Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wit and Words

A few days ago I found myself, for the umpteenth time, engaged in a conversation about the difference in the ways Ethnic Studies scholars and Literature scholars approach and read texts. Having taken 3 lit classes over the past couple of years, I have my own pent up frustrations about Lit students. So, partly facetiously and partly seriously, I commented that I was unsure what the purpose of the field of literature was. Of course, this question is totally unfair (although I still wouldn't mind a substantive answer that helps erase all my misconceptions about the field). So, as a peace offering to any lit scholars I might have offended, I offer the following clip from the film Wit.

I would have to say this is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is one of those movies you can actually savor - turn the words over and over again in your mind, or let them just float through you. The last time I "watched" the movie, I had my eyes closed for most of it - it really is that lyrically beautiful. (Another movie I love is Yes by Sally Potter. I've seen it just once, but parts of it really affected me, especially the monologue by Simon Abkarian towards the end of the movie. Unfortunately, I can't find any clips of it online, or even the text of the monologue.)

In any case, the following clip from Wit is one that has taken hold of me since the first time I saw it. (This is not the version I like best, but it's the only one I could get my hands on.) I've never been one for poetry, but this clip makes me think maybe I'm really missing out on something immense. And perhaps, also, this is why some people are so passionate about literature.

Hope you enjoy it.

Wait... here's another, just because Emma Thompson is so fabulous.

And another... for the heart-wrenching beauty of simplicity and children's tales.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slumdog Anxieties

Over the past few months... well actually about a year now... one of my first-thing-in-the-morning rituals is to read the Huffington Post. It started out because of the election frenzy, but now it's just become routine. Besides, I am trying to avoid watching too much T.V. and so the "HuffPo" is a quick and easy way of keeping in touch with what's happening in the world.

A couple of days ago, while performing this morning ritual, I across an article about Nate Silver's Oscar predictions. (Nate Silver's the genius stats dude of - another website I followed during the elections, but has since fallen to the wayside in terms of the blogs I follow. Also - just a funny aside - when I was an undergrad, my advisor encouraged me to combine my politics and math majors to do the kind of stuff Nate Silver does... I love and respect my advisor, but really that was just the worst idea ever. It excited me for about 10 seconds. I'm much happier being on the spectator side of the work, going "damn, that dude's good!") Anyway, back to Silver's Oscar predictions. In the Best Director and Best Picture categories, he gives Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire a 99.7% and 99% chance of winning, respectively. Now, when Slumdog swept the Emmies (or whatever the first award show of the season was), I was jubilant, proud even. But Silver's prediction made me cringe.

Don't get me wrong. When I watched the movie I was very impressed, very moved, and again, pretty proud. My experience watching Slumdog, though, was very intimate. For one thing, Bombay is the city I grew up, and despite whatever problems and frustrations and discomforts I have with it, I do love it. Each time I go back home, I can't help but marvel at it. I will admit, much of this sentiment can be attributed to nostalgia. Having been away for almost 8 years, and visiting for between 1-3 months every year or two, allows me this luxury. But, still, it is a pretty incredible place. And so, generally, when I see even glimpses of it in movies or videos, I tend to be moved. But to watch a movie, almost entirely set in, or atleast referenced back to, Bombay was a pretty intense experience. And, the love story aside, the movie is actually pretty complex - or atleast it was for me, because there was so much in there that I could relate to, or identify with - not in terms of relating to the characters and their experiences, but rather, even in that moment of spectatorship, feeling the same sense of accountability and distress that I do when I encounter an enfleshed Bombay. In short, for me, the movie felt very familiar, and hence very intimate.

Also, I watched the movie just about a week after the attacks in Bombay "ended" and so I was already a bit emotionally raw, and feeling incredibly connected to the city. And, this was also the time at which I was reading Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, the book upon which much of the cinamatography of Slumdog is based. All of this put together made watching Slumdog an incredibly special, and intimate, and moving experience for me. I felt like finally there was a complex, compelling movie about Bombay, or India even, that was getting some play abroad. (Another movie I would higly recommend is Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay! It's actually probably a much better movie, much much harder to watch... But I'm not sure what kind of play or acclaim it received in the States.)

My feelings regarding all this have changed substantially since then. With all of the visibility that the film has been receiving, I am terrified that it has become just another ethnographic piece about a place/space - i.e. Bombay, in particular, and India, in general - that is already viewed with much intrigue, enchantment and colonial desire/imperialist nostaligia. Everyone I know seems to have watched, and enjoyed, the film. But somehow, even when it comes to the most critical eye, I want to protect the movie, to shield it, from any kind of "western" gaze. For a term paper last quarter, I wrote about the ways in which India/Indian space/places are viewed within the context of world literature. I think that some of what I wrote there is applicable to ways in which Slumdog may be viewed by "western" audiences , and hence explains some of my anxiety about the film receiving so much visibility. Here's an excerpt from the paper:

The Lonely Planet travel guide introduces Bombay thus:
Measure out: one part Hollywood; six parts traffic; a bunch of rich power-moguls; stir in half a dozen colonial relics (use big ones); pour in six heaped cups of poverty; add a smattering of swish bars and restaurants (don’t skimp on quality here for best results); equal parts of mayhem and order; as many ancient bazaars as you have lying around; a handful of Hinduism; a dash of Islam; fold in your mixture with equal parts India; throw it all in a blender on high (adding generous helpings of pollution to taste) and presto: Mumbai.

There resides in this description the same kind of romanticization of fragmentation and hybridity that we find say in [Salman] Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children or in Homi Bhabha’s piece on “Bombay.” Bhabha, for instance, describes Bombay in its intimacy, thus:
I will always be a Bombayite in my love for the vibrancy and vitality of contrasts that are so much part of Bombay’s urban experience. Wherever I live in the world I shall always serve goa prawn curry, and biryani and bhel-puri and beef Wellington and “sahs ni macchi” all at the same dinner party, and yes, that indulgence and excess and hospitality (with a touch of vulgarity perhaps) is what it means to be a Bombayite. … I will always protest against poverty, dirt, property prices, corruption and privilege because I am a Bombayite. I will never fail to jump the queue, demand special treatment, further corrupt an already corrupt bureaucracy because I am a Bombayite. … As a Bombayite I admire the sheer spirit of survival, even as I complain that the pavements are for walking not sleeping.

There is in both descriptions a poetics that attempts to capture the co-existence of the squalor and splendor of the city – a “geomythical place” (Bhabha) standing-in for a country that for centuries has served as a fantasy space for the interplay between affective sentiments and affectable sensibilities.

I use the term ‘affective sentiments’ with reference to Jasbir Puar's [Terrorist Assembages] discussion on affect to signify ways in which “those who are living” are recognized not through complex subjectivities but rather “as part of one or many populations, not individuals, but “dividuals.”” What matters here are “how things feel, …sensations matter.” Affective sentiments thus produce what Puar calls contagions where “bodies [and I would add, places] infect other bodies with sensation, vibration, irregularity, chaos” so that the “effects of touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight... [turn into] shivers, seat, blushes, heat, and pain, among many other senstations” (172). In short, it is the affective sentiment that is aroused by glossy, colorful pictures of Indian cities, peoples and foods. It is within this frame, I would suggest, that the juxtaposition of the pickle factory – with its many colors, smells and sounds – with the man “taking a shit” outside Saleem’s window in Midnight’s Children, becomes an enchanting possibility instead of a moment that produces an ethical crisis. Or that Dharavi – Asia’s largest slum [where much of Slumdog was shot] – can become a tourist hotspot. Here, then, lies the romance of India, or Bombay, in the affective sentiment, or gaze, it enjoys.

The affectable sensibilities of India pose a far more threatening problem. The affectable being, according to Denise Ferreira da Silva [Toward a Global Idea of Race], is the other of Europe, one instituted through exterior determination, whose body and mind are both ‘things of world,’ affected by, or acted upon, by reason exterior to itself, a reason belonging to the realm of nature. The affectable being is not a thing of intellect or knowledge, and is incapable of recognizing, let only actualizing (a la Hegel), its own essence. Thus, the affectable sensibilities are those irrational, violent traits that, under colonial logic, were to be dominated and tamed, but in a postcolonial/global context remain incomprehensible. Herein lies the un-romanticizable poverty and violence that exceeds the palate of the western reader/gazer who, as Arudhati Roy points out, desires just enough of a glimpse of India, without having to actually get bogged down with the realities of existence within these spaces.

This, then, is the dilemma of postcolonial readings of India – being caught between affective sentiments and affectable sensibilities.

When I viewed Slumdog, the film represented to me a radical, productive possibility for re-articulating affectability (per Silva's definition) - so that the body, the violence commited upon it, and the body's response (radical resistance) to the violence (as depicted by the film) could become a moment of accountability, a moment that created an "implicated spectator," i.e. a spectator who not only recognized themselves as a participant of the violence (spectacularized by the film), but one who was also compelled to recognize and confront their own affectability. So that affect and affectability became sites for the production of political possibilities, rather than mere markers of pre- or anti-modernity.

The mass consumption of the film, however, I think has re-kindled a gaze that is structured through ‘affective sentiments.’ Within this context, the affectibility represented in the film still maintains a level of 'foreign-ness,' so that, per Roy's critique, all the film offers is "just enough of a glimpse of India, without having to actually get bogged down with the realities of existence within these spaces." Under the western gaze, then, Slumdog is Bollywood made legible; a Monsoon Wedding of sorts; a representative picture of Bombay/India. It becomes merely what Jon Stewart referred to as "the most depressing feel-good movie ever."

I do not have a very good idea of the film was received in India. My parents did watch it, however, and they found it "fine." Not that fantastic, not that moving. And that makes quite a bit of sense to me. I think perhaps had I watched the movie in India, my reaction too might have been different. I imagine that when my parents emerged from the theater after watching the movie, they were surronded by a group "slumdog kids" asking for money or food, some asking for a tip for guarding their car, other requesting to clean the car for a few rupees. On their way home, my parents probably drove past one of the places that is notorious for maiming street kids and hiring them out to beg each day. Those that live in Bombay, like my parents, probably did not see much humor, or enterpreneural resistance, in the scenes where Jamal and Salim steal people's handbags from under rises, or steal shoes from outside temples to resell to those worshippers who found their shoes missing. This is the reality of life in places like Bombay, so that many temples have guards outside just to keep a check on shoes, or that one of things you are taught as you grow older is how to hold a handbag, or in which pocket to keep your wallet, to prevent them from getting stolen. But this too, is the travesty of the film - that those that live in such close proximity to what is represented by the film, are unable perhaps to view themselves as "implicated spectators." So does the film become reduced once again to a fairy-tale love story?

There have however been multiple articles on how the film was received in the slums themselves. These are interesting because, to some extent, they do actually reveal the very complexities that the film, per my reading, attempts to convey. I haven't done much research on these articles, or tried to find more, so I won't say more about that.

There is just one more point I want to make though, about what happens to the child actors, who themselves are street kids, after the film is made. When the movie Salaam Bombay! was made, I remember newspapers and T.V. shows being rife with the news that one of the American crew (one of the producers perhaps?) had decided to adopt one of the kid actors in the movie, who also lived in a slum, because she had "fallen in love" with him. This story enrages me everytime I think about it, because - while, as I recall, news reports in India attempted to romanticize the story, to cheer for this little boy who got "lucky" because he was going to get such a better life in the U.S., - one has to wonder at the audacity of this woman to think that her love - because of the money, capital, and location (i.e. the whiteness) associated with it - was more valuable than the boy's own family's. Could she think of no better, no more "just", less violent way of expressing her love, other than taking the child away from his family? I am not arguing here for the integrity of "family," but rather at the horrifically banal ways in which power functions.

Also, when I watched the movie, there were little documentary pieces about what had happened to the kid actors, not that they were adults. Other than the child who was adopted (it was really frustrating to hear him talk about how lucky and thankful he was to his adoptive parent for rescuing him because his life back home might have been miserable. There was no comment, as far as I recall, about whether he had seen his family since he left, or whether he was still even in touch them,), other than him, all the others had barely been supported post-film. As many of them suggested, no one recognized them any more, no one wanted to cast them in any films (despite the professional training them had received prior to the film). Where was their "cut" of all the fame and professional/economic capital that the crew received from the success of the film?

I was reminded of this when I watched Slumdog, too. For a very long time I wondered why the visbility of these kids was limited to "shout outs" from the award stages, why they themselves were not given the opportunity to travel with the remainder of the cast and crew. To what extent were they compensated? In what ways are they being supported post-production? How does this film actually help other kids growing up in the slums? Just recently, I found a couple of articles - one about education funds set up for the child stars, another about how they will be traveling to the Oscars. This is all well and good, a step-up perhaps from the child actors in Salaam Bombay! but yet, I have to wonder...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Raising Dad

Over the past few weeks, for a number of reasons, I have abandoned my living room, and hence my T.V., and have taken instead to watching videos online. I was recently introduced, and quite belatedly, to a gem of a site - - that has been satiating my love of British sitcoms (and also geeky ones like "The Big Bang Theory").

There is this hilarious British T.V. show called "My Family" that I've been watching the past couple of days. It's written by Fred Baron, whose credits include U.S. sitcoms like Sienfeld and Caroline in the City. While watching this show I was reminded of experiences in my life when I have been called "immature." In fact, almost every bio-boy that I've been close to in my life - from my very first boyfriend to my dad's brother - has at some point in our relationship, and often at multiple times during its course, called me "immature." (Except for my dad, the title of this post not withstanding.)

My constant contact with this label has made me realize that, its vituperative intentions aside, the term is used as more of a protective sheath deployed to conceal not only the speakers' inability to actually articulate a point of view, but also their own naiveté. (I personally prefer the term naive to immature, because the latter seems to anticipate evolutionary progression, whereas the former defines a state of being. But that's just a personal choice...)

In any case, succumbing here to the follies of gender differentiation, I present my light-hearted, yet vengeful, argument against those many bio-boys that have deemed it fit to call me "immature." For it is they, the boys, that are plagued with an unending reservoir of naiveté, while we "girls" sit around and have a good laugh. Or something like that...

The first two clips are from "My Family," the third is from a another British show called "Coupling" (I believe it is supposed to be the British version of "Friends," but not quite.) Hope you enjoy the sillyness!

My Family: Serpent's Tooth (S1:E1)

My Family: One of the Boys (S7:E6)

Coupling: The Girl with One Heart (S3:E6)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ethnic Studies: Why Words Matter

One of the great things about being in an Ethnic Studies department is that when it comes to issues of understanding the functioning of power, people are generally (although definitely not always) on the same page. You don't often have to explain to your colleagues why something - an image, an act, a discourse, a policy - are "fucked up." People just tend to generally "get it." And that helps to create somewhat of a sense of community and solidarity.

This sense of community, however, is quite tenuous - tendentious and contingent. People do get caught up in their own little niches, their own compartmentalized battles, thereby losing sight of the bigger picture. And besides, people are ultimately vulnerable to their "human-ness," thus creating the situation for battles of wits and personalities. Consequently, as I was discussing with a friend today, the experience of being a scholar in the department can be quite violent. (Yes, violent. It is a running joke among some of friends now - my obsession with, and constant reference to, violence.) But though it is a rough, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking experience, most of us wouldn't exchange it for the world.

The times that my department comes together the most is a moments of social crisis. Thus, for instance, during events such as Katrina and the San Diego wildfires - incidents that were marked by the execution of racial power and racial violence - the department took public stands critiquing the action and rhetoric surrounding the event. It may appear to some that making a public statement is futile when it comes to the actual work of resistance and survival. However, as an academic department, it is imperative to seize these as moments of education so as to create the conditions of possibility for socio-structural change. (Those interested in the dynamics of "theory" and "practice" should read some of the works on hegemony by Antonio Gramsci.)

The most recent event that the department took a stand against, thereby causing a firestorm of criticism and controversy, was the recent Israeli war on Gaza. The statement, which was initially posted on the department's website, created an outrage among many students on campus. In response to their angry e-mails, the department decided to create a blog and post all its statements there, so as to enable a public debate regarding the merits and demerits of the statement. The statement and responses to it may be accessed here.

Besides the usual information/data war, and arguments about Israeli self-defense, one of the ideas most objected to was the use of the phrase "racial violence" in the statement. Here, the term "racial" was reduced to normative ideas of race, a reduction that produced the most disingenuous arguments. I have been following the responses to the statement on the blog for the past couple of weeks now, and was constantly disturbed by the way in which "racial violence" was being understood. I therefore decided last night to write a response that explained how I understood "racial violence" and thus, its pertinence to the statement. I am pasting my response below because I think that understanding what "racial power" and "racial violence" mean are so crucial to any social justice project.


This is a response to the objections raised as regards the use of the phrase “racial violence” in the statement above. Some commentators appear to reduce “racial violence” to the idea of racism; others find troubling the idea that the term “racial” is being applied to racially/ethnically diverse religious and national groups (i.e. Jewish, Israeli and Palestianian peoples). I would like to point out, therefore, that to read “racial violence” as such, is a complete misunderstanding of the phrase. Racial violence is a mode of power exercised – most often by a state, but often by other organized, militarized groups – in order to control, subjugate or exterminate a people due to the idea that the latter always already pose a threat to the civilization of the former. Thus, racial violence always follows the logic of self-defense and self-preservation against the always already threatening other.

Racial logic functions so that an entire people are made to signify deviance, irrationality, violence, etc. – in short, everything that runs counter to the presumed ideals of modernity, and the interests of “civilization” and “humanity.” I would therefore refer readers specifically to this excerpt from the statement: “…Israel’s military objectives, the destruction of Hamas, cannot justify the indiscriminate killing of men and women, young and old, just because they live in the Gaza Strip, because they are Palestinians. This generalized construction of the enemy is at the core of racial violence. It criminalizes a whole population. It aliments existing representations of Arabs, Muslims, and Brown people in general as ‘criminal/terrorists.’” Thus, every holocaust that history stands witness to – that of Native Americans in North America, of Armenians in Turkey, of Jews in Europe, of Muslims in Bosnia, of black Africans in the Sudan – are instances of racial violence. Slavery is an instance of racial violence. Colonialism is an instance of racial violence.

The argument about what constitutes a “race” here is impertinent and futile. Racial violence is not about “race” as is commonly understood – i.e. black, white, native, asian, latino, arab or whatever new racial groups the state decides to create – but about the process of racialization. Of casting an entire people as a deviant, threatening other. This is the project of Ethnic Studies. Ethnic Studies does not teach one about “different peoples,” “different cultures,” “different races,” “different nationalities.” It doesn’t merely teach about histories of oppression, struggle and resistance. It teaches how power operates in the production and execution of subjugation, violence, and death. The process of racialization, and the execution of racial violence, are thus integral to how Ethnic Studies views the execution of power. To consider the Ethnic Studies project as anything else, is to completely misunderstand the project. And this is the context that the statement above must be read in.

The statement condemns the use of racial power and racial violence (as defined above) by the state of Israel. It does not call Israelis or Jewish people racist. It recognizes the violent, death-dealing power executed by the state through its settler-colonialist status. The statement does not cast Israel alone as a state that executes racial violence – rather, it contextualizes the latest attacks on Gaza within the context of global/ized racial violence – whether it be the Iraq war, the criminalization and incarceration of people of color in the U.S., state-sponsored anti-Muslim violence in India, or state/legal violence against aboriginal peoples in Australia.

And finally, a note specifically to Ori. You wrote: “When September 11 happened in the US, airport security was insane, but as a US citizen, would anyone want anything less from their government?” To compare the lockdown on Gaza that Saif referred to in his poem, to the “insane” security at U.S. airports post-9/11 is a trivialization of the situation in Gaza that has me completely speechless. In my mind, it highlights the complete lack of understanding that generally haunts debates about Israeli self-defense against Palestinians. To compare an airport – a space generally marked by uncoerced, free movement – to Gaza, which is like being quite literally under house-arrest, with limited access to basic life-sustaining amenities, is quite shocking.

But you do point to one important thing about racial violence. Post 9/11 airports did in fact become a site for the exercise of racial power through the practice of state-sanctioned activities such as profiling, detention, and rendition.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Burial of a Child

I'm trying to... hoping to... qualify (i.e. ascend to candidacy)by June. Which means I have tons of reading and thinking and writing to do, a situation that would hinder my ability to post on this blog. But I'd like to keep this blog alive to whatever extent I can. So, taking a cue from a very smart person in my life, I'm going to start posting bits of papers and presentations that I'm working on. Besides, this is the stuff that I care about the most anyway, so it would be appropriate for blog postings.

Below is a piece I presented in my cultural studies class today... a very overwhelming class given the brutal nature of all our presentations. I think this post is especially appropriate in light of my previous rambling one on violence.


In 1984, Pablo Bartholomew, an Indian photojournalist, won the World Press Photo of the Year Award for his image titled, “Burial of a Child.” World Press Photo describes this image thus: "Following the vehicles that were taking the dead to be cremated and buried, Bartholomew saw the body of a child, with eyes glazed, milky-white and staring up at him. He says winning put him on the map in the photojournalism world, while his image became an icon of grief and greed in the face of industrial disaster." The particular industrial disaster captured by Bartholomew’s image is the Bhopal gas leak of 1984. On December 3rd 1984 the populus of Bhopal – the capital city of the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India – was gassed with 27 tons of methyl isocyanate and other deadly gases that leaked from the city’s Union Carbide pesticide factory. Within the first 24 hours, this city-turned-gas-chamber claimed over two thousand lives, and injured and disabled over 150,000 bodies, thousands of which were yet to be birthed. As of 2004, 22,000 more lives had been taken.

Batholomew’s “Burial of a Child” has come to signify the devastation and tragedy of the Bhopal gas leak. It is often featured prominently on websites dedicated to the event of the gas leak, in short youtube videos that chronicle the event, and in traveling photo exhibits that aim to educate the global community of its unending aftermath. Among other images of the gas leak – such as those of bodies writhing in pain, of bandages over burning or burnt-out eyes, of row upon row of animal carcasses – this image, in its singularity, stands out as a signifier of the event.
In the image we see an infant body, drained of life and color, covered over in rubble. The most arresting aspect of the image is the child’s face, jutting out from, and framed by, the rubble – staring out unblinkingly from white spots where once there were, perhaps, seeing eyes. The focus of this image is not the named, subjectivized, historicizable being but rather its body – in fragments and in its totality – that is made to represent the horror of the gas leak. This is the first haunting of the image – the unknowability of the name. The presence of a lone hand in the image draws one to question the relationship between that hand and the infant; to wonder about their name; yet the subjective location of the infant remains undeterminable. This indeterminancy emphasizes the nature of symbolic violence of the event where images of death – horrific death, mass death – desubjectify bodies and destroy symbolic networks of recognition. These images exist primarily as spectacular representations of violence.

This image also captures the material destruction of the event. Describing the initial hours of the gas leak, one survivor, Champa Devi Shukla, recalls: "It felt like somebody had filled our bodies up with red chillies, our eyes tears coming out, noses were watering, we had froth in our mouths. The coughing was so bad that people were writhing in pain. Some people just got up and ran in whatever they were wearing or even if they were wearing nothing at all. Somebody was running this way and somebody was running that way, some people were just running in their underclothes. People were only concerned as to how they would save their lives so they just ran." We see this description inscribed onto different parts, or fragments, of the infant’s body – the eyes that appear to have been burned out by the toxic gases; the mouth that is slightly parted, perhaps from the last gasp for air that they attempted, or from the frothing experienced; the torso encased by rubble, trammeled perhaps by the chaos of unseeing feet. Although the precise details of the infant’s death are unknowable, the image, as an assemblage of the markers of destruction of the Bhopal gas leak, attains a signifying power with reference to the event. The signification of this image, extends, however, into the realm of the universal.

The infant’s body, in its totality, lies at the cusp of visibility and invisibility within multiple temporalities. While it is unclear how the infant became entrapped underneath rubble, the very presence of the rubble, the intimate mingling of body and earth, marks an invisibility attached to the evental moment. Whether the “burial” is attributable to a stampede, or whether the infant had been laid to rest and then left behind due to the exactions of escape or death, it is only the gaze of the camera that ultimately renders it visible. Indeed, what the camera makes visible is the evental invisibility of the infant. This invisibility, however, is not localized merely in an evental temporality. The image of the infant’s body covered in rubble also resembles an invisibility in the time of global capital. It is within this latter temporality that the second haunting resides.

The image of the “Burial of a Child” seems to reference back to images of shadow-people and shadow-objects taken in the aftermath of the U.S. uses of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This too is an example of an invisibility made visible only due to the gaze of the camera. The absent-presence in theses latter images – i.e. the body or object itself – captures the absolute destruction executed through the bombings. And in this nuclear age, they serve as constant reminders of the kind of death we are always already vulnerable to. Similarly, the image of the infant comes to resemble the invisibility of the millions of bodies and lives destroyed by global capital beyond Bhopal. Addressing the nature, or imperative, of labor in the modern episteme, Foucault writes: "At every moment of its history, humanity is henceforth laboring under the threat of death: any population that cannot find new resources is doomed to extinction; … Since the prospect of death becomes proportionately more fearful as the necessary means of subsistence become more difficult to access, so inversely, labor must grow in intensity and employ all possible means to make itself more prolific. What makes economic possible, and necessary then, is a perpetual and fundamental situation of scarcity: confronted by a nature that in itself inert and, save for one very small part, barren, man risks his life. … economics finds its principle [in] that perilous region where life is in confrontation with death."

This imperative of life and labor is reflected in the situation surrounding the Bhopal disaster, as it is in the numerous cases relating to global capital worldwide. Referring to Bhopal in particular, Paul Srivastava writes that as industrial growth was being encouraged in Bhopal, the city’s population grew exponentially. However, high costs of land and construction caused a severe housing shortage in the city. Thus, migrants built makeshift housing, which in turn became slums and shanty towns. By 1984, i.e. the year of the gas leak, more than 130,000 people, about 20 percent of the city’s population, lived in these slums. Two of these slum colonies were located across the street from the Union Carbide plant.

Confirming this, Elizabeth Guillette also writes that it was in fact Union Carbide that provided land deeds to the dwellers in order to improve its own image, failing to establish the necessary safety zones. The local residents, moreover, had no idea that “the plant was producing one of the most dangerous compounds ever conceived by the chemical industry.” Consequently, because of the relatively higher wages offered by Union Carbide and the social status associated with working at the plant, “the only concern [of the dwellers] was the foul odor of pesticide manufacture detected in the air over Bhopal.” Thus, as Foucault writes, the labor for Union Carbide became possible only in “that perilous region where life is in confrontation with death.”

This reality becomes even more compelling in the image of the infant. This is not merely because of the usual ideas of innocence and reckless futility attached to the death of children. Rather, in this case, the body of the infant refers back to global capital in a way that lays bare its hideous functioning and one’s own complicity in it. The mere existence of the infant at the site of gas leak demonstrates that while its sustainability depended upon labor demanded by the factory, it was always already in direct confrontation with death – i.e. the infant’s sustainability was contingent on the factory not taking its life. Moreover, the body of the infant exists as potential labor, as labor-in-waiting, for the factory. The entrapment of its body under rubble, here, marks not the loss of labor but rather its replacability. Thus, the image captures the juncture at which while death ensnares the object of labor – i.e. the body, or the body-in-waiting – the subject of labor – i.e. global capital – continues to live.

It is at this juncture, too, that the spectators’ complicity is made visible because, within systems of global capital, the degrees of separation between the infant and the spectator are not too many.