Thursday, September 24, 2015

Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight

22nd Sept 2015

One year in the research field and I figured out three keywords important enough to spend my remaining journey, defining, redefining, finding links between and within them. The more time I spent with them, the more it appeared to resemble a living creature evolving in its own complex capacity. These words are child-art, pedagogy and artist community.

Each of these words are mammoths by themselves that also brings in their individual herd of words to follow. My present task is essentially befriending these mammoths, knowing the followers, their strengths, weaknesses and so on. Thus, I start by reading papers, articles, journals that are related to this subject. I plan to take notes of readings and review them in my own capacity.

Today, I started with Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese cockfight, an essay from the book ‘The Interpretation of Cultures’ by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. What initially drove me to read on the topic was to understand the process of interpreting culture and representing it as an outsider, with an intension to study as an anthropologist. In 1950s, Geertz and his wife happened to travel to Bali to study the Balinese culture and there, they encountered the Balinese cockfight, which eventually revealed itself in a sociological context, status discriminations, hierarchical ranks, power play and metaphorical representation of man, himself. But what captivated me to read on was how the act of cockfight was interpreted in these various contexts. What seemed as an entertainment for grown ups, a play or a fight between birds was essentially much more than the ‘thrill of risk, the despair of loss or the pleasure of triumph’. The play eventually revealed the animal savagery, male narcissism, gambling, status rivalry, mass ejaculation of emotion, blood sacrifice all wrapped in a symbolic, metaphorical representation of the cockfight.

An interesting experience from the essay was that how the police attack of the first cockfight held in semi-secrecy, that they were caught in, proved to be a blessing in disguise that according to the author, facilitated ‘sudden and unusually complete acceptance into a society extremely difficult to penetrate’. They had been staying in the particular village for around two weeks then, before the incident, and it had been almost impossible for them to be accepted by the local people, for whom the authors were ‘nonpersons, specters, invisible men’. However, during the police raid, the authors incidentally choose to flee the scene just as the local people did, instead of showing the police the papers of their visitor status. This act of reacting like the localities became the turning point of their relationship with the community. In the words of the author, ‘what we had actually demonstrated was our cowardice, but there is a fellowship in that too’.

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