Annotations on the Indian shore: Cultural Pedagogy of the Writings of Oppressors and its Faultlines


 Yogesh Maitreya

YogeshAlongside social and economic capital, cultural capital is one important source from which power flows in any society. Culture of any country is always that which is perceived as culture by the dominant (oppressor) groups, neglecting that of the oppressed. Writing, regardless of genre, is often used as one of the major tools to maintain the oppressive hegemony, consciously or subconsciously.

For instance, if a matter regarding an oppressed group is being delivered through the medium of 'words' by the oppressor or a member of the dominant group, then the likelihood of this narrative being false are high, simply because the member of the oppressor group is likely to be lacking in the experiential knowledge of being oppressed and his subjective insight of the issues. Despite this, if members of oppressor groups insist on depicting the narratives for and of the oppressed, then it illustrates the oppressor's need to inject and impose the oppressive narratives in order to maintain the present order of cultural hegemony.

Humanisation1, which Paulo Freire calls the central problem of humankind, is pursued so subtly by members of oppressor groups by using the tool of writing that they go so far sometimes as to represent the oppressed by the means of their writings. And in the process of pursuing humanisation, their intentions, conscious or subconscious, lie in proclaiming themselves humanised by writing for the oppressors, but on the other hand, they forget that their writings can only be regarded as second-hand, not even critical. Society's critical consciousness cannot be stirred by the oppressor's writings for the oppressed until and unless the oppressed write for themselves and are given a chance to speak on the same platform on which the oppressors express themselves. Of course, oppressors too can express themselves in terms of writings about the oppressed (if seen in the context of a democratic society), but nonetheless, oppressors have no right to speak on behalf of the oppressed.

Writing about the oppressed by oppressors such as in media or in the literary domain, play the propagandist role in various phases of discussions and debates, unconcerned about oppressed groups' real narratives and concerns. It, at a very subtle level, creates common consensus about any subject matter which is being spoken or written by the members of the oppressor group in which the real narratives of the oppressed are automatically manufactured as marginalised. This creates a real problem in the domain of cultural hermeneutics2 in which readers are always distorted by narratives about oppressed written by oppressor. By constantly neglecting the oppressed on the platform of expression (literary gamut) the narratives of a real culture (assertive narratives by the oppressed) is subjugated by the oppressor. By doing so, the oppressor group manufactures distortive narratives. And these distortive narratives, further, claim to be the real narratives of the people of the country or state.

In this process, the whole structure of the narratives of the oppressed is changed to the idea which the oppressor group possesses for the oppressed. Eventually by writing for and on behalf of the oppressed, and not giving them an equal chance to write on the same platform, the oppressors change the idea as well as image of cultural hermeneutics, and thus change the culture, which now, dominantly represents views and perceptions of the oppressor and the transformed oppressed as mere objects of writing and make cultural capital out of his issues.

Oppressor's annotations on Oppressed

Two years before the French Revolution, in 1787, Immanuel Kant had come up with his remarkable book which had started inquiry into the existence, transparency and ontological source of knowledge which human beings (in societal setting, my focus is on knowledge which the oppressor possessed about society) possess (about any worldly content around him), propagate, and appear confident about the existence of a particular subject of object matter. Kant endeavoured to distinguish between what we understand as knowledge (let's assume knowledge of social hierarchy and of any particular community) which derives from without acquiring an experience of the metaphysical reality and, the knowledge which derives from the experience itself.

Kant lucidly argued "That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt. For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than by means of objects which affect our senses, and partly of themselves produce representations, partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity, to compare to connect, or to separate these, and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects, which is called experience". Now one might ask a question that how does this particular argument of Kant is relevant to our reading of annotated texts and reading the originals texts? Or put another question: can a non-victim justifiably write about narratives of victim without giving the victim a chance at the same platform of expression?

Now I must analyse the aforementioned argument of Kant in the context of the process of reading annotations by dominant groups (oppressors) also written by them, about oppressed. On the epistemological grounds, to come to the best possible understanding of the subjectivity of people or a person or any community, there is no better source of knowing than letting those people or a person or community talk about and for themselves, explain their subjectivity by their participation in their narratives. The inquiry of Kant's passage or his emphasis on 'subject is the best narrator of his subjectivity' can further facilitate Freire's exploration of narrative sickness wherein he explains that how an authority, with established hegemony of teaching, goes on to the task of teaching without any critical discussion with whom they are teaching or, without letting them speak. Kant illustrates the importance and genuineness of subjectivity of a person and his own narratives in the knowledge generating process, which helps us to understand that if a person's subjectivity is not learnt by his own narratives, then it only helps establish narrative sickness and leads to cultural hegemony which is one of the tools of the prevalent process of oppression.

Annotations for and on oppressed by oppressor always maintain the propagandist essence of cultural dominance, as the critical analysis of the text written by them would reveal. This could be subconscious in the tone of writing. From a perspective based in the Kantian idea of knowledge, it could be observed from the annotations written by an oppressor that what they lack is the coalescence of subjective insight and empirical knowledge of oppressed and their cultural reality. Thus oppressor's annotations are likely to give a false impression of lives of oppressed to the readers. At this point, the oppressor might pretend to possess knowledge about lives of oppressed but he cannot claim to write the reality of the lives of the oppressed.

At the reader's front, annotation by oppressor about oppressed, often works as a second-hand-reading of the original text, which might help to build forged views in readers' mind about original texts when reading them. The cultural reality of any society can be best depicted and written by the oppressed as it wouldn't portray the society in the traditional or dominant sense and also because it maintains the assertive tone of justice and real humanisation which views the culture in contradiction. Yet, it is always seen that oppressed are always kept away from the cultural front and the whole idea of culture and knowledge is possessed and propagated by oppressor as and how he understands it. Thus the process of reading annotations written by the oppressor about the oppressed, is a critical process for a reader, if the reader is not well versed in the cultural reality of the oppressed. Hermeneutically, annotations are always double-lens reading of the originals (if written by oppressor for oppressed), and in reading these annotations those who would be guided by annotations to read originals are likely to get distorted views from the real essence of the original text, unless they read the original first and then the annotations. Thus originals can be best understood only by reading originals.



[1] In his seminal book called 'Pedagogy of Oppressed', Paulo Freire interpreted humanisation as the central problem of humankind in the context of oppressors' interpretation that they can be more humanised by oppressing the oppressed (give citation). In my view this also extends to writing on behalf of oppressed, the process which marginalizes the oppressed culturally by ignoring their narratives about themselves at critical nationwide platforms.

[2] By Cultural Hermeneutics, I want to suggest the exploration of the most transparent and real narratives of people in the country those are oppressed and whose narratives are always been neglected and unheard at cultural level. They remain absent on cultural level which leads the reader of the cultural study to assume that the narratives which are written by oppressed are the only and true as well as real narratives of that particular culture.



Yogesh says:

My name is Yogesh Maitreya. I am from Nagpur. I am doing my M.A in Criminology and Justice (2013-15) from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai).


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