language - the hidden meanings

v g baburaj

When Budha had to communicate with people, he refused to use Sanskrit for it was a very secluded and elite language. Instead, he used 'Pali', the commoner's language then. That was a time, the knowledge was meant to know Sanskrit. And Sanskrit meant Brahmins. Thus the so called knowledge was protected from infiltrating to the common man. Because the common man need not know.

Communication is the basic link that connects individual to individual in forming a society. Hence, one could say that the language, which is the communication platform, defines a society and thus its culture. So, beyond the geographical factors, language(s) can create societies within societies or even societies with multi-layers with complex interconnectivities, within a geographical border, India for instance.

A language is used to disconnect from a section of the society as much as it is used to connect with another. A sample of Indian society will illustrate this in detail. Besides creating many layers within a society, language also becomes a key tool to discriminate and thereby to control. In ancient India, the Brahmins did that through Sanskrit. And in contemporary India, the urban elite would do it through his pseudo language and the artist would do it through his pseudo art.

The paradox of paradoxes or the intellectual feudalism!!

In contrast with the Indian history of feudal and brahminical dominance, the story of the leftist political groups and many of the NGO groups (who persistently insisted on uplifting the oppressed) is one, full of paradoxes. As the ideologies and the theories got 'perfected', they no longer could communicate in an 'imperfect' layman's language. Therefore they manufactured a language that of a higher degree of purity and substance as they 'invented' these theories in their academic laboratories.

Greek to the layman, or should we say the rebirth of Sanskrit that was dead long back, such a language generated awe and inferiority to the commoner. What if the he could not relate with it, the new breed of brahmins baptised in a language perfected with unique vocabularies and jargons, could very well understand all the problems of the commoner, the downtrodden and the oppressed. The layman need not worry about his immediate social / political problems, as only the new set of brahmins would know what is prescribed in the 'holy books'.

The authority of knowledge (through a strategic use of language) is thus re-established. Sampling their literature or witnessing their discussions would be more than convincing. In today's India, to become 'socially concerned' also means to graduate to a new set of sophisticated vocabulary and jargons.

From Kathakali to Modern Art

Like Sanskrit, Kathakali, the feudal art form of Kerala, created a class within the society, who had an exclusive access to the art and the rest of the society did not. This was possible through a greater level of stylisation in it's codified narrative. Only an audience who is trained as much as the practitioner of the art form, would be able to decode the narrative and then to appreciate it. Further, Kathakali was able to maintain its premium through its restricted venues of temples and of the lords. Later when Kathakali was introduced to the public outside its restricted venues, it still maintained its pedigree through its codified language, cutting off any access to the commoner, like the proverb, only a fool (read the common man) can pretend to be enjoying without knowing what's going on. A fitting statement on the modern art too.

Modern art took itself to elitism, perhaps from a different point, almost accidentally. The invention of photography paused a huge question to those who were trying to copy reality at its superficial level, in their art. Photography could deal with a far greater amount of detailing, within a small fraction of a time. This forced the realistic artists to seek new purposes to their medium altogether and to redefine art itself.

Though, the challenge to overcome photography, has produced some of the greatest artists in history, by making their art more expressive and by channelling the dynamics that were relevant to their times. Works of artists like Van Gaugh, Paul Gougin, Henri Roussau etc. are good examples of this. But, eventually art gave in for many many linguistic exhibitionists (Picasso, Braque, Mondrian etc) who started celebrating their art as a mere cerebral lingo-circus. Everyone who was in a race to make a mark for himself found an easier shortcut by indulging in a style or language of his own. A language that disconnected with people out side, because they had no training in decoding it. A language that communicated only to the artist himself or to a small elite group around him. In fact their mental orgasms were defined by others not getting their art. Uniqueness of an artist was equalled by his form alone. Shallow facades are equated with profoundness and mystery. People who are mere linguists are wrongly projected as visionaries.

Modern art has nothing much to communicate, no content, no relevance to the society. It only has the form, the language. It has attained the heights of growth in terms of its language, heights of sophistication to say. Artists live in those Ivory towers. Irrevocably alienated from society and people.

Modern art, a product of the world wars and the industrial revolution, became a symbol of aggression and degeneration. Perhaps a sense of negation, absurdity and a catastrophic atmosphere around, that were the effects of the war, would have caused art to outbreak into a plague of abstracts. But ironically the more devastating and lasting effect on humanity was caused by the kind of art propagated by the modern artists than the war itself. Their avant garde art ignited a whole movement of language (form) and intellectualism in art. Humanity lost its potential medium that was nurtured by civilisations through ages. Art departed from people and society to the hands of an opportunist crowd around the art galleries. Art promoters, critics, theoreticians, art collectors et all. A business flourished. And no saviours came shouting with a whip, 'Out! the apostles, the merchants, the thieves and the pimps'.

Academism : a breeding ground for the lingo exhibitionists?

An industrial and technological world that is today, demands an academic system that would train, orient and condition us to the careers that would help us to survive. In this scenario, art is seen as nothing but a career. Just another career. A career aspiration like the one to become a cop, a doctor, a software engineer, a surveyor, or a pilot. These aspirants become exponents (masters with a degree) in art through a four to seven years of training. They acquire sufficient expertise in the chosen area of specialisation, in certain aesthetics, standards and processes. At the end of their training programmes, they are qualified to express. As an artist or as a clinical analyst or that of a critic. Or even to become an art teacher itself!! They all know how to do it, they only need to decide upon what and when!!!

Now the crucial question is, can artists be manufactured like a cop or an engineer or a surveyor? Can art be a career?

So long as a poet can be manufactured by training, like a crane operator! So long as poetry can be produced like scented, ribbed condoms.

No art schools can produce artists, no film schools can produce filmmakers. They remain good technicians and academicians, good enough to ponder over the language, the form, the aesthetics. A true artist is a visionary, the one who seeks the meaning and the purpose of him being an artist. His perspective of truth would inspire the society and its institutions to change from its degraded state.

But the academic artist would use his language and craft (form) to masquerade his lack of vision. His lack of vision would prompt him to over indulge in his area of expertise: the language. Thus the elite art is born, only to disconnect with the society. Artists, critics and academics who are mere insecure cowards, would build their inaccessible castles in order to protect their privileges, stature and luxuries from being taken away.

Why should society waste its resources to run art schools and film schools? Isn't it high time to shatter these institutions? (In my opinion, demolishing these massive enclosures will be wasting of public resources. But converting art galleries into brothels and art / film schools into animal rehabilitation centres will surely do more social good.)

Cinema: a boon or a curse?

The youngest art form in human history, cinema, soon enough realised its potential to become the most powerful medium of today. Both in the hands of the manipulators and the artists. The powers cinema possesses on one hand can destroy cultures and societies. On the other hand it can renew cultures and bring new values to societies in their journey into future. The fate of a society perhaps depends on which side their cinema moves to.

The fortunate thing about the modern art is, that it had no major bearing on the society. The artist secluded himself into the luxurious space of art galleries and to the intellectual game of language. The society too cut itself off from the art scenario, as it hardly had any interest in it because it was beyond the scope of its comprehension.

Unlike the modern art, cinema is still a medium people strongly relate with. (It has been abused and raped by the market manipulators for the same reason). The only ray of hope has been the few films that invoked deeper concerns about the society and beyond. But how long that kind of filmmaking would last? On one side the crass entertainment films. The other side a growing trend of shallow experiments in the form alone, sans content. The going is getting tougher for the meaningful cinema.

The digital media explosion fused with the video art movements, (which is an extension of modern art) can possibly trap cinema into another cerebral circus of language. Like the one that happened to the modern art.

With the art film circuits celebrating films of Dogme 95, forthcoming Dogmes 2005, 2053, Lars Von Trier, Gert De Graff…..etc, the bell starts to ring. A disaster in the air!

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