Litmus in a nutshell

Author- Maanvi Agarwal

As an English Honours Major, there are a lot of responsibilities that need to be handled. With a lot of stereotyping of its people as elitist and arrogant, the main task is to break them and go further by shattering the discourse of our daily lives and of the texts, visuals, paintings, etc. through the medium of questioning it over and over and analyzing it bit by bit.

Litmus, the annual symposium held by the English Department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women tries to raise uncomfortable questions so that people become the conveyor of opinions that redefines and reconstructs the biased world and society. This year the subject of debate and discussion was “Body of Conquest: Reclaim the body, Discard the myth.”

A multitude of events took place from 11-12th March, 2016 ranging from:

  1. Postcoloniality and The Body of Mythology

Mrs. Rukmini talked about the corporeal typology through which texts and individuals viewed each other:

  • Physical bodies (Sensate)
  • Emotional bodies (Stigmatised)
  • Imagined bodies (Self-reflexive, Mythic, Narratively embedded in cultural contexts, represented in literature, science, media)

The main focus was the imagined bodies which can be seen through several interpretations and who becomes the hybrid, racial body through pain, metaphor, politics in the narratives. The myth of the superior being who saw the colonies in terms of savage nations, needing to be protected by the hero figures and justified their work as a necessity “to restrain wisdom, which is evil without it”.

She also touched upon the notion of untouchability in which the idea of purity is dogmatised.

Dr. Rupendra talked about the presentation of the mythological heroes in narratives.

2. The Child and the Family in Fantasy fiction and modern myth making

The student discussion explored several complexities like how the child is often overlooked in fantasy fiction and the lack of the family to fall back on to. These children have a detachment from a familial background making them unnaturally dauntless and bold like; Katniss Everdeen of Huger Games or Alice in Wonderland who despite being a child had been represented as with an adult, feminine face

The children in the horror movies make the question of what is actually sinister and what is not intricate since they are expected to be harmful and non-threatening. E.g.the child in Orphan (who later turns out to be a full-grown woman) is the one committing the crimes and murders, turning the face of the innocent child into the unexpected villain.

3. Art and Photography Exhibition

4. Conquest/Conflicts: Bodies of War

5. Homo Criminalis: Criminal Anthropology and the War

Mr. Bhattacharya talked about the development of Criminology as a scientific, anthropological subject in the 19th century. The pressing demand of the time for the colonizers was the ability to distinguish between two colonized men who committed a crime.

The spread of the statistical, organized Criminal studies spread through Francis Galton, Havelock Ellis and Alphonse Bertillon on an empirical, Bio harmonic paradigm.
The Homo Criminalis came as a different idea from the Born Criminal, who was an innate criminal and from the Incidental Criminal, who commits a crime under certain social circumstances. The subject was based on identifying the criminal in terms of certain anatomical irregularities from the average white boy.

In the lower strata (people of Africa, South  Asia, and South America), the anachronistic descendance of criminality is because their bodies remained outside the historical evolvement. This was earlier taken as the gospel truth since the analytical data was based on the interaction between the colonies and the empire.

6. A broken body, A deranged mind: Subjectivities under Seige

Mr. Kaul talked about the narrative of the people of Kashmir, who wrote under conflicted circumstances and how their narrative didn’t just became a personal view but an in depth look into the socio-political circumstances of the time. The lives of both the Hindu Pundits and the Muslims took a turn for the worse, with guilt and resentment being a part of their lives from then on. The poets become the cultivators and curators of the public memory.

They have the responsibility of being questioned again and again for the ideas they carry forth into the public.

7. Myth, Madness and the Grotesque

Grotesque is the idea of exclusion and has the idea of who gets what, and when at its core.

Dr. Sen demonstrated the whole process of how myths could be subjected to demystification through the process of Decrowning. This was because the infusion of people into the new domain of writing and reading. A new literal class was participating into the political discussion with a constant critical engagement with the language of power. It took 2 forms:

  • an engagement with the mystique that surrounded the king or God
  • demystification of emblems of power

Prof. Sharma talked about the use of grotesque to mythify women. She took the example of “The Unsex’d Females”, a Poem, by Richard Polwhele. The early 19th century saw the engagement of women with a caricatured porn. The women now weren’t just seen through the religious or philosophical lens, they were now physical, sensualised and sexualised beings.

Mary, Maria- 2 books by Mary Wollstonecraft projects the attitude towards women when they asked uncomfortable questions. Grotesque is established in public by the women who resisted the ideas of the stereotypes  through symbolism. The mad house becomes the space for creative exploration and unreason the bubble to radicalize.


The Litmus proved  to be a storehouse of exponential ideas and we await the next year!





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