21.05.21

Writing is difficult these days. Not just because we are living in a world that is increasingly unpredictable. Part of it is the very fabric of the unknowability of a future that seems to make any utterance devoid of meaning. That is what is true for all of us, I suppose. This website has been fairly dormant for a while. While I wanted to document my research over a year, it became clear to me that projecting such expectations is not really the healthy thing to do. So, what have I been up to?

I am attending a bunch of fun courses this summer semester. The Canons and Revisions course at Freie Universität by Florian Sedlmeier, for instance. I find the course and its reading rewarding for the many ways it opens up canons to questions.

I have been writing a chapter on canons and the politics of canon for my own thesis. This chapter has been quite a long way from finishing but it is still being shaped by questions of the formation of the subject called Indology (via Aamir R. Mufti) and the idea of the pedagogical via some Bhabha. I am still reading up on the idea of gestures, which I think will be a good addition to this conversation.

On a more organisational level, I have never been busier. We are putting together a postgraduate conference for GAPS’s Postgrad Forum called Postcolonial Narrations.

Sometimes work is all one has in the face of uncertainty. This is definitely one of the times that it has kept me sane.

Recommendations

Watch College Behind Bars on Netflix. Truly inspirational.

Listen to Passenger List which is honestly the greatest podcast ever.

day something: interviews and poems

I have long been a follower of Vivek Narayanan. One afternoon in Delhi, the poet Michael Creighton introduced me to the poetry of Narayanan and there has been no stopping since.

Narayanan’s work interests me not just because of the intense craftsmanship that he has about his work. It is also how he manages to use form in his poetry that has fascinated me. The Life and Times of Mr. S, his book of poems, deserves a much longer post that I hope to get around to, finally. For now, here is an interview from the Center for Writing and Communication with Souradeep Roy and Uday Kanungo.

day 7: because you are probably bored

I know that a lot of us are home right now and need to stay sane. Here’s some cool stuff that I am finding online. I will be updating it as we go:

Berliner Philharmonie has a free pass. Last date to use the code (BERLINPHIL) is 31st March

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) is streaming films for free. Also try using your Kanopy account and your MUBI account if you have a university log-in.

Haymarket Books has 10 free ebooks right now. e.g. Angela Davis, Capitalism and Disability etc. 

Verso Books has 80% off on ebooks and has a few free books as well. 

Scribd has a 30 day free thing going on. 

Leeds Queer Film Festival has free films.

Project MUSE has free access till May 31 

Last update: 20.03.2020

Sound Candy: Ian Chillag’s Everything is Alive is back! Here is their latest.

day 6: love in the time of corona

It is 01:00 am. The GAPS conference has been cancelled. Things seem bleak in a way that is soul-sucking. The last few days have been difficult for precisely two reasons:

it is so hard to stay focussed on anything with a pandemic going on

it is so hard to stay focussed. Period.

We all have our ways of calming down, I am certain. It is just that with the-end-of-the-world kind of panic coming to us through our screens, it is simply hard to have anything else on your mind. This is where my partner—wonderful as he is—told me to get away from my phone. It is really hard; I know because I tried. But this also about not neglecting mental health in the time of corona. I know that Love in the Time of Corona is precisely the kind of literary pun that people would expect from nerds like us anyway, so yes, it is about ~

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CORONA

If anything, it is about controlling the ever expanding news-feed. Since I was supposed to fly to India, I was hooked on the news-feeds from Europe and India; all the while quite unsure which part of the world would ban the other first. Now it seems unnecessary to stay hooked. This is, dear reader, the time to get rid of your news-feed. Love your mental health, and not your news-feeds. So much of it contributes to your day getting a little more anxious that one would be better off without it. Use time for something else. Here is my plan to have more control of all the data I am consuming right now:

1. Call your parents. Call your friends. Maybe write a few letters. Communication is important; panicking does not help. Since my folks live a few hours ahead of CET, it is always nice to be able to get a hold of them and talk to them before they go to sleep.

2. Switch off your phone. Or set it to the most non-intrusive mode. Android phones do have the Do Not Disturb mode that I have found myself using a lot over the last days.

3. Consume things in a way where you are actually there. At the risk of sounding like an esoteric monster, here is the spiel: do things where you are doing something more than consuming things because it on the auto-play list of your streaming app. If you are watching a movie, do it. If you are staring at your half-finished proposal, do that. Just try to be there. Otherwise more information would simply exhaust you when you are getting out of the internet rabbit-hole on days like these.

Dear reader, step away from the phone. And the screen. Things will get better but for now, take care of yourself. Wash your hands, do things, read a nice book, listen to a nice podcast. Here’s Roman Mars describing things as they are.

Of Project Managers and Academic Work

No sooner had I realised that a doctoral degree had a lot of work than I decided to go into the strange land of project managers. I obviously did not know what counted as a good one. So I gave a few things a good try. Here goes my grand evaluation of apps and websites:

Trello was my first attempt. I had tried it before and thought that it was one of those neat Kanban things that simply work well. Alas, it was a little too neat. I am one of those people who does need a lot more motivation. And while Trello works for a lot of people, I simply started creating cards and re-organizing them to suit my procrastinating. I did not get a lot done. My issue with Trello is that it lets you customize innumerable number of cards and keeping track of them, while adding tasks and lists and descriptions just becomes too tedious. Also, because of the neat Kanban system, it does not tell me, “WORK ON THIS FIRST, YOU DUMMY!” I realised I needed something waaay more simple… which is nice because on 14th Nov, The Verge said,

Basecamp has a free version now.

Basecamp made things a lot simpler. One can create To-Do lists that independently work [I often use lists like, “Reading List November” or “Reading List December”]. But what has worked for me is the limitation of things. Basecamp Personal lets you start only three projects, so there is some amount of focus that one needs. It also prompts you questions that you can customize; I have decided that I need a very basic “What are you going to do this week?”-sort of question because I get a bit lazy without stuff like that. It also has a dedicated tab for Files and Documents which is neat. Most of all, Basecamp’s site design has definitely played its part in convincing me. I have felt good about this for the last week.

And while online things are fine, I do appreciate a good paper version of everything. The Moleskine Pro Notebook has seemed like a good idea for that. Since I will have many “projects” and tasks in my head, keeping a notebook that is separate from my other notes (German notes, notes notes, etc.) and only dedicated to research stuff has made me feel more confident that I will be able to manage my workload. It has numbered pages and to-do sections which makes my project look/seem way more organized than it is in my head anyway.

I am curious about what do academics really use to manage projects and tasks… Turns out quite a few people use Trello. But for now, Trello has become something I use only because it is easy to create a page where everyone can contribute to a list of events, CfPs, et al. I am less certain of its productivity quotient.

Now for the recommendations:

Podcast

Long Read: How liberalism became ‘the god that failed’ in eastern Europe

What I am up to in 2019

This site started out as a weird experiment of a late night gone strange early February. Turns out not a lot has changed over the last year at all. There are, for instance, just as many books I want to read as I did last year. There are also as many people I have met, become friends with and lost in 2019. This year, I am telling myself, will be different.

I am still on the Open Source craze, though. Recent changes?

  • I switched from EndNote to Zotero. There are quite a few things one encounters when a thesis is written. There is the usual “what do I write it on” question; I did a cop-out on this one because I have Word from the university. The reference manager is another such issue. I have access to EndNote from the university but I have moved to Zotero since then. In order to make a mind-map for the thesis I used WiseMapping.
  • I gave up Evernote and then from Laverna, I went straight to Standard Notes. I have honestly not looked back after Standard Notes because it is probably the best thing I have ever used for notes. Since I have become a nutcase for privacy settings, Standard Notes has become an indispensable tool for my online life. I am not an “Extended” Member but I am not very far from becoming one.

In other news, there is some research topics that I have recently gone into; Latour, for instance. Hence, this page will probably be used in the near future for three things

  1. Podcast diary/recommendations: Being a rich consumer of podcasts of every sort (I subscribe to 80 right now), I guess this one is not such a surprise.
  2. Research diary: I find it useful to write things out for my own sake. So, since I am reading some things, it makes sense to make a record of it … a field notes diary, as it were.
  3. Bookshelf: I have always wanted to a bookshelf section here. So starting this month, I hope to start.

Other things I would recommend:

Libby: Your library probably has a Libby service. Use it.

In Appreciation of the Slow Burner Podcast

NOTE: Major spoilers about The Polybius Conspiracy podcast in the following post.

At the end of The Polybius Conspiracy, there is a veritable moment of mystery. Of an accident unfolding into a revelation of the kernel of the entire series. It occurs towards the very end as Jon Frechette talks about Bobby Feldstein’s video. You’re wondering, he says, what’s going through his head? This moment – one I have gone back to many times – is hinging upon this line to convey an almost meta-poetical narrative where Frechette is not only narrating a character in a narrative but inserting that thought into the listener. What is happening? – you are made to wonder. Disappointment, frustration, despair – he says – before revealing Bobby’s last words on the podcast – Goddamit, I know what happened. The Polybius Conspiracy concluded at that very moment. I remember listening to it the first time and being caught completely unaware. It was only the second time when I listened to it – after listening to all the episodes, on that occasion – that I could appreciate the moment for what it was. It was – and in my very humble opinion, still is – the most perfect slow burner podcast that I have consumed. Which is what I am about to write about, in this post. Listen to the entire series before we begin! Here’s the first episode.

These days, the presence of podcasts is ubiquitous. This ubiquity makes one wonder about the form itself. The most common form is the direct dialogue form of podcasts: people speaking on a topic. That form, of enlightening the masses, of telling a story comes in all different shapes and sizes: Blockchain technology (Varanida), prisoners in San Quentin (Ear Hustle) and  so on and so forth. That is a form that may differ in the way it presents itself but there is always a script of Q&A. There are people like Benjamen Walker (The Theory of Everything) who twist it around – chairs are thrown from rooftops, phone calls of complaints about the podcast are played in the podcast. He disrupts the way you would consume his podcast and redirects your attention to things that . There is Roman Mars (99% Invisible) who gives you the fleeting feeling of meandering into an anecdote before throwing an epiphany at you; it is always a dazzling effect. But the podcast that completely turns it upside down is the podcast that blurs the distance between the narrated content and the listener. Two podcasts come to mind: the recently concluded Death in Ice Valley and The Polybius Conspiracy that was put out by Radiotopia last fall.

The two podcasts could not be more different. Death in Ice Valley is about the Isdal Woman case which is an unsolved mystery from the 1970s. It was produced by the BBC and NRK. The Polybius Conspiracy is about an urban legend in Portland in the 1980. What brings them together? The proximity question – Death in Ice Valley was a work-in-progress. The producers relied heavily on the kind of responses they received from their audience and definitely followed leads that came from the Facebook group that they had created. The listeners were partly stakeholders of the entire process of the whole. The proximity to the content was uniquely close. The ‘knowledge’ from the podcast was one that was not from the enlightenment that one could gain out of it. It was not functional in that sense. It was simply something you as a listener could intervene and interject things into. As every episode unraveled into new clues and more leads, the slow burn was that ‘unknowledge’ – that unknowability of the end point which seemed even more elusive since the people making it were also not sure where they were going.

The Polybius Conspiracy, on the other hand, did something very different. This podcast simply inserted the audience into the podcast. Let us think of the timeframe of the episodes. If the producers come to Portland for a podcast about an urban legend, the narration puts the listener as a viewer of an event that has already taken place. The moment the ruptures into that timeline becomes incorporated into the podcast, the “truth” of the podcast also starts to blur the distance between the listener and the producers, so to speak. The moments, like the “break in” in Episode 7 or the moment Marc Sims – Reuben’s partner – surfaces on the podcast, it is a universe that one can “believe” in. These are moments that are performed for the audience and are given access to. The moment when Marc Sims’ partner Reuben seemingly hangs up on the producers, there is no layer that protects the listener from the fact that there is an “unknowability” – not only from the seeming mystery of the entire narrative, but also where does the contour of this ‘unknowledge’ stem from? The slow burn of the layers that the listener can always insert into this podcast is where the proximity between the podcast and its listeners lies – it can always be negotiated with more commonsense questions. Like: a. Was it Marc? Was Reuben delusional? Does it matter?

As a listener, I am not that bothered by the “fact-or-fiction” question of the two podcasts (Slate has already called The Polybius Conspiracy it fake, btw). What is more fascinating to me is precisely this residue of the contour between the two kingdoms of fact and fiction that are opposing only in theory. In the way most narratives unfold, the two things are merely versions where one layer enriches the other. The form of the podcasts – used rarely to bring up such important questions – is ripe for such experiments and we are luckier for it.

My recommendations for podcasts this time?

a. Doosra by BBC is one of the most refreshing sports podcasts. Mainly on cricket but also about a bunch of kids of South Asian origin who talk about society, family, sports, nationalism, and lots and lots of cricket. This is an unmissable one.

b. Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything had two extraordinary episodes in the False Alarm! series that deserve a double shout-out

c. Radiolab‘s “Unraveling Bolero” is one of the most moving and astonishing things I have heard in a long long time.

Sound Candy 27.02.2018

“The Assassination” podcast with BBC’s Owen Bennett-Jones is nearing its season-finale. If I could recommend one podcast this January, it’d be this one. It is so well-researched and well-produced that it makes you feel the historicity of the moment with new-clips and interviews with people who were right there as Benazir Bhutto was murdered. This week caps off the series and I’d recommend a podcast-binge from the very first one.

 

The second podcast that I loved this last ten days was the one on Bijlmer by 99% Invisible. Again, Roman Mars and co. are superb and I’d highly recommend checking out their article along with the podcast episode itself.

 

One of favorite podcasters posted recently, which I am extremely happy about. The Kitchen Sisters are one of the most radically innovative producers and everything they tackle in their podcasts. If you have not listened to the one about the “Bone Records” in Russia, this would be the time to rectify that grave mistake in your life.

This week, though, they had a story about an exiled writer that because of my own research interests, was something that was moving, hilarious and at times, simply enchanting. The interplay of text and voices weave to create something more than an episode about Guillermo Cabrera Infante; it was simply excellent podcasting.

 

The last podcast from last week is by The Guardian’s Book podcast which is an excellent place to listen to and actually discover new podcasts. Last week, in a rather charming interview with a woman who has documented her loss of memory in a book, I was left wondering how I would respond if I had to choose between losing my sense of smell or taste or, say, the memory of my lovers and poems. This was one of the podcast episodes I know I will go back to over time simply because it asks questions that have many complicated entries into the theatre of the mind.