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The Disappearing body and Empty Mirrors

The Disappearing body and Empty Mirrors

Rajaram Brammarajan

Roland Barthes observed in his essay on ‘Striptease’ that the dance which followed the striptease was in no way erotic. Modern painters like M.F.Hussain paint their human figures as garments and not as “body”. Of course you will be reminded of Picasso’s Maids of Avignon. Or come closer to a postmodern painter like Francis Bacon and have a look at his “Studies from the Human Body(1975)”. More horrifying is Bacon’s “Three studies of the Human Head(1953)”. If the body is losing its appeal, it marks the beginning of the decline of erotics. In the modern times the body has almost lost its ‘chaste’ condition and it is no longer the site of romance and fantasy. We are undergoing a period of our life experiencing the shame of the body though the origins are not the Christian fall of man and woman from the garden of innocence. Moreover the male fastidious about the external defects of the human body (mostly the obsession is for the male about the female physique) seems to have erased the decreasing chance of erotics. The body’s ruined surfaces never escapes our conscious mind even in love’s most passionate moments. So poets have to choose between a romantic, escapist discourse of the body and the body aesthetics of the 21st century.

In one of his short stories, Milan Kundera’s woman character says that she was not ashamed of her grey hair on her head but she has to wear her long scar on her stomach like a “secret badge of dishonour”. Postmodern culture is driving us towards panic mythologies about diseases, addictions, accidents and amputations. Knowledge of the body disorients the desires of the body. Nevertheless, knowledge of the body has become a precondition for the operation of power in the postmodern condition. Conseqently the body has become a new surveillance zone leading to the play of the ‘panoptic’ power apparatus. When the body is subjected to a perpetual to a “perpetual gaze” the charm naturally disappears. As Michael Foucault has announced, organic sex has disappeared and its place has been taken up by “what is said about sex”. When we are afflicted by a panic fear of viral contamination the body becomes a “text for immunological discourse”. In such conditions man’s obsession would be to rejuvenate and protect his T-cells rather than multiply his desires. With the alienation of the womb in the age of test-tube babies (invitro fertilizations?) biological motherhood seems to be on the vane.

When the body seems to promise its own negation and the media batters and blurs the distinction between the body and its adornment. In the place of the body as the ‘object’ there is only an ‘absent presence’ or a grey shadow. If we naively attempt to transcend the body and its ugly reality we face a sexuality devoid of desire or a desire that lacks passion. Udhayan Vajpaeyi’s narrator(male) in “A Few Sentences of Love” seems to more obsessed with removing the grammatical errors from the conversation of his woman(lover?) than describing her appearance. Tadeuz Rosewicz does not talk about erotics from direct personal experience but uses older texts like Shakepeare’s Hamlet in his poem “Precis”. In another poem(Home exercises on the theme of Fallen Angels) Rosewicz tries to escape the impurity of the body through geometry:

Angels in paradise

Are like the inner side

Of an adolescent girl’s thigh

They are like stars

They shine in private parts

Are clean like triangles and circles

With silence In the centre. . .

If the body continues to disappear in the expanding technoscape, what kind of erotics will remain? In the absence of erotics and the continuing disappearance of the body poetry will tend to become highly intellectualized. We might possibly look for cerebral aesthetics of the body. Before concluding a quotation from George Bataille’s bleak vision would be apt:

In bed next to the woman he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches. Without knowing it, he suffers from an obscurity of intelligence that keeps him from screaming that he himself is the woman who forgets his presence while shuddering in his arms. They can well try to find each other; they will never find anything but parodic images, and they will fall asleep as empty as mirrors(George Bataille-Solar Anus).

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Rajaram Bramarajan.

The door stands latched intact

Yet the unseen street lamp’s lacteal glow

Infiltrates through the slit.

A discarded newspaper bag

disturbs the dumb tar road.

Raising my eyes towards the sky

I tell myself:

You are unconcerned with the distance

dividing galaxies.

When the chimes of the church bell

Roll in the lap of darkness

Your eyes of surprise

Focused for Milan’s frescoes

Remain shutters closed.

An insect

strange and anonymous

tickling the ears

with shrill needles of sound

tells me:

when the neutron bomb wipes the homosapiens

it is impossible for

a protozoa to offer

regenesis to man.

The mane of the lion

Marx’s reckonings of daily bread-

all have met their destiny here

like scattered sperms on the mud.

Your ignorance will have

more catalogues tagged to it.

In whatever manner time is measured

beyond the skeletons of concrete hills

and across the neon signs

our speech shall remain

away from the invading computers-

an articulation of flesh and blood.


Translated by the poet.(19/11/1988). Published in Sahitya Akademi’s journal Indian Literature.Dont remember the no or month.

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Jottings about the lexicon/ a modern Tamil poem by Amirtharaj

(5-01-2000)/06-03-2005[these are versions and revisions of my translation drafts]Jottings about the lexicon/ AMIRTHA RAJ/ pp.36-37/Porkkanam.(Amirtharaj is an important voice of the 90s generation of Tamil poets. His crisp images and incisive language are quite mature. I have selected this poem from his first collection of poems. Amirtharaj’s recent collection is called Maha Kolam)

The uncreated lexicon
remained motionless
in the silent emptiness.

When the dot of light
that grew in the void
expanded into lips
the word flowered.


That same word
as root ran deep
in the earth’s splendrous face and sprouts
as millions of words.

Though the word is one
can be called as words.

Feeling that they are different
when the mind runs hither and thither amidst words
searching for sense
it does not know silence.

Beyond those words of the cosmic lexicon
the silence is all-knowing.

Like the secret exceeding beyond
the tip of the tongue
the lone door of light
leading to the awaiting silence-
It is in the first word.
Silence alone
is meaning
in entirity.

Translated from Tamil by Rajaram Brammarajan