Voicing Subjects: Public Intimacy and Mediation in Kathmandu

Voicing Subjects: Public Intimacy and Mediation in Kathmandu

Voicing Subjects: Public Intimacy and Mediation in Kathmandu

Voicing Subjects: Public Intimacy and Mediation in Kathmandu

Synopsis

Voicing Subjects traces the relation between public speech and notions of personal interiority in Kathmandu. It explores two seemingly distinct formations of voice that have emerged in the midst of the country's recent political and economic upheavals: a political voice associated with civic empowerment and collective agency, and an intimate voice associated with emotional proximity and authentic feeling. Both are produced and circulated through the media, especially through interactive technologies. The author argues that these two formations of voice are mutually constitutive and aligned with modern ideologies of democracy and neoliberal economic projects. This ethnography is set during an extraordinary period in Nepal's history that has seen a relatively peaceful 1990 revolution that re-established democracy, a Maoist civil war, and the massacre of the royal family. These dramatic changes have been accompanied by the proliferation of intimate and political discourse in the expanding public sphere, making the figure of voice ever more critical to an understanding of emerging subjectivity, structural change and cultural mediation.

Excerpt

In the late monsoon month of September 1989, during my first visit to Nepal, I was given a tour of Kathmandu by my Nepali friend Raj Gopal on the back of his motorcycle. During our first meeting earlier that morning, inside his office, he told me that Nepal was in a critical state. People were angry with the king. Something was bound to happen soon. He did not know what, but it was certain to be violent. People wanted to be able to speak more freely, he told me, and for this they will fight. Raj Gopal, a young man in his twenties, had been active in politics when he was a student some years back and had spent nineteen days in prison after protesting, as he said, “for democracy.” He bore a scar on his hand from those prison days, which he wore proudly as proof of his activism. Since his activist days, Raj Gopal had settled into work as a cartographer in the government environmental park and forest conservation project.

In the afternoon, on his motorcycle, we careened around the city, past the drenched, grey cement houses that lined most streets and the patches of a few remaining fields made brilliant green by monsoon rains. Raj Gopal began to show me some of the important spaces in the city. He pointed out the new suburbs of Baneswar, where families and students from all over Nepal were beginning to settle and build, a testament to Kathmandu’s status as the center of the nation. We passed the national stadium and then the large open grassy space in the middle of the city—the Tundikhel. Raj Gopal told me this field was not open to the public and used only to perform large royal functions or demonstrations by the army, which were all controlled by the king. From afar, Raj Gopal pointed out Singh Durbar, “the lion palace.” At the beginning of the twentieth century the palace was home to the ostentatious Rana rulers and was now the official home of government offices: the . . .

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