Plasticity and the Global
In the face of the persistent Euro-American slant of Film and Media Studies, the task of globalizing the discipline involves approaching its object of knowledge differently. There has to be a meta-theoretical shift not only in the constitution of “theory,” but also in the organization of the “global.” This essay will seek to identify and dislodge certain universalist preconceptions that underlie both concepts. Here I focus on the global, but many of the following observations are applicable to theory as well.
Alongside this necessary critique, the essay develops a more supple approach to the global in terms of the concept of plasticity. Plasticity references a multinodal and fluid understanding of the global (and, at a meta level, of theory) as a set of relationalities between nodes that are in a continual state of transformation. A sense of the global as a field of shifting relationalities is performatively worked out and presented in media practices via a self-conscious aesthetic mode, foregrounding the centrality of artifice. Thus relationality, mutability, and artificiality are plasticity’s defining characteristics.
To ground this approach in the empirical, the essay focuses on cultural inscriptions of the Taj Mahal, the celebrated World Heritage site in India, as a dynamic semantic space where the folds of the global and the local get worked out as constantly evolving relationalities. It concludes with brief musings on the work that “Bollywood”—a hybrid, intrinsically relational and rapidly shifting, i.e. plastic assemblage–performs at this juncture.