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[xmca] Kaustuv Roy and the Social Mediation of Despair

First of all, let me wholeheartedly endorse Kaustuv Roy's book, and also his paintings, and also his new project for a community art centre. Roy is a pluralist in the very best sense; not the common po-mod variety who builds pluralism on a general lack of seriousness, or the practical sort who is a jack of all trades, but rather a deeply critical pluralist who sees all paradigms as partial and no paradigm as perfect, and derives from precisely this source the need for social mediation with everything.
Including emotion! If you look at his paintings you can see that almost all of them have some kind of ideational foreground embedded in an affective background. I was pleasantly surprised at the optimism of the paintings, since as David Kirshner remarks his book is a deeply pessimistic one. I am sure that Roy's new teaching assignment agrees with him, and as Jesus Christ says somewhere, it is better to be loved than tenured.
And, secondly, for something (not) completely different. I'm in China, in my wife's hometown of Xi'an, and it's the dead of winter. The streets are dusty, people are cold and hungry, it is almost time for Spring Festival, and fabulous amounts of money are sloshing around, directly over our heads and just out of reach.
Just as there is a distinctively Jewish kind of humor, there is a distinctively Chinese sort. In fact, I think the two are consanguinous, although probably not on speaking terms. Here's an example, which my sister-in-law told me the other day.
"A farmer had two pigs. The little pig complained about the food and the accomodation, but the big pig told him that he was being ungrateful. "We have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep, we can shit anywhere we like. All we have to do is to show our gratitude by eating and sleeping and shitting as gratefully as we can." So the little pig and slept and shat as much as a pig could, and when it came time to choose a pig for Spring Festival slaughter, the little pig was not so little any more. As the farmer took the pig for his table, the big pig told him that he was lucky; he, the big pig, had lived there for many years and he never got invited to the Spring Festival feast even once...."
As you can see, there are some common elements with Jewish humor: the expectation of disaster and the social mediation of despair. There are also some different elements, though: the self-serving nature of gratitude and also of injunctions to be grateful, and above all the rather un-Jewish critique of a concept I can only call "dao mei".
"Dao mei" means that you are damned. Your evil fate is preordained, and any attempt to resist it will simply make your ignominious failure and immanent collapse longer, more complicated, and still more undignified. It's a very Chinese idea, as well as a Jewish one of course. But in some ways the CRITIQUE of "dao mei" is even more Chinese. 
Here's another example:
"A pig farmer tried to save money by raising his own corn. He bought some fertilizer to help it grow, but it was fake, so the crop died. In despair, he bought insecticide to poison himself and his whole family at a farewell banquet, but it was fake so everybody survived. His son was so overjoyed at the failure of the suicide attempt that he bought Chinese liquor to celebrate. It was fake, so everybody died."
On the face of it, this is a perfect example of "dao mei". But when you really look at it, you will see that it is just like the first joke: the choices you make do matter, but the problem is that you don't have quite enough information by yourself to make them properly. The social mediation of despair is your only hope, but it is also an endless mine of new despair.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 

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