaman , who, originally, is very often only someone who is deprived, but who takes an astonishing revenge on destiny, as a result of his being absolutely the only one who is hand in glove with the spirits.

Doubtless, my brother and I guessed that vaguely, when we imagined ourselves arrayed in jockey silks as if they were coats of arms or liturgical vestments, that would have distinguished us from others, at the same time that we were joined to them as focal points and as the medium for the collective tumultuous excitement, as the places and receptacles for the convergence of their gazes, which were fixed on our persons like so many pins marking us with prestige. Better than the father’s top hat, his small-barreled revolver, and his money box, these thin silk tunics would be the sign of our power, the mana special to people who make every obstacle pass beneath their horse’s belly and who, victoriously, are exposed to all the dangers of the fall.

Alongside the objects, places, and spectacles that exerted such a special attraction for us (the attraction for everything that seemed separated from the ordinary world, a brothel for instance—full of nudity and foul, steamy odors—at such a remove from the clothed, fresh-air world of the street, though separated by only a threshold, the concrete form of the taboo condemning the den of iniquity), I discover circumstances, events that were imponderable, so to speak, that gave me a sharp perception of a distinct realm, set aside, with no possible comparison to anything else, and that stood out from the mass of the profane with the same strange, stunning garishness that powdered, shaved bodies have when they irrupt within an inch of the tables, showgirls, at nightclubs where dreary diners sit sweating. I want to speak of certain events of language, of words in themselves rich in repercussions, or words misheard or misread that abruptly trigger a sort of vertigo at the instant in which one perceives that they are not what one had thought before. Such words often acted, in my childhood, as keys, either because surprising perspectives were opened through their very resonance or because, discovering one had always mutilated them, suddenly grasping them in their integrity somehow seemed a revelation, like a veil suddenly torn open or some outburst of truth.

Some of these words, or expressions, are bound up in places, circumstances, images whose very nature explains the emotional power with which they were charged. I think of the “Empty Hall, ” for example, the name my brothers and I had given a group of rocks forming a sort of natural dolmen, in the vicinity of Nemours, not far from the house where our parents took us several years in a row to spend summer vacation. The “empty hall”: It sounds the way our voices sounded beneath the granite vault; it evokes the idea of a giant’s deserted home, or a temple whose impressive dimensions were hewn from stone of tremendous age.

A proper name, such as “Rebecca’ learned from biblical history, belongs to the strict realm of the sacred, evoking as it does an image that was typically biblical for me: a woman whose face and arms were bronzed, wearing a long tunic, with a full veil on her head, a pitcher on her shoulder and resting her elbow on the well’s coping. In this instance, the name itself played in a specific way, making one think, on the one hand, of something sweet and spicy, like raisins or muscat grapes; on the other hand of something hard and unyielding, because of the initial “R” and especially the “cca” that has some of the same effect today in words like “Mecca” or “impeccable.”

Finally, another vocable was at one time endowed with the magical merits of a password or abracadabra for me: the exclamation “Baoukta!” invented by my elder brother as a war cry when we played Indians and he was the great, brave, and dreaded chief. What struck me there, as in the name Rebecca, was especially the word’s exotic feel, the strangeness it harbored, like a word that might have belonged to the language of Martians or demons, or even had been wrested from a special vocabulary, heavy with hidden meaning, to which only my elder brother, the high priest, held the secret.

Besides these words that—if this can be said—spoke to me by themselves, there were other things in the language that contributed the vague perception of that sort of displacement or gap that still characterizes for me the passage from an ordinary condition to one more privileged, more crystalline, more singular, the shift from a profane to a sacred state. It is, in fact, a matter of very minor discoveries: corrections of what was heard or read that, by bringing two variants of the same word together, with their difference caused a particular distress. One would have said that language was suddenly twisted and that, in the very slight gap separating the two vocables—both of which had become full of strangeness when, now I compared them to each other (as if each of them was only the other one mutilated and contorted)—a breach opened that was able to let through a world of revelations.

I remember one day when, playing with lead soldiers, I dropped one, picked it up and, seeing it wasn’t broken, exclaimed: Reusement! ” Upon which, someone who was there—my mother, sister, or older brother—pointed out that you say not “reusement” but “heureusement,” which struck me as an astounding discovery. The same way, from the moment when I learned that the name “Moses,” Moise, was not pronounced “Moisse” (as I had always believed when, not knowing how to read very well, I was learning biblical history), these two words took on a resonance that was especially disturbing to me: ‘Morse,” “Moisse,” the very image of his cradle, perhaps because of the word ‘osier” (wicker) (which the first was similar to) or just because I had already, but without realizing it, heard certain cradles called “moises.” Later, learning the names of the departments, I never read the name “Seine-et-Oise” without emotion because the mistake I had made reading the name in the Bible had attached a certain unusual value in my mind to all words that somewhat resembled ‘Moise” or “Moisse.”

In a way that was analogous to the way the word “. . . reusement” contrasted with its corrected form “heureusement, ” in the country where we used to spend vacations with our parents, my brothers and I used to distinguish between the sand pit and the sand quarry, two sandy spots that were hardly different from each other except that the second was far larger. Later, we savored a pleasure like the one so-called byzantine discussions can provide, by baptizing two separate types of paper airplanes we used to make, one the rectilinear kind, the other the curvilinear. In doing this we were acting as ritualists, for whom the sacred resolves itself finally into a subtle system of nuances, minutiae, and details of etiquette.

If I compare these various things—top hat, as sign of the father’s authority; small-barreled Smith and Wesson, as sign of his courage and strength; money box, as sign of the wealth I attributed to him as financial support of the house; stove that can burn even though, in principle, it is the protective spirit of the hearth; the parents’ bedroom that is the epitome of the night; the bathroom, in whose secrecy we traded mythological accounts and hypotheses on the nature of sexual things; the dangerous area stretching out beyond the fortifications; the race course, where huge sums of money were staked on the luck or skill of important persons, prestigious through their costumes and deeds; the windows opened by certain elements of language, onto a world where one loses one’s footing—if I gather all these facts taken from what was my everyday life as a child, I see forming bit by bit an image of what, for me, is the sacred.

Something prestigious, like the paternal attributes or the great hall of rocks. Something unusual, like the jockey’s ceremonial raiment, or certain words with an exotic resonance. Something dangerous, like the coals glowing red or the bush-country bristling with prowlers. Something ambiguous, like the coughing fits that tear one to pieces but transform one into a tragic hero. Something forbidden, like the parlor where adults perform their rituals. Something secret like the consultations surrounded by bathroom stink. Something breathtaking, like the leap of galloping horses or language’s false-bottomed boxes. Something that, all in all, I scarcely conceive of except as marked by the supernatural in one way or another.

If one of the most “sacred” aims that man can set for himself is to acquire as exact and intense an understanding of himself as possible, it seems desirable that each one, scrutinizing his memories with the greatest possible honesty, examine whether he can discover there some sign permitting him to discern the color for him of the very notion of sacred.

Michel Leiris was a French surrealist writer and ethnographer.


Prose – Sanjana Kumari

The Concoction of Urbanity; A Guide to Rurality


The Urban-Rural dynamics in India had been hardly studied and analysed when we hopped our way into urban studies as we did into ‘urban development’ without addressing our soul that rested with rurality. This non-fiction article tries to make us look towards the path we left behind a long time ago.

The fate of a nation lies in its constituents. The legacy of a democracy is found in its voices. India, being the largest democracy on Earth, with all its threads hanging beyond horizons, with diversities strangling from various centers, and a history of representation, aspires to transverse boundaries of human progress. The 21st century India breathes in a host of ideas coming from more than 1.25 billion humans and breathes out a system for their survival. The acknowledgment of the practices and aspirations of various inexplicably diverse groups is intrinsic to the overall development of the nation and its people. In this context, the process of urbanization, and the dichotomy between rurality and urbanity seems to bog the minds of the 21st-century planners and policy makers invariably. The process of urbanization with specific reference to India, over the past three decades, has been one of unprecedented pace in terms of quantity but lacks big time in quality. The creation of a whole class of ‘urban poor’ dealing with the disadvantageous by-products of the ‘urban way of life’ and the subsequent problems it faces is undoubtedly attracting concern. What lies overlooked is the fact that this process of out migration from rural to urban areas is built on the premise of ‘urbanity’ being the answer to all the woes of Rural India. The outcomes remain largely unattached to the hopes, though.

The former Prime Minister of India, Charan Singh had said, “The true India resides in its villages.” The Philosophical manifestations of ‘trueness’ of India becoming more prominent by the virtue of its villages might be a matter of glee for the intellect-driven groups of people, but it seemingly holds less significance in the contemporary Indian society in a practical sense.
The state of affairs across Rural India continues to tarnish the image of rurality in our minds. Although we teach our kids to term ‘social connectedness’ and ‘simple lifestyle’ of rural areas as a blessing in opposition to the ‘isolated living’, and ‘complex lifestyle’ of the urban areas, we hardly ponder upon the reasons behind this. Isn’t it paradoxical that the preferred way of living is still engrossed in ‘urbanity’?

The unfortunate reality is that even the rural people prefer the urban way, for its practical outcomes look brighter from miles away. The addition of huge rural population to urban areas hardly ensures anything more than millions of people left to cope with the lack of basic amenities, polluted air, polluted water, social and economic insecurity for their whole lives.

The complex interplay of processes and activities in urban areas adds to their economic potential, and therefore urban areas end up attracting more attention despite lesser population percentage wise. Another reason is that most of the urban areas have conglomerated together after being joined by extended satellite cities, rural-urban fringe and exurbs. Various studies are coming up to facilitate policy-making for these new outgrowths.

The example of the rural-urban fringe can be talked about with respect to rurality. The fringe has both urban and rural land use patterns thereby giving birth to a distinct kind of space that is still not ‘developed’ but is certainly ahead of its nearby rural areas. In most of the cases, it has been seen that with time, the rural aspects of the fringe get shadowed by the urban ones. Even though the land in the fringe is mostly agricultural, the latest additions include mammoth-sized amusement parks, malls, private educational institutions etc., none of which are of much use for the rural population. The fringe, even after being geographically close to the rural area, is metaphorically miles apart from it. This is why urbanity is said to be engulfing the processes of rurality with time.

Former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s brainchild PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas) as discussed in his book Target 3 Billion was a wonderful step forward for Rural India. The concept was taken further by the government enthusiastically in order to create a liveable atmosphere in villages and to discourage mass rural to urban migration. The programme however lacked in preparation, and in implementation, just as many others and was gradually abandoned after much criticism.

In February 2016, the Union Government collected applaud for the launch of the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) aimed at making villages smart. This was largely in response to the criticism of the smart cities mission that it was biased towards the urban demography and ignored rural population. The vision of the SPMRM stated it as an ambitious attempt to transform rural areas into “economically, socially and physically sustainable spaces”, or smart villages “which would trigger overall development in the region”. The creation of rurban growth clusters in order to anchor development primarily in the rural areas is the main aim of the Mission. This is certainly a step ahead for the Rural-Urban debate as well as planning in India.

In order to ensure development for the rural population, it is important to take care of the balances that still don’t exist between the diversified spaces in the country. Unevenness of growth, and development has already done the country more harm than good. The concentration of economic power in some hands has brought up the problem of social power being non-existent for a majority of the population.

A magical wand for the problems talked about earlier might not exist, but we still can look at the intersection between urbanity and rurality. The spatial division of development is to be meticulously analyzed and the already formulated policies and programs need to be carefully implemented with decentralization of authoritarian power. The involvement of various stakeholders is equally important when it comes to building better villages and thus a better India.

Sanjana Kumari is a Post-Graduate Student of Geography at the Delhi School of Economics. She graduated in Geography from Miranda House at the University of Delhi.


Prose – Walter Benjamin

The Storyteller : Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov




Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force. He has already become something remote from us and something that is getting even more distant. To present someone like Leskov as a storyteller does not mean bringing him closer to us but, rather, increasing our distance from him. Viewed from a certain distance, the great, simple outlines which define the storyteller stand out in him, or rather, they become visible in him, just as in a rock a human head or an animal’s body may appear to an observer at the proper distance and angle of vision. This distance and this angle of vision are prescribed for us by an experience which we may have almost every day. It teaches us that the art of storytelling is coming to an end. Less and less frequently do we encounter people with the ability to tell a tale properly. More and more often there is embarrassment all around when the wish to hear a story is expressed. It is as if something that seemed inalienable to us, the securest among our possessions, were taken from us: the ability to exchange experiences.

One reason for this phenomenon is obvious: experience has fallen in value. And it looks as if it is contin-uing to fall into bottomlessness. Every glance at a newspaper demonstrates that it has reached a new low, that our picture, not only of the external world but of the moral world as well, overnight has undergone changes which were never thought possible. With the [First] World War a process began to become ap-parent which has not halted since then. Was it not noticeable at the end of the war that men returned from the battlefield grown silent—no t richer, but poorer in communicable experience? What ten years later was poured out in the flood of war books was anything but experience that goes from mouth to mouth. And there was nothing remarkable about that. For never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechan-ical warfare, moral experience by those in power. A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.


Experience which is passed on from mouth to mouth is the source from which all storytellers have drawn. And among those who have written down the tales, it is the great ones whose written version differs least from the speech of the many nameless storytellers. Incidentally, among the last named there are two groups which, to be sure, overlap in many ways. And the figure of the storyteller gets its full corporeality only for the one who can picture them both. “When someone goes on a trip, he has something to tell about,” goes the German saying, and people imagine the storyteller as someone who has come from afar. But they enjoy no less listening to the man who has stayed at home, making an honest living, and who knows the local tales and traditions. If one wants to picture these two groups through their archaic representatives, one is embodied in the resident tiller of the soil, and the other in the trading seaman. Indeed, each sphere of life has, as it were, produced its own tribe of storytellers. Each of these tribes preserves some of its characteristics centuries later. Thus, among nineteenth-century German storytellers, writers like Hebel and Gotthelf stem from the first tribe, writers like Sealsfield and Gerst¨acker from the second. With these tribes, however, as stated above, it is only a matter of basic types. The actual extension of the realm of storytelling in its full historical breadth is inconceivable without the most intimate interpenetration of these two archaic types. Such an interpenetration was achieved particularly by the Middle Ages in their trade structure. The resident master craftsman and the traveling journeymen worked together in the same rooms; and every master had been a traveling journeyman before he settled down in his home town or somewhere else. If peasants and seamen were past masters of storytelling, the artisan class was its university. In it was combined the lore of faraway places, such as a much-traveled man brings home, with the lore of the past, as it best reveals itself to natives of a place.


Leskov was at home in distant places as well as distant times. He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, a man with genuine religious interests. But he was a no less sincere opponent of ecclesiastic bureaucracy. Since he was not able to get along any better with secular officialdom, the official positions he held were not of long duration. Of all his posts, the one he held for a long time as Russian representative of a big English firm was presumably the most useful one for his writing. For this firm he traveled through Russia, and these trips advanced his worldly wisdom as much as they did his knowledge of conditions in Russia. In this way he had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the organization of the sects in the country. This left its mark on his works of fiction. In the Russian legends Leskov saw allies in his fight against Orthodox bureaucracy. There are a number of his legendary tales whose focus is a righteous man, seldom an ascetic, usually a simple, active man who becomes a saint apparently in the most natural way in the world. Mystical exaltation is not Leskov’s forte. Even though he occasionally liked to indulge in the miraculous, even in piousness he prefers to stick with a sturdy nature. He sees the prototype in the man who finds his way about the world without getting too deeply involved with it.

He displayed a corresponding attitude in worldly matters. It is in keeping with this that be began to write late, at the age of twenty-nine. That was after his commercial travels. His first printed work was entitled “Why Are Books Expensive in Kiev?” A number of other writings about the working class, alcoholism, police doctors, and unemployed salesmen are precursors of his works of fiction.


An orientation toward practical interests is characteristic of many born storytellers. More pronouncedly than in Leskov this trait can be recognized, for example, in Gotthelf, who gave his peasants agricultural advice; it is found in Nodier, who concerned himself with the perils of gas light; and Hebel, who slipped bits of scientific instruction for his readers into his Schatzkastlein¨, is in this line as well. All this points to the nature of every real story. It contains, openly or covertly, something useful. The usefulness may, in one case, consist in a moral; in another, in some practical advice; in a third, in a proverb or maxim.

In every case the storyteller is a man who has counsel for his readers. But if today “ha ving counsel” is beginning to have an old-fashioned ring, this is because the communicability of experience is decreasing. In consequence we have no counsel either for ourselves or for others. After all, counsel is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding. To seek this counsel one would first have to be able to tell the story. (Quite apart from the fact that a man is receptive to counsel only to the extent that he allows his situation to speak.) Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom. The art of storytelling is reaching its end because the epic side of truth, wisdom, is dying out. This, however, is a process that has been going on for a long time. And nothing would be more fatuous than to want to see in it merely a “sympto m of decay,” let alone a “modern” symptom. It is, rather, only a concomitant symptom of the secular productive forces of history, a concomitant that has quite gradually removed narrative from the realm of living speech and at the same time is making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.


The earliest symptom of a process whose end is the decline of storytelling is the rise of the novel at the beginning of modern times. What distinguishes the novel from the story (and from the epic in the narrower sense) is its essential dependence on the book. The dissemination of the novel became possible only with the invention of printing. What can be handed on orally, the wealth of the epic, is of a different kind from what constitutes the stock in trade of the novel. What differentiates the novel from all other forms of prose literature—the fairy tale, the legend, even the novella—is that it neither comes from oral tradition nor goes into it. This distinguishes it from storytelling in particular. The storyteller takes what he tells from experience—his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to his tale. The novelist has isolated himself. The birthplace of the novel is the solitary individual, who is no longer able to express himself by giving examples of his most important concerns, is himself uncounseled, and cannot counsel others. To write a novel means to carry the incommensurable to extremes in the representation of human life. In the midst of life’s fullness, and through the representation of this fullness, the novel gives evidence of the profound perplexity of the living. Even the first great book of the genre, Don Quixote, teaches how the spiritual. greatness, the boldness, the helpfulness of one of the noblest of men, Don Quixote, are completely devoid of counsel and do not contain the slightest scintilla of wisdom. If now and then, in the course of the centuries, efforts have been made—mo st effectively, perhaps, in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre—to implant instruction in the novel, these attempts have always amounted to a modification of the novel form. The Bildungsroman, on the other hand, does not deviate in any way from the basic structure of the novel. By integrating the social process with the development of a person, it bestows the most frangible justification on the order determining it. The legitimacy it provides stands in direct opposition to reality. Particularly in the Bildungsroman, it is this inadequacy that is actualized.


One must imagine the transformation of epic forms occurring in rhythms comparable to those of the change that has come over the earth’s surface in the course of thousands of centuries. Hardly any other forms of human communication have taken shape more slowly, been lost more slowly. It took the novel, whose beginnings go back to antiquity, hundreds of years before it encountered in the evolving middle class those elements which were favorable to its flo wering. With the appearance of these elements, storytelling began quite slowly to recede into the archaic; in many ways, it is true, it took hold of the new material, but it was not really determined by it. On the other hand, we recognize that with the full control of the middle class, which has the press as one of its most important instruments in fully developed capitalism, there emerges a form of communication which, no matter how far back its origin may lie, never before influenced the epic form in a decisive way. But now it does exert such an influence. And it turns out that it confronts storytelling as no less of a stranger than did the novel, but in a more menacing way, and that it also brings about a crisis in the novel. This new form of communication is information.

Villemessant, the founder of Le Figaro, characterized the nature of information in a famous formulation. “T o my readers,” he used to say, “an attic fire in the Latin Quarter is more important than a revolution in Madrid.” This makes strikingly clear that it is no longer intelligence coming from afar, but the information which supplies a handle for what is nearest that gets the readiest hearing. The intelligence that came from afar—whether the spatial kind from foreign countries or the temporal kind of tradition— possessed an authority which gave it validity, even when it was not subject to verification. Information, however, lays claim to prompt verifiability . The prime requirement is that it appear “understandable in itself.” Often it is no more exact than the intelligence of earlier centuries was. But while the latter was inclined to borrow from the miraculous, it is indispensable for information to sound plausible. Because of this it proves incompatible with the spirit of storytelling. If the art of storytelling has become rare, the dissemination of information has had a decisive share in this state of affairs.

Every morning brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it. Leskov is a master at this (compare pieces like “The Deception” and “The White Eagle”). The most extraordinary things, marvelous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the events is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks.


Leskov was grounded in the classics. The first storyteller of the Greeks was Herodotus. In the fourteenth chapter of the third book of his Histories there is a story from which much can be learned. It deals with Psammenitus.

When the Egyptian king Psammenitus had been beaten and captured by the Persian king Cambyses, Cam-byses was bent on humbling his prisoner. He gave orders to place Psammenitus on the road along which the Persian triumphal procession was to pass. And he further arranged that the prisoner should see his daughter pass by as a maid going to the well with her pitcher. While all the Egyptians were lamenting and bewailing this spectacle, Psammenitus stood alone, mute and motionless, his eyes fix ed on the ground; and when presently he saw his son, who was being taken along in the procession to be executed, he likewise remained unmoved. But when afterwords he recognized one of his servants, an old, impoverished man, in the ranks of the prisoners, he beat his fists against his head and gave all the signs of deepest mourning.

From this story it may be seen what the nature of true storytelling is. The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time. A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time. Thus Montaigne referred to this Egyptian king and asked himself why he mourned only when he caught sight of his servant. Mon-taigne answers: “Since he was already overfull of grief, it took only the smallest increase for it to burst through its dams.” Thus Montaigne. But one could also say: The king is not moved by the fate of those of royal blood, for it is his own fate. Or: We are moved by much on the stage that does not move us in real life; to the king, this servant is only an actor. Or: Great grief is pent up and breaks forth only with relax-ation. Seeing this servant was the relaxation. Herodotus offers no explanations. His report is the driest. That is why this story from ancient Egypt is still capable after thousands of years of arousing astonishment and thoughtfulness. It resembles the seeds of grain which have lain for centuries in the chambers of the pyramids shut up airtight and have retained their germinative power to this day.


There is nothing that commends a story to memory more effectively than that chaste compactness which precludes psychological analysis. And the more natural the process by which the storyteller forgoes psy-chological shading, the greater becomes the story’s claim to a place in the memory of the listener, the more completely is it integrated into his own experience, the greater will be his inclination to repeat it to someone else someday, sooner or later. This process of assimilation, which takes place in depth, requires a state of relaxation which is becoming rarer and rarer. If sleep is the apogee of physical relaxation, bore-dom is the apogee of mental relaxation. Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places—the activities that are intimately associated with boredom—are already extinct in the cities and are declining in the country as well. With this the gift for listening is lost and the community of listeners disappears. For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained. It is lost because there is no more weaving and spinning to go on while they are being listened to. The more self-forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he listens to impressed upon his memory. When the rhythm of work has seized him, he listens to the tales in such a way that the gift of retelling them comes to him all by itself. This, then, is the nature of the web in which the gift of storytelling is cradled. This is how today it is becoming unraveled at all its ends after being woven thousands of years ago in the ambience of the oldest forms of craftsmanship.


The storytelling that thrives for a long time in the milieu of work—the rural, the maritime, and the urban— is itself an artisan form of communication, as it were. It does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel. Storytellers tend to begin their story with a presentation of the circumstances in which they themselves have learned what is to follow, unless they simply pass it off as their own experience. Leskov begins his “Deception” with the description of a train trip on which he supposedly heard from a fellow passenger the events which he then goes on to relate; or he thinks of Dostoevsky’s funeral, where he sets his acquaintance with the heroine of his story “ A Propos of the Kreutzer Sonata”; or he evokes a gathering of a reading circle in which we are told the events that he reproduces for us in his “Interesting Men.” Thus his tracks are frequently evident in his narratives, if not as those of the one who experienced it, then as those of the one who reports it.

This craftsmanship, storytelling, was actually regarded as a craft by Leskov himself. “Writing, ” he says in one of his letters, “is to me no liberal art, but a craft.” It cannot come as a surprise that he felt bonds with craftsmanship, but faced industrial technology as a stranger. Tolstoy, who must have understood this, occasionally touches this nerve of Leskov’s storytelling talent when he calls him the first man “who pointed out the inadequacy of economic progress. . . . It is strange that Dostoevsky is so widely read.

. . . But I simply cannot comprehend why Leskov is not read. He is a truthful writer.” In his artful and high-spirited story “The Steel Flea,” which is midway between legend and farce, Leskov glorifies native craftsmanship through the silversmiths of Tula. Their masterpiece, the steel flea, is seen by Peter the Great and convinces him that the Russians need not be ashamed before the English.

The intellectual picture of the atmosphere of craftsmanship from which the storyteller comes has perhaps never been sketched in such a significant way as by Paul Valery. “He speaks of the perfect things in nature, fla wless pearls, full-bodied, matured wines, truly developed creatures, and calls them ‘the precious product of a long chain of causes similar to one another.’” The accumulation of such causes has its temporal limit only at perfection. “This patient process of Nature,” Valery continues, was once imitated by men. Miniatures, ivory carvings, elaborated to the point of greatest perfection, stones that are perfect in polish and engraving, lacquer work or paintings in which a series of thin, transparent layers are placed one on top of the other—all these products of sustained, sacrificing effort are vanishing, and the time is past in which time did not matter. Modern man no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated.”

In point of fact, he has succeeded in abbreviating even storytelling. We have witnessed the evolution of the “short story,” which has removed itself from oral tradition and no longer permits that slow piling one on top of the other of thin, transparent layers which constitutes the most appropriate picture of the way in which the perfect narrative is revealed through the layers of a variety of retellings.


Valery concludes his observations with this sentence: “It is almost as if the decline of the idea of eternity coincided with the increasing aversion to sustained effort.” The idea of eternity has ever had its strongest source in death. If this idea declines, so we reason, the face of death must have changed. It turns out that this change is identical with the one that has diminished the communicability of experience to the same extent as the art of storytelling has declined.

It has been observable for a number of centuries how in the general consciousness the thought of death has declined in omnipresence and vividness. In its last stages this process is accelerated. And in the course of the nineteenth century bourgeois society has, by means of hygienic and social, private and public institutions, realized a secondary effect which may have been its subconscious main purpose: to make it possible for people to avoid the sight of the dying. Dying was once a public process in the life of the individual and a most exemplary one; think of the medieval pictures in which the deathbed has turned into a throne toward which the people press through the wide-open doors of the death house. In the course of modern times dying has been pushed further and further out of the perceptual world of the living. There used to be no house, hardly a room, in which someone had not once died. (The Middle Ages also felt spatially what makes that inscription on a sun dial of Ibiza, Ultima multis [the last day for many], significant as the temper of the times.) Today people live in rooms that have never been touched by death, dry dwellers of eternity, and when their end approaches they are stowed away in sanatoria or hospitals by their heirs. It is, however, characteristic that not only a man’s knowledge or wisdom, but above all his real life—and this is the stuff that stories are made of—first assumes transmissible form at the moment of his death. Just as a sequence of images is set in motion inside a man as his life comes to an end—unfoldi ng the views of himself under which he has encountered himself without being aware of it—sudd enly in his expressions and looks the unforgettable emerges and imparts to everything that concerned him that authority which even the poorest wretch in dying possesses for the living around him. This authority is at the very source of the story.


Death is the sanction of everything that the storyteller can tell. He has borrowed his authority from death. In other words, it is natural history to which his stories refer back. This is expressed in exemplary form in one of the most beautiful stories we have by the incomparable Johann Peter Hebel. It is found in the Schatzkastlein¨ des rheinischen Hausfreundes, is entitled “Une xpected Reunion,” and begins with the betrothal of a young lad who works in the mines of Falun. On the eve of his wedding he dies a miner’s death at the bottom of his tunnel. His bride keeps faith with him after his death, and she lives long enough to become a wizened old woman; one day a body is brought up from the abandoned tunnel which, saturated with iron vitriol, has escaped decay, and she recognizes her betrothed. After this reunion she too is called away by death. When Hebel, in the course of this story, was confronted with the necessity of making this long period of years graphic, he did so in the following sentences: “In the meantime the city of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake, and the Seven Years’ War came and went, and Emperor Francis I died, and the Jesuit Order was abolished, and Poland was partitioned, and Empress Maria Theresa died, and Struensee was executed. America became independent, and the united French and Spanish forces were unable to capture Gibraltar. The Turks locked up General Stein in the Veteraner Cave in Hungary, and Emperor Joseph died also. King Gustavus of Sweden conquered Russian Finland, and the French Revolution and the long war began, and Emperor Leopold II went to his grave too. Napoleon captured Prussia, and the English bombarded Copenhagen, and the peasants sowed and harvested. The millers ground, the smiths hammered, and the miners dug for veins of ore in their underground workshops. But when in 1806 the miners at Falun…”

Never has a storyteller embedded his report deeper in natural history than Hebel manages to do in this chronology. Read it carefully. Death appears in it with the same regularity as the Reaper does in the processions that pass around the cathedral clock at noon.


Any examination of a given epic form is concerned with the relationship of this form to historiography. In fact, one may go even further and raise the question whether historiography does not constitute the common ground of all forms of the epic. Then written history would be in the same relationship to the epic forms as white light is to the colors of the spectrum. However this may be, among all forms of the epic there is not one whose incidence in the pure, colorless light of written history is more certain than the chronicle. And in the broad spectrum of the chronicle the ways in which a story can be told are graduated like shadings of one and the same color. The chronicler is the historyteller. If we think back to the passage from Hebel, which has the tone of a chronicle throughout, it will take no effort to gauge the difference between the writer of history, the historian, and the teller of it, the chronicler. The historian is bound to explain in one way or another the happenings with which he deals; under no circumstances can he content himself with displaying them as models of the course of the world. But this is precisely what the chronicler does, especially in his classical representatives, the chroniclers of the Middle Ages, the precursors of the historians of today. By basing their historical tales on a divine plan of salvation— an inscrutable one—the y have from the very start lifted the burden of demonstrable explanation from their own shoulders. Its place is taken by interpretation, which is not concerned with an accurate concatenation of definite events, but with the way these are embedded in the great inscrutable course of the world.

Whether this course is eschatologically determined or is a natural one makes no difference. In the story-teller the chronicler is preserved in changed form, secularized, as it were. Leskov is among those whose work displays this with particular clarity. Both the chronicler with his eschatological orientation and the storyteller with his profane outlook are so represented in his works that in a number of his stories it can hardly be decided whether the web in which they appear is the golden fabric of a religious view of the course of things, or the multicolored fabric of a worldly view.

Consider the story “The Alexandrite,” which transports the reader into “that old time when the stones in the womb of the earth and the planets at celestial heights were still concerned with the fate of men, and not today when both in the heavens and beneath the earth everything has grown indifferent to the fates of the sons of men and no voice speaks to them from anywhere, let alone does their bidding. None of the undiscovered planets play any part in horoscopes any more, and there are a lot of new stones, all measured and weighed and examined for their specific weight and their density, but they no longer proclaim anything to us, nor do they bring us any benefit. Their time for speaking with men is past.”

As is evident, it is hardly possible unambiguously to characterize the course of the world that is illustrated in this story of Leskov’s. Is it determined eschatologically or naturalistically? The only certain thing is that in its very nature it is by definition outside all real historical categories. Leskov tells us that the epoch in which man could believe himself to be in harmony with nature has expired. Schiller called this epoch in the history of the world the period of naive poetry. The storyteller keeps faith with it, and his eyes do not stray from that dial in front of which there moves the procession of creatures of which, depending on circumstances, Death is either the leader or the last wretched straggler.


It has seldom been realized that the listener’s naive relationship to the storyteller is controlled by his interest in retaining what he is told. The cardinal point for the unaffected listener is to assure himself of the possibility of reproducing the story. Memory is the epic faculty par excellence. Only by virtue of a comprehensive memory can epic writing absorb the course of events on the one hand and, with the passing of these, make its peace with the power of death on the other. It is not surprising that to a simple man of the people, such as Leskov once invented, the Czar, the head of the sphere in which his stories take place, has the most encyclopedic memory at his command. “Our Emperor,” he says, “and his entire family have indeed a most astonishing memory.”

Mnemosyne, the rememberer, was the Muse of the epic art among the Greeks. This name takes the ob-server back to a parting of the ways in world history. For if the record kept by memory—hi storiography— constitutes the creative matrix of the various epic forms (as great prose is the creative matrix of the various metrical forms), its oldest form, the epic, by virtue of being a kind of common denominator includes the story and the novel. When in the course of centuries the novel began to emerge from the womb of the epic, it turned out that in the novel the element of the epic mind that is derived from the Muse—that is, memory—m anifests itself in a form quite different from the way it manifests itself in the story.

Memory creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation. It is the Muse-derived element of the epic art in a broader sense and encompasses its varieties. In the first place among these is the one practiced by the storyteller. It starts the web which all stories together form in the end. One ties on to the next, as the great storytellers, particularly the Oriental ones, have always readily shown. In each of them there is a Scheherazade who thinks of a fresh story whenever her tale comes to a stop. This is epic remembrance and the Muse-inspired element of the narrative. But this should be set against another principle, also a Muse-derived element in a narrower sense, which as an element of the novel in its earliest form—that is, in the epic—lies concealed, still undifferentiated from the similarly derived element of the story. It can, at any rate, occasionally be divined in the epics, particularly at moments of solemnity in the Homeric epics, as in the invocations to the Muse at their beginning. What announces itself in these passages is the perpetuating remembrance of the novelist as contrasted with the short-lived reminiscences of the storyteller. The first is dedicated to one hero, one odyssey, one battle; the second, to many diffuse occurrences. It is, in other words, remembrance which, as the Muse-derived element of the novel, is added to reminiscence, the corresponding element of the story, the unity of their origin in memory having disappeared with the decline of the epic.


No one,” Pascal once said, “dies so poor that he does not leave something behind.” Surely it is the same with memories too—alth ough these do not always find an heir. The novelist takes charge of this bequest, and seldom without profound melancholy. For what Arnold Bennett says about a dead woman in one of his novels—that she had had almost nothing in the way of real life—is usually true of the sum total of the estate which the novelist administers. Regarding this aspect of the matter we owe the most important elucidation to Georg Luk´acs, who sees in the novel ”the form of transcendental homelessness.” According to Luk´acs, the novel is at the same time the only art form which includes time among its constitutive principles.

T ime,” he says in his Theory of the Novel, “can become constitutive only when connection with the transcendental home has been lost. Only in the novel are meaning and life, and thus the essential and the temporal, separated; one can almost say that the whole inner action of a novel is nothing else but a struggle against the power of time. . . . And from this . . . arise the genuinely epic experiences of time: hope and memory. . . . Only in the novel . . . does there occur a creative memory which transfix es the object and transforms it. . . . The duality of inwardness and outside world can here be overcome for the subject ‘only’ when he sees the . . . unity of his entire life . . . out of the past life-stream which is compressed in memory.

. . . The insight which grasps this unity . . . becomes the divinatory-intuitive grasping of the unattained and therefore inexpressible meaning of life.”

The “meaning of life” is really the center about which the novel moves. But the quest for it is no more than the initial expression of perplexity with which its reader sees himself living this written life. Here “meaning of life”—there “moral of the story”: with these slogans novel and story confront each other, and from them the totally different historical co-ordinates of these art forms may be discerned. If Don Quixote is the earliest perfect specimen of the novel, its latest exemplar is perhaps the Education sentimentale.

In the final words of the last-named novel, the meaning which the bourgeois age found in its behavior at the beginning of its decline has settled like sediment in the cup of life. Fr´ed´eric and Deslauriers, the boyhood friends, think back to their youthful friendship. This little incident then occurred: one day they showed up in the bordello of their home town, stealthily and timidly, doing nothing but presenting the patronne with a bouquet of flo wers which they had picked in their own gardens. “This story was still discussed three years later. And now they told it to each other in detail, each supplementing the recollection of the other. ‘That may have been,’ said Fr´ed´eric when they had finished, ‘the finest thing in our lives.’ ‘Yes, you may be right,’ said Deslauriers, ‘that was perhaps the finest thing in our lives.’”

With such an insight the novel reaches an end which is more proper to it, in a stricter sense, than to any story. Actually there is no story for which the question as to how it continued would not be legitimate. The novelist, on the other hand, cannot hope to take the smallest step beyond that limit at which he invites the reader to a divinatory realization of the meaning of life by writing “Finis. ”


A man listening to a story is in the company of the storyteller; even a man reading one shares this compan-ionship. The reader of a novel, however, is isolated, more so than any other reader. (For even the reader of a poem is ready to utter the words, for the benefit of the listener.) In this solitude of his, the reader of a novel seizes upon his material more jealously than anyone else. He is ready to make it completely his own, to devour it, as it were. Indeed, he destroys, he swallows up the material as the fire devours logs in the fireplace. The suspense which permeates the novel is very much like the draft which stimulates the flame in the fireplace and enlivens its play.

It is a dry material on which the burning interest of the reader feeds. “ A man who dies at the age of thirty-five,” said Moritz Heimann once, “is at every point of his life a man who dies at the age of thirty-fi ve.” Nothing is more dubious than this sentence but for the sole reason that the tense is wrong. A man—sosays the truth that was meant here—who died at thirty-fi ve will appear to remembrance at every point in his life as a man who dies at the age of thirty-fi ve. In other words, the statement that makes no sense for real life becomes indisputable for remembered life. The nature of the character in a novel cannot be presented any better than is done in this statement, which says that the “meaning” of his life is revealed only in his death. But the reader of a novel actually does look for human beings from whom he derives the “meaning of life.” Therefore he must, no matter what, know in advance that he will share their experience of death: if need be their figurati ve death—the end of the novel— but preferably their actual one. How do the characters make him understand that death is already waiting for them—a very definite death and at a very definite place? That is the question which feeds the reader’s consuming interest in the events of the novel.

The novel is significant, therefore, not because it presents someone else’s fate to us, perhaps didactically, but because this stranger’s fate by virtue of the flame which consumes it yields us the warmth which we never draw from our own fate. What draws the reader to the novel is the hope of warming his shivering life with a death he reads about.


Leskov,” writes Gorky, “is the writer most deeply rooted in the people and is completely untouched by any foreign influences. ” A great storyteller will always be rooted in the people, primarily in a milieu of craftsmen. But just as this includes the rural, the maritime, and the urban elements in the many stages of their economic and technical development, there are many gradations in the concepts in which their store of experience comes down to us. (To say nothing of the by no means insignificant share which traders had in the art of storytelling; their task was less to increase its didactic content than to refine the tricks with which the attention of the listener was captured. They have left deep traces in the narrative cycle of The Arabian Nights.) In short, despite the primary role which storytelling plays in the household of humanity, the concepts through which the yield of the stories may be garnered are manifold. What may most readily be put in religious terms in Leskov seems almost automatically to fall into place in the pedagogical perspectives of the Enlightenment in Hebel, appears as hermetic tradition in Poe, finds a last refuge in Kipling in the life of British seamen and colonial soldiers. All great storytellers have in common the freedom with which they move up and down the rungs of their experience as on a ladder. A ladder extending downward to the interior of the earth and disappearing into the clouds is the image for a collective experience to which even the deepest shock of every individual experience, death, constitutes no impediment or barrier.

And they lived happily ever after,” says the fairy tale. The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales. Whenever good counsel was at a premium, the fairy tale had it, and where the need was greatest, its aid was nearest. This need was the need created by the myth. The fairy tale tells us of the earliest arrangements that mankind made to shake off the nightmare which the myth had placed upon its chest. In the figure of the fool it shows us how mankind ”acts dumb” toward the myth; in the figure of the youngest brother it shows us how one’s chances increase as the mythical primitive times are left behind; in the figure of the man who sets out to learn what fear is it shows us that the things we are afraid of can be seen through; in the figure of the wiseacre it shows us that the questions posed by the myth are simple-minded, like the riddle of the Sphinx; in the shape of the animals which come to the aid of the child in the fairy tale it shows that nature not only is subservient to the myth, but much prefers to be aligned with man. The wisest thing—so the fairy tale taught mankind in olden times, and teaches children to this day—is to meet the forces of the mythical world with cunning and with high spirits. (This is how the fairy tale polarizes Mut, courage, dividing it dialectically into Untermut, that is, cunning, and Ubermut, high spirits.) The liberating magic which the fairy tale has at its disposal does not bring nature into play in a mythical way, but points to its complicity with liberated man. A mature man feels this complicity only occasionally, that is, when he is happy; but the child first meets it in fairy tales, and it makes him happy.


Few storytellers have displayed so profound a kinship with the spirit of the fairy tale as did Leskov. This involves tendencies that were promoted by the dogmas of the Greek Orthodox Church. As is well known, Origen’s speculation about apokatastasis—th e entry of all souls into Paradise—which was rejected by the Roman Church plays a significant part in these dogmas. Leskov was very much influenced by Origen and planned to translate his work On First Principles. In keeping with Russian folk belief he interpreted the Resurrection less as, a transfiguration than as a disenchantment, in a sense akin to the fairy tale. Such an interpretation of Origen is at the bottom of “The Enchanted Pilgrim.” In this, as in many other tales by Leskov, a hybrid between fairy tale and legend is involved, not unlike that hybrid which Ernst Bloch mentions in a connection in which he utilizes our distinction between myth and fairy tale in his fashion.

A hybrid between fairy tale and legend,” he says, “contains figurati vely mythical elements, mythical el-ements whose effect is certainly captivating and static, and yet not outside man. In the legend there are Taoist figures, especially very old ones, which are ‘mythical’ in this sense. For instance, the couple Phile-mon and Baucis: magically escaped though in natural repose. And surely there is a similar relationship between fairy tale and legend in the Taoist climate of Gotthelf, which, to be sure, is on a much lower level. At certain points it divorces the legend from the locality of the spell, rescues the flame of life, the specifically human flame of life, calmly burning, within as without.”

Magically escaped” are the beings that lead the procession of Leskov’s creations: the righteous ones. Pavlin, Figura, the toupee artiste, the bear keeper, the helpful sentry—all of them embodiments of wisdom, kindness, comfort the world, crowd about the storyteller. They are unmistakably suffused with the imago of his mother.

This is how Leskov describes her: “She was so thoroughly good that she was not capable of harming any man, nor even an animal. She ate neither meat nor fish, because she had such pity for living creatures. Sometimes my father used to reproach her with this. But she answered: ‘I have raised the little animals myself, they are like my children to me. I can’t eat my own children, can I?’ She would not eat meat at a neighbor’s house either. ‘I have seen them alive,’ she would say; ‘they are my acquaintances. I can’t eat my acquaintances, can I?’”

The righteous man is the advocate for created things and at the same time he is their highest embodiment. In Leskov he has a maternal touch which is occasionally intensified into the mythical (and thus, to be sure, endangers the purity of the fairy tale). Typical of this is the protagonist of his story “K otin the Provider and Platonida.” This figure, a peasant named Pisonski, is a hermaphrodite. For twelve years his mother raised him as a girl. His male and female organs mature simultaneously, and his bisexuality “becomes the symbol of God incarnate.”

In Leskov’s view, the pinnacle of creation has been attained with this, and at the same time he presumably sees it as a bridge established between this world and the other. For these earthly powerful, maternal male figures which again and again claim Leskov’s skill as a storyteller have been removed from obedience to the sexual drive in the bloom of their strength. They do not, however, really embody an ascetic ideal; rather, the continence of these righteous men has so little privative character that it becomes the elemental counterpoise to uncontrolled lust which the storyteller has personified in Lady Macbeth of Mzensk. If the range between a Pavlin and this merchant’s wife covers the breadth of the world of created beings, in the hierarchy of his characters Leskov has no less plumbed its depth.


The hierarchy of the world of created things, which has its apex in the righteous man, reaches down into the abyss of the inanimate by many gradations. In this connection one particular has to be noted. This whole created world speaks not so much with the human voice as with what could be called “the voice of Nature” in the title of one of Leskov’s most significant stories.

This story deals with the petty official Philip Philipovich who leaves no stone unturned to get the chance to have as his house guest a field marshal passing through his little town. He manages to do so. The guest, who is at first surprised at the clerk’s urgent invitation, gradually comes to believe that he recognizes in him someone he must have met previously. But who is he? He cannot remember. The strange thing is that the host, for his part, is not willing to reveal his identity. Instead, he puts off the high personage from day to day, saying that the “v oice of Nature” will not fail to speak distinctly to him one day. This goes on until finally the guest, shortly before continuing on his journey, must grant the host’s public request to let the “v oice of Nature” resound. Thereupon the host’s wife withdraws. She “returned with a big, brightly polished, copper hunting horn which she gave to her husband. He took the horn, put it to his lips, and was at the same instant as though transformed. Hardly had he inflated his cheeks and produced a tone as powerful as the rolling of thunder when the field marshal cried: ‘Stop, I’ve got it now, brother. This makes me recognize you at once! You are the bugler from the regiment of jaegers, and because you were so honest I sent you to keep an eye on a crooked supplies supervisor.’ ‘That’s it, Your Excellency,’ answered the host. ‘I didn’t want to remind you of this myself, but wanted to let the voice of Nature speak.’”

The way the profundity of this story is hidden beneath its silliness conveys an idea of Leskov’s magnificent humor. This humor is confirmed in the same story in an even more cryptic way. We have heard that because of his honesty the official was assigned to watch a crooked supplies supervisor. This is what we are told at the end, in the recognition scene. At the very beginning of the story, however, we learn the following about the host: “ All the inhabitants of the town were acquainted with the man, and they knew that he did not hold a high office, for he was neither a state official nor a military man, but a little supervisor at the tiny supply depot, where together with the rats he chewed on the state rusks and boot soles, and in the course of time had chewed himself together a nice little frame house.” It is evident that this story reflects the traditional sympathy which storytellers have for rascals and crooks. All the literature of farce bears witness to it. Nor is it denied on the heights of art; of all Hebel’s characters, the Brassenheim Miller, Tinder Frieder, and Red Dieter have been his most faithful companions. And yet for Hebel, too, the righteous man has the main role in the theatrum mundi. But because no one is actually up to this role. it keeps changing hands. Now it is the tramp, now the haggling Jewish peddler, now the man of limited intelligence who steps in to play this part. In every single case it is a guest performance, a moral improvisation. Hebel is a casuist. He will not for anything take a stand with any principle, but he does not reject it either, for any principle can at some time become the instrument of the righteous man. Compare this with Leskov’s attitude. “I realize,” he writes in his story “ A Propos of the Kreutzer Sonata,” “that my thinking is based much more on a practical view of life than on abstract philosophy or lofty morality; but I am nevertheless used to thinking the way I do.” To be sure, the moral catastrophes that appear in Leskov’s world are to the moral incidents in Hebel’s world as the great, silent flo wing of the Volga is to the babbling, rushing little millstream. Among Leskov’s historical tales there are several in which passions are at work as destructively as the wrath of Achilles or the hatred of Hagen. It is astonishing how fearfully the world can darken for this author and with what majesty evil can raise its scepter. Leskov has evidently known moods—and this is probably one of the few characteristics he shares with Dostoevsky—i n which he was close to antinomian ethics. The elemental natures in his Tales from Olden Times go to the limit in their ruthless passion. But it is precisely the mystics who have been inclined to see this limit as the point at which utter depravity turns into saintliness.


The lower Leskov descends on the scale of created things the more obviously does his way of viewing things approach the mystical. Actually, as will be shown, there is much evidence that in this, too, a characteristic is revealed which is inherent in the nature of the storyteller. To be sure, only a few have ventured into the depths of inanimate nature, and in modern narrative literature there is not much in which the voice of the anonymous storyteller, who was prior to all literature, resounds so clearly as it does in Leskov’s story “The Alexandrite.” It deals with a semiprecious stone, the chrysoberyl. The mineral is the lowest stratum of created things. For the storyteller, however, it is directly joined to the highest. To him it is granted to see in this chrysoberyl a natural prophecy of petrified, lifeless nature concerning the historical world in which he himself lives. This world is the world of Alexander II. The storyteller—or rather, the man to whom he attributes his own knowledge—i s a gem engraver named Wenzel who has achieved the greatest conceivable skill in his art. One can juxtapose him with the silversmiths of Tula and say that—in the spirit of Leskov—the perfect artisan has access to the innermost chamber of the realm of created things. He is an incarnation of the devout. We are told of this gem cutter: “He suddenly squeezed my hand on which was the ring with the alexandrite, which is known to sparkle red in artificial light, and cried: ‘Look, here it is, the prophetic Russian stone! 0 crafty Siberian. It was always green as hope and only toward evening was it suffused with blood. It was that way from the beginning of the world, but it concealed itself for a long time, lay hidden in the earth, and permitted itself to be found only on the day when Czar Alexander was declared of age, when a great sorcerer had come to Siberia to find the stone, a magician . . . ‘ `What nonsense are you talking,’ I interrupted him; ‘this stone wasn’t found by a magician at all, it was a scholar named Nordenskj¨old!’ ‘A magician! I tell you, a magician!’ screamed Wenzel in a loud voice. ‘Just look; what a stone! A green morning is in it and a bloody evening . . . This is fate, the fate of noble Czar Alexander!’ With these words old Wenzel turned to the wall, propped his head on his elbows, and . . . began to sob.”

One can hardly come any closer to the meaning of this significant story than by some words which Paul Valery wrote in a very remote context. “ Artistic observation,” he says in reflec tions on a woman artist whose work consisted in the silk embroidery of figures, “can attain an almost mystical depth. The objects on which it falls lose their names. Light and shade form very particular systems, present very individual questions which depend upon no knowledge and are derived from no practice, but get their existence and value exclusively from a certain accord of the soul, the eye, and the hand of someone who was born to perceive them and evoke them in his own inner self.”

With these words, soul, eye, and hand are brought into connection. Interacting with one another, they determine a practice. We are no longer familiar with this practice. The role of the hand in production has become more modest, and the place it filled in storytelling lies waste. (After all, storytelling, in its sensory aspect, is by no means a job for the voice alone. Rather, in genuine storytelling the hand plays a part which supports what is expressed in a hundred ways with its gestures trained by work.) That old co-ordination of the soul, the eye, and the hand which emerges in Valery’s words is that of the artisan which we encounter wherever the art of storytelling is at home. In fact, one can go on and ask oneself whether the relationship of the storyteller to his material, human life, is not in itself a craftsman’s relationship, whether it is not his very task to fashion the raw material of experience, his own and that of others, in a solid, useful, and unique way. It is a kind of procedure which may perhaps most adequately be exemplified by the proverb if one thinks of it as an ideogram of a story. A proverb, one might say, is a ruin which stands on the site of an old story and in which a moral twines about a happening like ivy around a wall.

Seen in this way, the storyteller joins the ranks of the teachers and sages. He has counsel—not for a few situations, as the proverb does, but for many, like the sage. For it is granted to him to reach back to a whole lifetime (a life, incidentally, that comprises not only his own experience but no little of the experience of others; what the storyteller knows from hearsay is added to his own. His gift is the ability to relate his life; his distinction, to be able to tell his entire life. The storyteller: he is the man who could let the wick of his life be consumed completely by the gentle flame of his story. This is the basis of the incomparable aura about the storyteller, in Leskov as in Hauff, in Poe as in Stevenson. The storyteller is the figure in which the righteous man encounters himself.


Walter-Benjamin-Ceasefire-Magazine-StateSourced from Illuminations : Essays and Reflections by Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). German Jewish philosopher known as a cultural critic and essayist.



Prose – Verghese Kurien

Managing Socioeconomic Change: The Role of Professionals



lndian Institute of Management
Dr. Vikram Sarabhai Memorial Lecture – Ahmedabad March 7, 1978


SOMEWHERE IN THE great beyond, which he knew so well, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai’s spirit must be having a good chuckle at the sight of me addressing this august audience on such an ambitious subject as “Managing socioeconomic change: the role of professionals.” Would that Dr. Sarabhai were still with us—he would have done this job much better than I. But there was a strong reason for my accepting the honour of making this memorial address. It was not because I felt well-equipped for the job—but rather, it was because I owe a debt of honour to Dr. Sarabhai’s memory, and I want to repay it.

If it were not for Dr. Sarabhai, probably I would not be here today.

But first, allow me to tell you how I came to know Dr. Sarabhai—not, perhaps as an intimate—but in a way that taught me the true quality of the man. In the early 1960s, Dr. Sarabhai and I met to discuss the organization of rural television. He expressed his point of view. I expressed mine. In short, we disagreed and, what was worse, a little heat entered into the discussion; rather strong words were spoken—perhaps a little stronger than either of us had intended. So we parted, our differences still unresolved. That night, quite late, my telephone rang. To my surprise, it was Dr. Sarabhai. He said, ‘Kurien, I’ve been thinking over what you said this afternoon and what I said, in reply. I feel badly about it. That‘s why I’m telephoning you. I’m sure, if we get together we can resolve our differences”. So we did get together. We did resolve our differences.

And I learned something of Vikram Sarabhai’s greatness…

Subsequently, we met a number of times, mainly to discuss rural television. Then I met Dr. Sarabhai. quite by chance, In Delhi. He asked me what brought me to that wicked city. I told him the sad truth: I had come to submit my resignation as the newly appointed chairman of the Indian Dairy Corporation. I explained that I had been asked—or rather instructed—to accept a Maharashtrian IAS officer as the managing director of the corporation, since I was a Gujarati. I was not prepared to be the chairman of the corporation if I could not select the managing director; hence my intention to resign.

Dr. Sarabhai would have none of it. How could I resign, he said—and so on. My sense of outrage evaporated under Vikram‘s “treatment”: his wonderful mixture of no-nonsense purposiveness, combined with an irrepressible sense of humour. It seemed no time at all before I met, along with Dr. Sarabhai, some powerful friends, to whom I explained the reason why I intended to’ resign. I was told to forget it: that no such pressure would be put on me. Vikram’s word could not be doubted. He assured me that my newly-won powerful friends were undoubtedly expressing the will of the government of India. So I returned to Anand. still chairman of the Indian Dairy Corporation.

So far as I know, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai never told anybody that story—and l have not told it publicly until today. It came to my mind—and I decided that I should tell it today—when Dr. Samuel Paul, the director of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, kindly suggested to me the title of this address. I should be grateful to him for this, because I could think of no title which would be more appropriate as a memorial to Dr. Sarabhai. And I decided to start this address with my personal experiences with Dr. Sarabhai, because they tell many things about his greatness, and also because they illustraw the dilemma of the professional.

There I was, being told that I should accept an instruction—in this case, to take a Maharashtrian managing director—because I “was a Gujarati.” Now, that really was a compliment in a way—that I should have come to be so much accepted as a Gujarati. But, in that matter, 1 ad before me the example of Mrs. Mrinalini Sarabhai, the gracious lady from the south, whose presence here today is an honour—and to whom I would like also to pay tribute on this occasion. She showed me the way as to how I should learn about, and respect, the culture of Gujarat, where I had settled to live and to work.


When I recounted the story of my near-resignation as chairman of the lndian Dairy Corporation, I said that this illustrated the “dilemma of the professional”. By that, I meant: that the professional sets himself a certain course—or has it set for him. Thereafter, he is impelled along the path to which he has committed himself. He cannot abandon that path and still call himself a professional. For example, if you are employed by farmers as a professional, to manage their assets on their behalf, then you commit yourself to the farmers’ interests. You know the goal: the farmer must come into his own. That is what you, as a professional, have accepted.

There is no doubt about this matter. To “profess” means to be committed to the mastery of a science, a system of thought—to an “ethic”, if you wish. A professional is one who keeps to that commitment. He pursues the mastery of his subject all his life.

In modern society, all over the world, the role of the professional has perhaps never been more difficult than it is today, More than ever before the professional faces manipulators of power, those who prefer expediency and short-term profit, rather than hewing to principle. They fear change. They have a vested interest in the status quo—so how can they be expected to pursue principles? Especially those principles that lead to socioeconomic change for the benefit of the underprivileged. Yet these are the very men with whom the professional must deal. They dominate the structure in which the professional must work. He is part of their system. That is the dilemma of the professional in “managing socioeconomic change”.

But even the phrase “socioeconomic change” has pitfalls. What about technical change? Can it be that we prefer, these days, to talk about socioeconomic change because we distrust technology? Surely, for over a century, mankind has been caught up in the tide of technical change. This technical change is so far-reaching that it seems almost to have become the dictator of socioeconomic change. It is as if technology itself were some new deity. Now, the humaneness of this new deity is being questioned. Do the benefits of modern technology justify its dreadful price? For it is a price that many communities pay in terms of social and economic deprivation.

Sometimes it appears that we have lost our optimistic belief that technology can be our servant. Instead, there seems to be a pessimistic fear that modern technology has become our master. 1 believe that this is a form of running away. it is an unprofessional abdication of one‘s commitment to a mastery of one’s subject. The dilemma of the professional includes the problem of how to apply technology to the needs of the community at large, against forces which would confine its benefits to their own narrow interest groups. For example, our subcontinent could not have supported its more than 700 million inhabitants were it not for our advances in agriculture and industry.

These advances are too slow. Their impact is too limited. But they are advances in modern technology—and they are the life-support of our subconunent‘s massive population. The professional’s job is to ensure that we are the masters of this technical change—and to see that this technical change serves the socioeconomic objectives of the community at large.

Professionals—in India and elsewhere—have not done this very well so far. In the nineteenth century, changes in agricultural technology accompanied urbanization; and it seems that the social costs of urbanization were more acceptable then than they are now. Today, this process of urbanization is seen as being socially self-defeating, Moreover. our own society’s will to produce more people faster than we can produce more food, seems to be the result of a break-down between the objective knowledge that society possesses and the collective drive of the society at large. “We know,” the argument runs, “that we should not multiply—but multiply we shall.” If that were really what our people were saying, perhaps we professionals could take some comfort from it. It would absolve us of responsibility. But, of course, it is not true. It is simply that we have failed to enable the society adequately to master modern technology—to use modern technology for the promotion of the socioeconomic change that society needs. We professionals must accept our share of the responsibility for that failure.


Consider, for example, the remoteness of our professional lives from our villages. In the village, each successive generation is born into the rigidity of caste; each generation must bear the rapacity of the moneylender and the merchant; and, very often, the random cruelty of nature: floods. famines and pestilence. And yet, the majority survive. And these days, many of them build, they adapt their society, and they become increasingly aware of their objectives. In this, they often seem to be more successful in mastering technical change than most of us are in the cities. In other words, there is in the villages some collective wisdom, for which the professional’s knowledge is not a substitute. This is why the divide between the professionals and the villages is so serious. If we do go to the villages, it is to “study” them, to do good for them-but not to become of them.

We self-styled professionals have enjoyed a higher education, we have acquired at least the outward trappings of learning—usually by some accident of birth or biography. This undeserved advantage gives us access to the decision-makers, to those who decide how the cake will be shared. In other words, we have joined the elite. and the elite enjoys privilege unrelated to merit; its culture is therefore inward looking and defensive. The whole apparatus that we have erected isolates us from the majority. Look at our towns and cities. lnevitably, there is the “new” Delhi, the “new” Ahmedabad and, indeed, the “new’ Anand-with well laid-out streets shaded by trees, in conformity with our best, twentieth century dedication to “ecology“ and with all the regulations duly observed, as to the space required between each pucca dwelling.

That is where we live.

Outside this golden ghetto, we are only too aware of how the rest live: in seemingly endless mazes of tenements and shanties—illdrained, ill-rentilated and overcrowded. No ecology there. Between the golden ghetto of the elite and the fetid slums of the majority. there is a thin, protective belt of “middle-classism’: a bare minimum. just enough to convince the poor that they can escape the misery that urbanization has imposed on them. No wonder the elite turns its face resolutely away from these realities. We concentrate on being fed and clothed increasingly well. The food that fills us, the fibre that clothes us, comes from where? From the villages, where farmets produce it for us—in exchange for what?

The gap between our cities and our villages has been widening for many years. Yet, we have acted as if this could go on for ever. But it cannot go on for ever—and the professionals should have been the first to say so. Instead. the professionals have preferred to join the elite, to enjoy the fruits of the elite. while the going is good.

A Pessimistic View of the Elite

The going is not likely to be good for very long. Looking on the dark side for a moment, let us consider the elite. It appears to consist of five groups:

The Bureaucrats: Jacks of all trades and masters of not one, except of the so-called administrative machinery that they themselves have erected.

The Politicians: Manipulators of words and images, so preoccupied with the maintenance of their power that they can spare no time to learn how to use it to the benefit of the commmunity—which explains why they depend on bureaucrats, to give the machinery of government an appearance of motion.

The Academicians: Those who gave up the process of learning long ago—and who, therefore, have to spend their energies on deceiving successive generations of students into thinking that they are really “learning.”

The Contact Men and The Industrialists: The self-styled captains of industry, who pursue the gains of industrial production without the application of industriousness and productivity.

The Technocrats and Management Experts: The mercenaries who varnish our feudal and mercantile businesses with superficially glossy layers of modern management’s trappings and terminology.

Admittedly, this is a pessimistic view of our elite—but, classify them as you will, that is how they usually appear to me. Moreover, each of the five groups has a vested interest in its own survival—and also in the survival of the others. Unless they stick together, they cannot retain their privileges. Yet. no one can profess to anything when he is committed only to the preservation of his own advantage. if we professionals have fallen into that trap. then we cannot serve as professionals until we climb out of it.

The exceptions: a cause for more optimism

Fortunately. no part of a dynamic society is wholly bad. In every walk of life. we know that there are good men, men who have not committed themselves to false gods. Moreover, for every famous name that comes to mind, we know that there are literally hundreds of unsung heroes, men and women who may be known only to their immediate friends and colleagues—but who are remembered because they have retained their integrity and commitment.

The organizations which 1 have the privilege to head have developed only because of such exceptional men and women. The famous among them are names familiar to all of us.

The late Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who, as far back as the early 1940s, told the farmers of Kaira district, among others, that political independence alone would not serve their purpose—that they had to have economic independence too.

Shri Tribuvandas Patel, an early follower of Sardar Patel. who accepted the mission which the Sardar entrusted to him: to go out and help the farmers to organize their own cooperatives—and who gave up the promise of city life to do so.

And our late Prime Minister, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, who refused to be hemmed in and insulated from the rural majority and who, as a result, insisted that a central body be formed to replicate the Cooperative structure which has since then come to be known as the Anand pattern of cooperation.

I name only these three today—but I could tell you also of well known men and women, including many professionals, whose commitment has been a key factor in enabling our organizations to advance to the extent that they have advanced.

Institutional structure for technical and socioeconomic change: an example

How far have we advanced? Permit me to outline briefly the main characteristics of the institutions which I serve and which I know best. They are a modest example, at least, of how an instrument of technical and socioeconomic change can work to the benefit of the majority. The most important of these institutions are popularly referred to as the Anand pattern cooperatives. They have four characteristics that are particularly relevant to us today:

They are based on a painstakingly put together set of village cooperatives. Thus, in each village that is involved, the producers have come together and have selected, from among themselves, a set of leaders whose decisions they thereafter accept, whom they trust to protect the interests of the producer-membership as a whole.

There may be in any district, anything from 20 to almost 1,000 village cooperatives—all of which commit themselves to the collective membership in a union of cooperatives, through which they own such facilities as a dairy plant and, most importantly, through which they hire for themselves professionals: managers and technologists to run their dairy plant; veterinary doctors to look after their animals and so on.

Thus, this institutional structure serves as the vehicle to bring modern technology to the service of even the poorest rural producer who, thereby, gets into his own hands the instruments for technical and socioeconomic change.

Lastly. an overriding characteristic of these institutions is the fact that they are directed by the chosen representatives of the people who own them, the producers. The institution is, therefore, a dmamic and ever-changing structure for the exercise of self detennination by our rural people.

Like all institutions, this structure is never perfect. But I have dwelt on it particularly, because it does put committed professionals directly to the service of farmers. This is not by any means wholly a matter of ideology. Ideology is there, of course—but it is also a fact that the veterinary doctor who cannot cure animals, or who does not arrive on time when an animal dies—is dismissed. The manager who cannot run a dairy plant is dismissed. Just as the producer who conducts a private milk business, “on the side”, is ineligible to represent his fellow members! This means that there is a reciprocal acceptance of discipline, between the producers and the professionals—and the professionals who accept that discipline are not “trapped”; they can practice their profession truly.

Success” breeds hostility

One or two Anand pattern cooperatives are not enough to bother the elite. But if such an instrument of change appears to be getting into the hands of millions of farmers—that is a different matter!

When Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri saw the Anand pattern cooperatives at work in our villages, he committed the government of India to its replication in all our milksheds. A central body, the National Dairy Development Board, was set up. That was in 1965. And I can tell you that until 1970, the National Dairy Development Board was unable to set up a single Anand pattern cooperative!

In 1970, the Indian Dairy Corporation was formed, with control over the resources required—and, jointly, the Indian Dairy Corporation, with the National Dairy Development Board, launched the programme popularly known as Operation Flood. Under it, 17 Anand pattern district unions and some 5,000 Anand pattern village cooperatives have been established: i.e., village cooperatives in approximately 1 per cent of our villages.

The replication of Anand pattern cooperatives encountered thc hostility of the elite. Politicians, bureaucrats, academicians, contact men! industrialists, technocrats—yes, and management experts-many in each of these groups opposed formation of these cooperatives. They poured scorn on the idea that illiterate farmers could ever manage anything. They revolted against the idea that professionals should be hired employees of the farmers. In other words, their selfish interest in the status quo overrode their professed commitment.

Slowly, however, this opposition has been overcome. How? By the commitment of what was originally a small band of dedicated professionals—and by the fact that a structure had been erected: a structure in which professionals could work with dignity, maintaining their professional integrity.

Urbanization: a part of the dilemma

Many professionals suffer because of the urban orientation of their education and their social experience. Many even fear that to turn to the countryside would be a backward step for them. Fear is a powerful diluent of commitment. And commitment is required if one is to work for farmers. Villages are not idyllic havens. Poverty and repression do not always bring out the natural nobility of man. Many of our villages have narrowing societies; they are dominated by a set of elders who have little claim to positions of leadership, except the dubious qualification of age.

No wonder young people flee from the villages. They know that the streets of Ahmedabad are not paved with gold. Not for them, at least. It is what they are leaving—not what they are coming to—that drives them to the city.

In this sense, the parasitical nature of our urbanization is supported by the narrowness of village society, by the repression of the village gerontocracy. But these are the very reasons why, for the next generation, both our rural and our urban societies must change. The flight from the villages must be stanched, and the destructiveness of our urbanization must be reversed, if the process of modernization is to have any socioeconomic meaning for the next generation. But whether this can be achieved depends, to a great extent, on whether our professionals resolve the conflict in their own stance on urban-rural relations.


Problems arising out of our present urban-rural relationship must be the business of professionals. Solving these problems calls for management of technological and socioeconomic change. Looking at these problems, one can see the main elements in the professional’s role in solving them. There is, of course, the conventional ethic of honesty and diligence. It is the necessary condition for success in all holes, but perhaps the professional has the greatest need for it to be in-built within him, because he has to discipline himself. In addition, the professional has five tasks, if he is to play his role in the management of change:

First and foremost, the professional must be true to his “science” and committed to the unending pursuit of a mastery of his subject; i.e., the ethic of the professional.

The professional has in his hands the instruments of change, the essential tools which society has to command, if it is to achieve the changes it requires. The professional, even though he commands these tools, must use them not for himself, but on behalf of the society at large. Managing on behalf of others: that we can call the professional focus.

The professional has to perceive—and even anticipate—the needs and aspirations of his constituency, gathering their diverse threads together and resolving any conflicts in them. The professional accepts the needs and aspirations of his constituency as the spur which drives him on, continuously seeking to improve his own performance. An internalized vision of our constituency’s world, which lies outside ourselves: that we can call the motivation of the professional.

The professional has to be aware of the bureaucracy that he and his colleagues are forever building, allegedly to serve others, but always with the tendency to be self-serving. When he finds that he has erected his own bureaucracy, he has to tear it down and reform it. Rejecting the old and exposing himself to what is new: that we can call the revolutionary role of the professional.

Lastly, and in summary, the professional has to keep in his mind the difference between what he wants the world to be and what the world is, remembering that large endeavours are only the sum of many small parts. He deals with a kaleidoscope of policies, administrative practices, work cultures, techniques and technologies. Through this kaleidoscope, the professional has to keep clear in his mind his perception of the social and economic impacts of the technologies which he commands. Only then can he give purpose to the majority’s awareness of what constitutes desirable change: a perception of the real world that is neither romantic nor pessimistic. This we can call the clarity of mind which is the basis of professionalism.

These are five characteristics of the professional’s role in management ofchamge: the ethic of mastering one’s subject; a focus on other’s needs; an internalization of the exterior world one serves; constructive iconoclasm towards one’s bureaucracy; and clarity of mind about the many seemingly small elements which make up great endeavours.


To some, what I have said about the role of the professional may sound like rather lofty words. To others, what I have said may seem to be only a repetition of what the professional will already have worked out for himself. In either case, I am keenly aware that none of my words can resolve the dilemma of the professional. That, each of us has to do for himself.

For the professional who tries to do so, there are some factors in his favour. For one thing, many of our farmers still retain their faith in the professional. They have not yet developed the cynicism that prevails in the city. So they are willing to give the sincere professional a good chance to prove himself.

The same cannot always be said of our urban elders, especially those who head the organizations in which the young professional must work. Many of these “leaders” are those who have embraced the attitudes—and the fruits—of the elite. When these are the men who are in charge, how is the young professional to develop his standards and maintain his integrity?

There is no easy general answer to this question. But if we take the particular instance which I have touched on today, there is at least a partial answer. I have discussed the role of the professional in managing both technical and also socioeconomic change. I have tried to show why I see this role as being especially important in reversing the destructive aspects of our society’s urban-rural relationships.

For the professional—especially the young professional—who commits himself to working for the farmer, the issues involved are clear. The majority of our people are rural and the majority of them are poor. It is time that the farmer comes into his own. The professional who commits himself to this objective can work for farmers—and he will never go far wrong, he will never lack allies and he will always enjoy the deep satisfaction that comes from the trust reposed in him by the village people whom he serves. To the young professional especially, I say: “Serve the farmer—and he will enable you to preserve your professionalism, because he respects it and because he values your integrity.”

Thank you


v-kVerghese Kurien (1921 – 2012), a social entrepreneur from India. Known for White Revolution. Sourced from his collected lectures in “An Unfinished Dream (1997).”


Prose – Jack Halberstam

An Introduction – The Undercommons Fugitive Planning & Black Study

Jack Halberstam

It ends with love, exchange, fellowship. It ends as it begins, in motion, in between various modes of being and belonging, and on the way to new economies of giving, taking, being with and for and it ends with a ride in a Buick Skylark on the way to another place altogether. Surprising, perhaps, after we have engaged dispossession, debt, dislocation and violence. But not surprising when you have understood that the projects of “fugitive planning and black study” are mostly about reaching out to find connection; they are about making common cause with the brokenness of being, a brokenness, I would venture to say, that is also blackness, that remains blackness, and will, despite all, remain broken because this book is not a prescription for repair.

If we do not seek to fix what has been broken, then what? How do we resolve to live with brokenness, with being broke, which is also what Moten and Harney call “debt.” Well, given that debt is sometimes a history of giving, at other times a history of taking, at all times a history of capitalism and given that debt also signifies a promise of ownership but never delivers on that promise, we have to understand that debt is something that cannot be paid off. Debt, as Harney puts it, presumes a kind of individualized relation to a naturalized economy that is predicated upon exploitation. Can we have, he asks, another sense of what is owed that does not presume a nexus of activities like recognition and acknowledgement, payment and gratitude. Can debt “become a principle of elaboration”?

Moten links economic debt to the brokenness of being in the interview with Stevphen Shukaitis; he acknowledges that some debts should be paid, and that much is owed especially to black people by white people, and yet, he says: “I also know that what it is that is supposed to be repaired is irreparable. It can’t be repaired. The only thing we can do is tear this shit down completely and build something new.” The undercommons do not come to pay their debts, to repair what has been broken, to fix what has come undone. If you want to know what the undercommons wants, what Moten and Harney want, what black people, indigenous peoples, queers and poor people want, what we (the “we” who cohabit in the space of the undercommons) want, it is this – we cannot be satisfied with the recognition and acknowledgement generated by the very system that denies a) that anything was ever broken and b) that we deserved to be the broken part; so we refuse to ask for recognition and instead we want to take apart, dismantle, tear down the structure that, right now, limits our ability to find each other, to see beyond it and to access the places that we know lie outside its walls. We cannot say what new structures will replace the ones we live with yet, because once we have torn shit down, we will inevitably see more and see differently and feel a new sense of wanting and being and becoming. What we want after “the break” will be different from what we think we want before the break and both are necessarily different from the desire that issues from being in the break.

Let’s come at this by another path. In the melancholic and visionary 2009 film version of Maurice Sandak’s Where The Wild Things Are (1963), Max, the small seeker who leaves his room, his home, his family to find the wild beyond, finds a world of lost and lonely beasts and they promptly make him their king. Max is the first king the wild things have had whom they did not eat and who did not, in turn, try to eat them; and the beasts are the first grown things that Max has met who want his opinion, his judgment, his rule. Max’s power is that he is small while they are big; he promises the beasts that he has no plans to eat them and this is more than anyone has ever promised them. He promises that he will find ways through and around and will “slip through cracks” and re-crack the cracks if they fill up. He promises to keep sadness at bay and to make a world with the wild creatures that “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”

That Max fails to make the wild things happy or to save them or to make a world with them is less important than the fact that he found them and he recognized in them the end of something and potentially the path to an alternative to his world. The wild things were not the utopian creatures of fairy tales, they were the rejected and lost subjects of the world Max had left behind and, because he shuttles between the Oedipal land where his mother rules and the ruined world of the wild, he knows the parameters of the real – he sees what is included and what is left out and he is now able to set sail for another place, a place that is neither the home he left nor the home to which he wants to return.

Moten and Harney want to gesture to another place, a wild place that is not simply the left over space that limns real and regulated zones of polite society; rather, it is a wild place that continuously produces its own unregulated wildness. The zone we enter through Moten and Harney is ongoing and exists in the present and, as Harney puts it, “some kind of demand was already being enacted, fulfilled in the call itself.” While describing the London Riots of 2011, Harney suggests that the riots and insurrections do not separate out “the request, the demand and the call” – rather, they enact the one in the other: “I think the call, in the way I would understand it, the call, as in the call and response, the response is already there before the call goes out. You’re already in something.” You are already in it. For Moten too, you are always already in the thing that you call for and that calls you. What’s more, the call is always a call to dis-order and this disorder or wildness shows up in many places: in jazz, in improvisation, in noise. The disordered sounds that we refer to as cacophony will always be cast as “extra-musical,” as Moten puts it, precisely because we hear something in them that reminds us that our desire for harmony is arbitrary and in another world, harmony would sound incomprehensible. Listening to cacophony and noise tells us that there is a wild beyond to the structures we inhabit and that inhabit us.

And when we are called to this other place, the wild beyond, “beyond the beyond” in Moten and Harney’s apt terminology, we have to give ourselves over to a certain kind of craziness. Moten reminds us that even as Fanon took an anti-colonial stance, he knew that it “looks crazy” but, Fanon, as a psychiatrist, also knew not to accept this organic division between the rational and the crazy and he knew that it would be crazy for him not to take that stance in a world that had assigned to him the role of the unreal, the primitive and the wild. Fanon, according to Moten, wants not the end of colonialism but the end of the standpoint from which colonialism makes sense. In order to bring colonialism to an end then, one does not speak truth to power, one has to inhabit the crazy, nonsensical, ranting language of the other, the other who has been rendered a nonentity by colonialism. Indeed, blackness, for Moten and Harney by way of Fanon, is the willingness to be in the space that has been abandoned by colonialism, by rule, by order. Moten takes us there, saying of Fanon finally: “Eventually, I believe, he comes to believe in the world, which is to say the other world, where we inhabit and maybe even cultivate this absence, this place which shows up here and now, in the sovereign’s space and time, as absence, darkness, death, things which are not (as John Donne would say).”

The path to the wild beyond is paved with refusal. In The Undercommons if we begin anywhere, we begin with the right to refuse what has been refused to you. Citing Gayatri Spivak, Moten and Harney call this refusal the “first right” and it is a game-changing kind of refusal in that it signals the refusal of the choices as offered. We can understand this refusal in terms that Chandan Reddy lays out in Freedom With Violence (2011) – for Reddy, gay marriage is the option that cannot be opposed in the ballot box. While we can circulate multiple critiques of gay marriage in terms of its institutionalization of intimacy, when you arrive at the ballot box, pen in hand, you only get to check “yes” or “no” and the no, in this case, could be more damning than the yes. And so, you must refuse the choice as offered.

Moten and Harney also study what it would mean to refuse what they term “the call to order.” And what would it mean, furthermore, to refuse to call others to order, to refuse interpellation and the reinstantiation of the law. When we refuse, Moten and Harney suggest, we create dissonance and more importantly, we allow dissonance to continue – when we enter a classroom and we refuse to call it to order, we are allowing study to continue, dissonant study perhaps, disorganized study, but study that precedes our call and will continue after we have left the room. Or, when we listen to music, we must refuse the idea that music happens only when the musician enters and picks up an instrument; music is also the anticipation of the performance and the noises of appreciation it generates and the speaking that happens through and around it, making it and loving it, being in it while listening. And so, when we refuse the call to order – the teacher picking up the book, the conductor raising his baton, the speaker asking for silence, the torturer tightening the noose – we refuse order as the distinction between noise and music, chatter and knowledge, pain and truth.

These kinds of examples get to the heart of Moten and Harney’s world of the undercommons – the undercommons is not a realm where we rebel and we create critique; it is not a place where we “take arms against a sea of troubles/and by opposing end them.” The undercommons is a space and time which is always here. Our goal – and the “we” is always the right mode of address here – is not to end the troubles but to end the world that created those particular troubles as the ones that must be opposed. Moten and Harney refuse the logic that stages refusal as inactivity, as the absence of a plan and as a mode of stalling real politics. Moten and Harney tell us to listen to the noise we make and to refuse the offers we receive to shape that noise into “music.”

In the essay that many people already know best from this volume, “The University and the Undercommons,” Moten and Harney come closest to explaining their mission. Refusing to be for or against the university and in fact marking the critical academic as the player who holds the “for and against” logic in place, Moten and Harney lead us to the “Undercommons of the Enlightenment” where subversive intellectuals engage both the university and fugitivity: “where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong.” The subversive intellectual, we learn, is unprofessional, uncollegial, passionate and disloyal. The subversive intellectual is neither trying to extend the university nor change the university, the subversive intellectual is not toiling in misery and from this place of misery articulating a “general antagonism.” In fact, the subversive intellectual enjoys the ride and wants it to be faster and wilder; she does not want a room of his or her own, she wants to be in the world, in the world with others and making the world anew. Moten insists: “Like Deleuze. I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world in the world and I want to be in that. And I plan to stay a believer, like Curtis Mayfield. But that’s beyond me, and even beyond me and Stefano, and out into the world, the other thing, the other world, the joyful noise of the scattered, scatted eschaton, the undercommon refusal of the academy of misery.”

The mission then for the denizens of the undercommons is to recognize that when you seek to make things better, you are not just doing it for the Other, you must also be doing it for yourself. While men may think they are being “sensitive” by turning to feminism, while white people may think they are being right on by opposing racism, no one will really be able to embrace the mission of tearing “this shit down” until they realize that the structures they oppose are not only bad for some of us, they are bad for all of us. Gender hierarchies are bad for men as well as women and they are really bad for the rest of us. Racial hierarchies are not rational and ordered, they are chaotic and nonsensical and must be opposed by precisely all those who benefit in any way from them. Or, as Moten puts it: “The coalition emerges out of your recognition that it’s fucked up for you, in the same way that we’ve already recognized that it’s fucked up for us. I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?”

The coalition unites us in the recognition that we must change things or die. All of us. We must all change the things that are fucked up and change cannot come in the form that we think of as “revolutionary”– not as a masculinist surge or an armed confrontation. Revolution will come in a form we cannot yet imagine. Moten and Harney propose that we prepare now for what will come by entering into study.

Study, a mode of thinking with others separate from the thinking that the institution requires of you, prepares us to be embedded in what Harney calls “the with and for” and allows you to spend less time antagonized and antagonizing. Like all world-making and all world-shattering encounters, when you enter this book and learn how to be with and for, in coalition, and on the way to the place we are already making, you will also feel fear, trepidation, concern, and disorientation. The disorientation, Moten and Harney will tell you is not just unfortunate, it is necessary because you will no longer be in one location moving forward to another, instead you will already be part of “the “movement of things” and on the way to this “outlawed social life of nothing.” The movement of things can be felt and touched and exists in language and in fantasy, it is flight, it is motion, it is fugitivity itself. Fugitivity is not only escape, “exit” as Paolo Virno might put it, or “exodus” in the terms offered by Hardt and Negri, fugitivity is being separate from settling. It is a being in motion that has learned that “organizations are obstacles to organising ourselves” (The Invisible Committee in The Coming Insurrection) and that there are spaces and modalities that exist separate from the logical, logistical, the housed and the positioned. Moten and Harney call this mode a “being together in homelessness” which does not idealize homelessness nor merely metaphorize it. Homelessness is the state of dispossession that we seek and that we embrace: “Can this being together in homelessness, this interplay of the refusal of what has been refused, this undercommon appositionality, be a place from which emerges neither self-consciousness nor knowledge of the other but an improvisation that proceeds from somewhere on the other side of an unasked question?” I think this is what Jay-Z and Kanye West (another collaborative unit of study) call “no church in the wild.”

For Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, we must make common cause with those desires and (non) positions that seem crazy and unimaginable: we must, on behalf of this alignment, refuse that which was first refused to us and in this refusal reshape desire, reorient hope, reimagine possibility and do so separate from the fantasies nestled into rights and respectability. Instead, our fantasies must come from what Moten and Harney citing Frank B. Wilderson III call “the hold”: “And so it is we remain in the hold, in the break, as if entering again and again the broken world, to trace the visionary company and join it.” The hold here is the hold in the slave ship but it is also the hold that we have on reality and fantasy, the hold they have on us and the hold we decide to forego on the other, preferring instead to touch, to be with, to love. If there is no church in the wild, if there is study rather than knowledge production, if there is a way of being together in brokenness, if there is an undercommons, then we must all find our way to it. And it will not be there where the wild things are, it will be a place where refuge is not necessary and you will find that you were already in it all along.



The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (NY: Semiotexte, 2009).
Chandan Reddy, Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality and the US State
(Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011).
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (NY: Harper Collins, 1988).

The Introduction Essay from Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study was sourced with permission from their publisher, Minor Compositions in this April edition of The Quiet Letter. You can find the book at their store.