An 'Aesthetico-political Reawakening' in Dhaka
Salimullah Khan's lectures on theories of image and gaze
Professor Dr Salimullah Khan, the public intellectual and one of the country's most revered academics besides being an expert in psychoanalysis as philosophy, gave five lectures on Image, Gaze and Caesura, at Depart, under the programme Depart Lecture Series on Art and Theory.
Entitled Three Fundamental Concepts of Film Theory: Image, Gaze and Caesura, the lectures were cast around works by four international eggheads from four separate, yet overlapping, fields of theory. Jacque Lacan of Freudian psychoanalysis, Maurice Merleau-Ponty of phenomenology, Gilles Deleuze of new empiricism, and Walter Benjamin of cultural criticism, served as the springboard as Khan, as is his wont, took the audience by surprise by throwing decisive light on the least excavated areas of knowledge on image and gaze.
The series of lectures was launched on 15th November 2014 and was delivered over a period of five weeks, each taking place on a Saturday.
If the first two lectures were dedicated to Lacan's theory of gaze and its politics in relation to the three orders – real, imaginary, and symbolic, interspersed with ideas drawn from Merleau-Ponty's philosophy which prioritizes becoming over being, the next two concentrated on Deleuze's film theory – where the French philosopher introduces a series of categories to define the changing patterns of 'moving image' since cinema broke into the mainstream. The last lecture was a critical examination of image in the time of mechanical reproducibility seen from within the wide horizon of its cultural connotations, and studied in the context of Benjamin's 'dialectical image' – where two disparate categories simultaneously remain operational.
The lectures by Khan, due to their theoretical rigour and critical nature, attracted a large group of artists, photographers, film makers, theatre practitioners and cultural activists.
The basic premise set out by Khan was to examine the discourses in the vein of a comparative research putting image under a critical gaze in the changing climate of the current technologized environment where image making and distribution has reached a new, and often schizophrenic stage. Throughout the iterations Khan's premise centered on the folly of taking 'reality' for granted as 'reality is articulated only through the mediation of language'.
As for gaze, its nature and limits were explained by way of covering a wide expanse of philosophical discourses beginning from Plato and ending in Deleuze and Benjamin. Khan's parlay(s) was intertextual as well as crossdisciplinary. He also peppered his talks with theological reflections on how the image at once informs and problematizes the way of seeing.
Mark C Taylor posits 'the responsible writer must be an imagologist,' and the five lectures saw Khan successfully insert into the cultural landscape some fundamental concepts on and around the structure of gaze, as well as image and its (over)production.
In retrospect the programme can at best be described as a fluid journey through pre-modern and modern theories courtesy of Salimullah Khan's five scintillating lectures, one which effectuated an understanding of the use/abuse of spectacles in the Naziazation of politics and follies attendant upon the iconization of the political and cultural leaders paraded in the public arena in the guise of nationalism.
Salimullah Khan is a Professor of General Education at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh and as an adjunct faculty teaches on psychoanalysis of theatre at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies in University of Dhaka.