DISJUNCTIVE SOCIAL PROCESSES
STEPHEN GILL’S THE FLAME
By Dr. G. Dominic Savio
Mrs. S.J. Kala
“ If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself alone….” - Samuel Johnson
An individual abhors the state of isolation. He is not born into this world to live a life of segregation. From womb to tomb he/she continually interacts with other members of the society to fulfill his/her needs. This spurs an individual to come in contact with other members of the society. Society comprises of norms and statuses-the static element and it includes social interaction, the dynamic element too. No individual is spared of social relationships, the functional aspects of society. They are engaged in different kinds of interaction called social processes.
The term “Social Process” encompasses human interaction and patterns of behaviour. According to Green social interaction is
“…the mutual influences that individuals and groups have upon one another in their attempts to solve problems and in their striving toward goals. Social interaction discloses the concrete results of striving behavior upon roles, statuses, and moral norms” (Green 57).
He also elaborates that “social processes are merely the characteristic ways in which interaction occur” (Green57). Social interaction that takes on a specific direction evolves into a social process. Social processes are found in all societies. The processes of interaction have been classified by sociologists based on the relationships that exist between two interacting individuals and groups. “So classified the forms of interaction are called the social processes” (Biesanz 113).
Integrative or Associative or Conjunctive social processes and Disintegrative or Dissociative or Disjunctive social processes are the two kinds of social processes that they can be divided into. “Those processes which tend to create harmony or unity in society” are called Integrative or Associative or Conjunctive social processes (Ruhela133). Accommodation, adjustment, assimilation, cooperation and integration fall under this category. Disintegrative or Dissociative or Disjunctive social processes are those “which tend to create disharmony or disunity in society (Ruhela 134). They are competition, conflict, contravention and dissension. Literature also mirrors these Conjunctive and Disjunctive processes. Like many literary works Gill’s works too talk of these social processes.
Stephen Gill, a
“The Flame is about peace and peace is the main area of my exploration” (19). This long poem an outcome of Gill’s eight years of work is divided into eight parts that is further divided into sixty two cantos. In Gill’s own deliberation on the poem, the first part of The Flame is devotional. The second, third, fourth, fifth are about the destruction caused by maniac messiahs. The sixth part deals with those responsible for destruction. The yearning for the loss surfaces out of the seventh and eighth part of the poem. Hope reigns in the last part of the poem.
A close study of the poem, The Flame exposes the fact that a major portion of the poem deals with the causes and consequences of disjunctive social processes. Hence, the paper aims at identifying the type of disjunctive process, studying their specific characteristics and analysing their positive and negative effects on the society.
Gill’s The Flame mentions many socially defined relationships and specifies certain social processes. Though social processes involve both conjunctive and disjunctive processes yet, the poem brings into focus only the disjunctive processes. With social contact and communication being the essential conditions of social processes, it is scrutinized that negative social contact that paves way for unhelpful social processes are predominant in the poem. “The adherents of a wicked belief” (95) communicate only “wanton violence” (100) in the poem.
Before delving deeper into the social processes a study of the two essential conditions – social contact and communication – of social processes becomes obligatory. What sort of social contacts are underscored in the poem? Before that what is a Social contact? It is a pair of social actions that have no further consequence. Social contacts can otherwise be called an accidental social interaction. According to Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia, “social actions refer to any action that takes into account the actions and reactions of other individuals and is modified based on those events.”
As social contact can be called an accidental social interaction, in Gill’s The Flame the social contact that takes place is due to the explosion of the Day Care Centre. The social interaction among the victims’ parents, the volunteers, the fire fighters, other rescue operators, doctors, nurses and counsellors is a social contact of a kind.
There is a social contact of a different kind. The plan chalked out by the terrorists with the mastermind of the blast preceding it, is certainly a type of social interaction. The scheming is also an interaction between human beings as Max Weber has pointed it out. It takes place in windowless cells.
in the windowless cells
of anarchistic gospel
they prepare terror (104)
The terrorists are trained to carry out the project and they are sufficiently brain washed to execute the task. It vouches for the social contact among them. The social contact leads to a social action, the blast that in turn leads to actions and reactions of other individuals in the society. Their alleged actions and reactions are modified based on those events.
A camp was extemporized
in a parking lot….
The area was cordoned off
most exit ramps were closed….
Investigators and relatives
filled the hotels.(81)
Hospital postponed planned surgeries
and nonessential radiological
The alleged reactions that are modified because of the social action are manifested in the above lines.
With a study of the first condition of social process, social contact, an investigation of its next condition – communication - is indispensable. The learned skill, communication is acquired by different people in varied ways for innumerable purposes. In Gill’s The Flame the people that we come across can be broadly classified into two types. Firstly, the afflicted, their friends, relatives and rescue operators in general can be grouped together. Secondly, they are the maniac messiahs the source of all affliction. Both groups of people use only oral communication in the poem.
A look at the first group of people, tells that they orally communicate with one another only in their anxiety to trace someone alive or dead or to help one another in some way or the other.
showed a picture of her two sons
to everyone to know
if they had seen them….
if they had spotted her daughter. (77)
The maniac messiahs’ terrific act, though unsaid, certainly involves communication. They in their secret hideouts would undoubtedly have drawn out specific details about the safe implementation of the devilish deed, debated again and again about its feasibility. Who knows it might have involved even some written communication? Whatsoever it may be they have openly communicated hatred for humanity through a violent act. These conditions pave way for social processes.
Of the four social processes - competition, conflict, contravention and dissension, that create disharmony or disunity in the societies, conflict abounds in The Flame. “Conflict is deliberate attempt to oppose, resist or coerce the will of another or others”(Green58). In The Flame there is no situation of cold war, that is conflict in the form of threat but there is a detailed description of violence and its repercussions. If it is so, what type of a conflict is it?
Simmel has spelt out four types of conflict. They are war, feud, litigation and conflict of impersonal ideas. The violence in The Flame is not clearly the implication of a war, a feud or litigation. Nor is it an eruption of conflict of impersonal ideas that is carried on by the individuals not for themselves but for an ideal. No one in the poem seems to be fighting for an ideal.
…the social lepers wander
among the denominations of malice
brazen about their endless idols
to worship the bubbles
of the self. (99)
There is yet another typology of conflict that can be classified into corporate and personal conflict; latent and overt conflict; class conflict; racial conflict; caste conflict; group conflict; and international conflict. The verbal pictures of violence and its aftermath featuring in The Flame can be identified as a corporate conflict or a group conflict. The violence described does not talk about just an individual or a group being a victimized, but it talks of the killing of a great number of people.
the avatars of savagery
mow down defenseless innocence (48)
The line “mow down defenseless innocence” brings out the image of a lawn being mowed by a mower in an attempt to maintain it. Gill with his apt choice of words brings out the appalling predicaments of the innocent victims of the disaster wrought by the maniac messiahs.
The crumble of steel doors
besmear with red drops.
Pressed into a shaky layer
of a massive cake
stuffed with metal, broken furniture, …( 49)
Such devastation is surely the outcome of a corporate conflict or a group conflict. “Corporate conflict occurs among the groups within a society or between two societies. Groups often attempt to impose their will upon other groups….” (Green59). Race riots, communal upheavals, religious persecutions, labour- management, conflict and war between nations are examples of a corporate or a group conflict.
Though Gill does not talk conspicuously about the cause of the horrifying violence, yet it is clear that it is an upshot of terrorism, a topical issue bothering everyone in the globe.
I cannot see
the burning bush of your beauty
because terrorists have loosened
suffocating gases… (106)
The terrorists and their insane behaviors modify the behaviors of others. The terrorists’ act that takes place in the poem robs each individual of their peace. They are no more “citizens of peace.” (104)
Thick black smoke
that arises from cannons
hovered above the choicest gem
leaving the smell of the gun powder
to poison the palate of peace. (51)
The scenes of “deafening disorder”, “ the waves of supreme disaster” (52) and “wanton violence” (100) in The Flame can also be evidences of group conflict. It is a conflict “found between two more groups of any kind ….” (Rao 320). The “avatars of savagery” ( 48), the “blood spillers” (89), the heartless men who “deal with the devil”, “ the sightless assassins of the innocence” (90), and the “social lepers” (99), are the individuals who are in conflict with other groups of the society.
Even though the destructive act has been identified as the result of the corporate or group conflict yet the features of conflict in general can be attributed to it. In keeping with such a notion, let conflict, a disjunctive social process that has certain specific characters be analysed. Firstly, conflict is universal. It is nothing new and unique to a society. No specific reference to a geographical location of the Day Care Centre in the poem allows Gill to assure for the universal nature of conflict. The Day Care Centre that is shattered to pieces in the poem is not of any particular city, nation, or a continent.
Children either breakfasted
and the cribs overlooked the street. (70)
Had the poet named the Day Care Centre or the street that it overlooks the readers would have certainly distanced themselves from it and the disaster that have struck it. They might have felt just the way they would have after reading of such an incident from a newspaper. They may even breathe a sigh of relief and feel undisturbed that it has happened in some corner of the globe. But, the situation of the poem makes any reader from any part of the globe to empathise with the victims and feel for them as he would when his own friends or relatives are confronted with it.
Secondly, conflict is a conscious process. Members of a group harm the members of the other group consciously and knowingly. Gill, too is quite sure that it is a conscious process. In Part –six of the poem he shoots forth a volley of questions at the assassins revealing the alertness of their consciousness before the act.
Who can tell
if they wiped sweat
before unchaining the bulldozers
of their delusional disorder … (90)
Who can tell
if the night before
they tied and untied the knots of reason… (91)
What more can keep one’s consciousness alert other than reason? Still, they do not pay heed to it.
Thirdly, sociologists are of the opinion that it is emotional. The whole process is founded on emotions. Sociologists state that men’s actions are guided by instincts and not by logic or reasoning. Gill too upholds the same idea.
Who can tell
if the tender hands of the toddlers
tried to strangle
the throat of their conscience (91)
The phrases “delusional disorder”, “strangle the throat of their conscience”, “tied and untied the knots of reason” used by Gill in the poem are instances of conflict being emotional. The terrorists are purely driven by instincts terms Gill. Had logical thinking and reasoning accompanied the attack it would have been avoided. But, even that seems to be lacking. In the poem Gill is not quite explicit about what they wanted to achieve as he himself is not sure of it.
Who can tell
what it was
they wanted to achieve
and the glare of which beliefs
for a tango with the agents of carnage
on the mountain of emptiness. (94)
Fourthly, any conflict is a personal process. The destruction of Day Care Centre, by the terrorists does not have a valid cause but, it may have a personal motive. The coming together of the individuals as terrorists is certainly because of an individual, his personal and inner unhealed wound or his consideration of it as a pastime. Gill himself is of such a belief.
…they become maniac messiahs
to snuff out the inner blaze.
breathing the stink of ferocity
as a pastime (102)
Fifthly, conflict is intermittent. Its appearance and disappearance happens suddenly. There is no proof of it being continuous. In the poem too the attack is very sudden.
windows came crushing in
and the ceiling began to drop. (70)
The disastrous act specified in the poem is so sudden that nobody is able to recollect how it happened and what followed it like the “grandmother” who feels that she has woken up from a bad dream.
For his grandmother
it was awakening
from a bad dream.(71)
Conflict, a fundamental social trait, is an inevitable part of the society. Simmel is of the opinion that conflict- free society is impossibility. Whatever be the type of conflict, it has a specific role to play in the society. It has to be underscored that it has both positive and negative roles to perform. The positive effects of conflict in general are many. But, only one of its effects that can be associated with corporate or group conflict is taken for study. “The group in conflict with another group is strengthened in its ‘we’ feeling.” (Biesanz 116)
The rescue operations that follow the devastation bear witness to the strengthening of the bond among the victimized and the empathisers. Such a situation also paves ways for the emergence of a leader.
The leader often shouted
as loud as he could:
“We are here to help.
All would wait, praying
to hear a whisper or sob. (65)
The usage of the blanket term “the leader” not relating to a political, a religious or an administrative leader reveals the oneness of the group led by a single head. “All would wait, praying” irrespective of age, caste and creed. How unified they are!
The most vigorous form of social interaction, conflict has umpteen negative effects. Those that are relevant to the study of the poem are dealt with here. Social thinkers have analysed that it is a costly way of settling disputes. Gill is also on the same line of thought. In the poem the damage caused to the lives of the people is unimaginable.
A man hung out of a window
blood from his head
The verbal description of the man hanging from the window and the blood dripping from his head emphasizes the hideousness of the abominable act. Gill’s detailed picture of the gruesome incident makes the readers recoil in horror.
There was an arm and a head
and a woman’s leg
from the knee down
the rest was buried under the rubble.
A body appeared
to have through
a meat grinder.
There was an open chest cavity
beside a headless torso.(53)
Gill’s vivid account of the body having gone through a meat grinder, of the “open chest cavity beside a headless torso” and of the man in a sitting position split in half unravels the repugnance of the horrendous incident, making the readers shudder at the very thought of it.
At the back of the building
a body was slumped
in a sitting position
and a man was split in half. (53)
They saw babies
shrouded in blood … (72)
The ghastly and dreadful sketch of the victims is quite heart – ripping. Besides an illustration of the dead, Gill lists a wide range of materialistic damages too. From parking metres to the crumpled cars each and every object that would have been damaged due to such a bloodcurdling incident are discussed elaborately.
Parking metres rent
metal doors twirled
and the lot strewn
with burnt, mangled chassis,
fenders and hoods.
Cars crumpled, flipped
and went into flames.
and some were covered
with rubble (56)
Nothing can replace lives. The loss of lives, property and other materials is indeed colossal. It causes social disorder, chaos and confusion.
Several people spent their nights
in sleeping bags
on cots or folding chairs
stunned or thinking
how they would cope without a brother
Confusion, anger, fear, and shock that would quite unconsciously grip the afflicted and those agonizing thoughts that may shroud individuals during such moments are highlighted in the poem. It is not only the causalities that Gill chronicles but he also records the psychological impairment.
several families did not speak
and several more
confused, outraged or shocked …(84)
Volunteers, cops, remote- sensing specialists, engineers, investigators, sergeants, medical team and fire fighters involved in rescue operations “wearing a despairing mantle of confusion”(79) have to manoeuvre through the “ghastly wreckage”. (64)
Conflict also brings in a lot of psychological and moral damages. Besides the plagued relatives of the dead, the rescue operators too are psychologically affected by the incident. They too undergo the same traumatic experience.
While carrying an infant
When a cop paused to breathe
he looked down.
He was standing
on a dead child.
The tribulation endured by the cop and the rescuer is indescribable and unimaginable.
A rescuer was frozen
when he saw a truck
like the one his son had.(73)
In general fire fighters are considered to be very strong after all the rigorous training that they undertake before and after recruitment into their service. But, in The Flame, along with the volunteers they too are shaken by the chilling truth.
The fire fighters wept
as they lifted weightless bodies
to retain composure. (75)
witnessed a pyramid of ashes
over the cradles –
a bone – chilling calculation
that demeaned the design in living.(78)
Such a sight weakens their morale, posing varied questions on the wretchedness of life. Sensing the psychological impact, Gill stresses the need for counseling centres during such shocking and gory moments:
Counseling centres sprang up
and psychiatrists (83)
A study of the disjunctive social processes in The Flame very specifically conflict, divulges the characteristics of the corporate conflict in the poem. It also unfolds a positive effect and scores of negative effects of conflict – the blowing up of the Day Care Centre. Regardless of the only positive effect the ‘we feeling’ it is worth pondering that the negative effects are quite excruciatingly painful. If it is assumed that the positive effects of conflict outnumbered the negative effects of it, even then no one should be lured by it. The life of a human being is inestimable and irreplaceable.
Nothing should be wrought staking the lives of individuals. If a conflict in a literary work is so stirring how much more will it be when we come to grips with it in reality? Should innumerable innocents be subjected to such a harrowing experience? So, is such a conflict an essential part of the society? Is it indispensable? Can’t a society progress without it? Should it not be averted? It certainly should be however beguiling it may be. “I believe that peace is the legitimate child of peaceful means.” (21) Only then a peaceful society built solely on love can prevail. Since all human beings aspire for peace, let a world of peace be established.
Biesanz, John and Mavis Biesanz. Introduction to Sociology.
Gill, Stephen. The Flame.
Green, Arnold W. Sociology an Analysis of life in Modern Society.
Rao , Shankar,C.N. Sociology.
Ruhela, Satya Pal. Introduction to Sociology. Gurgaon: Shubhi Publications, 2005.
Social Contact. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia.
Social Action. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia.
What is Communication?
Dr. G. Dominic Savio is Reader in English at The American College
Mrs. S.J. Kala is a Senior Lecturer in English at
Both have written and published extensively on literary subjects.