Allow us to now reward well-known males, and our fathers that begat us … (Ecclesiasticus 44:1)
“Are you a distinguished individual?” I ask my buddy in a textual content message. “Very,” he replies, prompter than traditional. “How did you turn out to be distinguished?” I ask, not giving up on my analysis. “I made an software,” he says.
My query to him wasn’t a joke. It got here on the heels of a dialogue I’d simply had at dwelling. My husband, an educational, had been on the lookout for an acceptable title for the lectures he wished to organise in his division. I’d supplied my recommendations, a few of which had been taken, however there was one phrase that I saved protesting in opposition to. “Distinguished” — “Distinguished Lecture Sequence”.
“Why do it is advisable to name one thing or somebody distinguished?” I requested.
His reply was easy: “In any other case folks wouldn’t know that it’s”.
“Let folks determine whether or not it’s distinguished or not …” I gave up after a while.
“Distinguished” is barely one of many many phrases that belong to the style of image-building on the earth of arts and letters. To many people it’d appear to be placing the cart earlier than the horse, for a phrase like that’s meant to pressure obedience — we’ve been instructed that it’s distinguished, and there’s no house allowed for disagreement. That is how consensus is constructed, however, extra importantly, that is how pretend information is created. The whisper community has the butterfly impact, however the whisper begins from one individual. Very often, notably in our occasions, the whisper about greatness begins from the individual whose greatness is about to be proclaimed.
The mode of operation is just like that of a ponzi scheme (I’m additionally pondering of the stunt that entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes was in a position to pull off for years). Just like the non-existent firm that traders belief their cash with, adjectives are conjured to create reputations. It’s, in fact, a rip-off. However we’re its keen collaborators. One solely wants to have a look at the bios of writers and teachers to see its operation. Individuals calling themselves “eminent” of their bios is a tragic commentary on the tradition of self-advertisement that’s essential for survival, or “eminence”.
“Prestigious” is a phrase used for boards, however now, like a transferred epithet, additionally for folks. Since it’s exhausting to name oneself a prestigious individual, notably as a result of the subtle society I’m speaking about wouldn’t ever be caught saying “Pata hai mera baap kaun hai?”, we name our endorsers prestigious. That is our manner of endorsing those that endorse us, in order that their endorsement of us is magnified.
“Well-known”, “nice”, “well-known”, “eminent”, “excellence”, “esteemed”, “legendary”, “magisterial”, “much-travelled”, “award-winning” — these are a number of the shares; there are the opposite extra frequent ones: good, distinctive, authentic, and, more and more, “a traditional”. That is the second after I, regardless of my unease with such dictums, consider the MFA teacher’s phrase: “Arrey baba, present, don’t inform”. King, Emperor, Raja, Sultan, Ustad, Pandit, Gurudev — these had been as soon as the phrases designating a particular standing. In our new economic system, the markers of fame have moved from nouns to adjectives. As soon as upon a time, one could possibly be only a noun: “Professor”. That isn’t sufficient anymore. The adjectives should be worn like a military man wears their decorations.
There’s a bullying economic system in these adjectives, and the sound of the siren that says the arrival of cars with crimson lights, not very completely different from Bond’s use of the right noun: the title is Bond, James Bond. The self-advertisement and self-congratulatory method have been compelled on us. A few weeks in the past, whereas wanting up a ebook on-line, I discovered an anthologist’s bio that made me pause to examine whether or not I had learn it proper: They’d been known as “essentially the most revered anthologist within the nation”. Absolutely there had been a contest amongst anthologists whose information hadn’t reached me.
There’s a tragicomedy taking place in our tradition. We’re praising ourselves as a result of nobody else is praising us. That is solely a part of the DIY tradition that’s important for survival now. We’re frantically arranging adjectives like one assembling a chunk of IKEA furnishings — the consequence should be as purposeful. That’s the standing of fame in our tradition — its essential performance translating into axiom, like the USA of America calling itself the “best nation on the earth”. First self-belief, in these phrases, solely then will the world outdoors us imagine us.
After I wrote about what we name “literary” as being Brahminical (‘Learn, with out the sacred thread’, IE, December 19, 2020), there was a way of anger in a sure group of individuals. For sure, that they had been beneficiaries of how the “system” operates. Just like the surname that signifies our caste, the phrases that announce or path our names are like our surnames — maybe this explains why Indians, when utilizing the English language, have usually conflated “title” and “surname”. A few of these new surnames are names and surnames of different folks, usually lifeless: Nobel, Fulbright, Charles Wallace, Windham-Campbell; or Booker and Chevening; or Oxford, Harvard, Rome; or New Yorker, Granta, The Paris Evaluate, and so forth. As if all of this weren’t sufficient, we even have those that declare Adam-like standing: “was the primary to be awarded the (some award or fellowship) …” and locations which promote themselves as “one of many best establishments in India”.
One should discover fame by some means, and the simplest manner to take action appears to be contagion: To be touched by the well-known, their variations of gurukul, their gharana, their endorsements, deriving pedigree from them like folks as soon as used to by advantage of delivery and the wealth of connections that introduced. As I see the celebrity toolkit in operation all over the place, I typically consider Mark Antony’s phrases in Julius Caesar, and the way he might need substituted “honourable” with well-known at the moment: “And… is a well-known man”.
This column first appeared within the print version on January 14, 2022 underneath the title ‘The DIY fame toolkit’. Roy is a poet and creator