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Interview with Sourav Kargupta (guest researcher)

From September 2019 until February 2020, Dr. Sourav Kargupta is a guest researcher in the CRC 1015 Otium. In his research project, the comparative literature scholar with special interests in feminist theory and posthumanism addresses gender and otium in the context of Bengali literature and cinema. He talks about his work in this interview.

During your stay at the SFB 1015 Muße you are mainly concerned with the gendering of otium. Which questions are at the center of your research and what role does otium play in the process?

The full title of my project is The Restless ‘Negotiation’: ‘Gendering of Otium’ and the Prosthesis of (Woman’s) Writing in Selected Bengali Literature and Cinema, and it studies representations of the figure of the lonely ‘upper class housewife’ in Bengali short stories written by Rabindranath Tagore–especially in “Nastanir” (1901)–as well as in the cinematic textualization of the same in Charulata (English title: The Lonely Wife, 1964, Satyajit Ray’s adaptation of “Nastanir”). The core question is: whether there is a difference, empirically and conceptually, between a male use of otium, and a woman’s negotiation, mainly through the prosthesis of auto-biographical writing, with her ‘free’ time as a persistent interruption of that male use.

 

Your latest publication is entitled “‘Why more accounts do not mention flies’: Deconstruction, or the Corpse of Man Cut by the Insect” (2019). Does this work already lead to a scientific or biographic path to otium?

It is fair to say that my concerns in that article have deep connections to the project I am pursuing at the SFB Muße. There I interrogate whether a historically located violence on the body of the gendered subaltern can be made ethically legible (specifically, I read a moment of sudden textual transgression, as a certain archival mark that can be called ‘non-human’ overflows the disciplinary contours of a feminist historiography of the ‘sati debate’), where no normative or institutional frame can provide any clear or unbiased account. This connects to the project ‘Gendering of Otium’, since here too, the focus is on mapping ‘material non-human’ prostheses (in this case: ‘writing’) through which the female figures, in the texts under consideration, might be read as accessing their own sense of labour and otium. In short, both of these projects try to think of the legibility of gendered traces beyond the representational economy of the given intra-hu-man normative structures.

 

On the basis of which works, the rendering of otium becomes particularly clear? What is your philosophical or personal approach to this?

As mentioned earlier, I mainly read specific Bengali literary and cinematic texts. Now if otium can only be understood by referring to intentional presence or absence of human labour, does that make it a thoroughly ‘human’ idea? Or does its heterogeneity contest even the limit of the ‘human’? How does such overflow of the ‘human’ help or hinder a gendered understanding of ‘otium’? Can such an understanding transgress the easy binaries between labour and otium, activity and inactivity? Following these complex threads, I propose to argue that the ‘gendered otium’ might be traced as an affective prosthesis of time, challenging all such binaries. The method loosely follows what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak terms a “practical deconstructivist feminist Marxist position on the question of [affective] value”.