Podcast • September 17, 2010

Andrew Bacevich: how war without end became the rule

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Andrew Bacevich (43 minutes, 20 mb mp3) Andrew Bacevich is the soldier turned writer who’s still unlearning and puncturing the Washington Rules of national security. The rules have ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Andrew Bacevich (43 minutes, 20 mb mp3)

Andrew Bacevich is the soldier turned writer who’s still unlearning and puncturing the Washington Rules of national security. The rules have turned into doctrines, he’s telling us, of global war forever. He is talking about the scales that have fallen from the eyes of a slow learner, as he calls himself — a dutiful, conformist Army officer who woke up at the end of the Cold War twenty years ago to the thought that the orthodoxy he’d accepted was a sham.

Andrew Bacevich’s military career ran from West Point to Vietnam to the first Gulf War in 1991. The short form of the story he’s been writing for a decade now is: how unexamined failure in Vietnam became by today a sort of repetition compulsion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington Rules is Andrew Bacevich’s fourth book in a project to unmask American empire, militarism, over-reach and what sustains them.

Podcast • September 3, 2010

Real India: Ashis Nandy’s ‘intimate enemies’

NEW DELHI — Ashis Nandy has a big idea about “loss and recovery” in the history of colonialism. The bumpersticker version is that the conquerors and colonists lose in the end; the vanquished victims win. ...

NEW DELHI — Ashis Nandy has a big idea about “loss and recovery” in the history of colonialism. The bumpersticker version is that the conquerors and colonists lose in the end; the vanquished victims win. He is talking, of course, about England and India. By chance on the day of our conversation, England’s new prime minister David Cameron was visiting New Delhi — hat in hand, shopping for deals in the land that now owns Jaguar autos and most of British steelmaking, the only place (we read in the papers) where British Petroleum might find a bailout buyer, if it had to. But Ashis Nandy is keeping score not of capital accounts but, in effect, of moral and spiritual well-being. Taking many subtle measures of “post-colonial consciousness,” he finds India mending and Britain still warped and wounded by its old habit of domination. But colonialism, as Nandy observes it, does not end when the colonists are finally forced out. The “hidden message of colonialism” and the beguiling message of Ashis Nandy’s most famous book, The Intimate Enemy, is that “what others can do to you, you also can do to your own kind.” In the deep emotional compact that is colonialism, native elites learn to play by the rules of the hegemon’s game — the game known today, in a word, as “development.” With the result that in our post-colonial world, “the colonial mantle is now worn by native regimes” on most of the planet, “who are willing to do what the colonial powers did.”

Ashis Nandy is a widely beloved independent scholar, a social-psychological theorist, a prolific writer and talker “beyond category.” Our conversation, too, roams beyond borders and disciplines:

AN:Malcolm Muggeridge once said that Indians are the only surviving English in the world. I would go further. I think that only in India will you find Victorian England surviving in pockets so confidently that you can consider it, in museumized form, the last remaining vestige of Victorian England. Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse, forgotten in England, survive here as the standards of detective and comic novels. There are people here who can give you street directions in London without ever having been there…

CL: Barack Obama will be coming to India in November. What would you want him to know about this country in a young century?

AN: I’d say he would be wise for him not to take the middle class as the be-all-and-end-all in India. The first principle is that he must take into account how the majority of Indians think about public life and global politics… Indians are looking for a more human and compassionate regime. Indians are not accustomed to impersonal government which works like a well-oiled machine, which gives them high growth rates but cannot take care of the more obscene forms of poverty and destitution. Actually, if you look at it, poverty is not a problem in India. Many sectors of Indians have lived in poverty for a long time, and their needs are very little. That is why most surveys show that most Indians are happy with their economic state though large sectors live in poverty. I think our problem is not so much poverty as destitution, what you might call absolute poverty where, if you don’t have the money you starve to death. You don’t starve to death in a tribal society for want of money. Only if the whole community doesn’t have money do you starve to death. I suspect that instead of trying to pull people above the poverty line, if we could directly attack this kind of destitution, we shall go much further.

CL: How would you attack it?

AN: By providing direct support to impoverished families — instead of a process of trickle-down effort where, by the time it trickles down, the bottom 10 percent will die perhaps, so you will eliminate poverty by eliminating the poor. Actually this has happened in many countries. I don’t want it to happen in India. I don’t think Obama can do anything about that, but he can at least be aware that the Indians he will be talking to are not the whole of India. They are a small minority.

A compassionate society is not impossible in India. It is tacitly accepted that it would be better that way, and an open society gives you scope to fight for it. But these battles are delegitimized by new power structures that Indians are not accustomed to handling. For example India never had multi-national corporations. They never had this plethora of billionaires who bestride Indian public life now in such a flamboyant manner, pontificating about everything. Indians are not used to this kind of heavy media exposure. They have not developed the kind of skepticism that Americans have after watching television for 60 years; Indians have seen it only for 15 years or so. Their judgments are too influenced by media. The newspapers are trying to imitate television now, becoming entertainment dailies instead of newspapers.

So it looks as if this is all of India: information technology; this proliferation of engineers and technical education of all kinds; the large number of Singapore-style malls you see in all Indian cities; the fashion parrots; Bollywood. These seem to be the New India, but it is not the New India.

New India is those who embarrass you by scratching their backs with forks, sitting in Parliament. That’s the New India, and you don’t like to recognize them because they’re new to power, new to the urbanity to which you are accustomed. Even that embarrassment that the middle class feels about these crude, slightly rustic hillbillies coming to power — that represents something of the New India, because they’ve expanded political participation and released new energies from the bottom of the society. New kinds of political leaders will come from these people, or at least from their children. This is the price you pay for democracy and an open society. The challenge is not to close up society and hand over initiative only to the technocrats. The challenge is how to allow to allow greater political participation and listen to the voice of the people.

Ashis Nandy in conversation with Chris Lydon in New Delhi. July, 2010

Podcast • August 31, 2010

Real India: On the Couch with Sudhir Kakar

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Sudhir Kakar (17 minutes, 8 mb mp3) NEW DELHI — Sudhir Kakar has built a Freudian bridge to the alternate universe that is India. The India he writes ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Sudhir Kakar (17 minutes, 8 mb mp3)

NEW DELHI — Sudhir Kakar has built a Freudian bridge to the alternate universe that is India. The India he writes and talks about is different not only from our world but also from its own branding. “Indians,” he writes, for example, “are perhaps the world’s most undemocratic people, living in the world’s largest and most plural democracy.”

Sudhir Kakar looks and listens like an anthropologist. He also writes novels. But you sense that the firm basis of his reputation as a public intellectual — an authority especially on Indian identity and character, what he calls “Indian-ness” — is his many years as a professional psychoanalyst, in Goa and New Delhi, hearing out individual sagas of a changing society and culture.

His “Indianness” is a psychological category with a few critical elements.

“If there is one ‘ism’ that governs Indian society and institutions,” he begins, “it is familyism.” It is an “ideology of relationships,” the unwritten rule of business and politics, built around the “joint family” in which brothers after marriage bring their wives into a parental household.

Second, there is the rule of hierarchy and the eternal consciousness of rank, a legacy of thousands of years of caste distinctions.

Third comes a view of the human body out of the Ayurvedic tradition: if Western psychology and medicine see the body as a fortress under siege, the Indian body is seen as open in many dimensions — to planetary influences, for example.

Fourth, a shared cultural imagination learned mainly from the ancient epics encompasses Hindus and Muslims, literate classes and the unwashed, in a “romantic vision of human life.”

And what happens, I inquire, when Indian-ness gets ever more deeply enmeshed in a global culture?

There are two or three ideologies of the global world which come in. Very simply, the ideologies of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity…

Of course, equality clashes against the very hierarchical part of [Indian-ness]: one has to deal with one’s innate way of looking at the world in a hierarchical way and the brain saying that one should look at people as equals…

Fraternity is not that big a difficulty, because the Indian Hindu view has been influenced by Islam, where fraternity has always been one of the biggest virtues of human beings.

I think the biggest change that has taken place, where [liberty] has impacted Indian-ness, has been the change in women in the last fifty years: the acceptance of the notion that, first, girls are equal to boys as far as education is concerned, and, second, that they are free to go out to work. And that has impacted many many things…

Sudhir Kakar in conversation with Chris Lydon in New Delhi. July, 2010

October 13, 2006

Edna O’Brien

Edna O'Brien's new novel The Light of Evening incorporates real letters that her own driving, contentious mother wrote to her from the Irish village where O'Brien's scandalous early work had been literally burned in the chapel yard. So the lyrical fiction here recapitulates the passions of a lifetime: the literary exile, in the grand modern tradition of Joyce and Beckett, and the fierce tension of estrangement and attachment to O'Brien's Irish and family roots.

 

Such is the wrath of the mothers, such is the cry of the mothers, such is the lamentation of the mothers, on and on until the last day, the last bluish tinge, the pismires, the gloaming, and the dying dust.

Edna O’Brien, The Light of Evening

ednaEdna O’Brien’s new novel The Light of Evening incorporates real letters that her own driving, contentious mother wrote to her from the Irish village where O’Brien’s scandalous early work had been literally burned in the chapel yard.

So the lyrical fiction here recapitulates the passions of a lifetime: the literary exile, in the grand modern tradition of Joyce and Beckett, and the fierce tension of estrangement and attachment to O’Brien’s Irish and family roots. Much of the story is imagined in the fevered musings of Delia, the mother known as Dilly:

But her daughter, as she says, is trapped in a life of vice, beyond in England, her young sons in a Quaker school that Dilly was not consulted about, and her books that have scandalized the country, though as Sister is quick to say and the priest remarked to her, the nature sections so beautiful, so enraptured, if only she had excised the flagrant bits.

Edna O’Brien, The Light of Evening

The Light of Evening puts a seal on the conflicts that empowered O’Brien’s rebellion, starting with the famous breakthrough candor of The Country Girls, long banned in Ireland. And surely the music in this 20th book from Edna O’Brien puts the seal of immortality on one of the most admired, most productive literary lives in the English language today. From his Olympus at Yale, Harold Bloom has blessed both the life and the new book with a personal letter to O’Brien. “Joyce I think is your mother, in this book,” Professor Bloom wrote, “and the Joyce-infuenced Faulkner, your father.”

There is vindication here also of Philip Roth’s encomium: “The great Colette’s mantle has fallen to Edna O’Brien–a darker writer, more full of conflict, O’Brien nonetheless shares the earthiness, the rawness, the chiseled prose, the scars of maturity. she is a consummate stylist and, to my mind, the most gifted woman now writing fiction in English.”

We mean to talk with Edna O’Brien not only about mothers and daughters, about exile and The Light of Evening, but about Ireland then and now, and about the United States that Dilly, in the novel, sampled in the 1920’s and rejected. The Irish through the centuries have honed their backstage wits on the observation of Britain’s imperious weight in the world. What do we want this striking green-eyed sage to tell us about ourselves, our writers and politicians, our American performance at home and on the wider stage of this young global century?

Edna O’Brien

Irish novelist

Author, most recently, The Light of Evening

Rebecca Pelan

Lecturer, School of English and Drama, University College Dublin
Extra Credit Reading
John Freeman, Talking with Edna O’Brien, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 29th, 2006: “My mother hated, went to her grave, shocked, outraged, that I was a writer,” O’Brien says. “She saw that I had some gifts. She resented it and yet wanted us to be bound together. And that’s very unnerving. Rather than bury this tension, O’Brien has given her mother her wish.”Frank Wilson, blogger at books, inq and book editor for The Philadelphia Inquirier, October 15, 2006: “The greatest storytellers are those who best discern the interior dramas that human beings suffer and inflict in silence – “hearts contracting day by day,” people “visiting little malices on one another in lieu of their missed happiness.” It’s territory that Irish author Edna O’Brien knows as well as any writer alive, something abundantly demonstrated in her masterful new novel.”

Salon, Interview with Edna O’Brien, Salon.com, October 2006:

“Q:Is it better or easier to write about Ireland from outside?

A: I don’t rule out living some of the time in Ireland, but it would be in a remote place, where I would have silence and privacy. It’s important when writing to feel free, answerable to no one. The minute you feel you are answerable, you’re throttled. You can’t do it.”

Claire Dederer, The Mother Load: Edna O’Brien’s Dark Look at the Mother Daughter Bond, Slate, October 11, 2006: “Her admirers–who include Frank McCourt and Alice Munro–urge us to go slowly, to savor her writing. It’s dazzling, they say. Also, radiant. But that’s not why it took me an hour. It took me an hour because I was bored, and it was hard.”