Thursday, March 21, 2024 #38

 The ‘story’ of women and Gandhi is a complicated and somewhat confusing one. On the one hand, his biographers note that he always included and championed ‘non-violence’ as much more a female approach than a masculine approach. Yet on the other, in despising his own sexuality, and maintaining his own celibacy, keeping the decision secret even from his wife, he had despairing views of the sexuality of women. In a very compelling piece in The Guardian, January 27, 2010, by Michael Connellan, entitled Women suffer from Gandhi’s legacy, Connellan writes:

(Celebrating the anniversary of his death) He was an amazing human being. He led his country to freedom and helped destroy the British Empire. Little wonder India worshipped him, as the Mahatma-‘Great Soul’. In the west he is views as a near-perfect combination of compassion, bravery and wisdom….
But Gandhi was also a puritan and     a misogynist who helped ensure that India remains one of the most sexually repressed nations on earth-and, by and large, a dreadful place to be born female. George Orwell, in his 1949 essay, Reflections on Gandhi, said that ‘saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.’ If only.

Gandhi despised his own sexual desires, and despised sex in any context except for procreation. He preached that the failure to control carnal urges led to complaints including constipation. He believed that sex was bad for health of an individual, and that sexual freedom would lead Indians to failure as a people. He sought to confine his nation to what Martin Luther called ‘the hell of celibacy’. He took his own celibacy vow unilaterally, without consulting his wife.

Both Gandhi and his hagiographers claimed he viewed women as equal to men, pointing to his inclusion of women in India’s independence struggle. He celebrated non-violent protest as a ‘feminine’ principle, neutralizing the brutality of British rule. But his sexual hang-ups caused him to carry monstrously sexist views. His view of the female body was warped. As accounted by Rita Banerji, in her book, Sex and Power, ‘he believed menstruation was a manifestation of the distortion of a woman’s soul by her sexuality’.

During Gandhi’s time as a dissident in South Africa, he discovered a male youth had been harassing two of his female followers. Gandhi responded by personally cutting the girls’ hair off, to ensure the ‘sinner’s eye’ was ‘sterilised’. Gandhi boasted of the incident in his writings pushing the message to all Indians that women should carry responsibility for sexual attacks upon them. Such a legacy still lingers. In the summer of 2009, colleges in north India reacted to a spate of sexual harassment cases by banning women from wearing jeans, as western-style dress was too ‘provocative’ for the males on campus. Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped last their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community honour. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of ‘shame’. Gandhi also waged war against contraceptives labelling Indian women who used them as whores……

In the words of the Indian writer Khushwant Singh, ‘nine-tenths of the violence and unhappiness in this country derives from sexual repression’. Gandhi isn’t singularly to blame for India’s deeply problematic attitudes to sex and female sexuality. But he fought, and succeeded, to ensure the country would never experience sexual freedom while his legend persevered. Gandhi’s genius was to realise the great power of non-violent political revolution. But the violence of his thoughts towards women has contributed to countless honour killings and immeasurable suffering. Remember there is not such thing as a saint.

How are we to confront the obviously divided self, in Gandhi? The legacy of his misogyny, and his obviously sexist perception of women, and his elevation to mythical status among his countrymen, lingers not only over India, but, the same ‘divide’ exists, (it says here) in all of us. Not specifically, of course, but psychically, metaphorically and inescapably.

James Hillman writes of a culture embedded in the throes of literalism, empiricism, nominalism, diagnostics, statistics and the logic and rationalism that support such a perception and the concomitant attitudes, beliefs, and even moral distinctions and discernments that come with that orientation. He urges a poetic basis of mind, in and through which we see ourselves, and others, differently. Pragmatic, realistic, empiricism, while valid for many of the transactions, medical diagnoses, legal framing of both charges and defense arguments, has the ‘down side’ of missing those attributes, character traits, and the ‘essence’ or the sine qua non of what is it to be a human being….to perceive the world, and ourselves, ‘between’ the idealism of non-violence and the terror and abuse of misogyny, for example, offers us another both place from which to perceive, and lens through which to visualize. Connellan’s last sentence above, ‘there are no saints’ has relevance, not only for our perception of Gandhi, but for our orientation to and perception of our own lives and world. It is not that Gandhi must be ‘trashed’ because of his misogyny, although many will seek to accomplish that ‘eradication, but rather than, in a non-violent manner, we can embrace a lens ‘from the middle’ from the ‘in-between’ of our extremes. Hillman’s proposal is that we attempt to tease out mythical figures, voices, gods and/or goddesses whose voices may be playing out in our moments that he dubs, ‘in extremis’….

Not only are there more than ‘two’ Gandhi’s (idealist heroic prophet of non-violence, and deep misogynist) as we can agree; there are also more than two different ‘characterizations of each of us. And yet, for the purposes of perhaps managing, and understanding, and developing coping strategies for wandering through our ‘extremes,’ based on the writing, thinking and reputations of scholars, like Descartes, Aristotle, (and others) we have shared in the propagation of a binary kind of perception, along with the attitudes that accompany that perception and metaphysic. Morally based, as well as logically and rationally based, we have been complicit in neglecting a potentially leavening agent of the imagination. For purposes of attempting to understand, diagnose and then ‘treat’ our various ‘conditions’ and actions, words and behaviours, especially those considered to be ‘strange’ or ‘outside the norm’ we have generally categorized them as ‘legal’ (criminal) or ‘sick (medical). And Hillman is attempting to restore a more nuanced perceptive, through the ‘dig’ into the image of the moment, as the multiple, complex and often hidden meanings/iterations/interpretations/voices that are being enacted. And this process, for Hillman, begins prior to a moral assessment. By placing a psychological perspective at the inception of the ‘moment’ or crisis, even a moment that seems to contain the energies and motives for self-suicide, rather than our immediate intervention to ‘prevent’ or to ‘heal’ or to ‘cure’ or to ‘charge’ or to ‘prosecute,’ Hillman posits that whatever needs to be attended to, heard, listened to, and even embraced, no matter how difficult that process is both for the ‘actor’ and any ‘empathic friend,’ warrants our psychological, profoundly patient, without judgement, presence. Furthermore, as Kierkegaard reminds us, we much live life ‘forward’ and then reflect on it ‘backwards’.  

And rather than immediately searching for a psychiatric/scientific label, or a criminal or miscreant accusation, we pause to ‘hear out’ the deep meaning of the images that are flooding this moment. Revolutionary, yes, especially in an ethos fixated on the empirical, literal evidence! And yet, so many of our ‘knowings’ and diagnoses, and prosecutions are fraught with both contextual fog and intellectual uncertainty. One has to wonder if it is not those ‘fogs’ and ambiguities, and uncertainties that make us so uncomfortable, simply because we sense we are not in control. And yet, we all know, that for every ‘precise’ and detailed diagnosis, or prosecution, there is a compendium of other/unknown/unacknowledeged messages that we are neither taking in to account, nor fully appreciating.

Attempting, through the agency of the poetic imagination, to find some kind of ‘example’ of a similar ‘pattern’ or ‘voice’ among the various mythic voices to which we all have access, from a polytheistic, rather than a monotheistic, lens, offers a more ‘resonant’ if less ‘precise’ appreciation of our moment ‘in extremis’. There is, by the way, no negative implication on a monotheistic religion, if we use a polytheistic lens as a psychological instrument. Imagining multiple voices/figures/gods/goddesses/myths being on stage in moments of our psychic life, does not either negate nor disparage a faith in a single deity.

Nevertheless, while such ideas have an easy and ready application in psychological terms, they pose a serious threat to the ‘way’ we study both history and especially biography. The evidence from documents, from hieroglyphs, from papyrus, and especially from sacred texts, while perhaps read and digested, and exegeted originally by mostly men, themselves acting out a perspective, have come to us as ‘gospel’ depending on the stream of theology and philosophy in which it was originally examined.

Hillman’s ‘images,’ are never either sought or discovered as another ‘absolute’ in the search of another form of psychic tyranny. Indeed, Hillman, through a  a starting point of a ‘soul’  (a way of seeing, and not a thing, or a psychological construct), posits that each ‘soul’ like a poetic ‘heart’ beats and pulses the very meaning and identity of each person, place and thing. And he also posits that images continually emerge and disappear in our imagination, our fantasy, our dreams. ‘Ensouling’ the world, for Hillman, includes observing, addressing, assessing and identifying those mythic voices that fill the ‘ethos’ of our imagination at a particular place and time. Humans, animals, buildings, and the various expectations of commerce, politics, entertainment, talent, and, yes, perception itself, together comprise this ‘ensouling’… in homage to those Platonic ‘ideals’ which have been resurrected by several writers and thinkers since Plato.

Rather, for example, than dividing Gandhi into a mythic hero as the prophet of non-violence, or the goat of heinous misogyny, might we try another approach.

From The, written by Scott McLaughlan, PhD Sociology, on May 21, 2022, we find:

Mahatma Gandhi was a remarkable man. He led a mass movement of Indians to freedom and helped bring down a mighty empire. A self-declared ‘non-violent revolutionary’, Gandhi was a master of political strategy. Yet his politics and philosophy were not without their contradictions. Gandhi was a complex and contradictory character. His relationship with India’s Untouchables was riddles with paradoxes, he was a misogynist and he held undeniably racist views…..Gandhi developed the concept of Satyagrapha, which means ‘holding onto truth,’ to express the practice of fearlessly, buy non-violently, engaging in civil resistance. Even as a young man, Gandhi had a remarkable aptitude for politics. Armed with his method of Satyagraha, he became a formidable activist and organizer…..Though Mahatma Gandhi was a tiny, old and frail man, he had an iron will.  Satyagraha, Gandhi’s form of non-violent civil disobedience, was his most potent weapon…..Gandhi launched the famous Dandi Satyagraha, or ‘salt march,’ on 12 March 1930. The 1882 Salt Act in British India banned Indians from collecting, producing, or selling salt. Indian citizens thus had to pay the high prices dictated by the colonial authorities, or risk punishment/imprisonment. The choice of salt was masterful and the effects of the Dandi Satyagraha were felt all over India. Everyone from the peasantry to the Indian nobility understood the importance of salt in everyday life. Thus, in a political masterstroke, Gandhi set out from his Ashram in Sabarmati with 78 satyagrahis on a 241-mile trek to the Arabian Sea. Thousands joined the march, and on 6th April 1930, Gandhi openly defied the law by collecting a small amount of salt in front of a group of journalists assembled at Dandi Beach. In the end, tens of thousand of Indians joined Gandhi’s lead, and over 60,000 were arrested—including Gandhi himself. (Adopted by Dr, Martin Luther King later),
Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha thus changed the face of protest forever….Mahatma Gandhi famously set out to champion the cause of India’s Untouchables. Et, it would be incorrect to call him a hero of the struggle against caste oppression. Untouchability entails the segregation of people considered to be outside of the caste system. The lowest groups in the system, the Untouchables, or Dalits, are forced into jobs seen as ‘polluting’ to upper-caste Hindus, such as manual scavenging (the manual collection and removal of human waste) and clearing away dead animals. Gandhi explicitly recognized the ‘calculated degradation’ to which upper-caste Hindus had subjected ‘the depressed classes’ for centuries. However, at the same time, he saw the caste system as the divinely mandated social glue of Indian society. For Gandhi, the unity of Hindu society was more important than equality for the Untouchables….At the same time, he was also clear that the duty of the (upper caste) Brahmin was to ‘look after the sanitation of the soul’. On this logic, Gandhi set out to integrate Untouchables further into the Hindy8 fold, and at the same time lock the caste system in place.

Let’s speculate, imaginatively, on another way of writing, speaking and thinking about all of this:

From, in a piece written by Michelle Konstantinovsky, entitled, Dionysus Was the Greek God With a Dual Personality:

‘Dionysus is a complex god,’ Richard P, Martin, Antony and Isabelle Raubitschek professor in classics at Stanford says via email. ‘He had the power to transport his worshippers into ecstasy, and to drive his opponents mad. He seems to come form outside and to invade the consciousness. Of course, that’s probably primarily due to his connection with wine and its effects…from the very first mild and pleasant buzz it gives you the wretched morning-afters when you have too much….’He’s more than a symbol, which implies a kind of bloodless or ever-intellectual pigeonholing; instead, he was a deeply-felt personal and social reality for the ancient Greeks,’; Martin says. ‘He’s associated with joy and terror, at once, which is why he always appeals to artists, philosophers and poets who are interested in the boundaries of consciousness and how emotions work.

Surely, too, in keeping with the mantle of Hillman’s ‘ensouling,’ we can imagine another Greek god having considerable impact on the life of Gandhi. Apollo. From, we read:

Though his original nature is obscure, from the time of Homer onward he was the god of divine distance, who sent or threatened from afar: the god who made men aware of their own guilt and purified them of it; who presided over religious law and the constitutions of cities’ and who communicated with mortals through prophets and oracles his knowledge of the future and the will of his father, Zeus. Even the gods feared him, and only his father and his mother (Leto) could easily endure his presence.

It seems also worth imagining an interior tension of the opposites of ‘puer’ and ‘senex’ in the mirror reflecting Gandhi’s life. In his paper, ‘Senex  and Puer’ reproduced in A Blue Fire, p 239-40, Hillman writes of puer:

(T)he puer attitude displays an aesthetic point of view: the world as beautiful images or as vast scenario. Life becomes literature, an adventure of intellect or science, or of religion or action, but always unreflected and unrelated and therefore unpsychological….The puer in any complex gives I tits drive and drivenness, makes it move too fast, want too much, go too far, not only because of the oral hunger and omnipotence fantasies of the childish, but archetypally because the world can never satisfy the demands of the spirit or match its beauty…..(T)he puer eternus figure is the vision of our own first nature, our primordial golden shadow, our affinity to beauty, our angelic essence as messenger of the divine, as divine message.

Similarly, and in psychic, imaginal counterpoint, we also read, (A Blue Fire, p. 208-9):

Senex is the Latin word for ‘old man.’ We find it still contained within our words senescence, senile, and senator…..Personifications of this principle appear in he holy or old wise man, the powerful father or grandfather, the great kind, ruler, judge, ogre, counselor, elder, priest, hermit, outcast, and cripple. Some emblems are the rock, the old tree, particularly oak, the scythe or sickle, the timepiece and the skull. Longings for superior knowledge, imperturbability, magnanimity, express senex feelings as does intolerance for that which crosses one’s systems and habits. The senex also shows strongly in ideas and feelings about time, the past, and death. Melancholy, anxiety, sadism, paranoia, anality, and obsessive memory ruminations reflect this archetype. Moreover the main God in our culture—omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, seated and bearded, a rule through abstract principle of justice, morality and order, and faith in words yet not given to self-explanation in speech, benevolent but enraged when his will is crossed, removed from the feminine (wifeless) and the sexual aspect of creation, up high with a geometric world of stars and planets in the cold and distant night of numbers—this image depicts a senex god, a god imaged through the senex archetype. The high god of our culture is a senex god; we are created after his image with a consciousness reflecting this structure. One face of our consciousness is inescapably senex. The temperament of the senex is cold, which can also be expressed as distance, Senex consciousness is outside of things, lonely, wandering a consciousness set apart and outcast. Coldness is also cold reality, things just as they are, dry data, unchangeable cold had facts. And coldness is cruel, without the warmth of heart and heat of rage, but slow revenge, torture, exacting tribute, bondage.

These images/voices/figures are not intended as diagnoses, merely images that seem to have been represented in the life of Gandhi. Similarly, we are all, is we consider the implications of archetypal psychology, a flowing ‘melange’ or river of images that flow in and out of our psyche, attempting to ‘relate’ in a world of essentially cardboard cut-outs of the superficial, reductionistic, morally divisive caricatures of our psychological beings. Perhaps, through an elementary, and tentative, and somewhat tenuous attempt to imagine voices in Gandhi’s life, we might better appreciate the many and perhaps even conflicting voices in our own psyche, especially at moments of considerable tension, and confusion, ambiguity and anxiety.


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