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Thanks to CBFC, we need to come up with better abuses today

Thanks to CBFC, we need to come up with better abuses today

One of the hallmarks of absurdity – especially as manifested by government policies – is its ability to confuse our reactions, provoking umbrage when it ought to provoke raucous laughter. The Central Board of Film Certification (how ironic that they were renamed and are no longer the censor board) issued a guideline to all their regional officers with a list of swear words that are now officially proscribed in English and in Hindi, a list that has understandably provoked much anger in the blogsphere and Twitter verse. But hard as I try, I am unable to muster any anger at this list, and part of the reason may have to do with the fact that I am still too busy as they say in mobile lingo ROTFL. This is no ordinary laughter, however, it is a contagious laughter that borrows its mirth from an older look at the marvel of lists and taxonomies.

CBFC’s list of banned words

The Argentinean poet and writer Jorge Luis Borges documented a Chinese encyclopaedia called the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge in which animals were divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camel hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

This brilliant compilation became the inspiration for Foucault to write The Order of Things, a treatise into the conditions under which domains of knowledge come into being, an exploration of their classificatory logic and their enumerative reasoning. Foucault marvelling at the assorted collection wonders what about this compilation borders on the impossible, because it can be internally arranged in terms of the internal logic, for instance a sub classification based on real / unreal animals. He says, “It is not the ‘fabulous’ animals that are impossible, since they are designated as such, but the narrowness of the distance separating them from (and juxtaposing them to) the stray dogs, or the animals that from a long way off look like flies. What transgresses the boundaries of all imagination, of all possible thought, is simply that alphabetical series (a, b, c, d) which links each of those categories to all the others”. The site of the fantastical, Foucault discovers, is not inherent in the objects/ animals/ phenomena enumerated, but rather, in the very classification that enables the coming together of such diverse beings. In a stunning paragraph Foucault says “The monstrous quality that runs through Borges’s enumeration consists, on the contrary, in the fact that the common ground on which such meetings are possible has itself been destroyed. What is impossible is not the propinquity of the things listed, but the very site on which their propinquity would be possible. The animals (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush – where could they ever meet, except in the immaterial sound of the voice pronouncing their enumeration, or on the page transcribing it? Where else could they be juxtaposed except in the non-place of language?”

The marvellous list and the laughter it provoked shattered every familiar landmark of thought that he knew. Returning back to the list that the CBFC has created one annoy help but wonder where except in the fantasies of the censor board do the words “bastard”, “masturbating”, “violence against woman(s)” and “change of name from Bombay to Mumbai” can coexist. What then are the monstrous qualities that run through a list like this if not, following Foucault, the fact that they can only exist in a non place – this time not of language but of the censor’s fantasies. Why exactly 28, and not 27, one wonders. What algebraic calculations went into the creation of those exact words and their capacity to corrupt more than others? And what indeed does it tell us of those marvellous swear words which have been left out of this list?

The assumption that these words need to be stamped out because there is much too profanity in our language is misguided. In fact listing them out merely demonstrates that if anything at all there are far too few curse words in our expressive vocabulary. Let’s face it, we need words which give voice to states of being in which gentle admonition will just not do, but why is that we are restricted only by words that refer to prohibited sexual relations. Let’s not forget that censorship is also the mother of metaphor, so let’s collectively laugh at the absurdity of the CBFC list, and hope that the prohibition of these words will make us more inventive, and may a thousand profanities bloom in what currently seems like an arid linguistic landscape of curses.

Originally published in  on 15-02-2015 

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