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.

The Semiotics of Violence: Reading Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies

Debamitra Kar, Women’s College, Calcutta, India

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This paper attempts a reading of Italo Calvino’s novel, The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1969) from a postmodern perspective. The novel has always been seen as structuralist experimentation, particularly because it was written at a time when Calvino was associated with the OULIPO, the group of the French philosophers like Claude Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes and others. The paper argues that the simultaneous reading of the words in the text and pictures in the margin, challenges the very practice and method of reading. The novel suggests that it can be read as a card game, a game that accentuates deferral and plurality of meaning. These conflicting readings create the semiotics of violence, which again is reflected in the theme of the stories. The paper cites example of three stories which show that the violence of language is codified as the violence of the feminine on the masculine, arguing that the feminine challenges the rules, laws, and structures of language as well as life and destroys things that adheres to any strict binary form. The conflict between the rule of the Father and the lawlessness of the Mother leads to no higher synthesis—it ends in violence that refuses all routes of communication or meaning.

Representation of the ‘National Self’— Novelistic Portrayal of a New Cultural Identity in Gora

Dipankar Roy,Visva-Bharati, India


Any colonial rule involves a systematic and ruthless attack on the culture and heritage of the colonized race. This often results in a total loss or at least maiming of the sense of ‘self’ for the colonized people. The masculinist self of the colonizer labels the self of the colonized as ‘effeminate’. In reaction to this, the nationalist consciousness of the colonized people often tries to replicate the macho virility of the colonial masters in an act of fashioning a ‘nationalist self.’ In the context of Indian colonial history we see development in similar lines. But, the codification of the dominant strand of the nationalist consciousness in overt masculinist terms often have strange reverberations. This paper is about such an act of fashionning selves and its after-effects. To study the issue in the Indian colonial contexts I have chosen Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Gora as a case-study. The conception of this novel’s central character is largely modelled on the issue of an ‘ideal’ national self.  The author, however, by observing the dialogic principle consistently in the text, problematises the dominant ideas connected with the figure of ‘nationalist self’. How he does it will be my main concern in this article. Whether it is possible to arrive at a general tendency of the nature of India’s colonial encounter with the British in relation to the issue of the development of the national character will be dealt with in the concluding section of this essay.

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