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Volume 18

Dead Medium - Summer 2017

About the Issue

Written by
Torsa Ghosal

Torsa Ghosal is the Associate Editor of Papercuts magazine. She is the author of the novel, Open Couplets (2017), published by Yoda Press in India. Her poems and short stories have appeared in venues such as The Hindu BLink, Aaduna, Poydras Review, Unsplendid, Himal Southasian, and Muse India. She is also a researcher, specializing in narrative theories–-that is, the systematic study of the aesthetic experiences offered by stories across media–-and 20th-/21st- century experimental literary forms. Her critical and scholarly writings can be found in Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies, South Asian Review, Media-N: Journal of the New Media Caucus, Post Script, and Latinos and Narrative Media. In the past, she has assisted the editors of the journal, Prose Studies: History, Theory, Criticism. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of post-1945 English literature at California State University, Sacramento.


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Volume 18 Theme and Cover Story


We arrive at the story of a medium—the narrative of its gestation, birth, and death—in medias res; that is, in the middle. The life of the media we use every day began in forms and needs of which we’ve lost sight. The media of today were present in those of the past: there was Marathi, Bengali, and Hindi in Sanskrit; there was the electronic stylus in pencil and pen, and pencil and pen in the ancient stylus that wrote on wax tablets. New media also frequently flaunt the burden of the past they bear—their high lineage—in order to gain currency among users, who are simultaneously enchanted and remain ill-at-ease with the new. So, the device writing on touch sensitive screens comes to be called “stylus.” But, of course, the history a medium obviously cites is not the only one it has. Schemes and dreams that did not take off—media that died before being fully realized—remain repressed in this history. Similarly, media technologies yet-to-be are preempted by the planned obsolescence of the present-day ones.

This still is half the picture of the tangled web of implications that “Dead Medium“—the theme of the latest issue of Papercuts—weaves. “Medium” connotes that which is in-between. Medium could be a technology that transmits and connects, bending time and space. It could be the layer that dissembles the real in an attempt to make up for its very absence. Medium could also refer to a thing or a living body through which the dead come to haunt us. But, what happens when that which was supposed to be in-between stops working for an instant or forever? Then, nothing connects the living, nothing keeps the living from the dead. Thus, if on the one hand “Dead Medium” prompts us to recall what we’ve lost, remember the “dead;” on the other, “Dead Medium” compels us to speculate about the catastrophe during which all communication has ceased—a time and space where there is nothing and nobody.

The authors who have contributed to Papercuts Volume 18 cover the range of possibilities that lie somewhere in between the backward-looking nostalgia and the forward-looking paranoia that the theme of the issue evokes. For instance, while Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s poem “Sister” traces the eponymous word’s origin in order to reflect on the nature of the familial relationship it labels and bhavani’s fiction, “A Story that Lived,” regrets the loss of narratives over generations, Umer Khan’s “Ten” takes us to a dystopia that is not far removed from the present and Randall G. Arnold’s “Karma Garden” builds a world, one that is both eerie and familiar, on another planet. Then there is Ayesha Nasir’s fiction “Postscript” that celebrates the fortitude of the ordinary heroes who carry messages and hold communities together during crises and Sadaat Ruhul’s poem “People’s Republic of Disjointed Narratives,” which juxtaposes vignettes that are precisely located in time and yet, being iterative, defy that temporal specificity. The essays and interviews collected in the volume similarly dwell on memory, time, and death through their reflections on various media. Our art feature—Meenu, Farjad, and Mazhar’s “The Ghost Will Leave if You Ask Nicely: Lollywood and Other Things that Linger“—reminisces a closed chapter of Pakistani cinema whereas Swaati Chattopadhyay’s “Odissi: Binging on Love” considers our enduring relationship with artforms as diverse as Odissi, miniature Mughal paintings, and contemporary prestige TV. And though Qudsia Rana’s “Atoofat Namay” celebrates the beauty of letters handwritten by artists such as Ghalib and Van Gogh, the essay refuses to give in to a sense of loss when musing on communication in the age of emails. It is also striking that several poems, stories, and essays published in this issue address the death of a medium through meditations on the death of kin. The lyrical essay “Endnotes: On Photographing the Dead in Family,” K. Vish’s fiction “An Obituary,” and Domenic Scopa’s poem “Newlyweds in the Sarcophagus,” among others, memorialize (actual and fictional) deceased relations in their own, rather twisted, ways without resorting to sentimentality.

While curating this rich array of materials, the Papercuts editorial team found an excellent guide in Volume 18’s guest editor, the computer scientist-turned-author Anil Menon. Anil’s contribution to South Asian speculative fiction as an author of novels such as Half of What I Say and as an editor of anthologies like Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by Ramayana is well-known across the globe. He has also authored children’s literature and in the course of his career, he has been shortlisted for several prestigious awards including the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award and The Hindu Literary Prize. Anil’s understanding of the theme and incisive comments on each submission made it possible for us to compile such a strong and eclectic issue.

Given the many positions from which this edition of Papercuts tackles the notion of “Dead Medium,” it was imperative to find a cover image that would lay bare what is central to the concept, notwithstanding its many interpretations: a mediating object or body that has ceased to be functional. The Saudi artist Maha Malluh’s “Screened” (2010) from the “Tradition & Modernity Photogram series” did just that for us. In the image, we come across X-ray scans of familiar objects including an audio tape, a comb, and inscriptions. Superimposed on these is the X-ray scan of a human torso. The scanner strips mediating objects like the audio tape as well as the human body off their ordinary forms and functions while transmuting them into data. Malluh critiques this process of screening—the act of surveillance—by preserving an image of the fleeting moment during which a thing that means something to its owner, along with the owner’s body itself, becomes immaterial within a system. Even as one medium (the scanner) renders another transparent, the latter gets encoded as figures to be controlled and scrutinized for threat. Thus, Malluh’s powerful and critical visual presents media at their limits, which is also the scenario that concerns the poems, fictions, and essays constituting Papercuts Volume 18.


“Screened” by Maha Malluh. Cover image for Papercuts Vol. 18 Dead Medium. From Malluh’s “Tradition & Modernity Photogram series”. 2010. C-print in Light box John Jones London. 61 x 48 inches. Courtesy of artist and Galerie Krinzinger Vienna Austria.




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