positions politics

A venereal disease for Gandhi

A note on Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-politics

Farid Ghadami

  1. In praise of filth

Better a good venereal disease than a moribund peace and quiet. Now I know what makes the world civilised: it’s vice, disease, thievery, mendacity, lechery.

Henry Miller, Quiet days in Clichy

“The tendency of human nature is to hide dirt,” Gandhi writes, “we do not want to see or touch dirty things: we want to put them out of sight” (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 148); and we learn from Mohan and Dwivedi that “Cleanliness has several determinations, including that of caste and race.” (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 148) Gandhi seeks to unite the Indian people around concepts such as cleanness, God, and Indian identity, which, in the eyes of the authors of the laudable book, Gandhi and Philosophy, opens a door for him to racism and the far right.

In The Infinite Conversation, Maurice Blanchot speaks of a community that does not come together on the basis of imaginary identity, but on the basis of ‘non-communion’, not as Christians, for example, who rely on the unity of the church and its communion believers.

The community that Blanchot speaks about, rather than relying on the idea of centralization, has resorted to decentralization. But there is no guarantee that a new communion will not be formed once this community is established. Every community, in order to be sustainable, and to define itself as a community, has to differentiate between itself and the other.

Gandhi realized that in order to fight British colonialism in India he needed to form a new community, a seemingly without-communion community, with the participation of almost all Indian minorities, but in fact a community based on positive concepts such as ‘purity’.

Although Gandhi’s sterilization machine began with the ‘cleansing’ of colonialism, there has always been ‘dirt’ that needs to be cleaned. A community built around the concept of ‘cleanliness’ always needs ‘something dirty’ to maintain itself, something must always be found that can be cleaned so that the machine does not rot. So the only solution before us is to praise ‘filth’ and to form a community around this filth: a community that revolves around ‘filth’ cannot exclude and suppress others under the pretext of ‘purity’.

In Henry Miller’s brilliant novel, Quiet Days in Clichy, we see Henry Miller and his friend Carl who go to a little café in clean Luxembourg where a phrase is written on the owner’s business card: “cafe-free-of-Jews”. A clean café that doesn’t work if they have not left something dirty out: Jews! As Gandhi says: “we do not want to see or touch dirty things: we want to put them out of sight”. (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 148) When Henry and Carl return to dirty Paris, they want to run a sex orgy with French girls: Carl is worried that he has been infected by syphilis (“His cock already felt itchy”), that is, he is worried that he has become ‘dirty’, but Miller says: “Get a double dose and spread it abroad. Infect the whole continent! Better a good venereal disease than a moribund peace and quiet. Now I know what makes the world civilised: it’s vice, disease, thievery, mendacity, lechery.” [Miller 1994, 63-66]

Undoubtedly, Gandhi’s legacy has been too pure to be criticized, and to save his achievements, he must be defiled a little bit: he must be infected with a sexually transmitted disease, and this is exactly what Mohan and Dwivedi have done with their book called Gandhi and philosophy.

People who consider themselves pure refuse to associate with other impure people, but those who consider themselves dirty and impure do not hesitate to embrace others. (The main idea of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s play, Mystery Bouffe, is joyful triumph of the “Unclean” (the proletarians) over the “Clean” (the bourgeoisie))

  1. House of Incest

Just as it would be considered improper for a brother to marry his sister I would make it improper for a person to marry outside his or her group which may be called a caste.

M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj

Indo-Aryan language spoken chiefly in India is a completely ‘polluted’ language, a language that has no purity and is a combination of Sanskrit, Persian, English, Arabic, etc. Gandhi should consider the use of this language as a kind of incest. As Mohan and Dwivedi, after quoting the above mentioned phrase by Gandhi, write: “Degrees of proximity to a bloodline can be the criterion for terming a sexual relation incestuous. But to use the same name ‘incest’ to oppose relations outside bloodlines is surprising.” (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 190)

Blanchot speaks of ‘communism’ as a community of people who do not have any communion, and considers the idea of communism, through the root of the words ‘community’, ‘communion’, ‘communication’ and ‘communism’, as a political system that is always working to disrupt the establishment of political and social forces. Blanchot speaks of a plural discourse that can never be reduced to one meaning. This plural discourse is clearly evident in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’: a community of languages, voices, and tones that have no communion, just like the Indo-Aryan language. What can be liberating for India, incidentally, is the very aspect of their Ulyssesian language: an open language to foreign languages, a language that is completely contaminated by ‘the other’ and takes its richness from the same contamination. What Gandhi really seeks is to fight the multiplicity and pollution of this language.

James Joyce uses English to write his works, which is a non-native language for Irishmen, and always in his novels, his play, and even in his poems, he uses other languages such as Latin, French, German, Norwegian, Gaelic and so on. Julia Kristeva, going beyond Bakhtin, who considered language to be two-layered and double, says that language is multifaceted, multi-layered, and plural. Kristeva considers the individual to be a text that contains statements from specific cultural, historical, and social contexts, while these statements are the result of both their personal experience and their collective experience that their intersection becomes the text.

In all writings of Joyce we can see how he mingles languages as if he is a foreigner who doesn’t like to come “back to his origins”, as Kristeva says. For example, let’s see how Joyce describes a gypsy in Ulysses walking carrying her load in the third episode of the novel: “Across the sands of all the world, followed by the sun’s flaming sword, to the west, trekking to evening lands. She trudges, schlepps, trains, drags, trascines her load,” where Joyce uses German (schlepp), French (traîner) and Italian (trascinare) verbs in English matrix. (Joyce 2010, 44) As soon as an Indian speaks, (s)he becomes a foreigner, “a gypsy”, because (s)he has to use foreign words, not having a way to escape. An Indian is always a foreigner, a foreigner who can never return to his homeland. “He is a foreigner, he is from nowhere, from everywhere, citizen of the world, cosmopolitan. Do not send him back to his origins.” (Kristeva 1994, 30)

It seems that Gandhi is always looking for an origin to return to, a pure origin that is free of ‘the other’ contamination. For Gandhi, any relationship with another is considered ‘incest’ (not only with somebody “outside his or her group which may be called a caste”, but anybody), just like Sabina in the surrealist work of Anaïs Nin, House of Incest, who is so narcissistic that she only has a relationship with herself and loves only herself. These purity-based thoughts are what ultimately frightens Gandhi off any sexual relationship: the other is impure.

 

  1. A portrait of Gandhi as a Napoleon (III)

But the Republic not being a palpable and living person whom one can resemble, and the presidents succeeding each other with rapidity, he found himself plunged in the greatest embarrassment, in terrible distress….

Guy de Maupassant, Sundays of a Bourgeois

In one of his short stories, Les Dimanches d’un bourgeois de Paris, Guy de Maupassant introduces a person, M. Patissot, whose imitation of the appearance and behavior of Napoleon III had promoted him in the society. “From his habit of observing the sovereign he did as many others do; he imitated the way he trimmed his beard or arranged his hair, the cut of his clothes, his walk, his mannerisms. Indeed, how many men in each country seemed to be the living images of the head of the government! Perhaps he vaguely resembled Napoleon III, but his hair was black; therefore he dyed it, and then the likeness was complete; and when he met another gentleman in the street also imitating the imperial countenance he was jealous and looked at him disdainfully. This need of imitation soon became his hobby, and, having heard an usher at the Tuilleries imitate the voice of the emperor, he also acquired the same intonations and studied slowness.” [de Maupassant 1880] But “When the Republic was proclaimed it was a disaster for him. He felt lost, done for, and, losing his head, he stopped dyeing his hair, shaved his face clean and had his hair cut short, thus acquiring a paternal and benevolent expression which could not compromise him in any way.” [de Maupassant 1880]

Gandhi’s image is an imitative and identity-based image: one can only find his belonging to Hinduism by looking at his photographs, a Hinduism that is itself based on the purity-impurity opposition.

The imitation of his appearance and behavior, given his place in Indian society and the legacy he left behind, easily leads to discrimination: Hindus are superior to other minorities because Gandhi was Hindu, men are superior to women because women cannot be like Gandhi, and all those who think outside the realm of desirable identity are dependent on the West, as their appearance shows! As Mohan and Dwivedi quoted from Gandhi: “I am one of those who do not consider caste to be a harmful institution. In its origin caste was a wholesome custom and promoted national well-being. In my opinion, the idea that interdining or intermarrying is necessary for national growth is a superstition borrowed from the West.” [Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 189]

The uniformity of Gandhi’s portrait is a dangerous one: we never see Gandhi, after he became Gandhi, in clothes other than Hindu clothes, he never drank, he never wore western and modern clothes, he never smoked, he is never sexy and attractive, a thin skinny man with a bald head, who is something beyond the modern man, who is a criterion for the classification of human beings, a criterion for producing caste and discrimination. Gandhi’s image, like that of Napoleon, is uniform and therefore imitable and dangerous. Mohan and Dwivedi did the same thing with Gandhi that Marcel Duchamp did with the Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa by putting a mustache on her portrait.

References:

de Maupassant, Guy. 1880, Sundays of a bourgeois. Available at  http://www.intratext.com/ixt/ENG1313/_P1.HTM

Joyce, James. 2010. Ulysses. Wordsworth Classics.

Kristeva, Julia. 1994, Strangers to Ourselves. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez. Columbia University Press.

Miller, Henry. 1994. Quiet Days in Clichy. Grove Press.

Mohan, Shaj and Divya Dwivedi. 2019. Gandhi and Philosophy, On Theological Anti-Politics. Bloomsbury Academic.

Farid Ghadami is an Iranian professor of mechanical engineering as well as a prolific writer and translator. He has written fiction books, books of literary criticism, science manuals and has translated a number of English-language novels and writers. He is the first translator of a large number of Beat generation books into Farsi.