Quiet. Like the sweltering summer heat.
Shimmering. Like the sweltering summer air.
Boy wakes up in a pool of sweat. Neck glistening with sweat and grime.
Opens the arched windows of green to the narrow street of brown.
An old, unbuttoned belly heaves in the manner of the fatigued nap.
Up and down with each tired breath.
Dog wheezes in the shade, in-sync with Man.
Father is in bed with Mother.
Door closed. Copulating.
Mother’s cries stifled by soggy pillows.
Boy sits dreary in front of the TV.
Boy wonders.
“Why doesn’t Tom ever die?”

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dreamer

January 26, 2011

hopelessly romantic, on a fool’s errand
blinded by light brighter only cause
its closer
closer to the heart he is fooled
the heart roams yonder

hopelessly romantic, on a fool’s errand
promises asunder, wishes grow louder
hopelessly romantic, on a fool’s errand
earth circles, steps amuck- the sound is softer

hopelessly romantic, on a fool’s errand
thunders in blunders, groans like laughter
crashes to the ground, clotheslines and all

-Sakib

I read a very illuminating article by Julia Cassaniti that won the Richard C Condon Prize. I thought its worth sharing.

Cassaniti tries to explain the lived expression of Buddhism. To this end she identifies a locus for meaning making. This is her unique orientation towards cultural psychology. Her locus is the point of interaction of cultural ideas and individuals’ minds. Lord Buddha calls this the experiential self. So she establishes that the cultural ideas and the self are both real (external and constraining). She is aware that one’s own culture may influence the way one interacts with that culture and the incorporation of a multiplicity of personal perspectives is integral to cultural psychology. Soooooo, she is showing awareness of Bourdieu’s insistence that the objectivist stance of the anthropologist is itself a culturally defined way of knowing that shapes the outcomes of analysis. Anyway… I wanna talk about how Cassaniti distinguishes between Buddhism of textual abstraction and lived Buddhism. This is what Bourdieu observed as the distinction between the stated rules of behavior and actual practice. Something bumfucks from Washington to Kandahar are ignorant about.

So there is High Buddhism – the true Buddhism of textual abstraction and… Low Buddhism – that results in Vegas style Buddha statues. Made of gold, ofcourse. So how do Buddhists understand Buddhism? Cassaniti arbitrarily chooses the concept of anicca or impermanence to answer this query. Anicca represents the idea that everything causally arises (dependent conditioned origination) and is susceptible to decay. Through her interviews she finds out that some lay people face difficulty isolating anicca from other Buddhist concepts and use it interchangeably with dukkha –suffering. Anicca is a cornerstone of High Buddhism.

Cassaniti says that authoritative discourse, occupation, life experience and personal concerns are all involved in the ways that people give their meaning to the word anicca. In doing so, she steps on something interesting. She makes a connection between impermanence and (Freudian) trauma – some Thai Buddhists stow aside trauma through their folk understanding of impermanence.

Cassaniti states that scholarly work isolates Buddhism as an objective system that only elites can understand and it relegates lay Buddhists’ interpretations to a lower level of Buddhism that merely emphasizes increasing good karma through merit making rather than the pursuit of nirvana. She explores the tension between the scholarly stance and her own observation, and finds that lay people indeed understand concepts of High Buddhism and moreover, they understand it in a particular way.

Note: This is not the same understanding as the decontextualized Buddhism that is commodified for Western consumers, but a contextualized understanding gained through implicit evaluative orientations toward personal experiences. In other words, the notion of anicca is part of the cultural capital that lay Buddhists possess. This does not mean that there is no distinction between the abstract rules of Theravada Buddhism and its practice per se. But but but, she opines: there is no break in the different levels of understanding between the laity and the monks, nor is there different eschatological aims. Rather it means that the difference between practiced and abstract Buddhism is just of differential access and authority over Buddhist doctrine due to the hegemony of the symbolic capital of the monks which is reinforced by the habitus of the laity. But the monks and the lay are feeling the same vibe!

Futhermore, Melford Spiro discusses how Thai Buddhists distinguish between the nibbanic system of Buddhism and the kammatic system. Nibbanic Buddhism is concerned with release from the Wheel of cyclical existence and kammatic Buddhism deals with better positioning within it. Spiro explains how the people who are not necessarily aware of these terms, know how they differ in aim and technique. Now then, Spiro’s epiphany (lol) is… people follow the kammatic system, by choice. They aren’t ignorant in their hearts.

Phra Prayudh Payutto, one of Thailand’s most prominent scholar monks, writes in Buddhadhamma: popular understandings of Buddhism, or the cultural baggage, is peripheral to real Buddhism and not necessary for understanding the actual Buddhadhamma at all. So, why isn’t the understanding of lay Buddhists relevant in understanding the Buddhadhamma? Are the practices of lay Buddhists that delineated?

Cassaniti finds that in general, monks talk about anicca in a much more authoritative and confident way than laypeople. When the lay people were asked about anicca, they said, “Go ask a monk”. This is symptomatic of how people think about knowledge as residing in authoritative discourse. Religious knowledge is enclosed in the rightful community institution.

“Go to the temple and see the monk—the monk will explain. I

thought of anicca at the temple, but not when I’m home, not

when I became a householder. Impermanence is anicca —

everything is nature, birth and death. When you die, you can’t

take anything with you; this is anicca”

-Layman

According to Paw Fai, the house is not the proper place to talk about anicca, regardless, if someone understands it or not. But then, paradoxically, he actually goes on to give a very succinct explanation of what anicca is. This hesitation on Paw Fai’s part reaffirms Bourdieu’s insight that creation of systems of knowledge is always a political act and that the symbolic power to impose the principles of the construction of reality – in particular, social reality – is a major dimension of political power.

In Northern Thailand monks have the symbolic capital that give them the authority to talk about anicca and all things related to dhamma. Such knowledge is out of the realm of authority of the laity. They are the practitioners of Low Buddhism and therefore should not meddle with things related to High Buddhism. This is the community compromise in Mau Chaem. Though Cassaniti does not talk much about the political involvement of the Mau Chaem or Ban Tong Fai monks in their communities, it is safe to say that they have some political power, which they hold dear.

Even religious language demonstrates differential access to power. Note, anicca is not a Thai word. It is a Pali technical term. The closest that Thai comes to it is the phrase, khwam mai nae non (lit., the general idea that things do not stay the same) or plian plaeng (lit., change). Words referring to chage such as mai thieng, mai thieng thae, mai nae non, yu samoe, prae, prae pruan, phan prae, and phan phuan are also used. Cassaniti was told that anicca is one of the most difficult aspects of Buddhism for lay people to understand.

Yet, lay people answer Cassaniti’s query about anicca with Monkish clarity and nuance. Unlike the monks, they do not mention meditation as the way to understand anicca. Unlike in the lives of the monks, anicca is not a motto or creed in their lives. But lay people perceive anicca as nulling of hope or emotional attachment. But the path they take to answering this is interesting. They contextualize anicca in terms of their trauma. Slavoj Zizek, while quoting ex-US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, explains Freud’s use of the word trauma as the unknown unknowns of ones psyche (as opposed to the unconscious being the unknown knowns of ones psyche). The Thai laity orients their discussion of anicca in terms of their livelihood. For a farmer, the discussion was along the lines of not hoping for a bumper crop, for a student it was not expecting high grades – AND this is not so they don’t jinx the crop or the exam results, it is because these things are impermanent and are results of dependent causality. Anicca is in the habitus and cultural capital of the lay people of Thailand. It resides in their psyche as an explanation for unfortunate events. Whether, they can put words to it or not is what boils down to the difference between Low and High Buddhism.

I hope this article is informative. It is a case study that can be used like structural adjustment programs and recontextualized in the case of mullahism in rural Bangladesh, etc etc.

The Article:

Cassaniti, Julia

2008   Richard C. Condon Prize Towards A Cultural Psychology Of Impermanence in Thailand. Ethos 34.1: 58-88.

ZIzek

December 20, 2009

listening to zizek on youtube is an absolute academic and intellectual necessity. mandatory viewing ladies and gentlemen. flawed as he is and extreme as he sounds, he makes himself an exemplar of intellectual discourse and of rhetoric, logos and deconstructive thinking. at times he does disappoint by beating around the bush and with his repetitive, trademark jokes, examples comments and his stale-sounding theoretic approach to answering questions. but. his emotions. his emotions, his emotional logos guides him towards the surface of the sea. and at last he rescues himself with a complete response to a question and restores his superiority.

what is beautiful about him is he is still confused. that shows the vibrancy of his creativity and his thirst for his logocentric truth. see this video ladies and gentlemen. sometimes when i hear him talk i feel a deep connection with this man. often he plucks out his answers from my brain. and answers questions in a way that i could not have answered any better.

the middle portion of this hardtalk is most interesting. note how discourse is always a power struggle and at 1st Zizek is a bit uncomfortable in front of this suited-booted bbc dude. if someone is keeping score lol, bbc dude is ahead for a while until he wants to change Zizek’s geographical orientation to liberal capitalism by putting him in India, China or Brazil. Zizek’s simple answer reinstates the power struggle integral to discourse and now zizek is ahead! Come on man. Don’t fuck around with Zizek!

Ladies and gentlemen so what about the social elites Zizek is talking about? The elites are not only more human than others. non-elites in today’s world are voiceless subhumans. this social apartheid (zizek – hardtalk) or intellectual apartheid is a very traumatizing subject for me. i am on the greener side of this (intellectual barrier) fence, i want to stay there, i acknowledge the fence is a problem and i see myself consciously, emotionally and naively wanting to remove it.  yet the fence is so important to my well-being. i rely on the elevated ground for my identity. it is my safety net. it is my sense of pride and joy.  not only that! humans on the other side of the fence are not aware of their intellectual inferiority from the point of reference of the post-nietzsche-foucault world.  it is as if they will continue to speak a completely different language until they are CONDITIONED to think like intellectually advanced humans. this creates an alarming problem. how to introduce something to them such as thinking outside a dogmatic paradigm, where it can be complete anathema to them. the reason why i mention this is: i am going back to my homeland.  and i am unsure of the way to mask my sentiments. of course i can stay mute. but i know i will not do so. so should i recondition myself “backwards” or march-forth into life threatening, socially stigmatizing intellectual standpoints. now i will ponder upon my dilemma. thank you dear diary for letting me voyueristically share my ideas with u lol.

Preface

November 15, 2009

If you are really a smart person — a realist — it is impossible with todays set of knowledge and philoshopies floating around in the collective, to not be an existentialist. I know, many of us are silently aware of it. Doesn’t mean i can’t blurt it out. I mean i look around: wtf is happening! since i have graduated from university 4-5 months back, my life has been a constant effort to proletarianize my thinking, my behavior and my actions. I have practiced the beautiful worldly compromise of moderation and tried to exemplify a yuppy work ethic. In the city! my love affair with the word downtown has landed me in a crack infested ghetto. I am happy cause I have a view of the colorfully symbolic CN Tower. My only table in the room symbolizes my take on life. it is a couple of stacks of Yellowpages. it looks ridiculous, does the job, can be dismantled at any time and its composition gives it context. Very Gestalt. otherwise i am alright. metropolitan as always and have a wonderful mattress, a view of the sky,  a back pain, no curtains and a hunger for the sky.

i have a blog. kind of funny. everytime i think about this latest addition to my private property i get amazed. i am an exhibitionist people. come read my blog if you find it. it is throughly uneventful, but it is mine. i give no value to you, so you will not really find it. BUT, when I type here: I am the centre of the www. not to bash all blogs, there are many many useful blogs. but not mine. not yet, i do not have anything to contribute yet to this hard working, over delivering world. not enough cultural capital. this having said, i dont knwo if it’s really true though. my my film reviews are really good. i am quite the expert on film don’t you think?  anyways read this guys and make me Godard! for that is my ultimate goal!

Thoughtlessly,

Sakib.

Angela Zito, co-director of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University, affirms that Phil Conners’ reiterating visitations to the same day of the calendar year is an undeniable allusion to the cyclical Buddhist notion of rebirth into samsara. The plots primary resemblance to Buddhist doctrine is the protagonist, Phil’s, continuous helpless transmigrations in cyclic existence. Buddhism scholar John Powers mentioned in one of his books that each community that adopted Buddhism, modified the image of Buddha in ways that reflect its own assumptions, doctrines, and practices, with the result that the Buddha is represented quite differently in different parts of the world. With little stretch of the imagination we see the character development of Phil fitting into the paradigmic mould of the historical Sakyamuni with his constantly improving and enlightening previous births, or Jatakas, towards enlightenment. Buddhism is a philosophy and it is possible to interpret any narrative in light of a certain philosophy. I will carry out a Buddhist treatment of Groundhog Day to show its resemblance to and influence from Buddhist history, myth and doctrine as understood from the insights of Khyentse Norbu, Ajahn Sumedho and John Powers into the discourses (sutras) and scholastic philosophies (abhidharmas) of the Buddha.

The protagonist is a self-centered and egocentric jerk with no signs of a buddhanature. He is in the scientific profession of predicting the unpredictable. Though meteorology is no exact science, Phil is dogmatic about his command over the weather as a celebrated weatherman. He is the anti-thesis of an enlightened being. One of the finer points about the plot is that Phil recognizes that he is revisiting Groundhog Day but, for the success of the narrative, the others around him see each cycle as a new day. They do not remember the events of the previous cycle. This shows the existence of a human being without the audience of others. So Phil gets no outside recognition of his self. This, in effect, makes his personhood a conception of his own mind and something void of inherent existence – an idea at the cornerstone of Buddhist thought and practice, says Powers.

While Buddhists are seeking the ultimate truth and enlightenment, Phil is not interested in either. Instead of these Buddhist attainments, Phil at first seeks escape from his samsara and ultimately Rita’s reciprocation to his love. In this respect the film is not very Buddhist. But his state of mind, his actions and the character developments Phil proceeds through has a Buddhist tinge to them. Therefore it may be helpful to see his expression of true love for Rita as a proxy for enlightenment and the attainment of this as a road to free him from his cyclic existence.

Powers states that the first requirement for enlightenment is the development of dissatisfaction with cyclic existence – a development that follows Phil’s initial emotions of frustration and disbelief about his predicament. So he attempts to rid himself of all unwanted emotions and indulges in pure hedonism. He takes advantage of the situation without fear of long-term consequences and enjoys learning secrets from the town’s residents, seducing women, stealing money, and driving drunk. Most accounts of Siddharta’s life refer to a similar stage of extreme indulgence. This indulgence in pleasure is experiencing of two type of desires, i.e. the desire for sensual pleasures and the desire to become something. When Phil attempts a theatrical suicide, we see an example of the third type of desire, i.e. the desire to get rid of something. In Buddhism, the self’s desires create suffering and Phil is evidently afflicted.

Powers also notes that one must develop a profound revulsion towards cyclical existence and vow to break the cycle by any means necessary to achieve buddhanature. Once this feeling settles into Phil, he stops trying to treat the day as a mental glitch and starts disrupting the day’s normal progression. For the sake of argument, by this time Phil shows a certain understanding of the Four Noble Truths. First, he realizes that no matter how extravagant his pleasure pursuit, he is still suffering. This is existential anguish or dukkha. By this time in the plotline, Phil is trying hard to bed Rita – another perceived source of pleasure but a real source of suffering – by conniving one way or other and collecting information about her to his advantage. He fails in achieving his goal. This is because he is ignorant of what he really wants. In the process he realizes that this suffering is a rising condition and has a basis. Buddha identified this basis as desire motivated by ignorance. Khyentse (Author of What Makes You Not A Buddhist) notes that nirvana is peace, but seeking peace actively, in this world or the next, will be a hindrance to enlightenment. To humor Phil’s situation, this intricacy in Buddhism is analogous to his goal. In his case, love incorporates sex, but seeking a sexual adventure will come in the way of love. So Phil understands the basis of his suffering and halts such fruitless pursuits. This leads him to the third noble truth: it is possible to bring suffering to an end by overcoming afflicted desire, and he stops his manipulative efforts of winning Rita over.

(Again Powers says,) One must develop the positive moral qualities that the Buddha cultivated in order to reach nirvana. Upon realization of the first three noble truths, Phil becomes a do-gooder and steps in the direction of the eight-fold path. He possesses the correct view, correct intentions, correct speech, correct actions and correct livelihood. His philanthropy is unmeasured and he shows non-attachment in his actions. Furthermore, he demonstrates correct effort, correct mindfulness and correct meditative absorption by redirecting his time and effort from conniving ways of getting hold of Rita to improving himself in a way that Rita will truly appreciate, i.e. by converting his talents to actual skills and becoming an adroit pianist, ice-sculptor and a likeable person.

To end, the plot of Groundhog Day resonates with resemblances to notions of the Buddhist path to enlightenment and the four noble truths but connections to the four seals are wanting. The four seals are meant to be understood literally – stated in plain English by Khyentse. In this Khyentsian sense Groundhog Day fails to capture the essence of Buddhism and Buddha’s teachings. But does well in every other way and is a good film to watch if you are an idiot trying to understand Buddhism.

Review of District 9

November 2, 2009

This review is…

DISTRICT 9 REVIEW

TAKE 1: Wow this is really sensitizing me to aliens. So, this is how the E.T. generation felt!

Near perfect CGI juxtaposed with shaky, embedded-reporter-style camerawork makes District 9 (lovingly: D-9) a cinematographic hallmark with the alien presence looking and feeling real. I heard whimpers from the crowd when the lead actor Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) was insensitively killing infantile aliens to collect souvenirs.

On my way to Broadview station on the 87A I saw a streetcar crossover and go downhill with the “Non-humans banned” D-9 advertisement flat across its belly – the red-white color combination of the billboard matching the Toronto streetcar seamlessly. This epitomizes the charisma of D-9! District 9 is an event; it is not a film alone.

D-9 sets the notion of the other (aliens) in perfect harmony with the notion of the known (humans) by creating a distance from the conventional alien movie setting (using Jo’burg as opposed to NYC or Chicago). Moreover, the introduction of a sensitized third party – aliens – makes the political statement on the other stand out vividly.

Possibly a classic of our times, District 9, will stay in the memories of moviegoers, critics, filmmakers. artists and social thoughtspeople for a long time coming. As a genre film it is the new benchmark in science fiction. D-9 with its simple plot appeals to the widest and most universal audience and might make life very difficult for B-rated sci-fi makers. The weakest point of the script is the pivot of the storyline, when Wikus mutates and gets an alien arm.  This having said, many sub-plots and sub-themes texture the film tastefully. Wikus’ character development is thorough with ups-and-downs and ranges from thoughtful and warm to cold and self-centered. The projection of his character also varies from farcical to intense and back.

TAKE 2:  What is Borat doing in a serious, thought provoking alien film with territorial allegories, which everyone is talking about?

Debutant director Neil Blomkamp makes the important choice to give the lead actor Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) a comical, thick Afrikaans accent to match his borderline comical Afrikaans name. The accent is a relief considering Wikus’ dialog-driven role. But Sharlto Copley does give away his Sacha Baron Cohen influence at times.

More importantly, Neil Blomkamp leaves well-known faces out of the film as that would have definitely spoiled the imaginative process and challenged the film’s hallmark status.

TAKE 3: This is a brilliant platform for the next big first-person-kill-em-all video game.

This production is not a film alone. It’s advertising, branding, promotional website altogether makes it a complete entertainment product. I suggest you check out http://www.d-9.com to get a taste of D-9’s holistic play on reality.

AND CUT.

Original post: http://www.cbff.ca/2009/07/23/featured-movie-critics/

Snatching Private Ryan

November 2, 2009

A Review of Inglourious Basterds

The first scene is a beautiful set up scene. We already know that Christoph Waltz will do a great job playing the most developed character of the story – Col. Hans Landa. The switch from German to English was abrupt. What? A Black Forest farmer/ logger can speak English? What? This language switch was blunt, unnecessary and very “Hollywood”.

“Aurevoir Shoshanna!” Brilliant haunting dialogue, echoes throughout the following scenes and the whole film. The dialogue in the film, in general, is very rich, tailored and Tarantioesque.

Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine? Who is the casting director?This was a terrible choice. To add to the agony, weak acting on Brad’s part. Furthermore, he is an unlikely choice considering the kind of stars Tarantino usually casts. Pitt’s acting was terrible, and the character sticks out like a swore thumb. You can expect that if a band of Nazi-scalping American Jews is headed by a blonde haired Jew – poor casting decision.

Similarly, casting Mike Myers seemed outlandish as well, but showed the Tarantino Power as a people’s choice director, a cult director  and an auteur. Myers popping up on screen in this movie is an inside joke shared between Tarantino and the audience/ his followers. It was a joke about taking cinema too seriously. It closes the gap between the screen and the audience and makes the film interact with the audience in a very informal manner –reminiscent of the fire-farting puppets in Ancient Roman puppet theatres.

The action scene shots are a few milliseconds too short. Tarantino’s Japanese influence definitely shows through the edit. Nonetheless, the slow-build-up-split-second action is intriguing and keeps viewers off the popcorn. Contrary to Tarantino’s trend on minimal on-screen violence, Inglourious Basterds revels in blood and on-screen skin-peeling. Yet, there are many beautiful elements to the film as well. Such as: Shoshanna; Shoshanna running; Shoshanna in red; Shoshanna being shot with the rose petals blowing in the air (Magnificent!); the pie Landa gives Shoshanna (looked delicious when Landa ate it like a sexual predator); finally the name: Shoshanna!  The centrality of a small neighbourhood cinema also adds a beauty to the film that the SAW-like, on-screen Nazi scalping takes away.

The screenplay feels like an adaptation of a graphic novel: Simple, yet trying to come off as complicated; unreal, yet forcing real-worldliness. The complication is brought about by thick, verbose dialogues superimposed on a fairly simple dual revenge plot. By the way revenge is a regular theme in Tarantino flicks. Whereas, the real-worldliness is brought about by Col. Hans Landa’s post-war negotiations. That was an awfully realistic and detailed scene considering what comes before and after.

Like butter and guns, a film is very much a consumer product as much as it is art. And the question must be asked, who is the film made for? Who is he trying to please with the story? Who is he trying to impress? Without conspiracy theorizing, it is safe to say he pretty much made  the movie for himself. We get to pay him for his efforts because we love him.

And since it is a political topic, a sensitive topic that Tarantino is dealing with the film seems a bit careless about social repercussions. Not that anyone should take the film seriously, or cite Inglourious Basterds in academic papers, but it does show Tarantino to be slightly irresponsible as a screenwriter. Doesn’t really matter. A filmmaker has the right to create any monster and surely Tarantino can defend himself. He can brush off such criticism.

To conclude, sadly, the movie proletarianizes Tarantino a bit. It does not fall in the same league with any of his other films. The title choice was horrible too. Maybe, it shows a bit too much that he was working on this for years, over thinking it a bit. Inglourious Basterds is flawed yet enjoyable. Entertaining throughout yet not worth watching again, unless if you want to breakdown the action cinematography of course.

Final Words: The film looked like a Guy Ritchie take on war films.