Our Political Misomusists

Artists featured at the Bengal-ITC SRA Music Festival. © Dhaka Tribune.

Artists featured at the Bengal-ITC SRA Music Festival. © Dhaka Tribune.

 Our Political Misomusists
by Tibra Ali for AlalODulal.org

It is an elementary fact of linguistics that the same word can carry different meanings. In particular, the word ‘Indian’ can have multiple meanings. A recent article (titled “Classical Music Festival 2013, India and our vulgar civility”) in the political blog Nuraldeen takes a few pot-shots at the massive and free Bengal Classical Music Festival held recently in Dhaka by attempting to conflate the following two meanings of the word ‘Indian’:

1. Something that is associated with the nation state of India.
2. Something that is culturally part of the Indian Subcontinent.

As Bangladeshis we have a rich cultural heritage that consists of many streams that have flowed down history across modern borders of nation states, geopolitics and religions. Indian classical music is one such heritage that belongs to all of us in Bangladesh and not just to those in India.

One of the questions raised by the writer of the article is about the timing of this festival and whether it is appropriate to have such a celebration at a grim time like this when people are dying from petrol bomb attacks by terrorists. My answer is that the timing of this festival has unfortunately coincided with a turbulent time in the national life of Bangladesh but surely a festival of this size requires months (if not a whole year) of planning and it is not possible to ‘cancel’ it to accommodate the whims of the dark political forces that rule Bangladesh. Nor should we do it.

The writer has also raised the question if there was a ‘public’ demand of for a festival like this? The enormous turnout at the festival is a loud answer to that question. But I suspect that the writer’s real aim is the ‘young middle and upper class urban families’ that he wants to somehow exclude from the ‘public’. (Read: the real public is the ‘Islamic’ subaltern.)

The article concludes by drawing the poor girl Felani into the whole thing, claiming that Bangladesh died that day with Felani and it is still dead. (Felani was a young girl who was brutally killed by the Indian Border Security Forces as she illegally attempted to cross the barbed-wire fence at the India-Bangladesh border; She was coming to Bangladesh to get married.) This is a tired old trick to stir-up anti-Indian sentiments in the reader. Please leave Felani out of it. You care about Felani only to the extend that her death serves your narrow political purposes (see here).

There are plenty of valid reasons to fight the Indian imperialistic aggression in Bangladesh and the region (such as Rampal, the indiscriminate killings at the border and many other issues) and there are honest people who are fighting this aggression at the grass-root level. (I happen to know a few and they have my utmost support and admiration.)

But attacking Indian classical music is not part of that fight. By equating our cultural heritage (which is multitudinous and broad) to narrow nationalistic and political identity, we are doing a great disservice only to ourselves as a people.

I normally wouldn’t write a reaction to such a post as the one posted on Nuraldeen as I consider it badly written but it represents a point of view about politicization of our cultural space that is symptomatic of a lot of discussions going on in Bangladesh right now that need to be addressed from apolitical points of view.

Milan Kundera once coined the word ‘misomusist’ which means someone who hates the arts. These so called political commentators, by viewing everything through the lens of politics, are nothing but misomusists and they should be recognized as such.

Addendum: 

Here is the full definition of misomusist from Milan Kundera’s essay “Sixty-Three Words” (emphasis mine):

MISOMUSIST. To be without a feeling for art is no disaster. A person can live in peace without reading Proust or listening to Schubert. But the misomusist does not live in peace. He feels humiliated by the existence of something that is beyond him, and he hates it. There is a popular misomusy just as there is a popular anti-Semitism. The fascist and Communist regimes made use of it when they declared war on modern art. But there is an intellectual, sophisticated misomusy as well: it takes revenge on art by forcing it to a purpose beyond the aesthetic. The doctrine of engagé art: art as an instrument of politics. The theoreticians for whom a work of art is merely the pretext for deploying a method (psychoanalytic, semiological, sociological, etc.). Democratic misomusy: the market as supreme arbiter of aesthetic value.

Tibra Ali is a theoretical physicist and a member of the Alal O Dulal editorial board.

Disclosure: Organizers of the Bengal festival include close family members of the author.

6 thoughts on “Our Political Misomusists

  1. Thank you Tibra Ali. I was disappointed and perplexed by the stand of that Nuraldeen piece. ‘Misomusy’ helped me pinpoint exactly why it bothered me.

    P.S. also appreciate how you’ve kept this post crisp and to-the-point.

  2. Thank you for an enlightening analysis of the politicization of our cultural heritage and the harms engendered from it. Divorcing our culture from Indian classical music because of Indian aggression on Bangladesh is a misguided endeavor. Such actions harm our culture rather than fight Indian imperialistic ambition.

  3. Well said. As one former professional musician who has come to love Asian music in all its forms, I abhor the attack on the festival for essentially political reasons.

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