Spectacles of blood (A Study of Masculinity and Violence in Postcolonial Films)

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Item Code: NAG205
Author: Swaralipi Nandi and Esha Chatterjee
Publisher: Zubaan Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9789381017159
Pages: 206
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 370 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This book addresses the current issues of violence, masculinity and power in the postcolonial context and their representation in films. The essays contribute critical insights into the analyses of films, based on societal violence in postcolonial cultures: be it in the context of colonial oppression, terrorism, genocide, communal riots, criminal underworld or mob violence etc.

The volume seeks to investigate some of those variegated facets of postcolonial 'violence' as they are played out in historically and culturally diverse public spaces of different postcolonial societies through the paradigm of cinematic representation. Although the book seeks to explore the phases of differences among postcolonial cultures, the essays hinge around common questions-How does the experience and representation of violence change with the specificity of the postcolonial cinemas negotiate ideas of conflict through the scenes of violence? How does violence as a cinematic trope shape postcolonial identities, especially of masculinities?

The authors set out to discuss these through the spectacle of violence in postcolonial films, consequently invoking issues of both representational and affective aspects of violence as a per formative act in the postcolonial public space.

About the Author

Swaralipi Nandi is a PhD candidate at the Department of English, Kent State University. She is also chief copy editor of Pakistani at, a journal of Pakistan studies.

Esha Chatterjee is an advanced PhD scholar at the Department of Sociology, Social Anthropology and Social work, Kansas State University.


This volume brings together original discussions on the multiple manifestations of violence, represented in films, in varied postcolonial cultures. Violence has been an integral part of the (post) colonial experience whether in the processes of colonization and anti-colonial movements, in the formation of the independent nation-states or the Diasporas and in the conflicts of modern postcolonial societies. Yet, like any other postcolonial concept, postcolonial violence too is nuanced with differences and ambiguities. This volume investigates some of those variegated facets of postcolonial violence's as they are played out in historically and culturally diverse public spaces of different postcolonial societies through the paradigm of cinematic representation. As much as we seek to explore the phases of differences, the essays hinge around common questions. How does the experience and representation of violence change with the specificity of the postcolonial context? How do postcolonial cinemas negotiate ideas of conflict through violent scenes? How does violence as a cinematic trope shape postcolonial identities, especially that of masculinities? The volume sets out to discuss these through the spectacle of violence in postcolonial films, consequently invoking issues of both representational and spectatorial aspects of violence as a performativie act in the postcolonial public space.

It needs to be mentioned, however, that the volume seeks to discursively engage with the violence that is essentially public. Being aware that the term public violence is a fuzzy one we borrow Judy Torrance's comprehensive theorization of public violence (1986, p. 15) explained as (a) an act carried out as part of group identity, (b) motivated by a desire to change or maintain social arrangements and (c) affecting a larger mass outside the immediate participants to describe the focus of the volume. The essays in this volume explore the multiple manifestations of violence arising out of the complex dynamics of conflicts and negotiations that the postcolonial subject encounters in his public interaction with other members of society. Domestic and private violence, though extremely crucial in understanding the postcolonial experience is outside the purview of this collection which seeks to explore those feats of violence that are carried out as a public act, either collectively or individually, but nevertheless pertaining to the individual's negotiation with his identity as a public being.

The concept of public violence is surprisingly under-theorized in terms of a comprehensive paradigm of understanding such violence in the context of the notion of power. The sociological knowledge about power is mostly associated with the notion of compliance. Sociologist Steven Luke's (1974) defines power as necessarily having three dimensions. He states that the 'one-dimensional view of power involves a focus on behavior in the making of decisions on issues over which there is an observable conflict of (subjective) interest, seen as express policy preferences, revealed by political participation' (p. 15). On the contrary, the second dimension of power involves the use of coercion or direct force in decision making to bring about a desired result. The third dimension of power involves shaping ideologies, norms and so on with the help of coercion. Thus, in Luke's' conceptualization, power is something that maintains the status quo and equilibrium in society. Public violence, in this context, necessarily arises when power structures fail in their modes of coercion to bring about compliance and gives rise to a state of anomie. Anomie, as Durkheim (1897) theories it, implies the breakdown of norms and regulations and that further implies a chaos and breakdown of social equilibrium. As the power incumbents and the power subjects clash over their hierarchies on a macrocosmic scale, violence gets enacted in the public space. Consequently, violence can stem from collective notions of deprivation, from individual issues of isolation from group identity or even from the rise of individualism or what Durkheim calls 'egoism'. Whatever may be the cause, violence in the public sphere has traditionally been understood as disruptive and chaotic, destroying all order and balance in society.

The concept of violence in the colonial and postcolonial public space is, however, a lot more complex than a simple connotation of disorder. With colonialism itself being the worst form of violence, the concept of violence assumes different meanings from being oppressive to curative and subversive. One of the fundamental manifestations of public violence in the postcolonial context is embodied in the power dialectics between the colonizer and the colonized. For Fanon (1965, p. 2), colonialism itself is violence in its natural state 'continued at the point of the bayonet and struggle by the colonized. It is only through violence that the colonized can claim back his lost identity so it is inevitable that the process of 'decolonization reeks of re-hot cannonballs and bloody knives' (ibid., p. 3). Asserting that the colonizer and the colonized are locked in a 'circle of hate' (Ibid, p47), Fanon envisions a postcolonial situation of unrelenting antagonism and a regime of fierce counter-violence: 'Violence among the colonized will spread in proportion to the violence exerted by the colonial regime (p. 46). Propelled by the dialectics of binary conflict, this violence is located in the dichotomies of the mutually exclusive identities of the colonizer and the colonized. Brian Cogan's essay in this volume investigates violence as a conflict between these two antagonistic groups in the film Bloody Sunday, set in postcolonial Ireland. Analyzing how the film portrays a historical moment in Ireland caught between the colonial violence of the British troops and the counter-violence of the Irish Republican Army, Cogan's essay locates the root of postcolonial violence in the dialectics between the oppressor and the oppressed.

The violence of decolonization, however, does not limit itself to obliterate only the colonizer, for it is common knowledge that postcolonial societies witness public violence in more complex ways than as just anti-colonial resistance. The sociopolitical landscape of the former colonies, often scarred with inter-ethnic conflicts and communal strife, testify to the complex mechanisms of violence in a postcolonial context that goes beyond a direct mutiny against the colonizer. Yet, as diverse as the process of colonialism in different colonies may be, the genocidal killings of Rwanda and the communal riots of Gujarat are essentially products of post-colonial public violence beyond the anti-colonial resistance, in two broad interrelated tropes of postcolonial conditions. The first trope is that of the indigenous identities and social structures, intercepted by colonialism, pitted in a conflict of violence against newer postcolonial identities and an altered public space. As critics like Mamdani (2009) assert, taking Africa as an example, postcolonial violence signifies the dialectics of a dual citizenship civil citizenship as imposed by the colonial authorities and customary group identity that already existed in the indigenous society. Similarly, several essays in this volume identify violence located in the conflict between the indigenous forms of public identity and a public space metamorphosed to new form post colonization. Hahn N. Nguyen and R.C. Lutz' essay discusses Vietnam's postcolonial society of the early 1990s, caught between ossified societal structures based on the past and a new kind of public space shaped by capitalism and global consumerism. In a similar strain, Lee Bessette's essay on Danny Laffite's film analyses the violent conflict between two forms of Creole identity against the backdrop of a postcolonial Haiti grappling with political unrest. Peter Mathews also discusses violence in the context of a conflict ridden postcolonial public space the Australian landscape as it symbolically embodies the violence of Australia's colonial past and projects the frayed relationship between the pre-colonial myth and the postcolonial present. On a different note, Wisdom Agorde's essay takes up a unique context of violence as a ritualistic performance that recreates concepts of the pre-colonial occult and consequent public identities in postcolonial Ghana. Thus, notions of memory, altered public space and the postcolonial subject's negotiation with conflicting social identities constitute the crux of violence in this trope.

The other trope of violence that is a prominent backdrop for many essays in this volume is that of political violence involving the postcolonial nation-state. Deemed to be built on the models of European nationalism, the postcolonial nation-state has been widely interpreted by major theorists like Ngugi WA Thiong'o, Homi K. Bhaba and partha Chatterjee as replicating the same models of colonial oppression, inflicting a violence of the 'centre' the bureaucracy and elite who take on the authority of the colonial masters over the 'marginal' groups oppressed in the nation building process. The independent nation-state has thus been critiqued as playing the main role in both 'political' and structural violence in the postcolonial public space, and has been identified as the main factor behind most postcolonial violence, from the state sponsored ethnic cleansing in Kenya to the Naxalite insurgence in India. Jacob Mundy's essay looks at violence with reference to the state and addresses the context of the Algerian civil war of 1992 that saw an armed rebellion of various Islamist rebel groups against the Algerian government. With the authorities of the nation-state, like the president, police and military, engaged in an armed conflict against a section of its own citizens, the Algerian civil war reveals the epicenter of violence located in the very problematic structure of the postcolonial nation-state. Again, both Joya Uraizee's discussion of the Bombay riots in 1992 and Laurent Mallets' reading of Slum dog Millionaire take up violence in the context of the postcolonial nation-state and its political structures. The Bombay riots of 1992 were an aftermath of a larger political movement for Hindu nationalism, initiated by the right wing nationalist groups that culminated in the controversial demolition of the Babri Masjid and the resultant violence. Subsequently, the Bombay riots also testified the inaction of the state and, in some cases, an active participation of the state machinery in the organized violence against the Muslim minorities, spearheaded by the Hindu party Shiva Sena. Similarly, Mallet's essay touches on the issue of police violence in India against its citizens, which evokes the problematic of a state machinery which, though operating in an independent country, is still modeled on the repressive structures of the colonial masters.

Though the geographical space of the nation-state forms the context for most essays in this volume, Mark Duguid and Eleni Liarou's essay discusses how postcolonial violence, pertaining to national identity, moves beyond the nation-state to embrace the transnational spaces as well. Taking the case of the immigrant communities of Britain as a postcolonial social network of former colonized identities, Duguid and Liarou explore the issues of postcolonial domination and resistance as they get played out in the transnational public space complicated by the virtue of its geographic location in the heart of former British imperialism.

The volume also includes discussions on violence set out against more universal milieus of crime, the underworld and gangster wars, as well as other dialectics of the newly emerging public spaces all over the world, shaped by the universal juggernaut of globalization. Sayantani Satpathi and Samip0arna Sam anta's essay is an interesting study of collective violence in the context of the criminal underworld; Nguyen and Lutz' essay also explores the dynamics of Vietnamese gangster wars. What emerges from these diverse contexts of postcolonial violence is a concept of an amorphous postcolonial public space, located both within the boundaries of the nation and the Diaspora and yet fraught with a common trajectory of violence, involving the complex chiaroscuro between the tropes of pr-colonial memory, the colonial experience and its legacies and the newly emerging postcolonial social realities. The essays in the volume show how as each postcolonial culture negotiates these diverse paradigms in its own unique way, violence are accordingly shaped.

Though this volume seeks to reach a comprehensive understanding of postcolonial violence, it does not, however, intend to study the phenomenon of violence per se. Rather it explores how the different tropes of violence are represented in postcolonial films. Through a study of violent films from different cultures, the volume investigates how the representation of violence embodies an art form. The postcolonial film genre of third cinema which uses a distinctive technique and revolutionary political purpose to articulate anti-colonial and anti-imperial resistance charts out a very definite purpose for violence as an ideological component. The major essays of third cinema, like Glauber Rocha's 'An Aesthetic of Hunger' (1965), call for the aesthetics of violence as a projection of the social realities of the oppressed. Thus Rocha famously asserts, 'Only by becoming conscious of the colon zed's one possibility, violence, that's the only way the colonizer can understand, to his horror, the power of the culture that he exploits.' Yet, in the revolutionary tradition of third cinema, the violence of the film is not only mimetic but also a manifesto for revolution. As Fernando Solana's and Octavio Getino (1971) assert, 'Third cinema is, in our opinion, the cinema that recognizes the great possibility of constructing a liberated personality with each people as the starting point in a word, the decolonization of culture.' Consequently, violence projected through this medium of cinema is essentially a public spectacle that implies a communicative act targeted at the audience for a particular affective purpose of stirring the colonized to action. For Solana's and Getino, the mere projection of on-screen violence is not enough to avoid the commoditization by consumerism, the cinematic spectacle of violence should essentially serve to mobilize, agitate, and politicize', sectors of the people and arm them for struggle. Julio Garcia Espinosa (1969) goes a step beyond this to propose a more radical inclusion of the audience in cinema and this accentuate its potential for triggering a mass revolution: 'The task currently at hand is to find out if the conditions will enable spectators to transform themselves into agents not merely more active spectators, but genuine co-authors.' The representation of violence in third cinema thus assumes the radical purpose of societal and political change. In this volume, however, we have included discussions on films that are not limited only to the category of third cinema and yet represent alternative cinematic traditions that engage with the postcolonial condition. While third cinema is idealistically the most radical film genre that addresses postcolonial concern with a conscious propaganda, a comprehensive understanding of violence negotiated in diverse postcolonial cultures entails that we look beyond this specific, and often geographically concentrated, film tradition and explore more diverse cinematic traditions. Our volume thus brings in discussions on the landmarks of third cinema like Gillo pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers and Tran Anh Hung's Cyclo as well as other visual narrative forms like video films, televised series, regional cinema and popular cinema which, to use Ashis Mandy's words, can imply a 'major political statement', 'even when it seems least political' (1983, p. 12). As each culture negotiates with its postcolonial situation in a unique ways, postcolonial cinema from different cinematic traditions represents the discursive complexities of the concept of violence. Yet, what is common between all these films is their potential to be subversive in the ways Deleuze sees the resistive possibilities of 'modern political cinema' (1985, p. 218). The films discussed here evoke Delueze's concept of subversive cinema in two crucial ways:

projecting a vision of the people that might function as the future basis for the identity of a community or nation

Projecting alternative identities outside the existing models available in society

As the films seek to question, challenge and subvert the existing power structures and offer alternative models as potential for change, they play a significant role in critically intervening in the ideological framework of the postcolonial 'public sphere'. Modifying the concept of Habermas' public sphere of face to face interaction between citizen subjects to shape the structure of the community, Negt and Kluge (1972) assert as Kavita Daiya (2008) sums them up how the prominence of mass media has increased the expanse of the public sphere and opened up avenues for 'a proletarian public sphere which has emancipator and utopian possibilities' (p. 12, quoted in Daiya). Similarly, postcolonial films, as media of mass communication for a large audience from a cross section of society, constitute a more diverse and emancipator 'postcolonial public sphere' in the way that Daiya defines it; 'those processes in a formerly colonized democratic society by which postcolonial subjects articulate a new framework and discourse for their everyday experience, motivations, actions and fantasies in decolonization' (2008, p. 13). By bringing to the fore the issues of domination and marginalization faced by the individual in the postcolonial public space, violence as a cinematic spectacle constitutes an important critical intervention in rethinking the public sphere.


Violence is one of the common traits associated with the racial other in colonial discourses. As an ontological marker of difference between coloni8ser and colonized, the violence perpetuated by colonialism and its attendant modernity were mapped onto the bodies and cultures of the other. From narratives of sexual violence to those of ethnic violence, colonial discourses and disciplines such as anthropology conceived of the colonized subject as inherently violent. Third cinema and postcolonial cinemas resignify the meaning, goal and directionality of violence. Implicitly and explicity challenging colonial tropes of naturalized violence, these cinemas locate violence at the nexus of national and global systems of exploitation and oppression, rather than in some naturalized notion of culture. In doing so, they counter colonial epistemologies offering oppositional and critical perspectives.

To counter colonial discourses, filmmakers and theorists have argued vehemently that not only do representations matter, but that language and visualities of film must also be transformed. In line with decolonizing political movements, film theories in the 1960s and 1970s propounded cinema as revolution, even as the instrument of violence. In their (masculinist) manifesto, Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino (1976) articulate third cinema as a process of, rather than a product of, the revolution. As a critical component of liberation, their call for cinema is a demand for political uprising and revolution as they place third cinema in line with global struggles in places such as Argentina, Vietnam and Cuba. The manifesto explicitly affirms that revolution is achieved through violence and may be inconceivable outside its domain; in this case it is ideological violence. As solanas and Getino enfold cinema within this chain of signification and action, they specifically locate decolonising cinema in opposition to Hollywood and European cinemas. In contrast to the opiate like counterparts, third cinema's cinema like a gun' suggests that holding a camera is tantamount to holding a gun the means of liberation from neocolonialism and its cultural forms. With its images and metaphors of guerilla warfare, the emergence and birth of third cinema in the manifesto advocates upheaval and violence in the name of transformation and revolution; third cinema is constructed literally as a 'detonator' of a neocolonial and bourgeois society. As such, it also demands that we consider violence a productive and generative act.

While a decolonizing third cinema is configured as the oppositional agent and mode of revolution, postcolonial cinemas reframe these struggles. Cinemas of opposition have sought accountability for injustice by identifying negligence, exploitation and violence. At times, they have p0rovided narratives of grief, mourning and suffering that emphasise continued survival and life in the face of trauma. Postcolonial cinemas my propagate insurgency of violent struggle, but, more frequently, they focus on the trauma of colonialism and the subsequent failures of the anti colonial nation state. Violence within cinema responds to and correlates with the violence of postcolonial life. In this case, the violence in cinema is enacted as a medium for witnessing the suffering and failings of neocolonial and anti colonial systems from a postcolonial critique. In examining, analyzing and critiquing capitalist, colonial and state ideologies and systems of oppression, postcolonial cinemas often narrate the trauma of colonialism and empire, atrocities of war, the violence by capitalism, or the foundational violence of nationhood. In doing so, historical and contemporary tales of harm, pain and suffering are rendered accessible for the present. Violence is demonstrated to be ordinary rather than exceptional. In this manner, they eschew a retreat from violence by locating its viewing in everyday media practices.

In the controversial essay 'Walking with Comrades', Arundhati Roy poignantly describes her journeys with armed Maoists in the Indian forests of Dandakaranya. Empathetic to the cause of the Maoists in the Indian forests of Dandakaranya. Empathetic to the cause of the Maoists struggles in the face of extreme state violence and repression, Roy takes a strong and clear position about the violence and repression, Roy takes a strong and clear position about the violence in the everyday life of the insurgents. While detailing the daily life and larger political context of the struggles, she also refers at several places in the essay to the community's social practices detailing the small and large clandestine assemblies of the Maoists. Though Roy emphasizes the vibrant songs and vigorous dances at several of these Roy emphasize the vibrant songs and vigorous dances at several of these gatherings, she also remarks on the crowd clustered around a screen watching the film Mother India:

Mother India and the ambush videos are presented as both complementary and oppositional in constituting the media of the insurgency. The postcolonial trauma presented in Mother India is clearly claimed on behalf of these insurgents who have been declared enemies of the state. At the same time, the presence of the ambush videos documents the 'local' landscape and its disruption by state violence thereby fomenting the revolutionary uprising and violence. Moreover, there is something noteworthy here as well. While violence is overwhelmingly associated with men and masculinity, the excerpt illustrates how this might be a troubling equation. The film Mother India is seen as an exemplar allegory of woman as nation. That kamla prefers watching the videos of insurgent violence over the allegory indicate that the media assemblages are complex in their gendering, political positioning and media formations. Hence, a closer look at the gendering of screen and violence becomes necessary within postcolonial cinemas.

The violence in postcolonial cinema may be suffered or enacted by a variety of figures. Therefore, discussions of violence have to consider how screens abound with the sometimes brutal and volatile struggles of gangsters, police officers, corporate CEOs. Avenging women, insurgents and the urban poor. Notably, most, though not all, of the figures are male. Masculinity is deeply entwined with violence on the screen and the blood flows freely. As both perpetrators and targets of violence, men's bloody bodies frequently signify the cruelty of and the damage wrought by civil and state violence. Blood becomes a new symbol of sociopolitical visibility, the evidence of necropolitics and the site of visceral dis/identification. The formulations of third cinema and postcolonial cinemas that render violence as productive or ordinary challenge the dominant gendering of violence. We need to look beyond binaries that place women as creators and sustainers of life and men as its violent destroyers. This volume focuses on how masculinity and males are and have become so inextricably intertwined with the concept of violence. In explicitly looking at masculinity, the volume dismantles the quick and easy equation to interrogate the specific dynamics, significations and representations that constitute bloody screens.

Finally, it is important that third cinema and postcolonial cinemas deploy various technical apparatus to garner these effects. Detonation s and bleeding are frequently achieved via special effects such as explosions triggered by detonating miniature explosive devices or squibs. Within media production, squibs are used not only for explosions, but also to simulate bullet impact, bodily injury and blood sprays. Moreover, squibs used to depict bodily injury and blood sprays. Moreover, squibs used to depict bodily injury have also frequently and ingloriously been referred to as latex 'condoms' filled with fake blood. Historically, the advent of blood squibs made possible a heightened and dramatic display of graphic trauma and violence to the body within cinema. Scholars specifically name them as technologies that enable the visualization of ultraviolent realism within Hollywood since the late 1960s with film such as Bonnie and Clyde (Prince, 2000, p.9). The squib spread rapidly and did not remain a Hollywood technology and, like the cinematic apparatus itself, quickly transformed in its travels. Since then, squibs have become ubiquitous in producing the bullet riddled decolonizing or postcolonial body located within violence; its deployment enhanced the visceral and graphic visualization of the righteous male body vulnerable to colonial, state capitalist violence, bleeding profusely in the name of the nation, justice, or liberation. The postcolonial screen provides a constant reminder of the inadequate achievements of modernity, the nation state and capitalism. The blood and violence on the postcolonial screen is less a call for the rise of a revolution than a marker of the current failures. In this manner, postcolonial cinema itself bleeds. While the viscerally bleeding bodies are often the point of identification, it might be helpful to think about not just the production of the bleeding body, but also its aesthetics, its affect, its materiality. It is possible to approach postcolonial films as contested representations, revolutionary acts, or through their materiality and haptic visuality (marks, 200)

The implications for the gory foundational violence of third cinema and postcolonial cinemas are taken up by the contributors to this volume. Working with premise that bloodletting, bodily injury and trauma are defining rather than exceptional characteristics of postcolonial cinema, the authors attend to the gendered thematic and technologies of violence within cinema. To accomplish this, the collection is divided into three components: 'The Violent Nation', 'The Masculine in Violence' and 'The Aesthetics of Violence'. The collection poses a formidable assessment of the dynamic interplay between violence and masculinity on the postcolonial screen.



  Acknowledgements vii
1 Preface: Insurgent Cameras and postcolonial Squibs 1
2 Introduction: Violence, Cinema and the postcolonial Masculine 6
3 'We are just Having a peaceful Rally': Bloody Sunday and the Modern Irish Postcolonial Film 19
4 Visualizing National Reconciliation after the Algerian Civil War: Violence, Gender and 'Virtual Justice' in Film 31
5 Assessing the Moral Landscape: Postcolonial violence in Australian Films 51
6 Blood Masculinities: Men's Violence's in Ghanaian Video films 64
7 Becoming a Gwo Neg in 1970s Haiti: Dany Laferriere's Coming of Age Film Le Gout des Jeunes Filles (On the Verge of Fever) 94
8 Blood on the Screen in Tran Anh Hung's Cyclo (1995), and the Cinematic poetics of Masculinity, Violence and Urban Decay 110
9 Digging the Underworld Narrative: Revisiting Masculinity in Indian Films 126
10 Lexicons of Post colonialism in Gangsters (BBC, 1975-78) 145
11 Slumdog Millionaire's Aesthetic Controversy: Stylistic Violence against Masculinity 166
12 Blood in the spotlight: Revealing Religious Fanaticism in Mani Ratnam's Bombay 181
  About the Editor and Contributors 198

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