Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Positionality

Of late, I have come across several discussions whose main theme is the issue of positionality: who is saying what, and to what effect. For instance, several essays about the Wendy Doniger case bring up the issue of western academics writing about non-western subjects - while refraining from making unambiguous claims about the writer's intentions, they nevertheless cast aspersions on the same by intermittently evoking 'Orientalism'. So, while we are told that we are not to misconstrue their take on the Doniger case as a critique of her purported 'Orientalist' position, we are constantly nudged in that direction. Similarly, a few critiques of the film Blue Is the Warmest Colour tell us that the director's male gaze produces a rendition of female sexuality that is reductive and exploitative. These critiques excoriate the specifically 'male' depiction of sexually voracious female characters and locate the work within a paradigm of 'male' control over representations. The underlying argument that emerges from these critiques is that the artist's or writer's identity and location can legitimize or delegitimize a work of art or scholarship. It is not so much 'what is being said' but rather 'who is saying what' that determines its critical reception. This, to me, serves to undermine not only the artist or scholar, which is obvious, but also art and scholarship in general. Interrogating positionality is no doubt essential and is something that emerged from various histories of anti-hegemonic struggles, but making positionality the overarching schema of criticism is opportunistic and self-defeating.

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