Un/real

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Photograph by Thoithoi O’Cottage (Janakpuri DC, New Delhi, July 2016)

What is reality and how does it relate to unreality? Or asked the other way round, what is unreality and how does it relate to reality? Different languages deal with binaries differently—the concepts labelled by x and y which has an x-y (stem-derivative) relation in one language may realize as a y-x (stem-derivative) relation in another language, if such cases of two concepts, x and y, being represented by the signs of one and its derivative happens to be there; for example, the Manipuri word landaba is derived from lanba, the corresponding English words for which have the derivation relation the other way round—righteous (landaba) is the stem of unrighteous (lanba).

Stem            derivative      morphological process     language
landaba         lanba           clipping                  Manipuri
righteous       unrighteous     prefixing                 English

However, all of them invariably favor one or the other (but not both) ideas engaged in the struggle for supremacy in their conceptual hierarchy. In English, the concept “unreal” is built on “real,” confirming the supremacy of “real” over “unreal.” This hierarchy, unconsciously on our part, determines the order of our questions asked above at the beginning.

Similarly, in Sanskrit “himsa” is more fundamental than its derivative “ahimsa.” This order may not necessarily result from the favoritism toward ideas cultures show in practice, but when attitudes sustain for over a significantly long period of time, they leave a behavioral track in the collective unconscious of a community which condenses into moral codes. At this point, the whole scheme of things in effect (no matter what the design/purpose was originally) proves to have been functioning as a collective moral apparatus upholding certain values while repressing certain others, which is nothing but favoritism in action.

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Photograph by Thoithoi O’Cottage (New Delhi, August 2016)

When we think of reality, we have to try as much as we can to shed the favoritism in our tissues of our own cultural body or cultural psyche so we can arrive at a hypothetical primordial conceptual field in which concepts comingle without a timeline showing their evolution and relative ages. Tying concepts down to the etimologies of their corresponding words the processes of signification have established the relations they have with crams concepts into distict cultural boxes thereby circumscribing the potency of concepts to fill out to their own full extent. But we often encounter situations in which ideas/concepts need to be given equal treatment (something that could be achieved by an ahistorical engagement).

Thinking along this line, the concepts of “real” and “unreal” coexist side by side (horizontally) or simultaneously on different planes (vertically but not in a hierarchical scheme). Only then can we conceive of a conceptual field in which apparently opposite concepts merge harmoniously on the edges even as they maintain the unique properties of their identities.

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