Bridging the Gap

Dear Synthesis Talk,

Dear Jyoti Narula Ranjan,

Pardon the informality. It is an old habit for me, and the people I like generally agree that it is more a gift than a curse.

Pardon, also, the unfamiliarity of this context. A few lines on gmail or even a lightly refined attached letter sound not only too unoriginal but also a bit limited, if nothing else to allow for the little bits of multimedia content that nowadays inhabit our creative life. Not that the present letter will be anything like the sounds and lights show before the Eiffel Tower on every 14th of July, but let us say that email features, as they are today, cannot really do justice to the nature of projects and creations that I have indulged in through the years. This technological gap will certainly be rejoined shortly, but that is another topic of discussion.

It is with a great feeling of excitement that I am writing to you today. Beyond the context of the Syngrant, it is the larger vision, concepts and executions of SynTalk that strike me as particularly aligned with the various encounters and experiences that have constructed my life adventure. In fact, SynTalk is possibly the closest media project to one that I initiated one and a half year ago, through the LILA Foundation: LILA Inter-actions.

My desire to conceptualise and design this platform was to bridge the world of academic thinking and research, often refined and occasionally creative, but intimidating for most citizens, with the regularity of a media space, amidst media voices, today, too preoccupied with filling air time with noise. The chosen medium was the written, reaffirming the importance of words, of language, of etymology, of sitting and reading patiently, even if just for 10 minutes, in our era of the instantaneous. The concept was also innovative on the very form of presentation of those two weekly perspectives on topical societal, cultural, artistic, political and philosophical issues: two columns, side by side, highlighting the richness and potential compatibilities of the truly pluralistic possibilities of our times.

The medium has met with enthusiastic responses from across the spectrum in India and abroad, and we had the pleasure and honour to see many of our requests for contribution to prestigious society stakeholders, accepted. Of the 130+ writers till date, I may mention Harsh Mander, Anjali Gopalan, Mitra Phukan, Jaswant Singh, Vidya Subrahmaniam, Brinda Karat, K Venu, BRP Bhaskar, R Cheran, Tarun Gogoi, Teesta Setalvad, Kumar Shahani, Nalini Jameela, Ananya Vajpeyi, MD Nalapat, Pushpamala N, Naman Ahuja, MN Buch, Hartosh Bal Singh, Ravi Agarwal, Glory Alexander, Irfan Habib, Kumkum Roy, Satinath Sarangi, T.P Sreenivasan, Dunu Roy and many others. Combining the three sensibilities grown through my studies – an acute attention to the clarity and power of communication; the scope, ambition and ethical rigour of spiritual and religious traditions; the depth, inter-connectedness and creative potentials of philosophy – I held an editorial line drawing across the perspectives of each week, to highlight and recall the larger stakes that are in place before us, every day – beyond the impression that each field is just following its own, independent evolution.

Besides a keen attention on visuals, with an entirely self-designed html page structure permitting an organic insertion of dynamic images and videos, I also intended to progressively grow the medium towards the audio format. We have featured audio recordings of the various perspectives for around half of our publications. A radio show in extension of the online platform was also discussed, and the beautiful surprises of time will certainly guarantee some developments at that level also, for the future.

Eager not to steal too much of your time, and before getting into the brief details of my research project, I may add that I have been working with LILA Foundation for the past two years, covering functions spanning across textual and content editing, writing, webmastering, graphic designing, photography and videography. In 2013-2014, my contribution went side-by-side with the completion of my M.A. in Philosophy from Manipal University, with a final Thesis entitled De l’Infini – A Foreigner’s Digression, which attempted to redefine the concept of the foreign/er so to unveil an unexpectedly, lively and potential approach to metaphysics. Since my return back to Delhi in May last year, my research and writings have found accommodation through the intense schedules of LILA’s proactive projects, in the form of the aforementioned editorial introductions to each LILA Inter-actions dialogue, as well as through a few musings on the multilingual LILA Blog: Parapluie, which I also conceptualised and designed, for instance in a blog-series on ‘Metaphysics of the Islamic State’, on the Charlie Hebdo killings or about Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash.

And it is precisely because of the multi-directional and pluri-form developments of the LILA Foundation that I have decided to take some distance and return to philosophical research, in order to find the time to continue exploring and refining my understanding and appreciation of the various philosophical traditions that have, so far, attracted my attention.

May I also add, in one last postponement of the climactic moment, that I have explored various multimedia across the years, having done a radio journalism internship in France during my B.A., 8 years of practice of piano, computer-aided compositions, as well as photography, as can be seen from Indiana Sam, my website counting the 6 years and running of my new life in India in some clicks and 100+ articles (also translated in English since May 2013). It also features my modest experimentations with videos, Summerize, a stopmotion made of 3500+ photographs, being perhaps the most interesting. You can watch it below.

There is also Samvriti, a website I launched yesterday and on which you are reading these lines. Samvriti evokes Samvriti Satya, the conventional truth of the Buddhists, truth of words, of concepts, of ideas and language, truth that we can understand and imagine, limited but potential and vital. Words are what I have, like Scrabble letters to go on and play, and perhaps make sense somewhere down the road. Samvriti will feature most of my writings for the past 8 years: music journalism, cinema reviews, philosophical musings, philosophical papers, notes of Buddhist studies, published research papers, etc. Once again: reclaiming the digital, and the flexibility of web design as a new space for appreciating philosophy, and philosophical writing. As of now, you may only find a few entries from my M.A. in Buddhist Studies from 2010 (we are getting old!) but I am adding new texts every day. I hope to complete the update with 70-100 texts by early July.

A return to research, indeed! Not the fantasy of the smelly books and the AC libraries (or library) of the capital. Just a deeply felt need for he who has found his way through philosophical literature and writing experimentations always in spite of the more urgent requirements of eight years of studies, or of working full-time with one the most vibrant cultural institutions in the country. Thus was the decision taken, only a week ago: whatever it costs, whatever it implies, this is required now. A personal need, but one that I cannot see benefitting myself alone. As always with philosophy.

The presentation of my project may sound quite simplistic and premature, but I believe in the capacity for ideas to translate into forms, into traces, into words and language, and hopefully, into material reality too. A third ‘pardon’, thus: I would like you to try and see the horizon between these brief lines. And keep in mind the long initial digression of this letter, to intuit that words never remain dead letters for me: sooner or later, new multimedia ideas will emerge as I go on exploring my philosophical research.

Four traditions: Existentialism, Post-structuralism, Buddhism and Samkhya. Four outlooks that came to me through many processes and experiences, and which I must look into carefully and creatively in order to further actualise my potential of contribution to the ideas and actions of our society today. Existentialism, for the weight of this tradition in the popular culture of my native France, and for the hopes of an exit from it that I found in Emmanuel Lévinas. Post-structuralism, for the long-awaited creativity and horizontal stare of Jacques Derrida, animating my hopes for a new understanding of Western Philosophy, and of even more urgent dialogues with other civilisations of thought around the world. (I am also the initiator and coordinator of the India Derrida Group, and its monthly reading sessions: Writing Derrida.) Buddhism, for my early intuition of its numerous solutions to the many deadlocks of European Philosophy, and for the many grains and curiosities my degree in Buddhist Studies planted in me. Samkhya, for the role of this school in the conceptualisation and vision of LILA Foundation, and for its intense combination of metaphysics, politics and aesthetics.

Four traditions, thus, first to read, because it is in that form that they left their most abstract and precise traces to us. The reading list is already set for the next 12 weeks: Heidegger’s Being and Time, Sartre’s L’Etre et le Néant, Lévinas’ Totalité et Infini and Autrement qu’Etre, Derrida’s De la Grammatologie, before looking sideways to other European classics, and bridging the gap with Indian traditions.

Bridging the gap, and nothing less. Emmanuel Lévinas attended the courses of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger in 1928 in Freiburg, Germany. 15 years later, the vitality of European philosophy had moved to Paris, with Sartre, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, and Lévinas himself, who had personally permitted this spatial transition by conducting the first translations of Heidegger into French. Indeed, Philosophy moves, and the stagnation of both society and philosophical works in the last decades in Europe and in my native France, are signs for me that the gravity spot of thought will soon have to find a new shelter. My bets are on India, for its modern context, its intellectual creativity, but especially for the richness of its old traditions of philosophy. More than a personal project, it is this new stage of human history that I wish to attend from the first row.

I will be delighted to extend this discussion by email or phone, or even in person, assuming that I have managed to trigger engaging enough of a chat with you here.


Samuel Buchoul

Image courtesy: Chasing the Perfect Moment