The double visage.


notes towards the end of the Nepal text for Canada….

My beef with the travel story version of Nepal is that here South Asia appears on the world screen most often as a ‘realist’, but usually tragic, news item. Images of villages awaiting rescue from cyclone, flood, earthquakes, riot, famine. Images of high mountain military stand off or besieged temples, mosques, cave complex and Al Qaeda training camps: tourism and television are particularly well suited to containing tragedy within a box. On the small screen it is images and stereotypes or clichés that move. ‘Things happen to images, not people’ as the French theorist Gilles Deleuze once said (and I quote this like a souvenir, which equally contains). But representation of Asia indicates a corresponding nether side to the tragic image – there is also a simultaneous positive gloss that is equally ideological – the fascination with tradition. Sound bite emotional containment fuels the global rumour of a mythical third world Asia that is both traditional in dress and architecture (the Taj Mahal, camels, rustic musicians) and is a modern mess born of a debased modernity, that perhaps (the argument implies) only the restitution of colonialism could redeem, (in the mindset of the imperialist power).

The double visage of South Asia abroad is fantasy and sensation. On the one hand, the Hindi film glitz or traditional exotica of temples, rich fabrics, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. On the other, disaster, war, cotton-clad politicians discussing nuclear weaponry, Maoists, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. This doubled representation follows an ideological investment that eases and erases imperial guilt. From abroad, it is clear (the wish is) that the vibrancy (temples, fabric) of South Asia has not been destroyed despite the (rarely or reluctantly acknowledged) impact of 300 plus years of colonialism and more recent structural adjustment programmes visited on the place. Reassured by tourist brochures that most of the temples and holy sites remain, the disasters are attributed to contemporary dysfunctions: poverty, corruption, mismanagement and revolutionaries. Such reasoning, sometimes explicit, affirms that South Asia’s problems are South Asian, and that the departure of paternal colonial rule was perhaps premature. A self-serving ideological psychic defence, to be resolved by more ‘development’ aid…

The sheer diversity of a continent of images is thereby channelled into a narrow ideological repertoire.
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(and I am really having trouble finishing this piece because its another one of those I would normally have sent to Imogen to read, and I just cannot understand why she is gone. Its terrible and cruel. Drek drek drek. All thoughts to her family.)
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