Metaittamil: Oratory and democratic practice in Tamilnadu

Bate, John Bernard

     Politicians in Tamilnadu, India, speak a literary genre of Tamil on the political stage. In distinction to a previous generation of relatively plain-speaking politicians, leaders of a political party within the Dravidian (Tamil) nationalist movement in the 1940's began to deploy a style of oratory ( met[dotbelow]aittamil[barbelow] ) using a speech genre known as 'fine' or 'beautiful' Tamil ( centamil[barbelow] ). This genre was markedly different from the spoken genres of everyday life known as 'vulgar' Tamil ( koccaittamil[barbelow] ) or 'bent' Tamil ( kot[dotbelow]untamil[barbelow] ). Though centamil[barbelow] sounds very old, its use on the political stage is quite new.
     The dissertation provides a genealogy, an ethnography and a phenomenology of this speech. The ethnographic and historical questions to which this dissertation is addressed are as follows: Why do Tamil politicians speak in a literary genre of the language? What is the history of this form of speaking and why did it develop? What are the specific phenomenologies (ideologies and aesthetics) of met[dotbelow]aittamil[barbelow]? And what does it mean to speakers and audiences that politicians speak this way? Answering these questions involves the description of met[dotbelow]aittamil[barbelow] along with a wide range of associated communicative activities in the sphere of formal political practice in Tamilnadu. In doing so, I find that met[dotbelow]aittamil[barbelow] has been developed by politicians within the context of an emergent democracy. The archaic form of the language corresponds to a whole series of re-deployed 'traditional' practices associated with the manner in which powerful entities are produced, as such, and with the ways people relate themselves to that power. Democracy, that quintessential institution of globalizing modernity, is culturally and historically a contingent phenomenon. To understand how democratic power is produced one must understand local notions of power in general. And to understand the nature of this power, I examine the political communicative practices, and phenomenologies of these practices, in which power is produced and through which people relate themselves to it. I argue that these 'traditional' forms of power are not simply continuations of some pre-modern, pre-colonial imperial formations; rather, following Milton Singer, I demonstrate that the 'traditional' is a primary modality of 'modernity.'

Friedrich, Paul