“SWAEROES ten commandments”

Malavath Poorna, star of the 2015 biopic Poorna: Courage Has No Limit, scaled Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina yesterday, to become the “world’s first tribal woman to scale [the] four highest mountain peaks located in four continents.”

Pedro the airplane and Aconcagua, from Saludos Amigos (Disney and RKO Pictures, 1942).

At age 13, Poorna became the youngest woman ever to climb Sagarmatha (also known as Mt. Everest).  Now 19, she credits her success to the “ten commandments” of the Social Welfare AEROES (or “SWAEROES”) movement, following B.R. Ambedkar’s ideas to educate and empower marginalized and scheduled caste children.

The Swaeroes “ten commandments” are listed on the website of the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society as follows:

  • I am not inferior to anyone.
  • I shall be the leader wherever I am.
  • I shall do what I love and be different.
  • I shall always think Big and Aim high.
  • I shall be honest, hardworking and punctual.
  • I shall never blame others for my failures.
  • I shall neither beg nor cheat.
  • I shall repay what I borrow.
  • I shall never fear the unknown.
  • I shall never give up.

(Apparently, an alternative route up Aconcagua, the Glaciar de los Polacos, was named after Konstanty Jodko-Narkiewicz, a Polish geophysicist and balloonist who led an expedition there in 1934.  Jodko-Narkiewicz studied cosmic radiation at different altitudes, contributing to what was then the new field of Raman scattering.  The early history of the Raman effect, and the emergence of Raman spectroscopy is a fascinating index of the politics of science in the 1930s.  Indian physicists C.V. Raman and K.S. Krishnan first reported the scattering effect in liquids in 1928, but the Soviet physicists Grigory Landsberg and Leonid Mandelstam had presented a paper on the same effect in crystals the day before Raman and Krishnan reported their first observations.  But the Soviets couldn’t independently verify their work to the Nobel Committee, which awarded   the prize for Physics to Raman in 1930.  Russian secondary literature continues to refer not to the Raman effect but to “combination scattering.”)

the lightning geometry of the fer-de-lance

lam visage cubiste-1939

Wilfredo Lam, “Visage cubiste” (1939), distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

At what point do Cubism and the various early twentieth-century avant-gardes intersect with “real” history?  In the post-WWII, post-Vietnam, post-Iraq War(s) era, it can seem as if earlier experiments with genre and medium are a luxury the world can no longer afford.  Fredric Jameson, with characteristically two-edged irony, calls modernism “our classicism” — suggesting that our nostalgia for those wilder forms of abstraction and performance is motivated by a bad faith that at once preserves and entombs.  What do we today, multi-national and polyvalent as we are, have to do with attempts to get at the essence of painting, or ethnicity, or embodiment?

I started thinking about this question while reading Aimé Césaire’s “Avis de tirs” (“Gunnery Warning”) from Les armes miraculeuses (1946).  Is this poem surrealist?  Or, like Lam’s face above, cubist?  Some combination of the two or something new?  First of all, I’m struck by the way Césaire knocks all the conventional interpretations of Dalí’s overfamously oozing watches out of my mind:

délacent avant temps

le corsage des versus

et la foudroyante géométrie du trigonocéphale

pour mon rêve aux jambes de montre en retard

pour ma haine de cargison coulée […]

And in Clayton Eschleman and Annette Smith’s translation:

unlace prematurely

the bodice of bolts

and the lightning geometry of the fer-de-lance

for my dream with the legs of a slow watch

for my sunken cargo hatred.

(The Collected Poetry, 89)

Césaire, somehow suddenly, translates all of surrealism’s infatuations with dream-machine technology and its semi-profound speculations about time into a more historically concrete experience: the material legacies of colonialism in Martinique.  What can sometimes seem to be surrealism’s apolitical associative anarchy or, worse, reactionary escapism, fleeing in all directions away from what is right in front of your nose, here instead constellates, pulling together a set of phenomenologically rich images with a history of “sunken cargo hatred.”

And notice that the speaker is talking about “dream-legs” or a dream “with” the legs of a slow watch, not a dream of a slow watch.  Césaire’s watch is the form, not the content — not the material being worked on, but the practice of working.