Sex, Sexuality and Gender in the Delhi Metro Trains: a Semiotic Analysis

Anuj Gupta, St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, India


This paper explores the way sex, sexuality and gender are constructed in Delhi, India by using a semiotic understanding of reality whereby an individual is thought of as being subjectivized due to his being embedded in the socio-semantic text of a city full of signs which he/she interprets and appropriates. Within this socio-semantic text that the individual interprets, there are various determiners of interpretation and gender is one of them. The text of analysis is the collection of signs in the Delhi Metro trains and the methodology used is loosely based on the works of Roland Barthes. The purpose of this essay is to determine the ways in which the citizens of Delhi think of sex, sexuality and gender and analyze the ways in which these notions are reproduced on a daily basis through microcosmic texts like the signs in the Delhi metro trains.

Introduction: A “bookish” understanding of reality

The idea of a book serves as an appropriate metaphor for a semiotic understanding of “reality”. In such an understanding, both a book and reality are texts or collections of signs that the individual subject interprets though his faculties of interpretation, conditioned through his identity. However, it must be kept in mind that the text of reality and the interpreter are porous categories which constantly pour into and mould each other i.e., while the subject’s interpretation constantly reproduces reality, the very tools of perception that the subject has are shaped by social factors or determiners (that which the act of perception/interpretation will then go on to reproduce), creating a cyclical rather than a linear or causal model of the creation of the self and society. A circle has no origin, which is why it is virtually impossible to pinpoint which came first; the self or the social, parole or langue, the chicken or the egg.

There are various determiners that influence this hermeneutical act of creation of meaning and being which are spread out throughout the text of reality, both inside the individual and outside in the society. In simplistic terms, one could say that the primary schools of cultural criticism today (like Feminism, Marxism, Post Colonialism etc.) are oriented to the study of one such determiner of interpretation each and then through that determiner they postulate about this entire process. (For example, a post-colonial school of criticism would ideally focus on the significance of the determiner of race or ethnicity in the meaning created in a cultural artifact (like say Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart), through which it would then go on to postulate larger theories about how this is connected to the ways in which people generated “meaning” and modes of being in the socio-cultural semantic realities from which this text emerged (In the case of the Things Fall Apart, this would perhaps refer to the interpretative communities of pre and post colonization Nigeria).

Ideas about these determinants of interpretation do not magically emerge hierarchically from “centers” of power (like the state, or the church or the police) as was thought traditionally. Foucault’s thought shows us that power rather operates in a horizontal manner and is present everywhere (Foucault 1980). It would thus be wise to rechristen these erstwhile “centers” of authority as “lenses” of authority. They should be thought of as convex lenses which concentrate certain ways of orienting these determinants onto the society in which they exist at a given time. When the individual comes into being in this socio-semantic space, his/her ways of interpreting it and orienting his/her self are influenced by such lenses of authority. Barthes’ essay, The Death of the Author argues that reading a text while keeping in mind what the author must have meant is a kind of censorship of meaning (Barthes 1978). Such a reading of a text restricts whatever meanings one might have produced. The writer figure should be thought of simply as the conductor of the textual symphony rather than its composer. If we transpose this argument onto the semantic text of reality, then just like the prominence of the intentional fallacy in the creation of meaning in the reading of a book, individuals in society too are usually influenced in their acts of interpretation of reality by the “author”otative lenses of power discussed above. Revolution in this sense would be a radical new interpretation of this text of reality that defies the meanings generated if one dutifully orients one’s interpretations in accordance with these lenses of ‘authority’…Access Full Text of the Article

Voicing Colourspaces: Colour-usage and Response as Alternative Narration in Dennis Cooley’s Bloody Jack

Ashes Gupta, Tripura University, India.

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Dennis Cooley has attempted to unsettle several complex issues relating to post modernity, intertextuality, mingling of genres, decentering authority et al.  His poetry is rich in complexity and in dealing with the problems of the text. He has published three books of poetry.  Leaving (Turnstone 1980), Fielding (Thistledown 1983) and Bloody Jack (Turnstone 1985).  His poetry reveals his interest in formal departures from the tyranny of orthodox running rhythm, and the left hand margin.  From Leaving to Bloody Jack, Cooley has decentred authority from its traditional formal and ideological strongholds including the author, and placed it in the mind and heart of the reader.  In his books of poetry, especially Bloody Jack, Cooley tends to deal with flexibility, knowledge and tolerance and seeks to voice the sparsely populated and neglected space of the Canadian prairie. This paper is an attempt to read Dennis Cooley’s Bloody Jack from the semiotic perspective of his use of colour as sign-code in it and the other related issues that it voices.

Poems and Paintings by Rob Harle


the potential,
for creating digital autonomy;
an insistence,
directed by a Gabriel clone
about the inequity of reality;
and then sadly,
transmitted orally to one person (a life);
this dying is about a postmodern body
a lonely body, alone;
the situation becomes more impersonal
and still yet?
Transhuman potential,

Five Poems of Peter Nicholson

                               A Life

No intermediary in the passing night

Brought better news than what the heart revealed,

Sending from its furthest reaches news

Of bitter blood, infatuated calm

Or a tempest of delighted skin.

Thus at midnight, with the world beyond

Your fragmentary reach at goodnesses,

Silence then was best—you were just a guest

Of something larger than this sorrowing.

No use to reason why the crest of time

Has danced on you, then left a trampled rind.

You lived and knew the best, then left your life behind.

Science, Love, Literature: John Donne and Constance Naden

Mahitosh Mandal, Ramakrishna Mission Residential College, Kolkata, India


This paper attempts to understand how science is blended with literature in John Donne and Constance Naden, how the blending is a patterned one, and how a new poetics is developed out of this. Along with this is analyzed how literature can become a valuable document for science, especially for recording its reception. Consequently, both the socio-cultural emergence and development of science and literature are considered.

Causation as Metaphor–a Catachresis

Robert C Robinson, University of Georgia, USA

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The thesis of this paper is that causation, when described and treated as a metaphor, increases in explanatory power, while diminishing the problems associated with standard analysis of it. I  first present a description of the uses of metaphor in scientific and literary language. This is drawn primarily from Max Black’s interaction view of metaphor, as well as the view forwarded by Donald Davidson in his What Metaphors Mean. I then outline some of the standard analyses in the field of causation, followed by some of the standard replies to those analyses. Finally, I show how describing causation in terms of a metaphor will bypass many of these objections, while maintaining or increasing its explanatory power.

Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin and Mr Bucket: Mid- Nineteenth-Century Intimations of the Thought-Police

Maria-Ana Tupan , University of Bucharest, Romania

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The detective as a literary character was co-fathered within a brief interval from each other by Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, but Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin , who appears in three stories of the former  – “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842), and “The Purloined Letter” (1844) –  and low-born, illiterate Bucket, who wreaks havoc upon an ancient aristocratic family in Bleak House, were hatched within nests of widely different social and cultural provenance. The American boy treated to the long-established traditions of institutionalized education in the Old World, and the English child worker, whose father was imprisoned for debt, were a Victorian version of the Prince and Pauper plot.  Our new-historicist approach to these early samples of detective fiction seeks to throw light on the discursive negotiations which may be invoked in an explanatory narrative of the polar representations of one and the same professional class shortly after the creation of the metropolitan police.

Cultural Outlook of Literary Dialect in Hard Times and Silas Marner

Serir-Mortad Ilhem, Abu Bekr Belkaid University, Tlemcen, Algeria

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This paper is an attempt to help plug the oral utterance as it occurs in dialogue with the cultural impact in a given society, i.e. to explain the cultural significance of the variants and indicate how the use of dialect by humble characters can interpret a whole system of society mapped by Dickens and Eliot in Hard Times and Silas Marner respectively. Otherwise, the paper is designed to provide the type of speech community in Hard Times and Silas Marner besides the different cultural components of such communities that could the dialectal variables, used by the different characters in the novels, amply reflect through their speech. Hard Times and Silas Marner offer interesting raw material for literary dialect analysis, since each of dialect characters denotes a linguistic strategy to reflect cultural interpretation.

Semiotic Encryption of Women, Violence and Hysteria in Indian Women Dramaturgy

Praggnaparamita Biswas,  Banaras Hindu University, India

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The juxtaposing depiction of women, violence and hysteria as semiotic elements in women-centric play-texts attempts to translate the theatrical meanings because of its demonstrable approach to unearth the textual meanings and its relational politics of representation. From semiological aspect, the interplay of women, violence and hysteria generates a kind of semiotic femaleness in order to prognosticate the feminist route of cultural politics imbedded in the narratives of female composed drama. The present paper intends to analyze the semiotic transformation of Indian women dramaturgy in the plays of Padmanabhan, Mehta and Sengupta. Each of their plays tries to interpret new meanings hidden under the semiotic signs used by these playwrights and also attempt to project the gender politics visualized in the realm of feminist theatre.  

Ravaged Bodies, Embodied Performance: Performativity in Dattani’s Brief Candle

Samipendra Banerjee, University of Gour Banga, Malda, India

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Brief Candle, Mahesh Dattani’s latest play concerns itself with the plight of cancer patients but in the process takes important strides in performativity. This paper is an attempt to evaluate performance and performativity within the theatrical space through an analysis of the centrally dominant stage prop, the mask or ‘Face of Cancer’ and performing bodies. Touching upon the genealogy of Performance Studies as a discipline and its intricate and fraught relationship with the theatre I seek to explore performative elements in the play. I also seek to look at the ‘derogated’, cancerous body as a charged site of performativity and argue that bio-medical and technological intervention crucially transforms the human body. The play could also be read as a space that explores the post-human body and its performative possibilities.