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If you reading this post, you’re probably expecting something on Frank Sinatra. I am sorry to disappoint. As I write, I have just finished the second draft of my PhD thesis (although it feels like a new first draft). Technically its not quite finished. I still have to put into the right format, tidy footnotes and get ok from my superviser but the hard bit is done. Of course I am way behind my own schedule. When I started, I was aiming for the end of my 3rd year in August 2012. This has kept being pushed back. First December 2012, then January, Easter, then i gave up on schedules.
I feel a lot happier about this draft than I did the previous one, which was more about getting it done. The irony is that I could have had a first draft sooner if I listened to orthodoxy.
Originally I had chapters of 15000-20000 words, which was normal. Then one of my contacts, whose area of research is the nature of doctorateness, suggested that I split my chapters into smaller chunks of 5000-8000 words to make them more readable to the examiner. This made sense to me. I spoke to my superviser, who did not object. So I could have had a first full draft in November. I decided to make smaller chapters. However I realised that splitting was not as simple as it sounded; each chapter needed its own introduction and conclusion something which I had already done before. So I ended up spending 2 months on restructuring before submitting to my superviser.
After receiving comments back, I ended up rewriting whole Phd and ended up back at the more orthodox-sized chapters I had originally. And I realised that, whilst there is nothing wrong with questioning tradition, it’s worth remembering that traditions don’t survive because they are inherently irrational. Indeed, following Hegel, one could argue that the negation of an orthodoxy that seems irrational is necessary in order to realise its rationlity.
So what’s my point? That there’s a time and place for doing it “my way” and its not when I am near the end.
Finally, for those of you who came to this blog post looking for Old Blue Eyes, here’s Frank Sinitra “My Way”
Well, it’s 2012. I’ve just realised how ironic it is that I always mark the start of a new year by looking to the past. For some reason, my family have developed our new year traditions.
On the days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, we start clearing out the rubbish and tidying up the house. The idea is that everything is tidy by New Years Eve. After dinner, we’ll have a shower and change into some fresh clothes and wait, probably watching TV. When the New Years Eve programme on BBC1 starts on, we have our respective drinks balanced on our knee (metaphorically speaking). Then, when Big Ben starts striking, we’ll stand up with our drinks. When it strikes 12 and the fireworks go off on the TV, we’ll raise our glasses and do the hug and kiss thing. Then we watch the rest of the fireworks and start going to bed.
On New Years Day, my mum and I will be the first to wake up, as we will go for an early communion service. (On a normal Sunday, I usually go to a different church, which is less traditional and younger age range.) When we get home, we all go to Hindu temple (as the rest of the family is Hindu). You’re probably wondering why, as a professing Christian, I would go to temple. I don’t believe in the Hindu gods as such, but I go for the family and for cultural reason. It doesn’t feel like a good idea to be divided at the start of the year (call me sentimental). I don’t pray there but I hope I act respectfully. After all, it’s what in your heart that counts. God can see my motivations. Anyway, I personally believe that the various Hindu gods a representations of the one true God. For example, Amman, the goddess of justice, represents the aspect of a single God who loves justice.
When we get back home, we carry out a ceremony called ‘Kai Viyalum’, which involves the exchange of money between us – we have to give something that is goldish (pound coin), silverish (50p, 20p, etc) and bronzeish (1p or 2p) and, if feasible, a note. The tradition is this exchange of money must be first time we touch money in the New Year and before exchanging, we pray to God to bless it. The key thing is that this money is not meant for just spending, but for saving for a while. It’s probably pretty obvious why I participate in this tradition. After ‘Kai Viyalum’, we have a lunch of milk rice (essentially rice cooked with coconut milk) with various curries. I think milk – as it comes from the cow – is considered in Hinduism to be a life-giving substance, but milk rice is also quite nice with certain curries.
Whilst I don’t call myself a Hindu and don’t believe in it, it is a part of my roots and culture and, to be honest, there is vibrancy in Asian and Hindu culture that is absent from European culture and Christian worship. Don’t get me wrong, I attend a conservative evangelical church and the atmosphere is vibrant and it is a community but not like Asian communities. Anyway, as a British Tamil, I am constantly straddling two cultures which do at times clash. They key is to reconcile the two. I think Christians certainly can learn a thing or two from the way Hindus worship and vice versa.
If I was to think about this in a Hegelian sense, I guess there is a dialectic between my Christian faith and Hindu roots. The two are contradictory like thesis and antithesis but they can shape and be shaped by each other in synthesis. I can’t cut off my Hindu roots because it is a part of me, so I might as well adapt it to worship Jesus. Catherine Malabou would probably call this le voir venir, that she translates as ‘to see (what is) coming’. I interpret that to mean pausing to reflect, looking back at what went before and thinking how to proceed to deal with what’s coming. In a sense, New Year’s Day is a moment of le voir venir and certainly I look to tradition to celebrate the new. But actually my whole life has been like that, both looking at tradition and looking forward and thinking whether the two can be combined. I can’t cut off my Hindu roots but I can’t go back to being Hindu having discovered Christ. I am in 2012, so I can’t go back to 2011 or before but I can’t forget what’s happened because that’s how I got here.
It’s that time of year when the media is full of reviews of the year, looking back at what made the news in 2011. It certainly cannot be disputed that 2011 was definitely a very interesting year. So, in the current zeitgeist, I have decided to offer my own review, the first part of which is a run down of my ten most popular blog posts.
The Arab Spring makes an appearance at number 10, with Revolting Arabs good for the environment, commenting on government ministerial suggestions that the protests in the Middle East could help to tackle climate change.
One of the things I have enjoyed about this year is procrastinating on YouTube. Bizarrely, at number 9, is a post on my favourite and most inspirational YouTube video, of a Coca Cola ad to the theme tune of “Whatever” by Oasis showing how for all the bad in the world, there is much to be hopeful for.
At number 8, ‘Just because it’s traditional, doesn’t mean you have to follow it‘, a post on irrationality of ritual, with specific reference to the Tamil coming of age ceremony for girls. In essence I argued that maybe some of the traditional ideas about women and sex in Asian culture was a factor in a large number of Asian men being arrested and prosecuted for grooming and abusing white girls.
At number 7 is a compilation post featuring a number of sites of interest to single people on Valentine’s Day.
I have been influenced quite a bit by conversations with people on Twitter and the post at number 6, From Tweet to Thesis, was, if you like, a crowdsourcing for feedback on a conference that brought together academia and Twitter. While the feedback was positive, I have gone down a different route by starting a blog for own personal research project into the origins of phd topics from a tweet in the imagination.
At number 5, my redefinition of ‘ecoterrorism’, based on a summary of my reading of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and in particular his essay ‘Airquakes’ on how an attack against the environment hurts us.
And so, what were my top four most popular blog posts?
One of the most popular keyword searches was ‘real life incest’, which perhaps gives an indication as to the sort of people who visit my blog. As a result, at number four, is ‘From adoption to incest‘, triggered by a chat show episode on real life incest, which made wonder about the legitimacy of adoption as a child protection measure.
At number 3, I was surprised to see a lot of people interested in Chinese Walls. It was not about China but about the fear of a conflict of interests resulting from proposed NHS reforms.
At number 2, Bin Laden proved to be very popular this year, with a lot of people interested in my blog post on his death at the hands of US special forces. I question whether it was such a good idea to kill him instead of putting him on trial.
Which brings me to my most popular blog post? Maybe it was the ‘Royal Wedding’ effect but I found that a link to the Royal Family is always a good way to drive traffic to your site. At number 1, I wrote about the title of the Duchy of Cambridge and why this might not have been the best wedding present for the Queen to give to William and Kate.
The second part of my Review of 2011, focusing on what I saw as the most important moments of the year, will be posted tomorrow.
I am thinking a lot about the meaning of culture at the moment. Currently, I am writing a paper for a conference on the cultural legitimacy of internationl climate change laws and policies. At the same time, as an Asian person who was born and has always lived in the UK, I am continually balancing and negotiating the so-called intricacies of Asian and ‘Western’ culture. The problem is that where the line blurs for me – and no doubt for my contempories – is not quite the same place where it may blur for people of my parents’ generation. And even then, generational identity is not always clear cut.
Culture is something that has amassed over time. From my observations of the way the word ‘culture’ is used, it seems to be a euphemism or PR spin for ‘tradition’. Something is not considered to be in keeping with the culture, if it goes against the traditional way of doing things. In The Future of Hegel, the French philosopher, Catherine Malabou, says that culture is formed out of the power of habit (Malabou, p68), which is essentially the repetition of a certain activity. What habit ends up creating is a “virtual being” that mediates the opposition between the universal and the particular and reduces the distances between them (Malabou, p71). One could argue therefore that culture or tradition is this virtual being, this imaginary concept, that people try and hold on to for fear of losing it.
But habits can be changed, which means that culture, is not a fixed concept. This raises the question of whether a culture can ever really come to an end or die. What may start of as potential separation between universal and particular will result in a new direction (a new form of the culture) as the present particular becomes more universal and a new particular or universal emerges. “What in the beginning was merely an accidental fact…is changed through continual repetition of the same gestures, through practice, achieving the integrity of a form.” (Malabou, p73-4)
This doesn’t mean that the old form of the culture cannot be continued. But it does mean that the potential for particularity suggests that a culture can be or is of one person. If culture is about the things that we do over and over again, then if we do something different, not in keeping with the culture, there is the potential to change the culture or form an individual culture of one. Or a culture can be a unifying virtual being for all the different habits. In other words, there is only one culture; it just has an infinite number of strands.
Malabou, Catherine (2005). The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporal and Dialectic. (Translated by Lisabeth During). Routledge, London & New York.
Today’s story in the Times about this supposed ‘conspiracy of silence’ about the apparently significant number of British Pakistani men in gangs grooming and sexually exploiting young, white girls does raise a question about Tamil tradition.
When a Tamil girl reaches puberty (i.e. has her first period), a ceremony is performed to mark the ‘attainment of age’. This generally happens between the ages of 11-14, unless the girl is a late developer. I always assumed that this is like Bar mitzah in the Jewish culture, designed to show that the girl is no longer is a child and is now a young woman.
But I have just learned today that the historical, traditional reason for this ceremony was to show the community that the girl had reached marriageable age. Of course, this would have made sense historically because Tamil girls usually married (or were married off) young and puberty didn’t really happen to the age of 16 or 17. But that was back in the day. In the UK, where one cannot get married until the age of 16 and first periods usually happen around the age 12, I would question whether this attainment ceremony is still rational. Why not wait until the girl reaches the age of 16 when she can marry legally or until she is in her twenties or thirties, once she has gone to university and established a career? The other alternative, which has a basis in tradition, is to carry out the ceremony on the wedding day.
Finally, the perpetuation of this tradition actually is misogynist, because there is no equivalent ceremony for when boys reach puberty, which I presume would be when they are able to ejaculate for the first time. Do boys not become young men? On the other hand, ejaculation is pretty much within a buy’s or man’s will to masturbate. A girl or woman’s period is something that happens on its own accord and she had no control over it.