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RINITA MAZUMDAR

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 7/15/2015 |




SONGSOPTOK: ‘Marriage is a lifelong symphony with one central theme but the music is played in anew everyday’ – this is a rough translation of a line from a short story by Rabindranath Tagore. Do you feel that this comment, made in a period dominated by Victorian romanticism, is true today? 

RINITA: Yes, this is a “Victorian” comment, tinged with the religious/humanitarian philosophy about family, kinship, and social structures. Societies change with the change in the way humans produce their economic lives and sometimes, because they is a huge consciousness to change. Since kinship was the primary economic base in the “Victorian” period, as the market has not evolved sufficiently, there was a need to keep it intact, the question of individual autonomy often or patriarchical power does not figure in the above comment.



SONGSOPTOK: What, in your opinion, is the real chemistry of an intimate relationship? Do you think that the social institution of marriage is based on that chemistry? 

RINITA: I shall answer the second question first and then go back to the first question. Anthropological research shows that the marriage is the oldest institution in human society, it was perhaps instituted to avoid incest, because with incest there is no “economy” no transaction. For example, anthropologist Levi Strauss showed that as human population increased and there was a need for transaction, there arose a need to give and take things, and this is the origin of market. People started to exchange, for example, yams and goats with each other. A taboo was instituted, that one cannot consume one’s own produce. For example, if tribe X grew yams no one in that tribe would consume yams, they would transact it with another tribe, Y, who would grow, rice. If tribe, Y, grew rice there was a taboo in that tribe to consume rice, for the rice grown would be transacted to X. In the absence of the State, tribal exchange took this form of “exchange” or “gift”. French anthropologist, Marcel Mauss, said that this gift giving was universal, in the absence of which there would be tribal warfare. Nonetheless, neither rice nor yam, for example, could establish a permanent tribal alliance. So a commodity was discovered that could establish a more permanent bonding and avoid war. This bonding was called kinship and the commodity of transaction was “woman”. In some cases women were transacted for other women, in other cases for land or rice and so forth. Now a kinship was established between two tribes who could no longer fight as they share blood and lineage. This creation of kinship structure by imposing the transaction of the universal commodity, woman, was incest taboo. This transaction of women for the purpose of creating kinship alliance is called, ‘marriage”. Levi Strauss says that marriage is the alliance of groups of men via the transaction of women. As more agriculture was discovered and the market spread, the need to use the family and kinship as the sole basis of economics lessened and in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century when Europe was going through the industrial revolution and the “household” lost much of its function as the sole unit of production was lost, the idea of equating “marriage” with “love” appeared in the public discourse.

Lifelong intimate relationship can be between any sexes and genders; I think we have to judge these in the context of the circumstances. When there is relatively stress free environment, with some degree of material wealth, and higher consciousness where it is easier to build communities, lifelong groups and intimate relations are stable. Aristotle also said that strong communities can only be built in a flourishing polis.


SONGSOPTOK: What according to you are the main factors for keeping marital relationship alive and healthy? 

RINITA:  I would say that marital, like all other relationships become more stable where there is relatively less economic deprivation, as poverty can create stress and break families, there is a stable legal system, and there is mutual interest of both parties (I am assuming monogamous relationship here) to keep the relationship alive. The mutual interest is based on needs, for example, this need can emanate from economic, psychological, and social causes. In highly affluent societies, where there is a great sense of autonomy and individualism, intimate relationships have a harder time to survive, just as it is harder for intimate relationships to survive in poverty. There has to be a balance between relative affluence and some need for relationships to survive. As the monogamous family is part of the larger community, it is possible to say that more stable communities where there is less revolutionary changes can sustain more stable intimate relationship, out of the need to support each other.


SONGSOPTOK: Very often we see that a happy marital relationship results when one of the partners surrender to the other’s ego. Do you think this is how it should be? Especially since it is most often the woman that surrenders to the man, or more generally to the patriarchal system? 

RINITA:  The notion of “ego” is connected to the notion of autonomy and individualism. As the market is expanding and more labor is needed, women joined in the market as wage laborers as we saw in 19th century Europe. With this came the notion of “individual rights” and did put a strain on the family. Yet, as human beings we still need the community to survive. With more expansion of the market and the lesser need of people to rely on each other, there will be a greater degree of autonomy for hitherto oppressed groups like women, and we have to wait for the future to see how the family will stand the strain of this expanding market and individual autonomy or whether there will be any need for the family in a futuristic technological society. In addition, with the new in vitro fertilization, possible in the West we shall see more mothers giving birth and raising children on their own. The traditional heterosexual Malthusian couple is already being undermined, we shall see how the other forms of family survive the future evolution of science and technology.
 


SONGSOPTOK: Tolstoy said in his story THE KREUTZER SONATA “... a marriage without love is no marriage at all, that only love sanctifies marriage, and that the only true marriage is that sanctified by love”. We all agree that this is how it should be. That there should not be a tragic end to any marriage. What is the reason then for the increasing number of divorces in all societies? 

RINITA: The concept of equating ‘love” with “marriage” is a post industrial concept, as I said above. As the family lost its major function, its economic function, it was reduced to only its reproductive function, the bearing and rearing of children. And the concept of “marriage” got equated with “love”. Tolstoy is probably coming from a more religious or spiritual background, specially the monotheistic religion that bases family on love and duty.


SONGSOPTOK: By the word ‘marriage’ we generally think of a well defined relationship built on the tenet of spending the entire life together. Do you think that this in itself creates a type of suffocation which leads to break-ups and divorces? 

 RINITA: There are many types of “marriages” throughout history. The modern form of nuclear monogamous “Malthusian couple” is, as I said above, a product of the industrial revolution. Prior to that there were bigamous and polygamous, heterosexual, and rarely same sex “marriages” amongst alternative communities. Divorce, like the “Malthusian couple” is also a product of the modern era, as for suffocation, it may be true that modern marriages are “suffocating” as human beings are still adjusting to this new form of familial relationships, which is less than 200 years old in Europe and perhaps lesser in other parts of the world.


SONGSOPTOK: In a very general way, marriage is understood as the cohabitation of man and woman with a view to reproduction. Can this narrow and very physical dimension be the essence of marriage? Doesn’t the success of marriage depend also on a communion between the personality, psychology and above all the soul of the married couple? What is your opinion? Do you think that in modern society such a definition of marriage is relevant and realistic? 

RINITA:  The “Malthusian couple” is, as I said above, a very modern form of “marriage” and certainly this and other forms of marriages is based on the idea of reproduction of the species, that is why both in “arranged” and “love” marriages people ‘fall in love’ with people of the same race, class, ethnicity (this has been researched and documented); this is also true for same sex couples. As society is evolving with its technology and so forth, the oldest institution will evolve, as we see same sex couples want State protected of their rights to own and inherit property.


SONGSOPTOK: It seems that in today’s society the clash of personalities, especially within marriage, is an unpleasant reality. Almost 100 years back, D.H.Lawrence said in Lady Chatterley's Lover “The modern cult of personality is excellent for friendship between sexes, and fatal for marriage”. In other words, he thought that the development of woman’s personality is actually a hindrance to successful marriage. What is your opinion? Do you think that it is the inability of the patriarchal society to tolerate the independence of women the main reason for the marital conflicts in today’s society? 

RINITA: Patriarchy is the oldest form of power system and the idea of human autonomy that evolved in the 17th and 18th century in Europe (from which evolved the idea of individual political, economic, and social rights), is a forerunner of women’s rights. Certainly this is problematic for a power system to confront this new population who are emerging in the polis (the public sphere), legally, politically, and socially, just as it was hard for the slave owners to meet their “former slaves” in the market as equals. Marital conflict was always there, in feudal times it was between families as the modern concept of the autonomy of the individual did not exist; now, marriage has shifted from the family to the individuals and this conflict and the autonomy of the woman to break the patriarchical structure and assert their rights are happening. Yes, women’s autonomy in all the different sphere is a reason for marital conflict.


SONGSOPTOKDo you think that society perceives a divorced man and woman in the same way? Most of the time we see that the woman is blamed for not making the necessary compromises. So the implicit assumption is that the success of a marriage is directly related to the woman’s capacity to compromise. What is you view? 

RINITA: As I said before, the idea that ‘marriage” is a contract between two individuals is false. In the older agricultural societies it was a contract between families to establish tribal bondage via the transaction of women, in the modern society, it is based on the a tripartite contract in the West at least, between two individuals and the State. Whether it is an agricultural or capitalist system all are patriarchical, hence, all more or less are based on the women’s subordinate position. In the West where there is a more rights of the individual, there is women have more “rights” in relation to the State, that is legal and also more economic right and hence more marriages fall apart as marriage is about the transaction of women and not about a bipartite contract between a “man” and a “woman”.


SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that divorce affects the conscious and the subconscious of the children? What, according to you, could be the effect of a divorce in their adult lives, positive or negative? 

RINITA: There are many research on this issue. Let us take the issue of class. In most societies in impoverished classes there is a widespread symptom of “absentee father”, children do suffer from poverty and social exclusion, so “divorce” is a legalization of this phenomenon and not something new. Regarding the question of positive and negative effects of divorce, it depends on the situation, children a better off without an alcoholic father, nonetheless, financially and for the same of stability in many cases it is best if families are together. In most families round the world, mothers take up the job of childrearing and do all the labor surrounding it. Hence, to say that divorce is a special phenomenon that will affect the children negative or positively is a complex one, it depends on the situation. I personally think that the State ought to be involved in this labor of child rearing and provide low cost day cares for working mother and students who have children so that mothers do not have to bear the entire burden of this labor.


SONGSOPTOK: Generally it is the mother who takes care of the children following a divorce. Although children need their mother more while growing up, what kind of impact can the absence of a father figure have on a growing child? So what according to you should be the role of the mother? 

RINITA: I answered most of this question in the above answer.


SONGSOPTOK: What according to you could be the impact of the growing number of divorces on the next generations? Or do you think this is the way tomorrow’s society will evolve? 

RINITA: There are both positive and negative effects depending on the situation and we have to go case by case as I said before. Most of the labor surrounding child rearing is beared by the mother, regardless of whether she is single or married. This is why the community and the State should participate to share in this labor. In fact I believe the State has an obligation to participate in this labor.


 [Rinita Mazumdar is a Full time Instructor of Philosophy and Culture Studies in Central New Mexico Community College and an Affiliate Prof of Women Studies at the University of New Mexico. She got her Ph.D from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in Philosophy, and her M.A in Philosophy from Brock University, Canada and Calcutta University. Her published books include A Short Introduction to Feminist Theory, A Feminist Manifesto, Feminist Economics, Understanding Gender, Feminine Sexuality and a book of poems, Presently she lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A.]



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