Saturday, April 17, 2010
Body and Soul
The first public lecture I ever gave involved a lot of Picasso. At one point in the talk, I conveyed what a materialist the Spanish painter was through an example from his teenage years. He had drawn the Holy Family resting during their escape to Egypt, and sketched a cloudy mass above. A friend asked him if it represented the Holy Spirit. Picasso replied, "Holy Spirit! It's a date palm. They needed to eat something, didn't they?"
I'd put the anecdote in to amuse those in the audience who might've been getting bored by that point, but the story had a strange effect. The round of questions and comments that commenced 30 minutes later went something like this:
"Do you really think Picasso had no spiritual side?"
"Don't you think all art is spiritual?"
"Who, according to you, would be a spiritual modern painter?"
"Would you classify De Kooning as spiritual?"
Then a succession of artist names with the spirit question appended.
Yesterday's lecture was a bit of deja vu. Speaking of masculinity, I stuck exclusively to issues concerning the male body. The body in painting, the body in advertising, the body on the sports field, body body body.
The first question was, "Actually, according to science, we are all women, since we all have X chromosomes, right? So those who say Indians are less masculine are only saying we are closer to our genes and to spirituality."
I saw no way I could possibly respond to this, so I asked for the next comment, which was:
"With the incursion of Islam, we have the introduction of the gendered soul into the sub-continent, whereas Indic tradition has no conception of the soul as gendered; this shift creates a crisis of masculinity."
I said I had no idea the soul was gendered in Islam.
There followed a discussion about Christian souls, the number of Quranic heavens and what they signified, the gender of Brahman in the Upanishads and so on.
Next time I think I'll clarify in advance, "Please don't ask me about souls or spirituality. Even when I show an image of the Buddha, I'm only interested in his body".