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(ILR) Ritaban Ghosh: Towards Invisible Palpabilities – Unknotting Vacillations in Violence

Updated: Jul 12

Case Study

Power, suppression, and exclusion become intertwined and palpable in ostensibly unconnected and unintentional acts, that, when viewed through time and proximity, concertedly sabotage the outnumbered, the outgunned, and the outlanded in the tinderbox of India today. The case studies I intend to explore through this residency are experiences and realisations that ring discordant undergirded by the subterraneanities, subdermalities, and subneuralities of violence. They are hostilities that overwhelm time and space, overcast corporeal affectivities, overpower perception and cognition, and wound the individual and the community. They are cruelties that are purposive, somatic, selfish, and collective. Transformation, change, revolution therefore, may also be thought, felt, and pursued with intention, empathy, and togetherness.

Case Study I: Criminality in the Panchang

On August 14, 2023, the Director General of Police in the state of Uttar Pradesh issued a directive, instructing all district police chiefs and commissioners to identify the monthly Amavasya (no moon) dates according to the Hindu panchang (calendar) to monitor and map crimes occurring during these 'darker nights'. He claimed that this "scientific, traditional method" was more suited to a Hindu state than the Gregorian calendar imposed by colonial rule, as "criminal elements become more active at night", leading to increased incidents of "murder, loot, dacoity, theft, and crimes against women."

Especially since the ascension to power of the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party at the centre and godman Yogi Adityanath's installation at the helm of the state, Uttar Pradesh has led the nationwide surge in communal violence. Children with guns ape men at play, dense gates forcibly resettle neighbourhoods, police protect stones to rewrite history, cow vigilantes and anti-Romeo squads slay, harass and run amok patrolling roads infiltrated by fear, mistrust and unease.

This emphasis on religious timekeeping, discipline and punishment is uncomfortable not only because it echoes the broader trend in contemporary India of weaponising myth and abandoning reason as means of coercion and control, but also because

violence reconstitutes both space and time to serve its own purposes. If the onus of violence is located in the mere presence of a particular space or time, it empowers individuals who commit acts of violence to evade accountability as such assertions - even structural or cultural - are densely rooted in individual or group choices, purposes, and actions.

Case Study II: Unconcern in the Islands

Separated by 18.36 nautical miles, Nayachar, and the inequitable ambitions of capital, Ghoramara, an endangered island in the Hooghly River as it plunges into the Bay of Bengal, witness the ecological and social rift that widens between itself and Haldia, an industrial town harbouring a major port in West Bengal as it onloads and ofloads millions of tons of steel, iron ore, coal, petroleum, chemicals, and parts.

The island, its forests, waters, chars, and lives coalesce into rhizomatic hydrosocial networks, negotiated by the relentless transmutability of the milieu. Its inhabitants are rendered ecological refugees amidst devastating, uncontrollable, and overwhelming riverine constellations. Rising sea levels, worsening soil profile, magnifications of salinity, disintegrating lands, and recurrent tropical cyclones create a shared sense of disassociation, dislocation, and alienation. As its expanse dwindles to 12% of itself in merely over the last fifty years, its inhabitants battle deprivations of civic goods and insecurities of health, food, education, and employment.

The dock complex and the rapid diminishment of contiguous islands were both conceived in the 1960s. Dynamised by the forces of national assertion and international trade economy, Haldia has unfolded into three-laned roadways, streetlights, apartments, universities, hospitals, and all other accompaniments that sustain the vital core of life. Yet all is not well. Migrant populations dwell in tin-roof homes beside those roads, the cityƋs water supply is dangerously replete with heavy metal pollution, the marine biota is intruded, and the air is thick with sulphurous smog as smoke and particles settle on flowers, terraces, and lungs. The riverbed is dredged to allow the ingress and egress of heavy vessels, and as the displaced silt is forced

into depositions elsewhere, new formations interrupt the flow of water which exerts heightened wave pressure on nearby islands, exacerbating erosion and inundation.

This violence of technological excess, colonial disfigurement, governmental apathy, unsustainable industrialisation, resource capture, and ecological marginalisation overlooks the certainty that all earthly fates are intertwined in their conjoint genealogies and tomorrows.

Conceptual framework

The conceptual underpinnings of this research are perpetually evolving. At present, the notions of subterrainianity, subdermality, subneurality, and collective scripts of empathy are crystallised from the following imaginaries:

"Slow violence" (Nixon 2011) allows harm to unfold gradually and imperceptibly, as its insidious nature accrues over time and across spaces. This sheds light on the obscured brutality inherent in certain environments and builds upon the notion of "structural violence" (Galtung 1969), which extends the scope of violence beyond direct physical encounters to include suffering perpetuated by unequal social conditions. Contrary to conventional notions of violence as immediate and spectacular, slow violence is subtle yet consequential, disproportionately affecting marginalised communities (Carson 1962, Fanon 1963). This resonates with the concept of "necropolitical injury", wherein communities endure prolonged suffering that erodes bodily integrity.

The importance of violence occurring in the everyday, and thus, un-locatable in any particular time and space, necessitates hermeneutic techniques that focus on defamiliarisation and subterrainianity. Subterrainianity refers to unearthing something that operates or is located behind the calmness and familiarity of daily life. Defamiliarisation aims to disrupt familiar patterns of thought by presenting ordinary things in a manner that renders them unrecognisable. It is akin to the "distancing effect" (Brecht 1964) and the pursuit of new modes of alienated aesthetic analysis amidst the "age of technological reproducibility" (Benjamin 1968).

Understanding how the body becomes a site of violence requires an exploration of the interplay between power dynamics, knowledge practices, and modes of subjectivation. It involves scrutinising the epistemologies and systems of indexing that inform interpretations of the world and the ways in which bodies are described, evaluated, and subjected to control in various institutional settings. It entails examining how individuals internalise and enact knowledge about the body prescribed by scientific, medical, psychological, religious, and moral authorities (Foucault 2011, Lemke 2011). Violence not only externalises itself onto the body but also infiltrates the very fabric of societal and physiological structures, shaping our nerves, bones, and blood into contested terrains of control and brutality. This subdermal violence operates surreptitiously through the conduit of consumption, digestion, and excretion, as we assimilate societal inequalities and injustices at a molecular level and our identities and actions are shaped by it (Rose 2007).

Authoritarian practices not only shape our discursive capacities through rigorous disciplinary measures, stringent control mechanisms, and meticulously orchestrated rhetoric management, but also infiltrate the depths of our psyche, becoming subneural as they are deeply ingrained within the intricate neural pathways that govern our cognition. These indelible imprints murmuring the exchangeability of individuals and market transactionality of human relations transcend the boundaries of individual existence, becoming genetically encoded and transmitted across generations. They are encrypted into our unconscious and imaginations as the inequality and structural violence inherent to capitalism pervades in the logistics of computation, shaping the real-time organisation of our practices and thought (Beller 2018). The symbolic and structural violences of computational capital and neuropower render us all complicit as these violences impact the neural plasticities of the brain, memory, sensation, and the construction of what we perceive as real, fair, and secure (Vygotsky 1979, Ranciere 2006, Deleuze, 1992, Lazzarato 2006). They permeate us through socialisation and enculturation, shaping how we view communities as significant or trivial, and cruelty as illegitimate or justified ƅ breeding conditions ripe for the enactment of epistemic-hermeneutic violence, injury, and death (Kidd, Medina and Gaile 2017, Rabaka 2015, Fricker 2007).

The conceptions of empathy and collectivity draw from perceptions of care as value and practice. Its emphasis on relationality, materiality, and emotion (Held 2006) allows it to cohere to the collective manner, and to not only legitimise but "care with" all life through attentiveness, responsibility, responsiveness, and competence, facilitating social trust and solidarity (Tronto 2015). Indeed, care and empathy are most possible in the collectivity because it can effectively coordinate and satisfy large-scale and heterogeneous basic needs like safety and security, clean environment, and public goods through the equitable allocation of collective care toward the "inevitable dependencies of human life" (Engster 2007). This is tied to the conception of 'struction', or co-presence without coordination or disorder, explicating how plural and incommensurable forms of lives prevail and are equitably conserved within the radical contingency of community (Nancy 2015) and multitude (Hardt and Negri 2001).


The case studies are circumstances of subterranean, subdermal, subneural violence. The condemnation of cosmic regularities of darkness and light seeks to exonerate the convergence of state, police, and majoritarianism into inaction, discord, and loathing. It also signals how discourses, epics, and myths that were part of many childhoods have been weaponised for the purposes of the inflating State fixated on intervening into the very bodies of its citizens, into reframing their constitutions and imaginations, so that more are created to carry forth its cruelty. The denunciation of planetary naturalities of tidal ebb and flow and terrestrial mutation endeavours to acquit the crystallisation of government, industry, and community elites into apathy, venality, and negligence. It also announces how transactionalities of profit and loss weave convincing cognitive, emotive, material inescapabilities of devastation, disinheritance, and disillusionment amongst those least lucrative and most vulnerable, so that transgressed social contract of monopolised power conditional on everlasting deference to the common good of all is slowly standardised.

Through this residency, I intend to understand how these axes of subterrainianity, subdermality, and subneurality manipulated by violence may be re-envisioned and re-harnessed to touch, feel, and become collective scripts of empathy. The model I will work on will seek to realise, through new historical research, archival rushes, notes, and sound, how upheaval may be provoked through collective scripts of empathy (CSoE). It will perceive the kinesis of empathy as collective artistic practice, drawing from embodied conversations, confluences, discourses, and rituals, to realise how agencies of exchange, co-creation, and convergences engender disruptions and redefinitions of power. It will declare that the same knowledges, affections, and interminglings fostered by regimes of production and power, may also be rethought to undermine them. It will introspect defiance as shared doing-thinking, negotiation, legacies, and the interwovenness of all fears. It will unfold the sedimentations of impossibly artificed conformity, assemblage, and spectacle, and find amidst them something resolutely inimitable, autonomous, and free.

The conception of CSoE contests the context of collective, symbolic, epistemic, and bodily injustice, inequality, and exclusion familiar across the country. It recognises that as custodians of power communicate in a bubble of their hegemonic language,

they constitute nexuses of masculine infringement as spaces exclusionary to all else, embodied among its custodians who surrogate for fleeting landscapes of gangrenous criminality. Intervention into these dialectical hierarchies of stratified signifiers may be imagined through collective, shared, interwoven discoveries of shared scripts of commonality that allow for comingling and coexistence of difference - not through its subsidence into uniformity but through its dynamic potentialities of synthesis. It may be conceived through the perception of empathy as the motive force of dialogic coming-together that also possesses capacities of subterrainianity, subdermality, and subneurality and suffuses beyond territory, skin, and thought. CSoE is therefore the causal bind of empathy and copresence that challenges the capitalistic pedagogies of intolerance, homogenisation, and disrespect to imagine communities of potentiality, love, and hope.

CSoE as envisioned is intentional, affective, granular, associative, and interpretive, challenging the fissures that are splintered between the individual and the collective in thought, art, and knowledge, and seeking the co-construction of agency and structure. It acknowledges the inherent contingency of reality and our positions in this world, it demands the awakening of an empathetic culture of commons that integrates the local and global, human and non-human, and it dissents those polymorphic forces that conjure fabricated fantasies of the consumable everything, everywhere, all at once, upon the fatality of what naturally ought to have been. It ruptures and renegotiates time and space, takes them apart, and reconstitutes the assertions of violence for its revolutionary, praxiological purposes.

In the course of this residency and through the exploration of this model, I hope to introspect how we may embed ourselves in community not through immersion but through discursive selfhood, and fathom how transformation is only possible amidst empathy, revolution is only possible amidst love.

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