objects of research: Titania Palast, Berlin

A Kino in Berlin

We begin in a kino (cinema) in Berlin. Post-Berlin is battered and bruised far more than almost any city in the world. The Allies have carved up the city into four administrative zones: the British, French, American, and Russian sectors respectively. This is also where people who are concerned about culture from the Allied sector are wondering how to regenerate “culture” in this city again. Some of them are scheming.

Berlin, 1945

To make this more complicated, it would seem like the Allies already have areas of influence that will ultimately result in Berlin being divided between the East and the West, just like Germany itself. This is where West Berlin needs a pick me up. Surrounded by the “East”, West Berlin hosts the first Congress for Cultural Freedom conference on the 26th of June 1950. The venue is Titania Palast.

Titania Palast is one of those spaces in Berlin that surfaces again and again under the auspices of historical circumstances. It was one of the biggest cinema halls in Berlin when it was inaugurated in 1928. Most people know it today as the cinema where the Americans started the International Berlin Film Festival, better known as the Berlinale, in 1951. It was the spot where the first concert of the Berliner Philharmonie took place after World War II (1945). It is also where the Freie Universität’s “Gründungsversammlung” took place on 4th of December 1948. Much of this is commemorated on a plaque outside.


This is where the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) begins its work. The Congress itself was attended by quite a few famous writers, philosophers, and “thinkers”; names like Tennessee Williams and Bertrand Russell come up when we look at the list today. What did they do there? They drew up a manifesto against “all encroachments on the creative and critical spirit of man”.

Since this is during the Cold War, and just after the Berlin Blockade, this well-attended congress in West Berlin is also hinting at the Communists across the border (not far from Titania Palast) who are, then, those who are controlling thought. Declassified documents have of course shown that much of this was funded by the CIA. But at the time, the Congress for Cultural Freedom was the space for culture. And this is where we also meet Mike Josselson.

Josselson appears in the introduction of Campaigning Culture and the Global Cold War: The Journals of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (edited volume by Giles Scott-Smith and Charlotte A. Lerg) as the enigmatic American of Estonian origin who spoke English, German, French, and Russian. Josselson, who had already been in Germany for interrogations of German POWs, quickly becomes a part of the CCF and starts convincing intellectuals to serve as editors in the global struggle against Marxism/Communism. This was reported by the New York Times in 1966 as well.

With that background, we land in Bombay.

Berlin to Bombay

Bombay was the venue for the second conference of the CCF. Given its Non-Alignment Movement times, it is not surprising that the CIA was worried that “that Indian intellectuals, artists, and writers might also refuse to take sides.” (Pullin 285) Hence, they land in India for the second iteration of the congress.

Even as I write this, I am not sure of the amount of work that has been done or should be done on Indian poetry’s publication circles and this conference in 1951 (Pullin). The Indian Congress for Cultural Freedom (ICCF) has its own little history that I will not go into. What comes out of this is the Quest magazine, the archive of which lives in a bizarre Freedom First website these days. I have to Eric Pullin’s work here as exemplary in this field and that is who the reader should go for that part. There is also a Graziano Kratli’s essay that touched upon this briefly.

The part that amused me as I went down this rabbit-hole was to imagine a poetry reading. This is what I will end with.

It is probably warm as the communist/pacifist Allen Ginsberg starts reading his poetry on the balcony of Ebrahim Alkazi, the Bombay theatre director (Nerlekar 61) in 1962. Not far away, Arthur and Glorya Hale are in their Nariman Point apartment where they await instructions from Harry Rositzke, who was their CIA station chief in Delhi (Kratli 185). Nissim Ezekiel, one of the editors of Quest, publishes almost every poet who was probably there in that Ginsberg poetry reading. Ezekiel does not remain the editor of Quest for a long time. But for that brief moment, Ezekiel is the best fit that Scott-Smith and Lerg write about in their introduction: Journal editors who were “often well-known intellectual personae in their national contexts and beyond, and their public standing both required and allowed them to demonstrate a certain degree of independence from Paris (and of course, from the United States).” (13)

Curiously, as I start digging into Indian poetry’s publishing circles and connections, I find myself within 20 mins from Titania Palast in Berlin. I take the S-Bahn, across the former borders that divided the East and West sides of Berlin, and end up at a generic Kino in Berlin. There is no sign of the CCF and its history in this place now. They call it Cineplex Titania now. There is a plaque, of course. And as Roman Mars says, always read the plaque.

Further Reading

Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer

Supriya Nair, Publishing Revolutionary Road

Francis Stoner Saunders, Who Paid the Piper

Michael Warner, Origins of the CCF

Giles Scott-Smith and Charlotte A. Lerg (ed.), Global Cold War: Third World Intervention and the Making of the Cold War
– Eric Pullin, “QUEST: Twenty Years of Cultural Politics”

objects of research

I have long wondered the fate of this blog. This website started as a post-midnight idea one winter night in Kreuzberg where I lived between 2015-2018. As the years have progressed, I have undertaken quite a few foiled ideas on this blog. Yesterday, as I started reading on a particular archive, something of a clarity brick fell upon my post-midnight brain. This is about the future of this blog.

The Blog as an Archive Machine

The essential use of this blog has always been to aid some form of archiving; hence being named, archivbox. The name came from this cardbox I saw on the streets of Kreuzberg one day when I was taking a walk. The name seemed right for something that is a relic of internet culture: the blog. Now that I am writing and reading things about archives of Indian poetry and about postcolonial literature in general, I am curious about blogging as a research phenomenon. Think of a reaction channel but somewhat more reflexive and definitely more background. With the possibilities of embedding and linking seemingly disparate and farfetched things together, a blog is the research journal we need to go about our business of thinking about things.

The Blog as a Journal

Given its the desultory existence, this blog, however has had no raison d’être so far. I find the thought of writing a private journal on the internet a little too voyeuristic if not downright self-centred. In the coming posts, this lack of purpose will be willed into something more productive in a more academic sense. The blog as a journal of a person is too boring. The blog as a roll-call of publication even more so. This is something else. This is about producing more content to make myself read and process more things. Notes, connections, archives, etc, etc.


Other than the usual tabs (About, Current), you can find all my posts about my objects of research in the links below:

  1. The One about Indian Oil
  2. The One about Titania Palast

objects of research: Indian Oil

One of these days, as one does, we come across a relic. It is a relic that feels alienating precisely because it is not our past. It is a past that we have not lived through. We cannot look back. This is the past of our grandparents, at best. For many of us who were born away from the urban centres, even that is a stretch. The imagination does not go that far, I want to say. To make up for imagination one does not possess, one must have the archival tonic. This became my way of understanding this past some years ago.

Today, as a part of my research on Indian poetry and magazines, I came across the archives of the Quest magazine. Looking at this magazine archive from the 1950s-1970s, this odd feeling came upon me. Indian Oil advertises Gauhati Refinery in 1960s. First public sector refinery built with Romanian assistance (because the Eastern Bloc was a thing). Among 173 rupee Agfa cameras with rangefinders that were sold only in Delhi, Calcutta and Madras, and Indian Airlines fares from Bombay to Colombo (daily!), is this news of hope of a refinery in Assam.

Did the readers of this magazine know where Assam was? Did they even know where Gauhati was? Would they know now? It is not just the odd juxtaposition of the Assamese refinery and the metropolitan spaces but the sheer distance that one sees from this moment of hope.

Names will change: Gauhati will become Guwahati, Madras Chennai. People will burn themselves in Assam in the name of this oil. All of that is a mere decade away. But in 1960s, it is still a different world. People can still cling on to some sort of hope that I cannot imagine inhabiting in 2020.

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 2

There is something obscenely calm about working from home in a situation like mine. There is a feeling of fear and uncertainty that all of us tacitly have but there is absolutely nothing to be done and hence, the balance shifts and the mind tries to get beyond things that seem decidedly bleak. Under those circumstances, today started well. I was very sure that all my work would be done post-midnight and only concentrated on doing the things that I have been a little tardy about. Like reading, taking out the trash, and getting the beautiful Spülmittel for our kitchen. Since I was sure we are all in the doldrums of the coronavirus, making calls all around seems like the order of the day. Make no mistake, communication channels keep people going in times like these. Making coffee and talking to a friend who are cross with me for not attending a get-together, I realised it was already past noon. There is something slippery about time after 8:30 am. It creeps up on you and beyond that time only calms down around 3 pm. Is that where our body-clock myths come from? I am not sure but it is good to have a guess.

I sense that working from 3 pm is not always ideal and did the most calming thing of all: clean the kitchen floor. Ever since I have been cooking at home (which helps not going out), the hard to get rid of stains on the floor multiply. I watch it with pitiful disdain; I have not qualms that it is still a stain but the circumstance of it is a loving one. I scrubbed the floor till I was satisfied with the scrubbing. It was not gleaming but for someone who does not mind a little bit of graininess in things, it was nothing short of spectacular. And then came the bit with the trash. Sorting trash is where one feels like an adult; it is the same kind of pleasure one finds in a hotel room alone on one’s first Work Trip. It is one of the cool distance you maintain with the surroundings; the trash—one that you created—finds its way to the sorting giant trash bins and suddenly everything seems fresher. That is what it takes for one to feel the dull and monotonous joys of adulthood.

Since then I have been reading Camus. The Plague intrigues me with the way it begins. In a way, all good French novels have the very strange narrator who is always there; it is not only unsettling but also odd in its complicity. The amateur historian has the same kind of haughty position as the narrator of Madame Bovary — the narrator was there. It was point so labored over that in his first class of Flaubert, my professor in college spent explaining the way it changes everything. Of the complicity of reading and the reader who is now as present as the narrator who is also recording it.

Since then Sheldon Pollock‘s work has been the “main course of the day”. That is an incredibly good introduction that he has in Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia. I am going to leave one good quote here from the book:

We can perceive this with unusual clarity in India as the Sahitya Akademi, at the moment of its founding, struggled with the dilemma presented by the very concept of Indian literature: “The main idea behind the program,” the Akademi declared in its First Annual Report, “is to build up gradually a consciousness that Indian Literature is one, though written in many  languages. One of the limitations under which our writers work is that a writer in one Indian language has hardly any means of knowing the work that is being done in other Indian languages.” In other words, none of those writers actually producing Indian literature knew that there was a singular Indian literature. It is the nation-state alone that knows, if only obscurely; or more accurately, it knows, if only tacitly, that it must produce what it is empowered to embody and defend. In this the nation acts exactly like literary history, and even like literary discourse itself, more broadly conceived.

Pollock 10

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:


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.