Figuring Out the Figural in Goa

Although the reading habit is fast dying, we seem to have entered a reader’s world where we are habituated to read reality. This readability of reality and our enslavement to it needs explanation. Maybe we can begin with a provocative statement of Jean François Lyotard, (a French thinker) which proclaims that a text represses ‘the seen’(visible). Lyotard teaches that we can read only by no longer attending to what we are looking at, the graphic marks  positioned at invariable distances on a flat surface or a page. It is crucial here to understand that our attention does not dwell on the calligraphic character of the alphabets that are placed in a regular order on a paper or screen. We in fact see through these letters/ alphabets and try to arrive at a meaning that is standing outside the text. This means words function as windows that open on to another place. Those of us, who know about Plato’s world of ideas, may find a similarity with reading and the way the things of this world become copies of the ideas that inhabit the perfect world of Ideas. This means we disregard the visual materiality of words in the act of reading and focus our attention on the meaning conveyed by them. This occulted visibility is a condition that makes reading possible. The graphic letters become an impurity that has to be filtered out but in that very act it simultaneously becomes the very condition of the possibility of reading. The martial visibility ( alphabets) is impure and hence, has the potential to disrupt the act of reading if there is unusual typography , unexpected spacing, fonts etc. In short, to read is no longer to be able to look at the shape of letters/ alphabets. In some way this act of forgetting the martial visibility of a text is required to derive the meaning that emerges out of the text.

The material visibility of text has to simultaneously be both present and absent. Lyotard names this troubling aspect of the visible the figural. By figural he teaches that the martial visibility of the text can destabilize and disrupt the communicative flow of the text and we will not be able to figure out the meaning erupting out of it. In some way any change in the structure of the material organizabilty of the text, can disfigure the meaning erupting from it. This means the figural is violent. It can disfigure, disrupt, distort and deform. This insight is important to understand why we are threatened by any kind of otherness in our society. All kinds of otherness behave like a stain and have the power to destabilize the remaining levels of comfort that we enjoy in our society. Besides, the otherness that becomes figural can dismantle power equations in any society. Maybe, this is the reason why the others, the minorities, the dalits , women and tribals are attacked today in our country. We see how we Goans also come up in arms against the other, the figural non-Goan who has the power to disrupt and destabilize our society. The established grid of meaning, aesthetic sense, order and power are challenged and as a result we are drawn by a survival instinct to fight. In this context, we need to understand that this threat perception is based on aesthetics that governs our likes and dislikes and has to be purified by ethics that will guide our response.

An ethical response will require us to understand the dynamism of the figural in our society with critical attention. We can employ several figural modes to disrupt and fight public issues in Goa. We have seen the visceral politics employed by some famer of Tamil Naidu in Delhi. These famers used disruptive symbols like human skulls and drank their own urine to mark their protest against the Modi Government. Other famers threw milk on the road in Maharashtra, still others in Uttar Pradesh emptied sacks of potatoes in front of the residence of the chief minister. In all these cases and several others we may recall we can see the power of figural employed by the agitators. It is the figure that provides power to all protest movements. Maybe we have to understand the power of the figural and employ it creatively and responsibly in our emancipative struggles both nationally and locally in Goa. The growing disfiguration of Goa has pained us all. We understand the destruction that is going on. It has become figural and is disrupting and defacing the face of Goa. We need to critically reflect on this legitimate feeling of loss of Goa and arrive at an emancipative response that will emancipate Goa and us all. Staying with a mode of lament will not help. We may need to employ the power of the figural to stand up for Goa, Goans and Goan-ness. This reflection of the figure is powerful. The figural is all around us. The political parties are taping it to get votes , the advertisers are using it to make us buy mindlessly and Maybe the religions are using it. We have to become critical and instead of only consuming the figural, we have to employ it in creative and intelligent ways to save Goa, Goa and Goan-nesss.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao