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Risky Bodies & Techno-Intimacy: Reflections on Sexuality, Media, Science, Finances.


RESEÑA DEL TEXTO: Geeta Patel. Risky Bodies & Techno-Intimacy: Reflections on Sexuality, Media, Science, Finances. New Delhi: Women Unlimited Press, 2016. (Hardcover) 373 pp. INR 795.

Elaborada por: Dr. Rahul K Gairola is The Krishna Somers Lecturer in English & Postcolonial Literature and Fellow of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. He is the author of Homelandings: Postcolonial Diasporas & Transatlantic Belonging (London & New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), and co-editor of Revisiting India’s Partition: New Essays in Memory, Culture, and Politics (Hyderabad, India: Orient Blackswan/ Washington DC, USA: Lexington Books, 2016). He has published over 40 single-authored articles in peer-reviewed journals and books that are reputable and international in scope. He is an Article Editor for Postcolonial Text and co-editor of salaam: the newsletter of the south asian literary association. / - Website:


Geeta Patel's new book is a strikingly intellectual feat that performs in writing some of the themes—namely, the process of “life hacking,” which it sets out to explore at the most unlikely sites. Risky Bodies & Techno-Intimacy de/recalibrates the networks that web together finance and media by compelling readers critically to re-think the epistemological horizons of "technology." The author begins by observing that through the union of finance and film, "it became clear that technologies were incitements to closeness of various kinds. Some forms of closeness emerged from technologies like the World Wide Web that were slimmed down into forms that allowed them to serve as extensions or prostheses of bodies" (2). From the outset, Patel admits that the six chapters are constellated by jugād, or what we might think of as DIY (do it yourself) life-hacking. The book, thus, features a "lively suite of possible analogies, which jostle and tug and seem all at odds with one another, which hint at the shape of its architecture” (6). In the book's constantly mutating theatre, then, “one set of characters stages technologies as 'science,' which shows up in different avatars that may appear almost monstrous or grotesque, or perhaps merely unfamiliar to some of the more inordinately conventional science seekers" (6-7).

One of the book's central preoccupations seems to be a courageously frank challenge to academic norms and conventions. Patel thus meaningfully engages in Derridean heuristics to unearth the something-yet-nothing that lies beneath social markers like narrative, habit, origin, and place. She writes: "Narratives that manage or render the historical are peculiarly prone to originary explanatory inclinations that loiter like a bad habit, a not particularly potent double bind: you can't let them go nor can you quite hold on to them. They cling because it's as though if you have a past, have brought it to hand, have expended labour in mining it or bringing it forth, the past really ought to have some sort of purchase on the present or future" (9). Such observations -- that origins are narratives that require psychic expenditure on what is and will be -- meld into a conglomeration of multiple theoretical vectors which are themselves multi-pronged. Hereon, she seriously grapples with the fraught knots that twist around what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and others have meticulously examined as the double bind. Patel peppers the book’s heavy diet of theoretical postulations with bite-sized morsels that open up the lofty tenets of language that she is questioning: "In plainer speak, we often produce origins that don't quite feel as though they are" (13).

Patel’s personal anecdotes realign historical record with subjective experiencesthat make lucid her intellectual stakes, urgently infusing her melodicprose with the very double binds of planet earth and the universeswithin us all.Patel carries this idea of homelessness at home through theintroductory chapter, and nimbly threads it through remarkablyinnovative and lyrical chapters. The theoretical gravity of Patel'scompelling introduction is tempered through a jugād re-writing ofacademic texts that follows in the first chapter, "Techno-homo:Translating Mayonnaise at Home." In it, she reflects on memories of aBombay childhood which would today allows her to view hybridbodies (including cyborgs, hermaphrodites, Aravani or Kinnara, etc.) asthose which "already live inside the most pedestrian fantasies of whattends to be understood as central, normal, or home" (65). In invokingthe domestic space of home and its sign-laden kitchens, Patelphilosophically labors to render ambivalent the hegemony ofheterosexuality as she examines queerness through "an unexpectedlens" (66). Developing the metaphor of the kitchen and its array ofostensibly mundane condiments and confections, Patel invokes items asinnocuous as mayonnaise and fudge to parse out the ideologicalingredients that tend (un)problematically to render to us our "taste" ingender, sexuality, and much more. She writes: "In bringing queerhome, home and queer become necessarily hybrid, and gender refusesto stay in its allocated place...

Diasporas themselves begin undoingfluency when texts and people travel as migrants, immigrants, tourists,and refugees" (69).Put crudely, the domestic space of the kitchen, for Patel,complicates our understanding of hybridity and Aravani/ Kinnara/hijra/ third sex identities and their social markings throughout Indiansociety as hybrid bodies. To stake this claim, she offers the atypicalsynecdoche of mayonnaise. She asks, "How does this discussion ofhybridity translate into mayonnaise? Mayonnaise, a condiment thathelps certain kinds of edibles go down more easily, looks homogenous.It has the appearance of something made up of identical particles...

Mayonnaise as the only trope for hybridity turns rancid as it travels; sotoo does a distilled and bottled queerness" (70-72). Here, mayonnaisebecomes a metaphor for the ways in which domestic articulations ofmulticultural diversity sicken from the inside as a result of being falselyingested as tastily homogenous even in difference. The fascinatingdiscussion of this particular condiment carries over into the secondchapter, which draws upon the ideas of Werner Heisenberg, widelyrecognized as a pioneer of quantum mechanics. As with the curiouschoice of mayonnaise, Patel explains, "I turn to discussions of quantumphenomena using the uncertainty relation to reconnoitre gender that is rendered intimate, close, and small through homeliness or domesticitywhile fashioned through more expansive circuits of exchange thanthose enclosed within the household or family...Women, shaped asgendered bodies or particles--perhaps measured through homeliness--can be spoken of or described as quantum phenomena sited at the coreof these much larger forms of circulation" (100).In Chapter two, she explores two situated narratives: IsmatChughtai's "Lihaf" (“The Quilt”) and that of two policewomen who aremarried in a rural Indian town. In her words, "the denaturalization ofheterosexuality through transforming constructions of marriage opensup the possibility of excess and ambiguity in representations of womenas 'the woman'...

Both Ismat Chughtai's and the policewomen' s casesengage, legally and otherwise, with secularist concerns" (103). Thetheme of lesbian desire and "homeliness," or belonging to a cozy,domestic household, and its transgressive disruptions of conjugalheteronormativity carries over into the next chapter. "Firing Time:Techno-intimacies of the cinematic" explores the incendiary events thatframed the showings of Deepa Mehta's controversial yet inimitablelesbian film Fire (1996) in India. This extended essay commences withan exhaustive genealogy of the film's release, and both violent andmetered reactions to its release in the subcontinent. Patel discloses, "Ihave chosen to talk about Fire precisely because, as a cultural artefactthat incites, it cannot simply be placed in the elsewhere of anotherculture, nation, or tradition. It has been made by a diasporic intellectualand articulates simultaneously with Indian-ness in the diaspora and inIndia, and thus carries on, in a slightly different key, some of thetheoretical interpolations and intonations I have played with in the twoprevious chapters" (152). Just as the third chapter links to the previoustwo through a complex web of what it might mean to be "Indian"through condiments in the kitchen's domestic space and conjugalhomes sullied by hushed lesbian desire, the next chapter extends theseconcerns into the realm of nonsecular time.In the fourth chapter's Preamble, Patel details, "[i]n what follows, Itrace some of the temporal genealogies that mobilise desire: the coimplicationsof Christian, Christian-secular and Hindu temporalities inthe capitalist production of the militarised Indian nation-state" and itsrequirement for "certain forms of which Hindunationalist temporality relies on both missionary and secular Christiantime" (198).

This particularly keen observation is dizzying in its timely critique of chronometrics and the anxieties which imbibe the accumulation of finance and cultural capital. In Chapter five, Patel engages a reading of time and mourning in Prasanna Vithanage's filmDeath on a Full Moon Day (1997), as tutely writing, "[t]echnologieshelped suture over the trauma of death in 1857 [the year of the Indian Mutiny], and also the traumas that attend colonial modernity in general. The twenty-four hour clock and a common time zone for South Asiawere the arbitrages that worked out of the probabilities brought intobeing through colonialism" (256). Chapter six explores how "lifefinance"compels us to reconsider how risk, one that has not actuallyhappened but which could detrimentally happen, has been commodifiedto the point that our lives depend on it. Credit, debit, pension,insurance, fines, fees -- all of these are ways in which time and moneyhave merged so that futures, our very delicate lives, can be barteredand time can be purchased or wound one's purchasing power in themarketplace of the world-at-large.In summing up its breathtaking chapters, one is compelled to admitthat Geeta Patel's Risky Bodies & Techno-Intimacy is an innovative,even orgiastic, contribution to intersecting jugād vectors of subjectivityas they collide, like excited molecules, against the thematic kernels ofsexuality, media, science, and finance.

The book promises to catalyze monumental contributions to original directions in postcolonial, diaspora, and queer studies as it stages interventions in the nascent fieldof South Asian digital humanities. Perhaps most importantly, it advances free-floating heuristics that destabilize the moors of subjectivity as we free play with do-it-yourself fixes. While I wouldcomment that stills from Mehta's Fire and Vithanage's Death on a Full Moon Day might have allowed readers to further fuse these films'visuals with her incisive readings, Patel forcefully compels us toimagine, in the framed windows of our minds, how and (perhaps moreimportantly) why mundane objects like mayonnaise and time can revolutionize our home sites at the interseXtions of gender, eroticism, technology, and capital.

This process, in turn, compels readers of RiskyBodies & Techno-Intimacy to challenge the double binds inculcated inthe “bad habits” of disciplinary reading practices while empowering usto engage jugād strategies of interpretation and embodiment thatquestion academic enlightenment even as we bask in its liberatory throes.

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