Memories of a Machine, or the Machine of Memory?

 

Watching the much-debated ten-minute-film ‘Memories of a Machine’, which has been accused of justifying paedophilia, I remembered this woman:

I met her, a young woman professional working at Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram – where else, in these days, but in the queue in front of an ATM . In response to my grumbling, she told me that she had never experienced any kind of power in her whole life.  She had not even been affected by demonetisation much, she insisted. ‘True, I couldn’t pay the dhobi and the ironing-man, but those were minor inconveniences,’ she quipped cheerily, quite convinced, of course, that the predicament of these two people, definitely as much professionals’ as her, was none of her concern. Indeed, her constant effort was to cheer people in the queue with her don’t-worry-be-happy body-language with which she slipped and slid between acting and sounding like a grown woman and chirping and giggling like a teenager or child. She was attracted to the BJP, she said, because she needed some ‘philosophy’ in her life, to balance the heavy workload she carried in her workplace. As far I could see, her life was such that the philosophy-lesson she would find useful could have been obtained from something as commonplace as a treadmill – start slow, peak up, take regular dips, continue for a spell sufficiently long, stretch after the workout. In other words, her life seemed to be just one long workout, with no indication of when it would end or yield result. But just the feeling that she was on her way was enough to make her cheery to the point of being silly.

That, typically, is the attitude of precisely people who have been so overwhelmed by power, those who never have had a chance to see a sliver if light through a tiny chink even.

Typical of Facebook ‘cinema criticism’, the responses have either been calls to outright ban the film, take it off Youtube, or to celebrate it as a paean to children’s sexual pleasure. The actor’s FB page was attacked and taken down by ‘well-meaning’ angry netizens, again typical of these times.’Memories of a Machine’ is hardly a movie; it is a narration by a single actor, a young wife, to her husband, of her first experience of sexual pleasure as a child. She reveals to him that a peon in her school initiated her into sexual pleasure, that he was considerate, and it left her desiring for more. For many, the actor and director have violated the innocence of childhood; for many others, however, the depiction of child sexuality in the film seemed highly problematic.

I belong to the second set of viewers.If the film deserves criticism, it is certainly not for implying that children do experience sexual pleasure. It is absolutely certain that children have sexual pleasure and they are neither ‘innocent’ nor ‘simple’ in any straightforward way. Children know it, and so do adults, and the myth of the sexless pristine child is produced through the heaviest possible cultural interventions. However, children’s sexuality and pleasure are totally enmeshed in power relations, all of it , from thumb-sucking to masturbation. That is, children’s sexuality is shaped by the relations they have with their caregivers, who are adults and older and younger children , and none of these relations are power neutral, and that is where I find the film problematic – in its near-celebration of what seems to be a completely power-free sexual encounter of a child with an adult. There is a certain naive, almost hippy, assumption that if it is enjoyable, then it is power-free! Now, I am not really sure whether paedophilic inclinations, which could perhaps be identified by/in the paedophile before it manifests in acts, and actual incidents of child sexual abuse are the same, or be dealt with in the same way (but I am pretty sure that dealing any problem solely through hating it and demanding death penalty may not work) – nevertheless, what is being justified in the film is not just an inclination, but an act, recalled in memory.

And, besides, why should children’s sexual pleasure  be depicted as flowing from an encounter with an adult and in heterosexual term? For in most societies, especially ours, children are made to feel guilty about auto eroticism while forced to let the adults your parents approve of touch you (even when that is nonsexual in intent it can be invasive ). Auto-eroticism does not need the direct intervention of any adult in childhood: children discover sexual pleasure  through touching their own bodies and discovering delightful corners and crannies of pleasure in it and in utterly non-teleological ways. Children usually learn about the power relations that structure sexuality through encounters with adults – whether in pedagogy to suppress auto-eroticism or paedophilia , in which the child may indeed find enjoyment, but in terms set by the adult. If this is indeed a film that is about children’s sexual pleasure, I don’t see why it should be told in a heterosexual, power-ridden frame?

Indeed, that framing was what made be think of the young woman I mentioned earlier – the representative of unseeing youthfulness whose treadmill-ride of a life keeps her self-absorbed. The film resembles an advertisement not just because it is so short; the kind of femininity enacted in it comes really close to the youthfulness enjoying its confinement to the treadmill-life, and just like in the nauseating jewellery ads in Kerala’s movie theatres in which the parents notice the daughter’s readiness for marriage, load her with gold, followed by the happy scene of a totally acceptable chap coming to ‘see’ her and falling in love instantly with the golden girl, and then, finally, giggly romance in a scenic place. I found the giggly protagonist rather abhorrent (just like I could not help detesting the perpetually-happy woman in the queue), who responds coyly,playfully, to the authoritative, totally ‘grown-up’ steady male voice who gently coaxes her to ‘reveal’ herself first and then her memories slipping and sliding between childish and womanly registers. Of course, she finds her own treadmill exhilarating: the tiny thali-chain of gold peeping out of the cool-chic nightwear, the confession that her parents married her off when they found her masturbating one day, and how she was lucky that this man was the first one to come to ‘see’ her, and then the happy-ever-after of companionate conjugality, in Bangalore (Ha!). Everything is ‘cool’ – read power-free – the camera, (which we are repeatedly told, is ‘old’) though she finds it invasive at moments, is cool, the husband who gazes through it is cool, the childish stance of being woken up by the husband  who calls her ‘baby’ (like a parent, for sure) is uber-cool, and so is the telling itself, after which she takes off her bra in a gesture of (implied-feminist?) relief! The man tells her that he had answered the very same question when she asked it, but of course, that is not what an ‘old’ camera would be keen to peep into perhaps?

However, there is a moment in her prattling, when the husband drops the word paedophilia, when her face changes drastically, becoming serious, wary, even sombre. That moment passes quickly, and is not matched by her exaggerated protests at the end of her narration about having to narrate it. That moment seems to indicate a tiny chink, a break, however momentary, in her memory’s work of layering and rendering the incident palatable, say-able. If one read the film from that moment perhaps, we would arrive at a different text altogether, one which reveals the work of memory in patriarchy.

This is why I thought that the film would have been read quite differently, if only it had a different title – perhaps, ‘The Machine of Memory’. The present title did not make sense to most viewers, even serious cinema-watchers. Some claimed that the camera was the machine, and others said that it was the woman’s body! Frankly, I don’t know what the title refers to either! Could it be desire – a sweeping and off-the-mark reference to Deleuze and Guattari, an attempt, using a rather commonsensical reading of these philosophers, to indicate that the woman’s body is a ‘desiring machine’? I am no expert, but as far as I know, they conceive desire quite differently, indeed, as nothing that can be nicely corralled within heterosexual, arranged marriage? Is this film, to use these philosophers’ language, really about a woman’s memory of de-territorializing and re-territorializing her space? The child this woman remembers is entirely innocent of sexual pleasure before the man touches her; she is not really complicating any binary, leave alone that of sexual victimisation/sexual empowerment, and there are no ‘molecular becomings’ (i.e. the small, everyday, microprocesses, which are non-linear) in the film that disrupt the ‘molar lines’ (the sedimented structures of constraint)? And after all, there is no child in the film, except one remembered by a woman and it could well be a tabula rasa for her construction? The trauma that glimmers in the woman’s wary, alert expression when paedophilia is mentioned is not opening any space for a new ‘rhizomatic’ subjectivity?

But then if the title had been the ‘Machine of Memory’, then we might have had another set of cues, which would have made it more Freudian perhaps? Memory would then have been seen as the machine-like normalizing and ordering object the film explore, and it would have been about how it works in the patriarchal order, how it is breached in the everyday, and how that breach is quickly mended again? In this reading, the film would have looked like a critical take on the functioning of patriarchy and the everyday possibility of eroding it, however tiny that may be?

I mentioned that I did not like the film. But precisely because no single reading of any text is beyond question and authoritative, I would not go with the shrill and near-pathological chorus that condemns the makers of the film and demands nothing less than its death. Indeed, are there not other ways of dealing with it? Like inserting a warning for content that may be disturbing to people who have had unpleasant sexual experiences as children, and seeking Adult certification and restricted viewing on Youtube?

 

richard_lindner_-_boy_with_machine_1954

 

6 thoughts on “Memories of a Machine, or the Machine of Memory?

  1. She’s a grown woman acting like a little girl in a frock about a serious debatable issue (child sexuality) in a giggling manner. The contradictions are interesting. She has not registered this as paedopilic or in some way, dangerous possibly because her parents have not instilled ‘bad touch-good touch’ in her mind. Yet, if her father had never been transferred and she had been accessible to the peon… most disturbing.

    If anything, this film brought out the unspoken part of child abuse. That sometimes, bad touch might feel good, so good that it is best kept a wonderful secret from ‘others’ who might end the fun.

    A young person may unwittingly, like a little pup wagging its tail at a predator, get pulled into a complicated mire that they have willingly entered.

  2. meenakshi puri

    Is there a link for watching it with sub titles in English or Hindi? I do not understand the language in the film on the link I found.

    is in a language I do not understand.

  3. meenakshi puri

    I recall a CREA workshop in Khandala, where it was said by one of the facilitators that if the child enjoyed the sexual act it should not be termed as abuse. Not that I endorse that view.

    Recordings of that workshop must be available. Normally the conversations that transpire in workshops are recorded.

  4. meenakshi puri

    May i have a link to the film where it has subtitles or is dubbed in Hindi or English, since these are the languages I understand. The film on you tube is in a language I do not get.

  5. Dr. A Chatto

    How much should a woman deny herself or repress all energies of interest and desire in that which is not socially acceptable or in the partisan interests of some hazy societal goal. If someone is a submissive or a masochist and much evidence has it that many people are simply wired this way should she accept the notion that she is broken and must change to be more powerful more strong more like someone she isn’t? And how long must she pretend ? her entire life? To be unfulfilled forever because what she wants goes against some strategic or tactical position…

    I have to really applaud the originality and bravery involved in this production. It is undoubtedly a bit of a confessional.
    Maybe she actually just wants to wear a frock and reminisce about a time when all hands were big all men were tall and all voices were deep… where she could be tossed around like a little feather… the rage that taboo evokes is its fecundity in libido… This is a direct proportion… When are we going to recognize that The Irate are showing you their sexuality not their moral mask? When will we realize that the loudest Angriest Man in the room is not the most innocent and in fact it may quite be the opposite?

    When will we realize that we are a very silly species because all of us seem to be sharing all the same deep dark Dirty Secrets?

    And from the perspective of individuality in feminine identity…
    How far are we going to allow those wonderful people who love to shape things to reform things and to recreate things to do this the very same manipulative shaping to our true selves our souls?

    Should we swallow the bitter pill of negativity in the name of the cause, the struggle… Truly should we allow Andrea dworkin to make all pornography into murder? Especially when there is mounting scientific evidence that it’s the most effective prevention of rape ever invented. Not a non-sequitur, this is an analogy for what has happened to the entire process of feeding back to individuals about their sexual diversity. Starting to question our assumptions and actually use introspection and our own feelings to come to our judgments and decisions is probably reform that needs to be happening.

    Should everyone adopt the one-size-fits-all sex negativity of if this happened you were destroyed you are damaged for life you will never recover? Should we allow any existing systems of support and authority to wield such damage?

    Why is sex negativity the largest piece of baggage added to every single one of these structures of control and belief?

    How many lateral because I want to fit as much information as I can into a little bit of space.Once Upon a Time I used to think that pedophilia was the great issue of our age… simply because almost all people react to it in a curiously similar violent angry guilty fashion … But there are so many other 9 out of 10 phenomena … pedophilia is only the tip of the iceberg. Dominance and submission the power relationship in every single social interaction is the greatest blind spot. Sadism and masochism are discrete and separate from dominance and submission we usually lump them together. The question of rape… We know so much more about it than we are willing to admit even to ourselves.

    What is this drive to slam ourselves into each other?The quickest explanation is read write masochism is a scan read and record operation passively triggered sadism is a seek and write operation with an active dynamic.

    It is often said that 90% of our brains go unused well that’s because we’re probably not copying enough people properly :-)

    Sexuality is about reproduction. Literally. Energies copy themselves into biological hosts from person to person the signatures are resident and exhibit systems Behavior. Constructs like the superego personalities may not just be fragments of memory but actual recordings of biological energy still echoing in our nervous systems.

    It may not even be her sitting and giggling it may be a peon reminiscing from his Vantage Point deep in her nervous system, the first imprint the first signature…

    Our ancestors used to know these things … we’ve given up something precious for our cable television and our cheap beer… Immortality

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