Dipesh Chakrabarty and the Global South: Subaltern Studies, Postcolonial Perspectives, and the Anthropocene 9780367189990, 9780429199745

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Table of contents :
Half Title
List of figures
List of contributors
1 Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty: an introduction
Part I Affect and intellect
2 Between critique and creativity: some other politics of writing history in Aotearoa New Zealand
3 Rethinking Indian constitutional history
4 The significance of Provincializing Europe: memory, argument, and the life of the book
5 Labour history and “Culture” critique: reflections on an idea
Part II Critical conversations
6 Writing the void
7 Histories, dwelling, habitations: a cyber-conversation with Dipesh Chakrabarty
8 A correspondence on Provincializing Europe
Part III Global pasts and postcolonial differences
9 Rights and coercion: adivasi rights and coal mining in central India
10 When victims become rulers: partition, caste, and politics in West Bengal
11 The Cold War era as a rule of experts: a view from India
12 Historical wounds and the public life of history: the stolen generations narrative
Part IV Historical disciplines and modern universals
13 Memory, historiography, and trauma: the limits of representation
14 Thinking Freedom with Gandhi
15 Western thought as “Indispensable and Inadequate”: Dipesh Chakrabarty and the paradox of postcolonial historiography
16 Translating the other: lessons from the world of medieval Japan
Part V The Anthropocene and other affiliations
17 History, anthropogenic soil, and unbecoming human
18 Art in the time of tricksters and monsters: reflections on the Anthropocene
19 Indigenous histories and indigenous futures
20 Figures of immanence
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Dipesh Chakrabarty and the Global South

Over the last four decades, Dipesh Chakrabarty’s astonishingly wide-ranging scholarship has elaborated a range of important issues, especially those of modernity, identity, and politics – in dialogue with postcolonial theory and critical historiography – on global and planetary scales. All of this makes Chakrabarty among the most significant (and most cited) scholars working in the humanities and social sciences today. The present text comprises substantive yet short, academic yet accessible essays that are crafted in conversation with the critical questions raised by Chakrabarty’s writings. Now, Chakrabarty holds the singular distinction of making key contributions to some of the most salient shifts in understandings of the Global South that have come about in wake of subaltern studies and postcolonial perspectives, critiques of Eurocentrism together with elaborations of public pasts, and articulations of climatic histories alongside problems of the Anthropocene. Rather than exegeses and commentaries, these original, commissioned, pieces – written by a stellar cast of contributors from four continents – imaginatively engage Chakrabarty’s insights and arguments in order to incisively explore important issues of the politics of knowledge in contemporary worlds. This book will be of importance to scholars and graduate students interested in a wide variety of interdisciplinary issues across the humanities and social sciences, especially the interplay between postcolonial perspectives and subaltern studies, between man-made climate change and the human sciences, between history and theory, and between modernity and globalization. Saurabh Dube is Professor-Researcher, Distinguished Category, at the Centre for Asian and African Studies, El Colegio de México, and holds the highest rank in the National System of Researchers (SNI), México. His authored works include Untouchable Pasts (1998, 2001); Stitches on Time (2004); After Conversion (2010); and Subjects of Modernity (2017, 2019). Dube has also written a quintet (2001–2017) in historical anthropology in the Spanish language as well as authoring the critical anthology El archivo y el campo (2019), all published by El Colegio de México. Among his more than fifteen edited volumes are Postcolonial Passages (2004); Historical Anthropology (2007); Enchantments of Modernity (Routledge, 2009, 2019); Modern Makeovers (2011); Crime through Time (2013);

and Unbecoming Modern (second edition: Routledge, 2019). Dube is Series Editor of Routledge Focus on Modern Subjects. Saurabh Dube has been Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York; the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick; the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla; the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, South Africa; and the Max Weber Kolleg, Germany. He has also held visiting professorships, several times, at Cornell University, the Johns Hopkins University, and Goa University (where he presently occupies the DD Kosambi Chair). Sanjay Seth is Professor of Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, where he is also Director of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies. He has written extensively on postcolonial theory, social and political theory, and modern Indian history, including Subject Lessons: The Western Education of Colonial India (Duke University Press 2007, and Oxford University Press India 2008), Marxist Theory and Nationalist Politics: Colonial India, and essays in a variety of journals including The American Historical Review, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Social Text, Positions, Cultural Sociology, International Political Sociology and Journal of Asian Studies. A number of these have been translated into Spanish and Portuguese, and a collection of his essays in Portuguese translation has been published as História e Pós-colonialismo (History and Postcolonialism), Edições Tinta-da-china, Lisboa, 2019. He is a founding editor of the journal Postcolonial Studies, and is currently completing a book tentatively titled “Beyond Reason?: Postcolonial Theory and the Social Sciences.” Ajay Skaria is Professor in the Department of History and Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota, USA. His research till the early 2000s focused primarily on environmental history, Adivasi history, and historical theory; more recently, his research interests have been in twentieth-century Indian intellectual history, modern caste politics, postcolonial studies, and political theory. In addition to articles in these fields, he is the author of Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers and Wildness in Western India (1999) and Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance (2015). He is currently working on a book on Ambedkar. He was a member of the Subaltern Studies editorial collective from 1995 till its dissolution, and coedited Subaltern Studies Vol XII: Muslims, Dalits and the Fabrications of History (2006). He is currently working on two books – a short essay, What is Secularism, and a longer monograph tentatively titled Ambedkar’s Religions: Between Secularism and Navayana Buddhism.

Postcolonial Politics Edited by:

Pal Ahluwalia University of South Pacific Michael Dutton Goldsmiths, University of London Leela Gandhi Brown University Sanjay Seth, Goldsmiths,University of London ‘Postcolonial Politics’ is a series that publishes books that lie at the intersection of politics and postcolonial theory. That point of intersection once barely existed; its recent emergence is enabled, first, because a new form of ‘politics’ is beginning to make its appearance. Intellectual concerns that began life as a (yet unnamed) set of theoretical interventions from scholars largely working within the ‘New Humanities’ have now begun to migrate into the realm of politics. The result is politics with a difference, with a concern for the everyday, the ephemeral, the ser­ endipitous and the unworldly. Second, postcolonial theory has raised a new set of concerns in relation to understandings of the non-West. At first these concerns and these questions found their home in literary studies, but they were also, always, political. Edward Said’s binary of ‘Europe and its other’ introduced us to a ‘style of thought’ that was as much political as it was cultural, as much about the politics of knowledge as the production of knowledge, and as much about life on the street as about a philosophy of being, A new, broader and more reflexive understand­ ing of politics, and a new style of thinking about the non-Western world, make it possible to ‘think’ politics through postcolonial theory, and to ‘do’ postcolonial theory in a fashion which picks up on its political implications. Postcolonial Politics attempts to pick up on these myriad trails and disruptive practices. The series aims to help us read culture politically, read ‘difference’ con­ cretely, and to problematise our ideas of the modern, the rational and the scientific by working at the margins of a knowledge system that is still logocentric and Eurocentric. This is where a postcolonial politics hopes to offer new and fresh visions of both the postcolonial and the political.

Subseries: Writing Past Colonialism The Institute of Postcolonial Studies (IPCS) Edited by: Phillip Darby University of Melbourne

Writing Past Colonialism is the signature series of the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, based in Melbourne, Australia. By postcolonialism we understand modes

of writing and artistic production that critically engage with the ideological legacy and continuing practices of colonialism, and provoke debate about the processes of globalisation. The series is committed to publishing works that break fresh ground in postcolonial studies and seek to make a difference both in the academy and outside it. By way of illustration, our schedule includes books that address: • • •

grounded issues such as nature and the environment, activist politics and indigenous peoples’ struggles cultural writing that pays attention to the politics of literary forms experimental approaches that produce new postcolonial imaginaries by bring­ ing together different forms of documentation or combinations of theory, per­ formance and practice

From International Relations to Relations International (IPCS) Postcolonial Essays Phillip Darby Gender, Orientalism, and the ‘War on Terror’ Representation, Discourse, and Intervention in Global Politics Maryam Khalid Multicultural politics of recognition and postcolonial citizenship Rethinking the nation Rachel Busbridge Japanese Poetry and its Publics From Colonial Taiwan to 3.11 Dean Anthony Brink Domestic Spaces in Post-Mao China On Electronic Household Appliances Wang Min’an Decolonising Governance Archipelagic Thinking Paul Carter Dipesh Chakrabarty and the Global South Subaltern Studies, Postcolonial Perspectives, and the Anthropecene Edited by Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth and Ajay Skaria For more information about this series, please visit: https://www.routledge.com/ Postcolonial-Politics/book-series/PP

Dipesh Chakrabarty and the Global South

Subaltern Studies, Postcolonial Perspectives, and the Anthropocene Edited by Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 selection and editorial matter, Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth and Ajay Skaria; individual chapters, the contributors. The right of Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth and Ajay Skaria to be identified as the author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. “Every effort has been made to contact copyright-holders. Please advise the publisher of any errors or omissions, and these will be corrected in subsequent editions.” British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-0-367-18999-0 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-19974-5 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Apex CoVantage, LLC

For Alf Lüdtke (1943–2019)


List of figures List of contributors Preface 1 Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty: an introduction

xii xiii xv 1



Affect and intellect 2 Between critique and creativity: some other politics of writing history in Aotearoa New Zealand

17 19


3 Rethinking Indian constitutional history



4 The significance of Provincializing Europe: memory, argument, and the life of the book



5 Labour history and “Culture” critique: reflections on an idea




Critical conversations 6 Writing the void HOMI K. BHABHA

45 47



7 Histories, dwelling, habitations: a cyber-conversation with Dipesh Chakrabarty



8 A correspondence on Provincializing Europe




Global pasts and postcolonial differences 9 Rights and coercion: adivasi rights and coal mining in central India

91 93


10 When victims become rulers: partition, caste, and politics in West Bengal



11 The Cold War era as a rule of experts: a view from India



12 Historical wounds and the public life of history: the stolen generations narrative




Historical disciplines and modern universals


13 Memory, historiography, and trauma: the limits of representation



14 Thinking Freedom with Gandhi



15 Western thought as “Indispensable and Inadequate”: Dipesh Chakrabarty and the paradox of postcolonial historiography ALF LÜDTKE


Contents 16 Translating the other: lessons from the world of medieval Japan

xi 187



The Anthropocene and other affiliations


17 History, anthropogenic soil, and unbecoming human



18 Art in the time of tricksters and monsters: reflections on the Anthropocene



19 Indigenous histories and indigenous futures



20 Figures of immanence






18.1 Armin Linke, Museum, drawings of the Tower of Babel, Babylon, Irak, 2002



Bain Attwood is Professor of History at Monash University, Australia. Homi K. Bhabha is Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Senior Advisor on the Humanities to the President and Provost, and Director of the Mahindra Humanities Centre at Harvard University, USA. Dipesh Chakrabarty is Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College at the University of Chicago, USA. Partha Chatterjee is a professor of anthropology and of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African studies at Columbia University, USA. Arnab Dey is an associate professor in the Department of History at Binghamton University, USA. Ewa Domańska is a professor of human sciences in the Department of History at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan; and a visiting professor in the Depart­ ment of Anthropology at Stanford University, USA. Saurabh Dube is a professor-researcher, distinguished category, in the Centre for Asian and African Studies at El Colegio de México; and currently occupies the DD Kosambi [Visiting] Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies in Goa University, India. Arvind Elangovan is an associate professor in the Department of History at Wright State University, USA. Amitav Ghosh is an award-winning author who divides his time between New York City, USA, and Goa, India. Devleena Ghosh is a professor in the Social and Political Sciences Program at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. Miranda Johnson is a senior lecturer in the Department of History at the Univer­ sity of Sydney, Australia.



Alf Lüdtke was a professor (later, Honorary Professor) at the University of Erfurt, Germany; he was associated for long with the Max Planck Institute of History in Göttingen, Germany. Stephen Muecke is a professor of creative writing in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University, Australia. Rajyashree Pandey is a professor in Asian studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK. Arvind Rajagopal is a professor of media studies at New York University, USA, where he is also affiliated faculty in the Departments of Sociology and of Social and Cultural Analysis. Bernd Scherer is Director of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and a professor at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany. Dwaipayan Sen is an assistant professor of Asian languages and civilizations and history at Amherst College, USA. Sanjay Seth is a professor of politics at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, where he is also the Director of the Institute of Postcolonial Studies. Ajay Skaria is a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, USA, where he is also affiliated with the Institute for Global Studies.


“Photo by Alan Thomas”

When the three editors of this study embarked upon the present project, we were agreed about commissioning essays by distinguished scholars in diverse places, working in and on widely different areas, which engaged with one aspect or another of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work. Our aim was to produce a volume of



essays that would be stimulating and thought-provoking, rather than encomia. Thanks to our contributors, we believe we have succeeded. But even if the prod­ uct of our labours is a collection of critical essays, the motivation or impulse that led us to undertake this labour is, indeed, a desire to pay tribute to someone who has been a friend, an interlocutor, and an intellectual influence for each one of us. In the decades that we have known Dipesh, he has been an uncommonly generous and kind colleague and friend who has always been available for conversation, comment, advice, laughter and, on occasion, solace. This book is our tribute not only to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work but equally to the man. Indeed, the spirit and substance of intellect and affect suffuses the entire volume. In keeping with such sensibilities, it is only apposite that this book is dedicated to Alf Lüdtke. A founding figure of Alltagsgeschichte, the history of everyday life, Alf was a tireless scholar, a generous human, and a truly democratic citizen of the world. His essay in this volume was the last piece that he finished prior to his death, a few months before we sent the work to the press. The book has been many months in the making. Its principal trials and tribula­ tions consisted of endless rounds of correspondence, keeping track of its changing contents, archiving the essays, and the subsequent labour of revisions/corrections. We are extremely grateful to Eduardo Eguiarte Ruelas for ably bearing the burden of such heavy lifting, ever with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. In its final stages, both Óscar Tonatiuh Martinez and Daniela Yunuhen Cruz Armenta stepped in to see the work through to its completion. Our sincere thanks. Sanjay Seth Ajay Skaria Saurabh Dube London Minneapolis Mexico City


Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty An introduction Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

Across the past four decades, the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty has offered wideranging reflections on history, modernity, and the character and limits of the dis­ ciplines that constitute the human sciences. A central challenge issued by these writings has turned, in distinct yet overlapping ways, on the “un-thought” and “under-enunciated” of theory and practice in the disciplines, at large.1 Thus, in work of the 1980s on jute-mill workers, Dipesh queried the historiographical assumption of absolute individuation of the modern worker, which obscured the hierarchical relations of the working-classes in Bengal. In these ways, Chakrabarty pointed to how “culture” and “consciousness” intimated “the ‘unthought’ of Indian Marxism.” Throughout the long 1990s, Dipesh raised key questions concerning the pervasive ways in which a spectral yet tangible Europe/West stands reified and celebrated as the site and scene of the birth of the modern, working as a silent referent that dominates the discourse of history. Alongside, he opened up issues of historical difference, revealing glimmers of heterogeneous temporal-spatial terrains, through various measures that each underscored the under- and un­ enunciation of “place.” Finally, over the past decade Dipesh has highlighted how “public pasts” are at once invoked yet occluded, routinized and obscured, as they variously break upon professional practices of history-writing. He has pointed as well to the requirements of thinking through the rift between the “global” the “planetary,” so that the human species as a geological force of the Anthropocene does not remain “un-thought” and “under-enunciated” following the protocols of human historical experience. Clearly, in taking up such tasks Chakrabarty has brought to the fore critical matters of method and theory, concept and evidence, philosophical thought and historical understanding. This book is offered as a sustained engagement – critical conversations rather than mere exegeses – with the main themes in Dipesh’s oeuvre.

Dipesh Chakrabarty: a profile Born and raised in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Dipesh Chakrabarty was formatively trained across a number of disciplines. He received his first degree in physics from Presidency College of the University of Calcutta, acquired a master’s in


Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

business management from the Indian Institute of Management (Calcutta), and subsequently went to the Australian National University, Canberra, to pursue a PhD in history. Soon after the formation of the Subaltern Studies group in the late 1970s, he joined the collective while based in Australia. Dipesh was the only one of the core members of the Subaltern Studies collective whose research focused on the working-classes rather than the peasantry. Yet in his work, the jute-mill workers of eastern India were not readily separated from peasant groupings in terms of conventions of hierarchy, and did not always display the class conscious­ ness expected of the working-class, especially in Marxist writings. Dipesh’s work thus offered a challenge to Marxist scholarship on as well as to the mainstream historiography of the working-classes, extending the Subaltern Studies initiative in newer directions, including through a close engagement with the writings of Michel Foucault, well before the French philosopher was ensconced on the his­ torical scene. Here, in a series of essays and his first monograph, based on his PhD research, Dipesh called for a critical understanding of the everyday experience of hierar­ chical relations in order to attend to forms of culture and consciousness of the working-classes. As just noted, at stake was “the ‘unthought’ of Indian Marxism.”2 On the one hand, this was the central question for the writing of working-class history in South Asian society, where the assumptions of a hegemonic bourgeois culture did not apply. On the other hand, on offer was an important invitation to read difference into the dominant understandings of labour and capital, the past and the present. Unsurprisingly, in the early 1990s, Dipesh’s important essay “Postcoloniality and the artifice of history” raised, with care and imagination, key questions con­ cerning the presence of Europe in the writing of history.3 Implicitly construing his arguments against the backdrop of Heidegger’s interrogation of the artifice of a meaning-legislating reason, in the essay Chakrabarty focused on history as a discourse that is produced at the institutional site of the university, making a compelling case for the ways in which Europe remains the sovereign theoretical subject of all histories. Acknowledging that Europe and India are “hyperreal” terms that refer to certain figures of the imagination, Chakrabarty nonetheless pointed toward how – in the “phenomenal world”, in everyday relationships of power – Europe stands reified and celebrated as the habitus of the modern, a deep and distended sign that orchestrates and overwhelms the designs of history. In this essay, Chakrabarty unravels the consequences of such theoretical privileging of Europe as the universal centrepiece of modernity and history: namely, that the past and present of India or Mexico – indeed, of all that is not quite an imagi­ nary yet palpable West – come to be cast in terms of failure, lack, and absence, since they are always and already measured against apparent developments in the European/Euro-American arenas. This essay announced the wider project subsequently pursued in Provincial­ izing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.4 As the title of the work intimates, Chakrabarty here argues that displacing, or at least challeng­ ing, the positioning of Europe as the sovereign theoretical subject of all histories

Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty


(and thereby “provincializing Europe”) requires making a place for difference in historical thought. The difference of the non-Western world is in fact already registered in history-writing, as well as in other disciplines and in quotidian forms of thought, but this takes the form of what Chakrabarty calls “historicism” – regarding the non-Western world as “backward” ’ and “behind” the West, and thus destined, one (distant) day, to recapitulate its trajectory. Against this, Chakrabarty counterpoises two modes of thought for studying the past: an analytic mode, which is indispensable to accounting for the common world we all now inhabit, decisively remade by capital (what he labels “History 1”); and a hermeneutic mode, more attentive to that which has not been remade and homogenized by capital, where “difference” inheres without (necessarily) being in opposition to the homogenizing drive of capital (what he labels “History 2”). While the first mode of thought is usually deemed to be sufficient, Chakrabarty insists that both are indispensable, for without the latter, difference is erased and the temporally disjointed nature of human pasts and presents (what he calls “time knots”) is elided and, indeed, illegitimately “smoothed out.” It should be barely surprising that alongside Dipesh equally raised key questions of historical difference through various measures: explorations of the deferraldifference of a Bengali modernity in colonial India; discussions of the time of gods and the writing of history; and avowals of the plurality of life-worlds against an overweening historicism.5 Here, Dipesh imaginatively inserted “difference into the history of our [Bengali/Indian] modernity in a mode that resists the assimila­ tion of this history to the political imaginary of European-derived institutions . . . which dominate our lives;” he sought to recuperate the difference of subaltern pasts (and the time of gods and spirits); and he articulated the alterity of “neces­ sarily fragmentary histories of human belonging that never constitute a one or a whole” as existing alongside yet exceeding the authority of historicism.6 Following these twin projects, embodied in Provincializing Europe and Habita­ tions of Modernity, Dipesh continued his explorations into the discipline of history, but now focusing on what he – and his fellow editors (Bain Atwood and Claudio Lomnitz) of a special issue of Public Culture – called “The Public Life of His­ tory,” which was published in 2008. In his own essay there, Dipesh distinguished between the “cloistered” of the discipline of history, on the one hand, and its “pub­ lic life,” on the other. Here, the public life of history appeared as “the connections that such a discipline might forge with institutions and practices outside the univer­ sity and the official bureaucracy.”7 At stake was the status and role of the academic discipline of history in the domain of popular culture in democracies, particularly turning on disputes centred around the claims of groups that have seen themselves as oppressed or marginalized, and who sought/seek the validation of history for acknowledgement of past injustices. Dipesh noted that such histories were written in ways not consonant with, and often actively indifferent to, the conventions and protocols of the discipline. What was/is the role/place of the discipline of history when the past exists as a domain of public contestation in everyday life? This question is a central concern of his next book The Calling of History, but with the important difference that Dipesh sought to show that in India the cloistered


Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

life of the discipline has been shaped by, indeed forged within, the course of its public life: “history’s cloistered or academic life began in colonial India in dis­ putations that took place in what I have called its ‘public life,’ and this decades before the discipline found a home in the research programmes of Indian univer­ sities.”8 Though The Calling of History is not a biography or even an intellectual biography, the figure of Sir Jadunath Sarkar – once regarded as the pre-eminent historian of India – is central to the study. Sarkar was denounced by some of his contemporaries; his reputation declined as subsequent generations of social his­ torians found his emphasis on the character of rulers quaint and unpraiseworthy; and a still later generation considered his obsessive concern with facts and truth to be old-fashioned and even reactionary. Yet Dipesh writes of Sarkar with sym­ pathy. Not surprisingly, this has led some scholars to see Chakrabarty as retreat­ ing from his earlier positions. It is an abiding irony that Dipesh Chakrabarty’s works can now be cited in support of those on either side of the polemical divi­ sions of history-writing, an irony that speaks as much of the shifting fault lines of the historical discipline and its cloistered publics as it does of the wide-ranging interests and distinctive sensibilities of Dipesh’s arguments and narratives. The Calling of History is possibly better read as an attempt to practice a cru­ cial aspect of the historian’s craft: to hermeneutically recreate and narratively articulate – without not necessarily endorsing – the convictions and conventions of an earlier time. In this case, we are in the face of conventions and convictions concerning the practice of history itself. As Dipesh writes, “I was interested to find out more about why the idea of historical truth could seem so plausible to a past generation of scholars and about the architecture of ideas that may have subtended the conception of such truth. I did not want to consign the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to a land of ‘errors,’ from which the progression of knowledge and ideas had simply rescued us.”9 In the case of colonial India, this includes making sense of Sarkar’s “near-fanatic zeal for a positivist idea of ‘fact’ and his spiritual pursuit of a metaphysical idea of ‘truth’ in history.”10 The Calling of History is in part a long answer to basic questions: What made Sarkar’s history once so compelling? And, as a corollary to that, what were the stakes in the dis­ putes of that time? How was history-writing defined and practiced at a time when academic historiography was being forged in the fire of the public disputes that characterized the Indian colony? In addressing these questions, one of the most creative Indian historians of postcolonial times engages sympathetically with one of the most distinguished historians of imperial India. Even as he crafted historical narratives while exploring the pasts of the dis­ cipline, Dipesh also turned to a very different subject: climate change. The first foray here was “The Climate of History: Four Theses.”11 This has been followed by a series of essays that explore the implications of climate change for the human sciences and for history in particular. At stake is man-made climate change, marking the advent of what scientists are beginning to call the Anthropocene: an epoch when humankind has become a geological force, collapsing the distinction between nature and the social that had authorized different protocols for the study of the natural- and the human-sciences, respectively.

Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty


To face up to the Anthropocene, Dipesh provocatively suggests, requires think­ ing in/upon two registers at once, mixing together “the immiscible chronologies of capital and species history,” a combination that “stretches, in quite fundamental ways, the very idea of historical understanding.”12 He argues that climate change introduces rifts into our thinking, including “a growing divergence in our con­ sciousness between the global and – a singularly human story – and the planetary, a perspective to which humans are incidental.”13 Relatedly, here is to be found a rift, too, between, on the one hand, ourselves as a species, the modes through which we have become geological agents (modalities that we cannot actually experience), and, on the other hand, ourselves as individuals and groups and classes, which is the basis of historical experience and of history-writing. Once again, these essays have been widely circulated and much discussed, also arousing controversy. Some have seen in these arguments a glossing over of the causal role and moral obligation of the Western countries that have been respon­ sible for much of our carbon footprint. Dipesh does not seek to minimize such processes and culpabilities, and he acknowledges also the importance of articulat­ ing a global history that is attentive to human inequality. Yet he also brings to the fore the concerns of a planetary history attentive to what that global history does not allow us to think. The global and the planetary operate on different scales and levels of abstraction, where “one level of abstraction does not cancel out the other or render it invalid.”14 At the same time, Dipesh also insists that “the current conjuncture of globalization and global warming leaves us with the challenge of having to think of human agency over multiple and incommensurable scales at once.”15 Clearly, all of this is immense achievement, posing formidable challenge to the disciplines, especially in their articulations of history and modernity, the past and the present, each understood in the widest of ways. It is this challenge that the contributions to this volume take up and think through, as they engage, extend, and exceed Dipesh’s arguments, insights, and emphases.

Affect and intellect Our deliberations appropriately open with contributions by four of Dipesh’s stu­ dents, all important scholars now. Each chapter is located on the cusp of affect and intellect, and together they all point to Dipesh’s influence in the study of a vast range of historical subjects. Miranda Johnson seizes upon two statements of Dipesh, separated by almost a quarter of a century, in order to explore the tension between the distinct intellectual-political positions these represent. Following Chakrabarty’s own usage of “History 1” and “History 2,” these positions are described in a tongue-incheek manner as “Dipesh 1” and “Dipesh 2”: they are represented, respectively, by Chakrabarty’s 1992 essay on provincializing Europe and his more recent book on Jadunath Sarkar. On the one hand, “Dipesh 1 is the fierce critic of Europe’s hegemonic narrative of modernity, that which forces other pasts into submis­ sion or simply jettisons them, and that must itself therefore be held in check by


Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

searching for the possibility of plurality.” On the other hand, “Dipesh 2 is the heir of Enlightenment curiosity, the free inquirer and seeker after Truth, perhaps with a dash of the Romantic idealist and something of a believer in the idea that we can learn from the past.” For Johnson, the acuity of Chakrabarty’s thought lies in its effort to shift between these two “intellectual-affective modes” without having to choose decisively between them. Building on this distinction, Johnson’s essay goes on to probe the resemblances between Jadunath Sarkar and similar figures in New Zealand history, picking as her prime example Sir Āpirana Ngata, whose adoption of historicist and progressive methods was repeatedly interrupted by his pride in a “persistent Māori historicity.” She also points to the different racial and cultural politics of Chakarabarty’s and her positions, and the complex politics of indigenizing the past, as progressive historians seek to. The essay asks: “When does indigenizing in official terms simply re-enact forms of cultural colonization for the purposes of national identity making?” Elangovan Arvind casts a different eye on the terms and textures of colony, state, and nation by recalling his shift from “focusing on the normative architec­ ture of Indian liberal thought to a critical examination of histories of power that undergirded the story of the Indian constitution.” Through discussions in seminars and other conversations with Dipesh, Arvind came to recognize not only the place of power in the production of the past but the limits of the binary between colony and nation. In studying the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms of 1919, he found a shared language of politics between the colonial state and Indian nationalists that excluded the masses. Was it surprising, then, that “the colonial state could enact a liberal constitutional reform (for those sections of the population that could be represented) and an equally repressive [Rowlatt] Act (to control the vast majority who had not yet attained the right to represent themselves) in the same year?” Not much later, seeking to understand the Indian constitution – and its making and unmaking – Arvind focused on the history of politics of the late colonial period in order to explore the contentions between colonialism and constitutionalism as well as the tensions between nationalism and constitutionalism. Such a history of politics not only foregrounds the acute limits of the imperialist and nationalist schools, but it saliently “showcases the possibility of rethinking Indian constitu­ tional history by exploring the articulations of those individuals and groups who saw the emancipatory potential of the document,” exactly on account of its under­ lying contentions and tensions. Next, in a frankly personal and imaginatively affective tribute to Dipesh, Dwai­ payan Sen unravels, across nearly two decades, his own encounters and entan­ glements with Provincializing Europe as well as the life of the book in terms of its reading and reception, debate and discussion, critique and contention. Sen is concerned not only with the formal academic arenas and arguments and certi­ fied intellectual sites and scenes, but equally follows the career of Provincializing Europe into everyday nooks and quotidian corners. As a master’s student, a PhD supervisee, and a research assistant to Dipesh – albeit one who had read Provin­ cializing Europe as an undergraduate, even before he enrolled at the University of Chicago in 2004 – Sen is particularly well-equipped to take up such tasks.

Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty


Following the tone and tenor of the narrative as well as the substance and spirit of the evocation, we will not seek to summarize Sen’s contribution. Instead, we leave the reader with two vignettes. On the one hand, there are the lines from a personal letter of Dipesh, with which the chapter opens and that form its leitmotif: “Actually, Dwaipayan, I was calling for a certain kind of critical Eurocentrism, but nobody really heard that part of what I was trying to say.” On the other hand, as a teacher of Provincializing Europe in a few of his courses at Amherst College, Dwaipayan has observed how some of the students have “very valiantly sought to extend some of its insights to the domains of student associational life and campus politics.” Certain works have many lives. Finally, Arnab Dey recounts his meandering journey from an initial desire to write “a social history and ethnography of the various ‘autochthon’ groups that made up the ranks of Assam tea labor” in northeast India to his eventual con­ struction of rather distinct pasts of plantation worlds in the region. In the latter, “forests, disease environments (for humans and tea plants), and agrarian ideology took centre stage alongside structural features such as labour regulation, legal regimes, and political context.” Chakrabarty’s Rethinking Working-Class History with its emphasis on the terms of culture and consciousness in the history of jutemill workers has played a critical role in this shift. Dey admits that “Chakrabarty left both ‘culture’ and ‘consciousness’ [as] inadequately defined and conceptu­ ally under-developed,” such that tendentious readings of the work persist into the present. At the same time, Dey equally asserts that Chakrabarty’s critical chal­ lenge resided in his insistence that to relegate “ ‘culture’ as either exceptional or antecedent to capital betokened the in-egalitarian and illiberal historical logic of that Marxian materialism, and labour historians’ use of the same.” If the “ramifi­ cations of this latter stance for writing global histories of modernity, rights, and democracy were enormous,” Dey himself took the concept of culture in a different direction. He used culture as heuristic tool in order to unravel an entire ensemble of relationships of production and reproduction: associations and entanglements, meanings and practices, which were “material, affective, ideational.” These extended from the Whig ideology of agrarian “improvement” that underpinned Assam’s tea venture through to the enterprise’s use and abuse of law; and they ranged from the ways in which “ecologies were transformed and trashed to make way for tea” to “human and nonhuman epidemiologies that the crop created and conditioned.” In these ways, Arnab Dey wrote a history of tea’s political economy in Assam that conjoined the material, the ideological, and the environmental, reg­ istering also Dipesh’s engagement with issues of the Anthropocene.

Critical conversations The terms of dialogue that have sustained the work of Dipesh’s students have no less informed the persuasions of his conversations with friends and interlocutors. It is in such spirit of affective interchange – while paying tribute to an abiding friendship – that Homi Bhaba explores the responsibility of the humanist to the void. Reflecting on Ta Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and the Rwandan


Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

genocide, Bhabha seizes upon Coates’ argument that voids in writing signify “the defining feature of being drafted into the black race [which] is the inescapable robbery of time.” This allows the chapter to argue that “the void is, quite liter­ ally, the empty space of erasure and extermination: of missing persons, destroyed things, hidden histories, lost records, expropriated lands, murdered minorities. The humanist must graphically evoke such emptiness and erasure without fill­ ing these absences while remaining ‘wary of every dream and nation.’” Amongst the dreams Bhabha is especially chary of are those that seek justice as adjudica­ tion. Without quite endorsing them as an alternative, Bhabha points instead to the work of gacaca or grass-mat courts in Rwanda, which have practiced a politics of reconciliation amongst neighbours in small tight-knit communities. Involved in practices such as the gacaca, Bhabha’s argument suggests, is a sustained sense of the value of the commonplace, of the ordinariness of things. The destruction of the ordinary plumbs the depths of evil, and at the same time, the survival of the ordinary provides a measure of moral and social recovery. In their conversation, conducted in cyberspace across nearly two decades, Sau­ rabh Dube’s probing questions prompted Chakrabarty to extend his arguments on a wide range of issues: amidst much else, the formative influence of the Subaltern Studies group and of Australian aboriginal history on his own development; the relations between “History 1” and “History 2”; the vexing question of univer­ sals; the reasons he would now be critical of the “politics of despair” that he had flagged in earlier efforts; and the importance of affective histories. Especially intriguing is the most recent segment of this conversation, where Dipesh returns to prior debates that questioned the historical discipline’s claims to truth: “We forgot something crucial in those heady days of skepticism: that while there may not be anything called ‘the truth’ about the past (or any other object of knowledge), there was – and there is – always, for the historian, the question of being truth­ ful.” In this, the writing of pasts becomes a care of the self: “Doing history is an ethical struggle against one’s own biases – if my Marxist account of the past has to seem ‘true’ or plausible, it should do so not because I want to Marx to win all ideological battles, but in spite of my being a Marxist.” Chakrabarty also stresses, with reference to his work on climate change, how his very concept of the social is changing: “Can one think the ‘social’ any longer without taking into account the nonhuman?” The final chapter of this section consists of excerpts from the well-known con­ versation between Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty, which seems to have only gained in force with age. Much of the discussion turns on various registers of the question of “how seriously do we take the ambiguity that lies at the heart of liberalism, the ambiguity caused by the tension between the universal applicabil­ ity that it claims for itself and the unacknowledged racism that runs through it?” In this vein, both Ghosh and Chakrabarty address the issue of why the coercive side of colonialism is often under-enunciated in Indian narratives, specifically, the rea­ sons for Indian historians frequently recoiling from engagements with the terms of race and racism. Ghosh emphasizes the egalitarian movements and cultures that preceded the Enlightenment and recollects an epiphany while reading Tilak:

Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty


“I too had been complicit at some unthought level with the idea (pace Tilak) that reform was inseparable from Empire.” Chakrabarty differs, suggesting that the “Enlightenment – in combination with capitalism – was something special. It was special in the way in which it helped to make ‘equality’ into a universal category of secular life and ran it through every aspect of human activity, building it into all general measures of exchange.”

Global pasts and postcolonial differences The third section of the book opens with Devleena Ghosh’s moving analysis of the challenges faced by the Adivasis or “tribal” peoples of Chattisgarh. Ghosh started her study with the intention of exploring how villagers responded to cli­ mate change and its impact. But her questions changed as she realized that “the villagers were focussed completely and understandably, on the loss of their land and livelihood.” Historically, the Adivasis had already been threatened by the government-owned coal mines; now, they faced a new challenge with the arrival of private mining companies. The Adivasis on her site were not necessarily antidevelopment, and had even welcomed an earlier mine “on the assumption that it would not affect the residential part of the village and provide infrastructure (such as schools and hospitals) and employment for them.” But their hopes had been dashed, and villages in the region suffered ecological devastation and were now littered with the “dystopian paraphernalia” of mining. Ghosh notes that while climate change may eventually affect everyone on the planet, the Adivasi villagers on her field site “face the immediate consequences of ‘progress’”: loss of land and livelihood, destruction of communities and, in extremis, destitution and starva­ tion, long before they face climate change. Partha Chatterjee’s chapter focuses on the Bengali Hindu refugees from East Pakistan who came to India in the wake of the partition – belonging to such fami­ lies is the common social background that he shares with Chakrabarty. Chatterjee explores a paradox: why is it that, while practices of caste privilege and discrimi­ nation continue in West Bengal, there is, unlike other parts of India, little discus­ sion of caste in public life? And this despite the political mobilization of the rural peasantry, despite the existence of the third-largest percentage of Dalit population amongst Indian states. His essay explores how, in the wake of the partition, the refugee colonies, which were dominated by upper castes, established a cultural and ideological dominance on a new register, one no longer centred around the discriminations of caste practice. The new middle-class formation drew primarily on cultural capital to offer a cultural repertoire that became “the normative stand­ ard for Bengalis from all regions and social rank – one that is open to all to acquire and use new dominance.” In other words, “the upper-caste elite culture became hegemonic precisely because it was not exclusively about caste. Its persuasive power came from its ability to create and defend larger social consolidations.” Arvind Rajagopal’s chapter draws on the afterlife of the Cold War to offer an implicit engagement with Chakrabarty’s question about what prevents “fact­ respecting, secular historians” from realizing their aspiration to intervene in public


Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

life. During the Cold War, he points out, an “expert nationalism” focused around development was influential in India. But in the post-Cold War era, a popular nationalism has, combined with growing access to education and information, led to a “popular demand for history, and a need to account for the place of the nation in world history. Here polemic and myth-building have had the advantage over academic historiography, which has been relatively late in turning its attention to the postcolonial period, instead dwelling mainly on the colonial era and the triumph of anticolonialism.” In India, Rajagopal suggests, history has been glo­ balized by identifying with the victors of the Cold War, by misleadingly claiming that India too was a victim of socialism like the East Bloc, and emerged from it only due to the worldwide triumph of market forces (and – in some increasingly ascendant narratives – also due to the assertion of a Hindu identity). With the Australian stolen-generations narrative as its focus, Bain Attwood’s chapter takes up Chakrabarty’s argument about the “historical wounds” that resist the verifying practices of disciplinary history. He argues that academic historywriting of the 1980s concerning the government’s separation of Aboriginal children became the stolen generations narrative in the 1990s because of three developments. First, the government commissioned a report on the phenomenon as part of a “therapeutic” practice in public life. Second, around the same time, the visibility of the narrative was dramatically increased by major documentaries and feature films. Here again, rather than rendering past times distant, as professional historical practices do, the distance between past and present was destroyed. Abo­ riginal stories, autobiographies, and other interventions intensified this effect. All these practices worked as testimony in a new sense – not a prelude to the acquisi­ tion of historical knowledge, but itself a claim to transmit the past transparently and without representation. Third and finally, through court cases and commission inquiries, the narratives were incorporated into “juridical history” – history that seeks not to understand the past in its complexity but to make it available for legal and quasi-legal judgement. Increasingly, Attwood argues, the stolen generations narrative, anchored around a historical wound, became the symbol of the relations between the Aboriginals and the settler peoples of Australia.

Historical disciplines and modern universals Sanjay Seth thinks through the gap – and works within the interstices – between “history” and “memory.” Moving deftly across a wide terrain of writing on the subject, he delineates the limits at once of “elegiac” accounts of the loss of collec­ tive memory to modern historiography, the solipsistic calls for entirely replacing history-writing with memory-work, and the principally valuable emphases that see “cultural memory” as signifying “the different ways in which the past is repre­ sented and remembered.” Instead, Seth attends to the epistemological issues raised by the subject(s) of memory: “If memory does not give unmediated access to the past, but is also a form of representation, and thus a linguistic artefact” then what “promise or possibility” might this concept and process hold? On the one hand, the chapter seizes upon epistemologically and ethically fraught representations of

Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty


the holocaust in history and as memory, in order to ask critical questions concern­ ing the place of violence, pain, and trauma in the narration and imagination of the past. On the other hand, it draws in the “political-intellectual challenge posed by movements of the marginalized, and the structuralist and post-structuralist cri­ tique of knowledge-forms” to suggest how memory – now understood to be a par­ ticular instance of a more global phenomenon – can be a “manner of re-presenting the pasts of particular groups.” In these ways, Seth implicitly calls attention, in intriguing manners, to the important recent emphases in the discussions of the nature of pasts and histories: first, that forms of historical consciousness – includ­ ing modern historiography – vary in their degree of symbolic elaborations, their ability to capture the imagination of subjects (across and between social groups), and their ability to pervade multiple contexts; second, that history exists as a nego­ tiable resource and reworked ruse at the core of shifting social worlds; and, finally, that productions of the past incessantly turn upon the play of power and the com­ plicities of the archive.16 Next, Ajay Skaria explores the difference between liberty and freedom. While liberty “is exercised through the will and expressed in terms of ‘agency,’ ‘people’s will,’ individual rights,’ . . . freedom involves a power exercised through a suspen­ sion or surrender of the will, and is articulated especially intensely in relations of friendship and neighbourliness, and the vulnerability they involve.” Although freedom “provides a vocabulary for questioning, thinking critically about, and even setting aside liberty. . . [yet] liberty remains the dominant way in which we conceive of free polities and societies.” It is precisely this repressed distinction that Skaria is after, based on an imaginative excursus through the thought and practice of MK Gandhi, who engaged the relation and distinction between liberty and freedom – “or in his terms between political swaraj and true swaraj” – with an extraordinary intensity. Registering the salience of freedom for the Subaltern Studies collective, the chapter also seeks to take the arguments initiated by Chakarabarty’s Provincializing Europe in a distinct direction. Skaria covers immense ground in a short space. On the one hand, he attends to Gandhi’s ambiva­ lent relationship with liberalism; to the absence of the “will” in – and other critical attributes of – Gandhi’s delineation of swaraj; and to the radical newness of satya­ graha as envisioned and articulated by Gandhi. On the other hand, Skaria raises the key question of “the ever-existing potential of violence even in a politics of non­ violence,” immense ethical stakes that Gandhi’s visions themselves could not escape and ones that fly around as cruel shards in our violent worlds today. In what is quite possibly the last piece he wrote before his death in early 2019, the remarkable historian Alf Lüdtke thinks through Dipesh Chakrabarty’s wellknown statement about the simultaneous “indispensability and inadequacy” of Western thought. Lüdtke not only finds in the statement a paradox (in the strict sense of the term), but registers that Dipesh assumes “English, specifically American English” to be the self-evident language of Western thought. Does such an assumption not reduce the range of address of Western thought, espe­ cially by ignoring the plurality of European languages that have gone into its making? “In other words: to what extent English or US American philosophers


Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

and men (and women) of letters can stand for ‘Western thought’ is an open ques­ tion.” Here, Lüdtke queries the limits of “employing English as ‘base language’ which is apparently always already there” by turning to the specificity of lan­ guage through an examination of the terms work and labour, eigen-sinn, seren­ dipity, and spirituality, including their grounding in the concreteness of place. It is after this excursus that the chapter queries Chakrabarty’s identification of Karl Marx with analytical protocols and of Martin Heidegger with hermeneutic procedures, where the analytical and the hermeneutic constitute the two princi­ pal modalities of modern Western knowledge. Specifically, Lüdtke asks whether it is warranted to exclusively associate Marx with analytical and abstract modes of reasoning, and to assimilate, as Dipesh seems to, his intimate “histories of belonging” set in Bengal to Heidegger’s more totalizing conception and terms of, well, belonging. Taking as her starting point Chakrabarty’s provocations concerning the terms of translation of critical difference, Rajyashree Pandey turns to medieval Japanese texts, enquiring about “the possibilities and limits of using the categories [of] body, gender and agency, as they have emerged within the context of modern Western philosophical, religious and (more recently) feminist debates, to read texts that come out of an altogether different temporal and cultural context.” What does it mean to render utterances and apprehensions far removed in space-time and subjectivity into such idiom(s) and language(s) that are intelligible to modern subjects? Can an encounter with the strangeness of these terrains lead to an unset­ tling of inherited-acquired modes of reading, such that the exact otherness of these worlds stretches modern categories not only to their constitutive limits but their unanticipated ends? Thinking through the presence and absence of distinctions such as sex/gender and body/mind across cultures, traditions, and histories, allows Pandey to turn to the performativity of gender. Specifically, she asks: “If ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in medieval Japanese texts were not realized primarily through their bodies then how was gender difference produced?” Through close textual analysis she answers that instead of entailing “the sexual attributes of the body, gendering was a process that materialized through specific modes of comportment, patterns of speech, and stylized performative modes, which made the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ intelligible.” While aspects of Buddhism reveal ostensible ambigui­ ties about the hierarchically lower status of women, there is possibly little doubt­ ing the “instability of man and woman as fixed and enduring entities” in these traditions, which are further foregrounded by the mutual entanglements and com­ mon interpenetrations of the human and the non-human in such terrains. Building on these discussions, Pandey turns finally to the acute limits of liberal concep­ tions of agency – turning on the sovereign subject and the autonomous individual who are opposed to power and ever envisioned in the exclusive image of Man as the sole meaning-maker in the world – and their radical incommensurability in terrains occupied by the practices and meanings, that is actions, of spirits and sensibilities, gods and demons, dreams and piety, desires and objects, the differ­ ent dead and all the living. Thus, Pandey’s chapter also points toward the fifth and final section of the book on the Anthropocene.

Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty


The Anthropocene and other affiliations We open with Ewa Domanska’s essay that acknowledges her debt to Chakra­ barty’s work on the humanities in the age of the Anthropocene, which “shows us how climate change collapses the traditional dichotomy between natural and human history, forcing scholars to rethink basic categories of historical thought.” Domanska is concerned not with what happens in the air, above ground as it were, but with what is below the ground, the soil or earth-anthropogenic soil change. Specifically, her essay is concerned with the decomposition of human bodies and remains. Soil is “one of the most diversified environments on the planet . . . a com­ plex, living organism,” and in cemeteries, human remains are a part of this organ­ ism. Thus while decomposing cadavers represent the loss of humanness from one perspective, from another perspective these dead bodies are, or become, “ele­ ments of symbiotic collectivities made up of organic and inorganic beings . . . that are constantly comingling.” The decomposition of human remains into humus thus marks a departure from the world of human collectivities, but also entry into “a collectivity of diverse forms of organic . . . and inorganic existence.” If Chakrabarty shows us the complexity of what it means to be human in the era of the Anthropocene, Domanska seeks to show that “humanity is a temporary state and a matter of degree” – followed by unbecoming human. Bernd Scherer asks us what art can do in the time of digital capitalism and the Anthropocene. When consumer tracking allows – the example Scherer gives – a market research company to know that a teenager is pregnant before her parents do, on the basis of her shopping basket, something fundamental has changed. As Scherer explains: “Social life is divided into units. These units are separated from their original contexts of meaning. The abstracted units are then recombined using algorithmic machines to produce something new – which is then fed back into the social process.” Here, as with the advent of human-created climate change, the distinctions that we have taken for granted for centuries, perhaps longer, are coming undone. Nature and culture are no longer distinct, and human activity is no longer the source of commodities or the means by which they are consumed, but has itself been transformed into a commodity. Drawing upon the Anthropo­ cene Project at HKW, with which he has been deeply involved, Scherer suggests examples of what art can and cannot do in the era of the technosphere and of the Anthropocene. Stephen Muecke’s meditation not only on indigenous histories but on indig­ enous futures takes as its point of departure Chakrabarty’s deliberations on sub­ alternity, indigeneity, and multiculturalism. Muecke observes that in “times of radical upheaval, people ask why the usual possibilities are no longer open to them . . . They are even faced with the possibility of no longer being able to be the same kind of people that they once were.” So it was for the indigenous peoples of Australia, for whom the “radical upheaval” came in the form of European inva­ sion, conquest, and dispossession. The Goolarabooloo peoples of the Broome region in western Australia were, in Muecke’s analysis, forced to creatively rede­ fine what it meant to be Goolarabooloo at a time when assimilationist policies,


Saurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, and Ajay Skaria

the contempt of white Australia, and the banning of indigenous languages in schools called into question the very possibility of “being” Goolarabooloo. They did so, Muecke shows, by incorporating whitefellas into their vision of the future, by, in a sense, inviting white Australians to share in the possibilities of being Goolarabooloo. This innovation was “a gesture of their sovereignty: ‘Look! This is our country!’” Doing so, in Muecke’s reading, enabled an indigenous iden­ tity to survive by being performed in different ways, and thereby also creatively pluralized. Saurabh Dube’s discussion of “modern scholasticism,” “secular transcend­ ence,” and “worldly immanence,” also influenced by the corpus of Chakrabarty’s work, seeks to stay with the tensions between oppositions that come in various forms. These include the contentions between (modern-day) scholasticism and immanence, between is and ought, and between a formatively singular ration­ ality and constitutively heterogenous reason. The essay treats these not simply as conceptual/philosophical oppositions, but also as tied up in affect, and modes of existence and experience. Unsurprisingly, these matrices are bound as well with assertions and performances of epistemic power, not least in the academy. Unraveling these oppositions and retying them as lived and as embodied in dispo­ sitions and affects, Dube’s chapter carefully and strategically insists that there is no option but to stay with the oppositions, abjuring polemical negation or dialec­ tical overcoming. Indeed, recognising the embeddedness of these oppositions, in the world, might require something different: a “history without warranty.”

Notes 1 The arguments and works mentioned in this paragraph are all elaborated in the pages ahead. 2 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal 1890–1940 (Prince­ ton: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. xii, 69, and passim. 3 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” Representations, vol. 37, Winter 1992, pp. 1–26. 4 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). 5 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Difference-deferral of a Colonial Modernity: Public Debates on Domesticity in British Bengal”, in David Arnold and David Hardiman (eds.), Sub­ altern Studies VIII: Essays in Honor of Ranajit Guha (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 50–88; Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). 6 Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity; Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, p. 255. 7 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Public Life of History: An Argument Out of India”, Public Culture, vol. 20, no. 1, 54, Winter 2008, p. 143. 8 Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 37. 9 Ibid., p. 4. 10 Ibid., p. 26. 11 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, Winter 2009. 12 Ibid., p. 220.

Engaging Dipesh Chakrabarty


13 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 41, Autumn 2014, p. 23. 14 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Politics of Climate Change Is More Than the Politics of Capitalism”, Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 34, 2017, pp. 25–37. 15 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change”, New Literary History, vol. 43, no. 1, Winter 2012, p. 1. 16 For a wider discussion see Saurabh Dube, Subjects of Modernity: Time-Space, Disci­ plines, Margins (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017), pp. 153–156.

Part I

Affect and intellect


Between critique and creativity Some other politics of writing history in Aotearoa New Zealand Miranda Johnson “Let us begin from where the transition narrative ends and read ‘plenitude’ and ‘creativity’ where this narrative has made us read ‘lack’ and ‘inadequacy.’” “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” (1992) “I did not want to consign the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries to a land of ‘errors,’ from which the progression of knowledge and ideas had simply rescued us. But I did not want to go back to the nineteenth century either. I wanted to understand what made ‘facts’ once so valuable and ‘historical truth’ a matter of virtue for these historians in colonial India.” The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (2015)

Twenty-three years separate these two statements authored by Dipesh Chakrabarty. Each promoting different approaches to and perspectives on his­ torical narrative and archive – statements that invoke distinct relationships to the writer’s audience. In the first, Dipesh assails “historicism” – the narrative of progressive development over time in which Europe served as the model of accomplishment and the rest had to play catch up – and urges us, postcolonial scholars-in-the-making, to read against the grain. We must attend to histories oth­ erwise, ones that escape the grasp of a narrative of transition, which assumes a universal and linear path to progress. The passionate critic of empire and of the discipline of history, particularly where its ideological entanglement with coloni­ alism makes histories otherwise incomprehensible in disciplinary terms, exhorts his readers to imagine new horizons. A different relationship to empire and to the politics of the discipline, however, is conjured in the second statement. It is “understanding” that this speaker pro­ motes as an approach to recovering past values, precisely because those values are not shared by the researcher. Moreover, this attitude of understanding is pos­ sible because of a certain relation of freedom between the historian and his or her subject (and, implicitly, it is necessary if we really want to recover those values). Note that the subject of this second statement is no longer forced to read in a cer­ tain way (he is not, as in the first statement, “made” to read lack or inadequacy


Miranda Johnson

into the hegemonic notion of transition). Neither falsely certain of the historian’s present-day evolution vis-à-vis a less enlightened past nor nostalgic for a former world, Dipesh has the freedom to shuttle back and forth, comparing and consider­ ing differences across space and time for the insights they might bequeath to the present. This liberty is permitted the reader, too, who is not enjoined to any one particular project or mission. We have the intellectual freedom to agree or disa­ gree with the arguments advanced and are invited to do so. I came to know Dipesh between the publications of these two statements, when I entered the PhD programme in the Department of History at the University of Chicago in 2003 under his supervision. It was a heady time for me personally, coming into the intensive graduate school experience of that university from fara­ way New Zealand (a place that some Americans I met thought was near Sweden!), and more broadly in a political sense too. Just months before I arrived, the U.S. government under President George Bush’s direction had invaded Iraq, a deci­ sion that many of us in New Zealand opposed, as did many Americans of course. In the New Zealand case, opposition was rendered with a strong dose of antiAmericanism prevalent in New Zealand culture and which is filtered through ten­ sions with our larger neighbor Australia who tends to support U.S. foreign policy. (This was an attitude that I was forced to rethink after years living in the Midwest.) In Wellington, I had protested the invasion – which the New Zealand govern­ ment officially opposed but nonetheless sent a warship under U.S. command – and with friends and family joined in various street marches. I have no recollection of extensive police presence, though I’m sure some were there. Yet I do distinctly remember that when I joined new friends on marches in Chicago later that year, heavily armed police in riot gear and masks lined both sides of the road, standing between protestors and the Magnificent Mile’s plentiful shop windows. That fall quarter, Dipesh offered a graduate seminar called “The Politics of History.” Too many of us “grad students” (a new term of identity for me) piled into a small seminar room in Foster Hall to discuss key works of Carlo Ginzburg and Hayden White. It was an unexpected pairing, perhaps, given that we gathered there to learn from the postcolonial critic. I now realize that the readings were in part preparation for writing The Calling of History, which Dipesh explains has a twin purpose: it is both an investigation of the early “career” of the discipline of history in India, and an “attempt to bring into view a larger architecture of ideas regarding empire and nation.”1 The dispute between Ginzburg and White that Dipesh drew our attention to in that seminar is also registered in the quotations above. That is between questions of narrative – the content of the form – and questions of research practice. Ginz­ burg’s observations on the “rhetoric of proof” in the discipline of history were fer­ tile ground for our discussions. He argued that the methodological procedures and epistemological concerns of modern-day historians, including himself, made us more likely to identify with the sixteenth-century inquisitors than with the peas­ ants. The latter might be the objects of our political sympathies, but their ways of knowing are lost (or almost lost) to us, he argued. The historian shares much with the procedures of the sixteenth century inquisition as he or she “look[s] over the

Between critique and creativity 21 judges’ shoulders . . . hoping (as they presumably did) that the alleged offenders would be talkative about their beliefs.”2 It was an uncomfortable but important insight. And I well remember Dipesh’s delight in pointing out to us in one class that even Hayden White believed in facts! Rather than historicize the difference between the two epigraphs for this chapter (that is, by using them as evidence of the evolution of a scholar over time – which no doubt they can be shown to reveal), I want to read them dialectically, a method that Dipesh himself masterfully engages in his writing and that he performed for students in seminars and advising meetings. Cheekily (but hopefully within the bounds of friendship), I will call the two positions “Dipesh 1” and “Dipesh 2.” Dipesh 1 is the fierce critic of Europe’s hegemonic narrative of modernity, that which forces other pasts into submission or simply jettisons them, and that must itself therefore be held in check by searching for the possibility of plurality. Dipesh 2 is the heir of Enlightenment curiosity, the free inquirer and seeker after Truth, perhaps with a dash of the Romantic idealist and something of a believer in the idea that we can learn from the past. For me, the power to inspire and the critical acuity of Dipesh’s thought comes from the fact that it shifts between these two intellectual-affective modes, allow­ ing for one to inform, critique, or chafe at the other. What is important to my work is not simply that these modes are progressively inhabited or that one should grow out of the other. Rather, the point is that they are both necessary and useful for a dynamic and vital historical and historiographical inquiry. As Dipesh has often pointed out in responding to critiques of his work, it is both-and, this-and­ that, that he reclaims: “I want my Herder constantly challenged by Kant and vice versa,” he wrote in response to Carola Dietze who was arguing, contra the argu­ ment in Provincializing Europe (2000), that European and non-European histories should and could be placed on equal terms.3 Dipesh’s most recent book has been interpreted by some as a turn away from the earlier, more intellectually radical questions that had motivated his program­ matic article, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History,” and of course Provin­ cializing Europe.4 Again, the intellectual is also the affective, as Dipesh noted in the postscript to Chapter 1 of Provincializing Europe – a reproduction of the aforementioned article – when he stated that he was no longer driven by the “poli­ tics of despair” that he had advocated earlier. That despair, readers will remember, concerned the inability of historians working within a secular historicist episte­ mology to capture peasant pasts in terms of their own ontological meaning and reasoning. The problem that Dipesh identified was not only that such ways of knowing were lost (as in Ginzburg’s observation) but that they were incommensu­ rable with modern historical thinking. Despair has not been replaced by optimism in the latest work; as Ajay Skaria astutely observes, Dipesh’s tone in The Calling of History is often melancholic.5 The Calling of History may have moved away from the radical question of incommensurability, but it raises other difficult and uncomfortable questions. Some of these are internal to the discipline and concern which past histori­ ans and historiographies we choose to identify with, or disregard, and why. In


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particular, Dipesh points out that many scholarly discussions of the making of the discipline and its key methodological claims, including that of objectivity, in the 1980s and 1990s had proceeded by assuming that history was an “abstract and general form of knowledge whose academic protocols are determined by certain rules and procedures.”6 By offering us an alternative history of history, Dipesh demonstrates that not all iterations of the profession look the same. Sir Jadunath Sarkar and Rao Bahadur Govindrao Sakharam Sardesai – the protagonists of The Calling of History – had to make what might to others seem abstract or general in very particular conditions. For them, as for other scholars working in parts of the world where the “cloistered” academic life of history was (and is) under intense pressure from public demands and expectations, the practice of historical research according to objective evidentiary protocols had to be constantly defended. The public life of history in anti-colonial and nationalist India frequently challenged or even threatened the development of academic protocols, a situation that Dipesh argues makes for a distinct “career” of history as a discipline on the subcontinent when compared to the discipline’s development in the United States. Beyond the guild, this book asks intellectuals to consider why, when, and how certain ideas and practices become unfashionable, why they might or might not be recuperated, and what is at stake when we make such decisions (or follow a trend). These self-reflective questions, it seems to me, are consistent with Dipesh’s earlier mode of postcolonial disciplinary critique, if from another, and more intriguingly personal, vantage point. Perhaps what is most unexpected in The Calling of His­ tory is the care and understanding that Dipesh bestows on Sarkar, someone whom neither nationalist historians nor postcolonial critics have been well-disposed to like. Although Dipesh insists that the book is not a biography, he gives us a strongly delineated characterization of his historian-ancestor – a narrative method that in fact parallels Sarkar’s own research interests in character and his concern with his own self-fashioning. The parallelism is inescapable, Dipesh suggests, given that in Sarkar’s case the “man was the method.”7 New Zealand’s intellectual history does not yield figures resembling Sarkar or Sardesai precisely. Nonetheless, I recognize in some of the cherished values, modes of self-fashioning, and stated commitments of the protagonists of The Calling of History aspects of earlier generations of scholars and public figures in New Zealand. Some of these feature in my new research, those I call “the modern­ izers” across the South Pacific settler-empires of “Australasia” (a regional iden­ tity encompassing the white settler states of Australia and New Zealand and their imperial claims to the island territories of Papua and New Guinea, Nauru, Toke­ lau, the Cook Islands, Niue and Samoa) in the early-to-mid twentieth century – that is, the same period inhabited by Sarkar and Sardesai. A brief outline of one of these modernizers will suffice here. Sir Āpirana Ngata was a famed Ngāti Porou statesman and long-time New Zealand Member of Par­ liament, first elected to the parliament in 1905. By 1928, he had become a highranking minister in cabinet overseeing both Native Affairs and Cook Islands in a conservative government, until he resigned those portfolios in 1934. (He con­ tinued to hold the Eastern Maori seat until 1943.) Ngata was the first Māori law

Between critique and creativity 23 graduate from a New Zealand university and a prominent member of a new gen­ eration of professionalized Māori leaders, primarily doctors and lawyers, known as the “Young Māori Party.” This was not a political party but referred rather to a youthful vision of progress and modernization that these young men held in common as well as to their shared experience at the Anglican boarding school for Māori boys, Te Aute College, which they had attended in the 1880s and 1890s. The school was at the time under the headmastership of the English-born John Thornton who had, notably, previously worked for the Church Missionary Society in India. Thornton sought to raise the academic standards of students attending the school and prepare many of them for matriculation to university, believing that the “time would come when the Maoris would wish to have their own doctors, their own lawyers, and their own clergymen.”8 His aspirations were well met. Other Te Aute graduates who formed the Young Māori Party included Māui Pōmare and Peter Buck (Te Rangihīroa) – both of whom trained as medical doctors and like Ngata also served as politicians in the New Zealand parliament, entering via one of the four “Māori seats,” a separate electoral system that had been created in 1867 initially as a transitional measure, though the seats continue today as a dis­ tinct feature of New Zealand’s parliamentary system. Pōmare was the first Māori to be appointed Minister of Health. Buck became a well-known Pacific anthro­ pologist, directing the Bishop Museum in Honolulu for many years. Ngata’s professional education, his focus on progress for Māori people (par­ ticularly in land development), his demands for equality, and his critique of colo­ nial policy resemble many other intellectuals of colonial modernity, including those in India. Perhaps distinctively, however, Ngata and his associates were not and did not become anti-colonial. The members of the Young Māori Party pursued a variety of reforms of Māori economic and social life, including the attempt to abolish tohungaism (the authority of Māori experts), improve sanitation in Māori villages, incorporate land holdings, and establish collective agricultural enter­ prises including sheep and dairy farming. They sought accommodation within the settler state rather than an overthrow of it. They wanted equal citizenship with Pākehā (white settlers) not separate statehood. Indeed, they were often criticized at the time – and more recently – for their “assimilationist” ideas, such as press­ ing for the conscription of Māori men into the armed forces during World War I, arguing that such would prove that Māori were equal to Pākehā.9 Like Sarkar and Sardesai, these leaders were men of empire and they all received knighthoods for their service to it. This does not mean that they were, in fact, fully-fledged assimilationists, and they debated among themselves and with others what the racial and cultural future of Māori in New Zealand would be. They were, as Dipesh puts it elsewhere in reference to South Asian intellectuals, engaged in a critical “dialogue with the West” about the future of Māori and Poly­ nesian peoples.10 They mobilized Western knowledge forms to this end, notably anthropology, which had emerged in New Zealand not as a subject within the university but through the local and particular efforts of amateur ethnologists in the so-called “Polynesian Society.” All of these Māori leaders took a keen inter­ est in ethnological pursuits. They read widely and, like Sarkar, were interested in


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creating new institutional homes for the preservation of key aspects of Māori cul­ ture.11 As I noted, Buck himself became a professional anthropologist in a grow­ ing and influential network across the Pacific. Ngata published a significant essay on the applicability of anthropology to colonial governance.12 Historical narrative was also important. In these men’s writings, Māori were certainly not peoples without history. For instance, in his best-selling Native Land Development report of 1931, Ngata outlined in largely historicist terms the pro­ gress of Māori farmers. By the 1920s, Ngata claimed, The older generation had almost passed away, removing thence the conserva­ tive influence which had retarded the expansion of the farming movement. Young leaders were emerging among most tribes, men and women who real­ ized the difficult position of their race, and who saw in the cultivation of land the chief hope for its respectable existence.13 Ngata’s largely historicist and progressive argument, however, was interrupted in his own text by his consciousness of (and indeed pride in) histories enacted and performed otherwise. This older Māori historical consciousness or historicity, he believed, had real consequences for the issue most pressing for Māori in the twen­ tieth century: land dispossession. One of the problems he was working out in his land development schemes was that the “English experience” of subdividing and partitioning of land was not a good model for Māori land where such subdivision had led to chaos. This was because Maori who in the nineteenth century went to the Native Land Court (where customary land was investigated and a distinctive title that enabled small groups of landholders to sell blocks of land determined) with their “specialized knowledge of genealogy” would revel in naming descend­ ants.14 They were not thinking in terms of a logic of how to make most economic use of land blocks but, rather, in terms of their own historicity and political logics in which mana was a measure of the breadth and depth of whakapapa (genealogi­ cal attachment and its recitation). The answer that Ngata provided to this problem of persistent Māori historicity was to make structural changes such that Māori would become better farmers on consolidated blocks of land. At the same time, he sought to enhance tribal honor by converting what he called “jealousy” into competitive rivalry (for instance in staged cultural performances) and reforming tribal leadership. He argued for a top-down process by which new and progressive ideas should first be adopted by tribal leaders before they could permeate the lower rungs of society. Acutely conscious of the tensions between capitalist land development and the enduring demands of tribal leadership and political life, he could not in fact resolve them, and they continue to animate debates today. In the more immediate term, Ngata and his particular progressive vision was ultimately toppled by a populist and prophetic political movement known as the “Ratana movement,” which gave its support to the new Labour government in 1935 and for decades afterward. Ngata’s legacies – and those of other members of the Young Māori Party – were significant not least for how they speak to a notable difference between the story

Between critique and creativity 25 Dipesh tells in The Calling of History and this version of colonial modernity. Here I am thinking about the different institutional structures that operated to exclude and yet that were pushed open by Māori leaders in their struggle for accommo­ dation and the broader cultural politics attending a situation of accommodation with an ongoing structure of a settler colonial state that seeks to absorb yet also defines and desires indigenous difference.15 As I have argued elsewhere, indigene­ ity is both a challenge to and an answer for the settler state in seeking to ground its authority locally. To recognize indigenous place distinguishes the settler state from its European progenitor, yet to do so is also to force a reckoning with its own illegitimacy.16 In the New Zealand case, some powerful Māori leaders have sought to engage state institutions in order to indigenize them and provide support for ongoing Māori cultural and political initiatives. This process of indigenizing has been, and continues to be, fraught and difficult; as Ngata often expressed in letters to his friend Buck, Pākehā were largely indifferent and sometimes actively hostile to his reformist ideas, and few of them could really penetrate what he called the “Māori mind.”17 Nonetheless, Ngata and others laid the groundwork for what by the end of the twentieth century was called in distinctive terms official “biculturalism” in New Zealand. This biculturalism included state recognition of the Māori language and a raft of other forms of support for Māori culture as well as various affirma­ tive action policies similar to those in other multicultural democracies. Bicultur­ alism has been itself the subject of extensive critique for its symbolic logics and cultural reifications, its hegemonic intentions, and its failure to benefit workingclass people in a material way. It has also inspired some distinct politics of history. Although I am fascinated by Ngata’s ideas, my intellectual relationship to them is mediated by racial and cultural politics that are different from those navigated by Dipesh in the context of Indian intellectual politics. For me to suggest, as I have done by proposing Sarkar as Dipesh’s intellectual ancestor (and that he himself acknowledges in the imagined dialogue at the end of the book), that any of those Māori intellectuals of the past that I am interested in are also my ances­ tors might arouse considerable suspicion and some stiff questioning about my presumptiveness from Māori colleagues. This will be particularly the case if I am perceived to be making this connection in order to legitimate my inquiry outside of other genealogical ties of descent, cultural competence, or political commit­ ments. Some Māori scholars and intellectuals today who are uncomfortable with Pākehā like me noseying around in their history may even find it insulting. One of the points being made is that, following a history of almost complete land dispossession, Māori history is not “free” for the taking – and especially not by representatives of the colonizer culture. Another is that there are distinc­ tive “worlds” in operation in New Zealand that should be carefully navigated and whose protocols must be observed. The idea of discrete worlds is a conten­ tion memorably rebuffed by the historian Alan Ward in his review of another book of essays honoring the influential Pacific historian, Greg Dening (and in which Dipesh, as a member of Dening’s department at the University of Mel­ bourne at the time, also has an essay). As Ward writes, Māori are never “wholly


Miranda Johnson

the mysterious ‘Other’, for they are also family . . . there never were two wholly separate worlds, from the moment the beachcombers and traders settled among Pacific communities and entered into the kinds of intimacy not dissimilar from my own time.”18 A brief example from my own family history elucidates the point: the Ratana-backed member of parliament who unseated Ngata in 1943, Tiaki Omana (Jack Ormond), sat in the Labour government along with my grandfather, Ormond Wilson, who was also his first cousin. They shared the name of their grandfather, John Davies Ormond, an English born sheep-farmer and local politician involved in dubious land-leasing from hapū (the primary political unit in Māori society) on the North Island’s east coast in the late nineteenth century. Nonetheless, the idea of two worlds persists, and it frames research practices in New Zealand. Biculturalism must be distinguished from hybridity. Thus, Pākehā scholars often see themselves and are represented by others as having been more or less incorporated into Te Ao Māori or “the Māori world” (the phrase most com­ monly used for demarcating cultural spaces). A notable example is the late Dame Judith Binney, who undertook considerable cultural preparation for working within and demonstrated long-term commitments to the Māori communities she wrote about (and she received her considerable pushback from Māori and Pākehā for doing so).19 Perhaps most importantly, Binney collaborated in furthering those communities’ interests, for instance, by preparing historical evidence for Treaty of Waitangi claims against the state. We might recall Ginzburg’s observations here about the uncomfortable but nonetheless inescapable identification between historian and inquisitor and their shared genealogy of method, and ponder what is required of academically-trained historians in working for subaltern communities in legal contexts – for instance, what novel self-fashionings must they undertake? – but that is another topic. Assertions of independence by those within the cloisters of academic history from public or popular political pressures are always in question in New Zea­ land and for a variety of distinct reasons. It is difficult (though not impossible) to cloister oneself away in a small scholarly community that offers few academic pathways. (Postgraduates in history in New Zealand are far more likely to go into the public service – perhaps themselves working as historical researchers on Treaty of Waitangi claims – than they are to find an academic position.) Both in funding applications and in less formal spaces, academics are expected to nar­ rate the public or community benefits of their work. More broadly, biculturalism and indigenization exerts influence on the cultural identity of Pākehā – and those who use this term of identification have already positioned themselves as liberal and anti-racist, somewhat self-conscious of the colonial past and the privilege it bestows on them in the present.20 The subsequent cultural purification of mixed social worlds exhibits tensions in part produced by the longer term processes of accommodation with the state and the efforts by some to mark its limits and hold it, and colonizer culture more generally, at bay. Conflicts around who gets to claim whose past and how are, in good part, an effect of the uneven and fraught but nonetheless significant indigenizing of the state and of public institutions like the university. When does indigenizing in official terms simply re-enact forms of

Between critique and creativity 27 cultural colonization for the purposes of national identity making? Whom does indigenizing best serve? As Dipesh has shown us, history-making has its own particular histories. These histories inform and demand particular critiques, and they offer or constrain dis­ tinct kinds of “intellectual freedom” in differently colonized spaces. It seems unlikely to me that historians anywhere (even in the relatively autonomous space of the Chicago seminar room) are free from history’s public life today. But the pressures academic historians experience – not only around how we represent historical actors but also for whom we are writing – are interestingly distinct as well as profoundly entangled in intellectual, material, and social terms. I’m grate­ ful to Dipesh for his writing and teaching. He has taught me to stick with feelings of tension and work out ways of writing and researching about frictions in powerladen spaces without settling them but, rather, analyzing them in creative ways.

Notes 1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 26. 2 Carlo Ginzburg, “The Inquisitor as Anthropologist”, in Clues, Myths, and the Histori­ cal Method, trans. Tedeschi John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), p. 158. 3 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “In Defense of Provincializing Europe: A Response to Carola Dietze”, History and Theory, vol. 47, no. 1, 2008, p. 95. 4 Suman Seth, “The Politics of Despair and the Calling of History”, History and Theory, vol. 56, no. 2, 2017, pp. 241–257. 5 Ajay Skaria, “The Melancholy of Publicness: On The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth”, South Asian History and Culture, vol. 8, no. 1, 2017, pp. 92–98. 6 Chakrabarty, The Calling of History, p. 5. 7 “Or that is how he staged himself to himself and to his contemporaries in the scholarly persona he made his own”, Chakrabarty qualifies. Chakrabarty, The Calling of History, p. 33. 8 John Barrington, “Thornton, John”, in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12 March 2014, https://teara.govt.nz/en/ biographies/2t42/thornton-john. 9 Some key publications include Richard Hill, State Authority: Indigenous Autonomy: Crown-Maori Relations in New Zealand/Aotearoa 1900–1950 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2004): esp. chapter 2; Raeburn Lange, May the People Live: Maori Health Development, 1900–1920 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1999); M. P. K. Sorrenson, “Introduction”, in M. P. K. Sorrenson (ed.), Na To Hoa Aroha/From your Dear Friend: The Correspondence Between Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck, 1925–1950, vol. 1 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1986), pp. 9–40; M. P. K. Sorrenson, “Modern Maori: The Young Maori Party Te Mana Motuhake”, in Keith Sinclair (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of New Zealand (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 323–354; J. A. Williams, Politics of the New Zea­ land Maori: Protest and Cooperation, 1891–1909 (Seattle: University of Washington, 1969); Ranginui Walker, He Tipua: The Life and Times of Sir Āpirana Ngata (Auck­ land: Viking, 2001). 10 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “From Civilization to Globalization: The ‘West’as a Shifting Signi­ fier in Indian Modernity”, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, 2012, pp. 138–152.


Miranda Johnson

11 For a recent reassessment of this work, see Billie Lythberg, Conal McCarthy, and Amiria J. M. Salmond (eds.), “Special Issue: Te Ao Hou: Whakapapa as Practical Ontology”, Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 128, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–130. 12 Sir Apirana Turupa Ngata, “Anthropology and the Government of Native Races in the Pacific”, The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, vol. VI, no. 1, 1928. See the discussion of this essay by Conal McCarthy, “ ‘Empirical Anthropolo­ gists Advocating Cultural Adjustments’: The Anthropological Governance of Āpirana Ngata and the Native Affairs Department”, History and Anthropology, vol. 25, no. 2, 2014, pp. 280–295. 13 “Native Land Development, Statement by the Hon. Sir Apirana T. Ngata, Native Min­ ister”, Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1931, G-10, p. iv. 14 Ibid., p. i. 15 In a related manner, consider Dipesh’s argument about the difference between indig­ enous/adivasi politics in Australia and India. Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Politics Unlimited: The Global Adivasi and Debates About the Political”, in Bengt T. Karlsson and T. B. Subba (eds.), Indigeneity in India (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 244. 16 Miranda Johnson, The Land Is Our History: Indigeneity, Law, and the Settler State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). 17 See the discussion in M. P. K. Sorrenson, “Polynesian Corpuscles and Pacific Anthro­ pology: The Home-Made Anthropology of Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck”, The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 91, no. 1, 1982, pp. 7–28. 18 Alan Ward, “Review Article: Comfortable Voyagers? Some Reflections on the Pacific and Its Historians”, Journal of Pacific History, vol. 31, no. 2, 1996, pp. 236–242. The idea of imperial entanglements has, notably, been advanced by the historian of New Zealand and the Punjab, Tony Ballantyne. See his Webs of Empire: Locating New Zea­ land’s Colonial Past (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2012). 19 For reflections on her craft and method, see Judith Binney, Stories Without End: Essays, 1975–2010 (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2010). 20 See Miranda Johnson, “ ‘The Land of the Wrong White Crowd’: Anti-racist Organiza­ tions and Pakeha Identity Politics in the 1970s”, New Zealand Journal of History, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 137–157; Johnson, The Land Is Our History, especially chapter 6.


Rethinking Indian constitutional history Arvind Elangovan

I came to the University of Chicago with an intention to work on an intellectual history of Indian liberalism, but I eventually wrote a dissertation on the history of the Indian constitution by focusing on a relatively unknown bureaucrat, Sir Benegal Narsing Rau (1887–1953). Naturally, changing the topic of research in graduate school is par for the course, but I feel that in my case the change was far more substantial in that there was a fundamental epistemic shift in the way I began to think about Indian liberalism.1 For, while the fields of liberalism and constitutionalism are closely related, the transition from focusing on the norma­ tive architecture of Indian liberal thought to a critical examination of histories of power that undergirded the story of the Indian constitution was far reaching and one that forced me to reckon with the deeply contested nature of Indian political and constitutional history. Dipesh Chakrabarty was vitally instrumental in effect­ ing this shift. In what follows, I will briefly recount this journey with Dipesh, which has naturally been exciting but equally important, enriching, where I (like other graduate students of Dipesh) had the unique privilege of thinking about modern India with someone who was central to the paradigmatic shifts that South Asian history had experienced in the late twentieth century through the critical interventions of subaltern studies and postcolonial theory. In particular, I will highlight two moments of intervention that Dipesh made during my graduate work. As I have realized over time, these interventions have not only been funda­ mental in helping me evolve academically but also have become integral to my intellectually inhabiting this world. In the first year of graduate school, my initial research interests emerged from a disquiet I had about existing explanations surrounding the making of the Indian constitution, a document deliberated and adopted in 1950. In particular, as is wellknown, it closely resembled the colonial constitutional acts of the previous years, especially the Government of India Act, 1935, and it was an interesting puzzle to explore the reasons for this similarity. By way of answers, one school of thought argued that the Indian constitution must be seen as a natural successor to the years, if not decades, of colonial training of Indians in the art of self-government. Another school quite understandably argued that despite the similarity of the structure between the colonial constitution and that of independent India’s, one cannot underestimate the extent to which the Indian nationalists made the colonial

30 Arvind Elangovan constitution their own, thus injecting agency to the process of adopting a colonial document and transforming it to speak to the concerns of an independent country. The dominant paradigms, then, of Indian constitutional history ranged on a spec­ trum from imperialist to nationalist schools of thought. Both of these explana­ tions, however, fell short on satisfactorily explaining this conundrum. In 2004–05, when I began working on a seminar paper, I suggested to Dipesh that I would like to work on Montagu Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 (also known as the Government of India Act, 1919), which for the first time introduced the principle of “Dyarchy” whereby Indians could be represented and responsible for running at least part of the colonial government. On further examination I real­ ized that there is an interesting puzzle in the fact that the British colonial govern­ ment’s enactment of the “liberal” constitutional reform occurred in the same year in which it had also enacted the Rowlatt Act that called for imprisonment without trial, primarily meant to target “seditious” and “extremist” nationalists. Dipesh immediately liked the idea and encouraged me to pursue this conundrum. By this time, we had already completed a course on modern Indian history in which we read some of the seminal works on nineteenth- and twentieth-century history. We had just begun reading some of the major works in postcolonial theory. These courses were eye-opening to say the least. Dipesh’s lectures made history an excit­ ing discipline in which we learned to question some of our deeply held presup­ positions of colonial history of India as well as of the discipline of history itself. Specifically, I began to appreciate two points. First, histories of power are integral to understand not only history but also the way histories were written. Second, the often-posited binary between colonialism and nationalism does not withstand vigorous scrutiny. On closer examination, these binaries could fall apart. In this context, when I began reading the debates surrounding the enactment of the 1919 Act, almost immediately I was struck by the similarity of assumptions that underlay both the colonial statesmen’s arguments for granting piecemeal constitutional reform and those of the Indian nationalists who demanded more comprehensive reforms. Specifically, the latter seemed to concur in the sociologi­ cal understanding of Indian society advanced by the colonial state. The colonial state believed that the “masses” were not yet ready for complete self-government and hence could not be granted the same. Interestingly, the Indian nationalists led by the Home Rule Movement at the time also subscribed to a similar view of the Indian people. Not knowing exactly how to frame this narrative (for, how do we say that both supporters and opponents of constitutional reforms found them­ selves on the same side?), I had a discussion with Dipesh. It was then that he sug­ gested that perhaps what I was hinting at was a similarity in language of politics used by all concerned that failed to imagine a singular unity of the “people.” In other words, there was inevitably a split recognition of the masses that cut across ideological divides of colonialism and nationalism that was at work, and hence the colonial state could enact a liberal constitutional reform (for those sections of the population that could be represented) and an equally repressive Act (to con­ trol the vast majority who had not yet attained the right to represent themselves) in the same year.

Rethinking Indian constitutional history 31 I did not realize the significance of Dipesh’s first intervention then but only years later, when I published this essay in 2016. While there are many insights that I derived from Dipesh’s views in this paper, now, with the benefit of hindsight, let me highlight just one here. This paper laid the seeds to move away from the imperialist and nationalist narratives of Indian constitutional history. For, the idea that the “people” as a category were rendered ill-equipped for self-government was fundamentally a political argument – grounded in history – emerging from the contested nature of the colonial state. If we pursue this idea seriously, then the idea of “we the people” that is at the heart of most constitutional imaginations becomes problematic in light of the colonial context of the evolution of consti­ tutional reforms. The question to ask then is at what point does constitutional reform, a process deeply embroiled in colonial institutions and practices of power, ever imagine the people as a singular entity? Conversely, were the nationalists able to imagine a singular people in order to demand these constitutional reforms? As we know, eventually, at the moment of decolonization it became impossible to reconcile the idea of a singular people that lay at the normative core of a constitu­ tion with that of a singular nation-state. The partition of the subcontinent stands as a monumental testimony to the failure of this translation. Dipesh’s second intervention came at another critical time in my graduate life. Having decided to work on Sir Benegal Narsing Rau and knowing that it was not going to be a biography, I had reached a point of stasis. Here again, the extant historiography had little to offer. Colonial constitutional history was primarily considered a secondary field, and most accounts had little patience for individual members who were part of the long history of constitutional evolution. Instead, there was a tendency to approach constitutional history in a collective sense rather than focusing on individuals. Again, faced with difficulty of framing and narrating this story of B. N. Rau and needing to avoid the pitfalls of producing a hagiog­ raphy, I had many discussions with Dipesh. In one of those discussions, towards the end of a conversation, Dipesh suddenly and enthusiastically suggested that I could perhaps ask the question whether the foundation of the Indian republic was rooted in politics or rule of law. In the years after graduate school, as I began working on short articles and the book manuscript, Dipesh’s question about politics or rule of law loomed large. In pursuit of this question, and upon researching and thinking about Indian consti­ tutional history, it became clear to me that the preconceived notion of consider­ ing the constitution as just a normative document is deeply problematic. Politics plays a huge role and yet, most interestingly, the political history through which the Indian constitution evolved in the late colonial period has been effectively brushed aside in most scholarly accounts of the document’s history. For, it is only in light of this political history that we can truly appreciate the inordinate tensions that existed between the projects of colonialism and constitutionalism on the one hand and nationalism and constitutionalism on the other. This political history reveals the severe limitations of the imperialist and nationalist schools even as it showcases the possibility of rethinking Indian constitutional history by explor­ ing the articulations of those individuals and groups who saw the emancipatory

32 Arvind Elangovan potential of the document precisely because of those tensions. In other words, exploring this tension would lead us to ask another important question – to whom does the constitution belong? Dipesh’s twin interventions, then, have gone a long way in helping me funda­ mentally rethink Indian constitutional history. Yet this is not simply an academic exercise but rather necessary to continue making sense of this world. To take one example, most recently, on 25 May 2019, then Prime Minister-elect of India and now Prime Minister for the second time, Narendra Modi, addressed the newly elected parliamentarians of the National Democratic Alliance, the group that won the just-concluded general elections. However, before addressing them, Modi bowed before an original copy of the Indian constitution that was kept decorously and conspicuously for this purpose. Watching this scene, I was struck by the dei­ fication of the Indian constitution in a physical sense. What does it mean to make the constitution a deity? What kind of history of the Indian constitution would help us explain the enactment of this sacrality of a legal document? As I was wondering about these and additional questions, I was also struck by the irony of seeking blessings from a document that in its nature fundamentally speaks to multiple and often conflicting voices. The document’s nature and history, if any­ thing, is far from sacrosanct. In that moment, I was extremely grateful that I had an intellectual home in which I could retreat to muse about these images. A home nurtured and inspired by Dipesh Chakrabarty.

Note 1 The historiography of the Indian constitution mentioned in this chapter can be accessed in several works on the Indian constitution. For the most recent, see Rohit De, A Peo­ ple’s Constitution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018); Arvind Elangovan, Norms and Politics: Sir Benegal Narsing Rau in the Making of the Indian Constitution, 1935–50 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019).


The significance of Provincializing Europe Memory, argument, and the life of the book Dwaipayan Sen “Actually, Dwaipayan, I was calling for a certain kind of critical Eurocentrism, but nobody really heard that part of what I was trying to say.”

It is a tremendous honor to write in honor of Dipesh Chakrabarty. I have chosen to reflect on what I regard his most important statement, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (henceforth, PE) not simply because of its legendary and canonical status, but also due to my own personal involvement with aspects of that book’s life. PE is an intervention that has pro­ foundly affected me, as it has several generations of my colleagues. I believe the historical significance of this study is one that continues to unfold; it raised, for the first time, a series of questions that precisely due to their sharp and troubling analysis of the European genealogies of modern history and history-writing in colonial and postcolonial settings, has become, as it were, eternal. I suspect we will argue with and about PE for some time to come; the problems it expressed, seem to have haunted discussions about the geopolitics of knowledge in our rapidly changing world. (Think, for instance, about ongoing debates about decolonizing university curricula, or decoloniality.) As the quota­ tion at the start of this essay may suggest, if read generously and empathetically, I believe the book was indeed calling for a critical Eurocentrism of a kind that might very well be the need of the hour, howsoever impossible and challenging a project it has seemed to constitute; and howsoever inaudible this claim may have been for uncomprehending critics. I wish to share with Dipesh, and readers, some memories of this book, a brief review of a number of considerations it provoked, as well a sense of how the project of provincializing Europe affected South Asian history-writing over the nearly two decades since it appeared. In so doing, I pay tribute and express my deepest appreciation to my teacher, whose acquaintance, goodwill, and learning I consider one of the great privileges of my life. PE, and the conversations it enabled and provoked, in my humble view, will remain one of the defining con­ tributions to the world of letters at the start of this century. Like the object of its analysis, we can only relate to the work in a spirit of critical gratitude as well.


Dwaipayan Sen

Memory I studied at The University of Chicago during the 2004–2005 academic year, and then between 2006 and 2012. During that time, Dipesh supervised all my studies and was my chief advisor at that institution for both my MA and PhD degrees. I also served as his research assistant for three years, during which time I proof­ read the second edition of PE and helped organize a conference on the decennial of its initial publication in 2000. The work I did for him literally kept me alive, and much to my comfort and ease, Dipesh regularly flouted all norms of what the English historian E.P. Thompson once described as “time-discipline.” Needless to say, I am deeply indebted to him, materially and otherwise. I first read one of the essays that would become the full-length book while a stu­ dent at Oberlin College, although I forget for which course. I suspect much of the argument went over my head, but I did remember feeling somewhat assaulted by the idea that Indians did not, perhaps could not, actually represent their own his­ tory. I had been studying much of the work assigned on literature and history syl­ labi in the early 2000s and recall my fairly positivist assumptions being perturbed by the intellectual ferment that had taken place over the previous decade or two; roughly, the entirety of my life. The project of Subaltern Studies was initiated, for instance, the year I was born. Reading PE in Dipesh’s South Asian history seminar at UChicago was an entirely unique experience altogether. We were about halfway through that mem­ orable course, each session of which left our heads reeling from the staggering historiographical ground we travelled. I was an MA student at the time, and hence an interloper in a space intended primarily for doctoral students. Dipesh would have us write a couple of paragraphs in response to each week’s readings, and we would take turns reading aloud these thoughts to each other, in his presence. This was intimidating enough; now we were to pronounce to him and one another what we thought of his work! This was probably the first occasion I actually started to understand what Dipesh was saying in PE. When it all dawned on me, it was nothing short of an epiphany; the rushing sense that everything so familiar and held so dear had the rug pulled out from underneath. It was unnerving, to say the least; precisely because Dipesh argued his case so compellingly, and passionately, both in text and in the classroom. Who could remain unmoved by his account of the “waiting room of history” or the disparities that mark an education or a career in history? What could one do about the Eurocentric assumptions that constituted discipli­ nary practice, particularly in once-colonial contexts? These were questions that indeed invited a politics of despair that Dipesh would importantly come to refuse. I struggled, and still do from time to time, with PE, such that I oscillated between feeling convinced on the one hand by certain elements of the argument, yet not knowing what to do with the reservations I had. How could thought be both indispensable and inadequate? I wondered. The reviews and criticisms that had emerged by then informed my thinking, yet I could never muster the courage to discuss them openly with Dipesh, even if I tried in ways appropriate to our

The significance of Provincializing Europe 35 relationship. I was fortunate compared to other students, as I indeed spent a fair amount of time with him, both concerning my own research, as well as assist­ ing with aspects of his own, during countless meetings over the years at his and Rochona’s home in Hyde Park. These were some of the most valuable experiences of my graduate school career, as I had the opportunity to learn of the reservoir of thought and sentiment of which PE was merely the outward expression in stag­ gered installments, over a number of years. Like all books and ideas that define a moment, whether in praise or critique, these early-morning conversations helped me appreciate how profoundly it was also misunderstood. Indeed, that may be the condition of arguments that rise to the scale of influence PE has exerted. As Dipesh once remarked to me, “Dwaipayan, once a book is out, it’s no longer yours. People will do what they want with it.” My life with PE only acquired denser meaning as I helped organize a confer­ ence on the decennial year of the publication that took stock of the conversations the book helped generate during the middle stages of my graduate career, and I also proofread the manuscript in preparation for the second edition. I have some fine recollections of this time – like when after submitting a fairly substantial and carefully compiled list of proofreading queries, I realized that “Das Capital” had slipped my attention; or when I had the opportunity to meet the great proponent of micro-history and a friend to Dipesh, Carlo Ginzburg, who delivered the keynote lecture at the decennial conference. Carlo’s work on Menochio gave me much to think about with respect to my own on Jogendranath Mandal, the obvious differ­ ences notwithstanding. I also think this was when I began to make my peace, as it were, with the claims of the book, and maybe actually grasped where it had come from. This may have had something to do with the need to focus more intensively on writing my dissertation, but as importantly, I think it was also a consequence of observing some key changes in Dipesh’s own relationship to the book; a certain critical distance had crept in. I first noticed the shift in his use of the past tense when referring to PE in con­ versation with me towards the last handful of my years at Chicago; something had changed in his disposition towards the matter and the at-times contentious con­ versations it had provoked. He seemed less invested, and he spoke of the project rather understatedly as “something he had once tried to explore.” His sensitivities had softened. I vividly recall the occasion when he first began to display the sense of such remove in public, something several who were in that august room, Foster 103, noted during our customary post-event meeting. Projit Bihari Mukharji of the University of Pennsylvania was presenting a paper on that occasion, and he had thought on and invoked Dipesh’s work with great enthusiasm and inspiration dur­ ing a presentation on early Bengali scientists’ understanding of nitrogen. What struck me was the tiredness, almost exhaustion, with which Dipesh seemed to look upon the aspirations of his work. “You see, Projit,” he began, a rocket can only go upwards; ultimately, the gift of modernity bears no nec­ essary obligation towards its discontents. I tried to work through some of


Dwaipayan Sen the problems in that relationship in that book, and offered some ideas, but of course, you needn’t feel obligated to frame your project in those terms.

It was all rather breathtaking, really, and it occurs to me now that perhaps Dipesh was working through, once more, the nature of the relationship between what he called History 1 and History 2. Certainly, his thinking on climate change suggests a complicating of the initial formulation. I am reminded of something he said in a conversation about the kind of intellectual disorientation and reorientations currently afoot: “each generation asks and explores the same old questions. The context is what shifts.” Witnessing this alienation from one’s own work in my advisor wrought a pro­ found effect on me and reinforced my impression of an intellectual commitment Dipesh has observed since the start of his career in his first book Rethinking Working-Class History: the hard, and ultimately solitary and lonely work, of autocritique. It is not a trait one readily encounters in figures of his stature. Early on, while discussing the conceptualization of my project, he remarked: “Ultimately, Dwaipayan, one has to be honest with oneself.”

Argument In my view, the sharpest engagement that the ideas contained in PE received came from Dipesh’s friend and senior colleague, the renowned social historian Sumit Sarkar, who at the time had dissociated himself from Subaltern Studies, the project within which the problems of the book germinated, due to its drift away from its cultural-Marxist moorings towards what he called “postmodern­ ist moods.” The formal reviews that came out shortly after the publication itself were largely deeply appreciative, if at times critical of the idea of a “hyperreal Europe,” nervous about a perceived romanization and sentimentality, and uncer­ tain about the methodological implications for historians’ practice. There was, no doubt, a resounding acknowledgement of the problems the book had diagnosed in the years to come, and a very rich and productive engagement with European Studies, religious studies, and any number of projects within South Asian history itself. There were also those who blatantly misunderstood what was at stake – how to write history in a postcolonial context – and seemed to foolishly think it was merely some kind of indigenist or nativist call to arms. About this, the less said, the better. There was no question of rejecting European thought, as Dipesh wrote in various places throughout the study. Sumit disputed whether the proposed prescriptions for the problems posed by Dipesh’s analysis of historicism were in fact adequate to the task of a historiog­ raphy sensitive to questions of justice. Moreover, he asked pointedly whether the work of recovering History 2 couldn’t align with the cultural-nationalist politics of Hindutva. The latter gesture has generated intense debate, and for what it is worth, it is necessary to stress the utter absurdity of the claim that anyone associ­ ated with the field of postcolonial thought would ever advocate the violent and vicious Hindu cultural nationalism of the kind associated with the current ruling

The significance of Provincializing Europe 37 party. Indeed, that was not Sumit’s assertion, as many seem to have mistakenly believed. Ultimately, the angriness of the exchange seemed to come from a place of mutual concern over the direction of a shared commitment to the discipline of history: it was the jarring affinities and unlikely bedfellows one was liable to be affiliated with if the project of provincializing Europe too uncritically celebrated the perseverance of ways of being that stood in a hostile relationship to the history and life-world of capital on the one hand, and the perceived inability to see how practices not necessarily structured by the logic of capital – adda, Mrinal Sen’s mothers’ conduct towards her son’s Muslim playmates, or the emic idealization of grihalakshmi, for instance – were indeed a constitutive part of the modern histori­ cal present, and hence required reflection, whether as a source of resistance or not, on the other. As in any charged exchange amongst friends, one would do well to recall the significance of mutuality. Most other conversations and exchanges were nowhere as tense, nor as per­ sonal. Of the many I have occasion to read, the views of Dipesh’s own colleagues at The University of Chicago are most instructive. One or two of these were fea­ tured in a set of reviews of Vivek Chibber’s ill-informed screed about Subaltern Studies published by the Journal of World-Systems Research, and the way Bruce Cummings, the eminent American historian of East Asia, ended his evaluation is telling. Cummings lambasted the “preposterous caricature of Chakrabarty’s scholarship” in the book he was reviewing, and after proceeding to illustrate the profound, almost perverse and quasi-racist-sounding Eurocentricity of figures like Habermas and Weber (in his General Economic History, in this instance) with compelling if disturbing citation, concluded: “When we read this, nothing about the postcolonial turn should be surprising; no wonder they all look for the near­ est carpet to gnaw. So, should we.” Cummings’ stark response illustrated for me the profound intellectual power a book like PE has carried, precisely because of how deeply compelled someone like him – by his own account, not particularly invested in, nor familiar with, South Asian history, let alone postcolonial theory – seemed to be by the core insights and problems to which Dipesh and his col­ leagues have repeatedly drawn attention.

Afterlife A Google search yields nearly 100,000 hits for the phrase provincializing Europe, and I now find myself a teacher of this book in some of my courses at Amherst College. My students love grappling with PE, although much of our time goes to simply sorting through the claims. I have also observed how some of the students have very valiantly sought to extend some of its insights to the domains of student associational life and campus politics. It was therefore a matter of immense per­ sonal joy and pride when a student posed precisely these very questions to Dipesh when he visited Amherst College last spring, to speak on planetary crises and the difficulty of being modern. Two circles, come full, as it were. As much as the idea of “Europe” has captured the imagination of the readers of PE, it occurs to me Dipesh has equally inspired thinking on what it means to


Dwaipayan Sen

“provincialize.” And I believe this is where one of his book’s most enduring lega­ cies may lie, a fine testament to one caught between the seductions of both philos­ ophy and history. While India’s Europe may have been the constitutive terrain, the analytical movement – to provincialize – is where I feel the project derives its true power. For in de-universalizing and particularizing claims that have long erected themselves with the complex apparatuses and techniques of powerful mythog­ raphy of whatever kind, the book has contributed an analytical tool of service to scholars working in a wide variety of disciplines, regions, and periods. One hears, for instance, of “Provincializing Critical Urban Theory,” “Provincializing the Bible,” “Provincializing Grotius,” “Provincializing Urban Political Ecology,” “Provincializing Disability Rights,” “Provincializing Paris,” as well as Marxism, Westphalia, precarity, empathy, Enlightenment, Harlem, Heidegger, Christendom, and on, and on – all stemming, in a way, from the insights of a Bengali immigrant about his displacement from a sense of self and history. As substantial is what the book has implied for the field of South Asian history itself. Nearly two decades on, the contribution continues to yield engagement and inform agendas: the late C.A. Bayly on liberalism in India or Sanjay Subrahman­ yam on the India encountered by Europe, for instance. Indeed, as the balance of power in the world today gradually returns to where it historically has resided for much of settled human existence, the questions that book raised at the very start of this century will only gain in salience and acquire greater urgency over the course of time. It will be interesting to see the answers that emerge, both disciplinarily, as well as in the domain of historical action, and whether the critical Eurocentrism anticipated by PE comes to pass. Yet it goes without saying (and here, I may be accused of a certain selfindulgence) that where PE has perhaps left its deepest impression is in the thought and scholarship of Dipesh’s own students. It may appear that we have been rebel­ lious subalterns at times, and of course, with the passage of time, we have all aged and moved in various directions; but this is no less true of the thinking of Arvind Elangovan, Nusrat Chowdhury, Andrew Sartori, Sharmistha Gooptu, Rajarshi Ghose, Ananya Chakravarti, and so many others, including indeed, my own. Whether explicitly referenced or not, in both affirmation and critique, the presence of Dipesh’s own thinking permeates our prose.


Labour history and “Culture” critique Reflections on an idea Arnab Dey

Intellectual legacies and inspirations are rarely straightforward and can be com­ plex to recount. This is more so in the case of doctoral mentorships that span a long period. When asked to write this essay, I realized the enormity (perhaps even redundancy) of precisely articulating Dipesh’s influence on my work and think­ ing. But it was clear that in order to do so, I would have to go back some way in the past – a long and meandering way as it turned out! The idea of writing about the colonial Assam tea plantations germinated some years prior to the start of my graduate life at the University of Chicago. Con­ fronted with a very well-researched and richly documented field, I had deviated to the obvious category with which to analyze this story – labour. At the time of my move to Hyde Park, I had wanted to write a social history and ethnography of the various “autochthon” groups that made up the ranks of Assam tea labour. This story would have examined their contested status within caste Hindu Assamese folklore and history – and their manifestation in everyday life in east India. As is clear, the idea of “culture” was a niggling, controversial framework during these early intellectual peregrinations. As time moved on, my research agenda increas­ ingly became more and more “conservative”: I would write a political economic history of these colonial plantations, and I would do so by looking at the material relations of production. The penal contract form that distinguished the Assam tea enterprise from its counterparts within India was at the centre of this inquiry. “Culture” was best left aside: for had it not left a bitter aftertaste among Indian Marxist labour historians in the years following 1989? Rethinking Working Class History (hereafter RWCH) did several things.1 Primar­ ily examining labour life among the jute-mill hands of nineteenth-century Bengal, the book critiqued the presumed “universality” of Marxian materialism and the narrow “economism” within which working-class history in India had been hith­ erto told. While details of that debate need not detain us here, the analytic stakes of RWCH were clear: could conditions of working-class “culture” and “conscious­ ness,” and practices of community and class – especially in India – only exist (and be narrated) as an “afterthought” of its political economic presence? Did the exist­ ence of “pre-capitalist” bonds of kinship, family, and clan among jute labour, or the largely “in-egalitarian” and hierarchical bourgeois regimes of their overlords mean that this history was an undeveloped antecedent in the teleology of Marxist

40 Arnab Dey modernization? Chakrabarty looked for a way out of these heuristic double-binds. The task was difficult, and he chose two paths to articulate his thesis. At a con­ ceptual level, RWCH argued that working-class histories (especially in the “thirdworld” but also in other post-colonies) need not have to choose between “comrade” and “citizen,” “culture” and capital. Indeed, in this vein, Chakrabarty questioned the undemocratic Marxian logic that made “mind” (or its corollary, “conscious­ ness”) consequent to “matter.” As he put it: “perhaps we have long overestimated capitalism’s need or capacity to homogenize the cultural conditions necessary for its own reproduction”.2 To that end, the empirical task of his project was to show that the ostensibly cultural aspects of jute labour (solidarity, methods of protest and organization, deification, and community bonds among others) were constituent – and constitutive – parts of their material, social, and even political life in industrial production. RWCH wanted, therefore, to highlight this labour culture as alwaysalready present in its economic relations of production; neither “exceptionalism” to the master-narrative of Marxian labour theory, nor subsumption to its “universal” logic would suffice. As Chakrabarty put it: “an analytic strategy that seeks to estab­ lish a ‘working class’ as the ‘subject’ of its history must also engage in the discur­ sive formation that makes the emergence of such a subject-category possible”.3 Admittedly, RWCH left ample room for misreading and misinterpretation. For one, Chakrabarty left both “culture” and “consciousness” inadequately defined and conceptually underdeveloped. While my reading of the book suggested a the­ oretical rethinking of labour practices in India as co-constitutive of their relation­ ship with capital, most labour historians understood it to mean their primordially fixed place vis-à-vis material relations of production in the workplace. Predict­ ably, charges of “culturalism” continued to be leveled against RWCH over the many years following its publication.4 Without seeming to make this essay an uncritical defense of RWCH alone, a few more words regarding its conceptual methodology is important before moving to my intellectual stakes in this debate. As I see it, “culture” was a heuristic shorthand, though a controversial one, for an entire gamut of labour practices, community dealings, and everyday forms of sociability among jute workers. For me, the specificity of these practices was less important than what it provided to RWCH’s analytic core – a “practico-discursive field” to surmount the reductive economism inherent in much of Indian Marxist labor history. For in relegating that field as secondary to capital, the latter had ceded to that Marxian logic a universalism that was neither liberal nor emancipa­ tory. Here, RWCH’s theoretical double-maneuver was crucial: if Enlightenment principles of liberalism and citizenship were indeed universal in that material Marxian logic (and in historians’ appropriation of the same), it had to accom­ modate ostensibly “pre-modern” and “pre-capitalist” manifestations of culture among the working classes of Bengal born into a hierarchical bourgeois world. Relegating culture as either exceptional or antecedent to capital betokened the in­ egalitarian and illiberal historical logic of that Marxian materialism, and labour historians’ use of the same. The ramifications of this latter stance for writing global histories of modernity, rights, and democracy were enormous.

Labour history and “Culture” critique 41 If a clearer elaboration of the last idea was to come almost a decade after RWCH,5 Chakrabarty’s creative and polemical use of “culture” in rethinking working-class history had its provocations. For me, the impact was by no means linear and straightforward. Working through conventional materials on the con­ tract form in the Assam plantation world as indicated earlier, I eventually reached an intellectual cul-de-sac. It was also a moment of self-questioning: could this story of commodity capitalism only be told through its material and structural relations of production? Much ink had been spent writing and debating conditions of recruitment and work, immigration patterns, planter violence, wage structure, worker resistance, and social fallout of this cash crop enterprise. Was there noth­ ing else to this monoculture economy? In the early years of reconceptualizing this story for my monograph, a lowly tea mosquito bug changed my perspective.6 It was clear that plantation worlds were much more than the sum of material relations between master and men. For a pre­ dominantly agrarian venture such as Assam tea, its natural, ecological setting was as important in how landscapes and labour were managed and abused over time. Forests, disease environments (for humans and tea plants), and agrarian ideology took centre stage alongside structural features such as labour regulation, legal regimes, and political context. Harking back, I told myself that these overlaps could no longer be secondary – or “afterthoughts” – to the political economy of tea and its production in British east India. To wit, the plant and the plantation had to be brought together empirically and methodologically. This was a historical and historiographical necessity. Culture, in my estimation, referred to an entire range of production apparatus and characteristics. It meant, at once, the Whig ideology of agrarian “improve­ ment” that underpinned Assam’s tea venture; it signaled the enterprise’s use and abuse of law; it denoted the manner in which ecologies were transformed and trashed to make way for tea; and it alluded to human and nonhuman epidemiolo­ gies that the crop created and conditioned.7 In other words, culture was a heuristic tool to understand relationships in this mode of production – material, affective, ideational. RWCH’s wisdom is worth recalling in this instance: “Production rela­ tions are relations after all, and relations, as Marx once said, can become manifest only through the mediation of ideas.”8 In a history understood primarily through material relations of production, the concept of mediation was valuable. It gave me an opportunity to write nature back into this story – not as a passive backdrop, but as a dynamic element of tea’s built environment in Assam. Consider briefly, for instance, that forests that pro­ vided necessary shade to the tea plant in Assam also spawned virulent malaria that killed thousands of already malnutritioned and underpaid tea labourers year after year; irrigation works and embankments that watered this valuable crop did the same, and more. Consider, also, that laws that were invoked and championed as Improvement’s ally in bringing agrarian modernization in this ‘primitive’ region of British India were trespassed with impunity to arm planters with penal pro­ visions of recruitment, open up forest ‘reserves,’ acquire ‘wastelands,’ side-step

42 Arnab Dey guaranteed minimum wage, and overlook worker sanitation and welfare norms. As I have argued: it was not just through direct physical “contact” or fiscal maneuvers that the repressive relationship between master and men were forged in the Assam gardens. It was also linked to how pathogens, plants, legality, and landscapes were managed in expedient and unseen ways. If the labor body eventually bore the burden of these economic and para-economic managerial tactics, [. . .] examining the imputed networks, trails and logics of those tactics are vitally important if we are to resist representing – and thereby privileging – only those spects of coercion that are visible and visceral.9 There was an additional point to examining these networks between the material and the natural. It allowed me to examine and highlight the plethora of administra­ tive dealings and illegal maneuvers that lurked behind the presumed “rationality” of Whig development regimes in colonial India.10 As I have suggested, the stag­ gering success of the monoculture tea economy – and its touted role as agrarian modernizer in east India – was only possible through numerous extra-market, extra-legal, and even extra-human tweaks and concessions. That this elasticity operated in terms of law, natural reordering, or labour exploitation are related parts of the same coin. To that end, the British anxiety surrounding “natural” primitivism (and more so in the case of its “unruly” eastern frontier) – and thereby the need for monoculture order – only provided an expedient skein to camouflage its own unregulated and illegal state of affairs.11 It is this artifice, or acts of discur­ sive subterfuge, that I have called disarray in my book. Writing about tea’s political economy by keeping its material and environmen­ tal aspects together may or may not have been a successful strategy. Only time will tell! Looking back, however, one thing is certain: that tea bug may never have bitten – at least not seriously – without those stimulating conversations with Dipesh, his creative verve, and his rethinking of working-class history in Bengal.

Notes 1 See Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal, 1890–1940 (Princeton and London: Princeton University Press, 1989). 2 Ibid., p. xiii. 3 Ibid., p. 6. 4 See, Rajnarayan Chandavarkar, The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Classes in Bombay, 1900–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Chitra Joshi, Lost Worlds: Indian Labour and Its Forgotten Histories (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2003). For a general overview of this debate, including the position of other Indian labor historians, see the essay by Rana P. Behal, Prabhu P. Mohapatra, and Chitra Joshi in Joan Allen, et al. (eds.), Histories of Labour: National and International Perspectives (Pontypool, Wales: The Merlin Press, 2010); Prasannan Parthasarathi, “Indian Labor History”, International Labor and WorkingClass History, no. 82, Fortieth Anniversary Issue, Fall 2012, pp. 127–135. 5 See Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Prince­ ton and London: Princeton University Press, 2000).

Labour history and “Culture” critique 43 6 This work was recently published as Arnab Dey, Tea Environments and Plantation Culture: Imperial Disarray in Eastern India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 7 I have explored this last issue at length in Dey, “Diseased Plantations: Law and the Political Economy of Health in Assam, 1860–1920”, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 52, no. 2, 2018, pp. 645–682. 8 See Chakrabarty, Rethinking, p. 12; emphasis mine. Also, Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus (Pelican Books: Harmondsworth, 1973), especially “The Chapter on Money”. 9 See Tea Environments and Plantation Culture, p. 13. 10 On “development regimes”, see David Ludden, “India’s Development Regime”, in Nicholas B. Dirks (ed.), Colonialism and Culture (Ann Arbor: The University of Mich­ igan Press, 1992). Also, David Ludden, “Development Regimes in South Asia: History and the Governance Conundrum”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 40, no. 37, 10–16 September 2005, pp. 4042–4051. On my engagement with Ludden, see, Dey, “Planting ‘Improvement’: Tea in British India”, in Erich Landsteiner and Ernst Langth­ aler (eds.), “Global Commodities”, Austrian Journal of Historical Studies (Innsbruck and Vienna: Verlag, Fall 2019). 11 See Ajay Skaria, “Cathecting the Natural”, in A. Agarwal and K. Sivaramakrishnan (eds.), Agrarian Environments: Resources, Representation, and Rule in India (Dur­ ham: Duke University Press, 2000).

Part II

Critical conversations


Writing the void* Homi K. Bhabha

Among the many virtues and vituperations that course through TaNehisi Coates’s cri de coeur, Between the World and Me, there exists a quieter argument about the importance of enunciation poetry, dialogue, the act of writing in interrogating one’s own humanity and learning to think like a humanist. “Poetry was the pro­ cessing of my thoughts,” Coates writes, “until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.” He continues: I had forgotten my own self interrogations. . . . I was only beginning to learn to be wary of my own humanity, of my own hurt and anger – I didn’t yet realize that the boot on your neck is just as likely to make you delusional as it is to ennoble. . . . The art I was coming to love lived in this void, in the not yet knowable, in the pain, in the question. The older poets introduced me to artists who pulled their energy from the void. . . . The gnawing discomfort, the chaos, the intellectual vertigo was not an alarm. It was a beacon. . . . The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.1 As a writer who speaks from the void and about it – just as W. E. B. DuBois spoke from within the veil and around it – Coates articulates a hermeneutic anxiety and a historical responsibility that lies at the heart of humanistic thought. Humanism derives its ethical energy as well as its political purpose from delving into a vertigo of ideas and events that are, too often, naught for our comfort, while humanists – writers, artists, philosophers – derive their inspiration from what is not yet known and hone their interpretational skills by dwelling in the realm of the question yet to be asked. The exercise of writing is a lesson in the art of thinking against the grain of inheritance and illusion, and the discipline of poetry is an experiment in thinking otherwise, in letting the language of alterity unsettle the sententiousness of the sovereignty of selfhood and nationhood. Edward Said never failed to remind us that the philological provenance of humanist discourse is as much about the care lavished on language- word by word- as it is concerned with the careful protection of human rights and human bodies. Humanist discourse – be it private or public –


Homi K. Bhabha

must endure and enunciate unsettled states of transition, moments when history seems to be in a hiatus, times at which the humanist hesitates or loses faith. The void that emerges through the act of writing is not an evocative abstraction lost in the mists of metaphor. The void is, quite literally, the empty space of eras­ ure and extermination: of missing persons, destroyed things, hidden histories, lost records, expropriated lands, murdered minorities. The humanist must graphically evoke such emptiness and erasure without filling these absences while remaining “wary of every dream and nation.” voids-in-writing, Coates argues, signify “the defining feature of being drafted into the black race [which] is the inescapable robbery of time.” In revisiting the violation and erasure of everyday existence, the writer as humanist attempts to revitalize the temporality and territoriality of what was once was soiled and sundered but must now be re-grounded in a new spirit of neighborliness. Reading Between the World and Me makes me increasingly aware that the pro­ tagonist of the narrative is neither the subjectivity of personhood, nor the identity of the citizen, but repeatedly and relentlessly the body – the black body, which, of course, immediately implicates the white body and interpellates the otherness of the body itself. In a similar vein, it could be said that the writerly persona of Frantz Fanon’s work is the “psscho-affective” body.2 The body is a writing instrument, an agent of inscription as intervention, caught in the restless agony between violence and security, surveillance and protection. The syntax of the body is a struggling sentence that attempts to make sense of living and writing in the void. There is, of course, a danger that the “body” may subsume incommensurable difference, psy­ chic or social, whose representational force lies primarily in signifying conflicts of interests and contradictions within and across identities. That said, the figure of the body-in-writing, or the beacon of the void-in-the­ world, is a signpost of our times that is remarkably open to humanistic translation across time and place. There is a political and pedagogical urgency in reading and writing the lethal voids that emerge in our local neighborhoods – Ferguson, Baltimore, San Bernardino – while setting our sights across the world. And this is not because the world is suddenly more “global” or because the nation is sud­ denly less sovereign. Both are egregious exaggerations. Writing the void across the world is significant because, as Coates puts it, “I saw that we were, in our own segregated body politic, cosmopolitans. The black diaspora was not just our own world but, in so many ways, the Western world itself.”3 It is from the position of such a cosmopolitanism that I want to turn to the writing of the void the abyss of the language of humanism and the humanities as it shadows the genocide in Rwanda. Jean-Baptiste Munyankore, a teacher of the humanities in the Nyamata region of Rwanda, speaks: What happened in Nyamata, in the churches, in the marshes and the hills, are the supernatural doings of ordinary people. The headmaster and the school inspector [struck] blows with their own hands. . . . A priest, the magistrate, the assistant chief of police, a doctor, killed with their own hands. . . . These

Writing the void 49 learned people were calm, and they rolled up their sleeves to get a firm grip on a machete. So for people like me who have taught the Humanities their life long, criminals such as these are a terrible mystery.4 I was startled by this stark and unforgiving mention of the humanities in the midst of an account of such internecine and intimate evil. It would have felt quite dif­ ferent if I had come upon a mention of “human rights” or “humanitarian interven­ tion” in the context of genocide, but the connection between teaching and killing, between the humanities and violence, left me adrift. Was there anything more to be said about that “terrible mystery” that connects culture and barbarism after Auschwitz and Adorno? That it could happen in the midst of the philosophical traditions, the arts, and the enlightening sciences says more than just that these failed to take hold of and change the people. All culture after Auschwitz, including its urgent critique, is rubbish. Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric . . . and this cor­ rodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today.5 At first, I took Munyankore to be echoing Adorno in a general way, mourn­ ing the disappearance of the formation humaniste that had been established in Rwanda for more than a century by Catholic mission schools like the famous Groupe Scolaire d’Astrida. La pédagogie des pères blancs – biblical works inter­ spersed with Latin and French classical excerpts-were made available to princely Tutsis and some Hutus of the upper castes. Then I decided to pull Munyankore out from under Adorno’s long shadow. The differences between Weimar Germany and Second Republic Rwanda were anyway too large to bridge. And yet the force of circumstance and comparison, however limited, created an echo chamber in my mind. For Adorno, the price of Auschwitz is to turn poetry into a dumb hostage and a silent witness: Is there, then, a similar concern among Rwandans regard­ ing the allusive and subtle magic of language? Has culture betrayed them for not keeping the barbarians from the gates? In the turmoil of Rwandan society, which was both on trial and in transition, was there any possibility of a reflection on the corruption of language and the redemption of discourse? In a conflict charged with the tensions of a “politics of identity and ethnicity” – with the torsion of sameness and difference – it was the rhetoric element that played a part in sounding the death knell of genocide, bringing Munyankore, the teacher of the humanities, face-to-face with the “terrible mystery” of the death of humanity. For Rwandan intellectuals, the burden of the blame lies in figurative lan­ guage as the agent of the irredeemable mayhem of violence. The phrase rhetoric element comes from the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission report, in which rhetoric is listed as a major structural cause of the genocide alongside other factors such as “extreme poverty and scarcity of resources, population increase, and unemployment,”6 land conflicts, the failure of the UN Security Council, and the poor management of refugee camps in Tanzania. The report’s understanding of rhetoric goes beyond the notion of writing as a second-order activity of record­ ing and representing, scribbled in the margins of history.


Homi K. Bhabha

The rhetoric element becomes a policy issue as crucial to the remaking of citi­ zenship as legal identity, or the protection of individual and group rights in the reconstitution of civil society. What gives rhetoric its acknowledged agency – not unlike Giambattista Vico’s verum factum relation – is the commission’s serious and sophisticated understanding of the layered and disjunctive temporalities that constitute the “meaning” of any historical event. Whereas causes such as poverty, the lack of human security, and land conflicts have longer, corrosive time lines, the rhetorical elements of media propaganda constitute shorter time lines of immi­ nence and emergency that galvanize longstanding socioeconomic problems into rapid-fire, affective responses that lead to violence. Throughout the NURC report, the rhetorical factor provides a space of critical reflection. It allows for the careful epistemological braiding of phenomenology, economics, and politics so that, in the words of the report, unequal distribution of public wealth and existential fear work together to create what the report describes as “the psychopolitical phenom­ ena of demonization and dehumanization.”7 The death-dealing, verminous abuse hurled at Tutsis has been heard too often. “The Tutsis are ‘Inyenzi’ [cockroaches] or ‘Inzoka’ [snakes],” Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines broadcasters repeated, day and night, with a pallbearer’s punctuality. “The graves are only half full; who will help us fill them?” But that is not the whole story of the rhetoric element as the archive tells it. In the book Leave None to Tell the Story (1999), the late Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch carefully documents the frequent – and fatal – uses of the rhetoric element. I will describe only one of several deliberately crafted rhetorical strategies widely used in anti-Tutsi propaganda: “Accusation in a mirror,” as it is called, is a form of projective inversion used to create a suspended, yet recurrent, form of anxiety by attributing to the Tutsi false and fabricated anti-Hutu massacres and desecrations. Accusation in a mirror is a deadly accurate metaphor for reality: Your accuser, who has falsely identified you as the perpetrator of the crime, points at you accus­ ingly from “the other side.” Some months later, as if in retaliation, the Hutus would act out the violence they had scripted earlier. Stories would be widely disseminated, such as the claim, made in September 1991, by La Médaille Nyiramacibiri, that the Tutsis intended “to clean up Rwanda by throwing the Hutu in the Nyabarongo River.” Almost a year later, Léon Mugesera, a notorious university professor turned political leader turned genocidaire – with a PhD from Canada – ordered the Interahamwe death squads to exterminate the Tutsis by massacring them in that very river, using the very same words. This double rhetorical strategy of a falsely projected fear about Hutu security and its fabricated paranoia now pivots around a trigger-like time lapse, one year later, to find its true Tutsi target. The death machine is thrown out of control. One of Mugesera’s erstwhile academic colleagues wrote an open letter accusing him of “[having done] much textual analysis in his work, [so that he] certainly understood exactly what he was doing with his use of coarse language,”8 and of deliberately misusing traditional Rwandan folk proverbs such as “Know that the person whose throat you do not cut now will be the one who will cut yours.”

Writing the void 51 The NURC report aligns itself with both a humanist pedagogy and an ethi­ cal philosophy that are simple and moving. Avishai Margalit says it in one sen­ tence: “Moral political theory should start with negative politics, the politics that informs us how to tackle evil before it tells us how to pursue the good.” And Judith N. Shklar formulates it as “putting cruelty first.” By taking the violence of the rhetoric element as its starting point, the report follows Margalit’s injunction to follow the via negativa and arrives at a new understanding of the “figurative” strategy of demonization and dehumanization. My reading of the report provides a disturbing, alternate understanding of the form and function of Tutsi-Hutu bipolarity and implications for ethnic violence. The report argues that “the bipolar world of Hutu and Tutsi” (as the conflict’s most brilliant historian, Mahmood Mamdani, describes it) has always been stalked by a virtual, yet vicious, third party. The phobic, phantasmatic “Other” – a close relative to Carl Schmitt’s concept of the enemy – is a rhetorical figure projected onto interethnic relations as an accusation in a mirror. The bipolar world of the Hutus and Tutsis was mediated by the paranoiac figure of the enemy who could be summoned as a surrogate “third” figure to wreak havoc on friends, families, and neighbors. The enemy of either group could be turned into an evil mirror image at will. As such, the politics of “existential fear,” to quote the report, exist everywhere and nowhere. “Deadly otherness . . . is not rational but that does not prevent it from being functional in society.”9 The NURC report continues, “The rhetoric element is a preferred medium of identity-based . . . violence in the four countries.” Even during the progress of the genocide, the “enigma of ethnicity” persisted in the disguise of Schmitt’s enemy. Lee Ann Fujii writes: “By determining how the script for genocide would be inter­ preted and performed, leaders . . . became the final arbiters of ethnicity in their communities. In this way the performance of genocide was ultimately [as much] about power, not [only] putative identity.”10 The tension between the rigidity of eth­ nic bipolarity continually being reinforced – and then undone by the contingency of fear and death – is what makes victims and witnesses waver in their judgement, question their memories and experiences, and remain tormented in their disavow­ als. Listen to Marie-Louise, a neighbor to Jean-Baptiste Munyankore: I listen to acquaintances discuss the massacres. And I still understand nothing about anything. . . . They were obsessed enough to burn our photo albums . . . so that not even the dead would have the chance of having once existed. As for me I can see the sole reason for this genocidal hatred lies in ethnic belong­ ing. But the origin of the hatred is still well concealed for me.11 For a teacher of the humanities like Munyankore, these testimonies raise impor­ tant questions that resonate all too profoundly with our contemporary moment. What does obsessive, excessive violence – “not even the dead would have the chance of having once existed” – reveal about the nature of power? Each act of witnessing contains elements of a material, historical explanation, and yet every testimony claims to stand benighted and bewildered before the “terrible mystery.”


Homi K. Bhabha

If the distancing mechanisms of industrial technology and rural killing fields mark the Holocaust, then the genocide in Rwanda, in Mamdani’s phrase, was “very much an intimate affair.”12 It was banal in the temporal sense of a sudden and radical disordering of the ordinary and the evisceration of quotidian life: the Interahamwe death squads worked roughly nine-to-five days, called away from their carnage by a bell or a pistol shot; their killing machines were agricultural implements that belonged to the banality of everyday labour. But the Rwandan tragedy was also banal in the archaic meaning of the word that relates to cus­ tomary and communal life: it was a genocide of neighbors and neighborliness. As a member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front explains, “In Germany, the Jews were taken out of their residences, moved to distant, faraway locations, and killed there, almost anonymously. In Rwanda, the government prepared the popula­ tion. . . [but] your neighbors killed you.”13 In my view, the bipolar identities of ethnicity and racialization do not adequately acknowledge that other essential form of customary power and conflict: the con­ cept of the neighbor. If the enemy is the phantasmatic other of destruction, its other face is the neighbor. Just as often as individuals and groups identify each other as Hutus and Tutsis, they name each other “neighbor.” “Neighborliness” is the affective and domestic address of customary power, and as a neighborhood it also serves to define a legal and ethical jurisdiction. Neighborliness defines these rela­ tions in war and peace. As a mode of appellation, neighbor belongs neither to Hutu nor Tutsi: it is a relational identity that moves between ethnicities, registering the unstable, differential tension between “ethnicity” and “race” while acknowledging the territorial and ethical proximity of Hutu and Tutsi in the villages of Nyamata. The neighbor is the hybrid relation that is both the horror and the hope of Nyamata. What might seem like a terrible symmetry in the neighborly relation should not let us forget for a moment that, neighbors or not, there were victims and génocid­ aires, the dead and the quick, the right and the wrong of it. What is paradoxical is that within this profound asymmetry there survives an impulse of affiliation – indeed, an identification – that, after the genocide, drove a great number of Hutu and Tutsi away from the UN-sponsored Truth and Reconciliation Commission and drew them to congregate around the gacaca, or “grass mat” courts. The Afri­ can Rights Report on the gacaca trials, “Confessing to Genocide,” conspicuously locates the subject of truth and testimony on the site of the moral, memorial, and political knowledge of neighborliness – its spatial networks, its customary laws, its diurnal temporality of routines, its memory of neighborly negotiations, its epis­ temological and enunciative practices of orality and conviviality. Although the new codifications and procedures of the gacaca trials have adopted a great deal from international law, truth commissions, and Western jurisprudence, in many respects “truth” remains a dialogic legal and moral practice in which neighbors play the role of the Greek chorus. Legal professor Noah Weisbord’s eyewitness report suggests that because the aim of gacaca is reconciliation, and not adjudica­ tion – itself, a neighborly ethic and hermeneutic – the individual parties to the dispute in these small, tightknit communities depend on popular participation. “Traditional gacaca is about the thoughts, feelings and relationships of particular

Writing the void 53 people in groups, not the violation of abstract rules. The gacaca process is a part of community life, not an exceptional event elevated by special dress, buildings, institutions and procedures. The transmission of tradition takes place in daily life, so no one can enjoy the privileged role of scribe or repository, thereby becom­ ing a source.”14 The memory of truth, and the very possibility of reconciliation, depends on the mnemonic repetition of murdered neighbors’ names and places, in order to reestablish a memorial jurisdiction of custom and kinship (rather than abstract rules): “I shot them all. I knew nearly all of them. They were: Callixte and Mbonigaba . . . Josephine brought by Frederic . . . a child of Nyakazungu. Finally, an old woman, Anastasie brought by Bernard and Martin.”15 Despite their vastly different fates, both the génocidaires and the survivors of their violence display a sustained sense of the value of the commonplace, of the ordinariness of things. The destruction of the ordinary plumbs the depths of evil, and at the same time, the survival of the ordinary provides a measure of moral and social recovery. Indeed, the banality of what is held in common – the schoolhouse, the hospital, and the church; goats, sheep, and cows; urwagwa (banana beer), Pri­ mus beer, and machetes – becomes the most intimate and imminent instrument of evil. Yet years after the genocide, it is this intimate instrument of a shared commu­ nity of fate that enables the Rwandans to rebuild their lives. “Amongst ourselves we never grow tired of talking about this postgenocide state of things. We talk to one another about the moments we went through, we swap explanations, we tease one another.”16 Perhaps the most salutary instance in which brutality becomes the starting point for attempting to conceive of an ethically sound political community is to be found in Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “right to have rights.” Arendt traces the origins of this idea to the brutish, teeming lives of the stateless between the wars and after the Nazi ascendancy. “We became aware of the existence of the right to have rights,” she writes, “only when millions of people emerged who had lost and could not regain these rights because of the new global political situa­ tion.”17 The relevance of Arendt’s argument here lies in her insight into the global as a structure of contradiction and ambivalence. There is no outside to the global system, Arendt suggests. Whatever alienates global interdependence, or annihi­ lates cosmopolitan values, must be seen to be an effect of the internal dialectic – a demonic dynamic – of the global condition itself. “Deadly danger to any [global] civilization is no longer likely to come from without,” Arendt writes. “The danger is that a global universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages.”18 What kind of monstrous birthplace is this when barbarism emerges from the sack of civility? In “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” her beautifully wrought meditation on “the banality of evil” (dedicated to W. H. Auden), Arendt argues, “Conscience appears as an afterthought. . . . What causes a man to fear it is the anticipation of the presence of a witness who awaits him only if and when he goes home.”19 The future-looking nature of global memory – which is neither redemptive nor tragic – is both an “afterthought” (the projection of traumatized past) and an “anticipation”


Homi K. Bhabha

(a restorative future). The moral witness is caught in a double time frame of mem­ ory, surviving the testimony of the past while striving to possess the freedoms of the future. This complex temporal layering of memory consists, one might say, of a past that refuses to die, confronted by a future that will not wait to be born. The America I started with is as far from Rwanda as they both are from the Mediterranean. And yet between the intransigent past and the impatient future, there emerges a moment that reminds me of Coates’s haunting line: “The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments.” There is also a resounding echo between Coates’s belief that black lives are robbed of the very moments that make up a lifetime, and Arendt’s censure of European nations that robbed millions of people their own citizens – of the time of their lives, and condemned them to savagery – or worse. Such orphaned echoes do not make good history or conclusive arguments, but there is a purpose, as Walter Benjamin once said, in interspersing the homogeneity of the epoch with the ruins of the present. It is within these ruins that Ghaith, a Syrian refugee, ekes out an existence – surviving in a timeless void between life and death. The savagery to which he is condemned robs him of a time he can only measure in the disproportion between certain death and the slim chance of another life, and it is with his words that I want to close: I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip. . . . In Greece, someone asked me, “Why take the chance?” I said, “In Syria, there’s a hundred percent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one percent, then that means there is a one percent chance of your leading an actual life.20

Notes * © Artforum, Summer 2016, “Writing the Void: Language, Identity and Migration,” by Homi K. Bhabha. 1 TaNehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel & C. Grau, 2015), pp. 50–53. 2 Homi K. Bhabha, “Framing Fanon”, foreword to Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2004), pp. xviii–xix. 3 Coates, Between the World and Me, p. 43. 4 Jean-Baptiste Munyakore, quoted in Jean Hatzfeld, Into the Quick of Life: The Rwan­ dan Genocide – Survivors Speak, trans. Gerry Feehily (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2008), p. 50. 5 Theodor Adorno, “Cultural Criticism and Society”, in Prisms, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen and Samuel Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), p. 34. 6 Anastase Shyaka, The Rwandan Conflict: Origin, Development, Exit Strategies (Kigali, Rwanda: National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, 2006), p. 27. 7 Ibid., p. 32. 8 Alison Des Forges, “Leave None to Tell the Story”: Genocide in Rwanda (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), https://hrw.org/reports/1999/ rwanda/Geno 1 310.htm. 9 Shyaka, The Rwandan Conflict, p. 13.

Writing the void 55 10 Lee Ann Fujii, Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda (Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009), p. 126. 11 MarieLouise Kagoyire, quoted in Hatzfeld, Into the Quick of Life, p. 93. 12 Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 6–7. 13 Ibid., p. 7. 14 Noah Weisbord, “The Crime of Aggression”, Doctor of Juridical Science Thesis, Har­ vard Law School, 2011, pp. 82–84. 15 African Rights, Confessing to Genocide: Responses to Rwanda's Genocide Law (Kigali, Rwanda: African Rights, 2000), pp. 78–79. 16 Kagoyire, quoted in Hatzfeld, Into the Quick of Life, p. 94. 17 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Schocken, 1951), p. 296. 18 Ibid., p. 302. 19 Hannah Arendt, “Thinking and Moral Considerations: A Lecture”, Social Research, vol. 38, no. 3, Autumn 1971, p. 444. 20 Nicholas Schmidle, “Ten Borders”, New Yorker, 26 October 2015, http://newyorker. com/magazine/2015/10/26/ten-borders.


Histories, dwelling, habitations A cyber-conversation with Dipesh Chakrabarty Saurabh Dube

This cyber-conversation with Dipesh Chakrabarty turns upon his critical reflections on history and modernity, the disciplines and the Anthropocene. Conducted over email, the initial interchange took place in 2001, followed by further exchanges in 2004, 2009, and 2019.1 Together, the questions and answers range across Chakra­ barty’s formidable corpus, from his earlier writings to his recent concerns.2 Under discussion are all layered and intriguing endeavors, defying conventional sum­ mary. Therefore, the questions in this “interview” predominantly take the form of clusters of queries in dialogue with key issues entailing modernity and history, the disciplines and the Anthropocene, theory and philosophy. There has been very little editing of the questions and the answers as they were first articulated, apart from rendering the present into the past (tense) in certain cases. I have added some notes, mainly as a means of clarification. As an abiding measure, the entire exchange circulates in cyber-space. You have written extensively, critically about the Subaltern Studies project, with which you have been associated from its beginning. Could you tell us something about how the involvement with the endeavor has affected your own reflection and writing, their continuities, shifts, and transformations? DIPESH CHAKRABARTY (DC): The Subaltern Studies project mutated and frag­ mented over the years into many connected but different directions and pro­ jects. Members of the collective pursued in a variety of ways the implications of the original questions that both held them together and started them off. For example, the idea of a separate subaltern domain of politics or “popular politics” proposed once by Ranajit Guha became the question of “political society” that Partha Chatterjee explored in the first decade of the 2000s. Sha­ hid Amin’s search for the Mahatma in popular culture and subaltern history became a deeper – even chronologically deeper – investigation into stories and songs about Ghazi Miyan. David Hardiman’s work on missionaries and med­ icine came to combines his own long-standing interests in fieldwork, archi­ val research, and dangi history with some of the directions in which David Arnold pushed questions about colonialism and modern medicine. Gyan Pan­ dey is now engaged in developing the concept/figure of the subaltern-citizen. SAURABH DUBE (SD):

Histories, dwelling, habitations 57 Among the younger members, Ajay Skaria became engrossed in a deep study of Gandhi. Some of the roots of his interests must go back to the discussion on Gandhi that Guha, Chatterjee, and Amin initiated. These are different projects, indicative of the ways in which the intellectual interests of individual members of the collective have grown. The projects are also, at the same time, connected to one another. And they all bear some rela­ tion or other to the questions Guha originally raised for Subaltern Studies. One also has to acknowledge, however, that the original project that issued out of the 1970s’ interest in the possibility of a peasant-based socialist revolution in India has now been superseded. Subaltern Studies perforce had to engage with the implications of feminist and Dalit politics in the 1980s and 1990s; it has also had to deal with and make its own the discourses of deconstruction, globalization, and postcolonial studies. Besides, since all of us, including Chatterjee, have worked mainly as historians or in the terrain of history, new trends in historiography, such as micro-history or world history or new imperial history, have also influenced us in varying degrees. My work is no exception to these remarks. I guess what distinguishes my own projects is my interest in metahistorical questions and in questions about history as a form of knowledge. Provincializ­ ing Europe [henceforth, PE] was a historian’s – i.e. by someone trained in the methods of research and reasoning in the discipline of history – attempt to think through the relationship between thought and place. Of course, this goes back, genealogically, to critiques of history as a colonial form of knowledge (to use Bernard Cohn’s expression) that many including Ranajit Guha and Ashis Nandy produced in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. There was also a debt to Hayden White and the debates around his work. But, autobiographically speaking, I was profoundly influenced by the debates that marked the emergence in Australia of a new subject called “Aboriginal history” in the mid-1980s, just when I started lecturing at the University of Melbourne. This subject revolutionized the metanarrative of Australian history. But it also raised sharp and deep questions about the methodological and political assumptions of my discipline. For instance, there were days when Aboriginal students refused to imbibe the pleasure that a histo­ rian is meant to take in finding and reading “sources.” Students said it hurt them to read documents about massacres of Aborigines, so living was this history for them. I don’t think I would have been able to write the chapter on “Minority His­ tories, Subaltern Pasts” without being around these debates in Australia. It is only with hindsight that I realize this debt. Fortunately, I was asked recently to contribute to a volume celebrating the work of the Australian historian Henry Reynolds, the most pre-eminent of revisionist Australian historians of the 1980s and 1990s, and I took the opportunity to acknowledge this long-standing debt. I should mention in this connection some other Australian friends whose work has had a formative influence on my work. They include Greg Dening, Donna Merwick, Meaghan Morris, Bain Attwood, Chris Healy, Patrick Wolfe, Simon During, and Stephen Muecke. I mention them because sometimes we do not real­ ize how diasporic our work, at least mine, in Subaltern Studies was. We speak as


Saurabh Dube

if the issues came out of only debates about India. True, they did but there were other debates stoking the fires we had individually lit. My more recent work has grown in two different directions. I became interested in how history generally got democratized after the Second World War and in what may have been the costs and benefits of such democratization.3 I have also become interested in trying to think if, in the context of the grave environmen­ tal and planetary crises that humanity faces, there could be ways of combining “deep” and “recorded” histories and of finding new forms of species-politics.4 SD:


Your earlier writings on the working class in India, especially Rethinking Working-Class History [henceforth, RWH], approached community and tra­ dition as defining the worker’s quotidian experience of hierarchy in a soci­ ety/culture where the assumptions of a hegemonic bourgeois culture did not apply. They were as much the mark of a “limit” as they were the sign of an “absence.” In PE, you do not explicitly engage either community or tradition. Nonetheless, are these categories not implicitly present in the book’s argu­ ments, intimating different horizons from your prior emphases? In RWH, “community” was opposed to what Marx called “the dot-like isola­ tion” of the modern individual/worker his theory of capital assumed. In PE, I see community as an always-already fragmented phenomenon. There is, in that sense, no identifiable “Bengali community” or even a “Bengali middleclass community” for whose history PE may be regarded as representative. That is what I try to say at the very beginning of the book, that it is not a history of the Bengali bhadralok. Instead, I use the more diffuse idea of “lifeworld” assuming that life-world – even within the same speech-community, say – could be both diverse and overlapping. The life-world(s) that PE is most concerned with are those imagined and worlded within certain practices of modernity in Bengal, practices made possible primarily by seepage of lit­ erature into life (and vice versa).

At the same time, I assume that actual people move in and out of several lifeworlds at once: so, I do not visualize reality as made up of colliding and insulated life-worlds. Alongside, the disavowal of the representative function of history releases me from the burden of having to speak for a community. Bengali-ness I imagine (provisionally) as a collection of certain skills and competences that made it possible for some people in some particular moments of their lives to make a world out of this earth in very particular ways. Nobody is, ever, fully or exhaustively defined by these competences. My argument was that even from the limited perspective of the history of these forms of worlding, European categories seem indispensable but inadequate as explanatory or analytical devices. So, yes, I move away from the idea of “community.” As for “tradition,” I do not deploy the idea. Some of the bodily and other orientations to the world I men­ tion and describe in the second part of the book are indeed very old. Some are very new. Yet they are all present in the practices I document making for the hetero-temporality I try to explicate in the first part of PE. My position would

Histories, dwelling, habitations 59 be something like this: capitalist production may be a relatively recent phenom­ enon but the subject who lives with and under the sway of capital is not made solely by capital itself. The struggle to be at home by making a world out of this earth – a struggle that admits of no permanent resolution – both intersects with and diverges from the logic of capital. This is something I attempt to explicate in PE by talking about History 1 and History 2 in the chapter called “The Two Histories of Capital.” SD:



The interplay between “History 1” and “History 2” entails particular under­ standings of capitalism and colonialism, modernity and the post-colony. How would you reflect on these categories – and the histories they contain – after PE? Well, then, what I say is that modernity and the post-colony, as categories, cannot be thought without some understanding of the logic of capital (or the universal history of capital). Conversely, we should not reduce them to sim­ ply this logic. What makes modernity and the post-colony inherently plural is that the logic of capital – its universal history that I have called History 1 – cannot subsume into itself all the pasts that capital encounters as its “ante­ cedents” (to stay with Marx’s expression). It attempts to subsume but the sub­ sumption is never total. Both its success and failure in this respect are partial, and in this very partial nature of the success, paradoxically, lies the condition of possibility for the global regime of capital. If everything was reduced to the universal logic of capital, then what we loosely call “capitalism” would have been very oppressive indeed. So, this partial realization of “capital” is the enabling condition for globalization – you will see that I make a distinc­ tion in PE between globalization and universalization of capital. A central strand running through PE is your emphasis upon, “the fragmentary histories of human belonging that never constitute a one or a whole.”5 Such pasts and experiences are signalled by the book’s evocations of life-worlds and of ways of being-in-the-world, its invocations of the pre-analytical or Heidegger’s “ready to hand” (as distinct from the analytical, “present at hand”), and its articulations of the time of gods and spirits. These fragmen­ tary histories exist alongside the objectifications of analytical history and the social sciences, revealing the limits of historicizing and universalizing thought, indeed modifying and interrupting in practice the latter’s totalizing thrusts. Here, I would like to follow upon these emphases, opening related terms of discussion.6

On the one hand, while you clarify that subaltern pasts come into being in the relationship of the historian to the archive, how are we to conceive of the time of gods and spirits – or subaltern practices – that you explore in PE? Do these primarily exist as the pre-analytical or the ready to hand in your arguments? Yet do not these times and practices contain both the ready to hand and the present at hand, consisting at once of (prior) experiences of history and (distinct) modes of historical consciousness of subaltern subjects? Put differently, do the distinctions


Saurabh Dube

at hand come into play only when you question the artifice of modern reason and interrogate the limits of historicism? Should we not think of these distinctions as having a conjoint provenance, signifying different orders of reasoning and dis­ junctive modes of historical consciousness? On the other hand, in the manner that ways of being-in-the-world are part of the human condition, it is not only stipulations of colonial history and postcolo­ nial modernity in India that interrogate the limits of historicism and totalizing thought. As you hint more than once in PE, ways of being-in-the world and sub­ altern pasts everywhere, including Europe, perform this task. How then are we to conceive of the relationship – entailing not only conjunction and/or disjunc­ tion, but also possible conversation – between the life-worlds of, say, the English worker, the Bihari peasant, and the Bengali modern in the nineteenth century? For in the absence of (the positing of) such a relationship, would not the salience of ways of being-in-the world inhere only in their opposition to “universal, abstract, and European categories of capitalist/political modernity”?7 Taken together, what implications arise from such congeries of considerations for imperatives of postcolonial thought and terms of historical difference? DC:

As I understand Heidegger’s development of these categories in the Being and Time phase of his life, it would be wrong to think of one having any kind of historical or epistemological privilege over the other. In other words, you could not say that humans lived primarily in a “ready to hand” orientation to the world before the coming of modern scientific rationality. Nor could you say that the “ready of hand” is somehow more primordial compared to that which is “present at hand.” Why? Because, there is always the phenomenon of what Heidegger calls the equipmentality of the world breaking down. One day you suddenly find that the hammer you habitually hit the nail with has a broken head. In repairing it, you are forced to look on this particular ham­ mer as “the hammer” – that is, develop toward it an objectifying analytical relationship. That is how the “present at hand” constantly comes into play – because the “ready to hand” constantly breaks down.

If, however, the “ready to hand” is what we need in order to be at home, to practice dwelling, then Heidegger is also saying that the human can never be permanently at home in this world. Our “worlds” continually break down calling into existence the more placeless logic of the present-at-hand. Since, however, we cannot world our existence through the present-at-hand (for the present-at-hand is indifferent to place; it is simply analytic), and if to be human is to tend to dwell, then it follows that we cannot live by the present-at-hand alone either, that the ready-to-hand will also continually be called into being. Politically committed social science usually subordinates the ready-to-hand to that which is analytic and assumes that the analytic holds the key to what’s “real” about the pre-analytic world. I was trying to resist that tendency of Marxist social thought and historical writing. The last chapter of PE gives examples of intellectuals both inhabiting and

Histories, dwelling, habitations 61 developing techniques of denying – historicism is one such technique – different ways of being in the world. PE also makes another specific claim about historicism – that historicism is made possible by an unacknowledged relationship to that which resists histor­ icism. This is what I discuss in the chapter on “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts.” You are right: this happens globally and not just in colonial histories. In the case of the specific histories of the Indian middle classes, there is an interest­ ing phenomenon. At least until now, we have never been very far from peasant or rural modes of orienting ourselves to the world. This is partly because our practice of employing domestic servants who are often of peasant stock. This is a very complicated part of our collective biographies. Someone like Ashis Nandy can speak very creatively and intelligently on these matters. I cannot. Yet let me just say this. Most of us as children have intimate relations of proximity to members of the class we later come to see as objects of pedagogical exercise. In our childhood, however, these people are often our teach­ ers. Through the stories they tell when looking after us, through the affections they shower on us in our childhood, they impart to us orientations of the world we often later disavow. I did not have to read the history of plague riots of 1898 to understand the opposition of subaltern classes to hospitalization or modern medicine. When we were kids, the city authorities used to send vaccinators to our homes to vaccinate against cholera, typhoid, small pox and other diseases. Who would hide under the bed for fear of the needle? It would be my sister and me, and our adult servant. My father would drag us out of there. While we the children got a modernizing lecture on public health and hygiene, the servant was bullied into submission. I have often wondered if Subaltern Studies did not have some roots in this aspect of the collective biography of the Indian middle classes. As to how the life-worlds of the Bihari peasant and the Bengali intellectual would come together, you will remember that I do not regard life-worlds as constituting hermetically sealed entities. Nor do I see people as being marked by their belonging to only one life-world. Life-practices for anybody are manifold and would resist being summed up into the description of one life-world. There is for instance an academic life-world you and I share, and that is irrespective of where our parents came from. People move in and out of life-worlds, and lifeworlds, as I think of them, are permeable entities. An example of this actually occurs in the chapter in PE on Rabindranath Tagore, “Nation and Imagination.” Take the case of “darshan” as I discuss it there.8 Tagore aestheticizes the prac­ tice while the everyday temple-goer is not required to do that. Yet a connection remains between the different locations of this word, and even in Tagore’s aes­ theticization, the word does not lose all connection with the other location of its use. Again, for me, PE was a way of saying that European social thought only gives us a limited – though critical – purchase on the life-practices through which we world the worlds (and we do not do this in one single way). Hence, the need is to know European thought as giving us a particular, and not universal, genealogy of


Saurabh Dube

thought which we translate into other genealogies. Indeed, to know it as a particu­ lar genealogy is to move away from its trans-historical pretensions. SD:

My next set of questions precisely concerns the place of universal categories in your work. PE emphasizes the simultaneous indispensability and inade­ quacy of universal categories of European thought in considerations of politi­ cal modernity and social justice in India and beyond. Indeed, you return to the question several times, in different ways. Here, particularly interesting is the manner in which you set up a distinction between the necessity of the universal and the avowal of the local, only to find the one entailed in the other. For example, you argue that, “on inspection the universal turns out to be an empty place holder whose unstable outlines become barely visible only when a proxy, a particular, usurps its position in a gesture of pretension and domination.”9

Yet, it seems to me, at several crucial junctures in the book, the universal intimates itself in the form of rather fully fabricated entities, a given corpus of categories, already in place, ever there. Rather than pointing an accusatory fin­ ger, here is what I wish to ask: Can your practice of reading difference into and against universals be at all possible without bringing into play such formations of totality, which tend to retain the prior given-ness of universal categories? Put another way, alongside difference and heterogeneity, is there perhaps a critical tension circulating through your own configurations of the universal, insinuating disjunctive registers that deflect and disrupt one another? Finally, how do you construe the constitutive contradictions and founding exclusions – looking far beyond the gap usually invoked between preaching and practice – of universal categories within your advocacy for the “need to think in terms of totalities while at the same time unsettling totalizing thought by putting into play non totalizing categories?”10 DC:

The question of universals is solved for me by two observations. The first is that they are all around us in everyday life and inform much of our everyday sense of justice. Take the newspaper for instance. Ideas of rights and represen­ tation, of equal punishment for equal crime, equal pay for equal work – these are all there around us at least as rhetoric if not as concepts. Any engagement with the political has to begin with the everyday, the commonsensical. The universals are there, I think. Second, we deal with institutions that, in their ideal form, see themselves as based on certain universalist ideas. Their own ideational structure requires us to engage the universals. In a footnote in PE, I think, I give the example of the parliament. To be a parliamentarian in India, one does not have to know, even in outlines, the global history of “the parlia­ ment” as an institution. But imagine writing about “the parliament” for a civ­ ics course for high school students. Then an abstract and universal conception of the parliament will be your thought-object.

Histories, dwelling, habitations 63 My point in PE was that being modern did not involve us in thinking universals (though it may find us using universal-sounding words pragmatically and rhetori­ cally). Yet thinking about political modernity is impossible to do without engag­ ing some universals of “European thought.” The problem with these universals is this. They, as thought-concepts, come packaged as though they have transcended the particular histories in which they were born. But being pieces of prose and lan­ guage, they carry intimations of histories of belonging which are not everybody’s history. When we translate them – practically, theoretically – into our languages and practice, we make them speak to other histories of belonging, and that is how difference and heterogeneity enter these words. Or, in thinking about them and self-consciously looking for places for them in life-practices we have fabricated using them, we sometimes rediscover their own plural histories in the history of European thought. I try to do this with the category “imagination” in one of the chapters in PE. So, unlike many postmodernist thinkers, I do not rail against totalizing con­ cepts. I think they are unavoidable if one takes contemporary critiques of our lives seriously. As Indian historians, I think we have to remember the investment that Dr B. R. Ambedkar developed as a Dalit leader in Enlightenment universals in the first half of the twentieth century. This does not stop me from critiquing these universals for the problems of thought they pose for me. Yet how could I deny their political appeal when I see someone representing some of the most oppressed sections of my society finding them inspiring and helpful? PE reflects this tension. It is not a simple tension between thought and practice. Thus, I am not saying that we need the universals practically but should think without them. No. I think we need to think of the universals as part of immanent critiques of structures of domination that predicate themselves on the same universals; but we also need to think about what problems of thought they create because of our having to make them speak to histories of life-practices from which they did not originate. I guess I try to resolve this tension by talking about different ways of being in the world. In saying this, I am not just following Heidegger. I am also drawing on my lessons of high school and undergraduate physics. Physicists deal with both the Newtonian and quantum worlds without having to claim that only one must prevail. Something similar can be said of the two tendencies of thought that I try to build on – the totalizing and the non-totalizing ones. SD:

All of this raises critical questions for history-writing. It is these that I would like to focus on now, registering that such issues have been present in all your work. In PE you make a key distinction between “hermeneutical” and “ana­ lytical” traditions as a “fault-line” constitutive of modern European social thought.11 What do you see as the place and possibilities of hermeneutic pro­ cedures in history-writing today, particularly of a postcolonial persuasion? And what might such protocols in the present learn from the hermeneutic impulses at the core of – what has more conventionally been regarded as – Western, contra-analytical historicism?12

64 Saurabh Dube DC:

You have to remember that the methodological legacy of Ranke – sourcecriticism – came out of developments in philology. Philology still makes us ask questions about what a word may have meant in a particular period and context and thus gives us glimpses into other ways of being in the world. All this was somewhat forgotten as history became a social science – albeit a “soft” one – after the 1960s. The roots of this phenomenon go back to the 1930s and 1940s. You will remember that early attempts in England to write histories of the common people fostered “economic history” as it was rela­ tively easier to find data about wages, standard of living, mortality, etc. The modernization debates of the 1950s and 1960s, Marxist interests in depend­ ency and underdevelopment – all emphasized the importance of economic history. And these fell particularly within what I called the analytical side of the divide: universal questions, universal categories, particular answers that only localized the general. As against this, there were also important tenden­ cies in interpretive history (EP Thompson to Keith Thomas; Luedtke’s “eve­ ryday history” in Germany; Davis’ and Ginzburg’s micro-history) though, of course, they never completely escaped the social-science side: but why should they?

My distinction was heuristic. But one could point to Thompson’s work as “affective” history: a critique of Englishness by someone for whom being Eng­ lish was also an erotic experience. I had a similar relation to being an inheritor – along with millions of other Bengalis and Indians – of the intellectual wealth of Tagore, and of his contemporaries and predecessors (not to speak of the larger heritage of being from India). To relate to Indians who tried to be both civilized, cosmopolitan, and Indian-Bengali or Indian-whatever at the same time, was an erotic experience for me too. Our childhood of the 1950s gave us the capacity to experience some of the feelings of nationalism that our parents would have experienced in the 1930s and 1940s. They passed them on. Yes, thus I do think “affective history” is still possible today. But it depends on whether you think you argue from a place (that is, from within ways in which particular groups of humans – who do not have to be your own ethnic group – have made a world out of the earth) or from a non-place (as, for instance, do many Marxists and globalization-analysts). I have written about this problem in my Preface to the 2007 edition of PE. SD:

Your essay on “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History” of the early 1990s had spoken of a “politics of despair” as a critical component of the project of provincializing Europe.13 But in PE you declare that such politics do not any longer drive your arguments. “Historicism can circulate only in a mood of frustration, despair, and resentiment,” you state, questioning your own, prior propositions.14 This is a powerful but intriguing statement. Could you say more about it? What are its implications for a radical critique and tran­ scendence of liberalism that you propose? How might such considerations bear upon possible practices of history-writing that critically (and carefully)

Histories, dwelling, habitations 65


engage with universals and that carefully (and critically) attend to histories of belonging and the “non-integral” nature of historical time? The despair I felt then came from an exclusive dependence on the vocabulary of critique that Marxism and liberalism provide us. I accepted this vocabulary in toto. I knew, instinctively and from having unsuccessfully struggled with the problem in my labor-history book, RWH that the “ends of human life” encoded in this vocabulary did not necessarily represent the whole – or even the best – of human experience. Yet I knew no other place where I could turn to [in order] to look for critical perspectives on life-practices that I had grown up with. In other words, I was aware of the inadequacy of European thought but also of its indispensability (for reasons explained above). Yet I did not know where to go from there, hence the despair.

I thought that articulating one’s sense of helplessness in the face of the assumed inevitability of what Heidegger once called “Europeanisation of the earth” was the only political option one had. Not only was this politics motivated by resenti­ ment, it also failed to acknowledge the positive debt one may owe to Europe and European thought. This sense of despair lifted, however, once I paid more atten­ tion to the translational processes through which concepts and practices are made one’s own. I saw that these processes make available to us – if we are prepared to see and listen – many other vantage points of criticism that are not necessarily indebted to European thought but that do not come in a separate package either. They come blended into our conceptual artefacts of modernity. The chapter on widows in PE is a good case in point. There is no doubt that that chapter documents the emergence of a citizenly voice in social critiques of Bengali patriarchal arrangements. Yet the voice actually contains grains that have very little to do with any theory of citizenship or rights. They could be about human-god relationships and the critical perspectives they lend on the world, or about familial relationships, or about other things. In other words, being attentive to the translational processes makes us aware of horizons of human existence that speak of histories other than those encoded into European political thought. Now it is up to us to build an archive or repository of these other horizons so that we can use them creatively to fabricate our lives as we live them. It means further that while one can acknowledge, without seeking revenge, what one owes to Europe, one can at the same time also investigate the histories that provided the grounds on which European thought was situated and translated in our pasts. At present, most of us studying modern Indian history do not do this digging. We lack the training, although we can rectify that through collective effort. At the same time, there are other histories still living among us. They remain hidden because their intimations come delivered through words and practices that we use or conduct in an everyday laziness of spirit. Yet it is also up to us to reawaken those histories, doing so for both elites and subalterns. There would be interest­ ing overlaps as well as critical differences between the two groups. But none of this will happen if we simply allow the concept-metaphors “citizen” or “rights” to obscure from view the tremendous heterogeneity they actually gather under


Saurabh Dube

their umbrella at the same time as we enter the historical process of making these concepts our own. SD:




In Habitations of Modernity [henceforth, HM], especially while discussing the work of Ashis Nandy, you underscore the important issue of the “dark side” of cultures.15 Do these dark-zones intimate only the limits of both (selfperpetuating) historicizing and (self-confident) voluntarist gestures or might they be articulated, too, more substantially with the writing of history? I did. It was not a criticism of Nandy whom I respect and value. It was just that the richness of his insights allowed me to raise some of these questions. I meant to say that we cannot ever see completely into that which we may consider “our” culture. But the word “dark” was also an attempt to acknowl­ edge the baser sides of our collective practices. I have always been inter­ ested in how we write histories in which we relentlessly expose cruelty while accepting that to be human is to have prejudices. Prejudices are a part of the human condition. Yet the problem is that your own prejudices are often things you cannot see. Sometimes, we even encode them into our highest values, our poetry, into our modes of dwelling. I hinted at this in several essays in HM. So now we are talking about the need to develop a self-critical idiom even as we write affective histories. Affective histories must not ever be an excuse for absolving the group or the collective you identify with most, of the cruelties they perpetrate or have perpetrated in the past. But, you see, this means trying to see how your poetry prejudices you but this, you can only half-see, for that poetry is also what gives you your pleasure of being in the world. “Poetically, man dwells”, says the late Heidegger quoting Holderlin, and yet man suffers constant breakdowns of the very equipments with which he creates his sense of dwelling – what is called “the breakdown of equipmentality” in Being and Time. Affective history is a matter of exploring how you could never finally be at home in the middle of that which gives you, only provisionally and for short periods of time, the feeling of being at home; it is about exploring on a variety of creative registers the necessary nostalgia humans have for being at home. I think that if we comport ourselves thus in relation to the question of writing history, we then neither simply historicize the past nor just assume a voluntarist or decisionist gesture towards it. These are profound challenges for the practice of history. What do you con­ sider as the limits and the possibilities of critical histories and postcolonial perspectives today to respond to these challenges? Thank you for the generosity of spirit that inheres in all your questions. It is difficult for me to spell out all the “challenges” that PE may have for the practice of writing history. A text has its own life, and not simply in terms of the diversity of reception that it may encounter. Anything in prose contains a certain degree of heterogeneity over which no author has complete sover­ eignty. So, let me only mention some of the points that I myself was aware of as I worked on PE.

Histories, dwelling, habitations 67 I think PE tries to hold some kind of a middle ground between taking categories of thought seriously, particularly the categories we need to think through issues of political modernity, and the tendency to reify these categories themselves into historical actors. This happens, for instance, with the category “capital.” Obvi­ ously, I think that we need to understand the internal construction of this cat­ egory – I deal, of course, only with the Marxist construction of it – in order to think about political modernity. But I do hope that I have said enough about the politics of belonging and dwelling and its intersection with the “logic of capital” to help interrogate the plausibility of statements such as “capital has done this or that in the world.” (Similar remarks could be made about the nation-state. There is widespread scholarly tendency to reduce this simply to its form – as monopoly of violence, etc., which, as such, is not problematic – and then blame the formal abstraction for many instances of actual governmental violence in the world.) I also hope that PE has something to say about the relation between histori­ cal narratives and literary imagination. Of course, the literary imagination I have explored is that exhibited by the established writers of the Hindu-Bengali middle classes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But the middle classes are not the only source of literature. This is, in a way, also a plea for histories written out of bi-lingual or multi-lingual positions. And, finally, PE is involved in investigating the different ways the European message about human sovereignty in organizing public life – what else is modern European political thought? – has been worked on and hybridized by a certain group of people in the world as they tried to evolve their politics of dwelling under conditions of modernization initiated by colonial rule. This hybridization, by the way, happens in all areas of the world including Europe, for we must not equate thought-traditions with actual historical processes. I have tried to demonstrate this for a small part of the world, which I have had the privilege of knowing somewhat intimately. I simply hope that the exercise is relevant for others as well. SD:

Welcome back, Dipesh, as we resume this exchange more than a decade later. In the interim, you have extended the challenges to history-writing that we were last discussing in ever newer ways. This is true of your arguments con­ cerning, first, the public lives of history and, more recently, planetary pasts. Turning to the former, I have two questions. On the one hand, it is important to distinguish, as you do, between the “cloistered” of the historical discipline and its “public life.”16 At the same time, do not these distinct yet intersect­ ing formations of history exist as parts of the wider existence of the past as a negotiable resource, a contended recourse, all of which finds exponential urgency in our present? On the other hand, you bring an acute hermeneutical sensitivity and sensibility to your unraveling of the worlds and words, the times and truths of an earlier era in The Calling of History.17 What are the terms and textures of extending this aspect of the historian’s craft to the con­ victions and conventions of the public lives of history, including those that are bigoted and ill-begotten?

68 Saurabh Dube DC:

Thank you. Saurabh, for renewing this conversation after many years during which time my work has kept exploring the meaning of history-making and history-writing, sometimes by taking a new turn as in what I have written about Climate Change and the Anthropocene, and sometimes by simply per­ sisting in and (I would like to believe) deepening my engagement with the discipline of history. I have spent the last ten or twelve years on two projects that at first sight may appear to be unrelated: the struggles of Sir Jadunath Sarkar and his generation in colonial India over disciplining history, and the implications of Climate Change and Earth System Science for humanists like ourselves. The two projects appear distant from each other but in my head, they were both, ultimately, about being able to face up to the truth of the past. In the case of Climate Change, what is called “climate denial” is obvi­ ously about not being able to face the very unpleasant truth of anthropogenic climate change (a point I will come back to in my response to your next question).

In the case of Sarkar and his adversaries, there was also this question of “his­ torical truth” – what did it mean for historians to look for the “truth” of the past? Now, as you know, after all the debates about Hayden White and his proposi­ tions about history as a form of writing, about postmodernism, about indigenous, minority and subaltern histories, about history and memory, no one believes in any simple idea of “truth.” It was in that spirit that scholars in many places wel­ comed what Ashis Nandy memorably called “History’s forgotten doubles.” I do not debunk these debates. My work is deeply indebted to the debates on history that took place in the 1990s. I could not have written the chapter on “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts” in PE if I had not been exposed, in Australia, to all the lively debates about “history’s methods of exclusion” that accompanied the rise of Aboriginal history. One could argue, in fact, that the age of alt-facts and post-truth did not begin with Donald Trump or his likes but much earlier when these aforementioned debates instilled in many of us a certain spirit of skepticism or a spirit of incre­ dulity towards anything called “truth” and towards historical truth in particular. That was not an altogether unreasonable position to arrive at, for the ground was hard-won. But we have to acknowledge now, it seems to me, that we only looked at the emancipatory or democratic potential of these debates in those years but Trump (or Modi’s BJP in India) now show the ugly underside to these positions that I think we did not guard against enough. We forgot something crucial in those heady days of skepticism: that while there may not be anything called “the truth” about the past (or any other object of knowledge), there was – and there is – always, for the historian, the question of being truthful. Being truthful is an ethical relationship to one’s own self that the historian strives to attain, and this is naturally mediated by what the disci­ pline calls the “rules of evidence.” This is why the historian has to fight against his or her own “biases” and not just flaunt them in a caveat emptor mode. In replacing, with good reasons maybe, the idea of “truth” by the procedural idea of

Histories, dwelling, habitations 69 “objectivity,” and in granting the many limitations of the discipline of history in representing diverse kinds of pasts, we historians appear to have forgotten about or consciously jettisoned this deeply ethical obligation that we also have, as histo­ rians, of striving to be truthful. That is also a part of our heritage. Doing history is an ethical struggle against one’s own biases – if my Marxist account of the past has to seem “true” or plausible, it should do so not because I want to Marx to win all ideological battles, but in spite of my being a Marxist. That is why, I describe being truthful as an ethical struggle, it is a struggle that takes place inside the historian. Of course, there is no holy grail of truthfulness that you must obtain; nor is there a certificate of “truthfulness” to be handed by an institution. You are even bound to lose the battle because you never know all your biases and preferences that could affect your argument and your selection of evidence. By its very nature, it is not a battle in which you score a complete victory. But without engaging in it, there is no project of truthfulness. This is how the discipline of history becomes a technique for the care of the self. This is what I think Marc Bloch was hinting at when he spoke of historians having to practice an “honest submission to facts.” I was trying to retrieve a history of this struggle to be truthful in my book on Sarkar. But I do have to admit that I don’t seem to have gotten the point across to most of my historian friends who seemed disappointed that I did not do any “theory” in that book, not to speak of others who completely misread the book and said I was too Sarkar-identified and therefore “conserva­ tive” in my own views! SD:


As for planetary pasts – turning on the Anthropocene, the climate, and the species, including ourselves as geological agents – you importantly argue that these allow us to address that which is excised by global history and its singular human actor/scale.18 This brings up the salience of registering the simultaneity of “different levels of abstraction” – of the planetary and the global – such that we think through “human agency over multiple and incom­ mensurable scales at once.”19 Now, is there anything at all in imaginative his­ tories and critical anthropologies as well as subaltern studies and postcolonial perspectives, prior tendencies that you have been associated with, which can face up to this challenge? And what tendencies do you see as your key com­ panions that are undertaking such endeavor today? There is, you know, something in David Arnold’s work (and David Hardi­ man’s later work) on health and illness that brings up the question of the agency of the non-human. Take the case of the plague riots of the late 1890s in Bombay that Arnold worked on. We now have a student in Chicago revisit­ ing that historiography. Her name is Emily Webster. Her work – that focuses more on the social and institutional sources for the origins and dissemination of the disease – discusses the roles played in that crisis by different types of urban rats that made colonial Bombay their habitat. Now, some of these rat communities also suffered catastrophic crashes in their numbers because of the disease. It would be fascinating to see how rat communities behave(d) under stress and if that behavior also had something to do with the spread


Saurabh Dube of the disease. For instance, Ms. Webster tells me, that when rats lose their immediate communities, they range over wider and unfamiliar territories. In other words, their cognitive maps of the city change for them. It would be so intriguing to follow up on such a trail if possible and see if one could really do multi-species history of that epidemic and not simply see the rats as passive vectors of the disease. This also brings deep history and recorded histories together. Rat responses to crises are seen as behavioral responses, whereas human responses are seen as including cultures, institutions, motivations, etc. But rat behavior is also history – a slower kind of evolutionary history. After all the rats of a city must learn to negotiate that city and those lessons must get passed over from one generation of rats to the next. To bring that into histories of humans at the time of a crisis that cannot be defined without tak­ ing into account rats and their behavior, would surely widen our horizons of understanding. So yes, the nonhuman exists on the pages of Subaltern Studies as so many unsighted moments and missed opportunities.

In answer to your second question, I have to say that I learn a lot from read­ ing evolution specialists on the one hand and reading historians and humanists (including post-humanists) who help you think about the problem of how to insert the history of humans into the history of life on the planet. Edmund Russell’s attempt to bring history and biology together interests me a great deal as do the more theoretical writings of [Bruno] Latour, [Donna] Harraway, [Anna] Tsing, and others. Nearer home, in Chicago, historians Fredrik Jonsson, Julia Adney Thomas, Emily Osborn, Benjamin Morgan (English department), and I have formed an informal group of scholars interested in both recorded and deep histo­ ries. Human-animal histories is clearly emerging as a new frontier in historiogra­ phy. But I think this horizon is going to widen, and historians will take up the task of doing the history of capitalism itself as a multi-species history. This will have implications for finding new answers to Carr’s question, “What Is History?,” and will influence even the kind of work that, say, Sanjay Seth is currently undertak­ ing on the origins of the “social.” Can one think the “social” any longer without taking into account the nonhuman, a point that Latour elaborated some time ago in his book on assembling the social? SD:


A final question now, which is possibly the most open-ended of all. In criti­ cally juxtaposing global histories and planetary pasts, do you find any pos­ sibilities for considerations of a “worldly immanence”?20 I am asking if the terms of such a worldly immanence might insinuate themselves in global histories and touch our perceptions of planetary pasts? This is a big question that I cannot do justice to in the compass of a short answer. I think that you are making a positive suggestion and it can be used productively. I would need to think more about your suggestion, however, for it is new. But it also seems to me at the same time that the word “immanence” as it emerges from your and Bilgrami’s discussion remains a human-centric word. That is all right, but I am looking for a foil to humanist thought that

Histories, dwelling, habitations 71 itself is not humanist or human-centric. I have tried to think of the planet – as used as a category of thought in Earth System Science – as giving me han­ dle on this problem. I have recently developed and articulated a distinction between the earth and the planet as philosophical categories. As you know, both Husserl and Heidegger thought the planet was a category for scientists and was not needed by philosophers. Heidegger argued, from about 1936, that philosophers were interested in “earth” but not in “planet.” I have an essay forthcoming in Critical Inquiry where I try to show, through a reading of Earth System Science, how the planet has emerged not only as a matter of humanist concern but also as a category of historico-philosophical thinking in our times. Thank you, once again, for your own stimulating and generous reading of my work. I have learned from listening to you.

Notes 1 This cyber-conversation had its beginnings in Saurabh Dube (ed.), Enduring Enchant­ ments, a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 101, no. 4, 2002, pp. 859– 868. It then appeared in an expanded form as an “Afterword” to Saurabh Dube (ed.), Postcolonial Passages: Contemporary History-Writing on India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 254–262. Its third incarnation, which developed the dis­ cussion further, formed part of Saurabh Dube, After Conversion: Cultural Histories of Modern India (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2010), pp. 159–176. 2 See especially, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal 1890– 1940 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcolo­ niality and the Artifice of History: Who speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” Representations, vol. 37, Winter 1992, pp. 1–26; Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Call­ ing of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, Winter 2009; Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 41, Autumn 2014, p. 23. 3 For instance, Chakrabarty, The Calling of History. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid., p. 255. 6 The queries that follow bring into play what is widely considered as a central insight of Heidegger, described by Paul Ricouer as Heidegger’s recognition of the capacity of “Dasein to project its most proper possibilities inside the fundamental situation of being in the world”, so that understanding itself entails “the mode of being before defining the mode of knowing.” Here, in the understanding of history, for example, the implicit awareness of exposure to the labours of history precedes the objectifications of documentary historiography, which is to say that (what is frequently understood as) historical consciousness barely covers the experience of history. The questions that I sent to Chakrabarty clarified these premises, and his response registers this. Paul Ricouer, cited in Zygmunt Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. ix – –x. 7 Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, p. 255.


Saurabh Dube

8 Here the reference is to the activity of darshan (to see), connoting “the exchange of human sight with the divine.” Ibid., p. 173. 9 Ibid., p. 70. 10 Ibid., pp. 21–22. 11 Chakrabarty finds in “analytical” social science the tendency to “evacuate the local in favour of some abstract universal” and to demystify “ideology” in the pursuit of a just social order. Against this is contrasted the “hermeneutical” tradition that “produces a loving grasp of detail in search of an understanding of the diversity of human lifeworlds”, based on the intimate connection of thought with particular places and forms of life and resulting in “affective histories.” Chakrabarty admits that the distinction between these traditions is somewhat “artificial” in as much as “most important think­ ers” belong to both at once, but he equally casts the division as “a fault line central to modern European social thought.” Ibid., p. 18. 12 Here, my reference is to discussions of historicism as entailed in the practice of phi­ losophy and history of, for example, Vico and Herder, and acquiring diverse yet acute manifestations across the nineteenth century, the time when the term was first invented. Such expressions of historicism variously played out: the principle of individuality (even as they often pursued a universal history); critiques of an abstract and aggran­ dizing reason as well as of “the prejudice of philosophers that, in some spiritual way concepts preceded words”; reassertions of the centrality of language and historical experience; and acute inclinations toward hermeneutical (as distinct from analytical) understandings. This is to say also distinct formations and discrete intimations of what Isaiah Berlin has notably described as the “Counter-Enlightenment.” Donald R. Kel­ ley, Faces of History: Historical Inquiry from Herodotus to Herder (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 247; Isaiah Berlin, Against the Current: Essays in the His­ tory of Ideas (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 1–24. 13 Chakrabarty, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History”. 14 Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, pp. 248–249. 15 Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity, pp. 45–47. 16 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Public Life of History: An Argument out of India”, Public Culture, vol. 20, Winter 2008. 17 Chakrabarty, Calling of History. 18 Chakrabarty, “Climate and Capital”, p. 23; see also, Chakrabarty, “Climate of History”. 19 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change”, New Literary History, vol. 43, no. 1, Winter 2012, p. 1. 20 On these questions, see my “Figures of Immanence”, this volume.


A correspondence on Provincializing Europe* Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty

On December 14, 2000, after reading Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, I sent an email message to its author, Dipesh Chakrabarty. I had never met or corresponded with Dipesh before, and I was not aware that he was in Australia at the time. Despite other more pressing concerns, Dipesh was quick to respond, and over the next few days we sent each other a series of email messages centered broadly around Provincializing Europe. Reread­ ing the correspondence later, we agreed that some of the themes and issues we had touched on might be of interest to others. – Amitav Ghosh

Amitav to Dipesh 1: December 14, 2000 Dear Dipesh, Although we have never met, I feel I have known you a long time because of the many friends and acquaintances we have in common. [. . .] Reading Provincial­ izing Europe was an experience of such rare pleasure and excitement that I wanted to write to you while it was still fresh in my mind. First, I want to congratulate you on your extraordinary achievement. History is never more compelling than when it gives us insights into oneself and the ways in which one’s own experience is constituted. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything which does this more consistently than Provincializing Europe. It is truly a wonderful book, brimming with ideas and insights. To take just a few examples: I was deeply impressed by your discussion of the ways in which literature is imbricated in the emergence of modernity in India – particularly in your discussion of the place of Tagore’s work in the culture of twentieth-century Bengal. I felt that it helped me understand an aspect of myself and my past which I had often wondered about and never quite comprehended – and I’d say the same about your discussion of the way in which India produced a wholly idiosyncratic version of the private/public aspect of modernity. But Provincializing Europe is so rich in ideas and insights that it has also raised many questions in my mind, both large and small. I hope you will not mind if take the liberty of addressing some of these to you. First the small questions [. . .]:

74 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty I was much struck by your re-configuration of the role of the family in Indian fic­ tion. I agree substantially with your observation that this should not be read as a “compensatory move.” But as a writer myself I’d like to take this a step farther. Two of my novels (The Shadow Lines, and my most recent, The Glass Palace) are centred on families. I know that for myself this is a way of displacing the “nation” – I am sure that this is the case also with many Indian writers other than myself. In other words, I’d like to suggest that writing about families is one way of not writ­ ing about the nation (or other restrictively imagined collectivities). I think there is a long tradition of this, going back at least to Proust – and it’s something that Jameson, Anderson, and even Bhabha never seem to take into account. I want to move on now to a broader set of issues. These are comments really – and I very much hope that you will not take them amiss. They spring from certain perplexities that came to haunt me while I was writing The Glass Palace (which is, among other things, a historical novel). Please believe me when I say that I mean no disrespect in addressing these comments to you. There seemed to me to be certain very important areas of silence in Provincial­ izing Europe and by the time I got to the end of the book, I felt that these silences had achieved, as it were, a piercing volume. To take one example [. . .]: I do not understand (and this is a question I’ve also addressed to Uday Mehta) how it is possible to discuss J. S. Mill (or Bentham or any other nineteenth-century British liberal) without accounting for the place that the idea of race occupies in their dis­ course. That the idea of race was largely unacknowledged within these discourses does of course contribute to the difficulty of giving it its proper place within the edifice. But surely, to omit it altogether is merely to ignore the ground on which liberal thought is built. Take for example, the idea of tutelage in liberal imperial­ ism. This idea is after all founded implicitly on a theory of race: the “not yet” of which you speak, is in fact a “not yet forever” (which is merely a locution for “never”) and packed into the forever/never is the silenced term which makes this line of reasoning possible – “race.” In this sense, one of our tasks surely, must be to restore, always and without flinching, the silenced term in the equation – the “+ R” as I have come to think of it. Thus, in British India, “the rule of law” is actually “the rule of law + R” – and since legal procedures differed significantly when applied to Indians and British, this does in fact yield a much more accurate picture of the functioning of the legal system of British India than the unqualified term. Without placing the “+ R” in its proper place we cannot apprehend the real nature of the institution that was introduced under imperialism as “the rule of law.” Built into this institution were the grounds for its own future subversion for it was founded on an implicit understanding that the rulers were, if not quite above the law, then certainly subject to a different species of law than that which was applied to the ruled. I need hardly point out that the post- independence succes­ sors to the colonial ruling classes have been quick to adapt this implicit exception to their own purposes: yet in acknowledging this we must also acknowledge that these possibilities were built into the system at the very start. To speak of the edifice of liberal ideas in the nineteenth-century without con­ fronting the issue of race seems to me much like discussing The Tempest (or Gray’s

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 75 “Elegy” or Jane Eyre) without addressing the question of imperialism. [. . .] Race was the foundational social fact of the post-1857 Empire – an idea embedded more in practices than in discourse – and it grew ever stronger from the mid-nineteenth century onward. I was struck by this when I was researching the British response to the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Burma. In Malaya while evacuating their government from the north, they stuck absolutely resolutely to the principles of race: trains were forbidden to transport “non-Europeans” (this in a war that had its origins in Europe!). Similarly, in northern Burma in 1942, in a moment of total cri­ sis, with hundreds of thousands of civilians heading for the mountains, the British still found time to set up “white” and “black” evacuation routes. Race was much more than just a tool of Empire: it was (in the Kantian sense) one of the founda­ tional categories of thought that made other perceptions possible. In the last chapter of Provincializing Europe, you quote A.K. Ramanujan on how his father reconciled two apparently irreconcilable ideas. To my mind, the questions that are implied there are more appropriately addressed to Mill, who saw no conflict between his hobby of theorizing about liberty and his day job as the overseer of the Indian Empire. It was really he and others of his ilk who man­ aged to believe two completely divergent things at the same time. One final set of comments: even though Provincializing Europe deals largely (in one way or another) with resistance, you very rarely speak of the coercive appa­ ratus of Empire. In the chapter on adda (pages 191–193), you give an example of “Bangshalochanbabu” shutting down a discussion after Chatterjee says, “He is a spy of the police, it is better to be careful.” You cite this as a rare example of the subject of the adda being shaped by censorial intervention. But in the broadest possible sense, could it not be said, that all addas, and indeed all (native) discourse in imperial India were shaped to a greater or lesser degree by the ever- present fear of intervention? [. . .] It is worth noting that in most instances of insurrection, Indians (and Burmese) were very careful to shroud their projects in silence – (e.g. Mutiny, Ghadar Party, Saya San rebellion etc.). To take this one step farther: in reading contemporary Indian historians I am often struck by the divergence in accounts of the “persuasive” and “coercive” dimensions of imperial rule. Military histories write of “a garrison state” (Omissi); social and intellectual histories give us a different kind of picture altogether. But since it is the latter category that occasions most historical writing about India today, is it possible that we run the danger of getting a wildly distorted picture of imperial rule? I realize that these questions and comments come from so far outside your broad paradigm that they may well seem meaningless. Please believe me when I say that I do not intend to offend by sending you these remarks – Provincializing Europe is a truly remarkable achievement, and I feel enormously enriched by your insights. I am hoping that this will start a conversation (albeit digital) and, if you have time, I would love to hear back. With many thanks and good wishes. Yours, Amitav

76 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty

Dipesh to Amitav 1: December 14, 2000 Dear Amitav, Thank you for doing me the honour of reading my book with so much interest, and for writing to me in such a spirit of generosity. I have long admired your work and discussed and taught it in my classes. I also have always sensed a connection with you – both through your writings and through the friends we have in common. Your praise and criticism mean a lot to me. Unfortunately, I cannot print out messages from the computer I am currently using in Australia. [. . .] I will see if I can get your message printed somewhere so I can respond to you more fully. But here are some preliminary responses.[. . .]. Regarding race and liberalism. You are right. I kind of allude to it in the Intro­ duction in referring to Fanon and others and then drop it. Thanks for making me aware of this problem. Why do I do it? I don’t disagree, factually, about the place of race in imperial thought but have a question to you about the “not yet.” Don’t you think that, historically, one ought to make a distinction between imperialist attitudes in the settler-colonial countries where the white races genuinely wished death and destruction on the natives and in “colonies” like India where the idea of “self-rule” was promulgated right from the beginning (i.e. 1858)? I think there was more ambiguity in the cases of countries where imperialists acknowledged the existence of a prior “civilization.” In other words, the “not yet” functioned differently, it seems to me, in the two cases. Now the idea of civilization was itself a racist idea, but it did produce significant differences in the way in which the Europeans treated the so-called “primitives” and the allegedly more “civilized” peoples. In other words, I do think that one has to acknowledge the ambivalence introduced into nineteenth-century European thought by the tension between the universalist aspects of “science” and the particularistic emphases on “race.” Some of our own “primitivism” suffers, necessarily, from the same ambivalence it seems to me. [. . .]. With best wishes, Dipesh

Amitav to Dipesh 2: December 15, 2000 Dear Dipesh, Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my letter – especially since it appears to have arrived on your screen at a moment when you have many more important things on your mind. [. . .]. The point you make about race in imperial thought is well taken. It is true that Europeans generally did not embark on a genocidal project in India, as they did in the “settler colonies” – but surely this had more to do with the sheer size and intractability of India rather than with notions of civilizational hierarchy?

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 77 Could it be said that the Portuguese in their early years behaved substantially differently in the Konkan than they did in, say, Brazil? I’m not sure. Also, perhaps it’s worth remembering that the savagery of sixteenth-century European encoun­ ters with “other people” in the Americas, Africa, and Asia was not, as it were, cali­ brated on a case-by-case basis. The violence was generated by their own recent history, by their encounters with people whom they generally acknowledged to be their civilizational equals – the North African Arab kingdoms in the case of the Portuguese and Spanish. Similarly, in the seventeenth century the English in North America applied techniques (scalping, scorched earth) that they had already perfected in Ireland. On the question of the promulgation of self-rule in 1858: this seems to me to be very clearly a political response to 1857. (One can’t help wondering, why promise something for the future, when so many people have died to make it clear that they want it now?) Equally, what is envisaged there is precisely a kind of perpetual deferment, as later articulated by Mill et al. In this discourse Race is the unstated term through which the gradualism of liberalism reconciles itself to the perma­ nence of Empire. Race is the category that accommodates the notion of incorrigi­ bility, hence assuming the failure of all correctional efforts (and thus of tutelage). To return to the question of the relationship between the ideas of “race” and “civilization”: it would appear that in every important instance, procedurally, the latter was always subordinated to the former. It seems to me that the British did have a “civilizational” hierarchy in India, but this had more to do with skin color and “race” than with elements of culture as such. [. . .]. An anecdote: my father served in the British Indian army and fought in Burma and North Africa. As a child, I remember hearing only idyllic stories of my father’s life in the British Indian army. Then one day, towards the end of his life (he died in 1998) he told me an altogether different story: at the siege of Imphal, he had had turned away from the main battle to confront a South African officer who had called him a “dirty nigger.” Suddenly these stories came pouring out of him: I was presented with a vision of army life that was completely different from that which I had grown up with. I often ask myself: why did my father (and, in some sense, all our fathers) avoid telling us these stories? There is a clue in your book: “Bengali men experi­ enced numerous instances of racial prejudice and humiliation.” These stories must have been very hard to tell – especially because they were so much at odds with their vision of themselves as high-caste, bhadra patriarchs. No doubt it was even harder to accommodate the idea that these were not merely “numerous instances”: they represented the system itself. For if they were to accept that, then all the ver­ sions of modernity they’d built up would crumble. Or perhaps they didn’t tell us because they thought that we didn’t need to know; that this was something they would keep from their children – recognizing perhaps, the necessity of what Ash­ ish Nandy calls the need to forget? Is it possible that we see this silence reproduced in our historiography for rea­ sons that are not dissimilar? It strikes me that the historians who have written about race and imperialism in India are overwhelmingly Europeans. The ideology

78 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty of race is an ugly subject: is it possible that we Indians flinch from it partly in self-preservation, and partly because it so hopelessly contaminates that aspect of liberal western thought in which our own hopes of social betterment (as you are so careful to point out) are often founded? But then don’t we have to ask also, at what point does our aversion to this subject become either complicity or denial? Enough for now: I am sorry to bother you with so much again, when you have many other pressing things on your mind. With many thanks and good wishes. Amitav

Dipesh to Amitav 2: December 16, 2000 Dear Amitav, Your letter raises such interesting questions that I cannot help writing down a few words immediately. [...] The whole question of “race” is indeed a silent question in India. Not just our experience of “racism” at the hands of the Europeans. I have often thought about how we refuse to see the “racisms” we, as Indians, practice towards one another. For instance, accounts of “communalist” behavior are often difficult to distinguish from what in the context of a Western country we will easily decry as “racist behaviour.” Yet why do we use the term racism as if it were something that only the whites did to the non-whites? This takes the question beyond the parameters of your discussion but perhaps they are not unconnected phenomena. But let me return to your comments before I come back to mine. I do not deny the truth of what you say regarding cruelties perpetrated by the Spanish and Portuguese in their colo­ nies, but wouldn’t you think that the Enlightenment made a difference here? The calibrated scale of “civilization” was, after all, an Enlightenment phenomenon. Where the Enlightenment seems special is in its universalization of different ver­ sions of the idea of equality, which allowed the colonized to charge the colonizer with self-contradiction (a lot of nationalism was that, wasn’t it?). How else would I understand a Fanon saying back to the European that he, the European, had made a travesty of his own principles of human equality? Or Gandhi saying that “Western civilization” would be a good idea! Or think of Tagore’s essay “sabhya­ tar shankat.” Even the stuff I know about European settlement in Australia and their policies with genocidal impulses built into them, all speak of deep dilemmas at the very heart of European thought, dilemmas introduced by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ideas about being human, about property, ownership, interna­ tional law, and so on. (If you have not looked at Henry Reynold’s work on this subject, you may find it useful.) The difference between our positions seems to boil down to this: how seri­ ously do we take the ambiguity that lies at the heart of liberalism, the ambiguity caused by the tension between the universal applicability that it claims for itself and the unacknowledged racism that runs through it? I do not want to foreclose

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 79 this discussion by producing an answer at this point (in part because I benefit from your interrogation of what you read as a silence in our work). But the question interests me. There is a larger question that the story of your father’s experience in the army raises for me. I have also heard somewhat similar stories from an uncle who served in the First War as a junior doctor. Besides, as you will know, we grew up on stories of Vivekananda or Sir Ashutosh or even Vidyasagar combating racism in public places. Yet, as you say, race is not a major presence in Indian narra­ tives. Why? Why is the coercive side of colonialism not admitted in the Indian narratives? You ask a powerful question. [. . .] For myself, I have wondered about whether or not the coercive side of British colonialism had a uniform reach throughout society. Did colonial coercion reach out into every pore of the life-form that the same colonial rule also allowed us – and here I mean the educated middle classes – to fabricate? I have, for instance, often questioned (in my head) Ashisda’s idea of “the intimate enemy” [in Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy]. I think colonialism was “the intimate enemy” for some, but I have seldom sensed it in someone like Rabindranath. I would not be surprised if there was something specifically postco­ lonial in the anguish that Ashisda expresses so powerfully in his book. Overall, the question of how we live fragments of joyful existence within struc­ tures of domination, interests me a great deal. Having seen the Australian Aborigi­ nals and read about their histories, lives and conditions, I do feel that Europeans dominated these unfortunate peoples in ways they never dominated us. There were spaces in our lives – so-called classical music would be a case in point – where we could use European institutional forms, syllabi, etc. (Bhatkhande would be a case in point) to our advantage without feeling deeply colonized. Aboriginal societies were just pulverized and sometimes wiped out. I do not think we – again, I mean the middle classes – suffered anything like that. But this is not to block or mitigate the force of your question that opens up for me a new way of looking at race. [...] My very best wishes, Dipesh

Amitav to Dipesh 3: December 20, 2000 Dear Dipesh, I am glad to know that this “conversation” is serving the purpose of giving you something else to think about (I was concerned that it might be an annoyance at a time like this). For my part, I am glad to continue for Provincializing Europe and your subsequent reflections have provoked me to think through many issues that have long been on my mind. Your last letter again was full of interesting ideas and suggestions and I’d like to give you my views on some of these matters. You point to the ambiguity that lies at the heart of the Enlightenment. I accept this. But this being the case, should we not also acknowledge that this same

80 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty dualism runs through many if not most philosophical traditions? Why should we so reflexively assume that the reformist spirit in nineteenth-century India derived its strength primarily from Enlightenment sources? We know that long before Bentinck, the Mughals as well as many major and minor Hindu rulers did everything in their power to discourage sati (I am referring here to Catherine Weinberger-Thomas’s research in Ashes of Immortality). We know similarly that anti-hierarchical thought in India goes back through the bhakti period to the Bud­ dha and Mahavira. Why should we so completely disavow the liberatory potential of these traditions? (E.g.: Why should we assume that Dr. Ambedkar was making a deathbed compromise rather than stating a deeply-felt belief?) Why should we assume also that the egalitarian impulse in nineteenth-century India derived its power primarily from the Enlightenment (when indeed, all the exegetical material goes against this)? To take this further: in making these assumptions are we not also accepting certain fundamental (but unstated) beliefs about colonialism? Are we not implic­ itly conceding the argument that imperialism was, in at least one of its aspects, an enterprise of social reform? This is worth asking because many Indians have been down this road before us, and I for one, have come to be very interested in the ways in which they charted this path. Take Tilak for example: his early essays give the impression that he accepted (perhaps even against his own will) the idea that there was an important reformist impulse in colonialism. But then, in a later essay (written about 1906, I think, soon after a visit to Burma) Tilak went on to produce a very interesting deconstruction of this assumption. The argument goes some­ thing like this (so far as I remember): Yes, of course it is true that there are many evils in contemporary Indian society; that Hinduism has become a caricature of itself and is desperately in need of reform. These are all facts: but those who offer these facts as a justification for the imperialist presence in India are proceeding on a mistaken assumption. They are assuming that the British are here to reform us. They are wrong because our imperfection is not their reason for being here. They would be here anyway, even if our society did not have any of its present evils. If tomorrow we were to become a perfect society, they would still be here. If you doubt this, look at Burma: the Burmese had no caste system – they have always been egalitarian; the Burmese were not ignorant – they had a complete literacy long before the British came; in Burma there was no sati and no mistreat­ ment of women – women had a better position there than even in the West. Burma was not in need of reform – but this did not prevent the British from occupying and despoiling them. In many ways they treated the Burmese even worse than they did us. Nor did their egalitarian social institutions help the Burmese in resisting the imperialist onslaught. (Should you ever read The Glass Palace, you will see that there is an echo of this argument there – or perhaps I am simply rephrasing my own rephrasing.) I was startled when I first read this essay. I was struck by the simplicity of the argument, which is not founded on a priori assumptions about imperialism, but rather on one man’s life-experience. I had the sense that it had taken Tilak a long time to work through his assumptions (to “pierce the veil” as it were). It made me

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 81 realize that I too had been complicit at some un-thought level with the idea (pace Tilak) that reform was inseparable from Empire – and on examination one can see at once that this is simply not true. In fact, the British did everything they could to reinforce the hierarchical aspects of Indian society – indeed they introduced hierarchies of their own. That is why I think we should not reflexively assume that the egalitarian and liberatory impulses of nineteenth-century Indian society came solely or even primarily from Enlightenment roots. That there was an admixture of influences is undeniable: indeed, it is to be celebrated. But inasmuch as Indians appropriated certain aspects of Enlightenment thought it was against the will and the weight of the Empire, and it would have happened (as in Thailand and Japan) whether there was an Empire or not. In sum: it is true that there is a profound ambiguity in Enlightenment thought. But it is also true that this very ambiguity was often used, sometimes quite delib­ erately, to dupe the colonial subject. We can see that this is so even today when blatant expansionism is often cloaked in the language of reform and political “progress” – in the sub-continent and elsewhere. Given our history it seems to me that it behooves us to approach these claims with great caution and skepticism. To revisit the subject of race: I am intrigued by your comment about how we refuse to see the “racisms” that Indians practice towards one another. Racism, as I understand it, is not just an exclusivist or supremacist ideology. It is an ideology that is founded on certain ideas that relate to science, nature, biology and evolution – a specifically post-Enlightenment ideology in other words. I have often heard western academics compare “communalism” and “casteism” to “racism.” But are these legitimate comparisons? Let’s take communalism first. Hindu and Muslim communalists hold many vile, false and hideous beliefs about each other. But do either of them believe, for example, that the other has a lesser cranial capacity or a genetically diminished intelligence? I put it to you that they do not: that this question would appear meaningless, even absurd, if you were to put it to them. This is not in any way to diminish the horror of what communalists do indeed believe – but all horrifying beliefs are not the same and conceptually at least we must be careful to make distinctions between them. Generally speaking, Indian communalists recognize that their conflicts are located in the social domain: I do not think they put a biological or scientific construction on them. Similarly, racism and caste: you will perhaps remember that Louis Dumont dis­ tinguished between them in an appendix to Homo Hierarchicus. I was reminded of that recently while listening to a New York radio interview with Martin Macwan the Dalit activist. The interviewer, who was African-American, tried to press Macwan on the relationship between skin colour and caste. Macwan seemed to be a little puzzled at first and then remarked that there was no easy co-relation in India (pahari Dalits, for example, being lighter-skinned than, say, plains Brah­ mins and so on). I was struck by Macwan’s initial puzzlement because his response reminded me of some of my own perplexities on the subject of race. During my student days in Delhi I (like many others) read James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Fanon and CLR James. I was by no means ignorant of the terms race and racism – yet

82 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty in some profound way, I don’t think I understood these terms at all. I thought of racism as a kind of cultural survival, a civilizational sediment, on the model of superstition and aposankskriti. Underlying this was the assumption that racism would disappear under the gaze of Enlightenment-influenced education. What I did not understand was that Enlightenment ideas were actually at the heart of racism: that this ideology incorporates certain elements of scientific thinking and it is precisely this that gives it its resilience. It has taken me a long time to under­ stand that racism is comparable to casteism and communalism only in that it has the same murderous effects: its internal logic is quite different. I don’t think I was alone in mistaking the nature of racism. I believe that it is because we South Asians fundamentally misrecognize racism that we are not able to give it its proper place within the history of colonialism. Colonial racism was an administrative and ideological practice that was applied to the Indian subcontinent: Indians inhabited the spaces it created without understanding or giving credence to the internal logic of its architecture (this was perhaps the other side of the “dominance without hegemony” coin). I have become convinced that it is this problem – fundamentally epistemological – that underlies the “silence” on the race issue in the historiography of colonial India. This silence is not the prod­ uct of ill-intention or bad faith or psychological avoidance (or as you put it, the “compensatory move”): at bottom it is founded in an epistemological perplexity, a misrecognition. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the practices of the British Indian army, where the idea of the “martial race” was interpreted by Indian sepoys as referring to “jati” or “sampradaya,” while British recruiters had a completely different view of the matter. (Someday I will recount to you the many strange stories I came across while interviewing old faujis [soldiers].) This is not the whole story of course. There were many emergent discourses in India which incorporated the true Enlightenment idea of race – for example, the stuff about Hindus and Aryans and so on. Similarly, the relationship between the people of the North-East and the Indian state, does to my mind, display many of the characteristics of institutional racism. Most significantly perhaps, the Indian perception of (and behavior towards) the “Sahib” incorporates many aspects of real racism – including elements of self-hatred etc., which are familiar to us from the historical experience of North America and the Caribbean. The story is a very complicated one and I wish one of our theoretical heavyweights would work through it in detail. But I do believe that I am right in claiming that the Enlighten­ ment is the enabling condition of true racism in the modern (or colonial) sense, and that our ability to perceive and recognize it is also enabled and limited by the degree to which we are (or are not) true Enlightenment subjects. (This does not, of course, in any sense mitigate the true horrors of either communalism or caste.) You make the important point that the Indian experience under colonialism was very different from that of the indigenous peoples of Australia and North America. You are absolutely right. To my mind the Indian experience spans a spectrum of analogies. [. . .] You make the very good point that in Indian (particularly Bengali) cultural discourse there was very little anguish about the colonial situation. Again, you are

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 83 right. But to my mind, the real question is: how else it is possible to assimilate subordination except by refusing to represent it to oneself. [. . .] I have gone on at great length and must stop here. As you can see, this con­ versation has absorbed most of my attention over the last many days. It’s proved to be an immense pleasure: it is very rare, in my experience, to come across an academic who has either the time or the inclination to listen to another point of view. I hope I am not trespassing on your patience. With my best wishes. Amitav

Dipesh to Amitav 3: December 20, 2000 Dear Amitav, I cannot thank you enough for these conversations. They help to remind me of enjoyable things in life when I am, I must admit, a little weighed down by my son’s illness and my own sense of helplessness in the face of it. I truly like the intelligence, passion, sensitivity, and erudition that animate what you write. I learn from these exchanges even when we do not agree. What more could one ask of an intellectual sparring partner? Besides, sometimes I feel our disagreements are often only partial or appar­ ent while sometimes they do perhaps run deeper. Let me deal with the first kind first. On the Enlightenment and its ambiguities, we are fundamentally in agreement it seems. I agree with you that we need to understand the existing terms to which many of the Enlightenment ideas were assimilated. One of my complaints was that we, as scholars, often do not have the equipment or train­ ing with which to do that. We have nobody with the skills, for instance, of a John Pocock or Quentin Skinner. For all my respect for his work and while I find his translations from Indian texts often beautiful (can’t comment on their accuracy), I find A. K. Ramanujan’s attempt to make our Virasaivas look like predecessors of modern democratic thought unsatisfactory. I do not dispute it that there are a great many things to be mined in the bhakti traditions or in other texts that critique hierarchy. But what I bemoan is the fact that while the older commentarial traditions – in all their richness – seem lost to us, we have not been able to connect with them or revive them except in the most perfunctory of manners. [. . .] But there is a sense in which – based on my admittedly-shallow reading of our own traditions – I would argue that the Enlightenment – in combination with capitalism – was something special. It was special in the way in which it helped to make “equality” into a universal category of secular life and ran it through every aspect of human activity, building it into all general measures of exchange. To me, it has always seemed interesting, for instance, that even some of the most aggres­ sively egalitarian of subaltern or religious sects in India do not do away with the idea of the “guru.” Later Sikhism is a major instance of it but you probably also know of the Balahari and other sampradays [communities] Sudhir Chakraborty

84 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty wrote about a few years ago. In any case, there are many such instances. I contrast that point with what Marx said about the logic of commodity production: that the principle of equality that underlies generalized exchange can be performed – and thus be made visible – only in a society in which the idea of human equality has attained the fixity of a popular prejudice (I am paraphrasing). In other words, from where I stand, to acknowledge our debt to the ideas of the Enlightenment is not to thank colonialism for bringing them to us (your examples of Japan and Thailand are very pertinent here). [. . .] To continue and move on to the question of race. Here again, I agree with you that if one were to connect race with modernity, one would have to go to the more “scientific” versions of it. [. . .] I also accept it that one should distinguish between modern racism and simple prejudice (or even more virulent but older forms of ethnic hatred). But couldn’t we expand the idea of “science” to include modern knowledge-forms such as sociology, anthropology, demography, etc. that governments and institutions use every day? [. . . .] The very practices of gov­ erning in modern bureaucratic ways entail the use of modern knowledge-forms which also, thanks to the media, develop a life in popular culture, so that the dis­ tinction between simple prejudice and prejudice backed up by the pretensions of knowledge becomes harder to sustain. In that sense, I was arguing that there are homologies between racism and communalism. If you define racism very tightly, you run the risk of defining it away as does Dinesh DeSouza from what I under­ stand him to be saying in the American context: scientific racism is gone, so there is no racism left! Our deepest – and for that reason, the most productive – differences are perhaps over this whole other question you raise about “forgetting” subordination. If we were conducting this discussion in Bangla, then I would have put the question to you in this form: Rabindranth ki samarjyabaad bhule thakte parar nidorshon, na amader bishesh ouponibishik obosthay-o atmostho thakar nidershon? [Was Rabindranath (Tagore) an instance of our being oblivious of the fact of imperial­ ism, or an example of how one could, even in the face of colonialism, retain a degree of composure about one’s sense of self?] I think the latter. But let me put the question as a problem of knowing and we can work on it together (for I am not sure what my answer will be). Suppose we come across someone who looks to us subordinated and oppressed but who does not give us any signs of being in that state, at least signs that we would recognize? How do we know then that this person has actually developed ways of forgetting that state or not representing that state to himself or herself? How do we know that ours is a truer representation of the “deeper” facts of their life? Why could not we allow for the possibility that they have developed ways of living – life-forms – in which our very questions are of lesser relevance? I struggle with this possibility and this is what bothered you the most in read­ ing Provincializing Europe. I find your questions challenging for they come out of another way of looking, from other struggles that are yours. But they are also shared struggles. My responses do not do justice to the many interesting cases and ideas you raise and mention, but I am very grateful for the conversation. It is

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 85 always instructive to differ from someone one respects. It reminds us of the pos­ sibilities for diverse interpretations that are innate to living. There are two other points I want to raise quickly. In your first ever letter, you made a very interesting and intriguing point about how writing about the family was one way of not writing about the nation. If possible, I would like to hear more about it. I found the thought arresting but could not develop it on my own. Amitav, I want to thank you again for this exchange of thoughts. I have found it quite exhilarating to meet you in this way in cyberspace. I have now seen your mind at work, and I truly respect it. Thank you for becoming my friend. With my very best wishes, Dipesh

Amitav to Dipesh 4: December 22, 2000 Dear Dipesh, Thank you very much again for your thoughtful responses to my last letter. This correspondence has been a true pleasure: it has made me recall the intellectual excitement and urgency of my college days. But it has been better still in that there has been none of the combativeness and rancor that marred those exchanges. One of the subtler pleasures of growing older is that one comes to understand the true meaning of the Arabic saying, ad-dunia wasa’a; “the world is wide.” To be able to understand and appreciate ideas that are different from one’s own is a gift in itself: to look for agreement is really futile since – let us face it – much of the time, it’s quite a struggle even to agree with oneself. Since I initiated this correspondence, I feel in fairness you should have the last word. So I’ll try to be brief. First, to take the question of the novel and the family. Novels almost always implicitly assume a collective subject: this is what usually provides the background, milieu, setting, dialect etc. Sometimes this col­ lective subject is the nation itself (one sees this most clearly in the work of the magical-realists). Sometimes it is a culture or a class (very common among Brits and Europeans) or (as in modern U.S. writing) “a generation.” All of these are clearly sub-sets of the nation – since the boundaries of the culture, class or genera­ tion are usually assumed to coincide with the boundaries of whatever country the writer happens to be from. In India, collectivities such as nation, class, generation, culture etc. do not have the same imaginary concreteness that they do elsewhere (even today, I think). This is one of the reasons why Indian (and African) writers so often look to a different kind of collectivity, the family. In my case, the family narrative has been one way of stepping away from the limitations of “nation” etc. – I think this is true also of many others. I could go on at length about this but will postpone that discussion till the day we meet. Also a few rejoinders: While it is true that we do not possess good commentaries on some antihierarchical movements in South Asia, this is certainly not true of Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism, each of which could fill a library (or several) on its own.

86 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty Moreover, even where it concerns the other, more obscure traditions, I feel that we sometimes prevent ourselves from keeping a genuinely open mind simply for fear of being labeled “nativist,” “indigenist,” “Orientalist” and so on. Useful as these terms are, we must not allow them to become tools for a new kind of intel­ lectual re-colonization. If we acknowledge that the egalitarianism of anti-hierarchical movements in South Asia was incomplete, then we must surely also acknowledge the incom­ pleteness of Enlightenment egalitarianism, which is inseparable, on the one hand, from “Leviathan”, and on the other, from the disguised denial of the affirmed principle through such exclusionary mechanisms as race. The question of which of these traditions have had the most influence on con­ temporary Indian egalitarianism is surely moot, for the very reason that you point out – that this egalitarianism continues to be imagined in ways that are quite dif­ ferent from the Enlightenment model (e.g. Lenin-puja in Calcutta; guru-ism in politics etc.). Yet we surely cannot deny the force and vitality of contemporary Indian egalitarianism. If anything, this is evidence that contemporary Indian egal­ itarianism derives its almost-millenarian force from sources that are not necessar­ ily the same as those in (for example) France or Russia. Your point on race and the mechanisms of the Indian state is well taken: the story is of course a very complex one. [. . .] You make the very important point: Suppose we come across someone who looks to us subordinated and oppressed but who does not give us any signs of being in that state, at least signs that we would recognize? How do we know then that this person has actually developed ways of forgetting that state or not representing that state to himself or herself? How do we know that ours is a truer representation of the “deeper” facts of their life? Why could not we allow for the possibility that they have developed ways of living – life-forms – in which our very questions are of lesser relevance? This raises many vital issues, the most important of which is: how is it possible to recognize coercion, when its traces are invisible, as they most often are? If you went to Burma today, you would see that people often appear light-hearted. People smile and laugh much more openly than they do in India, and you would be hard put to find anyone who would talk about political or economic difficulties. But if you were to take all this at face value you would be deeply mistaken about the circumstances of the Burmese people. It is one of the odder facts of history that oppression and coercion do not necessarily rob people of their capacity for joy and laughter: quite the contrary. (As you noted in one of your letters) there is a great deal of joy and laughter in the poorest bustees in India (just as there probably was on ante-bellum plantations in the Deep South and in the Caribbean). The broader question is: is it possible to detect coer­ cion in cultural matters at all? Where do we look? Battles and insurgencies are after all relatively rare: in its effects on everyday life and culture, coercion leaves few if any detectable traces – but this does not imply its absence. Finally, please do not imagine that these (and the other issues I’ve raised) are intended as criticisms of Provincializing Europe. I believe very strongly that

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 87 books should be read on their own terms. One of the lessons I’ve learned as a writer is that it is hellishly difficult to say anything at all: to me what a book says is much more important than what it does not say. Provincializing Europe is a rich and insightful work, a singular achievement. It is without a doubt, one of the most important books I’ve read in these last many years. The questions I’ve raised were not addressed to the book, as such, but rather to you – and I raised them partly to share some of my own perplexities and partly to point to areas that I hope you will explore one day, for it would be fascinating to follow the writer of Provincializing Europe into those realms. [. . .] The beginning of this friendship has been one of the true rewards of venturing into cyber-space – I hope however that we will one day get to carry on the conver­ sation in a less immaterial medium. With many good wishes, Amitav

Dipesh to Amitav 4: December 22, 2000 Dear Amitav, It is you who deserves my grateful and warmest thanks for these exchanges. I was always – from your very first book – an admirer of your writing. . . . (Incidentally, I have just acquired a copy of The Glass Palace and will now read it with the added pleasure of the knowledge that the author is now somebody I think of as a friend.) It is, again, kind of you to let me have the “final word” but whatever I say cannot be, of course, final in any intellectual sense. The world is indeed big and the trick, I now think, is not only to accept difference but enjoy it. India is also too big to be reduced to any unitary experience. Colonialism was no one thing. But our differ­ ence can be productive. You and I may not agree on everything. But I know that even when I disagree, the pressure of your thoughts will keep acting on me. And one day I may see some of the things you see, share your passion or be better able to see through your eyes. Something similar may happen to you. Even if I never get to that point, the knowledge that someone I respect disagrees will lace what I think and how I think it. There is a fragment of a sentence from Heidegger which continues to intrigue me: “to hear that which I do not already understand.” Often in listening to someone, I try to work out what this injuction may actually mean in practice. I am not absolutely clear but it kind of works as an ethical horizon for me. Before I respond to some of the points you make, let me thank you for your clarification re: the novel and the nation. I will continue to think about your inter­ esting point. My first response is by way of clarification. Of course, there are long commen­ taries available on Buddhist, Jain and other systems of thought. My point was/is that our – I mean social scientists who write about democracy, citizenship, equal­ ity, etc. in modern South Asia (that includes myself) – access to these commen­ taries is often through English and often without any awareness of the problems

88 Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty of translation (both literal and intellectual). This is why I mentioned people like Skinner who actually can enter the heart of the sources they use, so great is their mastery of Latin or Greek or other languages they need. Skinner’s capacity, for instance, to talk about the literary characteristics of Hobbes’ texts (their rhetoric, for instance) is something unparalleled in our scholarship. I don’t disagree with you in the emphasis you put on our traditions and Provincializing Europe, at least in my head, was a plea to make these traditions into critical resources for, and guides to, living. (You perhaps know that I have often been called a “nativist.”) But the task is immense and not to be done solely through English. [. . .] And second, on anguish, colonialism, and “the intimate enemy” syndrome. I do not always factually disagree with you on Gora etc. But perhaps I had not expressed myself clearly. Any self-respecting author in British India felt humili­ ated by colonial rule and the racist practices on which it was based. Bankim, Rabindranath, Saratchandra all felt profoundly insulted by it and were all angry about it (Bankim in some sense was consumed by this anger). That anger is abso­ lutely legitimate, and I consider myself an heir to it. But I distinguish it from “the intimate enemy” position. By the latter, I mean a complex of feelings in which you feel that something which moulds your interiority also corrodes you from within, something Ashisda calls “loss of self.” This is what I meant by anguish. [. . .] I don’t think Rabindranath ever had anguish about his deep love for English romanticism or poetry in general. Both he and Gandhi I see as two people who took the European idea of “civilization” seriously and then asked themselves what it might mean to become civil(ized) Indians if civilizing were a matter of selfeducation and not something doled out by the imperialists. [. . .] My last point relates to oppression and its apparent absence in consciousness. Obviously, what we can infer about whether or not someone is deliberately or half-deliberately attempting to forget oppression depends on how we read the evidence. In many situations, it could be legitimate to infer such forgetting. My one question was: how do we distinguish between “forgetting/silence” and lifepractices in which the imperative to forget may not be as salient as it is in the observer’s framework? I do not ask this rhetorically, for I do not have an answer to the question, but it continues to bother me. And, second, I have often wondered if the feeling of oppression became more important or intense precisely when, because of historical factors, it was possible to (a) imagine the existing order as one, and (b) imagine secular and worldly alternatives to such an order. In other words, totalitarian rule would now hurt more viciously because people can imagine democracies. Colonialism hurt more when one could imagine alternatives – Mughal rule for the sepoys, self-rule for the nationalists. It is possible, similarly, that Bengali women who received edu­ cation in the nineteenth century, felt more oppressed (in the way they did) than their eighteenth-century counterparts. Some of my arguments were against the tendency to read this sentiment anachronistically into a period to which it may not belong (while there may have been other feelings of oppression in the past). Enough said, Amitav. You will know what I mean and accept or reject as you find suitable. Now it is time to wrap up these exchanges. Let me end by heartily

A correspondence on Provincializing Europe 89 agreeing with you on one major point. Most of our deepest disagreements – as you said – are with our own selves. There is a constant need to test one’s ideas, to doubt them, to prevent them from becoming a crust on the surface of one’s mind. You have been a wonderful partner in this exercise. I am very glad and grateful that I met you in this way. I will read you now with the special privilege of having got to know you a little. My very best wishes for you and your family for the holidays. Dipesh

Note * Amitav Ghosh, Dipesh Chakrabarty, “A Correspondence on Provincializing Europe,” in Radical History Review, Issue 83, pp. 146-172. Copyright, 2002, MARHO: The Radical Historians Organization, Inc. All rights reserved. Republished by permission of the copyrightholder, and the present publisher, Duke University Press. “http://www. dukeupress.edu”

Part III

Global pasts and postcolonial differences


Rights and coercion Adivasi rights and coal mining in central India Devleena Ghosh

We’re here at the bazaar! What would you like to buy, the shopkeeper asked. Brother, a little rain, a handful of wet earth, A bottle of river, and that mountain preserved There, hanging on that wall, a piece of nature as well. And why is the rain so dear, pray tell? The shopkeeper said – This wetness is not of here! It comes from another sphere. Times are slack, have ordered just a sack. Fumbling for money in the corner of my sari, I untied the knot only to see In place of a few folded rupees The crumpled folds of my entire being.1

Introduction Between 2014 and 2017, I undertook fieldwork at three villages near a coal mine in Chhattisgarh, a rapidly developing state in central India. Chhattisgarh has one of highest Scheduled Tribe or Adivasi populations, mostly indigenous for­ est dwellers (or “tribal”), accounting for about 10 per cent of Adivasis in India.2 Chhattisgarh is also rich in mineral resources, ranking second in the nation for coal reserves and production, contributing over 20 per cent to total national coal production. Some of central India’s most pristine and dense contiguous tracts of forests span over 40 per cent of the state, which is also home to perennial water sources, rare plants and wildlife, including elephants and leopards. It also contains resources essential to the livelihood of the Adivasis. In the beginning, the main focus of my research was about the villagers’ responses to climate change and its impacts. As I continued to work there, however, my questions altered radically. I realized that the villagers were focused, completely and understandably, on the loss of their land and livelihood. When I arrived in the area, several villages were marked for new coal mines. The villagers were protesting the compulsory acquisition of their villages and


Devleena Ghosh

forestland, using both civic and legal remedies. A long-standing Maoist insur­ gency in some districts of the state (though not in my field site) meant that there was significant police and army presence. In addition, both the State and the Fed­ eral Governments were enthusiastically pro-development and pro-mining; the mining corporations were not only well-resourced but well-connected at all lev­ els, government and bureaucratic. Often the villagers were not provided with the compensation and rehabilitation promised as part of the compulsory acquisition of their lands. Those who opposed mining were labeled as Maoist by the police and subject to arrest and intimidation. There were statutes and laws to protect indigenous land rights, but these were mostly flouted, leaving the local people with little recourse when they were dispossessed of their land or lost their live­ lihoods. In spite of this, and to the increasing annoyance of the local govern­ ment and bureaucracy, there was a strong resistance movement to land and forest alienation and, consequently, the villagers and activists in the area were subject to ongoing and regular police harassment and surveillance. The narratives invoked by the Adivasis in their struggles against the mines were simple but powerful. They reiterated their rights to jal, jangal, jamin or “water, land, forest.” This slogan was imbued with their fear of the loss of home, liveli­ hood, and habitat. They told us what the forest meant to them, not just in terms of the material losses involved in the loss of paddy and grazing land, pollution in the rivers and the air, but also of their religious rituals in which the forest was essential, the gods buried in the unquiet woods who emerged in terrible anger when their holy sites were damaged. A new generation of Adivasi poets, writers, and artists gave these scripts a poignant eloquence: Leaving behind their homes, Their soil, and bales of straw Fleeing the roof over their heads, they often ask: O, city! Are you ever wrenched by the very roots In the name of so-called progress?3 For the mining sector and the state and central governments that support it, this particular script was countered by the slogan of “development” or vikas. The Adani Group, one of the key players in this area, links its operations with “nation building. . . . We live in the same communities where we operate and take our responsibility towards and the betterment of the society very seriously.”4 The vil­ lagers, however, turned this slogan on its head. They said that what was happening is “not development, but destruction” or vikas nahin, vinash hai.

Background and history Coal and progress were inextricably linked in the British colonial imagination. In nineteenth-century colonial India, coal provided the fuel required for the steam engines essential for industry, trade, and the export and import of goods. It was closely connected to the exploitation of forests and the consequent alienation of

Rights and coercion 95 the land of forest dwellers. Railways were a major reason for deforestation in India in the nineteenth century. Wood was used as fuel for engines, brick kilns, and also for sleepers and carriages. In the early 1880s, an inspector-general of Indian forests estimated an annual railway demand of over 1,000,000 sleepers, each of which required one hardwood tree.5 The colonial forest department was created in 1864 to ensure a steady sup­ ply of timber for railway construction. The idea of protecting forests was not about conserving the ecological balance or protecting the environment. Tribes and Adivasis are elided in modern state archives, except as objects of counter­ insurgency and/or policy. The colonial state upheld the Lockean principle of property; land, found given in nature and held in common, became property only through the investment of human labour. Locke’s political thought was embod­ ied in colonial India – through the Permanent Settlement (1793) and the India Forest Acts (1865 and 1878). Tribes were defined as backward, as they did not use land purely as property and resource but also simply inhabited it and even sacralised it. They often claimed lands and forests on “unverifiable” and “irra­ tional” grounds – they were the first settlers of such land and it was the abode of their gods and ancestral spirits.6 Colonial and modern attempts to pacify tribes were primarily attempts to turn them into productive peasant communities. Colonial forest laws governed the lives and futures of Adivasis for well over 50 years after independence.7 Postindependence nation building in India followed the same developmental agenda, emphasizing coal mining and coal-based power generation, which became syn­ onymous with the discourse of India’s economic and social development. The amelioration of poverty in India’s development narratives became inextricably linked to the availability of modern energy services.8 Chhattisgarh is thus at the nexus of debates about climate change, fossil fuel, energy security, development and the crucial question of who bears the costs inherent in pursuing these goals. A member of a village Panchayat, Jayanandan Porte, said: Our whole village is dependent on the forest for everything. As you can clearly see, farming is not the main source of livelihood for us . . . it’s the forest that we rely upon . . . there is not a day when we don’t go to the forest to get something or else. It’s a part of our everyday life.9

Coal and state regulation in India In India, the main instrument for acquiring land has been the colonial Land Acqui­ sition Act, 1894 (replaced in September 2013 by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013). In addition, the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act 1957 applied specifically to coal extraction.10 Decades of Adivasi struggle culminated in the enactment of two landmark pieces of legislation in 1996 and 2006, which transformed discourses around the ownership, governance, and management of forests in India. These Acts made


Devleena Ghosh

some attempts to ameliorate the continuing injustices suffered by Adivasis and other forest-inhabiting communities when the forests were “reserved” under colo­ nial rule. One was the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 or PESA. This mandated consultation with Gram Sabhas (Village Assemblies) or Panchayats before land in constitutionally recognized Scheduled areas (the fifth Schedule of the Constitution) could be acquired for development projects or any activity involving acquisition/alienation of Adivasi land. The other Act was the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA).11 Co-written by Adivasi activists, the Preamble to this Act spoke of remediation: “forest rights on lands and their habi­ tat were not adequately recognized in the consolidation of state forests during the colonial period as well as in independent India resulting in historical injustice to the forest-dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who are inte­ gral to the survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem.” The Act put in place a clear legal mechanism for recognition of rights both at an individual and community level for tribal and other traditional forest-dwelling communities, including forest workers. This Act also recognizes and vests secure community tenure on “commu­ nity forest resources” in Gram Sabhas. These include rights for pastoral or nomadic forest communities to seasonal and continuous access to and settlement in common forestland.12 Adivasis have vested enormous hopes in these two Acts that are unlikely to be real­ ized because the FRA does not confer absolute ownership of all forests. What emerges from both acts is a partial and complicated bricolage of use rights, ownership, and management of forestland, depending on the nature and recognition of claims. Another legal body that has a powerful influence on the creation of mines, pro­ tection of the environment, and the consequent alienation of land is the National Green Tribunal, established in 2010 to provide a specialized forum for the speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection, conservation of forests, and compensation for damages caused to people or property due to violation of environmental laws or conditions. These Acts and the National Green Tribunal means that most mining applica­ tions are contested both on the ground and legally and bureaucratically. These con­ testations create their own narratives of rights and responsibilities, of life-worlds and livelihoods. These scripts are used by opposing actors; supporters of mines believe that the Adivasis have a responsibility to the nation, not just to themselves, and that their livelihoods will be enhanced by the jobs that economic development brings. Adivasi counter-narratives are about marginalization and oppression, by the colonial state, by religion, by the hyper-narratives of development and moder­ nity. In their narratives, they are trying to articulate an alternate modernity that recognizes the predicament of the siren song of development and that does not transmute the nature they inhabit into natural resources, their peoples into popula­ tions, and their lived knowledge into expertise. An elder of Salhi village said: We are growing rice and filling the godowns. . . . All the profits that they earn on food, clothing, is due to the resources from our lands. They are fooling us

Rights and coercion 97 and filling their coffers in the name of our development. The development is of outsiders and foreigners, we are getting destroyed. The villagers in my field site have three forms of livelihood intricately linked to the forests and water sources; subsistence agriculture, grazing animals and access to forest produce which they use themselves and sell in local markets. A village elder commented: The money that we get is all from our forests here . . . six months we survive with this and six months from forests. . . . Forests are our source of income. If these forests are gone, then we shall die. Alok Shukla of the NGO Jana Abhivyakti has been working with Adivasis in this area to safeguard their lands from mining for close to a decade. He has endured police harassment and surveillance, including the accusation of being a Maoist. He points out that some Adivasi traditional activity, such as hunting, is already completely banned in protected lands and national parks.13 The forests also con­ tain holy sites or deyurs, marked by groves of trees that are essential to Adivasi religious and cultural practices: The Adivasi community worships . . . trees and our deities and gods reside in forests. . . . There is a deity called Boodha Dev in the forest of Salhi village. He appeared in my dream . . . there was also a pool where weapons were kept. . . . So we decided to go to the particular spot I had seen in the dream and worship the deity. Since then, the deity keeps appearing in my dreams and warns us about the future through different signs.14 Khotkhorra is an impoverished village that displays the dark “other” of devel­ opment. The villagers seem not to have understood their rights under PESA and FRA. What followed was unfree migration and a form of covert coercion. They were first displaced by a dam; there was no rehabilitation, so they infor­ mally occupied an area uphill from their original habitation. Within a couple of years, the water table failed. They now have to carry water from a seepage well located three to four kilometers away from their homes. Access to the village is via a sole steep dirt road. If plans for the mines in the surrounding forests go ahead, that access will be removed, and the Khotkhorra villagers will be uprooted again. They blame the disappearance of their water and the looming prospect of further dislocations on the fact that they had to relocate their gods from their original site. The gods are angry because they have been moved: There is one [place] in our old village in the neighboring forest where we worship Mahadev. We believe that like us, he is also dependent on the for­ est. . . . I can tell you that if the authorities try to force their way in the forest, they will not be spared by the deity.15


Devleena Ghosh

I asked Alok Shukla whether the people in that area were unanimous in opposing the mines. Did any of them take the cash compensation and buy land elsewhere or move to the city? The general consensus was that those who sold their land to the mining corporations would not thrive. Jayanandan was passionate about this: I can tell you from my own experience that money alone does not bring pros­ perity to your life. The people of neighbouring village got crores (ten million) of rupees last year. A few managed to build houses and all but 75–80 percent of the population is completely ruined. They have bought cars and there have been so many accidents since then . . . so many widows. . . . So based on that, I feel that the coal mine would lead to our destruction rather than develop­ ment. . . . We want the government to develop our region without pushing us out of our home.16 At two village meetings, I met three Adivasis who were intoxicated. Other people at the meeting said that they had money burning a hole in their pockets after sell­ ing land to the corporation. And look at them now. There is a saying here that if you sell your land you will be reborn as a jackal and we don’t want that for us. These mining and other projects are an insult to our motherland, and we don’t want to partici­ pate in that. This land supports so many creatures and life forms and it is a mass murder and a crime.17 The villagers in my field area appeared to be more or less united in their opposi­ tion to the mines. This may be because I made contact through grassroots NGOs who were assisting them to fight the appropriation of land. However, I got a sense of some dissenting opinions in one village when the villagers politely requested that I excuse myself from a meeting where disagreement and controversial opin­ ions were likely to be expressed. On the other hand, there didn’t appear to be much disagreement over the strate­ gies for opposing the mines. Alok Shuka was vehement that they would utilize all of the rights available to Adivasis in the Constitution: working at the Gram Sabha level to withhold consent, applying for individual and community forest rights, contesting environmental and other violations before the National Green Tribunal and taking cases of malfeasance and misappropriation to the various courts. In addition, there were civil society actions, protest meetings and demonstrations and participation in Panchayat elections. The tensions and disruption created by the threat of mining clearly brought the villagers together. Most of them were keen to emphasize their long-standing rela­ tionship to those particular lands and forests. To some extent, the Forest Rights Act codified the moral discourse of belonging for Adivasis for the public and national audience of India; most of them have clear historical and familial memo­ ries of their ancestors’ locations before the British Raj. The Sarpanch (headman) of one village said: Our forefathers used to be kings, before British rule, when this

Rights and coercion 99 was Gondwana kingdom, we were independent and kings in every village. Before the forest laws were implemented.18 This belonging articulated as a form of kingship; “our ancestors were kings” harnesses a concept familiar to them. It asserts a combination of responsibility for the domain of the community, a duty of care for the forests that sustain them and the various beings who live there, and a concern for handing these to the next generation. It expresses autonomy over land to which their relationship was never transactional or commodified. Like many other Indigenous peoples, they chart their links to the land and forest through the sacred, through the forests’ plenitude in providing all that is necessary for living. In modern India, Adivasis have been compelled to learn and articulate a new idiom of rights to carve out a space in the national imaginary. The modern nationstate that they inhabit is both rights-giver (through various instruments such as the PESA, FRA, and Schedule V of the Constitution) as well as rights-taker through the often coerced and sometimes illegal appropriation of their lands in the cause of modernity and development.

Alternative modernities or development without jobs? In modern India, coal mining has produced extensive urbanized regions, but urban growth has not necessarily benefited local communities. According to Kohli, “[T]he development model pursued in India since about 1980 is a pro-business model that rests on a fairly narrow ruling alliance of the political and economic elite”.19 This elite development alliance is united by strong economic and politi­ cal incentives in order to exploit India’s mineral reserves in Adivasi land. Adi­ vasis, however, do not receive the benefits that are supposed to flow from such development.20 The villagers at my field site were eager to point out that they were not neces­ sarily anti-development. In fact, some villages had agreed to an earlier mine on the assumption that it would not affect the residential part of the village, but that it would provide infrastructure (such as schools and hospitals) and employment for them. When these hopes were dashed in 2014, the villagers brought the operations of that mine to a complete halt. One villager remarked: Before the mining, the rights of the tribals and forest dwellers in the area must be settled. We rely on tankers to get drinking water, there is no facility of school or dispensary that were promised. Now mere word of assurances will not work. We want action on the ground.21 Another of our interlocutors is Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer, who founded the legal NGO Janhit and who has now been arrested for alleged anti-State activities. She considered that the employment prospects in Adivasi areas have worsened with privatization. Previously, government-controlled enterprises, such as Coal India Ltd, offered permanent jobs in public-sector coal mines, whereas now automation is proceeding rapidly and any work available, mostly unskilled, is given to poorly


Devleena Ghosh

paid and unorganized migrant labour. In fact, in 2014, a union leader in Chirmirri, which has one of India’s oldest underground coal mines, told us categorically that he wouldn’t let his sons become miners: This work is against nature. Besides, we know that Coal India is going to lay off three to four hundred thousand workers in the next three years. There is no future for us here. Meanwhile, Adani Mining Ltd has effectively used social media platforms to brand itself as a green mining company, keen on protecting livelihoods as well as the environment. Videos and written stories disseminated on a daily basis recount the ways in which mining in Sarguja helps local villagers form income-generating enterprises, run plant nurseries, and plant trees in partnership with the mining company. It is clear in the context of Chhattisgarh that the visions of development pre­ sented by the government of India and mining corporations have not been realized for displaced Adivasis. Poverty has not been eradicated, livelihood opportuni­ ties have worsened, neither social safety nets nor growth infrastructure have been created. Consequently, there is no intrinsic loyalty to mining as a profession for displaced villagers who are virtually never given real jobs in the mines; villagers usually shun those who sell their land. There seems to be less and less common ground between these two points of view. Agents of mining corporations Knock on every village door. And no sooner is uttered a desperate sigh of hunger, Then disease, unemployment and helplessness, Are shoved down their throats Grains, medicines, utensils, and clothes. And the family carried away As labourers, for a pittance pay.22

Vikas Nahin, Vinash Hai (“not development but destruction”) According to Sudha Bhardawaj, the Adivasis are now in a worse situation than in colonial times. She explained that the British Land Acquisition Act distinguished between acquisition for public and private purpose. In the latter case, there were stringent caveats against acquiring agricultural land. Whereas now, the presump­ tion is that any application for acquisition by a company is for public purpose and can be dealt with under the current Land Acquisition Act. Many villagers were aware that inhabitants of neighbouring villages had lost their farmlands and forestland to Adani Mining. As mentioned earlier, the vil­ lagers were forced to protest and compel Adani Mining to stop work. There was general agreement that compensation money was not adequate to remediate the loss of land and livelihood. Most villagers agreed with Narad, an articulate and engaging village elder who used the phrase that I heard repeated so often in the villages, yeh vikas nahin, vinas hai (“this is not development but destruction”). The villagers understood development as a contradictory and contested term, and

Rights and coercion 101 they were acutely aware of the differing priorities of the government, urban areas, and their own needs. They are fooling us and filling their coffers in the name of our development. The development is of outsiders and foreigners, we are getting destroyed. . . . Do these office-bearers in big cities produce rice or pulses that they eat? We feed them by ploughing these fields. . . . Don’t they need to eat rice? He who is interested in digging coal will eat coal only. We don’t want to eat coal.23 The villagers were particularly concerned that the Acts that were supposed to protect their rights, such as PESA and FRA, were being flouted in the name of development. The PESA Act mandates Gram Sabhas should be consulted before land is acquired. In practice, Gram Sabhas are seldom informed; people are often terrorized into silent acquiescence or “No Objection Certificates” are forged. One villager commented that often-fake “consent letters” were produced. Sometimes, the methods used by the proponents of land acquisition are truly Machiavellian. The Gram Sabha of Premnagar, a village in this area, passed resolutions refus­ ing land for a power plant on 14 occasions. The administration then decided that the village was not a village (or gram) but a town (or nagar) and set up a Nagar Panchayat (town council), thus abolishing the village council and the rights of the Adivasis under the FRA.24 Since late 2016, corporations have proposed several public-private partnership proposals for new mines and mine expansions. The processes of land acquisition and securing environmental approvals are well underway. These mine operations will have a massive impact on forest areas. There is now enormous coercive pres­ sure on Gram Sabhas to consent to land acquisition, and opposition groups have had to organize their participation at very short notice.

Conclusion Ulrich Beck postulates that global modernity has introduced risk parameters that previous generations have not faced. The failure of modern social institutions to control the risks of their own creation, such as environmental degradation, pro­ duces defensive attempts to avoid new problems and dangers.25 Beck’s vision of the “risk society” is one where the dark side of progress brings forth the selfendangering, devastating, industrial destruction of nature. In these new moderni­ ties, the rich live in areas and work under conditions less exposed to hazards than the poor. Climate change may eventually affect everyone on the planet, but the Adivasi villagers in my field site are likely to face the immediate consequences of “progress”: loss of land and livelihood, destruction of communities and, in extremis, immiseration and starvation, long before they face climate change. Accountability collapses in these situations so that, as in the case of my field site, it is hard, if not impossible, to find the personnel responsible for rehabilitation or compensation for the loss of land and property in the sacred cause of development and modernization.


Devleena Ghosh

The Centre for Science and Environment’s Sixth State of India’s Environment report, Rich Lands, Poor People – Is Sustainable Mining Possible?, points out that mining can never be truly sustainable. All ore bodies are finite and non-renewable, and even the best-managed mines leave “environmental footprints.” However, the report also concedes that mining and minerals are necessary for development.26 Monali Zeya Hazra, coordinator, Industry and Environment Unit, Centre for Science and Environment, says “The issue is not whether mining should be under­ taken or not. Rather, it is about how it should be undertaken. It is about ensuring that mining is conducted in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner.” The report recommends a range of policy initiatives, including recognizing peo­ ple’s right to say “no” (mining should not take place without the consent of the people); independent, impartial preparation of Environment Impact Assessment reports; disallowing mining in forests; framing stronger mine closure regulations; and “doing more with less – a key to sustainable development.”27 None of these recommendations appears to have any traction with the gov­ ernment or corporate sector in the current hyper-developmentist and neo-liberal environment. Adivasis are finding it increasingly difficult to have their rights as indigenous citizens upheld by the law as well as struggle out of poverty. Fraser notes in her book Justice Interruptus that social and political struggles today have become confined to a struggle for recognition rather than redistribution, an asser­ tion of identity based on nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, etc. The consequence is the obliteration of struggles for socioeconomic redistribution.28 Adivasis activists, owing to their historical marginalization and alienation from forestlands, have successfully demanded recognition from their postcolo­ nial nation-state in the form of their rights to the forests in which they live. The Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Areas Act and the Forest Rights Act, with their admission of historic injustices, mandating of Gram Sabha consultation before land acquisition, and restoration of individual and community forest rights, affirm the statutory recognition that Schedule V of the Indian Constitution confers on Adivasis.29 This recognition involved the revaluation of identities that have been denied legitimacy and desired status in both the colonial and modern nation states. However, this recognition has not been accompanied by redistributive justice. There has been no substantive redistribution of income, changes in labour rela­ tions, or transformation of economic structures. The material status of Adivasis has not been transformed through the surety and security of land titles they claim. The reality of FRA implementation in the context of the power of the mining lobby means that, in spite of this recognition, Adivasis are coerced into foregoing their rights in the face of illegal and unsafe land acquisition, complicity by state and other officials in non-compliance with environmental and other safeguards, and outright denial of compensation or rehabilitation to those affected. Overall, the contestations over coal and forests through the FRA and PESA have shaped the subject-making of India’s indigenous peoples through a two-way process: claimmaking by the Adivasis for forest rights and proscribing mining on their land, and the reduction of these demands by the state into a politics of development

Rights and coercion 103 for the good of the nation. These contestations, nevertheless, have transformed the political theatre of forests; the state and the subaltern now actually see each other as obstacles, opposition, or oppressor. As Chemmencheri says, Adivasis now stand at the crossroads of democratic institutions, neoliberal economy, and welfare programmes, having to remake themselves as modern citizens with con­ stitutional rights as well as negotiate the processes by which the state creates them as subjects.30 I returned to the one of the villages in my field site after two years. The dysto­ pian paraphernalia of mining loomed over the landscape. There was coal dust on the fields, in the water, and on the children who were running home from school. The complex forest ecosystem of the Adivasi life world that sustains humans, animals, insects, uncountable life forms had vanished. Those were also sacred spaces, full of inspiration and terror; loss of those spaces is a loss of Adivasi spirit, personhood, and identity. Since nature is also an actor in the complex assemblage of eco-biological systems of this earth, the loss of Adivasi rights to the irresistible forces of resource extraction points to a bigger loss: that of the rights of the forests and of the life-systems they nurture. An elder of the village put the case of his people poignantly: This land is our mother and we cannot go to another land by selling her. We will not flourish, rather we will face troubles and violence elsewhere. We have grown here just as our ancestors and this land has given us everything from food, shelter, clean air, water, home so considering all that this land is equivalent to our parents and God, and we cannot sell them. We are willing to face arrows and weapons with our children instead of being ashamed of having to sell our land and live like beggars or wanderers.31

Notes 1 J. Kerketta and M. Toppo, Angor (Kolkata: Adivaani, 2016). 2 Census of India, 2011, www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/population_enumeration. html. 3 Kerketta and Toppo, Angor. 4 www.adani.com/about-us, accessed 25 November 2018. 5 M. Fisher, An Environmental History of India: From Earliest Times to the Twenty-First Century, Cambridge University Press online, October 2018, pp. 135–162, www.cam bridge.org/core/books/an-environmental-history-of-india/british-raj-mahatma-gandhiand-other-anticolonial-movements-18571947/3A4F254AE13AFF161C973773B3B8 E7D8/core-reader, accessed 25 March 2019. 6 Ibid.; P. Banerjee, “Writing the Adivasi: Some Historiographical Notes”, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 53, no. 1, 2016, p. 141. 7 Coal Mining in India, 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20130831225354/www.coal. nic.in/abtcoal.htm, accessed 25 November 2018. 8 Ibid., Coal in India, 2015, www.industry.gov.au/oce, accessed 25 November 2018. 9 Interview, Jayanandan Porte, 2016. 10 H. Bedi, “Environmental Mis‐Assessment, Development and Mining in Orissa”, India: Development and Change, vol. 44, no. 1, 2013, p. 102.


Devleena Ghosh

11 N. Ahmad, “Colonial Legislation in Postcolonial Times”, in Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt (ed.), The Coal Nation: Histories, Ecologies and Politics of Coal in India (Surrey and Burl­ ington: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 258–260. 12 Ministry of Tribal Affairs, 2006, 2012, https://tribal.nic.in/FRA/data/FRARulesBook.pdf. 13 Interview, Alok Shukla, 2016. 14 Interview, Jayanandan Porte, 2016. 15 Interview, Khotkorra, 2016. 16 Interview, Alok Shukla, 2016. 17 Interviews, Ghatbarra and Salhi, 2016. 18 Interview, Salhi, 2016. 19 A. Kohli, “State, Business, and Economic Growth in India”, Studies in Comparative International Development, vol. 42, no. 1, 2007, p. 113. 20 P. Oskarsson, “Dispossession by Confusion from Mineral-Rich Lands in Central India”, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 2013, pp. 199–212. 21 Interview, Bholanath, 2016. 22 Kerketta and Toppo, Angor. 23 Interview, Narad, 2015. 24 A. Sethi, “If Villagers Won’t Go to Town, Town Will Come to Villagers”, The Hindu, 17 January 2011, www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/if-villagers-wont-go-totown-town-will-come-to-villagers/article1096339.ece, accessed 19 November 2015. 25 U. Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992), p. 28. 26 C. Bhushan, M. Zeya Hazra, and S. Banerjee, Sixth Citizens’ Report [SOE-6]: Rich Lands Poor People: Is “Sustainable” Mining Possible? (New Delhi: Centre for Sci­ ence and Environment, 2008). 27 Ibid. 28 N. Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition (New York and London: Routledge, 1997). 29 K. Kumar and J. Kerr, “Democratic Assertions: The Making of India’s Recogni­ tion of Forest Rights Act”, 2012, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ j.1467-7660.2012.01777.x. 30 S. R. Chemmencheri, “State, Social Policy and Subaltern Citizens in Adivasi India”, Citizenship Studies, vol. 19, nos. 3–4, 2015, pp. 436–449, doi:10.1080/13621025.201 5.1006579. 31 Interview, Narad, 2014.

10 When victims become rulers Partition, caste, and politics in West Bengal Partha Chatterjee

Dipesh Chakrabarty and I share a common social background. We were both born in middle-class families that permanently settled in Calcutta after their native homes became part of a different country in 1947. Most of our relatives were refu­ gees from East Bengal, some of whom lived in refugee colonies on the outskirts of the city. We shared the experience of growing up in a city where East Bengal refugees had to struggle to find their place. We were deeply conscious of the fact that we were bangal, the pejorative term that the people of West Bengal used for us and which we, in turn, displayed as a badge of honor. In particular, we partici­ pated in the intense experience – sometimes joyous, sometimes heartbreaking – of following the fortunes of the East Bengal football club in the central Maidan of the city. With those youthful memories in mind, I offer this essay on Bengali Hindu refugees from East Pakistan who came into the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura in several waves following the partition of British India in August 1947. They were rendered homeless because of the political consequence of the settlement that accompanied the end of British rule: two sovereign states of India and Pakistan were created on the basis of a territorial division according to the principle of religious majorities. Most refugees were effectively expropri­ ated. Nevertheless, within two decades, one section among them, namely, those belonging to the educated upper castes, was firmly established within the socially and politically dominant strata in West Bengal. In Tripura, the Bengali refugees reduced the indigenous tribal population of the erstwhile princely state to a mere 30 per cent of the population; the state is now thoroughly dominated by the former refugees. In Assam, on the other hand, while Bengali Hindu refugees are concen­ trated in a couple of districts, they have a somewhat embattled status as a cultural minority.

Upper-caste dominance Let me begin with the present. One of the peculiarities of public life in West Ben­ gal is that while there is much talk about caste discrimination and caste politics in other parts of India, any mention of caste practices in West Bengal is virtually taboo. It is not acceptable in polite urban conversation to bring up the topic of


Partha Chatterjee

caste, and one who does so is deemed either not to be civil enough to know that such things are not talked about among gentle folk or to be deliberately rude and provocative. Those doing field research in West Bengal feel a sense of embarrass­ ment when they have to ask the question, “What is your caste?” It is as if caste has been relegated to the interior zones of the private into which an outsider should have no legitimate access. In the field of electoral politics, while the demands of the Muslim minority are often an issue on which parties and leaders have taken positions, especially in recent years, demands of caste groups, whether of Dalits or OBCs, have never figured in the political arena. In fact, from the extreme right of the political spectrum to the extreme left, no party in West Bengal is willing to discuss the contemporary caste system in the state. It could be argued that this is a mark of the success of the modernizing peda­ gogical project of Bengali intellectuals and social reformers since the nineteenth century. The absence of conversation about caste could mean that it has largely disappeared from the consciousness of the people of West Bengal. But there are many reasons to think that that is not the case. While practices of caste privilege and discrimination continue, their designations have been actually displaced to other conceptual categories, such as education and cultural accomplishment. That practices of caste privilege continue is easily demonstrated by the near complete dominance of the upper castes in virtually every political institution, including those where the leadership is elected, and in every modern profession. The contrast between the caste composition of ministries in West Bengal with those of most other states in India is striking. From the first Congress governments after independence to the Left Front governments between 1977 and 2011 to the present Trinamul Congress government, the cabinet has been dominated by lead­ ers from the Hindu upper castes. What is striking is not only the absence, except for the token one or two, of ministers from Dalit castes but the paucity of leaders from the middle castes. One would have assumed that with the political mobiliza­ tion of the rural peasantry – a process in which West Bengal certainly did not lag behind the other states of India – there would have been many more leaders from the relatively better-off peasant castes in positions of state-level leadership. But in none of the major political parties has this happened. Why did not the politi­ cal mobilization of the peasant castes lead to the rise of peasant leaders from the dominant middle castes in rural areas? This constitutes one aspect of the mysteri­ ous disappearance of caste in West Bengal’s politics. In the absence of systematic research on the subject, it is difficult to estimate the scale of upper-caste dominance in contemporary West Bengal. If one extrapolates from the proportions of the Hindu upper castes (Brahman, Baidya, and Kayastha) in the West Bengal districts in the 1931 census, which is the last time caste enu­ meration was carried out in the census, their proportion should be slightly under 10 per cent. It is possible that with the immigration of upper-caste Hindus from East Pakistan and Bangladesh, this proportion has increased a little – by how much is anybody’s guess. But even the most cursory observation of the institutions of higher education, professional bodies, literary societies, and cultural associations will show that they are overwhelmingly populated by the three upper castes.

When victims become rulers 107 If one looks at long-term historical trends, there is something surprising about the prevailing structure of Hindu upper-caste dominance, because it represents a sharp reversal of those historical trends. As in other regions of India, the initial dominance of upper-caste Hindus in middle-class occupations during the colonial period did come under severe challenge in Bengal in the last two decades before independence. The rise of a new educated middle class from among the superior peasantry and popular political mobilization led to an assault on the institutions of upper-caste privilege. But the consequence of independence and the partition of the province was that the erstwhile dominance of upper castes was re-established in West Bengal. The reversal happened during the lifetime of a single generation without anyone talking about it. A social counter-revolution took place behind a veil of silence. The social and political dominance in colonial Bengal of the three upper castes of Brahman, Baidya, and Kayastha was based on their landed property and access to English education. The traditional Muslim nobility in Bengal did not take to English education in the nineteenth century. As a result, the Hindu upper castes were in command of public life in Bengal at the beginning of the twentieth. The 1931 census shows that the upper castes were far more concentrated in the city of Calcutta than in the rural districts. Most among them were literate; the male upper-caste population in the city was certainly overwhelmingly literate. Not only that, but most were also literate in English. It is easy to conclude that the educated middle-class professions were dominated by the three Hindu upper castes.1 This dominance came under challenge in the 1930s. With the spread of the Khilafat movement in the 1920s, Muslim peasants in the Bengal countryside led by a new generation of Muslim mass leaders began to be organized within the Congress. Under C. R. Das’s leadership, the Swarajist Congress in Bengal forged a “Hindu-Muslim pact” by which it went into municipal elections with an under­ standing on sharing seats and official appointments between the two communities. After Das’s death in 1925, the pact fell apart, and the Muslim leadership gradually moved away from the Congress. In the 1930s, this rural leadership, located mainly in the eastern Bengal districts, began to organize Muslim tenants against landlords and moneylenders under the banner of the Krishak Proja Party. Further, the estab­ lishment of a university in Dacca significantly increased the number of Muslim graduates in eastern Bengal and expanded the Bengali Muslim middle class. At the same time, the peasant mobilizations produced by the Civil Disobedi­ ence movement in the western districts of Midnapore, Hooghly, Bankura, Birb­ hum, and Burdwan brought leaders from the Mahishya, Sadgop, and other peasant castes to the district level of the Congress organization.2 But unlike in southern India or Maharashtra, there was no anti-Brahman movement in Bengal. In my view, there were two reasons for this. The first is that there were no dominant peasant castes in Bengal of any size or spread that could have made a significant impact on provincial politics. In an earlier essay, I showed from the 1931 census figures that except for the Mahishya in Midnapore and Howrah, there was no numerical predominance of any single middle caste in any other district.3 There was no dominant caste in Bengal that


Partha Chatterjee

could compare with, let us say, the Lingayat and Vokkaliga in Karnataka, or the Vellala in Tamil Nadu, or the Kamma and Reddy in Andhra, or the Maratha in Maharashtra. Similarly, the Jat, Rajput, Ahir, or Goala castes spread across several states of northern India that have given rise to the powerful political force of the Jat, Rajput, or Yadav movements of recent years have no parallel in Bengal. The second reason is connected to the first. The role of the dominant peas­ ant caste in the transformation of provincial politics was played in Bengal by the Muslim peasant mobilization of the Krishak Proja movement. The attempt to oust the Hindu upper castes from their positions of privilege in landed property, political influence, and cultural dominance was launched in earnest in the 1930s. With the formation of the provincial ministries led by the Krishak Proja Party and the Muslim League after 1937, the dominance of the upper-caste elites was under serious threat. In the Muslim-dominated districts of eastern and northern Bengal, they began to lose their traditional hold over the municipalities, the union boards, the bar associations, even their control over schools and colleges. Even in Calcutta, they had to make way for new Muslim claimants to positions in govern­ ment offices, the Calcutta Corporation, and the Calcutta University. This is not dissimilar to the challenge to Brahman dominance in southern and western India in the same period, except that it was a challenge mounted not against caste but discrimination on religious grounds.4

Why partition? Before we look at how the partition of Bengal ended this challenge and re­ established upper-caste dominance on a new basis in West Bengal, we should briefly recount why the partition of the province took place at all. There is com­ plete amnesia today in West Bengal on this episode of history. The prevailing common sense, repeated endlessly in textbooks and public oratory, is that the partition of Bengal was foisted on Bengalis by outside forces – the British, the All-India Congress, and Jinnah. Yet the plain truth is that once it became clear in early 1947 that independence would be accompanied by a partition of the country, it was the Hindu political leadership of Bengal that demanded that the province must be partitioned. The upper-caste elite was alarmed by the prospect of Muslimmajority Bengal joining Pakistan. Even the United Bengal proposal floated by H. S. Suhrawardy and Sarat Chandra Bose was quickly aborted when Shyama Prasad Mookerji, putting on his realpolitik glasses, pointed out that if, on a future date, the Muslim majority in a sovereign United Bengal voted to join Pakistan, the Hindu minority would have no options anymore. The option had to be exercised right now, namely, by demanding the partition of Bengal with the Hindu-majority districts, including Calcutta, joining the Indian Union.5 It is remarkable that the entire spectrum of Hindu political opinion in Bengal, from the Hindu Mahasabha on the right to all factions of the Congress to the com­ munists on the left, was unanimous in 1947 on the necessity to partition Bengal.6 A public opinion survey published in the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 23 April 1947, showed that 98 per cent of Hindus were in favor of dividing the province. One

When victims become rulers 109 need not quibble about the scientific quality of the poll or the exact percentages reported; that Hindu opinion was massively against joining Pakistan and hence in favor of partition is beyond dispute. Apart from the blatantly communal argu­ ments, there were sophisticated arguments that insisted that it was the Indian Union that was more likely to uphold modern democratic traditions, launch social and economic development, and safeguard the rights of all communities. This was reflected in the telegram sent on 7 May 1947, to the Secretary of State for India in London by some of the leading lights of Bengal’s intellectual world, including Jadunath Sarkar, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Meghnad Saha, Sisir Kumar Mitra and Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, supporting the partition of the province.7 Joya Chatterji has shown how, in the course of finalizing their territorial demands to be placed before the Boundary Commission chaired by Cyril Rad­ cliffe, the Hindu political leadership was pulled in opposite directions by the desire, on the one hand, to secure the largest possible territory for West Bengal and, on the other, to have a compact province with a clear Hindu majority in all its parts. Thus, the Hindu Mahasabha proposed that the new province include not only the eleven Hindu-majority districts but the two Muslim-majority districts of Malda and Murshidabad as well as several chunks of other Muslim-majority dis­ tricts in central and northern Bengal. As against this, a dissident group within the Congress, composed mainly of leaders from the Burdwan and Hooghly districts, was prepared to give up the central districts of Nadia, Jessore, Murshidabad, and Malda, as well as the northern districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, and Cooch Behar in order to have a smaller province without any local Muslim concentrations and in which the politically mobilized landed interests of southwestern Bengal would be predominant. In the end, the official Congress scheme, advocated by the lawyer Atul Gupta, took an intermediate position that more or less coincided with the ultimate verdict of the Radcliffe Commission. West Bengal was finally awarded a territory of about 40 per cent of the undivided province, with a Hindu population of about 70 per cent.8 Those who opposed the partition of Bengal were the Muslims of the province. They were in favor of an undivided Muslim-majority Bengal joining Pakistan. But even among them, some Muslim intellectuals were doubtful about the feasi­ bility of that proposal, suspecting that the Hindus of western Bengal would not be persuaded to join Pakistan. Consequently, they envisioned as a more homoge­ neous and realistic option an East Pakistan excluding the western districts. The influential East Pakistan Renaissance Society drew a map of Pakistan as early as 1943 in which the Hindu-majority western districts were left out.9 To assess the significance of the re-establishment of Hindu upper-caste domi­ nance in West Bengal, it is necessary to realize that the threat to that dominance was not from a rebellion of the lower castes but a political and social challenge from a mobilized Muslim formation. That is what was averted by partition. The Muslim political leadership, with most of its following, was now in a dif­ ferent, politically sovereign, state. The two powerful social movements among the untouchable castes in Bengal in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were among the Rajbangshi and Namasudra communities.10 The Namasudra movement


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acquired a distinct political stamp in the last years before independence by its association with B. R. Ambedkar’s Scheduled Castes Federation and its alliance with the Muslim League. This political strategy crafted by Jogendra Nath Mandal made sense only in the context of the three or four eastern Bengal districts where the Namasudra community was numerous. It made little sense in the rest of Ben­ gal. Only five of the thirty Scheduled Caste members of the Bengal Assembly voted against the partition of the province. With partition and the separation of Hindu-majority West Bengal, Mandal’s strategy no longer made sense even in Pakistan. Barely three years after independence, he resigned from his position in the Pakistan cabinet and moved to West Bengal.11

Partition and the coming of the refugees Unlike in Punjab, there was no significant violence that accompanied the parti­ tion of Bengal. Hindus, who constituted about 28 per cent of the population of East Bengal, came to West Bengal in fits and starts, over a long period. The most reasonable estimates suggest that between 1947 and 1964, about 7 to 8 million Hindus came to West Bengal, about one million to Tripura and 1.5 million to Assam. In the other direction, about 1.5 to 2 million Muslims went from West Bengal to East Pakistan. The reason that prompted most Hindus to leave their homes in East Bengal was not so much actual violence but the fear of violence. More commonly, Hindu refugees reported facing daily harassment and intimidation from their Muslim neighbors and local political leaders. They were told, they said, that Pakistan had been created as a land for the Muslims and that Hindus should go and join their co-religionists in India.12 There was a subtle class angle to this threat. The social dominance of upper-caste Hindus in East Bengal was firmly based on their dis­ proportionate control of landed property and command over the rents, produce, and labour of Muslim and lower-caste peasants. Many saw the political trans­ formation of 1947 as the prelude to the end of Hindu landlordism. True enough, zamindari landed property was abolished in East Bengal in 1950, capping at least two decades of sustained campaign by Muslim peasant organizations. When the bigger landlords chose to move to India, smaller property-owners among the Hin­ dus felt even more insecure. Most Hindus who came to West Bengal as refugees were effectively expelled from their landed properties. The government response to the coming of refugees from East Bengal was quite different from that in Punjab. The policy of the government of India, largely supported by that of West Bengal, was to offer nothing more than emergency relief to refugees and to persuade them to return. Any offer of resettlement would, it was felt, simply encourage more Hindus to leave East Bengal. Talks between Indian and Pakistani officials at various levels confirmed this position.13 But when in July 1948, several thousand refugees landed at Sealdah station in Calcutta with nowhere to go, the West Bengal government was forced to rethink. Camps were opened at various places to house these refugees.14 But soon a new phenomenon appeared – that of the refugee colony – which posed entirely new problems.

When victims become rulers 111 The first migrants to Calcutta and its suburbs included wealthy Hindu families who already owned or could afford to buy property. On 15 August 1947, the day of India’s independence, an advertisement in the Bengali daily Yugantar published in Calcutta called for applications from those who were coming to West Bengal in search of security and who wanted to build homes in the countryside in the vicinity of agricultural land. Such land was available in Burdwan district, about 85 miles from Calcutta (Yugantar, 15 August 1947). Advertisements like this from land development companies would multiply in the following months. More interesting were newspaper advertisements seeking exchange of property between locations in East and West Bengal. Apart from land and residential buildings, exchanges were sought for shops, gardens, cinema halls and, in a few cases, for proprietorship over entire villages including hundreds of tenants (Yugantar, January 3, 1948; June 1, 1950). Another group of relatively affluent migrants were professionals who could expect to start new careers in Calcutta. Many, in fact, were already working in middle-class occupations in the city but who now chose to pack up their homes in East Bengal and move the entire family to the west. This constituted the first group of migrants who had enough resources to resettle themselves. The second group consisted of educated refugees who did not have such resources but were only equipped for middle-class occupations. We will have much more to say about them. The third group comprised artisans such as weav­ ers, makers of shell bangles and idols for worship who were without a clientele in East Bengal after the well-to-do Hindus left. Many of these craftspeople were able to establish their trades in new locations in West Bengal, sometimes with govern­ ment support but often without. Finally, there were agriculturists, mostly from the untouchable Namasudra and Paundra castes. Some of them were initially housed in refugee camps set up by the West Bengal government. The intellectual leaders voicing the claims of East Bengal refugees did indeed have a certain vision of themselves as colonists in a new land. Jadunath Sarkar, the doyen of Indian historians, drew a contemporary analogy that might seem extraordinary today but was quite widely shared among educated refugees at the time. Speaking at a conference of East Bengal refugees in August 1948, he said: Palestine under Muhammadan rule . . . was a poor desert country with an ignorant, impoverished, half-civilized population leading a sort of animal existence and dying of disease, dust and hunger like neglected cattle. Then forty years ago Jews began to buy plots of land from their Arab owners and by introducing roads, schools, hospitals, fruit cultivation and honest police, turned the desert into a garden. . . . When the Jews have fought and won their national state in Palestine, it will have become an advance post of modern progress in the Near East, a spark of light in the midst of the mess of Muslim misgovernment and stagnation. Eastern Bengal is going the way of Palestine without the Jews. We must make our West Bengal what Palestine under Jew­ ish rule will be, a light in darkness, an oasis of civilization in the desert of medieval ignorance and theocratic bigotry. (Amrita Bazar Patrika, 18 August, 1948)


Partha Chatterjee

It is hugely ironical that Jadunath Sarkar was saying this in 1948, the year of the nakba or the great expulsion of Palestinians from their homelands. But well into the 1950s, educated refugees from East Bengal often referred to themselves as the natun ihudi – the new Jews – victims of persecution starting a new life as colo­ nists. This was the title of a very successful play by Salil Sen, later turned into a film in 1953.

The refugee colonies To increase their chances of employment, educated refugees from the Hindu upper castes needed to live close to the city of Calcutta. They found the condi­ tions in the government refugee camps completely unacceptable. They were left with no alternative but to forcibly occupy public lands. The first targets were the abandoned barracks and grounds used by American soldiers during World War II. They then took over unutilized lands owned by government agencies. As the next step, they occupied country houses and gardens in the outskirts of the city owned by wealthy landlords and businessmen. Most contentiously, they occupied lands owned by Muslims, some of whom were said to have left for Pakistan, and in other cases were allegedly intimidated to leave. Prafulla Chakrabarti’s study shows that these refugees from the educated classes were at first hesitant about squatting on property they did not own and announced that they were prepared to pay a price that they could afford. But land prices in and around Calcutta had already gone through the roof. Beginning in the southern suburbs, several hundred squatter colonies, large and small, came up on the fringes of the city stretching some sixty or seventy miles north. On these lands, the colonists used their own labour and resources to build dwellings of varying degrees of permanence. Needless to say, the landowners went to court. Some employed armed musclemen to evict the squatters. In response, resistance built up in the refugee colonies. The government was put in a bind. Landlords asked: was there to be no security of private property in independent India? On the other hand, the refugees in the colo­ nies realized that without mounting a political campaign, they would be unable to hold on to their precarious dwellings. Initially, they found among the people of West Bengal a large measure of sympathy for their plight. But with the spread of forcible occupations of land, that sympathy evaporated. This is where the role of the United Central Refugee Council (UCRC) became crucial. Consisting of socialists, communists and other members of the Left, the UCRC emerged as the principal organization directing the movement of the squatter col­ ony refugees for about five or six years. Despite belonging to different political parties, the UCRC leaders, all refugees themselves, agreed to subordinate their party loyalties to the united cause of the refugees. Its strength came from a demo­ cratically elected structure rising from the level of each refugee family, to the colony, and up to the higher echelons of the organization. At the level of the refu­ gee colony, meetings and demonstrations were a daily affair since everyone real­ ized that even a momentary lapse in vigilance could result in their being evicted. Until 1953, the participation in the movement of the refugees of the colonies was

When victims become rulers 113 total. After daily meetings and processions in the colonies, a rally would be held every few days in the heart of Calcutta. Three or four processions consisting of thousands of refugees would converge on the Esplanade or in the front of the Legislative Assembly or even the Chief Minister’s house at Wellington Square. There they would break the police cordon and court arrest. This routine, carried out repeatedly over months, produced a disciplined organizational machinery and the techniques for operating it efficiently. The chief demand of the UCRC was that the right of the refugees to live in the colonies be formally recognized by the government. In other words, it refused to accept any promise of resettlement. The refugees, it said, were prepared to pay for the land they had occupied as long as the price was within their means. It also argued that the refugees had actually improved these unoccupied lands by clearing them and making them habitable and had, with their own resources, built houses, roads, tanks, and schools. It was the refugees, not the landowners, who had increased the value of the land. But the UCRC leaders soon realized that the particularistic demand of the refugees was not cutting much ice. It was openly being said in West Bengal that these outsiders were occupying the lands of the locals. Soon they would threaten the food supply, jobs, and houses. In early 1949, the UCRC changed its demands. Instead of justifying the forcible occupation of land by squatters, it demanded that landlordism itself be abolished in West Bengal and that the government take steps to curb speculation in land. This was not merely the demand of the refugees, it said, but that of all ordinary people of West Bengal. In this, the UCRC was merely emphasizing a demand that the Congress itself had made since the late 1930s. The abolition of landlordism and enactment of land reforms had been put on the agenda by Nehru’s govern­ ment. The UCRC demand and its persistent campaign put pressure on the govern­ ment in West Bengal to enact laws to this effect. As far as the colonies were concerned, the UCRC succeeded in forcing the government to agree that the refugees could stay in their colonies. The govern­ ment effectively took over the ownership of the colonies by paying hefty sums in compensation to the landowners and accepting the refugees as tenants. But the historical success of the UCRC occurred on a far larger scale.

The cultural-ideological force of dominance Let me come to my central argument. I will have to be somewhat schematic and often hypothetical, since there is so little reliable empirical evidence on macrolevel caste structures in contemporary West Bengal. First, the refugees in the squatter colonies were mainly educated upper-caste Hindus who had been small rentiers, traders, or white-collar employees in East Bengal. With their emigration from East Bengal, they were effectively expro­ priated from the land. In West Bengal, on the other hand, zamindari abolition was carried out through legal and administrative methods without the backing of a political movement. As is well-known, this left numerous loopholes through which proprietors were able for a long time to retain their control over land and


Partha Chatterjee

local power. Because of this crucial difference in the way landlordism was abol­ ished in the two parts of Bengal, its consequence was not merely a restoration but a new formation of the middle class in West Bengal – one part retaining its ties to rural landed property and the other becoming purely urban. There are many accounts of daily life in the refugee colonies recorded by their inhabitants.15 Apart from the constant fear of eviction and the struggle to find an acceptable livelihood that would allow them to maintain some sort of veneer of respectability, a dominant theme that emerges is the overwhelming impor­ tance of education. Every colony had its schools for boys and girls; soon, some acquired their own undergraduate colleges. The education of refugee women and their employment in offices, schools, stores, hospitals and other institutions was a major aspect of social change in urban Bengal in the 1950s and 1960s. They were also participants in political demonstrations, although few rose to positions of leadership even at local levels. Despite the differences in economic opportunities, the new urban lives of all upper-caste migrants were radically sundered from the traditional patterns of rural life in East Bengal, which were deeply shaped by caste and communal relations. Most urban refugees no longer owned landed property, nor were they serviced by attached labour. The fact that refugee colonies tended to be roughly homogeneous by caste and the district of origin only naturalized the solidarity of common loss and struggle. Initially, colonies often had a separate settlement of washermen, barbers, cobblers, carpenters, and other service families, also refugees, who were settled there under the patronage of the neighboring upper-caste colony. Men and women from those lower castes were initially employed by upper-caste refugees. But the flux and mobility of urban life could not sustain for long the inherited power relations of agrarian villages. The discriminations of caste practice in rural society soon receded into a distant memory and were not transmitted to the next generation. Those growing up in the refugee colonies of Calcutta and its suburbs had little conception of what it meant for the upper-caste manib or karta (master) and his family to be serviced by the Namasudra or Muslim praja (tenant). They encountered in the city a different service population of poor migrants from Bihar and Orissa, many of whom were upper-caste themselves and who jealously pro­ tected their own cultural claims to ritual purity. For the younger generation of East Bengal refugees, therefore, the understanding of the chhotolok or the lower orders was no longer exclusively, or even prominently, denominated by caste and reli­ gion. Indeed, they would have had little difficulty in imagining their own position to be that of property-less workers, struggling like others to find a livelihood in the city. Caste difference was something the family elders would only bring up when negotiating marriages, at which time not only would caste endogamy be invoked but also, perhaps even more importantly, the overwhelming stricture not to marry into a West Bengal family. Second, while those in the refugee colonies were predominantly from the upper castes, those who took shelter in the government refugee camps were mostly from the untouchable laboring castes, principally the Namasudra. The camps were hur­ riedly put up in abandoned buildings and lands used by the Allied forces during

When victims become rulers 115 the war. Even the top official in charge of refugee rehabilitation later admitted that the conditions in many of these camps were abysmal. The residents lived in unhy­ gienic conditions, were fed on gruel, and had nothing to do. In one camp, dead bodies piled up for weeks because there was no arrangement in place to cremate them.16 Many left the camps at the earliest opportunity. Those who continued to live there were, in fact, the most helpless, lacking the resources or will to move out of their condition of abject dependence. The rehabilitation of peasant refugees required a supply of agricultural land. The government claimed not to have enough land to distribute to everyone crowd­ ing into the camps. The UCRC leadership made the radical suggestion that with suitable land ceiling laws, enough land could be released for distribution not only to the refugees but to all landless people in West Bengal. But given the support that the Congress government enjoyed among the propertied classes, this was at the time a pipe dream. The government then made arrangements for the resettlement of Namasudra refugees in the forestlands of Dandakaranya, now in Chhattisgarh state, and the Andaman Islands. The UCRC played virtually no role in organizing the camp refugees. Despite its universalist slogans, its movement largely excluded the agriculturist refugees belonging to the low castes. Third, what is incontrovertible is that the refugee movement of the 1950s, voicing mainly the demands of upper-caste refugees in and around Calcutta, was a major pillar of the rise to electoral power of the Left parties, especially the communists. Joya Chatterji17 has shown that in the 1967 elections, after which the Congress was replaced by a United Front government, a sizable proportion of the victorious candidates of the Left came from constituencies that had large refugee populations. Prafulla Chakrabarti has shown that the most radical agi­ tations and the highest number of police shootings also took place during the 1966 food movement in the refugee colony areas. Alongside the organization of white-collar workers in government and private offices, this opened up a new mobilization of the urban middle class and a new crop of mainly upper-caste leaders of the Left parties. These leaders were very different from those of the peasant movements in the districts or the industrial trade unions. But they came to exercise considerable influence over the parties of the Left, underlining the overwhelming importance of the city of Calcutta in the politics of the state. They also crafted a new political rhetoric of the class struggle of the urban middle class, the industrial working class and the rural masses against capitalists and landlords. This language of progressive political modernity had no place for the backward identities of caste. Fourth, until the 1970s, upper-caste formations in the western districts of Ben­ gal did not undergo the same radical dissociation from the land or the traditional structures of rural dominance as did the uprooted upper castes from the east. That had to wait until the full impact of land reforms and panchayat or local selfgovernment was felt in the 1980s. By the end of the 1980s, upper castes in the rural areas of West Bengal began to move permanently into urban occupations. Today, it is hard to find upper-caste families in most villages; those who still main­ tain a rural home only visit on holidays and festivals.


Partha Chatterjee

Fifth, the period of Left Front rule between 1977 and 2011 saw the supplant­ ing of virtually every social institution in the villages by the local branch of the political party. Whereas earlier there would be the landlord’s drawing room or the village club or the school committee or the caste council or the puja festival committee where party leaders would congregate to mobilize votes before elec­ tions, in the Left Front period every such social institution came to be consti­ tuted merely as an extension of the political party. Where there was competition between a Left party and the Congress at the level of the village, there would be merely a rival club or a rival festival committee. Instead of local social domi­ nance being translated into political power, there was the complete dominance of the political over the social. The traditional sociological understanding of local political power being a reflection of economic control over land and productive resources or superior social status was reversed. Socially dominant local groups came under the control of the Calcutta-based leadership of the political party. Only in some of the Muslim-dominated districts was there autonomy of social institutions. This meant that the Calcutta-centred upper-caste dominance of the Left parties was extended, through the party structure, to dominance over local politics everywhere in the state. The defeat of the Left Front in 2011 has not meant a reassertion of the autonomy of local social institutions. Rather, the currently ruling Trinamul Congress appears to be keen to adopt the Left Front model of the dominance of the political over the social. The difference is that, instead of the local branch of the highly centralized Communist party supervising every aspect of local life, a more decentralized structure of local clubs, controlled by activists of the Trinamul Congress and regularly funded by government agencies, performs the function of political control over the social. Sixth, the emergence of a progressive modern political idiom devoid of any association with caste or region facilitated the displacement of bhadra or respect­ able status from upper-caste identity to the insignia of education and the standard­ ized genteel culture of Calcutta. There is an entire cultural history that remains to be written of the emergence in post-independence Calcutta of the standard lan­ guage of polite society – one that has shed all traces of rural roots in the various district dialects and even of the old urban accents of traditional Calcutta. It is a language of respectability, and a genteel lifestyle that goes with it, that is, as it were, nobody’s patrimony, but one that each person has to acquire through learn­ ing in order to become bhadra. Such is the power of this cultural construct that even Bangladesh has adopted it as the standard language of polite communica­ tion. It serves to make urban middle-class respectability something that is earned rather than inherited. In principle, it makes the status open to all. Finally, all of these features of the new middle-class formation indicate the creation of a dominant culture that is, in Antonio Gramsci’s sense, hegemonic. It offers a cultural repertoire that claims to be the normative standard for Bengalis from all regions and social rank – one that is open to all to acquire and use. Indeed, even non-Bengali residents of the state are invited to learn the skills of the high Bengali culture in order to be included in the ranks of the bhadra. One should note here that unlike many other states of India, there have been no serious attempts

When victims become rulers 117 in West Bengal to impose a mandatory use of Bengali in secondary schools or universities; instruction is carried out in English, Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, and other languages in both government and private schools and colleges. Possibly, this is an indication of the sturdiness and self-confidence of the hegemonic cultural formation built by the upper-caste Hindu elite in West Bengal. It is also important to stress that the location of this hegemony is mainly in the cultural sphere since there is as yet no Bengali industrial or commercial bourgeoisie and, as we have explained, the earlier foundation of upper-caste dominance on land ownership has now disappeared. Relying principally on its cultural capital, the Hindu upper castes continue to exercise their dominance over the entire spectrum of public and political life in West Bengal.

Why is there no resistance? This dominance cannot be explained simply by asserting that upper-caste Hindus have conspired to block off all avenues of upward mobility for others. It is entirely true, of course, that government policies of refugee rehabilitation in the 1950s were strongly tilted in favor of upper-caste refugees. Forced migration to Dan­ dakaranya and the Andaman Islands was confined only to Dalit refugees. When some of them wanted to return to West Bengal after the formation of the Left Front government in 1977, they were violently repressed at Marichjhapi. But these deci­ sions only show that the upper castes were able to protect and promote their par­ ticular interests. Why were the far more numerous middle and lower castes unable to push forward theirs? One must remember that of all the states of India, West Bengal has the third largest proportion of Dalits to the population, after Punjab and Himachal Pradesh; if one adds the proportion of Muslims, a majority of the population of the state is either Dalit or Muslim. Therefore, to put the question the other way around, how are the numerically tiny upper castes able to continue their political and social dominance in an electoral democracy based on universal franchise, without an economic foundation in landed property or industrial and commercial capital? That is the peculiar problem posed by upper-caste dominance in contemporary West Bengal. No dominant social group can produce a justificatory ideology and simply expect it to be embraced by subordinate groups. Besides, if the ideology achieves a position of hegemony, it does so without a substantial use of coercion; that is to say, the subaltern classes are made to give their consent to it more or less voluntar­ ily. It is not as though the particular interests of the dominant group are thereby surrendered. On the contrary, they are promoted, but only by successfully present­ ing them as the general interest of society as a whole. How did the upper-caste elite in post-partition West Bengal do this? It may be easier to see how the ideology of progressive political modernity, unmarked by region, caste or religion, came to achieve hegemonic status by pointing out a few counterfactual instances of events that did not happen in West Bengal in the second half of the twentieth century. The first was open conflict between the millions of migrants from East Pakistan and Bangladesh and the local


Partha Chatterjee

residents of West Bengal. Cultural antagonism and prejudice between the regions east and west of the River Padma were no less deep than those between upper and lower castes or Hindus and Muslims. These were intensified by the sudden emergence of dense settlements of East Bengal refugees on forcibly occupied land in the vicinity of Calcutta. Upper-caste refugees made claims on the limited and intensely competitive sector of urban white-collar employment. Agriculturist refugees moving into the border districts sometimes managed, through superior enterprise and farming skills, to displace local farmers from the land. While all this caused adverse reactions among the older settled population of West Bengal, they were rarely voiced in public. There is no doubt that the fact that the demands of the refugees were phrased by their leaders in the general terms of social and class justice, and encompassed within a programme of progressive economic and political change, and not as the claims of a particular ethnic group, went a long way in preventing the deep-rooted cultural divide from acquiring the form of a political conflict. One has only to compare the case of Muhajirs in Karachi or Palestinians in Jordan or Lebanon to realize what could happen when large groups of refugees concentrate at one place and organize politically to make claims on scarce local resources. The second development that did not take place in West Bengal was ethnic conflict against propertied businessmen and industrialists from northern India. Given the loss of eastern Bengal and the democratic consolidation of a culturally homogeneous state, this might have been a populist option before the Bengali upper-caste leadership. To provide a comparison, a violent movement to throw out propertied and prosperous Bengalis did occur in neighboring Assam in the early 1960s. Once again, the ideology of universalist modernity standing above narrow cultural divisions turned out to be of greater value to West Bengal’s politi­ cal leadership. Similarly, there was also no pogrom against what might have been a much softer target, namely, the immigrant workers from Bihar, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh. East Bengal refugees, even those belonging to the upper castes, were pushed into seeking employment in skilled and unskilled manual labour in both formal and informal sectors. Here they were in competition with migrant workers from other states. But unlike the Shiv Sena in Bombay, which launched its politi­ cal career as champions of the Marathi people through violent conflicts against South Indian laborers, the political leadership in West Bengal, including that of the refugee movement, chose to stick to its ideological commitment not to encour­ age ethnic divisions within the working class. It had a greater stake in establishing its credentials as upholders of the general interest. In short, the upper-caste elite culture became hegemonic precisely because it was not exclusively about caste. Its persuasive power came from its ability to create and defend larger social consolidations. Had it been only about caste dominance – a hypocritical attempt to cling on to age-old privileges – it would have been easily unmasked. This shows that it is impossible to make simple moral evaluations of hegemonic cultural-ideological strategies. Their force in sustaining worthwhile and prosperous lives is deeply implicated in socially prevalent notions

When victims become rulers 119 of the true and the good. Our judgement, therefore, must be made in a field that is painted not in black and white but in shades of grey.

Tripura As an afterword, I wish to make a few comments about the settlement of Bengali refugees in Tripura. First, it was much more straightforwardly a story of coloniza­ tion than it was in West Bengal. Soon after the independence of India, Bengali Hindu refugees from the easternmost districts of Tipperah, Noakhali, and Chit­ tagong began to move into the princely state of Tripura. In 1949, Tripura joined the Indian Union. By 1964, an estimated one million Bengali refugees settled in Tripura. Today, of the 3.6 million inhabitants of the state, the indigenous tribal peoples number around a million or about 30 per cent, while Bengalis are about 2.5 million or 69 per cent. Tripura has a predominantly agricultural economy dominated by Bengali cultivators. The indigenous peoples live mostly in the hills. There has been an insurgent movement in Tripura since the 1960s with periods of considerable violence. The Communist Party, which was in power in Tripura for long periods, attempted to bridge the divide between the immigrant and indig­ enous populations through its leaders among the tribal people and by devolving local power through the autonomous hill council. The political rhetoric of univer­ salism and class alliance was similar to that used by the Left parties in West Ben­ gal. But while the political atmosphere has been, with some exceptions, largely peaceful, the sheer facts of demographic change that occurred in the princely state of Tripura following the partition of British Bengal in 1947 stare us in the face. Once again, the vision of colonization is clearly stated in an article published in a Calcutta daily in 1950 by a Bengali science professor.18 Bengal is a densely populated region, he pointed out, where large-scale resettlement of populations was virtually impossible. There was no alternative but to seek lands for carefully planned colonization. The article went on to argue that the state of Tripura had large tracts of fertile uncultivated land, in both hills and valleys, which would be ideally suited for the cultivation of food and commercial crops as well as horticulture and animal husbandry. At least half a million refugees from East Bengal could be resettled there. Significantly, Mitra stressed that in Tripura state, lands were not held in private property. Hence, it would be relatively easy to acquire large tracts of land that could be distributed among the refugees accord­ ing to a carefully thought-out plan. He recommended that Tripura be immediately brought under the administration of West Bengal and a planned rehabilitation of refugees be carried out there. Not once did he mention that the princely state was inhabited by indigenous people: as far as he was concerned, it was terra nullius, in the sense in which European philosophers and jurists regarded the Americas as uninhabited. I must confess that there is something deeply disturbing in see­ ing the seventeenth-century colonization being re-enacted in the middle of the twentieth. But once again, judging by the full range of historical consequences, can we honestly insist that the victims of partition in 1947 should have made other choices?


Partha Chatterjee

After ruling Tripura for nearly forty years, with a short break in the middle, the ruling CPI(M) was soundly defeated in 2018, and a government of the Bharatiya Janata Party is now in power. The BJP appears to have been able to mobilize the support of the vast majority of the tribal population of the state and cobble it together with the enthusiasm of a younger generation among Bengali refugees who aspire to a life of mobility and access into the wider world of consump­ tion. The modest ambitions of the early generation of colonists, intensely focused on ensuring subsistence and an egalitarian social life, are no longer adequate in expressing the demand for a new dynamic of transformation. Like West Bengal, therefore, the rise of the victims of partition to the status of the rulers of Tripura was only a passing, and somewhat anomalous, phase of South Asian history.

Notes 1 Partha Chatterjee, “Partition and the Mysterious Disappearance of Caste in Bengal”, in Uday Chandra, Geir Heierstad, and Kenneth Bo Nielsen (eds.), The Politics of Caste in West Bengal (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 83–102. 2 Hitesranjan Sanyal, Svarajer Pathe (Calcutta: Papyrus, 1994). 3 Partha Chatterjee, “Caste and Politics in West Bengal”, in Partha Chatterjee (ed.), The Present History of West Bengal: Essays in Criticism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 69–86. 4 The cultural history behind the Muslim agrarian and political upsurge has been recently described by Nielesh Bose, Recasting the Region: Language, Culture and Islam in Colonial Bengal (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014). 5 Joya Chatterji, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). 6 Most communists have later recounted that in 1947, the pressure to recognise the inevi­ tability of a communal partition of Bengal was overwhelming. See the survey of com­ munist literature and reminiscences in Amalendu Sengupta, Uttal challis, asamapta biplab (Calcutta: Pearl Publishers, 1989). 7 Bidyut Chakrabarty, “The 1947 United Bengal Movement”, Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 30, no. 4, 1993. For the general history of events leading up to the partition of Bengal see Chatterji, Bengal Divided. 8 Joya Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India 1947–1967 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 9 Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, Atit diner smriti (Dacca: Naoroz Kitabistan, 1968). 10 These have been studied by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Politics and the Raj: Ben­ gal 1872–1937 (Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi, 1990); Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal 1872–1947 (Richmond: Cruzon, 1997); Sekhar Bandyopadhyay Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Domi­ nance in Colonial Bengal (New Delhi: Sage, 2004). 11 I have discussed this point at greater length in Partha Chattopadhyay, “Jogen man­ daler ekakitva”, Baromas, vol. 38, Autumn 2012, pp. 72–78. Now reprinted in Partha Chattopadhyay Janapratinidhi (Kolkata: Anustup, 2013). Recently, Dwaipayan Sen has published a full biographical study of Mandal’s politics before and after 1947. Dwaipayan Sen, The Decline of the Caste Question: Jogendranath Mandal and the Defeat of Dalit Politics in Bengal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 12 Hiranmay Bandyopadhyay, Udbastu (Calcutta: Deep Prakashan, 1970); Chatterji, Ben­ gal Divided, p. 113. 13 Joya, Chatterji, Bengal Divided. 14 Bandyopadhyay, Udbastu.

When victims become rulers 121 15 An evocative account of historical change over fifty years in one such colony is by Manas Ray, “Growing Up Refugee”, History Workshop Journal, Spring 2002, pp. 149–179. 16 Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India. 17 Chatterji, Bengal Divided, p. 298. 18 Dinendrakumar, Mitra, “Punarbasatir parikalpana”, Yugantar, 1 June 1950.

11 The Cold War era as a rule of experts A view from India1 Arvind Rajagopal

Dipesh Chakrabarty has pointed to an interesting discrepancy between the pub­ lic interest in history and the lack of interest in the discipline of history. Thus, although public debates increasingly centre around issues of history, the historian is largely excluded from these debates. He writes: “[T]he fact-respecting, secu­ lar historian in India can bring his or her reasoning to the public, but there is no guarantee that public will bring their attention. Given their expertise, it is only understandable that historians in India should seek a role in adjudicating disputes about the past in India. But what prevents them from realizing this aspiration?”2 No easy answer is available to the question as to why the public today scorns historical expertise, although the fault is unlikely to be solely that of the experts themselves. But perhaps a global historical framing for Chakrabarty’s observation will be helpful. It is in the period following the dissolution of the Soviet Union that questions of history have acquired a popular urgency that they previously lacked. By contrast, in the post-World War II period of decolonization and nationbuilding, that is, the first several decades of independent India, a widespread need to engage in and contest issues of national history was not noticeable. Historians had a certain status in the post-independence context; they were the custodians of the authorized narrative of the nation, and they helped ensure that the narrative remained largely unchanged. Subaltern Studies was itself of course, a reaction against this narrative and the refusal it represented to acknowledge the peasant, the proletarian, and other politically marginal figures in the making of the nation. In retrospect, a wider set of conditions, of relative geopolitical stability, allowed historians to stabilize and to keep in place an account of Indian nationalism that was, for a while, canonical. My essay is about this larger context and India’s place in it.

Cold War infrastructure and new world orders Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, President Bush sought supremacy for the United States in the Middle East, and implicitly in the rest of the world too, with war on Iraq. Interestingly, this development registered with most people outside the Middle East not as American hegemony per se but first of all, as more freely available information. In India, as in many neighboring countries, the Cold War’s

The Cold War era as a rule of experts


end came with proliferating private satellite dishes, granted de facto permission despite the official state monopoly on broadcasting, because of the emergency situation created by the Gulf War. Satellite television, about ten years old in the region, suddenly had a booming international market for news. The launching of Middle Eastern conflict ensued with the American sense that victory in the Cold War was theirs. Ironically it was through a Soviet satellite that CNN’s Middle East transmissions conveyed the breaking news of the Gulf War.3 In fact as late as 1989, Soviet satellites were important enough for the Head of Strategic Planning in the United States-led Intelsat to suggest cooperation with Intersputnik, the Soviet satellite system.4 It should be no surprise that infrastructure produced during the Cold War remained relevant thereafter. The issue is rather how we perceive it. If history is a tale told by the victor, it follows that the Soviet presence that arguably shaped much of the twentieth century history is an uncomfortable one in retrospect. For countries of the Global South the Soviet help they received by way of soft loans, barter agreements, and aid for heavy industry is like a guilty secret or an explana­ tion for their problems: they should have embraced the market right away! This ignores at least two facts. First, that without aid, domestic capital was insufficient for development, and second, that without superpower competition, little or no aid would have been forthcoming. The ideological opposition between capitalism and socialism may have been unyielding, but East and West Blocs both relied on infrastructures and institutions that bore similarities. This is clearest in Western Europe, where socialism had the most influence. There, progressive tax regimes funded social welfare programmes to reduce inequality sharply. Today, amidst a steep global rise in inequality since 1980, when the Reagan-Thatcher revolutions began, Europe still has the least increase in inequality by far.5 However, it was not Europe but the United States that set the dominant narra­ tive of the Cold War, hailing capitalism’s evolution as reflecting inherent virtues that were the inverse of socialism. Close reflection might have compelled the acknowledgment that competition with socialism shaped the postwar trajectory of capitalism, but victory was the goal. Wisdom would follow, but it could wait. We are still waiting, one might say. It is only recently that revisionist accounts have begun to transcend the paro­ chial focus of Cold War historiography on Europe and the United States, and drawn attention to the global scope of the Cold War. The most important aspects of the Cold War, one historian has influentially argued, “were neither military nor strategic, nor Europe-centred, but connected to political and social developments in the Third World.”6 However, for the majority of the world’s population, the Cold War would have appeared at best as an affair for their leaders or their foreign ministry, and as sec­ ondary to the main concern, of national development. This was a view reinforced by historians, whose interest was either absorbed by the conflict between super­ power alliances and their rival systems, or by questions centred on individual nations. In this sense, cosmopolitanism of the postwar era was perceptible mainly

124 Arvind Rajagopal from an elite perspective, for example via the formation of international NGOs such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.N. For most of the world it was the dawn of nationalism. In this context of unresolved rivalry between alternative forms of modernity, if superpowers chose to advertise the power they wielded, they could only dimin­ ish their allies. As such, to advertise would be counterproductive; tact was of the essence. In other words, while nations claimed to be sovereign, they glossed over the flows of foreign aid and expertise enabling postcolonial development, and donor countries were willing to cede credit before foreign nationals. This was a lesson Americans had learned when implementing the Marshall Plan in postwar Europe. The U.S. experience with the Marshall Plan had shown that aid identifying the donor could generate resentment and fuel hostile propaganda. In any case, Americans were unsure what their intellectual response to communism, their prin­ cipal enemy, could be; hence their decision to focus on tangible outcomes and to avoid argument. “Ours in a new sense must be a propaganda of the deed, of visible accomplishments,” argued Paul Hoffman, head of the Economic Coopera­ tion Administration implementing the Marshall Plan.7 At the same time, Ameri­ cans traveling abroad were reassured that the $13 billion aid package to Western Europe was not a gift, but a way to safeguard national interests: “It’s expensive and burdensome but fire insurance in a high-risk area is never cheap.”8 There were different arguments for different constituencies within a single planet whose fate was suddenly in question due to superpower rivalry. Alongside polarization and compartmentalized arguments, then, a new vocabulary emerged, reflecting processes of homogenization and unification and the spread of dispositifs and epistemes that were similar across East and West. Nation-centred per­ spectives began to transform an older language of civilizational uplift and imperial rule. Circumstances demanded an overtly unbiased and egalitarian vocabulary of international alliance and of global governance. The need for neutral terms was not immediately obvious to all; for example, those who feared Soviet influence most vocally held that partisanship was a must, and denounced neutralism. The following observation by the social scientist Daniel Lerner is an example: Neutralism indicates a failure of shared purpose in the America-centered Free World coalition, which today stands opposed to the Soviet-centered Comin­ tern coalition in the struggle for world power. The failure is this: the people who were counted as members of the Free World coalition, in fact decline to identify themselves with it, and to share its purposes. Neutralists are those who refuse to join either coalition. Since there may be no other place to go, in a bipolarizing world, there are elements of political fantasy in this attitude. But that does not make its political consequences less potent.9 The demand for neutralism was due to a growing desire to affirm national sover­ eignty at every turn, and a refusal of any hint of foreign control, Lerner later wrote: The hatred sown by anticolonialism is harvested in the rejection of every appearance of foreign tutelage. Wanted are modern institutions but not

The Cold War era as a rule of experts


modern ideologies, modern power but not modern purposes, modern wealth but not modern wisdom, modern commodities but not modern cant. It is not so clear, however, that modern ways and words can be so easily and so totally sundered.10 At least two points are worth noting here. First, at the height of the Cold War, the majority of the world’s population had little interest in the ideologies or peda­ gogies of the time. Hence ideas emerging from Europe or the United States had to appear as if they were products of a spontaneous process arising more or less everywhere simultaneously. Second, a suitable terminology had to be devised to reflect a widespread distrust of ideas and of hierarchical influence, preferring instead what seemed like relatively tangible products, institutions, and capacities that anyone could own. Modernization and development are the most familiar of these terms, but in addition, the circulation of words such as technology, public sector, and private sector grew exponentially in the post-World War II period.11 The new prominence of these words indicates the adaptation and domestication of Cold War tensions to a national scale in postcolonial countries such that no direct acknowledgement of the ideological battle was necessary, even while superpow­ ers pursued their campaigns. Here we have a Cold War heteroglossia, where the force of authoritative discourse was diffused and transformed across multiple national languages and dialects.12 In this sense the Cold War’s global influence was largely indirect. The battle between capitalism and communism could seem distant to societies dominated by practical concerns of survival. What former colonies wanted was “modern power but not modern purposes, . . . modern commodities but not modern cant,” Lerner remarks, doubting if these were in fact separable. But with the benefit of hindsight, we can ask whether perhaps the world’s majority knew more than Lerner suspected, and if the East-West battle over political economic systems missed something more fundamental. Disinterest over this conflict was not due to unfocused anti-colonialism, but to a sense that the former colonies could only lose if they joined the battle between superpowers. Thus when Jawaharlal Nehru announced at the Bandung Conference in 1955 that the world wanted peace, not war, and that India was neither communist nor anti-communist, that was postco­ lonial politics at work.13

India: a prize for Cold War rivals In the years after World War II, both superpowers were concerned whether India would be a showcase for capitalism or for its opponent. India was not only poor, but it had intellectuals who were attracted to socialism, which was powerfully represented in two neighboring countries, the Soviet Union and China. It is for such reasons that the Cold War was fought, namely to decide the fate of revolution in countries like India. The principal warring sides were not equal however, in economic and military power, or for that matter in their hostility to the other side. The Soviet Union had long ago settled on the idea of “socialism in one country” and bracketed the idea of international revolution in preference to providing a

126 Arvind Rajagopal counter to capitalist growth.14 It was the United States that believed that “capital­ ism could not flourish in one country,” fearing that a free market economy at home would be restricted by autarky abroad.15 It is only recently, however, that scholars are considering what the Cold War meant for countries outside the East and West Bloc. The conventional view has been that the ideological conflicts of the Cold War were distant from a nonaligned country like India. Awareness of the conflict’s existence was not absent; the issue was rather how it was understood, as noted by an American anthropologist: “My arrival [in the village] was viewed in Cold War terms. It took a lot of living in the village to push this into the background. One month after we arrived a man arose in the bus we were travelling in and said, ‘This man has come to [our] country to see whether we love America more or Russia more so they can decide whether to give us money.’”16 As this story suggests, in a north Indian village the Cold War could seem like prospecting for a marriage alliance, where the performance of sentiment was at issue, and not the profession of ideology. If East and West Blocs saw India as a prize worth fighting for, in this anecdote India reversed roles with superpowers, viewing the latter’s competition as a means of increasing the prize accruing to Indians; otherwise the contest seemed to leave Indians unchanged. The self-absorption indicated here was not limited to the village. As Ashis Nandy has noted, “the concerns in a newly independent country were mostly native – destitution, communal riots, entry of politics into more and more areas of life . . . and so on.”17 Analysis of these issues relied on modern categories imported from abroad, Nandy notes. Imports tended to be of categories that reproduced this self-absorption, on the whole. Thus cold war rarely figures except in discussions of foreign policy. One of the few occasions I have noticed the term cold war in domestic comment is in an essay on the Indian documentary film, of all things. Below, the author describes the period he was writing, in the early 1960s, as a time in our national history when there is a “cold war” between the Public and Private Sectors in all industries and when the terms “Free Enterprise” and “State Ownership” have acquired peculiar connotations.18 Placed between private and public sectors, documentary filmmakers had a van­ tage point on national development. Collaborating with artists who operated internationally, such cultural producers negotiated constraints that limited their persuasiveness too. National development might appear like a sovereign activity in the government’s own claims, while in fact reflecting prevailing geopolitics.

“Nightmare Envy” – for socialist oppression The scarcity of the Cold War in post-independence historical analysis signals not the irrelevance of the Cold War so much as the internal focus of nation-building in

The Cold War era as a rule of experts


its initial phase, in the view of most commentators. The issue today, with globali­ zation’s advance, would be to disentangle the dynamics of superpower conflict that occurred behind the façade of nation-building that might shed light on our historical present. To this end my paper offers three main points. First, there is the paradox that national development was in part a product of international rivalry, such that com­ mitment to the former entailed denying the influence of the latter. Second, experts were crucial in mediating and insulating transnational influence while supervising national development. Such expertise was effectively, politically shielded from the pressures of a wider public in a way that has increasingly become difficult after the Cold War. It’s worth noting that the period of the Cold War was also the period when national communication systems were developed and when aware­ ness of international context depended on access to education and information that were not so widely available. Last but not least, the end of the Cold War has brought on, not the end of his­ tory as Francis Fukuyama argued, but its beginning. At least for neutral and non­ aligned countries like India, the end of a relatively uncontested rule of experts and the greater awareness of a world market of goods and ideas, has led to a popular demand for history, and a need to account for the place of the nation in world history. Here polemic and myth-building have had the advantage over academic historiography, which has been relatively late in turning its attention to the postco­ lonial period, instead dwelling mainly on the colonial era and the triumph of anticolonialism. Here my argument is specific to India. The rush to globalize Indian history has occurred in the public sphere but without much scholarly analysis.19 It has been accomplished by identifying with the victors of the Cold War and by rejoicing in the defeat of socialism, although India was not in fact a combat­ ant in that war; rather it benefited from both sides. Following George Blaustein, we can call this Albtraumneid or Nachtmareifersucht, coinages that translate as “nightmare envy” or “nightmare jealousy.”20 Unlike schadenfreude, which is the pleasure in another’s misfortune, Albtraumneid or Nachtmareifersucht express envy for misfortune. What it refers to in this case is the socialist oppression that the East Bloc was supposed to have endured and that India never experienced. In fact, there is a widespread conviction in India that this is no psychological affecta­ tion but an absolutely real historical predicament that the country had to endure for decades and only managed to emerge from due to the worldwide triumph of market forces, and, incidentally (or not, depending on one’s views), thanks to the assertion of Hindu identity.

The global Cold War as a rule of experts One official posted in New Delhi by the United States Information Agency in 1950, a Yale-trained architect, was told when hired, “India is the most important country in the world.”21 This was a view from the United States, which saw Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as a reliable opponent of communism within India and as a potential ally who had to be supported.22 India also became a key for Moscow

128 Arvind Rajagopal to gain a foothold in the Global South.23 The Soviet Politburo thus proceeded to give Nehru and his ambassador K.P.S. Menon abundant proof of their commit­ ment to Indian development.24 A recent historical account observes: Events in India had worldwide impact. The country stood at the center of a global contest over the economic future of the Third World by virtue of its early independence, its size and the outsize presence of founding prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The case of India drove the practices, and later the theories, of both American and Soviet economic assistance; both super­ powers learnt development assistance by reckoning with Indian conditions.25 In fact, the superpowers learned not only techniques of development, but ways of managing their ideological conflict within the Global South. They were aided by indigenous expert classes, who built on old literate cultures to fashion ingen­ ious mechanisms of rationalization and legitimation that subordinated incommen­ surable systems with adroit equivocations across warring sides. Indian experts demonstrated to the superpowers that despite the relatively limited quantum of resources the USSR provided, probably a quarter or less than the U.S. in the case of India, mere quantity was less important than the kind of aid and where it went. Not only did the United States learn lessons from this experience, but devised new strategies in response to it, strategies that it would be a mistake to enfold into an argument about the triumph of capitalism. The United States preferred aid centred on commodities, with a heavy empha­ sis on inputs to agriculture, where a little prosperity could go a long way toward reducing the chances of peasant militancy. The U.S. was reluctant to aid state institutions, since on their reading, that would empower socialism, and history showed the error of such a choice, in their view. There was one major exception, namely communications infrastructure, for which the United States accepted the inevitability of state ownership and control, and provided material aid and a great deal of advice. This was an exception that confirmed the American preference, as things turned out. Crucial here was the U.S. assurance that a commercial rev­ enue model would ensure adequate funding while posing no threat to the state’s monopoly over the airwaves and over the polity itself.26 “A rule of experts” has overseen economic growth across the globe, it has been influentially argued, helping to bridge the gap between abstract reason and facts on the ground.27 The realm of reason was hardly pristine however; it could involve seemingly incompatible claims, e.g. of capitalism versus socialism, such as experts in non-aligned nations confronted. Technocrats had to navigate political crosscur­ rents at global, national and local levels, as they confronted divergent hierarchies of valuation that required political imagination as well as scientific reason. Hence the practices of economic planning could yield different results given otherwise similar circumstances. For example, P.C. Mahanalobis, who oversaw the Second Five-Year Plan, was heavily influenced by the Soviet model, whereas subsequent planners such as D.R. Gadgil, who directed the Fourth Plan, moved away from it.

The Cold War era as a rule of experts


The Cold War period was thus a time when not only models of the nation but modes of affiliating with it, i.e. nationalism, could be subject to different interpre­ tations without wider repercussions. In other words, nationalism too was ruled by experts during this period. Expert nationalism can be distinguished from offi­ cial nationalism, such as the Czarist imposition of Russian identity on the people under Alexander III’s rule, through, e.g. compulsory primary education, milita­ rism, and the rewriting of history.28 By comparison, in the first decades after inde­ pendence in India, the absence of any significant attempt at mass indoctrination is striking. Mass mobilization had fostered a variety of popular sentiments united mainly through anti-colonialism, and thereafter, the state did not require national­ ism to be cultivated as a mass ideology. Instead, it became a domain of experts for at least three reasons. First, concerns other than nationalism, e.g. development, took precedence due to the weakness of challengers to the Congress Party’s rule, during the years when its dominance seemed assured. Such challenges as did arise were typically accom­ modated within the party framework, while the Congress maintained its claim of ruling over a unified, secular nation. If the ruling party was difficult to dislodge, it was due not so much to the extent of its power but to a consensus favouring a party representing the country as a whole. The quality of rule was a secondary consideration; the practical need was for a common ground that could only be provided by a party with a national scope. This meant that debates on different ways of defining the nation were confined to the margins. Second, the limited infrastructure and the relatively small size of the educated population also helped to contain contests based on divergent models of the nation. Alternative models could not achieve much traction given the limited scope for their politicization. Last but not least, while a significant nationalist historiog­ raphy arose, influenced by Nehru too among others, that scholarship focused mainly on the colonial period. This meant that the reigning political model in the post-independence period did not necessarily have to be questioned. Other social sciences, e.g. political science and sociology, focused on the post-independence period, generating concepts such as “Sanskritization” (M.N. Srinivas) and “the Congress system” (Rajni Kothari), which operated within the given national framework. This tacit division of labour meant that post-independence history was not rewritten so much as it was neglected, and hence the prevailing model of nationalism was harder to question. I will return to this point. A few aspects of this rule of experts can be briefly outlined to clarify the char­ acter of the Cold War’s impact on India. First, economic aid. The U.S. had a head start over the Soviet Union, which commenced its aid programme only after Sta­ lin’s death in 1953. But Soviet aid reached nearly 100 public sector projects and provided an economic foundation for national independence, one that was lacking in many other nations of the Global South, as one observer noted in 1987: The nonaligned state of India can be maintained only by building upon the bedrock of heavy and defense industries – steel, oil, power generation, engi­ neering goods, aircraft manufacture, ordnance and space ventures. In all

130 Arvind Rajagopal these ventures, the USSR has extended a helping hand. . . . A time span of thirty years is not a long period in the life of nations. But during this period, the close association with the Soviet Union had helped India to erect strong national edifices in the public sector which in turn have enabled the country to escape the sort of captivity under MNCs or neo-colonials that is the sorry state of affairs in many Latin American and African countries.29 As for the U.S., the economist VKRV Rao, who was the inaugural director of sev­ eral institutes of higher education, and also served as cabinet minister for several years, argued that the Soviet Union had taken the lead in defining how aid could be most helpful in overcoming underdevelopment: Indian opinion was disturbed by the hesitancy with which the United States approached the question of aid for economic development in this part of the world in contrast to its total commitment to the recovery of Europe. And it attributed this lukewarm attitude on the part of the U.S. to the failure of India to qualify on the political front within the larger context of the cold war. . . . [I]t was only with the entry of the Soviet Union and other com­ munist countries into the field that western countries also began displaying some enthusiasm for offering aid to the underdeveloped countries at the governmental level.30 Thus the rivalry between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R was replicated between East and West Germany, and here too East Germany took the lead. Now, a detailed account of aid to the Indian government is beyond the scope of this paper.31 My aim here is rather to indicate how behind the façade of domestic debates on devel­ opment, there was Cold War competition that did not necessarily manifest to the common person. Nehru once remarked to the U.S. ambassador in India, J.K. Galbraith, “The Americans help the Tatas and Birlas who are already rich. By contrast the Soviets or British build plants that belong to the people.”32 Galbraith did not contradict Nehru but strove to prove him wrong by securing President Kennedy’s support for a steel plant in Bokaro, India’s largest until that time. Congressional opposition scuttled the effort, however. It was Soviet aid that came to the rescue.33 To be sure, neither form of aid would have occurred without the other. Nor did aid arrive unmarked; it carried the seeds of Cold War politics, which grew into battles between the private and the public sector. In Arne Westad’s term, the Soviet Union stood for an empire of justice, whereas the United States champi­ oned an empire of liberty.34 But these battles had a different color on the ground and could appear as dispassionate views on sectoral performance rather than as ideologically driven or as principled stances. Nation-building and nationalism, as they were understood at the time of independence, offered little room for disa­ greement. For example, leading industrialists had joined to recommend public investment in infrastructure in a statement known as the Bombay Plan, which anticipated the country’s Five-Year Plans.35 Within a few decades India’s planned

The Cold War era as a rule of experts


economy would be denounced as a Stalinist imposition, while Nehru became akin to Stalin and even to Hitler.36 Now, the challenge for India’s planners had been not only how to manage the economy efficiently, but also how to discipline Indian capitalists, many of whom were conservative caste Hindus who had avoided engagement with social reform, and shunned Indian nationalism itself. Here is Jawaharlal Nehru on the subject in the Lok Sabha: Unfortunately this is our misfortune that even private enterprise, which shows some intelligence in other countries, even capitalism which has become to some extent, a modernised form of the old type of capitalists (sic), even in countries like America or England or France or elsewhere, even that degree of modernity has not come to our capitalists. M.R. MASANI: Nor to your socialism. JN: And so I find with an ever-increasing amazement the type of stuff that is doled out here in the name of capitalism and private enterprise, and the type of stuff that is doled out against planning, etc. which nobody in the wide world, except some persons with hardly any intelligence, can accept in any way.37 JN:

This glancing encounter of Nehruvian “socialism” with Indian conservatism offers the sense of an unequal exchange between Nehru’s state-backed reform and a critic with a grouse rather than a game-plan. Masani, a founder of the con­ servative Swatantra Party, actually accepted the need for a mixed economy and distanced himself from religion as well as from nationalism. He upheld instead a combination of liberalism and Gandhism,38 whereas Nehru’s objection was to unregenerate or more precisely perhaps, primitive indigenous capitalism that had little interest in supporting the Congress Party even after it began to win elections and form provincial governments.39 Once independence was achieved, Indian business came forward to claim the benefits, likening itself to its foreign counterparts. Advocates for Indian business countered Nehru’s complaints with an obbligato of accusations of socialism. But such criticisms were in a minor key during the heyday of economic planning. In contrast, a wide consensus supported state intervention, not only to channel and direct capital but also to restrain it out of democratic concerns. By the time of liberalization, this history would prove too nuanced for recollection; evidence that today’s adversaries were often in the same camp not long ago would probably be rejected by many critics of the Congress. Historical research, far from promoting comparative understanding during the Cold War, tended instead to elaborate national mythologies, or at any rate to avoid challenging them. The Cold War generated dreamworlds amongst the superpow­ ers, Susan Buck-Morss has argued – different forms of mass utopia that could only be experienced in highly scripted and mediated ways, e.g. as empires of “liberty” and “justice” respectively.40 The unexpected emergence of closed and self-reproducing worlds, precisely while greeting the arrival of a communication

132 Arvind Rajagopal revolution and when many nations seemed poised for “take-off” to modernization, requires explanation.41 Unlike previous wars, the Cold War was distinct in seeking to prevent, not prosecute conflict. The goals of the war were abstract, as was the space in which it was conducted – the fate of the whole world was at stake after all. But since it did not correspond to any discernible events for most ordinary people, it was largely through expert knowledge that one could know the war was on, and that one was in it, if one knew anything about it at all. Cold War scholars were prepared for a conflict that could last indefinitely, and were completely taken by surprise when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union voted to dissolve itself. As such the expert knowledge guiding Cold War strategy had its own reality, and that it might bear little correspondence to ground realities could remain unnoticed. We might ask whether a dreamworld did not characterize India too during this period, albeit of a different kind. Here, as I have indicated, the battle was not a direct transposition of the battle between capitalism and communism. Rather, the poverty and backwardness of the country required urgent remedy to catch up with the more advanced nations. For various reasons, economic growth and social mobility, already low, failed to increase as expected. To the extent there was a visibly shared culture in this secular period, it was perhaps created by the cinema, which was not allowed to engage with politics and proceeded to devise a com­ mercially successful formula. “Formula” films showed a self-regulating Indian culture to which the state was somehow external; thus the policeman always arrived not only after the crime had been committed, but after the culprit had been caught.42 This dreamworld of Indian cinema was in its own way a product of Cold War deterrence. Cold War deterrence pertained not simply to the arms race. It slowed down the pace of political change by deterring challenges to prevailing forms of national­ ism. Large flows of aid to the Congress-led government strengthened the party’s hands against its opponents. Jawaharlal Nehru’s importance in this context was in negotiating between reform and reaction at home, and between superpowers abroad. For his admirers he may have been exemplary, but in fact the ideological impasse of the time was most easily transcended through the figure of a leader, whose personal qualities compensated for the ad hoc and at times inconsistent approach that constraints dictated. This is the second aspect of the rule of experts, namely that it had to be defended and overseen by a charismatic leader whose personal appeal could better withstand ideological challenges. A third, closely related aspect is a partitioning between domestic and foreign affairs. National politics concerned itself almost exclusively with domestic mat­ ters, while foreign policy was left to the leader and his aides, and to episodic parliamentary debates. The onset of independence and of nation-building not sur­ prisingly necessitated an absorption with the trials of development while retaining electoral consensus. A glance at the front pages of newspapers after 1947 shows a steep decline in foreign news coverage, and its replacement by local stories, with political news always having the greatest prominence.

The Cold War era as a rule of experts


This paradox of the Global Cold War is worth emphasizing, namely that it was most present where it was least noticed. What made nation-building possible was a set of background transactions with global powers whose details the public at large was spared, and whose management was delegated to experts. The greater sense of national sovereignty this afforded, often amounting to chauvinism, meant a trade-off with cosmopolitanism, with the latter becoming mainly the provenance of educated classes. The same was not necessarily true of the socialist bloc, which usually recognized multiple nationalities within each country, and which exposed their citizens to international culture. Socialist Party rule was the point of unifica­ tion, and it extended across cultures; foreign culture was in principle welcome, therefore. For example, during the 1970s, Indian films imported into the Soviet Union were shown, on an average, 2.5 times more extensively than their Soviet competitors.43 By contrast, foreign films had relatively minuscule audiences in India. The fourth aspect of the rule of experts during the Cold War was an overt insu­ lation and separation between the precincts of politics, economics, and culture that, it was expected, would continue into the foreseeable future. The domain knowledge for each precinct was distinct, and reposed in distinct communities of experts. That such an arrangement obtained across much of the world indicated a convergent process of secularization at work. Values based on religion and ritual, and on biological and cultural difference, were nominally and usually legally sub­ ordinate to more neutral systems of order. Where this obtained, it reflected secular nation-building, for which the Cold War was a key enabling condition, insulating politics within the nation from the Cold War itself. It is worth pointing out that the net result of superpower competition in this sense was that more people moved out of poverty than at any other time in recorded history, notwithstanding the conflicts that also occurred during this period. Within the political sphere, where nationalism was dominated by a single party, the choice was between affiliation and alienation or identification and critique. For example, what it meant to be a nationalist in culture might be secularism, or for that matter some variety of religious communalism, and nationalism in eco­ nomics could mean socialism or capitalism, or simply more production. Today in India, Nehru stands for socialism, which critics assume to be insepa­ rable from arbitrary rule and political corruption; he is like a human smoking gun whose mention allows the opposition to rest its case against the Congress.44 Ironically, it was Nehru’s reliability as an anti-communist at home that was most reassuring to his American supporters.45 Although the Congress oversaw the low growth period and also ushered in economic reforms, the party is viewed by many opponents as socialist or even Marxist. However, while the Cold War lasted, Con­ gress ideology was not the object of complaint because, then as now, the party was not defined by ideology; rather it was the party of national consensus. Opposition parties did not offer an alternative so much as constitute lobbies for specific con­ stituencies and interests. Disagreements were negotiated within the framework of the national party.

134 Arvind Rajagopal

Cold War redux Today the BJP occupies a similar position but unlike before, there is another party capable of building a national coalition to challenge it. This may explain the scale of the invective against the Congress, but not, I suggest, either its form or content. The BJP’s denunciation of the Congress imputes to it corruption, nepotism, and ideological rigidity too for good measure. All of these faults are allegedly symbolized best by Nehru, who in fact seldom unilaterally imposed his will and was conscientious about institution-building. Arguably it was Mrs Gandhi who took authoritarian measures across a decade beginning in 1967, when she outmaneuvered her opponents through a series of pro-poor measures, culminating in the National Emergency of 1975–77.46 But the Congress was in power for more than two decades thereafter, during which time it instituted a series of economic reforms, most significantly in 1991. Only in 1998 did the BJP come to power, leading a coalition of more than two dozen parties. By this time however, afflu­ ent middle class and upper caste support for reforms had taken on a saffron color. And the BJP had declared itself as the party of reform in contrast to the Congress, which on the former’s account was the party of reaction. Political polemic is the very opposite of Occam’s razor; logical entities mul­ tiply relentlessly. Critiques accumulate until it is hard to determine whether the objection is to a principle or to the party, and whether there is a rank ordering of objections. There is safety in numbers: there’s no telling which criticism will mat­ ter for whom, when wedge issues are used to attract uncommitted voters, many of whom lack education. But it is worth noting that a key opposition from an earlier time, namely secular vs. communal, has lately given way to a more capacious opposition of national and anti-national, where anti-national can signal Commu­ nism, Naxalism, Congressism, or anti-Modi-ism. Little unites the terms but they can be treated as equivalent in contemporary political abuse, a prominent news anchor notes.47 Mention of Hindutva and the BJP here give way to Cold War-era totems, to the Congress itself as a stand-in, and to the figure of the leader as the point where contradictions resolve and enmities clarify. It is interesting that the Cold War-era hostility towards socialism exhibited in the United States reappears in the Indian context with the Congress Party as the culprit, and Nehru as the arch villain of the story, although by no stretch of imagi­ nation was Nehru equivalent to Stalin or Mao, nor did the Congress make more than token gestures towards socialism.48 Low economic growth was not accompa­ nied by mass annihilation, or by destruction of productive capacity. There were no Soviet-style Gulags in India, nor famines with a Great Leap Forward as in China. This is a view that has taken shape after the end of the Cold War, at a time when overt state socialism had little support in India (state welfare and a mixed economy do not constitute socialism). Narendra Modi’s demand for a Congressmukt Bharat exhibits something similar to the indignant righteousness of Ameri­ can anti-Communism in the Cold War. The sentiment is directed, however, against a party that represented a broad consensus when it was in power, and, far from resisting market liberalization, was its indispensable enabler.

The Cold War era as a rule of experts


The post-Cold War period in India is obviously recent and its history remains to be written. The BJP fought to replace the Congress but the battlefield was not defined by the latter’s socialism or by the pace of economic reforms for that mat­ ter. These were subjects on which there was no difference between the leading parties. Instead the most contentious issues were Mandal and Masjid, that is, cam­ paigns against reservations for intermediate castes, and the campaign to demolish Babri Masjid and build a temple to Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Economists and politi­ cal scientists who discuss the reforms however, tend not to dwell on the caste and religious struggles dominant at the time. Other scholars note the contiguity of the two streams of events, but without asking how it was that opposing parties figured in both, and yet one set of events was harmonious and the other conflictual. All indications are of a conflict stage-managed by a formally secular party ced­ ing ground to assertive Hindu nationalism.49 The Congress was reluctant to claim credit for the reforms, since to do so would ensure its electoral defeat, or so the then-Prime Minister Narasimha Rao feared. Margaret Thatcher might exhort Brit­ ish voters to sacrifice while she undertook reforms. But in a country where pov­ erty was tracked by calorie intake because income data was unreliable, sacrifice was already longstanding. What is striking is that opposition parties allowed the reforms to proceed without debate. Presenting itself as the last hope against the tide of Hindu communalism, the Congress Party pacified the Left, whose support was vital for economic reforms. The timing was crucial. Rajiv Gandhi’s attempt at reforms failed in 1985, but by 1991, East European regimes were failing, and there was the sense of a worldwide move away from socialism. There is a convention of viewing India’s reforms as enacted by “stealth,” but in fact liberalization was loudly praised as part of a worldwide story of the market economy’s triumph over socialism. Pundits began to envision a “golden age of capitalism” not long after Mikhail Gorbachev applied for full membership in the IMF and the World Bank in mid-1991.50 At about the same time, India’s reforms were detailed in its budget of 24 July 1991, decisively shifting away from the license-permit raj.51 Within a few months the Soviet Union voted to dissolve itself, and in this environment, pro-market arguments discarded all restraints. The way in which news of the one event reflected the other could have led an exter­ nal observer to believe Indians also had been held hostage by socialism and that the end of the Cold War presaged their victory too. The experience of evolving a mixed economy had had mixed results, to be sure, but it suddenly transformed into a story of overcoming political tyranny, as if capitalists had been victims rather than participants and beneficiaries. One columnist hailed reforms as the “opening of the Indian mind.”52 J.R.D. Tata wrote that in India, “Berlin walls should fall.”53 Another industrialist, Ram­ akrishna Bajaj, called for Indian consumers to become assertive to ensure social­ ism’s defeat.54 A prominent Bombay businessman, Ashok Chowgule, responding to a newspaper columnist, noted, “greed is a product of the political theory called socialism,” and liberalization was its remedy.55 The Cold War-era stalemate between superpowers allowed an alliance between political liberalism and big business, an alliance that in India has come to be

136 Arvind Rajagopal misrecognized, or perhaps willfully misrepresented, as statist and denounced as Nehruvianism, and as low-growth, elitist, and dynastic as well. That alliance, with the state playing the leading role, helped create an industrial and communica­ tions infrastructure for the country, as well as a sizeable middle class. Infrastruc­ tural expansion, notably that of communications, had at least three outcomes that changed the conditions enabling their emergence. First, the dreamworld of the Cold War era, where experts ruled and the nation could be variously imagined by the multitudes, if it was imagined at all, with little fear of being challenged, depended on a sociotechnical combination that was already being transformed from at least the 1980s onwards.56 Dismissing this era as delusion and domination, rather than as history, a new understanding took shape, as if economic liberalization had actually inaugurated the subject of postindependence history, one that happened to be Hindu. Second, big business no longer found its liberalism to be convenient, and it welcomed the onset of a higher growth regime with fewer limits on accumulation. That this was an overwhelmingly Hindu upper-caste-dominated business class is no doubt relevant. Thus the argument that secularism was alien to Indian society, and that nationalism would have to embrace the majority religion, was persuasive to most of this class. Apart from whatever cultural analysis this view contained, this was a specifically political calculation, rather than one merely premised on economic rationality. And third, the masses who had only episodically been consulted as far as most political parties were concerned, in what had been a broadly consensual developmental process, became more easily available for mobilization. Here in the absence of directed political transformation where the majority was actively involved, it was counter-revolution that was likely to come to the fore. Neither the language of liberal proceduralism nor that of economic opportunity alone was equal to the task of mass engagement.

Notes 1 An earlier version of this essay appeared under the title, “Cold War as Nightmare Envy: A View from India”, Seminar, no. 719, July 2019, www.india-seminar. com/2019/719/719_arvind_rajagopal.htm. 2 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Public Life of History”, Public Culture, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008, pp. 143–168, 144. 3 “Two years ago, [CNN] . . . in an agreement that allowed CNN to use Stationsionar 12, a Soviet government-owned satellite, could also be seen in the Soviet Union, the Mid­ dle East and Africa.” Roxanne Roberts, “CNN, On Top of the World: Keeping Abreast Abroad Through Cable News Network”, Washington Post, 21 August 1990, p. C1. “It was only ten months ago that CNN have started beaming their programmes over Asia after they hired a Russian satellite. . . . ” Satyajit Chattopadhyay, “Where the Action Is”, Times of India, 17 September 1990, p. 11. 4 Burton I. Edelson and Joseph N. Pelton, “Can Intelsat and Intersputnik Cooperate?” Space Policy, February 1989, pp. 7–11. Joseph Pelton was Head, Strategic Planning, for Intelsat. My thanks to Asif Siddiqi for the citation. 5 Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, “The Elephant Curve of Global Inequality and Growth”, December 2017.

The Cold War era as a rule of experts 6 7 8 9 10 11

12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27


WID.world Working Papers Series No. 2017/20, https://wid.world/document/ elephant-curve-global-inequality-growth-wid-world-working-paper-2017-20/. Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 396. Paul Hoffman, Peace Can Be Won (New York: Doubleday & Co, 1951), p. 143. The Marshall Plan: Information for Americans Going Abroad (US Economic Coop­ eration Administration, 1949), p. 6. Daniel Lerner, “International Coalitions and Communications Content: The Case of Neutralism”, Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 4, Winter 1952–1953, pp. 681– 688, 682–683. Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1958), p. 47. This Can Be Seen on Google’s NGram Viewer, https://books.google.com/ngrams/ graph?content=technology%2C+public+sector%2C+private+sector&year_start= 1900&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2C technology%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cpublic%20sector%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B %2Cprivate%20sector%3B%2Cc0. M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 324 and passim. Press Trust of India, “World Faces Grave Danger of War Warns Mr. Nehru: AsianAfrican Nations Must Work for Peace”, The Times of India, 23 April 1955, p. 8. The topic is discussed in extenso in E. H. Carr, Socialism in One Country, 1924–1926: Vols V and VI of A History of Soviet Russia (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1958 and 1960). This felicitous formulation is from Srinath Raghavan, The Most Dangerous Place: A History of the United States in South Asia (New Delhi: Penguin Random House, 2018), p. 120. Yole G. Sills, “USA and USSR English Language Publications Distributed in India”, Prepared for the United States Information Agency by the Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University, January 1962, II–13. Ashis Nandy, “The After-Life of the Raj in Indian Academe”, in Vinay Lal (ed.), Dissent­ ing Knowledges, Open Futures (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 105. Jag Mohan, “Panorama of the Private Sctor of the Indian Short Film Industry”, Marg, vol. 2, no. 4, 1962, pp. 9–15, 9. A noteworthy exception here is Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimen­ sions of Globalization (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). George Blaustein, Nightmare Envy and Other Stories (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 2. Jack Masey, retired Director of Exhibitions, United States Information Agency, per­ sonal interview, New York City, 15 October 2014. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “India’s Nehru Is Viewed as Western Counterpoise of China’s Mao”, Washington Post, 16 October 1949. Andreas Hilger, “Building a Socialist Elite? Khruschev’s Soviet Union and Elite Formation in India”, in Elites and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century Eds Jost Dulffer and Marc Frey (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 264, 262–286. See e.g., K. P. S. Menon, The Flying Troika: Extracts from a Diary (London: Oxford University Press, 1963). Also K. Krishna Moorthy, ubi infra, footnote 17. David Engerman, The Price of Aid: The Economic Cold War in India (cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018), p. 4. Arvind Rajagopal, “Television in India: Ideas, Institutions and Practices”, in Manuel Alvarado, Herman Bennett, Milly Buonanno, and Toby Miller (eds.), Sage Handbook on Television Studies (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Press, 2014), pp. 83–104. Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Technopolitics, Modernity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002).

138 Arvind Rajagopal 28 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1983), pp. 88–89, 101. 29 K. Krishna Moorthy, The Road Begins at Bhilai (Madras: Technology Books, 1987), pp. 29–30. 30 V. K. R. V. Rao and Dharm Narain, Foreign Aid and India’s Economic Development (New York: Asia Publishing House, 1963), p. 71. Paris: UNESCO, 14 September 1962, p. 47, paragraphs 4.4 and 4.5. 31 See Engerman, The Price of Aid. 32 John Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador’s Journal: A Personal Account of the Kennedy Years (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), p. 215. 33 Ibid., pp. 81–82; Thomas F. Brady, “Soviet Offers Aid for Mill in India: Would Help Build Bokaro Steel Plant – U.S. Denied Request for Assistance”, New York Times, 2 May 1964, pp. 1, 4. 34 Westad describes the Cold War as a battle between the United States’ ‘empire of lib­ erty’ and the Soviet Union’s ‘empire of justice.’ See Westad, The Global Cold War, pp. 8–72, e.g. 35 The signatories were: J. R. D. Tata, G. D. Birla, Ardeshir Dalal, Lala Shri Ram, Kas­ turbhai Lalbhai, Ardeshir Darabshaw Shroff, Sir Purushottamdas Thakurdas, and John Mathai. See Purushottamdas Thakurdas (ed.), A Brief Memorandum Outlining a Plan of Economic Development for India, 2 vols. (London: Penguin, 1945). 36 Jay Dubashi, “From ‘Shilanyas’ to Berlin Wall”, Organiser, 26 November 1989, reprinted in Jay Dubashi, The Road to Ayodhya (New Delhi: Voice of India Press, 1992), pp. 18–20, p. 19. 37 Lok Sabha Debates vol. XLIV, cols. 1665–1682, 9 August 1960. 38 See e.g., M. R. Masani, “Liberalism”, Freedom First, April 1985, pp. 33–41. 39 Claude Markovits, “Indian Business and the Congress Provincial Governments 1937– 39”, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, 1981, pp. 487–526. 40 Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). On the empire of liberty versus the empire of justice see footnote 22 ubi sipra on Westad. 41 See in this context Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997). 42 M. Madhava Prasad, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998). 43 See Masha Salazkina, “Soviet-Indian Coproductions: Alibaba as Political Allegory”, Cinema Journal, vol. 49, no. 4, Summer 2010, pp. 71–89, 74. 44 For a satirical response to contemporary criticisms of Nehru as original sinner incar­ nate, see www.telegraphindia.com/india/nehru-did-it/cid/1686874. 45 Schlesinger, Jr., “India’s Nehru Is Viewed as Western Counterpoise of China’s Mao”. 46 See Arvind Rajagopal, “The Emergency as Prehistory of the New Indian Middle Class”, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 45, no. 5, 2011, pp. 1003–1049. 47 Remarks passim by Ravish Kumar, “Mein anti-Modi nahin hun, mein bas unse savaal poochtha hun”, [I am not anti-Modi, I am just asking him some questions], #The Wire Dialogues, Published 27 February 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=puf86ZkmAKE, accessed 8 March 2019. 48 However, see Jay Dubashi, “From Stalinism to Nehruism”, in Jay Dubashi (ed.), The Road to Ayodhya (New Delhi: Voice of India Publications, 1992), pp. 105–107. 49 I have written about this in Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001). For a different point of view see Rob Jenkins, Democratic Politics and Economic Reforms in India (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 50 Alan Murray, “Gorbachev Applies for Full Membership for Soviets in IMF and the World Bank”, The Wall Street Journal, 24 July 1991, p. A12; David D. Hale, “The Com­ ing Golden Age of Capitalism”, The Wall Street Journal, 7 November 1991, p. A14.

The Cold War era as a rule of experts 51 52 53 54


Jairam Ramesh, To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Story (New Delhi: Rupa, 2015). Subir Roy, “Opening of the Indian Mind”, The Times of India, 18 October 1992, p. 16. J. R. D. Tata, “Berlin Walls Should Fall”, The Times of India, 1 August 1991, p. 1. Ramkrishna Bajaj, “Socialism’s Anti-consumer-bias”, The Times of India, 16 May 1991, p. 15. 55 Ashok V. Chowgule, “Answer to Greed”, The Times of India, 23 February 1992, p. 12. 56 See my “Emergency as Prehistory of the New Indian Middle Class”.

12 Historical wounds and the public life of history The stolen generations narrative Bain Attwood

In his 2000 book, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Dipesh Chakrabarty famously argued that minority histories or what he preferred to call minority pasts raised fundamental questions about the dis­ cipline of history. Peoples who were once described as people without history, many of whom were indeed what Chakrabarty has more recently called historypoor in the sense that they seldom created the documents treasured by the disci­ pline of history, were refusing in large part to conform to the discipline’s protocols and were instead representing the past in ways that were incapable of being adju­ dicated by the kind of rational procedures and evidentiary rules believed to be critical to the modern public sphere of liberal democracies.1 Several years later, Chakrabarty further considered the challenge that such pasts were presenting, discussing the rise of a phenomenon he called historical wounds, which he argued was central to recent public uses of history in various democratic contexts. Chakrabarty distinguished historical wounds from the his­ tory traditionally created by scholars in these terms: “Historical truths are broad, synthetic generalisations based on researched collections of individual histori­ cal facts. They could be wrong, but they are always amenable to verification by methods of historical research. Historical wounds, on the other hand, are a mix of history and memory and hence their truth is not verifiable by historians.” Yet he hastened to suggest that historical wounds could not come into being without the prior existence of the historical truths forged by scholarly history. More par­ ticularly, Chakrabarty argued that the challenge posed by historical wounds was especially marked where what was deemed to be memory or the voice of experi­ ence of those suffering historical wounds had assumed the form of a marketable commodity in contemporary public life, particularly in media such as museums, television, films, and video. This was so, Chakrabarty contended, because in this form historical wounds acquire a means of persuasion that is instantaneous and affective, contrasting to the discipline of history’s long-held insistence on the time-consuming process of research and marshaling evidence as proof for an argument.2 At much the same time, Chakrabarty became interested in examining the dif­ ferences between what he called the public life of history, namely historical work that is always exposed to the pressure of discussions of the past in the public

Historical wounds and history’s public life 141 domain, and the institutional and somewhat cloistered life of history as an aca­ demic discipline, and the ways each can influence the other. As he has remarked most recently, in his 2015 book, The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and his Empire of Truth, Chakrabarty was not only struck by the fact that the amount of pressure the discipline of history’s public life exerts on its cloistered existence can vary from one regional or national context to another, but that in some of these instances the discipline has been under considerable pressure to accept or accommodate forms of the past or history that it has customarily tended to rule as invalid. Earlier, in a special issue of the journal Public Culture devoted to The Public Life of History, Chakrabarty noted that in such cases doubts were raised about historical knowledge and whether the discipline was still able to play the role of adjudicating in debates and disputes about the past that arise in the public domain, and especially in the domain of popular culture.3 In this chapter I will discuss one of the particular examples of historical prac­ tice that has prompted Chakrabarty’s further consideration of minority histories or pasts and more especially historical wounds and the public life of history, namely the field of what has been called Aboriginal history, or more especially what I have called the stolen generations narrative.4

The making of the stolen generations narrative In the mid-1990s a historical wound by the name of the stolen generations assumed enormous importance in the historical consciousness of both Aboriginal and set­ tler Australians. Indeed, it can be said to have become a parable for the nation’s history between the two peoples. This historical wound was forged in a range of contexts that were less historical or historiographical than they were memo­ rial, therapeutic, filmic, literary and legal in nature. Consequently, the criteria that were used for determining the truth of its account of the past differed markedly from those that had long been taken for granted by the discipline of history.5 The basis for the stolen generations narrative first began to be articulated in the early 1980s in two historiographical contexts. First, the radical political move­ ments of the 1960s and 1970s prompted an increasing concern with matters of race, colonization, class, gender, and sexuality. This saw the emergence of both critical history and history from below, which amounted to an attempt to recover the pasts of people who had been oppressed and hidden from the purview of scholarly history. Second, and more particularly, the same period of time saw the rise of oral history. This was also part and parcel of the movement to democra­ tize history by seeking to recover the experience of people whose pasts had been hidden from history. In the beginning, its practice played a role in a shift in the emphasis of scholarly history, from anonymous structures of power to personal agency, and from the national and general to the local and the particular. It also held the promise of providing a truer account of the past by adding to and correct­ ing the written historical record that had long formed the basis of the discipline’s work. But oral history also promised a shift in historical power and authority, from the scholarly historian to the informants.


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This was the historiographical context for historical research about the removal of Aboriginal children from their kin that eventually provided the basis for the stolen generations narrative. Two PhD students, Peter Read and Heather Goodall, who were seeking to recover the history of Aboriginal people in the state of New South Wales in the twentieth century, undertook considerable archival research, but it was their practice of oral history or rather the conjunction of their research­ ing the written historical record with their conducting oral history interviews with Aboriginal people that alerted them to the government’s separation of Aboriginal children in particular local communities. In other words, what was crucial to their formulating an argument that the removal of Aboriginal children from their kin was an important aspect of this past was the collaboration that occurred between history and memory. As we know from other contexts, oral history has the poten­ tial to change the nature of historical knowledge because of the very fact that it rests upon memory. This is so because history on the one hand and memory on the other, as Chakrabarty himself has observed, have rather different relationships to the past. Most significantly, memory challenges what Michel de Certeau called the discipline’s foundational premise of the clean break between past and present: not only is it premised upon a connection between past and present, but times past and times present necessarily become entangled with one another in its work. Moreover, memory-work changes the relationship between past and present in historical work because it provides a degree of presence or proximity that writ­ ten historical sources seldom have. This is especially so when the subject matter involves trauma. “In traumatic memory the past is not simply history as over and done with,” the American historian Dominick LaCapra has pointed out. “It lives on experientially and haunts and possesses the self or the community (in the case of shared traumatic events).”6 The basis for the stolen generations narrative emerged not only in the memorial context I have just described but also in another institutional location that can be described as therapeutic. In the early 1980s the historian Peter Read joined forces with Coral Edwards, who had been separated from her family as a child, in order to found an organization, Link-Up, that would assist Aboriginal people in finding the families from which they had been removed as children. In their work, rather than accept the rupture between past and present, Read and Edwards sought to reconnect them. By playing this role, Link-Up offered to these Aboriginal people the prospect of a redemptive return of the past through a recovery of their puta­ tive Aboriginality. The narrative the organization constructed was thus a form of identity history: it sought to provide an account of the past as the basis for an Abo­ riginal consciousness for those who had been separated from their kin. The roots of this lay, paradoxically, in the very past these people had lost, but in memorial discourses of this kind narratives are often constructed around such absences. At this point, though, Read and Edwards characterized these people as the lost chil­ dren rather than the stolen generations.7 The actual making of the stolen generations narrative can be said to have occurred in the context of what can be called public or applied history, which is a practice in which a professional historian seeks to meet a brief provided by an

Historical wounds and history’s public life 143 agency or body primarily concerned to address matters of contemporary interest. In 1980 or 1981 Peter Read was commissioned by a New South Wales govern­ ment body to prepare a report providing historical background to the contempo­ rary phenomenon of child separation. He originally entitled this report The Lost Generations but altered this after his partner, Jay Arthur, who was a lexicographer, suggested that The Stolen Generations would be more appropriate. It seems clear that the context of this work, namely that of applied, rather than academic, history, was responsible for this crucial act of naming and hence the creation of the stolen generations narrative: in public or applied history, the temporal fulcrum at work necessarily leans more towards the present and future than the past, and the tasks it is required to do place a premium on the production of historical judgements rather than historical understanding. Whereas Read had not thought it appropri­ ate in his PhD dissertation to characterize those who had been removed in these terms, he did so now in this work of public history. As Chakrabarty has observed, the epithet stolen generations undoubtedly carried an emotional punch seldom found in works of scholarly history. The term slowly began to take hold as Read’s eponymously titled pamphlet was published in 1982 and started to circulate.8 At much the same time as the stolen generations was coined, the story of the removal of Aboriginal children was told in another context, that of three docu­ mentary films – It’s a Long Road Back (1981), Lousy Little Sixpence (1983), and Link-Up Diary (1985) – and a docu-drama television series – Women of the Sun (1982). Significantly, Aboriginal people played major roles in making the films, as directors, authors, narrators, characters, actors, and talking heads. It is worth noting that these films were made in the wake of the unprecedented success of the landmark television mini-series Roots (1977), which commanded enormous audiences, not least in Australia, and created a considerable demand for personal histories among filmmakers and film-watchers worldwide. It can be argued that two of these films at least – Lousy Little Sixpence and Women of the Sun – had a profound impact on the production and consumption of the stolen generations narrative. It is generally acknowledged that film tends to create a different kind of work about the past than the discipline of history does. Spectacle and metaphor are more important than factual data and logical argu­ ment. They tend to render past times proximate rather than distant to the present. “It does not simply provide an image of the past,” film historian Robert Rosenstone has remarked; “it wants you to feel strongly about that image, specifically about the characters involved in the historical situations that it depicts. Portraying the world in the present tense, the dramatic feature plunges you into the midst of history, attempting to destroy the distance between you and the past and to obliterate . . . your ability to think about what you are seeing.” A later feature film about the stolen generations, Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), is a case in point.9 From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s much of the stolen generations narra­ tive came to be formulated primarily in the form of Aboriginal autobiographies, life stories, and autobiographical novels and songs.10 In large part, these narra­ tives were summoned and sanctioned by a print media culture comprising pub­ lishers, literary critics, and journalists. Their criteria for publication laid emphasis


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on the rhetorical qualities of these accounts rather than referential ones,11 and especially on their ability to persuade readers by the employment of affect rather than argument. The increasing formulation of the stolen generations narrative in these forms took place as testimony more generally became a commodity marketed as a capi­ talist consumer good and consequently moved to the forefront of contemporary popular culture. Most importantly, perhaps, the role of testimony underwent a major change as it became the dominant mode for relating the past in the public realm: its function was no longer simply the acquisition of historical knowledge about pasts poorly known, which was one of its original purposes, but instead that of the transmission of pasts to future generations in a such manner that it created a sense of connection between the author or speaker on the one hand and reader, listener or viewer on the other. This was especially so when testimony entailed what seemed to be a re-enactment of a past. Testimony, as the historian Gabriel Spiegel has remarked, tends to be most powerful when it comes in the form of the oral and the visual: “I was there, and now I am speaking of it to you and you can hear (and see) me speaking.” As Spiegel has noted, with testimony there is “the promise of a certain emotional and gestural vividness – a vividness strongly rein­ forced by the customarily oral form of its delivery – that operates to transform [it] into a virtually transparent form of transmission”, thereby implying that no act of representation is involved. Furthermore, in the shift in the purpose of remember­ ing the past, the traditional historical task of explaining or accounting for a past event receded and was often deemed to be unimportant.12 Between the late 1980s and the late 1990s the stolen generations narrative was told in yet another context, that of legal and quasi-legal inquiries. These included several court cases that were pursued on behalf of Aboriginal people seeking reparation for the injury they had suffered as a consequence of being removed as children, but the most significant was an investigation into the separation of chil­ dren by a federal government agency, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. A good deal of the history presented in this context took the form of juridical history, which has been defined as a way of representing the past in order to make it available to legal and quasi-legal judgement. In this context, the point of the history-telling is primarily to pass judgement on the past rather than to understand it; its approach tends to be highly presentist; and it tends to minimize the complexities and ambiguities that are to be found in the past. Perhaps this was most apparent in the claim made by the Human Rights and Equal Opportu­ nity Commission inquiry that the removal of children amounted to an act of the crime of genocide. At the same time, these legal and quasi-legal inquiries, and especially the one conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Com­ mission, relied to a large degree upon testimony by Aboriginal people, not least because it did not commission any historical research. In particular, the inquiry encouraged those who had been removed to testify to their suffering. Here, once more, testimony was assigned a special function, not simply a means of obtaining knowledge about the past but as a way of transmitting the past in such a way as to enable those who had borne its burdens to be heard and healed. Consequently,

Historical wounds and history’s public life 145 the inquiry’s proceedings often resembled those of the couch and the confessional rather than those of a court.13 The Commission’s inquiry made the stolen generations narrative much better known, but it was the release of its report in various forms – a near 700-page tome which was also available on the web, a smaller booklet, and a video – that had the most impact. It reached a much broader public than any of the histories pre­ viously produced by scholars, even those who addressed their books to a public audience. In part, this was because it bore the heart-wrenching title of Bringing Them Home and highlighted traumatic Aboriginal testimony. But it also owed a good deal to a discourse of truth and reconciliation, which has been officially inaugurated in Australia in the early 1990s by an act of the federal parliament, and which conceived of historical understanding as fundamental to a goal of recon­ ciling Aboriginal and settler Australians. In this context, the report made a claim upon the settler nation to listen “with an open heart and mind to the stories of what has happened in the past and, having listened and understood, [and commit] itself to reconciliation.”14 The report and the discussion and debate provoked by Bringing Them Home prompted the production of more collections of testimony, an exhibition, and fur­ ther literary works and documentary films.15 It also prompted many settler Aus­ tralians to meet one of the demands of the report, namely that of an apology, through means such as a national Sorry Day and Sorry Books (sorry being a word in Aboriginal English for an act of mourning),16 and leading public intellectu­ als to claim an authoritative role for themselves as moral arbiters of this past by fashioning an authorial presence that connected their own personal histories to this public history.17 In short, the stolen generations narrative became central to a new discourse about the history of colonialism in Australia, becoming the symbol of the history of the relations between Aboriginal and settler peoples in Australia.

Conclusions As we have seen, the rise of the stolen generations narrative is a telling example of the phenomenon Chakrabarty has called historical wounds and the growing power of testimony. The forging of this narrative primarily occurred in several contexts, not least of which were ones in which memory in the form of testimony, rather than history in its cloistered form, predominated, and its triumph occurred as that testimony assumed the form of a marketable commodity in contemporary public life. But, just as clearly, the forging of the stolen generations narrative is a good illustration of the field of tension between the cloistered and the public lives of the discipline of history that Chakrabarty has pinpointed. Given that the narra­ tive increasingly slipped whatever moorings it might once have had in scholarly history, its formation might be regarded as an example of Chakrabarty’s point that trained historians can find the historical claims made by particular groups in public life difficult to justify in terms of their professional knowledge about the past. Similarly, it can be said to be an example of the considerable challenge they


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face in seeking adjudicate in debates and disputes about the past that arise in the public domain, and especially in the domain of popular culture, by insisting on the value of the time-consuming process of research and marshaling evidence as proof for an argument rather than relying on instantaneous and affective forms of persuasion.18

Notes 1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), Chapter 4; Dipesh Chakra­ barty, “The Politics and Possibility of Historical Knowledge: Continuing the Conver­ sation”, Postcolonial Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, 2011, pp. 243–250. 2 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “History and the Politics of Recognition”, in Keith Jenkins et al. (eds.), Manifestos for History (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 165–184. 3 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Public Life of History: An Argument Out of India”, Public Culture, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008, pp. 143–168; Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Calling of His­ tory: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), especially the Introduction. 4 For Chakrabarty own’s discussion of Aboriginal history as well as the influence of debates about it on his work, see Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Reconciliation and Its Histo­ riography: Some Preliminary Thoughts”, UTS Review, vol. 7, no. 1, 2001, pp. 6–16; Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Aboriginal and Subaltern Histories”, in Bain Attwood and Tom Griffiths (eds.), Frontier, Race, Nation: Henry Reynolds and Australian History (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009), pp. 55–70; Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Communing with Magpies”, History Australia, vol. 11, no. 3, 2014, pp. 194–206. 5 For a more detailed discussion of this, see my “ ‘Learning About the Truth’: The Stolen Generations Narrative”, in Bain Attwood and Fiona Magowan (eds.), Telling Stories: Indigenous History and Memory in Australia and New Zealand (Wellington: Sydney/ Bridget Williams Books, 2001), pp. 183–212, and my “In the Age of Testimony: The Stolen Generations Narrative, ‘Distance’ and Public History”, Public Culture, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008, pp. 75–95. 6 Michel de Certeau, Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, trans. Brian Massumi (Man­ chester: Manchester University Press, 1986), p. 4; Chakrabarty, “Reconciliation and Its Historiography”, p. 10; Dominick LaCapra, History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory (New York: Cornell University Press, 2004), pp. 55–56. 7 Link-Up, Link-Up, Link-Up, Canberra, 1983; Link-Up, Howe Can Link-Up Help Me?, reproduced in Peter Read, A Rape of the Soul So Profound: The Return of the Stolen Generations (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1999), pp. 72–100; Coral Edwards and Peter Read (eds.), The Lost Children (Sydney: Doubleday, 1989). 8 Peter Read, “A History of the Wiradjuri People of New South Wales”, PhD thesis, Aus­ tralian National University, 1983, especially Chapters 4 and 8; Peter Read, The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969 (Sydney: Government Printer, 1982); Read, Rape of the Soul, pp. 49, 71–72, 219 note 1; Chakrabarty, “Politics of Recognition”, p. 167. 9 Robert A. Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2006), pp. 16, 39, 74, 87, 118, 153, 159, 163, 166. 10 See, for example, Sally Morgan, My Place (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1987); Glenys Ward, Wandering Girl (Broome: Magabala Books, 1987); Barbara Cummings, Take This Child . . . From Kahlin Compound to the Retta Dixon Children’s Home (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1990); Stuart Rintoul (comp.), The Wail­ ing: A National Black Oral History (Melbourne: Heinemann, 1993).

Historical wounds and history’s public life 147 11 Academic historians produced work at this time describing government policies and practices in regard to the removal of Aboriginal children, but these studies had much less impact publicly. See, for example, Andrew Markus, Governing Savages (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1990); Tony Austin, I Can See the Old Home So Clearly: The Com­ monwealth and “Half-Caste” Youth in the Northern Territory 1911–1939 (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1993). 12 Annette Wieviorka, “On Testimony”, in Geoffrey H. Hartman (ed.), Holocaust Remem­ brance: The Shapes of Memory (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994), p. 24; Gabrielle Spiegel, “Memory and History: Liturgical Time and Historical Time”, History and Theory, vol. 41, no. 2, 2002, p. 157. 13 Andrew Sharp, “History and Sovereignty: A Case of Juridical History in New Zealand/ Aotearoa”, in Michael Peters (ed.), Cultural Politics and the University in Aotearoa/ New Zealand (Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1997), p. 160; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Fami­ lies (Sydney: Commonwealth of Australia, 1997). 14 Ibid., p. 3. 15 Carmel Bird (comp.), The Stolen Children: Their Stories (Sydney: Random House, 1998); The Stolen Generations, and an accompanying book of that title by Anna Haebich and Anne Delroy, Western Australian Museum, Perth, 1999; documentary films Stolen Generations, directed by Darlene Johnson, 2000, and Cry from the Heart, directed by Jeni Kendell, 1999; and plays Stolen, by Jane Harrison, 1998, and Box the Pony, by Scott Rankin and Leah Purcell, 1999. 16 See Haydie Gooder and Jane Jacobs, “ ‘On the Border of the Unsayable’: The Apology in Postcolonising Australia”, Interventions, vol. 2, no. 2, 2000, especially pp. 239–243. 17 See David Carter, “The Conscience Industry: The Rise and Rise of the Public Intel­ lectual”, in David Carter (ed.), The Ideas Market: An Alternative Take on Australia’s Intellectual Life (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004), pp. 15–39; Gillian Whitlock, “Becoming Migloo”, in David Carter (ed.), The Ideas Market: An Alter­ native Take on Australia’s Intellectual Life (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004), pp. 236–258. 18 Chakrabarty, “Politics of Recognition”, p. 181; Chakrabarty, The Calling of History, pp. 7, 10.

Part IV

Historical disciplines and modern universals

13 Memory, historiography, and trauma The limits of representation Sanjay Seth

The subject of memory as a mode of re-presenting the past – one that is a legiti­ mate supplement to, and possibly even an alternative to, historiography – is one that has been exercising interest for more than three decades now.1 As Kerwin Lee Klein observed in a very good critical review of the proliferating literature on this subject, Memory is replacing old favorites – nature, culture, language – as the word most commonly paired with history. . . [and] memory increasingly serves as antonym rather than synonym; contrary rather than complement and replace­ ment rather than supplement.2 This observation was made in 2000, and since, while the literature on memory has continued to grow apace, it remains the case that much of it counterposes memory to historiography. Originally, the manner of counterposing the two was to suggest that memory was that which was being replaced by history. In his important and influential Zak­ hor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, Yosef Yerushalmi argued that the Jews were pre-eminently a people concerned with the past and with the meaning of that past. However, “while memory of the past was always a central component of Jewish experience, the historian was not its primary custodian.”3 The emergence of a history of the Jews in the nineteenth century was directly connected to the decay of “Jewish group memory”:4 “Only in the modern era do we really find, for the first time, a Jewish historiography divorced from Jewish collective memory and, in crucial respects, thoroughly at odds with it”.5 Because historiography was at odds with memory, it was no substitute for the latter, and Yerushalmi’s book is in part a lament from a historian at the decline of collective memory and the rise of historiography as its inadequate replacement: “modern Jewish historiography cannot replace an eroded group memory which . . . never depended on historians in the first place.”6 Pierre Nora struck a similarly elegiac note in his introduction to Lieux de Mem­ oire. Collective memory, which had been the mode by which earlier societies had transmitted and conserved their traditions, had declined with the “acceleration of history” that is a defining feature of the modern. “Memory is life, borne by living


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societies founded in its name. It remains in permanent evolution, open to the dia­ lectic of remembering and forgetting . . . vulnerable to manipulation and appro­ priation.” It had been replaced by history, which was in “fundamental opposition” to it: “Memory is a perpetually actual phenomenon, a bond tying us to the eternal present; history is a representation of the past.”7 We moderns, wrote Nora, “speak so much of memory because there is so little of it left.”8 If the preoccupation with memory began as a lament over its decline and its effacement by history, it very soon took the form of a campaign for its reinstate­ ment, either as a necessary supplement/corrective to historiography or as a preferred alternative to it. At its simplest, this took the form of treating memory as that which is immediate (rather than mediated), and therefore authentic and real (the “evi­ dence of experience”), by contrast with the cold, mediated, and objective nature of history-writing. Sometimes this claim has been mapped onto a claim made for oral history, for the greater authenticity of the oral over the written. Expounding on the importance of Holocaust survivor memory and testimony, Lawrence Langer writes, “Writing invites reflection, commentary, interpretation. . . . Oral testimony is distin­ guished by the absence of such literary mediation; it avoids the interference of art.”9 As with all claims for the greater immediacy and authenticity of memory, this is, quite simply, unsustainable. If the works of Roland Barthes, Hayden White, Jacques Derrida, and numerous others have established nothing else, they have surely established that there is no way of escaping what Langer quaintly calls “the interference of art.” It is not that historiography (or writing more generally) is constructed and artful, while testimony is original and “pure.” All representation occurs through (linguistic and other) signs, and thus no representation escapes the filter, or grid, of language. As James Young puts it precisely with reference to testimonies of the Holocaust: Holocaust writers and critics have assumed that the more realistic a represen­ tation, the more adequate it becomes as testimonial evidence of outrageous events. And as witness becomes the aim of this writing, “documentary real­ ism’ has become the style by which to persuade readers of a work’s testamen­ tary character. For the survivor’s witness to be credible, it must seem natural and unreconstructed.10 Seems is the operative word – testimony and documentary realism are not “the real” presented without mediation, but a particular trope or style that strives, in Barthes words, for a “reality effect.” I will not pause for long over this, as it seems to me self-evident. Also selfevident is that “collective memory” is a problematic term, for it usually treats as given (as primordial or natural) the collective which is the subject of memory. But if there are no natural, primordial identities, then it is not the (assumed, unprob­ lematic) existence of the community that results in “it” having a memory, but rather memory – that is, linguistically mediated representations (narratives) about shared experience and a shared sense of a past – that produces a sense of the “we” that is remembering, and that thus helps forge the collective that remembers.

Memory, historiography, and trauma


Paul Ricouer, also (as with Yerushalmi) writing about the Jews, does not assume that there is a community called the Jews who then “have” collective memories, but rather writes, “[I]t was in telling these narratives taken to be testimony about the founding events of its history that biblical Israel became the historical com­ munity that bears this name. The relation is circular – the historical community called the Jewish people has drawn its identity from the reception of those texts that it had produced.”11 At the same time, if the community or collective is not given in advance, but forged through narratives, then there are likely to be differ­ ent narratives: rather than being unitary or self-identical, the collective is likely to be a fractured and even fractious one, quite unlike the collective of memory invoked in the nostalgic and “romanticized” accounts of Nora, and (to a lesser degree) Yerushalmi.12 Recognizing this (if not always explicitly so, or in these terms), some scholars dealing with memory have preferred to talk of “cultural memory” rather than collective memory, such that one can recognize that “memory” (the narratives through which communities tell stories about themselves as “selves”) is always the site of contestation, and that it has a politics. Thus in her Tangled Memories, Marita Sturken describes “cultural memory” as “memory that is shared outside the avenues of formal historical discourse”13 – that which is found in and produced by films, literature, memorials, museums, and numerous other cultural products and processes that give a people ways of thinking and remembering their past. But her account is in part about different and competing ways of representing the past: “the process of cultural memory,” she observes, “is bound up in complex political stakes and meanings. . . . Cultural memory is a field of cultural negotia­ tion through which different stories vie for a place in history.”14 Cultural memory is not the memory “of” an ontologically given and unproblematic community, but in Graham Dawson’s words, “is central to the cultural construction of subjectivi­ ties and senses of belonging, and is among the factors that constitute collective identities.”15 The recognition that to talk of collective memory cannot assume that the col­ lective is the individual writ large; that the collective is itself constituted by what­ ever common pasts may be forged in the processes of cultural representation and narration, rather than something which can be presupposed as the subject which remembers; and consequently, that there will be different and competing nar­ ratives and different ways of constituting the collective self – all this is to the good. To study the production and circulation of cultural memory can be a highly interesting and revealing exercise, as in Sturken’s book, but the claims made for memory vis-à-vis historiography have now disappeared, or rather been redefined such that historiography is a subset of the wider field of cultural memory. This is unobjectionable: not even the most fervent champion of historiography would claim that the way people represent the past is or should be wholly shaped by history-writing. However, it also displaces the tension between memory and his­ tory, by shifting the terrain of the debate from epistemological questions (that is, does historiography have warrant for its claims to have privileged access to the “reality” of the past, or to put it another way, to the accurate and truthful


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representation of that past?) to the domain that cultural studies typically maps (that is, the different ways in which the past is represented and remembered). In this chapter I wish to remain with and to pursue the epistemological issues that the purveyors of memory raised when it became an object of discussion, and indeed intellectual fashion, from the 1980s. If memory does not give unmedi­ ated access to the past, but is also a form of representation, and thus a linguistic artefact – if in short, memory is not the name for the authentic and unalienated rememberings of communities that were once whole, rather than the cold and distanced representation of us disenchanted moderns, products of the diremptions of modernity – then what uses, if any, does the concept serve? Is there anything to be gained by being attentive to the recent discourse(s) of memory? Having used the first part of this paper for a ground-clearing exercise, to dismiss some of the more extravagant claims sometimes made for memory, I will devote the remainder of this essay to discussing what other promise or possibility, if any, the concept holds.

Trauma The growing interest in memory has sometimes been associated with an interest in trauma, a rather under-theorized term which, however, has also been much invoked in recent times. Trauma is a term borrowed from psychoanalysis (espe­ cially Freudian and Freudian influenced psychoanalysis) and usually refers to an event that has been repressed and is inaccessible to consciousness, but which lives a secret life in the unconscious and is periodically manifested in the form of neu­ rotic symptoms, dreams, and flashbacks, often in detail and with great vividness.16 Cathy Caruth characterizes trauma thus: traumatic recall remains insistent and unchanged to the precise extent that it has never, from the beginning, been fully integrated into understanding. The trauma is the confrontation with an event that, in its unexpectedness and horror, cannot be placed within the schemes of prior knowledge . . . and thus continually returns, in its exactness, at a later time. Not having been fully integrated as it occurred, the event cannot become . . . a “narrative memory” that is integrated into a completed story of the past.17 The traumatic event as recalled in dreams and flashbacks thus remains part of the “now” – trauma disrupts the flow of time, which is experienced as simultaneity rather than sequence, as in the case of those Holocaust survivors for whom the camps continue to be part of their present. “This simultaneity,” Kolk and Hart observe, is a consequence of the fact that “the traumatic experience/memory is, in a sense, timeless. It is not transformed into a story, placed in time, with a begin­ ning, a middle and an end. . . [as in] ‘narrative memory’.”18 This is highly suggestive for our purposes. One immediately recalls Adorno’s much-quoted remark, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric;” George Steiner’s “The world of Auschwitz lies outside speech as it lies outside reason;”

Memory, historiography, and trauma


and Lyotard’s inspired rendering of the difficulty or remembering and represent­ ing Auschwitz by means of analogy: “Suppose that an earthquake destroys not only lives, buildings and objects, but also the instruments used to measure earth­ quakes.”19 These and many similar observations refer to the difficulty or impos­ sibility of remembering/representing the historical trauma of the Holocaust, and suggest that trauma may be the site where the juxtaposition or conflict between history and memory might actually yield some intellectual dividends. But we can­ not, of course, equate trauma in its individual and psychoanalytical usage with historical trauma, for the same reasons that collective memory is not individual memory writ large. To outline what the salient differences are – and at the same time to begin exploring what memory might have to add to history when trauma is involved – I will turn to a debate over the Holocaust between the Israeli historian Saul Friedlander and the German historian Martin Broszat. In 1985, Broszat published an essay entitled “A Plea for the Historicization of National Socialism.” As his title indicates, Broszat argued that the Nazi period needed to be integrated into historical understanding, rather than treated as an inexplicable irruption, an almost incomprehensible disaster that was a subject for ritual denunciation rather than historical understanding. It is important to note that Broszat’s essay appeared a year before the Historikerstreit or histo­ rian’s conflict broke out, and his argument could not be characterized, as Ernst Nolte’s and Andreas Hillgruber’s arguments a year later could be, as a conserva­ tive push to diminish the horrors of Nazism by “normalizing” them. Broszat’s intellectual and political position was far from an apologia for Nazism, as Friedlander recognizes when characterizing Broszat’s position in an essay published eight years later: by distancing and viewing the Nazi epoch from the perspective of its crimi­ nal core, one actually allows present-day German society to cut itself totally from that past and to consider it as entirely alien. In Martin Broszat’s opinion, only by reintroducing the continuities of daily life and the normal dimensions of those years and by avoiding the central perspective of Auschwitz for the understanding of the Third Reich, may one reintegrate the Nazi epoch within the consciousness of contemporary Germans and create the necessary aware­ ness of a continuity between past and present at all levels. “This agenda, with which one may feel much empathy,” concluded Friedlander, “nonetheless leaves unsolved many dilemmas.”20 Chief amongst these was whether historicizing the Holocaust, that is, integrat­ ing it into historical representation, has the effect (however unintentional, in Bro­ szat’s case) of detracting from the enormity of it; and relatedly whether it was historicizable at all. For Friedlander had and has been at the forefront of those who have asked, is there anything, in the very nature of the Nazi regime and, more specifi­ cally, in the nature of its crimes, that defies the reinsertion of that past into the


Sanjay Seth framework of “normal” historical narrative, that impedes its transformation into an historical epoch like any other.21

It should not surprise us that Friedlander’s answer is “yes,” and in his prompt reply to Broszat’s 1985 essay, “Some Reflections on the Historicization of National Socialism,” Friedlander argued (as have many others) that the Holocaust displays the limits of historicization,22 and he subsequently has suggested that it displays the limits of representation as such: “an event which tests our traditional concep­ tual and representational categories, an ‘event at the limits.’”23 It could then follow that memory – specifically in this case, the memory of Holocaust survivors, both their conscious memory and also traumatic memory – is to be preferred as a mode of re-presenting this particular past, precisely because it does not represent, that is, does not integrate this past into a narrative, and per­ haps above all (as in the case of traumatic memory), does not render it “past.”24 Some have drawn precisely this conclusion. Claude Lanzmann, the maker of the epic film Shoah (which eschews use of archival footage and historical reconstruc­ tion, and consists mostly of interviews with Holocaust survivors and others, who recollect what transpired in the camps), told an audience: It is enough to formulate the question in simplistic terms – Why have the Jews been killed? – for the question to reveal right away its obscenity. There is an absolute obscenity in the very project of understanding. Not to under­ stand was my iron law during all of the eleven years of the production of Shoah. I had clung to this refusal of understanding as the only possible ethical and at the same time only possible operative attitude. We could then conclude, as Lanzmann and others have done, that the Holocaust cannot be historicized, and thus that memory is the privileged or preferred medium for representing it. Such a conclusion would be premature, however, for we need first to ask, what it could mean to say that the Holocaust cannot be historicized, given that Broszat, Hans Mommsen, and numerous other talented historians had and have been doing precisely this – the very source of Friedlander’s disquiet. Let us probe a little further. At the time that Friedlander published his critique of Broszat’s “Plea,” Broszat declined to reply in any form. Some years later, his original essay and Friedlander’s response were published under the same cover, as were some letters the two exchanged on the subject. The last of these, written by Friedlander, contains what I think is an interesting and revealing passage: By stressing the normalcy of daily life, the continuity of social processes, etc., you are possibly not only following a purely theoretical historiographi­ cal past, but also- and this is quite natural – restoring for the readers, i.e. for German society, a continuity in historical self-perception. . . . Although that is quite understandable, this type of perspective necessarily will differ considerably from that belonging to another group – and above all from the perspective of the victims . . . we have differing emphases, differing foci in the

Memory, historiography, and trauma


general description of that epoch. What might be viewed, as a kind of “fusion of horizons” is not in sight.25 (emphasis added) I read this to say that while the Nazi period can be integrated into historical under­ standing for some, it cannot be so for others, above all, the victims. The past is, in this case, perspectival: both perspectives are “understandable,” but there is no prospect of their coming together in a synthesis, no prospect of a (Friedlander borrows a term from Gadamer) fusion of horizons. Others would add that even if in principle this trauma can be overcome and integrated into historical under­ standing, it should not be; for Lanzmann as for many others, this is not an episte­ mological but rather an ethical issue. The real issue is not whether the Holocaust is historicizable, for in one sense, it clearly is; the question is whose past is being represented here, and whether it should be historicized. One possible answer is that we should refuse to understand the Holocaust, and to integrate it into the flow of historical narrative; the trauma must not be exorcised, and to hold fast to it as trauma, as incomprehensible and unassimilable, is an ethical imperative. To this end, memory, and especially traumatic memory, is vastly to be preferred to history. Why so? I suggest a reason, one which will also serve to connect the “narrower” debate on memory to what (in my view) is a broader and more inter­ esting debate on perspective. Before about 1780, writes Reinhart Koselleck, “there was no history for which humanity might have been the subject, or which could be thought of as its own subject;”26 the Enlightenment “took the step from a plurality of specific histories to a general and singular history,”27 such that the plural histories which had been written in the West for many centuries (imperial history, the history of the French nation, and so on) became subsets of history newly conceived as the past of a “collective singular.” This has been constitutive of what we understand by history and is the basis for many of the epistemological claims made for it. History is to be accorded privilege in representing the past, over other modes/knowledges of the past, not principally because it is based upon evidence, governed by rigorous and verifiable protocols, and so on, but rather because of a presumption which is prior to and underlies all these, namely, that questions of evidence and narrative are not a matter of perspective, but are rationally or objectively ascertainable. And they are thought to be rationally ascertainable because (precisely the legacy of the Enlightenment) there is a “collective singular” and corresponding to it, a singular reason rather than multiple perspectives. That is, history is objective, not (neces­ sarily) in the positivist sense, but in that it is not the specific past of any one person or people, but rather a mode of knowledge that is about, and addressed to, Man or humankind. In Nora’s words, “there are as many memories as there are groups . . . memory is by its nature multiple and yet specific. . . . History, on the other hand, belongs to everyone and to no one, whence its claim to universal authority.”28 However, in some circumstances or for some purposes, that general collective singular may not exist. And if instead of humankind we have different groups (in this case, victims and others), and their different perspectives cannot be


Sanjay Seth

transcended or synthesized, then in such a circumstance the very partial, subjec­ tive, and ineliminably perspectival view afforded by memory – usually the very reasons for treating it as inferior to historiography – now becomes a virtue. Where there are those possessed of a past which resists (or at least, refuses) integration into a common history, then memory may be valuable as an alternative epistemo­ logical and ethical mode of recalling that past; and conversely, it is because some people are possessed by this memory that they cannot (or will not) recognize themselves in the historicized past of history-writing. It is possible, then, to make sense of the claims sometimes made for memory, and to do so without spurious claims about the warm, fuzzy, and unmediated access to the past which is (allegedly) afforded by memory, in contrast to histo­ riography. I have suggested that far from its alleged immediacy being the reason for juxtaposing memory to history, it is rather its fragmentary and partial character which may – in certain circumstances – make a case for allowing that memory is a useful concept, and one that may even in certain circumstances be preferred to history. But it should also be clear that in this argument memory is merely one case of (or pathway into) a more general issue or problem, that of perspective. I will conclude this essay with some brief and unsystematic reflections upon this larger, and to my mind more interesting, theme.

Perspective The 1960s saw the rise of movements of the marginalized and oppressed – women, gay men and women, black Americans, and so on – who challenged the way in which the dominant or mainstream historical narratives had been constructed. Implicit, and sometimes explicit, in their demands was already a certain perspec­ tivalism, but for the most part, these movements sought inclusion in an expanded, and less elitist, historical narrative. With women’s history, labour history, black history and the like, history-writing was “democratized”, and indeed the impetus to include hitherto marginalized groups resulted, as Chakrabarty has observed, in innovation in the use of sources and in the “craft” of history.29 The period from the 1960s onwards also saw attempts to delineate and criti­ cally examine the conceptual premises of historiography. Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Althusser, de Certeau, Foucault, Derrida, Hayden White, and others argued, in their different ways, that the past was not an ontological reality waiting to be rep­ resented, but rather was an object that had to be constructed like any other; it was not the fact that there was the past that gave rise to historiography, but rather his­ toriography which constructed “pastness” as an object amenable to investigation and representation. The implications of these arguments were altogether more subversive than those made by E.H. Carr in What is History?, for the focus shifted from the irremediable element of selection and bias on the part of the historian to the conceptual and ideological presuppositions of historiography.30 These intellectual developments are in part what enabled some of the later debates on memory: they are part of the intellectual backdrop that enabled a his­ torian like Yerushalmi to write, “there have been a number of alternative ways,

Memory, historiography, and trauma


each viable and with its own integrity, in which human beings have perceived and organized their collective pasts. Modern historiography is the most recent, but still only one of these.”31 And if history-writing was not simply the proper, rational and evidence-based reconstruction of the past, but was rather one possible mode of representing the past, the question arose of why it should be accorded any epistemic privilege.32 These roughly contemporaneous trends – the political-intellectual challenge posed by movements of the marginalized, and the structuralist and post-structuralist critique of knowledge-forms – were almost destined to come together at some point. And so they did. For those who did not wish to be, or felt that they could not be, incorporated into a larger, more ecumenical or democratic historical nar­ rative, there were now respectable arguments available with which to challenge historiography’s imperialist claims to being the only right (truthful, accurate and objective) way of representing the past. Such arguments have proliferated in India in recent years (often without the scaffolding of respectable intellectual arguments!), as Hindu reactionaries, but also Dalit activists and others, have produced histories, memorials, statues, and other representations and commemorations of the past with gleeful disregard for historical protocols. The Dalit intellectual Kancha Ilaiah begins an essay published in Subaltern Studies by declaring that “Mainstream historiography has done noth­ ing to incorporate the Dalitbahujan perspective in the writing of Indian history.”33 His essay goes on to reject the existing discipline of history, and he writes, “The methodology and epistemology that I use in this essay being what they are, the discussion might appear ‘unbelievable’, ‘unacceptable’, or ‘untruthful’ to those scholars and thinkers who are born and brought up in Hindu families. . . . I delib­ erately do not want to take precautions, qualify my statements, footnote my mate­ rial, or nuance my claims, for the simple reason that my statements . . . are meant to raise Dalitbahujan consciousness.”34 In the public realm in contemporary India, and sometimes in universities, as the example of Ilaiah indicates, “invented pasts are blended with history, myth, legend, religion [and, one could add, memory] and so on;” these are histories that that are completely and deliberately dominated by particular points of view . . . marked by a rampant sense of perspectivalism . . . there is no question of their seeking validation from the historian’s history or even being amenable to the usual methods of historical verification.35 I would not wish to claim that India is a typical or even representative case, but I do suggest that such developments are both a cause and a consequence of a more general crisis of the collective singular. Hosts of scholars and activists have been pointing out, for some time now, that this “collective singular” turns out, on closer inspection, to be a white man (or a Brahmin, or a. . .). This had led to efforts to rethink and rewrite history, efforts that are, in my view, all to the good. It has also led some, myself included, to argue that, far from being an empty form into which any content can be poured (restrictive or inclusive, democratic or elitist, and so on),


Sanjay Seth

history as a form or “code” to a significant degree pre-determines its content; and to argue that the protocols by which we write history may not be entitled to their claim that they have epistemic privilege when it comes to representing the past.36 It is in this larger context, I suggest, that we should place recent discussions of mem­ ory: as a local or particular instance of a more global or general issue. For if histo­ riography is not the “right” way to represent the past of a collective singular, both because it cannot justify its claims to exclusivity in representing human pasts and because the idea of a collective singular is in crisis, then “memory” can lay claim – along with myth, legend and epic – to being a legitimate supplement or even rival to historiography, as a way of re-presenting the pasts of particular groups.

Notes 1 Since 1989, the topic has even had a bi-annual journal devoted to it: History and Memory. 2 Kerwin Lee Klein, “On the Emergence of Memory in Historical Discourse”, Represen­ tations, no. 69, Winter 2000, pp. 128–129. 3 Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: Uni­ versity of Washington Press, 1982), xiv. 4 Ibid., p. 86. 5 Ibid., p. 93. 6 Ibid., p. 94. 7 Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire”, Representations, no. 26, Spring 1989, p. 8. 8 Ibid., p. 7. Others have similarly argued that with modernity, historiography supplanted collective memory as the principal mode by which groups represent their continuity with the past. Michael Roth writes, “once collective memory has lost access to impor­ tant aspects of the past, history-writing is one of the crucial vehicles for reconstructing or reimagining a community’s connection to its traditions.” Michael Roth, The Ironist’s Cage: Memory, Trauma, and the Construction of History (New York: Columbia Uni­ versity Press, 1995), p. 10. In a complex argument, Richard Terdiman seems to suggest that the “long nineteenth century” was characterized by an anxiety over a perceived disruption of traditional forms of memory, one mark of which was an obsessive preoc­ cupation with the past. The resolution of this crisis, “for better or worse”, was that “his­ tory increasingly became the discipline of memory.” Richard Terdiman, Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 31. 9 Lawrence Langer, “Interpreting Survivor Testimony”, in Berel Lang (ed.), Writing and the Holocaust (New York: Holmes and Maier, 1988), p. 32. 10 James E. Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust: Narrative and the Conse­ quences of Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 17. The point is not that there is an “experience” that cannot, however, be communicated other than through signs; experience (and experiencing) itself presupposes categories of understanding, a point as old as Kant, since “radicalised.” The seminal argument here is Joan Scott, “The Evidence of Experience”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 17, no. 4, Summer 1991. 11 Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vol. 3, trans. K. Blamey and D. Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 248. 12 Indeed, contemporary invocations of collective memory sometimes treat it as if it were individual memory writ large – even though Halbwachs himself emphasized that the former could not be thought of as the latter on a magnified scale. As Klein observes,

Memory, historiography, and trauma

13 14 15 16




20 21 22



“Strangely, although the new memory studies frequently invoke the ways in which memory is socially constructed, Freudian vocabularies are far more common than Hal­ bwachsian or even Lacanian ones.” Klein, “On the Emergence of Memory in Histori­ cal Discourse”, p. 135. Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p. 3. Ibid., p. 1. Graham Dawson, Making Peace with the Past? Memory, Trauma and the Irish Trou­ bles (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp. 12–13. The task of psychoanalysis, in this understanding, is to bring it to consciousness, in order that it may be exorcized. The psychoanalyst helps the patient to “remember” in order that s/he may be able, as it were, to “forget.” My use of the word “exorcize” registers my discomfort with a mode of analysis which seems to me to have uncanny similarities with earlier modes of knowledge which today are not respectable. Cathy Caruth, “Introduction” to Part II: Recapturing the Past, in Cathy Caruth (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 153. Caruth adds, “trauma thus seems to evoke the different truth of a history that is constituted by the very incomprehensibility of its occurrence.” B. A. Van Der Kolk and O. Van Der Hart, “The Intrusive Past: The Flexibility of Mem­ ory and the Engraving of Trauma”, in Cathy Caruth (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 177. This is apparent to some degree even when such experience is being narrativized, as in the memoirs of Holocaust survivors, including memoirs by historians. Studying such memoirs, Jer­ emy Popkin defines one of their defining characteristics thus: “Survivors’ memoirs . . . reflect a sense that the Holocaust cannot really be understood as a historical event, or even an autobiographical one. Auschwitz comes out of nowhere and leads nowhere, and the months or years spent there do not connect up with the before and after of the survivor’s life . . . The survivors’ memoirs implicitly assert that history, as a form of understanding, will never succeed in integrating what happened in Auschwitz into any kind of comprehensible narrative. . . [furthermore] the classical Holocaust survivor’s narrative denies the possibility of a real autobiography.” Jeremy Popkin, “Holocaust Memories, Historians’ Memoirs: First-Person Narrative and the Memory of the Holo­ caust”, Memory and History, vol. 15, no. 1, 2003, pp. 49–84. Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Sherry Weber (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981 [1967]), p. 34; Steiner, quoted in Berel Lang, Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 151; Jean Francois Lyotard, The Dif­ ferend: Phrases in Dispute (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 56. Saul Friedlander, Memory, History and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), p. 36. Saul Friedlander, “Historical Writing and the Memory of the Holocaust”, in Berel Lang (ed.), Writing and the Holocaust (New York: Holmes and Maier, 1988), p. 76. Saul Friedlander, “Some Reflections on the Historicization of National Socialism”, reprinted in Peter Baldwin (ed.), Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians’ Debate (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990), p. 100. In his obituary for Broszat, Christian Meier similarly wrote (of Auschwitz), “Here, all historicization reaches its limits”- quoted in Friedlander, Memory, History and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe, p. 118. Saul Friedlander, “Introduction”, in Saul Friedlander (ed.), Probing the Limits of Rep­ resentation: Nazism and the ‘Final Solution’ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 2–3. Friedlander is only one of many who has argued thus, along with Lyotard and Steiner, quoted earlier, and many others. As Anton Kaes notes in his contribution to the above volume, “The insistence on the impossibility of ade­ quately comprehending and describing the Final Solution has by now become a topos


24 25 26 27 28 29 30

31 32

33 34 35


Sanjay Seth

of Holocaust research.” Anton Kaes, “Holocaust and the End of History: Postmodern Historiography in Cinema”, in Saul Friedlander (ed.), Probing the Limits of Represen­ tation: Nazism and the ‘Final Solution’ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 207. Friedlander himself is too sophisticated a historian to draw this conclusion: in fact, he explicitly disavows the claim that history and memory are opposed. Friedlander, Memory, History and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe. Letter to Broszat, d. 31 December 1987, in Baldwin (ed.), Reworking the Past, pp. 132–133. Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past, trans. Keith Tribe (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), p. 200. Ibid., p. 201. Nora, “Between Memory and History”, p. 9. Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts”, Postcolonial Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 1998, p. 16. For a useful sketch of the differences between the position of Carr and other, more radi­ cal critiques of historiography, see Partha Chatterjee, “Introduction: History and the Present”, in Partha Chatterjee and Anjan Ghosh (eds.), History and the Present (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2002). Yerushalmi, Zakhor, p. xvi. My (highly condensed) account of this intellectual moment is not “innocent.” I have been a contributor to this intellectual trajectory. See Sanjay Seth, “Reason or Rea­ soning? Clio or Siva?” Social Text, no. 78, 2004, pp. 85–101; Sanjay Seth, “Which Past? Whose Transcendental Presupposition?” Postcolonial Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, June 2008, pp. 215–226 (special issue on “Historiography and non-Western Pasts”); Sanjay Seth, Subject Lessons: The Western Education of Colonial India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007). Other works arguing out of India that have explored and in some cases endorsed alternative ways of representing the past include Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Differ­ ence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000); Ashis Nandy, “History’s Forgotten Doubles”, History and Theory, vol. 34, no. 2, May 1995; Prachi Deshpande, Crea­ tive Pasts: Historical Memory and Identity in Western India, 1700–1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007); Shail Mayaram, Against History, Against State: Counterperspectives from the Margins (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003); Badri Narayan, Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India: Culture, Identity and Politics (New Delhi: Sage, 2006); Kancha Ilaiah, “Productive Labour, Conscious­ ness and History: The Dalitbahujan Alternative”, in Dipesh Chakrabarty and Shahid Amin (eds.), Subaltern Studies IX (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996); and the essays in Chatterjee and Ghosh (eds.), History and the Present. This list is by no means exhaustive. Ilaiah, “Productive Labour”, p. 165. Ibid., p. 168. Chakrabarty, “The Public Life of History: An Argument out of India”, Postcolonial Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, June 2008, p. 181. See also the essays in the special issue of Public Culture edited by Attwood, Chakrabarty and Lomnitz, vol. 20, no. 1, Winter 2008. See Seth, “Reason or Reasoning?”; Seth, “Which Past?”

14 Thinking Freedom with Gandhi Ajay Skaria

Perhaps no distinction is as crucial and yet obscured in political life today as that between liberty and freedom. What may be called liberty is exercised through the will and expressed in terms of “agency,” “people’s will,” “individual rights,” and is exemplified in French Declaration’s “rights of man and citizen.” What may be called freedom involves a power exercised through a suspension or surren­ der of the will and is articulated especially intensely in relations of friendship and neighbourliness, and the vulnerability they involve. The distinction is crucial because freedom provides a vocabulary for questioning, thinking critically about, and even setting aside liberty. Yet the distinction remains repressed in most of our political thinking, where liberty remains the dominant way in which we conceive of free polities and societies. Mohandas Gandhi exemplifies one of the starkest exceptions to this trend. When in 1909 he published his translation into English of his Gujarati book Hind Swaraj, he titled it Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule – as though an English title alone would not suffice.1 Reading the English version suggests that it is the word swaraj which he finds especially untranslatable. The book is organized as a conversation between a Reader and an Editor, with the latter articulating Gandhi’s explicit positions. In the early part, where the Reader presents his vision, swaraj is often translated as “Home Rule” (a reference to the Irish Home Rule movement, which fired the imagination of many Indian nationalists). The Reader’s swaraj is clearly organized around the concept of liberty; later in his life, Gandhi is to call this “political swaraj” or “parliamentary swaraj.” But once the Editor starts articu­ lating his vision, the word is often left untranslated; both in Gujarati and English, it is sometimes prefixed with the word “true.” The untranslatability of swaraj and the prefix it required may have been because Gandhi sensed that he was venturing on terrain so unexplored that there were no ready concepts to draw on, whether in English or in Gujarati. Gandhi is by no means alone in his taste for freedom rather than liberty. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, his sharpest and most thoughtful critic, shares it too – it is within this shared taste that their utterly irreconcilable differences develop. Many others fighting for social justice also share this taste for freedom – amongst them James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Simone Weil. Still, Gandhi argu­ ably holds a very singular place. Few thought about the distinction and relation

164 Ajay Skaria between liberty and freedom, or in his terms between political swaraj and true swaraj, with as much intensity as he did. Moreover, he also initiated a street poli­ tics of freedom – practices of freedom that challenge and displace the practices of liberty. Without such street politics, freedom remains a shadow or repressed concept – unsettling and questioning practices of liberty yet subordinate to it. In other words, any thinking of freedom that does not engage with Gandhi, even if only to question and set aside his writing, runs the risk of not even getting off the ground. The principal “faculty” of liberty is a distinctive concept of will, which may be described, following Kant and Arendt, as the power of “spontaneously beginning a series of successive things or states.”2 Such spontaneous beginning presumes that the will is free – that it decides on its ends. And will moreover involves inten­ tionality, which is minimally an overcoming or redirection of desire – the uninten­ tional power that threatens the will. The modern phenomenon of liberty attempts to institutionalize free will in the state. Liberty is now usually recognized as both negative (involving freedom from coercion or from acting against one’s will) and positive (involving “agency,” the capacity to achieve one’s will). The concept of the human in terms of free will, systematized politically as liberty, is the crux of modern humanism. With it, the other humanist criteria – reason or moral responsi­ bility, for example – to elevate humans over other beings, even create the category human take on a new salience. Gandhi’s Reader is the most common kind of humanist today – a liberal. A pre­ definition of liberalism: it involves always the taste for a society where liberty is conceived in terms of the exercise of the individual will, and where this will and the various collectivities its exercise gives rise to are distributed between the public and private spheres. (This can only be a predefinition because it remains open to question how individual wills are to be realized, made into collectivities, and divided between public and private spheres. The predefinition therefore indi­ cates no more, but also no less, than the field within which liberalism develops as a historical and political phenomenon.) The Reader’s liberalism is evident both from his vision of an independent India with its own parliament, and by his being modeled on one of Gandhi’s liberal friends, Pranjivandas Mehta. With liberalism, Gandhi has an ambivalent relation. On the one side, he rec­ ognizes the intolerable life that results where rights and liberties are denied: he encounters everywhere the violence of the British in their empire – their racism, their systematic denial of agency to the colonized, their expropriation of resources from the colonies, and so on. When he returns to India some years after complet­ ing Hind Swaraj, he leads the Indian National Congress in its fight to liberate India from British rule and to establish a parliamentary democracy that would guarantee civil liberties. And the fight for civil liberties continues to be important today in the two countries I call home – the United States, where the Republican Party under Trump is systematically assaulting the rights of minorities, and India, where the Bharatiya Janata Party under Modi has unleashed an attack of unprec­ edented viciousness on India’s constitutional guarantees on civil, political, and social rights.

Thinking Freedom with Gandhi 165 On the other hand, Gandhi sharply criticizes the politics of will and liberty. This is unsurprising. To echo Hannah Arendt in “What is freedom,” there is something paradoxical about a freedom based on a faculty whose “essential activity consists in dictate and command.”3 Born in self-mastery, the will works through a mastery of the means needed to achieve its ends. Will also strengthens a particular concept of reason and knowledge – not the substantial reason anguished by ethical ques­ tions about right and wrong means or ends, but the instrumental reason that sim­ ply determines the most effective means to an end. While concepts of free will go back at least two millennia, the dominance of such willed reason and knowledge arguably inaugurates modernity. And liberalism, the rational division of the will, involves creating securitized subjects – both individual monads protected against each other by their rights, and collective monads on guard against both internal and external threats to their lib­ erty. Moreover, the internal contradictions of liberalism lead, perhaps inexorably, to either or both neoliberal regimes (such as have been dominant ever since the 1980s) and authoritarian populism, and these phenomena leave liberal rights in tatters, replacing them with a ruthless will to domination. Liberalism can in other words at best sustain a holding pattern for those included, and in the long run its regime of rights intensifies the very violence it presumes to tame. *** Critical of modern humanism or what he calls “modern civilization,” Gandhi articulates another reading of swaraj, one which relinquishes liberty but conserves civil liberties in quite another configuration. Consider the Editor’s explanation in Chapter 14 of Hind Swaraj: “When we experience rule over ourselves, only that is swaraj, and that swaraj is in the palm of our hands. Do not consider this swaraj to be like a dream. This is not a swaraj that can be accepted in the mind while sitting still. This swaraj is such that once you have tasted it, you will diligently devote your life to giving others a flavor of it. But the principal thing is that each one has to experience swaraj for oneself.” In this description, the will goes missing. There is no external oppression that the will should overcome, only a self-overcoming. Hence: swaraj is in the palm of our hands. (At the time of Hind Swaraj’s publication, Gandhi does not even seek to expel the British from India: he demands purna swaraj or complete independ­ ence only after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre makes him lose faith in British rule.) True, the modern Kantian will also require a self-overcoming. But rather than being a willed control of the self, the Editor’s swaraj involves an experience, something that happens to us, something tasted. And this nonappearance of the will is not a stoic withdrawal, not an inner freedom experienced in the mind while sitting still. Rather, it leads to a sociality and being with others: you will diligently devote your life to giving others a flavor of it. If swaraj is not a liberty centred around the will, what is it? The etymology and history of swaraj is suggestive. The prefix swa could be glossed as “self,” “own,” even “own most,” or “proper.” Swa is pervasive in some of the earliest Sanskrit

166 Ajay Skaria texts, perhaps because it implicitly divides the “I” into more than one – recogniz­ ing a self that exceeds, stays apart from, and destabilizes the I. Only with this originary division does it become possible to formulate the question of being, and relatedly to conceive of responsibility (which always involves at least a relation of the self to itself) for and to being. The suffix raj is usually glossed as “rule,” as in raja – “sovereign” or “king.” But where swa involves responsibility to oneself, the alternative of a rule without sovereignty or will opens up. This alternative Gandhi pursues in his rendering of the word swaraj. The word swaraj enters modern Indian history from the late seventeenth cen­ tury as one of the key terms through which the chiefs of the rising Maratha empire claim sovereignty. And the claim here is for Maratha swaraj – self-rule not for a king but of a group, the Marathas. Swaraj enters modern Indian vocabulary, in other words, as part of the recognition that the sovereign is not one, that the rule of a plurality must now be thought. Similar claims to the rule of a plurality abound in the period: Bhil raj in western and central India and claims to popular authority by the Sikhs and the Jats in northern India. By the time Hind Swaraj is written, swaraj has come to be understood as “the plurality of the people’s will.” This idea Hind Swaraj criticizes. In the opening question-and-answer exchange of Hind Swaraj, the Editor stresses the need “fear­ lessly to expose popular defects” and adds: “To a certain extent the people’s will [loklagni] has to be expressed, certain sentiments will need to be fostered, and defects will have to be brought to light.” If we think with Hind Swaraj and Gan­ dhi’s other writings, then what emerges is another sense of swaraj – that of freely being with self and others in a manner not governed by will and liberty. What is this other manner? A sporadic but intense tradition, whose most power­ ful twentieth-century philosophical exponents are arguably Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, has distinguished liberty from an antecedent freedom, a freedom which constitutes the field within which liberty emerges. Partially reprising this tradition, Jean Luc Nancy writes in The Experience of Freedom of the divorce between, on the one hand, “pragmatic definitions. . . [of] freedoms – a collec­ tion of rights and exemptions” whose suspension would be intolerable, “and on the other hand an ‘Idea’ of freedom called for or promised by freedoms – yet we hardly know what this idea represents or presents of the ‘essence’ of ‘human beings.’” Nancy notes also that ‘ “freedoms’ do not grasp the stake of ‘freedom,” ’ and yet doing away with freedoms would only imperil freedom more.4 Freedom and liberty thus do not belong on the same plane, are not the same sort of activity. Liberty is always individual or collective – either had by individuals in exclusion of society and other individuals or had as an individual subsumption into a collective social unity. Freedom is always personal and social – borne by the person, in an experience they have themselves, singularly, which binds them with others. By the terms of liberty, freedom is non-political: it belongs to the pri­ vate sphere and takes forms such as freedom of association or religious freedom. By the terms of freedom, liberty is unfreedom itself: by insisting on rights, liberty securitizes self and society, and so makes vulnerability and friendship difficult if not impossible.

Thinking Freedom with Gandhi 167 In the South Asian context, what I am here calling freedom is arguably a crucial stake of the Subaltern Studies tradition, especially in its second phase, whose inception is usually associated with Gayatri Spivak’s famous interven­ tion “Can the Subaltern Speak?” It is also one possible trajectory along which to take the arguments initiated in Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe. There, Chakrabarty famously makes a distinction between History 1 and History 2. As he specifies, History 1 is internal to the life processes of capital; it is also the history that, at its most democratic and radical, can include “minority histo­ ries.”5 By contrast, History 2 consists of the histories that capital cannot subsume within itself, which remain heterogeneous to it. In Chakrabarty’s words in PE, History 2 represents “moments or points at which the archive that the historian mines develops a degree of intractability with respect to the aims of professional history.” But History 2 remains relatively unexplored in Provincializing Europe. The examples it offers run the risk of presenting, in Chakrabarty’s own words (he is writing specifically of the adda), “a particular way of dwelling in moder­ nity, almost a zone of comfort in capitalism.” But for a zone of comfort within capitalism, one does not need History 2 – for that, the private sphere of intimate relations is enough. And such intimate relations do not challenge or provincialize capital – they only allow capital to function with even greater efficiency. To pro­ vincialize Europe in the spirit of Chakrabarty’s broader argument would involve a more fundamental challenge, which at its broadest can be described as that of imagining and enacting freedom rather than liberty. To describe swaraj in his sense of an antecedent and even originary freedom that acts in the present by relinquishing will and liberty, Gandhi coins the neolo­ gism satyagraha. Satya can be translated as “truth,” but here truth involves the sense of sat or “being.” Where being is conceived as sovereign, as in the case of theocratic states or “religions” that insist that followers submit to a sovereign God, then it institutes the most massive violence. It was precisely in revolt against theocratic notions of a sovereign being that liberalism gained force (though liberal traditions are theological in another way.) And elements of theological thinking are pervasive in Gandhi’s formulations. He often opposes rights, for example, by insisting on the primacy of duties – whether to the family or the nation. Such an emphasis theologizes or makes ontologically sovereign the entity to which duty is to be offered. But such theological formulations usually come undone because of his almost inadvertent political mysticism (minimally, mysticism is the inability to find or affirm the divine in a sovereign form; mysticism becomes political where this inability extends to worldly sovereignty). Symptomatic of Gandhi’s mystical thinking of satya is his association of it with a certain prem or “love.” He writes in 1919: This law of love is nothing but a law of truth. Without truth there is no love; without truth it may be affection, as for one’s country, to the injury of others; or infatuation, as of a young man for a girl; or love may be unreasoning and blind, as of ignorant parents for their children.6

168 Ajay Skaria This love is for him as inseparable from satya as two sides of a coin are from each other. I say “a certain love” because of what love entails here. On occasion, Gandhi says satya and ahimsa (“non-violence”) are as inseparable as two sides of a coin. On other occasions, he makes the same assertion about satya and love. Love and non-violence are clearly interchangeable here as the other side of the coin to satya. They embody the modality of action for the ontological “principle,” so to speak, of satya. But ahimsa is a distinctive modality of action for love. It requires letting others be in their difference, or, where others’ actions are perceived as violent, opposing them non-violently, or in a manner that lets them be, and yet does not let their violence be. Such action, and its orientation towards satya, is described by the neologism satyagraha – the agraha (force, firmness, insistence, or even seizing) of satya. Satyagraha is the force of being. The genitive of necessarily points in two ways here: both force and satya belong to each other. The word satyagraha is initially coined as a translation of the English phrase “passive resistance.” But soon after, he starts treating them as quite different; about a decade later, he even insists that the two are as different as north and south. The shift occurs mainly because Gan­ dhi recognizes that “civil resistance” or “passive resistance” could very well not be oriented towards satya in the sense of ahimsa-love. Moreover, Gandhi regards non-violent resistance as only part of satyagraha, which he increasingly sees as constitutive of life. Already in Chapter 17 of Hind Swaraj, the Editor suggests: the greatest and most unimpeachable evidence of the success of this force [satyagraha] is to be found in the fact that, in spite of the wars of the world, it still lives on. Thousands, indeed, tens of thousands, depend for their exist­ ence on a very active working of this force. Little quarrels of millions of families in their daily lives disappear before the exercise of this force. Gandhi himself does not seem to recognize the enormous conceptual newness of satyagraha. He asserts: “the doctrine of satyagraha is not new; it is merely an extension of the rule of domestic life to the political.”7 That assertion is how­ ever quite misleading. In the very extension from domestic to political life, satya­ graha emerges. In the domestic world, the question of equality is muted, or more precisely repressed. Indeed, families could well be described today as the last redoubt of relations where inequality has ossified into hierarchy. Even if a resist­ ance organized by love is practiced there, it might likely only reinscribe hierarchy. By contrast, the principle of equality constitutes the political world. “Political­ ness” occurs wherever the question of equality comes into play. (For example, our relations with animals and even things become explicitly political precisely at the moment when we acknowledge even the possibility of equality – perhaps the equality suddenly experienced in relations of love and care. At other times, their politicalness is repressed.) As a claim in political life, satyagraha necessarily involves not only an insist­ ence on equality, but on the equality of freedom – an equality different in concept

Thinking Freedom with Gandhi 169 from the equality of liberty and rights. To begin with, central to the former is a political love. Love is already a charged term to introduce into politics because it cannot be willed: always necessarily an experience, it seizes one. Moreover, political love involves an experience of love neither for beings whom one knows intimately, as in erotic relations or the family, nor for an abstract entity such as an object of charity (whom one is superior to) or the nation (where one subordinates oneself into something larger and more general). Indeed, political love is not a love of a being or a concept; it is a love of equality itself. As such, political love is always a letting be; it is originary freedom itself, both a receiving and giving of freedom. What can be the modality of action proper to political love? The question of modality arises because our humanism conditions us to regard will as the only means to achieve political equality. With the concept of will unavailable to him, Gandhi is drawn to the metaphor of tapas. That word, pervasive in Sanskrit and other Indian languages, is usually somewhat misleadingly translated as “dis­ cipline.” But tapas is arguably better rendered, following Roberto Calasso, as “ardor” (the title Calasso gives to his book) so as to stress that here discipline is not centred around the will but around the self’s seizure of itself. As a discipline and ardor, moreover, tapas is an everyday activity – a comportment or disposition. As satyagraha, this disposition entails more than anything else inscribing vul­ nerability on the self in everyday life – as intense a vulnerability as can be borne. Here, vulnerability should not be confused with the privative vulnerability expe­ rienced by marginal groups and persons, imposed on them by the dominant. Here, rather, vulnerability involves challenging domination without securitizing self or society. Gandhi sometimes describes this vulnerability with the phrase living by dying. And he insists that civil resistance is only the most dramatic form of satya­ graha. More broadly, as the comportment of vulnerability, satyagraha entails a range of everyday practices, all of which share an emphasis on finitude, or striving to stay in singular relations. The various articulations of a politics of freedom – for which I have sug­ gested the names of Ambedkar, Baldwin, Gandhi, King, and Weil can serve as shorthand – are suffused, despite their differences from each other, by a shared emphasis on finitude. The disposition to finitude constitutes a human very differ­ ent from the human constituted by liberty. The latter is an infinite being, for the will works by constantly seeking to master not just itself but its surroundings. The will conceives even care and non-violence in terms of mastery. Such a will is exemplified by humanitarian interventions to provide relief for local crises, by the exercise of governmental power to take care of the marginal and the dispos­ sessed. It is exemplified also in conceptions of the non-violent society as one with so fair a division of popular, individual, and various social wills that the need for the state’s coercive power can be minimized. In such a “nearly just society” (John Rawls’ phrase), relatedly, civil resistance is a response to deviations from the state of near-justice. With this kind of care and non-violence, Gandhi cannot go along. He discerns that, far from being harmonious, willing involves mastery and violence both in its concept and in the institutions for realizing its collective

170 Ajay Skaria and individual forms. Moreover, the British empire against which he leads civil resistance is anything but a nearly just society. Opposing liberty, Gandhi conceives satyagraha as the relinquishment of will and even sovereignty. Such relinquishment constitutes satyagrahis as finite beings, marked by singular relations with others, and by the potential for openness and care that such relations imply. And relinquishment involves the practice of fini­ tude; even his injunction to non-killing and non-violence is only a symptom of the finitude that becomes central to swaraj or freedom in his sense. Thus, Gandhi stresses the unavoidable violence – the killing of “pests” in farming, the eating of plants – involved in the striving to persist in one’s own being. Moreover, satya­ grahis might also find themselves in situations where they have to kill another. (In one controversial essay, he defends his killing of a calf that was in pain and adds that he would have killed also a human whom he found in a similar situation.) But such killing should take place in finitude – as care and solicitude for the other being killed. The disposition towards true swaraj or “freedom” also has an aporetic rela­ tion with political swaraj or “liberty.” While in Hind Swaraj the two are more simply opposed to each other, his later writings and interventions often affirm both together. After all, in addition to practicing satyagraha, Gandhi also led an independence movement which sought independence from the British. And he suggests repeatedly that even those who do not seek true swaraj should at least cultivate in themselves the strength to fight for political or parliamentary swaraj. (For him the liberal tradition of parliamentary swaraj required a far greater cour­ age than the fear-driven Hindu nationalism that had at the time posited itself as an alternative to political swaraj.) He can affirm both parliamentary swaraj and true swaraj together because the two work with different modalities. Liberty works through the will; freedom works through a relinquishment of the will. To will freedom would only destroy freedom, transform it into a theology much more vicious than the liberal liberties it questions. Freedom must work in a distinctive way – not by reconciling with, mastering, or overcoming the desire for liberty but by relinquishing it; and this relinquishment occurs not by making liberty its object but by setting liberty aside in the experience of relations of trust and friendship. This relinquishment can­ not be demanded by the other; rather, each person must experience it and create a sociality with it. To the extent that this relinquishment cannot be experienced, liberty must be sustained and even nourished. And this is one of the questions that always haunts Gandhi: can there be a passage from liberty to freedom? would not the nourishing of liberty make its relinquishment difficult if not impossible? *** Can one say that a politics of freedom is non-violent, whereas a politics of lib­ erty is violent? That might oversimplify matters. Yes, the politics of liberty might more likely destroy the world – cue, climate change. Yes, the politics of liberty might more actively inflict the most massive structural violence – in the last two

Thinking Freedom with Gandhi 171 centuries, when this politics has been dominant, inequalities between and within regions and peoples have exploded as never before. Yes, the politics of liberty might more likely turn genocidal, if for no other reason than because of the devel­ opment of technology, the everyday prosthesis of the will. But even if a politics of freedom can arguably never be as world-destroyingly, structurally, or genocidally violent as the politics of liberty, it can be violent in its own distinctive way. Two aspects of the violence I have already noted: those involved in striving to persist in one’s own being, and in the killing the loved other. A politics of freedom regards these two aspects as unavoidable – Gandhi certainly did. In addition, he also recognized three other ways in which his politics were violent, though the recognition did not always help him come up with ways to redress the violence. To begin with, precisely because it is a personal politics, or a politics that pro­ ceeds from person to person, a politics of freedom is insensitive to structural ques­ tions and can easily be appropriated into the very structures it explicitly opposes. Thus, many have argued, Gandhi’s actions enabled a caste reform which allowed the upper castes to continue their domination in new ways. Also, as the politi­ cal theorist Partha Chatterjee noted long ago, his leadership likely enabled the political appropriation of the subaltern classes by a bourgeois aspiring for politi­ cal hegemony in the new nation state. In other words, if a politics of freedom today is to destroy existing inequalities of caste, capitalism, and gender, then it would need not just an aporetic but an agonistic relation with a politics of liberty, especially one that seeks social equality. Perhaps in growing recognition of this, Gandhi pushes more consistently from the 1940s for a state that would redress social inequalities. Second, the equality of freedom involves a distinctive conceptual challenge. Equality is not identity – it always involves an irreducible difference between the equal. Traditions centred around liberty conceive this equality-in-difference in terms of similarity. Consider human rights, the most universal of the liberty­ centred articulations of equality. Minimally, the concept of human rights pre­ sumes the similarity of humans, who are equal because they share the capacity for free will, reason, or moral responsibility. By contrast, Gandhi senses the violence of any equality conceived in terms of similarity; he affirms instead an equality of the dissimilar, an equality amongst beings whose differences are too great to be held within any concept of similarity. One can instantly discern that an equality between radically different entities – say, humans and things – would have to be conceived in terms of dissimilarity. But surely a radical dissimilarity pulses even in relations between humans? Every singular relation, for example, is also a relation of dissimilarity. This is not to say that singular relations are between sociologically dissimilar persons – clearly, that is far from being the case. What I mean rather is that to enter into a singular relation is to be thrown into what makes that relation dissimilar from every other. Still, the equality of the dissimilar is very difficult to think. The problem is partly this: differences themselves are often the result of inequality. For example, the very identities of man and woman have been shaped globally by domination

172 Ajay Skaria and subordination. Not accidentally, as a modern gender order consolidated itself, these identities became more stable, and the world became more heteronormative. By extension, equality between men and women would not only mean that there is no gendered domination or exploitation in these relations; it would mean that the very identities of man and woman will not remain in place in the same way, and may disintegrate or undergo an epochal shift in direction that is too early to pre­ dict. Queer and transgender politics today is surely one symptom of this epochal questioning. While Gandhi recognized this challenge of thinking and enacting a new dis­ similarity, it remains doubtful in retrospect whether his responses were enough. Often, even as his formulations insisted on equality, they sometimes left in place the identities created by inherited inequalities. For example, he insisted on the equality of men and women, but did so in a way that put in place a profoundly patriarchal order and reified the distinction between men and women. (Not always, though: he attempted to abandon a male identity for himself and encouraged other satyagrahis to do the same.) And while he insisted on the equality of castes, he did not till very late in life, and then not vigorously enough, challenge the very identity of the various castes. Here, his interventions also disempowered more insurgent and militant demands for equality. Third, vulnerability, which here is not an objective matter, can itself be weap­ onized. Non-privative vulnerability always involves a singular and cultivated situation, rather than a general structural position. And if that singular situation is misread, then what is offered as vulnerability may, regardless of intentions, become a form of domination over those to whom it was offered. Gandhi’s own life offers one famous example of the weaponization and securitization of vulner­ ability. He perceived his fast unto death against the 1932 Ramsay MacDonald Award of separate electorates for the Depressed Classes as drawing on affection that Indians had for him. But given the historic domination of Dalits by upper castes, as well as his position in the nationalist movement, an upper-caste leader like Gandhi could not easily offer vulnerability to Dalits. The offer could only be experienced by Dalit leaders (such as Ambedkar, who had led the demand for separate electorates) as a most violent form of blackmail. Fourth and finally, Gandhi speculated about a sense, an ever more real and trou­ bling possibility today as inequalities intensify, in which the very insistence on maintaining vulnerability might require killing the opponent. While it is relatively easy to argue for a practice of vulnerability with figures with whom conversation is possible, what if one encounters opponents so much more powerful that they cannot even perceive one’s vulnerability, where one is merely an object to them, or maybe even something flicked away without noticing? The metaphor that Gan­ dhi agonizingly used on occasion was this: can a mouse offer satyagraha in the sense of non-violent resistance against a cat? He seems on occasion to suggest: no, in such cases, all a mouse must do is die fighting violently (or more precisely, by force or arms rather than soul force), since here the difference between vio­ lence and non-violence would be trifling, and since violence against the cat would itself here be the most intense form of vulnerability. At the moment when no

Thinking Freedom with Gandhi 173 possibility remains of conversion and conversation with the other, then trying to hurt the opponent might itself become an attempt at conversation. It is an intriguing and terrifying thought experiment to transport this metaphor to contemporary situations. To name just three situations: do the victims of U.S. drones wreaking anonymous havoc from the distant skies, or Kashmiri civilians encountering an overwhelmingly more powerful occupying force, or ordinary Pal­ estinians facing a state that has with what many call the “apartheid wall” and other means segregated them so completely as to make difficult any relations between oppressors and oppressed, even have the opportunity to offer anything like satya­ graha in the sense of non-violent civil resistance? Would violence against occupy­ ing forces, and even against the civilians whom these forces represent (for these are all countries that are formally democratic, and whose civilians cannot there­ fore avoid responsibility for the violence of their armies) become for these mar­ ginalized peoples the most intense form of vulnerability? As suggested by the ever-existing potential of violence even in a politics of non-violence, this politics is not some already-given template to be applied to existing situations or to be simply affirmed over a politics of liberty. This politics poses its own challenges and makes its own distinctive demands on thought. For those oriented towards a politics of freedom, attending to these challenges and demands may be an especially urgent task.

Notes 1 Because the English and Gujarati texts of Hind Swaraj are easily available online in many formats, in what follows I provide references only to chapter numbers when I cite from it. 2 Hannah Arendt, Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt, 1977), Part II, p. 205. 3 “What Is Freedom?” in Hannah Arendt (ed.), Between Past and Future: Six Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Viking, 1961), p. 145. 4 Jean-Luc Nancy, The Experience of Freedom, trans. Bridget McDonald (Stanford: Stan­ ford University Press, 1988), p. 1f. 5 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Dif­ ference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). 6 Mohandas Gandhi, “Congress Report of the Punjab Disorders”, in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 20 (New Delhi: Publications Division Government of India, 1999), p. 41, www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/cwmg.html. 7 Ibid.

15 Western thought as “Indispensable and Inadequate” Dipesh Chakrabarty and the paradox of postcolonial historiography Alf Lüdtke In his wide-ranging monograph Provincializing Europe Dipesh Chakrabarty repeatedly emphasizes that Western thought is “indispensable and inadequate,” a truly intriguing statement. This is a central remark in the introduction as well as in the book’s epilogue.1 For one, Dipesh is focusing on a paradox since the two observations – in fact, judgements – contradict each other. If someone considers Western thought as “indispensable” he or she is claiming that it is fundamentally needed. The con­ trary holds for the “inadequacy” to the item or person that is the topic of any observation some “Western” person is making about people or objects or both. In this vein, the statement of inadequacy should trigger any possible effort to achieve more adequacy of any description or judgement of other folks and any conceiv­ able environment. Thus, contrary to Chakrabarty’s appraisal of the “indispensa­ bility” of Western thought, his critique of its simultaneous “inadequacy” calls for any possible reduction of the latter. In contrast, I want to argue the other way around. The inadequacy can also be understood as an element of productive difference, which comes in multiple grades and shades, ranging from a large gap to a tiny hint that almost goes unno­ ticed. Why, then, focus on such an exuberant multitude of differences? In my view, the seeming indispensability is much more the crux of the bipolarity of indispensability and inadequacy, because it is Western thought that the author is praising, if not demanding, in a peculiar way. In this vein, he is completely neglecting the actual language of the “Western thought” he is discussing: English, in fact American English.

Languages: dominant and interrelated And so Chakrabarty’s statement comes with a flipside: It is the English language, more precisely American English, he is employing. This very language appears as self-evident. Still, he addresses the meaning and impact of English in the colo­ nial situation, which is in this case Bengal. In the second part of the book, i.e. Chapters 5–8, it becomes an explicit topic in the analysis of the everyday life of the Bengali middle classes. More concretely, the author explores the range of the British colonial power and its middle men and agents on the ground. It is in this

Indispensable and Inadequate Western thought 175 context that colonial English is shown in its various facets. Yet at the same time Bengali is not pushed aside. The vignettes Chakrabarty is carefully depicting in the respective chapters allude to the simultaneity of Bengali and English as they had been practiced by the Bengali middle classes. In this context the author is very aware of language specificities. The more so, his plea for “Western thought” appears as strange, if not unjustified. Even a lim­ ited closer look – as in the Bengali chapters – is reflecting the presence and perma­ nent impact of two or more coexisting languages, as well as the wide realm of oral utterances and their scripted or recorded traces. From here it is but a small step to consider Western thought as always-embedded in specific languages. Thus, in the European context, languages that were part of or contributed to the production of Western thought were and still are many. English (in its British or American ver­ sion) emerges as just one driving element contributing to the dynamics of (mostly European) languages. Even more, imperial and colonial actions, as undertaken by European states since the sixteenth century in the “rest” of the world, also used their respective languages parallel to their shooting and killing capacities.2 This pattern of overwhelming the natives by the invaders’ guns and languages also informed the “final distribution” of those parts of the world that had not yet been occupied by one of the European powers. North America and Japan, to some extent the Russian Empire and the Chinese, followed suit in their efforts to control and colonize the remaining parts of the globe. Of course, English and its colonial dimensions remained crucial in, at least, the various Asian and African parts of the British Empire. However, between the first colonization of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the totalizing second colonization of the nineteenth century, reputation and range of respective languages of the colonizers had been drastically reduced. In the eighteenth, nine­ teenth, and twentieth centuries, English, French, and German dominated, while Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian operated only on regional levels. The spread of mostly European languages in the context of imperialistic goals and colonizing practices occurred in multiple ways. Yet the colonial languages affected the indigenous populations to limited degrees. Brute force, including whipping, raping, and killing, remained too often the true basis of colonial reign. At the same time the limited plurality of the occupier’s languages indicates that English was not the language of Western thought for everyone and for every terri­ tory being colonized. However, it was the plurality of mostly European languages, as spoken, written, or read primarily in the confines of Western or Westernized cities and circuits that, in the end, made up Western thought in all its facets. In other words: to what extent English or U.S. American philosophers and men (and women) of letters stand for “Western thought” is an open question. To show both the range and the limits of such assumptions, other European lan­ guages ought to be considered, too. Chakrabarty does this to quite some extent. It is remarkable that he puts at the centre of his book two German thinkers and authors, Karl Marx and Martin Heidegger. Still, what about the French philosophers and their thinkers and practitioners of history? What about Italian and Spanish, or, for that matter Dutch and Belgian and Russian or Polish or Czech philosophers and

176 Alf Lüdtke historians? Certainly, recent studies of linguists show that in the last 30 years a lot of languages have been extinguished, at least are not any longer remembered or actually spoken or noted. According to a recent statement by the UNESCO there exist ca. 7,000 languages worldwide. About 3,000 of them are endangered; according to the UNESCO research, 50 per cent of the languages existing right now shall be lost, forgotten, or extinguished by the end of this century. The study also tells us that currently one-half of the world’s population employs one of 19 “big” languages, while the other half employs one of 7,000 “small” ones.3 Among these so-called, “big” languages are certainly Chinese and Japanese. A close inspection of the usages of Chinese since the late nineteenth century and even more during the twentieth century shows the massive impact of primarily Japanese terms on many arrays of Chinese. Laodong stands for “hard labour” and “severe sweat and toil.”4 This term, as other imports from Japanese, obviously swamped China in direct resonance to Japanese policies and practices as they were executed since the 1860s (Meiji-era). Primarily it was Chinese students who returned to China since the early twentieth century in large numbers. They intro­ duced “a substantial part of the modern Chinese vocabulary in all fields of modern knowledge.” So, it was the Japanese usage of Western terms that at fast pace infil­ trated if not toppled many of the established terms and phrases. In other words: the efforts of decolonization as driven by Chinese activists since the Boxer Rebel­ lion and, then, the ousting of the Emperor did establish a language with “modern”, i.e. Japanese, terms (riding on the backs of European languages). It was the effort to establish at once and forever “modern times” on an enormous scale. To be sure, Chakrabarty is explicitly yet briefly discussing languages – in fact, Bengali English. Still, the author’s main focus is on Bengali itself: he under­ scores that he is relying on his everyday usages of this indigenous language in his middle-class family and their respective friends in postcolonial Calcutta. He is particularly emphasizing two aspects of this (as of any other) language: one is the multi-layeredness of Bengali in reference to the specific sociocultural contexts of its speakers. The second is the temporal simultaneity of both the various layers of Bengali as of its coexistence with colonial English. By this token he is also explic­ itly including English as one of the elements that can be made part of other lan­ guages. Missing is, however, an effort to consider more closely the multiple facets of other languages if not dialects that were incorporated into English informally or formally (and became documented as in the Oxford English dictionary). Thus, the specific limits and deficits that English bore and still bears are kept out of sight. Without substantial critical assessment, Chakrabarty is employing English as a “base language” which is apparently always already there – like the hedgehog in the brothers Grimm’s tale of the hare and hedgehog.

The specificity of languages: emphases and shortcomings The limits of the English language – or better, languages – should stimulate the search for telling examples. Here I want to outline four specific terms or pairs of terms (like work and labour) and their fields of articulation.

Indispensable and Inadequate Western thought 177 Labour and work: “Bodily or mental toil, exertion.” This is the beginning of the term labour in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Oxford 1934. It is also different from stress, which addresses enormous pain that can become very imminent, but is often hidden under the surface of daily routines. Yet the distinction may be just a minor one. Much more fundamental is the difference between labour and dimensions of physical or psychical exertion which employ pleasure and other animating dimensions of social life. Work appears only in its ridiculing potential (“work-shy”, “give a person the works”). A different view is opened up by the term work, as understood in the Ameri­ can dictionary, Webster’s New Twentieth-Century Dictionary of the English Lan­ guage, 1950. Here, one is looking more from the distance. The people’s, or, more precisely the worker’s, motions, activities, and utterances are not negated, yet are kept on a low profile. Still, the whole range of worker’s behavior is at the centre of his or her superior’s observations and actions of control and regulation. In other words: labourers strike and occasionally also turn to violence, while workers try to avoid outbursts of any size. work, [. . .] 1. To make exertion for some end or purpose; to engage in or be employed on some task, labour, duty, or the like; to be occupied in the perfor­ mance of some operation, process, or undertaking; to labour; to toil This is just the first paragraph. Different from to the OED the U.S. American “Webster” has devoted ca. ten times the printing space to the lemma “work” in its verbal form. Interestingly, many written and printed accounts of and about labour move­ ments, labour strikes, and other labour actions very often employ both terms, labour and work interchangeably. Questioning visiting colleagues who were native English or U.S. American speakers, in about one dozen cases in recent months they all admitted to not knowing why and when one should employ the term labour or work. At any rate, the duality of labour and work enriches the field of study. At least, though, it is breeding pertinent questions. Eigen-Sinn. This term had a longer trajectory in the German territories, in par­ ticular since the fourteenth and fifteen centuries. Literally it stands for “sense of one’s own,” but the term does not delineate the specific profile of what the reader or writer has in mind or might try to conceal. This “sense of one’s own” contests a lot of efforts to acquire or re-determine the term’s meaning. This is even more the case when the authorial person is claiming the term for his or her own purposes. The term is definitely not prescribing or copying pre-existing trails of thought. In the late eighteenth century, a German philosopher and anthropologist, Christian Garve, intensively and repeatedly studied behavior and expression of ordinary people. In his case these were mostly peasants, dependent as they were on local estate owners who also executed the full scale of senorial rights. These peasants in Garve’s view characteristically acted with malice and spite. One element Garve underlined and labeled as “Eigensinn” (literally “sense of one’s own”) and elucidated this by reference to the bodily stiffness these peasants

178 Alf Lüdtke almost permanently displayed, at least in the presence of any authority. Obvi­ ously, that stiffness could not be broken by commands or physical pressures from the authorities. That stiffness was an expressive gesture that touched but did not directly transgress the limits of submission to the given authorities. Yet the moment they left the scene the peasants broke this very stiffness and amused themselves in a burst of laughter.5 Eigen-Sinn appears in English mostly as “sense of one’s own.” That wording, however, does not capture the simultaneity of doing things your own way as of accepting and/or denying. It is this mixture which makes that what is standing out here so singular and special. In French, the issue is similar. Occasionally it is taken as sens de soi, and also here the limitations are obvious: the multiple and often-times contradictory attitudes and practices that are fueled by Eigen-Sinn are not part of the picture, i.e. this term. Still, Korean colleagues pointed out that in Korean two neighboring notions present crucial aspects of Eigen-Sinn. Kojip is close to one of the dimensions Eigen-Sinn is addressing: the defiance children are often times displaying. Sec­ ond, Buddhist teachings demand that one should empty oneself of one’s Ajip – meaning a rigid keeping to oneself – and, thus, become ready for advice given by teachers and other folks. The point with the presence of Kojip and Ajip in Korean is the closeness, if not overlap, with central elements of the German Eigen-Sinn. To me, this reads as an invitation to explore the richness of other languages. At least in this particular case, English is not the lingua franca.6 Serendipity. Practices and thoughts that occur unexpectedly, surprisingly, and out of the frame of the regular that so often seems to pre-determine people’s activities as well as their passivities. Crucial is the plea for keeping open one’s mind and one’s own senses for recognizing and further developing those bits of “accidental wisdom” that may pop up here and there. In other words: to focus on a thought or practice that can grossly change people’s everyday, whether for one person or a larger group of people. Not the least, serendipity stands for the combination of courage and joyfulness. The point is that the curiosity for the unexpected is needed. It is this opening up for unexpected occurrences or moves that seems to be absolutely crucial to any change of things. At least implicitly, ser­ endipity is building on and possibly emboldening people’s readiness to embrace the unexpected. The latter, however, directly resonates with central elements of serendipity. Spirituality. This term is time and again referring to notions that undercut the rigidity as it is shown if not propagated by those terms and parts of language that originate primarily from classical Latin. It opens up windows of and for multiple meanings, which do not claim superiority. They rather invite to test a broader spectrum of meanings. English and American dictionaries from the twentieth century emphasize the rather general meaning of spiritual or spirituality. Things spiritual do exist or operate overwhelmingly outside or beyond the institutions of religion as repre­ sented in church (institutions) or other bodies that primarily rely on a canon of scripts and legal texts or prescriptions.

Indispensable and Inadequate Western thought 179 In the following, I present the reading of spirituality by the anthropologist Peter van der Veer. In his recent book on spirituality in China and India, he is similarly arguing for using the term in a very broad sense. For most recent times Van der Veer is referring to important changes in popular cultures across borders in southern, southeast, and eastern Asia. Here, he is pointing to the spirituality fostered and propagated in this broad mix of cultures, cutting across national and regional boundaries.7 It is such a wide horizon he is opening up, that the nittygrittys of religious or nationalist disputes lose most of their claims for primary recognition: What is the “spiritual”? Scholars would like to avoid this term as much as possible because of its vagueness. [. . .] Obviously, [however] its very con­ ceptual unclarity and undefinability make it so useful for those who want to use it. It suggests more than it defines. Spirituality takes the universalization of the concept of religion a crucial step further by completely severing the ties with religious institutions.8

Interlude: the concreteness of place The four examples in the section on “specificities of language” provide focus on concrete if not peculiar usages of languages. The language ranges from British and American English to German, yet is swinging back to English and some of its usages in academia. In all of these cases there is one pivotal word or term that is scrutinized. However, in the first example of labour and work, two notions that seem to carry almost identical contents are examined. And here the very different localities and likewise national if not super-national contexts reflect both: place, yet also the ubiquity of distinct places. Very different, perhaps even contradictory, is the German Eigen-Sinn. Its multi­ ple facets seem to be ignored by English (and also French) efforts at translation. It is the simultaneity of – at least – partly contradictory qualities that escape English as well as French speakers or writers. Still, the enormous potential of language’s flexibility is indicated by the case of serendipity. This term, appraised and propagated in England since the mid 1700s, joins Persian and Indian (pre-)colonial encounters of Englishmen with the newly colonized peoples, in particular in India. In this case the crucial lines seem to run counter to the aims of being precise and (or) stimulating, strengthening or discour­ aging. Rather, the term revolves around the effort to stabilize or build up anew the intense mixture of eagerness and relaxation, of active interest in new things as of rather passive attitudes of wait and see. In contrast, spirituality seems to have been a central term among the Eng­ lish as well as the U.S. American educated classes. Yet in more recent decades the charges of this term seem to indicate more distance to religiosity and its formal or legal institutions. Certain amalgamations of – popular – culture and vernacular religiosity have gotten momentum in post-colonial and post-imperial contexts as they evolved since the 1960s and 70s.9 In this case, place is referring

180 Alf Lüdtke not primarily to specific localities, but to the instantaneous presence of people’s sense of spirituality. At stake is also the meaning and impact of global history or, likewise, of trans­ national and trans-regional history. As Jeremy Adelman noted in a most stimulat­ ing paper on “What is Global History Now?”: “The logic of global history tended to dwell on integration and concord, rather than disintegration and discord. Global historians favored stories about curiosity towards distant neighbors. [. . .] light­ ing up corners of the earth leaves others in the dark.” What they ignored was that “we need narratives of global life that reckon with [. . .] the costs and not just the bounty. [. . .] we need to remind ourselves of one of the historian’s crafts and listen to the other half of the globe”.10 And, we should not forget: if heterogeneity is getting momentum in these and related reflections, windows are opening up pointing in various directions. One is particularly enriching – that is the quest for and investigation of “dispositifs.”11

Karl Marx I have already pointed out Chakrabarty’s choice of the two German language authors, Marx and Heidegger, being interrelated and different at the same time.12 He is presenting these two as pivotal for his undertaking, their stark nonsynchronicity notwithstanding. Karl Marx (1818–1883) took on a lot of tasks, from political journalism and activism, to studies of political economy and phi­ losophy. From the early 1850s, when he had moved to London, he focused exclu­ sively on his studies on economy and politics, leading to a first overview of his critique of capitalism (“Grundrisse”, 1856–57, yet never published during his lifetime).13 The other is Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), philosopher in academia and beyond, short-lived political activist supporting the Nazification of German universities in 1933–34. After 1945 he carried on with his publications as a private citizen, many of them widely recognized if not praised among German intellectu­ als and academics. Chakrabarty takes both as examples of different trajectories in thinking and communicating their thoughts. In Chakrabarty’s view, Karl Marx embodies the analytic. Accordingly, Marx was driven by the impulse to overcome exploitation and unlimited domination of the property-less poor, at least in Western capitalism, which explicitly included slavery.14 Chakrabarty is also emphasizing the impact of European Enlightenment on Marx. Accordingly, the “abstract human” and his needs or demands became fundamental criteria of Marx’s works. Strangely enough, Chakrabarty is reading Marx’s texts on the 1848 revolution and, in particular, the coup of Louis Bonaparte in 1851 as driven by the anxieties of the masses and not by analytic eagerness to better everybody’s life and future prospects.15 Indeed, Chakrabarty is castigating Marx for his pivotal references in his “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”16 to the failures of some of the French revolutionaries in the 1790s and the early 1800s. But what he takes as anxiety allows very different readings. Most importantly, Marx clearly defined the dif­ ference between, on the one hand, the failures and miseries that accompanied

Indispensable and Inadequate Western thought 181 the French revolution around 1800 and, on the other hand, the “18th Brumaire of 1851.” The latter led directly into Napoleon III’s dictatorial rule. Marx strictly distinguished both events from each other. He characterized the French Revolu­ tion summarily as tragedy. In contrast, Louis Bonaparte’s efforts to overthrow the republic and establish his new order in 1851 was in Marx’s view the respective “farce” of the prior “tragedy” of the 1790s and early 1800s. Thus, he explored the uniqueness of both of these historical figurations and dynamics, clearly marking their differences. I cannot detect any element or even small trace of what Chakrabarty is present­ ing as anxiety. Rather, Marx’s notion of “farce” is articulating disgust, outrage, and a very elabourate sense of a different course of historical progress. Not the least, he sheds also a very critical eye on the common people in the France of 1851. These small peasants appeared to him as a sack of potatoes; these “pota­ toes” were sitting next to each other but were unable to connect. This enormous accumulation of people was, thus, unable to even consider any collective action. At the same time, Marx was well aware of wide arrays of people’s activities or, for that matter, passivity, which did not fit into the common either/or of eco­ nomic progress or decay or of political terror and liberation. In the introduction to his first comprehensive manuscript on capitalism, its cycles of production, circulations, consumption, and reproduction, the so-called Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (“a contribution to the critique of political economy”), Marx explicitly turned to a wide array of people’s experiences, longings and (non) actions.17 Intriguingly, Marx focused in these brief notations on non-economic and non-political items and spheres. In particular, he underlines the “inequality” between economic and non-economic spheres and temporalities. At the centre of the non-economic spheres Marx had the arts and the realms of education. Explic­ itly he also mentions the United States as a new player in this context. Likewise, he points to the areas of law and justice. Here most crucial for Marx is the “unequal relationship” of antique Roman property law to most modern concepts of owner­ ship, heritage, and trade. In sum: these brief notes are extremely short, yet also extremely telling. They indicate how wide-ranging Marx’ perceptions were. They also show impressively that he never lost sight of visions that displayed utopian moments, as they were part of the story of hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, and animal husbandry in the evening.18 The only regret one may have is that Marx never published the Grundrisse and its introduction. This happened first by Soviet researchers in 1939 and 1941. Marx’s brief but powerful underlining of non-economic dimensions of human actions and societal relationships also raises a question. Is Chakrabarty’s claim adequate that Marx was primarily if not totally fixated on abstractions and analyses?

Martin Heidegger It is particularly in the introduction and the epilogue of Provincializing Europe, that Chakrabarty emphasizes how crucial for dealing with the twentieth century Martin Heidegger had become for him (parallel to Karl Marx for the nineteenth

182 Alf Lüdtke century).19 He considers both as “poles,” displaying very different contours.20 In fact, Chakrabarty tries to interrelate the works of each one. Their respective dis­ tances and differences seem to fuel his interest in possible or actual resonances or interrelations of their thoughts. Chakrabarty juxtaposes Marx’s analytical mode of analysis, discussed earlier, including its critique of ideology, with the hermeneutic dimensions of Heidegger’s explorations. As to the latter, Chakrabarty is empha­ sizing the “loving grasp of detail in search of an understanding of the diversity of human life-worlds”.21 In this reading of Heidegger, concrete places and spaces stand opposed to efforts of abstraction. At least in Chakrabarty’s view, it is this anti-analytical stance that Heidegger has taken as pivotal for his studies. Thus, Heidegger stands as an “icon” for hermeneutic approaches. More in detail, Heidegger is for Chakrabarty especially present in all of Part II of his book; that part he has titled “Histories of Belonging.” He mentions various fields of action that pertain to this dimension: among them patriarchal fraternities, “imagination” as a category of analysis, public/private distinctions and, a rather elaborate chapter on adda.22 Especially intriguing are Chakrabarty’s efforts to trace and, even more, to dis­ cuss in the most subtle and thoughtful manner female behaviour, mostly in the domestic spheres. For one, the status as mother – the centre of the respective family – is outlined. Even more surprising are, however, accounts of poems in which the female spouse is adoring and praising her male partner in a surprisingly permissive manner.23 These acts of individuality went well along with patriarchal domination at large. Here, Chakrabarty is also quoting from his own memory – as it is not uncommon for ethnologists or researchers of contemporary history. In fact, much of Part II of his book displays his vivid sense for differentiation and otherness. And rightly he is pointing out (not the least in the epilogue) that and even how the analytical and the hermeneutic approaches can and do overlap and substitute each other. Truly impressive is also Chakrabarty’s recollection of his childhood times in Calcutta. Chakrabarty was particularly struck by the kind of simultaneity that a well-known acquaintance had displayed. He enjoyed his work as physicist in an advanced laboratory, and he also enjoyed writing poetry and likewise listening to poetry of family and friends. In his recollections Chakrabarty was particularly animated by the very special presence of what he described and remembered. To him, it was such semi-private encounters that formed moments of an emphatic “now.”24 Such now(s) obviously interrupted or even cracked open structures and their longer durée and other longstanding incentives or barriers. Indeed, in his ref­ erences to Heidegger’s works, Chakrabarty is concentrating on the concreteness of people’s life-worlds and their respective practices. This focus directly reso­ nates with Heidegger’s efforts to capture people’s “being” and even more their “being-in-the-world.” Yet one attribute is totally missing in this discussion: one that is as crucial for Chakrabarty as it was for Heidegger. Heidegger developed a totalizing perspective and argumentation. And the latter is heavily based on a very specific and, then, extremely special if not self-willed (eigensinnig) terminology. This all-inclusive

Indispensable and Inadequate Western thought 183 approach is neither taken up nor even discussed – in fact, not even mentioned by Chakrabarty. This lacuna is important; it will be discussed later on in the context of Heidegger in the post-Nazi era. These two interrelated issues were at the centre of Heidegger’s studies since the mid-1920s and particularly in his second dissertation (“Habilitation”). A major chunk was published in 1927 as Being and Time (Sein und Zeit). It was here, however, that Heidegger differentiated between a principal “being” (Sein) and everyone’s concrete “being-in-the-world” (Dasein). To explore this field of “being-in-the-world” and of people’s individual ways of acting and doing things is the central scope of the already mentioned studies on “Being and Time.” It is in this context that Heidegger developed a terminology that was very special during not only the 1930s, i.e. the Nazi era, but also in his talks and publications of the 1950s and afterwards. A recent comparative study of German philosophers of the 1920s assembles a few of the most indicative terms for dis­ playing the difference between the established terminology and the counter-terms Heidegger was using and propagating.25 The established and accepted terms included subject, object, reality, individuality, value, life, matter, thing (Subjekt, Objekt, Wirklichkeit, Individualität, Wert, Leben, Materie, Ding). In Heidegger’s writings, mentioned before, were central terms that mostly resist, if not totally obstruct, any translation: Dasein (being-in-the-world, existence), Umwelt (envi­ ronment), In-der-Welt-sein (to-be-in-the-world), Jemeinigkeit (one’s individual specificity), Sorge (care, concern), and Zeug (stuff, colloquially also “kit” or “gear”).26 In particular, Heidegger emphasized Zeug (stuff), Angst (anxiety), and Tod (death). Remarkably, in this list a term is missing that was definitely one of the cru­ cial ones: Sorge (care, concern). Again, Heidegger’s primary focus seems inti­ mately related to the very concrete ways and forms of his “being-in-the-world” (Dasein). The very term care alludes to a wide array of meanings, in colloquial as in more academic contexts alike. To this realm belongs the loving care to family and friends, yet it also encompasses a whole range of dark and bitter experiences and future prospects. For instance, care is materialized in gently stroking over a child’s hair as it also is in painful efforts to secure some bites of food for the next meal or the next day. At any rate, care appears as a crucial element of one’s Dasein, whether it is Heidegger’s or that of any other person.27 Also missing is a term Heidegger employed often and in various contexts. It is a piece from the Zeug (stuff) – a Hammer (hammer). Hammer, spade, and fork were always “at hand” when Heidegger literally and symbolically returned for a few days or several weeks to the scene of his upbringing in a peasant household in the Black Forest (southwestern tip of Germany).28 Dasein, or “being-in-the-world,” included for Heidegger forms of connect­ edness beyond family and friends. In fact, in Being and Time he refers to the “destiny” that is fulfilled in the interactions of and within the “community of the people” (Volksgemeinschaft). This “community of the people” became ever more meaningful to Heidegger around and after 1930. Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and the Nazi Movement directly after Hitler’s seizure of power on 30

184 Alf Lüdtke January 1933. Especially Heidegger’s activities as the first Nazi-prone Rector at a German university (Freiburg) provided ample room for maneuvering and for pushing or supporting Nazism on various levels and in multiple settings. Yet his retirement as Rector in April 1934 also indicated some doubts on his part about future political and societal directions. In his teachings and his writings (lectures, articles), Heidegger put ever more emphasis on aspects of rule and domination. Until then the dimensions of move­ ment and revolution had driven much of Heidegger’s sympathy for Nazism. Heidegger’s reordering of his activities in the university, but even more in aca­ demia at large, were at least indirectly pushed by the “Night of the long Knifes” (30 June 30 1934), i.e. Hitler’s and Himmler’s murder of leading figures of the Stormtroops (SA), some high-ranking persons of the military, and of members of conservative circles. Heidegger’s stance on and expectations of Nazism have been documented, among others, in a study by the French scholar Emmanuel Faye, covering the first two years of Nazi dictatorship.29 Faye, a history professor in Paris, was the first to be granted access to archival holdings Heidegger’s son Hermann kept and still keeps under lock and seal in Switzerland. Faye’s study was primarily based on notes students had taken in Heidegger’s seminars and lectures. Surely, it is not Heidegger himself who is speaking in these texts. Still, Heidegger’s serious interest in the seemingly grand perspectives of Nazism come alive in these notes. This situation lasted until a series of diary notes and other texts about Nazism written by Heidegger himself were published in 2014–2015.30 This was the publication of the “Schwarze Hefte” (“Black Notebooks”), which abundantly document between 1938 and 1948 (i.e. until after 1945!) the whole range of Hei­ degger’s blatant and ruthless anti-semitism. Another side of these notations was a flush of accusations and claims that targeted philosophy as well as the victori­ ous allies. Simultaneously, Heidegger took refuge in his solitary terminology and mode of writing. At the same time, the book by Faye and the volumes of the “Black Notebooks” should not push aside the fact of previous publications on the issue. The freelanc­ ing Swiss scholar Guido Schneeberger was the first to publish a substantial study on Heidegger’s life and works in 1962. Interestingly, Schneeberger published this by himself. No publishing house accepted his book.31 Only three years later in 1965, the political scientist Alexander Schwan brought to the market his collec­ tion of quotes from all kinds of printed material Heidegger had authored during Nazism.32 The historian Hugo Ott was the third to publish in 1988 his rich col­ lection on Heidegger, his studies, and his life.33 It was one of the reviewers of the “Black Notebooks,” the co-editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Jürgen Kaube, who in the spring of 2014 had his account of the notebooks printed.34 He started his review by underlining that by now even the last trace of absolving Hei­ degger from accusations of having been an active and devoted Nazi stood finally erased. In fact, the vast majority of German academics in universities and high schools, multiple cultural institutions, and beyond had either been silent or were time and again exculpating Heidegger.

Indispensable and Inadequate Western thought 185 It is this context that offers insights into the life-course of people whose biographies are written, heard, or seen (the latter in documentaries). In the passages on Karl Marx similar efforts have not been made. Yet in this case the biographical information fits Dipesh Chakrabarty’s perspective on Marx. He has totally concentrated on the analytical dimensions of Marx’s investigations and public interventions. In the case of Heidegger, I find a crucial difference. Chakrabarty has isolated the focus on the “Histories of Belonging” from their very contexts, yet taking this perspective to colonial Bengal (and his recollec­ tions on Bengal). In particular, he does not explore the kind of “belongings” he has found in Bengal in terms of the kind of “belonging” Heidegger encountered and openly articulated and propagated in his Time and Being of 1927 and afterwards. The “belonging” that Chakrabarty is so often stressing in his book seems to indicate nice and cozy interrelationships between friends, colleagues, and relatives. Rather, Heidegger time and again was dealing with a “community of the people.” And the latter means the totality of all and everyone who tend to be or accept being an immediate part of that grand community. These interconnections between the individual and “the people” have to be ever more scrutinized and explored in every direction. This task will never come to an end.

Notes 1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 6, 16, 19; see also p. 254 where he is partly (“indispensably”) quoting and paraphrasing this point. 2 Walter D. Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowl­ edges, and Border Thinking (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 275. 3 Wiebke Bergemann, “3000 Sprachen vom Aussterben Bedroht”, Deutschlandfunk, 4 January 2018, www.deutschlandfunk.de/linguistik-3-000-sprachen-weltweit-vomaussterben-bedroht.1148.de; html?dram:article_id=407568, accessed 13 June 2018. Unfortunately, a qualification of “big” and “small” languages is not given. 4 Rudolf G. Wagner, “The Concept of Work/ Labour/Arbeit in the Chinese World”, in Manfred Bierwisch (ed.), Die Rolle der Arbeit in Verschiedenen Epochen und Kulturen (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003), pp. 113, 119ff. 5 Alf Lüdtke, Eigen-Sinn: Fabrikalltag, Arbeitererfahrungen und Politik vom Kai­ serreich bis in den Faschismus (Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2nd Edition, 2015), p. 11. 6 Belinda Davis, Thomas Lindenberger, and Michael Wildt, “Introduction”, in Belinda Davis, Thomas Lindenberger, and Michael Wildt (eds.), Alltag, Erfahrung: Eigensinn. Historisch-anthropologische Erkundungen (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2008), p. 22. 7 Peter Van der Veer, The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 229. 8 Ibid., p. 7. 9 Also see on the colonial/imperial background Erica Carter, James Donald, and Judith Squires (eds.), Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1993). 10 Jeremy Adelman, “What Is Global History Now?” Aeon, 2 March 2017, https:// aeon.co/essays/is-global-history-still-possible-or-has-it-had-its-moment, accessed 9 August 2018.

186 Alf Lüdtke 11 Nicolas Dodier and Janine Barbot, “The Force of Dispositifs”, Annales, 2016, pp. 71, 301ff. 12 Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, pp. 18ff., 254. 13 Marx’s comprehensive publication on the origin, development and consequences of capitalism was volume 1 of “Das Kapital” (“Capital”), published in 1867. 14 See Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy: A Reply to M. Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty (New York: International Publishers, n.d.), p. 94f. 15 See on this Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, p. 245. 16 The original was published in New York in 1852 by J. Weydemeyer under the title “Der 18te Brumaire des Louis Napoleon”. 17 Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, 1st German print Moskau 1939, reprinted Frankfurt ca. 1963, p. 29f. 18 This is a shorthand; for Marx’s formulation see Marx and Engels, Deutsche Ideologie, in Marx-Engels-Werke 3 (Berlin, 1846/1932, Reprint, 4th Edition, Dietz Verlag, Ber­ lin, 1969), pp. 9–530, 33. 19 Guido Schneeberger, Nachlese zu Heidegger: Dokumente zu seinem Leben und Denken (Bern: Selbstverlag, 1962); Alexander Schwan, Hugo Ott, and Martin Heidegger, Unterwegs zu Seiner Biographie (Frankfurt and New York: Campus, 1988, 2nd Edition 1992; English Edition); Martin Heidegger, A Political Life (London: Fontana Press, 1994); Faye 2005/2010, Heidegger, Schwarze Hefte (ed.), Trawny, 2014. 20 Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, p. 254. 21 Ibid., p. 18; also for his mentioning Heidegger as his “icon”, see below. 22 Ibid., p. 19 and, again, on p. 251, where Chakrabarty is briefly portraying the simulta­ neity of seemingly most different activities, from working in a physicist’s labouratory to writing and enjoying poetry; and on the pleasures of “Adda”, pp. 180–213. 23 Ibid., p. 233. 24 On the “now”, Ibid., p. 251. 25 Wolfgang Eilenberger, Zeit der Zauberer – Das große Jahrzehnt der Philosophie 1919–1929 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2018), pp. 233–293. 26 Ibid., p. 260. For the following see pp. 261–271. 27 Cf. also Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, part 2, chapter 6, Die Sorge als Sein des Daseins (care/concern as “being” of “being-in the world”), 10th unchanged Edition, Tübingen 1963, pp. 180–230, esp. pp. 191–200. 28 Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, p. 68; also footnote 71, p. 272. 29 Emmanuel Faye, Heidegger: die Einführung des Nationalsozialismus in die Philoso­ phie; im Umkreis der unveröffentlichten Seminare zwischen 1933 und 1935 (Paris, 2005, English Edition 2011, German Edition, Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2009). 30 Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, vols. 94–97 (Frankfurt an Main: Verlag Kloster­ mann, 2014/15). 31 Schneeberger, Nachlese zu Heidegger. 32 Alexander Schwan, Politische Philosophie im Denken Heideggers (Opladen und Köln: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1965, Enlarged Edition, 1988), p. 2. 33 Schwan, Ott, and Heidegger, Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie; Heidegger, A Political Life. 34 Jürgen Kaube, “Die Endschlacht der planetarischen Verbrecherbanden: Martin Hei­ deggers Schwarze Hefte”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 12 March 2014.

16 Translating the other Lessons from the world of medieval Japan Rajyashree Pandey

This essay takes as its point of departure the possibilities and limits of using the categories of body, gender, and agency, as they have emerged within the context of modern Western philosophical, religious, and (more recently) feminist debates, to read texts that come out of an altogether different temporal and cultural context. Theorizing gender and agency is a moral, political, and ethical imperative for our times, given that it is tied to the emancipatory project of feminism. Even texts and practices which belong to the past, and what is more, the past of the non-West, are no longer immune from being interpreted and judged through the exigencies of our current moment. My work explores what it means to “translate” the actions and utterances of those who inhabited a world far removed from our own, into a language that is intelligible to us moderns. Using the religious/literary texts of medieval Japan as the site of my inquiry, I hope to share in the spirit which provoked Dipesh Chakra­ barty to ask, in a different context, “How do we conduct these translations in such a manner as to make visible all the problems of translating diverse and enchanted worlds into the universal and disenchanted language of sociology?”1 Translating the past is inevitable, given that we cannot encounter different worlds other than through our contemporary categories of thought. There is lit­ tle to be gained by aspiring to an unrealizable and indeed unproductive romantic hermeneutic that seeks “to step into the shoes” of those who lived before us. And yet to think through these categories is perforce to acknowledge at the outset that “these concepts entail an unavoidable – and in a sense indispensable – universal and secular vision of the human.”2 For the categories that inform and give mean­ ing and purpose to liberalism, Marxism and feminism – including rights, class and sex/gender – have genealogies that go back (at least) to the revolutions in parts of Europe and America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Given that they come to us laden, inevi­ tably, with certain presuppositions that are shaped by the questions and debates that animated Enlightenment thought, there can be no unmediated transposition of these categories on to texts that were produced within a very different intellectual, philosophical, and religious framework. To assume their universality would be to produce seamless translations of alien worlds, now rendered comfortingly famil­ iar, and unproblematically amenable to being subsumed within our own.


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However, one of the pleasures of encountering the texts of medieval Japan is precisely their strangeness, which calls for a defamiliarization of categories that have become naturalized and obvious, such that the reading and interpretive prac­ tices to which we have grown habituated are unsettled. The “otherness” of these distant worlds requires us to be attentive to the moments when our categories are stretched to the point where they fail to render us service. Without disavowing the intellectual tradition within which our work is perforce located, the medieval texts of Japan might open up new ways of conceptualiz­ ing gender and agency, such that they bring into view both the possibilities and limits of working with these categories for describing not only the distant past of the non-West, but equally the world we inhabit today. For these two worlds, while different, are not incommensurably so. What makes possible an intelligible conversation between the now and the then is that moment of the uncanny, when we recognize that “these [past] worlds are never completely lost” and that “we inhabit their fragments even when we classify ourselves as modern and secular.”3 Without flattening or domesticating other life worlds, it may be possible for us to hear, however faintly, reverberations from a distant past that we believe we left behind long ago.

Sex/gender We have come to assume that what distinguishes men from women is sexual dif­ ference, and that this difference is biologically determined. This distinction is founded on the idea that there are two distinct domains – nature and culture – and that the body and sex are aligned with nature, whilst gender, a social construction, belongs to the domain of culture. As a conceptual category, widely deployed in feminist writing, the term gender, from the outset, served a political function. It emerged in feminist writings as a response to the biological determinism that was at the heart of the claim, made since the eighteenth century, that sexual difference was something inscribed on the body, a fact of nature that could not be changed and the reason why women were innately inferior to men. The feminist project of the 1960s and 1970s assumed the naturalness of sex, while challenging the idea that social roles inevitably followed from “natural” biological differences. In recent decades, scholars such as Judith Butler, often working under the sign of post-structuralism, have sought to challenge the claim that the materiality of the body and sex is self-evident and pre-discursive. The focus has shifted to an inquiry into the ways in which this “facticity” is produced, and how the natu­ ralization of these categories is an effect of the regimes of power/knowledge that produce normative and regulatory frameworks. It is important to note that recent post-structuralist challenges to the view that body, nature, sex, and woman are pre-discursive and natural, for all their insights, have emerged within debates that are internal to and produced within a specific framework of knowledge that has dominated Europe’s intellectual tradition. These critiques are reactions to a specific, even provincial, history that is seen as having imprisoned thought within the hard and fast binaries of sex/gender and nature/

Translating the other 189 society. Cultures that have not worked with these binaries, and whose life-worlds were produced within a different epistemic framework do not need the insights offered by post-structuralist arguments in the same way. Neither materialist argu­ ments nor social constructivist claims, I suggest, are entirely adequate to concep­ tualizing the body in medieval Japanese texts. Even a cursory glance at pre-modern worlds suggests that male and female were often formal organizing principles, which accounted for the very generation of the universe and as a way of structuring both the cosmic and social order. They were used to explain and describe larger generative and creative forces which were hardly reducible to accounts of the human body or sexual difference. Fur­ thermore, these worlds were not organized through the distinctions of nature/cul­ ture and sex/gender. Thomas Laqueur has demonstrated how until the seventeenth century in Europe, what prevailed was the “one sex model,” in which men and women were seen as having essentially the same sexual organs – no linguistic distinction was made between ovaries and testicles, which shared the same name, and what distinguished men from women was merely that men’s genitalia lay on the outside while those of women were inverted.4 To be one’s gender, to occupy a particular place within the social order as a man or woman, was itself seen as part of the natural order. Both what we would call “nature” and “culture” were cut of the same cloth, part of the same divine scheme, and there was no need to turn to the body for affirming this preordained hierarchy. Sex did not function as a biological category any more than gender did as a social one. In pre-modern China and Japan, likewise, sex and gender, which are premised in modern thinking upon a division between natural attributes and social roles, had little valence given that “nature” and “society” did not constitute two separate spheres. Male and female relations were both natural and social, and their “bod­ ily powers were given spiritual significance as fitting microcosmic participants in a universal order.”5 Male and female principles (yin and yang) functioned as complementary aspects of the body and were seen to interpenetrate both men and women.6 Neither the body nor its sexual organs were the privileged sites for the justification of particular social arrangements. Sexual difference in feminist history and activism has been the troubled site for imagining women’s struggles and emancipatory possibilities. As Joan Scott has argued, there is a fundamental paradox at the heart of feminist politics: on the one hand feminists claimed that “sexual difference was not an indicator of social, intellectual or political capacity.” At the same time, by seeking to act on behalf of women, they “invoked the very difference they sought to deny.”7 Butler’s rejec­ tion of sex as pre-given and her argument that both sex and gender are products of discourses and power rather than natural effects of the body,8 or Denise Riley’s denial of an ontological foundation for grounding women as a stable category,9 have to be understood as part of ongoing debates and conversations that are cen­ tral to the history of Western feminism itself. In medieval Japan, on the other hand, as I have argued, “man” and “woman” were not constituted through the immutability of their sexual organs. There was


Rajyashree Pandey

therefore no need to argue that sexual difference was irrelevant in determining women’s moral or intellectual potential. In a world in which hierarchy was taken as a given and seen as part of the natural order of things, there were no grounds for challenging unequal and asymmetrical relationships, and the body and sexual organs did not need to become the sites for justifying social arrangements. Given that both sex and the body were unstable and imbued with transformational poten­ tial, there was no way of fixing “man” or “woman” and indeed “human” and “non-human” as unchanging and essentialist categories. The set of problematiza­ tions with which Western feminism has had to grapple are therefore not seam­ lessly applicable to non-Western pasts, which had a different order of questions to which they sought answers.

Body First, it is worth noting that the dualism that the mind/body debates that have preoccupied Western philosophical thought had no valence in the East Asian reli­ gious traditions. Both Daoist and Buddhist writings worked with the assumption that the body and mind were integrally connected, and the central question that animated their theorizations was working out how the two could function most effectively together as a mind-body complex. Mental and affective processes were mutually intertwined, and the body, far from being defined as pure materiality, was seen rather as a psychosomatic process, “something done, rather than some­ thing one has.”10 This is reflected in medieval Japanese texts where “thought” does not function as the other of “feeling” or emotion – the verb omou encapsulates both feel­ ing and thinking.11 The term used for love, koi, makes no distinction between spiritual or platonic love, on the one hand, and sensual and profane love on the other. The term carries a wider range of significations incorporating physical desire, longing, passion, and affect. The body through which these feelings are given expression, is not associated with sin or shame. The word mi in the Japa­ nese medieval lexicon that corresponds to the term “body” does not differentiate between the physical body and what we might call the psychic, social, or cultural body, and hence one of the most common usages of the term mi is to signify a person’s status or standing in the world. Both material and mental/emotional processes are integrally linked and central to the constitution of a meaningful body/self. Second – and this has implications for the purported universality of eroticism and desire – the literary and pictorial traditions of pre-modern China (and this is equally true of medieval Japan) have no “image of a body as a whole object, least of all as a solid and well-shaped entity whose shapeliness is supported by the structure of the skeleton and defined in the exteriority of swelling muscle and enclosing flesh.”12 This is in striking contrast to European conceptions of the body envisaged in its fullness through muscle, flesh, and bone. In a work such as the Tale of Genji for example, love and desire – central themes for a romance narrative – are not generated through descriptions of

Translating the other 191 specific aspects of the body conceived of as an enfleshed entity. Both the physi­ cal and psychic attributes that go into the making of the body find expression in the robes within which the body is enveloped. Robes, which are metonymically linked to the body, are not mere embellishments that adorn, cover, and enhance the beauty of the body: they serve as privileged repositories of both the physical and psychic attributes that go towards the constitution of the body/self; they are part and parcel of embodied being and it is the two together as an ensemble that have the power to generate erotic and affective desire in the Genji.13 Third, medieval bodies are granted transformative powers that render the boundaries between gods, humans, men, women and beasts porous and fluid. The popular tales of medieval Japan conjure up an unfamiliar cosmology in which plants, animals, humans, and supernatural beings intermingle and perform the strangest of boundary crossings. A man has sex with a turnip. A young girl eats the turnip, falls pregnant, and gives birth to a boy. A snake is aroused and has sex with a woman. A priest makes love to a young boy who falls pregnant and gives birth to a baby, who turns out to be a nugget of gold. A beautiful woman turns out to be a deceitful fox; a young boy reveals himself to be a bodhisattva. All bodies, even those of women, are conceptualized as active agents that can defy common expectations and perform miraculous transformations.

The performativity of gender If “man” and “woman” in medieval Japanese texts were not realized primarily through their bodies, then how was gender difference produced? Rather than the sexual attributes of the body, gendering was a process that materialized through specific modes of comportment, patterns of speech, and stylized performative modes, which made the categories “male” and “female” intelligible. Here Judith Butler’s work acquires a new kind of relevance that may go beyond her autocritiques of the West, for her understanding of gender is precisely one that sees it not as “a static cultural marker,” but rather “a kind of becoming, an activity.”14 She maintains that it is through the iteration of words, acts, and gestures that the illusion of fixed notions of “an interior and organizing gender core” is created and maintained.15 Literary texts such as the anonymous twelfth-century fictional tale Torikae­ baya Monogatari (The Tale of “If Only I Could Change Them Back”) explicitly thematize this idea of gender as something that is not a given but rather a matter of “becoming” through repeated performance. The daughter of the Minister of the Right Himegimi is raised as a boy and takes her place at the court as a man, while her brother Wakagimi, brought up as a girl, enters court as a lady. It is through forms of rigorous self-fashioning, that is to say, through the cultivation of particular dispositions and forms of comportment appropriate to their respective genders that Himegimi and Wakagimi are able to transform themselves such that they can successfully take on their new gendered roles, regardless of their sexual attributes. In the end, Torikaebaya Monogatari returns the two siblings to their proper gendered roles, but for much of the text it engages in playful inversions,


Rajyashree Pandey

whose effect is to expose the fictive nature of the fixity of gender as the basis of a stable identity. To suggest that gender is fluid and a matter of performance in medieval Japa­ nese texts does not mean that how gender is performed is arbitrary or a matter of individual choice. Indeed, the model for ideal male and female behaviour that Himegimi and Wakagimi cultivate conforms to normative understandings of what it means to be female or male in the courtly world of Heian Japan. However, what is significant for our purposes is that gender is disassociated from the body and sex and is principally a matter of certain prescribed stylizations of performative roles. This is particularly the case in Japanese waka poetry. Waka poetry’s dominant themes are nature and love, both of which are expressed through a prescribed repertoire of images and vocabulary. The central figures of love poems are otoko (man) and onna (woman), who appear in the poems through terms such as kimi (you) or hito (male or female lover) or ware (I). These terms are used for both men and women alike. They indicate nothing about the gender, identity, or social status of either the poet or the one who is being addressed. Furthermore, ware speaks to fluid, multiple selves that often blend into one another, inhabiting as they do the same experiential space.16 When a poem is described as being a woman’s poem (onna no uta), what is at issue is not the sexual or personal identity of the composer of the poem, but rather the particular stylized role or persona to be adopted by the poet that is consonant with woman, not as a real, living being, but rather as a trope or an idea. Even when a poem is marked as anonymous, or when there is no headnote explaining the circumstances under which it was composed, it is possible to infer which persona a poet has adopted. This is because in the waka tradition, woman is always positioned as the one who waits and pines for her male lover, while man is the one who visits at night, and departs before dawn. He is the one who initiates the affair and composes the morning after poem to which his lady is expected to respond. A poet, regardless of his or her biological sex (a category that has no real meaning in this context) can slip seamlessly into the persona of the waiting female or the male who visits. It is through the performative stances adopted by poets that “man” and “woman” come into being, and only provisionally so, within the discursive space of waka poetry.

Buddhism and gender Many of the observations I have made here could be challenged by turning to Bud­ dhist texts in which undoubtedly “woman” is the marked category, both implicitly and explicitly defined as different from and inferior to “man,” the normative ideal. Her gendered difference in these texts takes many forms: her body is marked by the impurities of childbirth and menstruation; she is hindered by the five obstruc­ tions – the impossibility for women to attain rebirth as a Brahmā, Indra, Māra, Cakravartin, or Wheel-turning King, and, most significantly, Buddha; she is given to greed, anger, pride, and envy; and her beauty is dangerous for men for it serves

Translating the other 193 as a hindrance to the path of renunciation. The fact that in canonical works such as the Lotus Sutra, a woman must attain rebirth as a man before she can embark on her journey to become a Buddha has often been singled out as proof of Bud­ dhism’s fundamental misogyny. While it is true that women’s shortcomings and sinful dispositions were often used in Buddhist discourse, these writings seem less concerned with establish­ ing women’s inferiority to men than with rhetorically deploying the figure of “woman,” who precisely as an exemplar of shortcomings and vices, serves as a skilfull means (Sk upāya; Jp. hōben), if you will, to demonstrate that even the most profound hurdles can be overcome through the miraculous powers of the Buddhist teachings, which make enlightenment possible for all regardless of their failings. In the Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra for example, Prajnākutā is skeptical of Mañjusrī’s claim that his disciple, the eight-year-old dragon princess, has at such a young age attained perfect Enlightenment. The elder Sāriputra, likewise, expresses doubts about the dragon princess possessing the necessary requisites for attaining Buddhahood on the grounds that the female body is a “filthy” thing, subject to the five obstructions. The dragon princess does not engage in dialogue with them, but acts swiftly, transforming herself into a man and achieving Bud­ dhahood. The body here is conceived of as a malleable and changeable entity, which can render the boundaries between men, women, dragons, and buddhas fluid and open. The transformative potential granted to all bodies serves a larger purpose, namely as a reminder of the temporary and provisional nature of all that seems real in the mundane world of samsāra. Indeed, the instability of man and woman as fixed and enduring entities is the subject of conscious thematization in the Vimalakīrti Sutra. As in the Lotus Sutra, Sāriputra challenges a goddess residing in the house of the lay bodhisattva Vimalakīrti by saying that if she were truly endowed with wisdom, she would be able to change herself into a male. The goddess promptly responds by changing herself into a man and turning Sāriputra into a woman. Drawing on the doctrine of non-duality, she claims that neither maleness nor femaleness are innate or stable characteristics, thereby attesting to the provisional nature of gendered identities. Even in Buddhist texts, “man” and “woman” are marked by a certain indetermi­ nacy, defying any consolidation of them as unchanging and essentialist catego­ ries, always fixed in the same way. The stories in collections of popular tales (setsuwa) abound with humans, gods, bodhisattvas, buddhas, and beasts who intermingle and change forms. We can only make sense of this mutual imbrication of different realms of exist­ ence if we are attentive to the Buddhist epistemic framework within which, this particular way of ordering, knowing, and inhabiting the world came to be imag­ ined. The doctrinal basis for these ideas came from different sources, among them the influential Tendai sect’s formulation of the concept of the ten worlds concomitant (jikkai gogu). In this view, each of the ten realms was seen as mutu­ ally interpenetrating and encompassing such that no ontological distinction was possible between, say, the world of hungry ghosts, the world of demons, and the


Rajyashree Pandey

world of beasts, humans, gods, and buddhas. In this schema what was presup­ posed was that “the nine realms of unenlightened beings possess the Buddha nature inherently, while the Buddha possesses the nine realms of unenlightened beings.”17 The idea of the inter-penetration of human and nonhuman worlds was central to medieval Japanese texts, which thematized both the pleasures and dangers of living in a world in which humans and other beings shared a common space and marveled at the inexorable forces of karma that could work in unexpected ways, bringing human beings in contact with both bodhisattvas and demons. In the twelfth-century picture scrolls of hungry ghosts (gaki zōshi),18 for exam­ ple, gaki are depicted as grotesque, skeletal figures with enormous bellies and needle-thin throats. They are driven to eating excrement and carrion and are tor­ tured by demons and vultures. But the realm they inhabit is imagined as being an integral part of the human world. Quietly consuming excrement while people def­ ecate, begging food from monks, mingling with the crowds in a busy marketplace, licking water that is offered to the statue of the Buddha, they are inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society and are not dissimilar to the starving beggars who once populated medieval towns and cities – at once pariahs, and at the same time integral parts of the community as a whole.

Agency What I have argued has implications for how we use the term agency when we interpret women’s actions in medieval Japanese texts. It was in order to get away from narratives of “victimology” that positioned women as passive objects, sub­ jected to oppression under patriarchal norms and structures, that the term agency gained currency; it came to be used as a way to describe the actions of women, who were perceived as being oppressed, but who nonetheless rebelled against the dominant forms of authority that worked to subjugate them. In their analyses of medieval Japanese texts scholars do not go much beyond the claim that women either had agency and rebelled against the attempts by Buddhism and patriarchy to degrade them, or the assertion that women lacked agency because they were helpless in the face of their oppression.19 The act of female tonsure for example has been read both as an act of resistance to unequal social arrangements where nunhood becomes the space of freedom that a woman actively chooses20 or nega­ tively as “a form of death in life.”21 As we can see, ascribing agency to women has been no easy task, for there is little consensus on how one might gauge the significance of women’s activities in medieval texts. There is no way of adjudicating on these different positions on an evidential basis given that the same textual material can yield different readings ranging from women’s insubordination and passivity to even complicity in the face of oppression. And yet this framework prevails because, as Marshall Sahlins puts it, the dominance-resistance coupling is “a no-lose strategy since the two characterizations, domination and resistance . . . in some combination will cover any and every historical eventuality.”22

Translating the other 195 A number of unwarranted assumptions undergird the use of agency as a con­ ceptual tool in our readings of medieval Japanese texts. First, agency here is implicitly understood to signify the capacity for action that inheres to humans, defined as “autonomous individuals with free will.” This understanding of agency is based on a modern humanist conception born of liberal thought, which assumes that each individual is a sovereign subject and is responsible for his or her own choices and actions. However, self-evidently, the world of medieval Japan was not shaped by the anvil of post-Enlightenment thought, or by the self-mythologizing claims of modern liberal and neo-liberal ideologies that declare humans to be autonomous individuals who exercise their freedom and choose that which is in their own self-interest. Second, this vision of individual responsibility and freedom also presupposes the supremacy of Man as the maker of meaning in the world. Agency in this understanding is something possessed by humans alone. The epistemic shift to a human-centred world, which excised the agency of gods and spirits, was closely associated in the West with the emergence of a new conception of a separate sphere of human life called “religion,” which from the nineteenth century came to be understood as “a set of propositions to which believers gave assent.”23 “Belief” in gods and in the cosmos as active agents, in this view, came to be dismissed as flights of fancy or manifestations of irrational superstition, or translated into a secular idiom where they became simply signs or symbols for human fears and anxieties. And yet, it is obvious that in medieval Japan, humans were not the sole actors and makers of meaning: gods, beasts, demons, and even dreams and material objects were seen as working together with humans as active agents in a shared cosmological and worldly order. Medieval texts consistently fail to attribute the events that take place in the world solely to human intentions and will; rather they present them as effects unfolding as a consequence of a concatenation of forces, in which a significant role is assigned to the power of the divine and to karma from past lives. In the Tale of Genji, for example, the unlikely union of Genji with the Akashi Lady when Genji is in exile in Suma comes about not as a result of the personal agency of either of the protagonists but due to the intervention of a number of supernatural agents. The amorous entanglements in which men and women find themselves embroiled are viewed not through the prism of coercion or consent, but rather through the Buddhist notion of sukuse, fate or karma. These are also recurring themes in popular literary/Buddhist texts of medieval Japan. Time and time again both men and women in the text read the circumstances that unfold in their lives as the workings of inexplicable causes and contingencies reverberating through past existences rather than primarily as consequences of their own actions as autonomous individuals who are in control of their own destinies. Third, liberal accounts of agency presuppose that it is the natural inclination of all humans to strive to resist the oppressive conditions of their lives. If agency is treated as being conceptually interchangeable with the notion of resistance against relations of power and domination, then acts, particularly religious ones,


Rajyashree Pandey

that work in consonance with social conventions rather than against them cannot be granted real agency. However, what if we were to decouple agency from the liberatory project of progressive politics? Saba Mahmood does precisely this by calling into ques­ tion the universality of liberal conceptions of freedom, arguing that “the desire for freedom from, or subversion of norms is not an innate desire that moti­ vates all beings at all times, but is also mediated by cultural and historical conditions.”24 Agency, particularly in religious contexts, often lies not in challenging the nor­ mative framework of piety, but rather in developing a personal relationship to it through the cultivation of forms of bodily comportment and other acts of selffashioning to craft the self into a pious and ethical subject. A conception of agency that speaks only the language of compliance or resistance is clearly inadequate to capturing these forms of desire and affect, which from a contemporary feminist perspective are reduced to being either signs of passivity or co-option, or at best excused as necessary strategies for coping with patriarchal norms. Piety is usually given little credence in readings of medieval Japanese texts for it is often seen as masking the real social issues that underlie the actions that ema­ nate from it. Scholarly attention, for example, is directed to the fact that in the Tale of Genji, in spite of Murasaki’s repeated wish to take the tonsure, her husband Genji refuses to let her do so. Murasaki’s reason for becoming a nun is emptied of religious content and seen solely as a way for her to deal with her husband’s infidelity. Her decision to leave worldly life is construed as either self-denial or as a heroic rebellion against a selfish and self-serving husband. And yet, as the text makes it abundantly clear, it is the manner in which Mura­ saki cultivates and works towards the production of herself as a pious subject through certain affective and embodied practices that wins her the reputation of being a bodhisattva on earth. The seriousness of her intent to take religious vows and her initiative in organizing the ceremonies for the recitation of the Lotus Sutra demonstrate her commitment to the Buddhist Way, which offers the possibility of disengaging from worldly attachments, and preparing for death. In the end the text celebrates her performance of an exemplary death. If we attend to the broader religious and philosophic context within which medieval texts are located, we see that they do not conceptualize relations between men and women through the language of social justice or human agency, but through an altogether different idiom that belongs to a Buddhist view of the world. Amorous attachments inevitably produce pain and misery for all beings, and women often come to exemplify this suffering. However, as Dipesh Chakra­ barty argues, “In religious thought suffering is existential. . . . In social thought, however, suffering is not an existential category. It is specific and hence open to secular interventions.”25 To turn the protagonists of the Genji into subjects of modern “social thought” is in effect to turn the medieval world into a secular one where piety simply becomes a displacement or metaphor that obscures (when read through the lens of “gender,” “agency,” and “resistance,”) the “truth” of the inequality and injustice of gender relations.

Translating the other 197 Recent debates, coming from a wide range of perspectives, have sought to chal­ lenge the claims of modernity as the moment of arrival, when man’s search for autonomy and self-realization are finally achieved. In a curious coming together of pre-modern and contemporary perspectives, scholars have challenged the anthropocentric assumptions at the heart of modern conceptions of agency.26 Man is no longer the sole maker of meaning in the world, and some of the fundamental dualities at the heart of the modern – nature and culture, subject and object, real­ ity and representation, the human and nonhuman – have been shown up to be not truths about the world, but rather the story that modernity has construed about itself. The medieval view of the world, which once seemed radically incommen­ surable to our own is no longer so, as we recognize the limits of human agency by rediscovering how it is enabled and circumscribed by the most insignificant of material objects and living organisms. However, this distant world can never be entirely assimilated into our own: the shadow of Man still lurks behind our rejec­ tion of anthropocentrism, for there is no place there for the agency of gods, spirits, ghosts, and dreams.

Notes 1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 89. 2 Ibid., p. 4. 3 Ibid., p. 112. 4 Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cam­ bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 19–20, 25–62, 63–113, 114–142, 150–154. 5 Charlotte Furth, A Flourishing Yin: Gender in China’s Medical History, 960–1665 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), p. 7. 6 Ibid., p. 34. 7 Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. x. 8 Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 2. 9 Denise Riley, “Am I that Name?” Feminism and the Category of “Women” in History (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), pp. 2–5. 10 Roger Ames, “The Meaning of the Body in Classical Chinese Philosophy”, in Thomas P. Kasulis, Roger Ames, and Wimal Dissanayake (eds.), Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice (New York: SUNY Press, 1993), p. 168. 11 Thomas P. Kasulis, “The Body – Japanese Style”, in Thomas P. Kasulis, Roger Ames, and Wimal Dissanayake (eds.), Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice (New York: SUNY Press, 1993), p. 303. 12 John Hay, “Is the Body Invisible in Chinese Art?” in Angela Zito and Tani Barlow (eds.), Body, Subject, and Power in China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 51. 13 For an extensive discussion of the connections between body, robes and erotic desire see Rajyashree Pandey, Perfumed Sleeves and Tangled Hair: Body, Woman, and Desire in Medieval Japanese Narratives, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2016), pp. 4–42. 14 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 112.


Rajyashree Pandey

15 Judith Butler, “Gender Trouble, Feminist Theory, and Psychoanalytic Discourse”, in Linda Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 337. 16 Lynne Miyake, “The Tosa Diary: In the Interstices of Gender and Criticism”, in P. Schalow and J. Walker (eds.), The Woman’s Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women’s Writing (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 63. 17 Jacqueline Stone, Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japa­ nese Buddhism (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999), p. 179. 18 Komatsu Shigemi (ed.), Gaki zōshi, Jigoku zōshi, Yamai zōshi, Kusō shi emaki, in Nihon no Emaki, vol. 7 (Tokyo: Chūō kōronsha, 1994), pp. 2–37. 19 See for e.g, Bernard Faure, The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Keller Kimbrough, Preachers, Poets, Women and the Way: Izumi Shikibu and the Buddhist Literature of Medieval Japan (Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, Michigan, 2008). 20 Barbara Ruch, “The Other Side of Culture”, in Yamamoto Kozo (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan: Medieval Japan, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 510. 21 Norma Field, The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji (Princeton: Princeton Uni­ versity Press, 1987), p. 189. 22 Marshall Sahlins, Waiting for Foucault, Still (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2002), p. 52. 23 Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), p. 41. 24 Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 14. 25 Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, p. 20. 26 See Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. C. Porter (Harvester: Wheatsheaf, 1993); Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democ­ racy, trans. C. Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

Part V

The Anthropocene and other affiliations

17 History, anthropogenic soil, and unbecoming human Ewa Domańska

I walk to the forest where persists the continuous hum of an immense hour-glass sifting leaves into humus humus into leaves powerful jaws of insects consume the silence of the earth. Zbigniew Herbert, Voice (trans. by Czesław Miłosz) In his groundbreaking article, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Dipesh Chakrabarty announced himself as “a practicing historian with a strong interest in the nature of history as a form of knowledge.”1 I declare the same. It is therefore with growing enthusiasm that I have followed Chakrabarty’s pioneering insights on how the conversations surrounding climate change and the Anthropocene chal­ lenge history as a particular discipline of knowledge and approach to the past. Chakrabarty shows us how climate change collapses the traditional dichotomy between natural and human history, forcing scholars to rethink basic categories of historical thought, such as agency, the archive, culture and nature, evidence and source, identity, individuality and collectivity, telos, time, periodization, power and force, space, subjectivity, and so on. Reflecting on history, I find common ground with Chakrabarty’s approach on a number of points both epistemologi­ cal and existential: I affirm the need to transcend the limited view afforded to us by the humanities and social sciences in the face of “big picture questions” (by advocating for “radical interdisciplinarity” and integrating earth and life sciences into these fields). I also share his investment in big or deep history, the critique of anthropocentrism, and historical thinking in geological time, and I share his intel­ lectual excitement about relational approaches and flat alternatives.2 Perhaps most significantly, I share his attention to the human (and nonhuman) condition and his interest in understanding life (following Giorgio Agamben and Hannah Arendt in Chakrabarty’s case and Rosi Braidotti in mine) as a generative vital force (zoe). At the same time, my research on comparative theory of the humanities and social sciences on one end, and ecological humanities, genocide studies, and


Ewa Domańska

dead body studies on the other has somehow always been closer to earth than air (to speak in terms of the four elements). I do agree with soil scientists Alfred E. Hartemink and Alex McBratney when they stress the need “to give soil the same importance as air and water”.3 So while Chakrabarty investigates anthro­ pogenic climate change, I study anthropogenic soil change linked specifically to the decomposition of human bodies and remains, and while Chakrabarty, who brought us “The Future of the Human Sciences in the Age of Humans,” affirms scholars’ claims that “the crisis of climate change – or the period of the Anthropo­ cene – marks a fundamental shift in the human condition”4 (and in how we think about it), I pose the question of how, through processes of mineralization and humification, do we unbecome human? The problem of unbecoming human and becoming symbionts and/or holobi­ onts has fascinated me for years. Like Chakrabarty, I feel compelled to reflect on the term homo,5 but I approach this term with an interest in our species’ potential biological diversification (the future appearance of homo in multiple forms, as it was in the deep past). So, my “unbecoming human” (and with it, becoming humus, or a LifeGem, or a tree, all of which are post-human life forms made pos­ sible by various necromorphological procedures) also implies ability to transcend the homo sapiens condition.6

History begins in the grave For years, my own negotiations with the past have been guided by the idea that history begins in the grave, and the environmental history of (mass) graves has figured as a point of departure for my reflections on the relations between culture and nature, the living and the dead, the human, posthuman and nonhuman, and the past and future.7 The grave points toward a way out of these dichotomies and helps us grasp the constant and mutual permeation and coexistence between phenomena so often set in opposition. I would like to clarify, however, that my interest in land (or rather, soil) is by no means symptomatic of a völkisch nation­ alist fixation or investment in the cult of nature, ideologies of “earth and blood” (Blut und Boden) and the conquest of “living space” (Lebensraum). In light of the recent resurgence of interest in ecology, it seems important to flag the specific phenomenon of Nazi ecologism and its attendant ideals of the mystical forces of earth, organic bonds between nation and land (which is to say, human remains and land), and a sense of duty to the land, for all these concepts were instrumental in the formation of German Nazi ideology. As Boaz Neumann has argued, this specific form of ecologism lay the very groundwork for the Holocaust.8 Neumann goes one step further to suggest that the Holocaust was an ecological project per se in the sense originally assigned to the word in the mid-nineteenth century by Ernst Häckel (1834–1919).9 Yet this notion extends far beyond Nazism. As American historian Ben Kiernan demonstrates in his comparative study of genocide, Blood and Soil: A World His­ tory of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (2007), all instances of genocide in twentieth-century world history that fall under his analysis were

History, soil, and unbecoming human


rooted, one way or another, in issues of religion, race, ideologies of a return to a mythical, idealized past, a romantic, agrarian model (country living), the cult of untamed nature, a longing to reconstruct a sense of harmony with nature and finally, the cult of the land. This last motive is crucial for any attempt to differenti­ ate people into “our people” and “strangers,” and the same logic is turned against indigenous populations of a given territory who are (allegedly) unfit to care for their land and must therefore be replaced.10 This line of thinking leads directly to the ideals of necropolitics. A sense of close kinship between dead ancestors (their remains and graves), land, and nation­ alism is broadly reinforced in literature.11 Cemeteries and the tombs of national heroes, leaders, and cultural figures are instrumental in the formation of commu­ nities and nations, and their locations often delineate territorial borders. We might therefore venture the claim that remains are a specific tool of colonization (or decolonization, in the case of their removal). As Maria Janion has demonstrated in her excellent books that look at cases within Poland, there is no national com­ munity without necronationalism, which builds its founding myths on the basis of graves.12 The politics of dead bodies are fundamental for the development of any ideology of a national collective, and political transitions often coincide with attempts to remove the remains of leaders of the old regime from churches or cemeteries by profaning or destroying them, or repatriating and reburying national heroes deemed valuable for the new order (along with demolishing monuments and erecting new ones). It is easy to see how this approach to the relationship between nature, history, land, and the dead generates quite a specific conception of cultural and natural heritage (to take up this classic yet now discredited distinc­ tion). In short: all heritage is necroheritage. It is not my intention, however, to probe deeper into this notion of necropoliti­ cal heritage, and my approach is not premised on Häckel’s understanding of ecol­ ogy. My interest in the intimate bonds between human remains and the land has an altogether different genealogy: first, I am fascinated by the Ionian philosophy of nature and its understanding of the elements, which dates back to roughly the third to fifth century BC. Second, I am interested in land art and feel particularly taken with the work of Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy among others. As I noted earlier, by working in the ecological humanities and engaging in ongo­ ing discussions on the Anthropocene, I have come to realize the extent to which our attention gravitates to water and air, neglecting earth. What’s more, the many years I spent writing my book on Necros and reading about the cemetery, mass graves, and the decomposition of human remains have revealed to me the remark­ able complexity of soil and how indispensable it is for life. I am also drawn to soil science in the context of the “geologic turn.”13 As I see it, these conversations take up the issue of human (geological) agency and its effects, which are reflected in climate change, the destruction of biodiversity, alterations in the geologic compo­ sition and topography of the land, changes in water regimes and profiles (such as shifts in the topography of drainage systems caused by the regulation of rivers), and so on. These conversations have been popularized in the form of the humanist notion of “anthropogenic changes,” which is to say, changes instigated by human


Ewa Domańska

agents and/or resulting from human activities. I admit that at the moment, I can­ not fathom a resolution to these issues that does not invoke soil science (and earth science in general). And it is precisely within this arche(o)-geo-necro register that I situate these reflections. Among the range of issues tied to anthropogenic impact, this text homes in on the problem of anthropogenic soil change tied to the existence of cemeter­ ies. This might seem to be a counterintuitive subject for the humanities, for it lacks the empirical practice of “getting down into the grave” and analyzing what actually goes on under the earth’s surface. For it is there, after all, that profound transfigurations are unfolding in the soil, caused by burials, the humification and mineralization of bodies and the processes these things entail, and the accumula­ tion of inorganic elements.

The soil science renaissance As Alfred E. Hartemink and Alex McBratney announced in 2008, soil science is currently enjoying a renaissance. New research tends to focus on soil erosion, desertification, pollution (as an aspect of environmental degradation), climate change, and food production.14 It goes without saying that the analysis of man’s relationship to (and dependence on) soil is firmly grounded in explorations of the development of civilization, agriculture, hygiene, and so on (scientists claim, for instance, that soil degradation has historically been an instrumental factor in the downfall of certain civilizations).15 In his book Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, Aldo Leopold proposed the notion of land ethics, which would ultimately become a basic tenet of modern ecocentrism and environmental ethics. As Leopold claims: The extension of ethics to this third element [the land] in human environ­ ment is, if I read the evidence correctly, an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity. (. . .) All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single prem­ ise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. (. . .) In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the landcommunity to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellowmembers, and also respect for the community as such.16 In this context, it might also be useful to pay closer attention to the idea of the ethics of soil or soil ethics17 as a way out of mankind’s purely utilitarian exploita­ tion (and sometimes even extermination) of the land.18 Leopold goes on to point out how issues of soil, climate, water, and biodiversity are inextricably bound to problems of global security (famine, mass murder). In this case, it seems that art is in a position to contribute to the cultivation of a social consciousness around soil and its profound significance for mankind.19 At the same time, scientists are increasingly gravitating towards the study of underground ecosystems and the

History, soil, and unbecoming human


life that plays out below ground, showing us how soil can be the most diversified habitat on the planet (over a quarter of all species on Earth dwell within the soil), and emphasizing the pressing need to preserve and restore biodiversity in soil.20 In light of these concerns, there is a growing demand for anthropologists, historians, philosophers and social scientists who might help us understand the complex rela­ tions between soil and man and reflect on humanity as a factor that constitutes the soil and instigates its anthropogenic changes. Some have even floated the idea of establishing anthropopedology (pedology being a synonym for soil science) as a discipline that considers how “humanity is changing the soil and soil-environment interactions and how soil change is impacting humanity.”21 Particularly fascinating are attempts to reformulate our understanding of soil. As Maria Puig de la Bellacasa has emphasized, in this newer approach, “soil is not just a habitat or medium for plants and organisms, nor is it just decomposed mate­ rial, the organic and mineral end-product of organism activity. Organisms are soil. A lively soil can only exist with and through a multispecies community of biota that makes it,”22 for only then does it exist as a complex and living organism.23 In the humanities and social sciences, however, little attention is paid to the soil, (naturocultural) heritage, and soil protection. While they regularly avail themselves of the word culture, humanists tend to forget that the word originally referenced the cultivation of land (soil). They rarely address the explicit concerns of soil science while helping themselves freely to its metaphors. The merging of earth science and the humanities is also imperative in that it introduces into the humanist lexicon categories with substantial analytic weight that can be adapted as theoretical concepts. As Kathy Charmaz, an advocate for grounded theory, has written: “these categories contain crucial properties that make data mean­ ingful and carry the analysis forward.”24 What’s more, categories of soil science often reverse the metaphorization of analysis, which frees up space for posing new analytical questions that yield new interpretations (I of course appreciate the cognitive function of metaphor and by no means wish to suggest that scientific language is not in itself metaphorical). Taking up this approach, we begin to see metaphors such as humus in an entirely new light. Today, drawing a link between the ontological status of human remains and the ontology of soil (inspired by soil science) seems both necessary and valid. A sur­ vey of existing literature on the subject reveals that popular approaches to the Anthropocene, climate change, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and species extinction are disproportionately focused on water and air at the expense of earth, which plays a singularly critical role in the creation and sustenance of life on Earth. Soil ecology also seems to have enjoyed a recent surge in interest. While previous research tends to prioritize pragmatic questions, such as the ara­ bility or fecundity of soil, more recent scholarship shifts emphasis to “food webs,” analyzing the roles of mesofauna in soil (e.g. earthworms, Myriapods, insects, and their larvae) in the decomposition of organic substance. Scientists explore how individual species become food for one other, but also how they become waste. For these reasons, I am interested in activating the concepts of soil science in so far as they point to new ways for thinking about the future of old cemeteries, the


Ewa Domańska

need to revitalize and conserve them, and more generally, our understanding of heritage as such.25 I am interested in how analyses of soil heritage taken up in the context of soil science might yield valuable perspectives for humanists and social scientists concerned with heritage and its themes.26

The cemetery as a sociocultural phenomenon Let us begin by quoting the article “Aspekty krajobrazowe cmentarzy w różnych kręgach kulturowo-religijnych” [Landscape Features of Cemeteries in Various Cultural and Religious Spheres] (2013) by Urszula Myga-Piątek, a geographer specializing in landscape science based at the Department of Earth Science at Silesian University (Poland). She writes: This comparative analysis of the cemetery in various cultural spheres dem­ onstrates the potential and need for more expansive research on the role these sites play in the cultural landscape. Cemeteries attached to places of wor­ ship are the most widespread elements of the sacred found in the landscape. These sites might also be examined as material, symbolic or semiotic compo­ nents of the landscape, or in terms of their function in spatial aesthetics. (. . .) We might therefore read the cemetery’s presence in a given ceremony as a “benchmark” of sorts that indicates the reach of that culture. Myga-Piątek goes on to describe the rapidly developing trend of thanatourism, suggesting that sites associated with death and historical memory deserve their own analyses as “a particular form of monument to cultural heritage.”27 I will set aside for now the fact that my vocabulary certainly benefits from the addition of the term benchmark, used in geodesy to describe a “permanently fixed geodesic sign” that marks a point of known elevation above sea level, provid­ ing a reference point for elevation measurements, as well as my recent discovery that Poland has a community of enthusiasts who seek out benchmarks. The basic claims made in this passage, which are already widespread and accepted ways to approach the cemetery in the humanities and social sciences, are particularly relevant for our analysis moving forward. We can take these ideas as solid ground­ work for further explorations, and I will reiterate them here: (1) cemeteries form a crucial component of the cultural landscape; (2) they are widespread elements of the sacred found in the landscape; (3) they are monuments to cultural heritage (or “stable signs” of that heritage; “benchmarks”); (4) as such, they indicate a culture’s borders; and (5) they can be studied as material, symbolic, or semiotic components of the landscape or in terms of spatial aesthetics. If we pursue these ideas in the context of the ontology of dead bodies and remains, what interests me most is the cemetery’s status as a material component of space. I am interested in its morphology, and particularly its “morphosis,” to evoke the necrotic metamorphoses I describe in Necros. At the moment, I find the ideas of American geographer Carl Ortwin Sauer to be particularly generative,

History, soil, and unbecoming human


and in the future, I wish to recover his morphological method as a tool of histori­ cal research.28

Geosemiotics So when Myga-Piątek writes that comparative studies might approach the cem­ etery as a “material, symbolic or semiotic component” of the landscape, for me, she does not go far enough. Her language privileges culture at the expense of nature; she leans too heavily on symbolic signs and neglects the index of matter (here, I am referencing Charles Sanders Peirce and his theory of signs). To com­ plement this approach, we might consider incorporating concepts from geosemi­ otics, a field often defined as “the study of the indexicality of the material world.” I take my cue here from Ronald Scollon and Suzanne B. K. Scollon’s exploration of semiotic and non-semiotic spaces, with the latter denoting not places devoid of meaning (for such places, according to the authors, do not exist), but places, rather, where meaning is somewhat camouflaged or obscured.29 I would, how­ ever, modify their approach with two key displacements: first, while the authors are preoccupied with what is unfolding horizontally, I am more concerned with subterranean processes, or those unfolding underground (and/or those visible on the surface as alterations in the landscape, such as rifts in the ground or vegeta­ tion linked to the disposal and decomposition of bodies and their material acces­ sories in mass graves). Second, I am interested in indexical signs that point to the agency of nonhuman subjects (e.g. changes in soil color caused by humification and mineralization). I take these preoccupations as a working schema for a form of geosemiotics that might serve me as a method of research. For these reasons, I will stop using the phrase cultural landscape in order to indicate that I understand culture in its original sense, as a practice of cultivation. I would also like to specify that I am concerned with spaces of necroculture (in keeping with the definition of necros I propose in my book). The cemetery, then, and cemetery soil in particular, interest me as sites for cultivating necros and as spaces belonging to necroculture. In this approach, the necrocultural landscape therefore figures as a vestigium of sorts, an imprint that marks visible, horizontal space as well as soil, viewed vertically and stratigraphically.

Cemetery soil (necrosol) as anthropogenic soil Soil science offers a wellspring of inspiration (and a continuation of reflections on necrotic metamorphosis) under the banner of the field described as “soil mor­ phology” (the morphological method mentioned above is rooted precisely in this field). This area of research pertains to the circulation of soil, the processes it undergoes, and the factors that generate it, demonstrating how soil and its layers are formed. I am most interested in the soil profile at depths of 150–200 cm, which is to say, the approximate layer where remains decompose. At this depth, we can identify certain morphological features of the soil, such as: “layers of (genetic)


Ewa Domańska

diversification and their thickness, transitions between layers, hue, moisture lev­ els, structure, texture, gleization, admixtures and concretions.”30 In this sense, graves, mass graves, and certainly the cemetery are all tied to the mechanical degradation of the soil profile and the pollution and degrada­ tion of soils. Soil formed as the direct or secondary effect of mankind’s activi­ ties is described as anthropogenic soil (anthrosol). If we consider soil change to be a consequence of land use, we might pay particular attention to areas occupied by gardens, parks, cemeteries, residential housing (single-family and high-density), and transportation routes. According to Polish Soil Classifica­ tion, two major groups stand out among these categories: agriculture soils (i.e. gardens) on the one hand, and on the other, industrial soils and urban soils (e.g. in Silesia). In the case of the cemetery (understood here as a specific practice of land-use planning), the recently introduced term necrosol describes the type of anthropogenic soil that forms on cemetery grounds.31 Soil classification locates this category as a subgroup of agriculture soils described as regosols. Necrosols are soils that have been transformed by mechanical tilling, alterations in the soil profile, and the integration of compost. This is “cemetery soil with a humus greater than 40 cm,” characterized by the “deep intermingling of materials in the soil profile and enriched with organic matter due to its partial anaerobic decomposition.”32 In the analysis of necrosol and its chemical composition, phosphorous serves as one of several diagnostic features. Identifying marks of burial necrosol include the abundance of phosphorous, organic carbon, and nitrogen, all of which arise from the decomposition of organic matter.33 In this light, the study of cultural heritage in the humanities and social sciences would benefit from accounting for aspects of nature present in soil heritage. We should also consider the specific nature of cemetery soils as heritage (their status) and the methods of conservation they call for. This prompts the question: in this bio-geo-humanist approach, how can we read the formulation well-known from (but not exclusive to) Polish history: “the fatherland is soil and graves”? By “peering into the grave” and embracing humus as an analytical category, how might we read this phrase anew? How can philosophy and an ethics of soil impact our understanding of history as a specific approach to the past? It is my contention that reflecting on humus as a form of necros opens up generative perspectives for facing these questions in the future.

Humus In his 1744 work New Science, Giambattista Vico wrote that the word humanitas is derived from humando – burying. For the Italian thinker, burial of the dead becomes one of the three pillars of civilization (alongside religion and mar­ riage).34 The word humanitas, however, is in fact not derived from humando but from humanus and homo, which links it to the human species (genus humanum). Most relevant for our purposes is that these terms all share a common root in the word humus (soil, earth, humus, but also region or country, both on and

History, soil, and unbecoming human


under the earth).35 For Vico, humanitas (denoting the rituals forming the bed­ rock of civilization) stands in opposition to all that is barbaric. The humani­ ties, as a field, are therefore concerned with man and his culture and works. If the humanities – understood by these terms – study and describe “becoming human” in the context of sociocultural processes (strategies of dehumanization and social exclusion notwithstanding), then the necrohumanities – rooted in the ontology of human dead body and remains – is concerned with the post- or non-human condition of unbecoming human as a species identity. With regard to burial and cremation (the dispersion of ashes), this occurs through decompo­ sition processes (mineralization and humification) and conversion into organic matter (humus). I claim humus as the salient metaphor of the necrohumanities – a field whose leading lines of thought are the notion of dehumanization through decomposition (organic decay) by unbecoming human and “becoming-soil” (as a metaphorical expression, or for soil science – becoming soil humus).36 To enrich and prob­ lematize the humanities’ conception of humus, I draw from the research of soil scientists who emphasize the role of organic substance (vegetal and animal resi­ dues) within soil in shaping the processes of total decomposition – mineralization (under aerobic conditions, rot, and under anaerobic ones – decay) and humifica­ tion, or the alteration and synthesis of organic compounds.37 In my approach to the ontology of dead body and remains and in my search for the diverse forms of subjectivity they entail, I am inspired by the conception of humus proposed by soil scientists.38

Humification and mineralization, or: unbecoming human While the term exhumation can be translated as “removal from the grave” by turning to its Latin etymology (ex + humus), I understand it as the extraction of a specific soil component – humus and the resulting displacement of the metac­ ollectivities and necropersons that accumulate, for instance, through humifica­ tion and mineralization. Following soil scientists, I understand humus (decay) as decomposed organic material in various stages of microbiological and physi­ ochemical decay, mainly vegetal, and consolidating in the soil or on its surface (as is the case in the forest). I am not forgetting, of course, that humus also means earth, land, and dust. “Soil systems process cadavers as ‘just’ another form of organic matter; it is the human perspective that makes them a particularly special form of such material.”39 In these optics, soil becomes a “living fabric,” and the dead and their remains turn out to be remarkably effective dead agents. They cannot be treated, then, as passive objects. Graves form particular spatial ecosystems within which complex life processes play out. The decomposing body and its remains enter into a natural mode of existence in the soil, in what is hailed as one of the most diversified environments on the planet.40 Soil, then, is a complex, living organism.


Ewa Domańska

In this sense, as an element of humus, human remains become “a natural prod­ uct of biological activity within the soil environment, emerging as a result of the transformation of organic residues and affected by macro and microorgan­ isms.”41 This process of dehumanization, or un-becoming human in a cultural sense by way of mineralization and humification (adopting the form of a posthu­ man being: humus) provides a basis for conceiving an ontology of dead body and remains. When we reflect on this process, we open up a space for understand­ ing human remains as elements of symbiotic collectivities made up of organic and nonorganic beings that exist in various spheres and are constantly commin­ gling. These “comminglings” and displacements reveal the agency of this matter understood as continuous motion, transient forms, the forging of relations and all that this implies, and the capacity to provoke change in one’s surroundings (e.g. by influencing the chemical composition of groundwater and soil, trigger­ ing landslides, and so on). Once we see remains in terms of these complex bio­ chemical processes, we can understand decomposition and synthesis (the stages of humification) as the starting point for a dynamic mode of existence. Although in the symbolic world of culture, dehumanization is defined as the severing of a bond, the loss of species solidarity, and dislocation from an (often oppressive) dominant human collectivity, in the natural world, it refers to the act of inclu­ sion into a vastly more expansive collectivity of beings, only a few of which are posthuman in the sense that they were ever humans. The dehumanization of dead body (its attainment of a posthuman status) is – I repeat – conditio sine qua non for joining a collectivity of diverse forms of organic (belonging to a multispecies community) and inorganic existence. All these reflections seem to suggest that humanity is a temporary state and a matter of degree. We are human beings only in the here and now. Translated by Eliza Rose42

Notes 1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 2, 2009, p. 198. 2 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Anthropocene Time”, History and Theory, vol. 57, no. 1, 2018, p. 17ff. 3 Alfred E. Hartemink and Alex McBratney, “A Soil Science Renaissance”, Geoderma, vol. 148, 2008, p. 127. 4 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Human Condition in the Anthropocene”, The Tan­ ner Lectures in Human Values delivered at Yale University, 18–19 February 2015, p. 147, https://tannerlectures.utah.edu/Chakrabarty%20manuscript.pdf, accessed 29 March 2018. 5 Ibid., p. 156ff. 6 Ewa Domańska, Nekros: Wprowadzenie do ontologii martwego ciała [Necros: An Introduction to the Ontology of Human Dead Body and Remains] (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 2017). 7 The term “environmental history of the grave” has recently surfaced in forensic sci­ ences, and particularly in forensic archaeology that investigates the post-mortem fates

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10 11 12 13 14 15

16 17


of human dead bodies and remains. The term is used by biologists who study the environmental microbes found in the tissue of human remains. The term also appears in forensic taphonomy that investigates how environmental conditions effect the pres­ ervation of remains. The phrase “the environmental history of the grave” also appears on Michelle Ziegler’s blog “Contagions”, in the post: “Hunting Pathogens in Sibe­ rian Permafrost Graves”, 3 August 2011, https://contagions.wordpress.com/2011/08/, accessed 29 March 2018, and in Caroline Barker, Esma Alicehajic, and Javier Naranjo Santana, “Post-Mortem Differential Preservation and Its Utility in Interpreting Foren­ sic and Archaeological Mass Burials”, in Eline M. J. Schotsmans, Nicholas MárquezGrant, and Shari L. Forbes (eds.), Taphonomy of Human Remains: Forensic Analysis of the Dead and the Depositional Environment (Chichester, West Sussex and Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2017), p. 263. For more on the relationship between ecologism and Nazism, see Boaz Neumann, “National Socialism, Holocaust and Ecology”, in Dan Stone (ed.), The Holocaust and Historical Methodology (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2012), p. 106ff; Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Mark Cioc, and Thomas Zeller (eds.), How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005). For more discussions on the Anthropocene, climate change, and animal and plant studies as approaches to the Holocaust inspired by current environmental humanities, see the theme issue “Środowiskowa historia Zagłady” [An Environmental History of the Holocaust], guest editor Jacek Małczyński, theme issue, Teksty Drugie/ Second Texts, vol. 2, 2017 and Jacek Małczyński, Krajobrazy Zaglady: Perspektywa historii środowiskowej [Shoah Landscapes. An Environmental History Perspective] (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IBL PAN, 2019). Ernst Häckel, who introduced the term “ecology” into academic discourse, reinforced the ideas of Darwin by emphasizing the profound relationship between organisms and their environments. He wrote: “By ecology we mean the body of knowledge con­ cerning the economy of nature-the investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and to its organic environment; including, above all, its friendly and inimical relations with those animals and plants with which it comes directly or indirectly into contact-in a word, ecology is the study of all those complex interrela­ tions referred to by Darwin as the conditions of the struggle for existence”. Robert C. Stauffer, “Haeckel, Darwin, and Ecology”, The Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 32, no. 2, 1957, p. 141. Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 21–33, 416–454. Katherine Verdery, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Post-Socialist Change (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999). Maria Janion, Niesamowita Słowiańszczyzna [Uncanny Slavdom] (Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2006). Elisabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse (eds.), Making the Geologic Now: Responses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life (Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books, 2013). Hartemink and McBratney, “A Soil Science Renaissance”. Minami Katsuyuki, “Soil and Humanity: Culture, Civilization, Livelihood and Health”, Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, vol. 55, 2009, pp. 603–615; Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2011, Revised Edition). Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 203–204. Paul B. Thompson, “The Ethics of Soil: Stewardship, Motivation, and Moral Framing”, in Thomas J. Sauer, John Norman, and Mannava V. K. Sivakumar (eds.), Sustaining

212 18

19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

28 29



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Soil Productivity in Response to Global Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Ethics (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), pp. 31–42. Mariusz Kistowski, “Eksterminacja krajobrazu Polski jako skutek wadliwej trans­ formacji społeczno--gospodarczej państwa” [Polish Landscape Extermination as the Effect of Faulty Social-Economical State Transformation], in Dagmara Chylińska and Janusz Łach (eds.), Studia krajobrazowe a ginące krajobrazy [Landscape Studies and Disappearing Landscapes] (Wrocław: Instytut Geografii i Rozwoju Regionalnego UWr, 2010), pp. 9–20. Rattan Lal, “The Soil – Peace Nexus: Our Common Future”, Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, vol. 61, no. 4, 2015, p. 573. John Carey, “Crucial Role of Belowground Biodiversity”, PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 113, no. 28, 2016, pp. 7682–7685. Daniel B. Richter, Allan R. Bacon, Megan L. Mobley et al., “Human – Soil Relations Are Changing Rapidly: Proposals from SSSA’s Cross-Divisional Soil Change Working Group”, Soil Science Society of America Journal, vol. 75, 2011, p. 2080. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, “Making Time for Soil: Technoscientific Futurity and the Pace of Care”, Social Studies of Science, vol. 45, no. 5, 2015, p. 701. Michael Given, “Conviviality and the Life of Soil”, Cambridge Archaeological Jour­ nal, vol. 28, no. 1, 2017, pp. 127–143. Kathy Charmaz, Constructing Grounded Theory (London: Sage Publications, 2006), p. 139. Ewa Domańska, “The Eco-Ecumene and Multispecies History: The Case of Aban­ doned Protestant Cemeteries in Poland”, in Suzanne E. Pilaar Birch (ed.), Multispecies Archaeology (New York: Routledge, 2018), pp. 118–132. David Dent (ed.), Soil as World Heritage (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014). Urszula Myga-Piątek, “Aspekty krajobrazowe cmentarzy w różnych kręgach kulturowo-religijnych” [Landscape Features of Cemeteries in Various Cultural and Religious Spheres], in Cmentarze i ogrody w krajobrazie: O sacrum, symbolice i przemijaniu [Cemeteries and Gardens in Landscape: On the Sacred, Symbolism, Com­ position and Evanescence], Prace Komisji Krajobrazu Kulturowego, vol. 22 (Sos­ nowiec: Komisja Krajobrazu Kulturowego PTG, 2013), pp. 27. Carl Ortwin Sauer, “The Morphology of Landscape” [1925], in John Leighly (ed.), Land and Life: A Selection from the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), p. 326ff. Ronald Scollon and Suzanne B. K. Scollon, Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 111; Sue Nichols, “Geo­ semiotics”, in Peggy Albers, Teri Holdbrook, and Amy Seely Flint (eds.), New Meth­ ods of Literacy Research (New York: Routledge, 2014), pp. 177–192. Jerzy Drozd, Michał Linczar, Stanisław Elżbieta Linczar, and Jerzy Weber, Gle­ boznawstwo z elementami mineralogii i petrografii [Soil Science and Elements of Mineralogy and Petrography] (Wrocław: Akademii Rolniczej we Wrocławiu, 2002, 3rd Edition), p. 55. Jaroslava Sobocká, “Necrosol as a New Anthropogenic Soil Type”, in Jaroslava Sobocka (ed.), Proceedings, Soil Anthropization VII (Soil Science and Conserva­ tion Research Institute: Bratislava, 2004), pp. 107–112; Leszek Majgier, Oimah­ mad Rahmonov, and Renata Bednarek, “Features of Abandoned Cemetery Soils on Sandy Substrates in Northern Poland”, Eurasian Soil Science, vol. 47, no. 6, 2014, pp. 621–629; Oreneusz Całkosiński, Katarzyna Płoneczka-Janeczko, Magda Ostap­ ska, et al., “Microbiological Analysis of Necrosols Collected from Urban Cemeteries in Poland”, BioMed Research International, 2015, Article ID 169573, http://dx.doi. org/10.1155/2015/169573, accessed 29 March 2018.

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32 Karolina Walenczak, “Charakterystyka gleb centralnej i wschodniej części Wrocławia” [Characterization of Soils of Central and Eastern Part of Wroclaw], PhD thesis, Uni­ wersytet Przyrodniczy we Wrocławiu, Poland, 2011, pp. 25–26. 33 Józef Żychowski, “Geological Aspects of Decomposition of Corpses in Mass Graves from WW1 and 2, located in SE Poland”, Environmental Earth Sciences, vol. 64, no. 2, 2011, pp. 437–448. 34 Giambattista Vico, New Science, trans. David Marsh (London: Penguin Classics, 1999), p. 227. Robert Pogue Harrison cites this in his fascinating book The Dominion of the Dead (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003), p. xi. 35 In Book XI of his Etymologies, Isidore of Seville writes that: “Homo dictus, quia ex humo est factus, sicut [et] in Genesi dicitur (2,7): “Et creavit Deus hominem de humo terrae.” Abusive autem pronuntiatur ex utraque substantia totus homo, id est ex soci­ etate animae et corporis. Nam proprie homo ab humo” (“The human being is named homo because he was made from the earth (ex humo), as it says in Genesis (2.7)”: “And God created the human from soil of the ground (humo terre).” It is incorrectly declared that the complete human being is from both substances, that is the association of body and soul. Properly, homo is from humus (homo ab humo)”. Isidori Hispalen­ sis Episcopi Etymologiarum Sive Originum Liber XI “De Homine et portentis”, 4, www.thelatinlibrary.com/isidore/11.shtml, accessed 24 September 2018. Cf. Niculae I. Herescu, “Homo-Humus-Humanitas, Préface à un humanisme contemporain”, Bul­ letin de l'Association Guillaume Budé, vol. 5, 1948, pp. 64–76. 36 Cf. Rosi Braidotti, “Becoming Earth”, in Rosi Braidotti (ed.), The Posthuman (Cam­ bridge: Polity Press, 2013), pp. 81–89. I share with Braidotti her interest in postindividualistic figurations of subjectivity. 37 Drozd, Linczar, Linczar, and Weber, Gleboznawstwo z elementami mineralogii i petro­ grafii, p. 134. 38 Donna Haraway recently stated that “human as humus has potential.” As she writes: “We are humus, not Homo, not anthropos; we are compost, not posthuman”. Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), pp. 32, 55. In an interview Haraway says: “Humus is a term I’m very attached to, that we make with, and we become with each other, as in compost. We truly with.” Sarah Franklin, “Staying with the Manifesto: An Interview with Donna Haraway”, Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 34, no. 4, 2017, pp. 50–51. Due to the use of bone meal made from burnt bodies of the victims of the Holocaust to fertilize soils and gardens, which was associated with erasing traces of crime, I am not inclined to stress to consider of humus in terms of compost. Nevertheless, for many years, attempts have been made to adapt ashes for the production of fertilizer – especially the phosphorus contained in them. It is also important to note, that Washington might be the first state in the U.S. to legalize so called “compost burial” (the “natural organic reduction” of human remains) which is also known as “composting”. Roger Strand, Frank Shield, and John Swiader, “Cremation Ash as Phosphorous Source for Soil Additive or Fertilizer”, https://patents.google.com/patent/WO2008070215A1/en, accessed 23 September 2018; Katrina Spade, The Urban Death Project, www.recompose.life/, accessed 27 May 2019. 39 David A. Barclay, Lorna A. Dawson, et al., “Soils in Forensic Science: Underground Meets Underworld”, in Karl Ritz, Lorna A. Dawson, and David Miller (eds.), Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics (Dordrecht: Springer, 2009), p. 507. 40 Carey, “Crucial Role of Belowground Biodiversity”. 41 Jerzy Weber, website, Instytut Nauk o Glebie i Ochrony Środowiska, Uniwersytet Przyrodniczy we Wrocławiu, http://karnet.up.wroc.pl/~weber/def1.htm, accessed 29 March 2018. 42 The translation of this text was financially supported by the Department of History, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland. It contains ideas presented in the


Ewa Domańska

book Nekros. Wprowadzenie do ontologii martwego ciała [Necros: An Introduction to the Ontology of Human Dead Body and Remains] (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Nau­ kowe PWN, 2017) as well as in the article “Nekrohumanistyka” [Necrohumanities], Konteksty: Polska Sztuka Ludowa, no. 4, 2018, pp. 321–329. The project was funded by the Polish National Science Centre (NCN: Narodowe Centrum Nauki), funding award number DEC-2013/11/B/HS3/02075. I am grateful to Eliza Rose for translat­ ing this text from Polish and for her professionalism, patience and important com­ ments. I would also like to show my special gratitude to Professor Józef Żychowski and dr Leszek Majgier who provided insights and expertise that greatly assisted my attempts to merge humanities and soil science.

18 Art in the time of tricksters and monsters Reflections on the Anthropocene Bernd Scherer

This photograph was taken by Armin Linke. It was the first image you saw upon entering the Anthropocene Project at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures). It is a puzzling photo. It alludes to things which it hides at the same time. It creates an interplay between objects that belong to different categories and reference systems. In doing all this, it destabilizes our view, but it sets it in motion as well. What is happening here? All parts of the space in this photo are made by human beings, but there are no humans present. They are outside of the space. What we see is a photograph taken in the museum of Babylon. On the wall, which acts as a kind of frame, we encounter images of the Tower of Babel. It is the construction of this tower which led to one of the first great experiences of a transformational shift in the consciousness of our societies. According to ancient Middle Eastern legend, the failure in constructing the tower divides society, which loses its common language. Beside the images of the Tower of Babel, there is an object in the frame – on the wall – which belongs to a completely different category. An air conditioner, a product of the United States with the trade name General. It doesn’t refer to a past of thousands of years, but to the present. It is an import from the West, as is the museum it is part of. Its purpose is to regulate the climate in the room and thereby the conditions for the other objects housed there, especially the images with which it shares the space of the wall. But how does it do this? It is here that the third dimension of Armin Linke’s photo comes into play. This is the dimension indicated by the electrical wires that enter the wall and thus hint at the invisible space behind it. It is the space where our Babylon takes place, the drama of our time. The wires lead back to a power station, which transforms the energy resource of the region, oil, into electricity. Situated between the power station and the oil coming out of the earth is a refinery. Refineries played a major role in the strategies of the Islamic State, which con­ trolled the territory that the city of Babylon belongs to. This is because the refinery is precisely where the transformation of deep planetary time into human time takes place, where the resources of the planet are transformed into the mobility and speed of the past century. (It was Dipesh Chakrabarty who for the first time


Bernd Scherer

Figure 18.1 Armin Linke, Museum, drawings of the Tower of Babel, Babylon, Irak, 2002.

explored the conceptual implications of the new entanglements between human and natural history which lie at the heart of this development of the Anthropocene in his fundamental article: “The Climate of History: Four Theses”).1 Linke’s photograph thus relates, in its third dimension, the museum space to the infrastructures of the Anthropocene, which fuel the speed of our contemporary life, but which at the same time are at the centre of the new wars. In their stability, these infrastructures seem to belong to the world of the Holo­ cene, but behind them lurks the instability of our world of the Anthropocene. From today’s perspective, the kind of destabilization triggered by the use of fossil energy already belongs to the past, the twentieth century. To understand the dynamics of our days, we must take a closer look at what is called digital capitalism.2 It is this kind of capitalism which leads to a complete implosion of our classical notions of knowledge and the world. In short: In the past, the pre-Anthropocene era, we had problems understanding the world. Today, we have problems living in the world that we have created. The paradoxes of knowledge have been transformed into the paradoxes of life, or more precisely: we have made them such. And in the course of this develop­ ment, the concepts of knowledge and of life have changed profoundly.

Art in the time of tricksters and monsters 217 In explaining this shift, let me start with a classical paradox: The Greek phi­ losopher Zeno tells the story of the tortoise and Achilles. It seems impossible for the fleet-footed Achilles to overtake the tortoise. Whenever Achilles reaches the tortoise, who had a head start, she gets a step ahead once again. Achilles can close the gap until it is infinitely small, but he can never catch up with his adversary. However, the whole audience knows from experience that Achilles can effort­ lessly overtake the tortoise. In the classical paradoxes, contradictions arise between abstract thought and reality. It is a time in which the natural environment is looked at as a stable world to which thinking has to adapt. Only in today’s world, because it is permeated by technologies, do we encoun­ ter paradoxes in our living environment which are themselves a product of our thought. The important point here is that the technologies we have created are the product of our thinking, our consciousness. They are artificial objects. This means: Our environment is being progressively shaped by materialized consciousness. It is by no means becoming any more stable but is constantly transforming. This is especially the case with the mechanisms of the digital world, which may serve here as examples of the technosphere. Initially, the recording and algorithmic processing of data were designed to improve, and sometimes to control, the lives of individuals and societies, making them easier to organize. However, by feeding back into every area of life, these systems are now de facto shaping life itself. How paradoxical situations occur and what logic governs them can be examined taking one example that most of you know. A man walked into a Target store outside Minneapolis and angrily criticized the company’s marketing strategies. They had sent his daughter advertisements for maternity clothing, pictures of nursery furniture and smiling infants, and coupons for baby clothes. The daughter, he argued, is a teenager and still in high school, and should not be encouraged to get pregnant. The manager apologized. A few days later, the manager called the father to apologize again. Now the father reacted somewhat abashed: “I had a talk with my daughter. It turns out there’ve been some activities in my house that I wasn’t completely aware of.” The daughter was indeed pregnant, and the market research company knew it before she had told her parents. Target had developed a new method of consumer tracking with the help of the statistical genius Andrew Pole. Pole identified 25 products which, when purchased together, indicate that a woman is likely pregnant. Based on this information, Tar­ get sent coupons to women during pregnancy, an expensive and habit-forming point in their lives. What is happening here? A certain time in the life of a person, characterized by all kinds of emotions, aspirations, lived relationships, etc., is reduced to 25 prod­ ucts in order to correlate this part of life to the (consumer) goods the company is selling. This information is abstracted from an extremely complex social context but is then reinfused into it.


Bernd Scherer

What is taking place is a flattening of categories. Intuitions, emotions, and goods are fused together into one categorical level in order to correlate them. In Target’s data system, pregnancy, which can mean an endless number of things to an individual person, is these 25 products. Our activity becomes the basic commodity of this new kind of capitalism, which is a colonization of social relations and actions. On its surface, it would seem that “digital capitalism” has reinvented the wheel, promoting an economy which no longer needs material resources. In fact, it is we who are the material resources. And the basic operation by which this is done is the following: social life is divided into units. These units are separated from their original contexts of mean­ ing. The abstracted units are then recombined using algorithmic machines to pro­ duce something new – which is then fed back into the social process. The refinery has been replaced by the infrastructures of the digital world. To illustrate what is happening here, I would like to evoke the image of a “cat organ” described by the French writer Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin in his book Musi­ cana; extraits d’ouvrage rares ou bizarres,3 which he published in 1877.4 In one passage of the book, he describes the visit of the King of Spain, Felipe II, to Brussels in 1549: The strangest part was a cart that carried the most singular music imagi­ nable. It held a bear that played the organ: instead of pipes, some twenty boxes, each containing a cat whose narrow tail came out the bottom and was connected to the keyboard by a string, so that when a key was pressed, the corresponding tail would be pulled hard and would produce a lamentable meow. The historian Juan Christival Calvète, noted the cats were arranged properly to produce a succession of notes from the octave. . . (chromati­ cally, I think). This abominable orchestra arranged itself inside a theater where monkeys, wolves, deer and other animals danced to the sounds of this infernal music. The “cat organ” creates music on the basis of a construction which puts each cat in a box, separating it from its natural environment (which corresponds to dividing life into separate units), and these boxes are organized in such a way that some­ thing new, namely the music, is created (corresponding to the recombination of data). The music is the product of the recombination of the individual reactions of the cats to separate acts of torture. The meaning the whole theater evokes in the audience is separated from the actions, the meows and experiences, the pain of the animals behind the scene. All that is left to do is to replace the cats with us. On the basis of what I have outlined so far, I would like to argue the following: The dualism of Descartes, distinguishing between res cogitans and res extensa, was instrumental to the development of the last 300 years. Even before Descartes, thinking was distinct from the material world. And the material world was used by humans for various purposes. But Descartes turned thinking, which had been understood as an action, into an object, the res cogitans.

Art in the time of tricksters and monsters 219 He thereby created a mental ontology which was separate from the material world. Thinking was no longer an action on, and related to, an object. Rather, it consti­ tuted an object-world in itself. This had far-reaching consequences. On the one hand, it provided a categorical frame, a mind map, which divided nature from man in such a way that it allowed humans to treat nature as a pure resource. In doing so, it has transformed nature over the last 300 years, especially during the great acceleration fueled by fossil energy – i.e. by the deep time of the planet – in such a way that it has been absorbed by human consciousness. Nature has been translated into culture. This is the culturalization of nature in the Descartes paradigm. In recent decades, a second process has started to accelerate, especially by the means of digital capitalism. This is the transformation of human action and life into commodities, which means the naturalization of culture. By ontologizing mental actions, Descartes had laid the groundwork for this move of equalizing categorical differences as well. In the mind map of Cartesianism, this means that the modernity project which it triggered is characterized by the continuous transgression of categories. In its performative mode, it functions as a trickster, and the objects that it produces are monsters in their own terms. In this story, the finance market is the most important trickster we know of today. What does this mean for the arts? In order to answer this question, we return to the photo by Armin Linke, which connects us with the foundations of civilization as we know it, in Mesopotamia, Babylon. The biblical story of Babel is a story about the origin of culture out of com­ mitting sins, a story which starts with the loss of paradise. The construction of the tower marks a point in history where humans had started to build urban environments. This meant that they were able to coordinate actions in social units, transcend­ ing the survival mode of hunters and gatherers. The new forms of cooperation gave rise to a power which, according to the story of Genesis (11), triggered in humans the desire to build a city and a tower which touched the sky. Then, the reaction of God is revealing. He sees in this construction of the tower only the beginning of a process in which humans may become almighty, i.e. simi­ lar to himself. In order to prevent this, he confuses their single language and dis­ perses humans over the earth. In this sense, the story of Babel is about the creation of oneness and its destruc­ tion by God, by dividing humans into different groups, communities, societies. There is no longer one worldview, but different ones. Being part of a whole has been replaced by the experience of something outside of me, which I cannot con­ trol but must deal with. The stability of the whole is replaced by the instability of a diverse world, the borders of which are in flux and must be constantly negotiated. This is the experience of the world between 2,000 and 600 years before Christ, stretching from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia, up to the Indus Valley on the Indian subcontinent and to the Caucasus in the north.


Bernd Scherer

It is a world of city-states that have started to trade with each other and are connected with hinterlands that provide important resources such as metals and minerals. It is a world in which power becomes concentrated in each of the urban centres, but where the larger environments, especially the hinterlands, are out of control and the relationship between the city centres is unstable. How did people deal with such a world where borders were insecure? They cre­ ated a world of counterfactual images which represented spirits that were meant to protect them.5 For this image production, they combined forms referring to different catego­ ries, humans, and animals. This means they created another world of spirits by creating monsters. In some cases, a whole militia of monster images or figures serves to protect the houses from intruders such as epidemic diseases. In other cases the depictions of harmful demons, such as child-devouring Lamashtu figures, travel by land and sea to the frontiers. In later centuries, these monster images also travel between urban societies as gifts and counter-gifts in order to stabilize the exchange between the different cities. In some cases, the representations of the counterworld are used to translate possible conflicts of the physical world into the realm of otherness.6 Since all of this imagery served to deal with, and partly to control, the out­ side world, be it spiritual or physical, local or translocal, its creation was directly related to power. It was a symbolic power that the states tried to manage by means of a complex cultural apparatus.7 This cultural apparatus administrated the occult knowledge as well as the stores of exotic and magical materials. It kept exact descriptions of ritual practices through which monsters were created, and of the materials and tools to be used. Quite often, the materials, such as precious stones, were imported from distant hinterlands and worked using tools of silver and gold. In summary, the major task of the cultural apparatus was to provide and control the knowledge and the media needed for the construction of a counterworld, a nonfactual world, animated by monster figures. And it was the role of this coun­ terworld to negotiate the borders in a world of deep transformation, a world char­ acterized by developing urban spaces and a kind of cosmopolitan relationship between the city-states. Against this historical backdrop, the challenge for contemporary cultural pro­ duction becomes clear. In the antique world, the space of the counterworld was separate from the physical world and guarded as a kind of holy space. In today’s world, we have either dictators who suppress the creation of coun­ terworlds, or a capitalist system that is constantly searching for new perspectives. Whereas dictators cannot deal with difference, the capitalist system lives from it. Capitalist production, and especially digital capitalism, is hungry for difference. Its dynamics depend on it. It eats it up by commodifying subjective perspectives and turning them into goods. And it is a voracious machinery.

Art in the time of tricksters and monsters 221 What is the role of art in such a world? As a starting point for reflecting on this question, I would like to take a work by Kader Attia. The work consists in writing with white chalk on a white wall the sentence: “Resisting is to remain invisible.” In writing this sentence, one contradicts its very meaning to some extent, which means making the invisible visible. This, I argue, is exactly what art is about today: the articulation of the invisible. Searching for the ephemeral, the outskirts, the neglected, and bringing this into the light. It keeps open the wound which the mainstream simultaneously creates and tries to camouflage. This brings us back to the photo by Armin Linke for a third time. The image confronts our gaze with a lost space. We look into a museum without people. We are in northern Iraq. We are faced with the desert of modernity, of Western moder­ nity. Museums in the nineteenth century were part of the nation-state project, meant to stabilize the imagination of the citizens. In the Middle East, the nationstate, a Western import, is imploding. Linke’s photo captures a moment and a scene which can be read as a counterimage to the purifying project of the nation-state. In portraying the museum space as a messy situation which mixes objects of different categorical systems, such as the air conditioner, the painting on the wall, and the armchairs, as a space where the major actors, namely humans, are missing, it presents a monster. Looking at this monster, we experience the blow which is convulsing this world. And it is not only the world of the Middle East. It is our world the photo is look­ ing at, but from a neglected space in northern Iraq. I mentioned at the beginning that the Linke photo was displayed in the entrance to our Anthropocene exhibi­ tion. The Anthropocene Project at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt asked what role cultural institutions play in the time of monsters and tricksters. My answer is: They should provide a space for developing counterfactual worldviews by exploring new frames. The Anthropocene Project was designed in exactly this way. Its objective was to create new constellations for reconstructing temporalities, agency, etc. in order to reorganize knowledge systems. In my discussion of the Linke photo, I used the expression “in the desert of modernity” very consciously. The Haus der Kulturen der Welt exhibition programme “In the Desert of Modernity,” which took place several years ago, reframed the space of the modernity project by looking at it from the perspective of former European colonies in Africa. In the “Animism” project, we read the modernity project through the lens of a concept meant to describe premodern societies by relating technological and psy­ chic processes in a way that was literally eye-opening. The project demonstrates how these concepts are still at work in the modern world, and that they simply organize different material now. “The Potosi Principle” by Creischer and Sieckmann looked at the interaction of global flows of capital and image production from the perspective of the Peruvian silver-mining centre of Potosi, which was one of the world’s richest cities in the seventeenth century.


Bernd Scherer

These are all examples that reflect global developments from a position – con­ ceptual or geographical – at the margins. Such a position allows light to be cast on the inherent contradictions and antagonisms in the machineries of global capital­ ism and its Anthropocene-era transformation of the planet. In the conceptual development of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a second move was of utmost importance. Neither a classical art institution such as a museum or gallery, nor an academic institution such as a university, HKW built on its tradition of postcolonial dis­ course and began questioning the terms that are built into the hardware of the institutional apparatus. We did this by developing concrete practices which allowed us to recontex­ tualize existing discourses, to re-situate these discourses within a sensorial environment. In the opening of the Anthropocene Project, for example, we grounded dis­ courses on social, geological, economic, and technological developments in an island topography. This was introduced by a quote from Gilles Deleuze: “Islands are either from before or for after humankind.” It was a topography which decentres discourses, invites us to reflect on the perspective, or island, from which we are speaking, and, finally, asks us to relate our position to others in a nonlinear way. Speakers were asked to bring an object to the island in order to relate their discourse to the material world. On one of the islands, the island of “techné,” scientists were confronted with a being whose movement oscillated between the human, the machine, and the animal-like. The performance by Xavier Le Roy did not illustrate machine, animal, or human behavior. It drew the gaze of viewers through a process of transformations, destabilizing it as the categories for judgement became fluid before their eyes. Xavier Le Roy had taken on the role of a trickster. The trickster is the spirit of disorder, constantly transgressing boundaries. We know from cultural history that at the beginning of the Neolithic Age, in the communities of hunters and gather­ ers, the environment was so unstable that the counter-world was not constructed in images of monsters but was constantly performed by tricksters.

Notes 1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”, Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 2, 2009, pp. 197–222. 2 M. Betancourt, The Critique of Digital Capitalism: An Analysis of the Political Econ­ omy of Digital Culture and Technology (New York: Punctum Books, 2016). 3 J. B. Weckerlin, Musiciana: extraits d'ouvrages rares ou bizarres, anecdotes, lettres, etc. concernant la musique et les musiciens (Paris: Garnier, 1877). 4 Betancourt, Critique of Digital Capitalism, p. IV ff. 5 D.Wengrow, The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechan­ ical Reproduction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 99ff. 6 Ibid., p. 95. 7 Ibid., p. 100ff.

19 Indigenous histories and indigenous futures Stephen Muecke

In 2001, the UTS Review published the papers from an historical experiment prompted by Dipesh Chakrabarty on the theme of Subaltern/Indigenous/Multi­ cultural.1 The experiment consisted of a timely intervention, since the “history wars” were about to explode on the Australian scene, with the publication of Keith Windschuttle’s revisionist polemic, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, in 2002. Amplified through the Murdoch press, in particular the national broadsheet The Australian, the reactionary argument was that the significance of Aborigi­ nal history to Australia’s past was overstated. Historians had only been working on Aboriginal history for thirty years, but their accounts of the founding acts of colonial violence, and projection of time far beyond the shallow period since colo­ nization (starting in 1788 in Sydney) was revolutionizing the traditional histori­ cal settler narratives by literally prioritizing Aboriginal history and reopening the unresolved question of sovereignty. Chakrabarty’s chapter on reconciliation and its historiography emphasized the lateral relationships among the “multicultural” histories of immigrants and the unreconciled indigenous-colonizer relationship.2 He argued that the inclusion of both indigenous and multicultural histories in the public Australian debates was a democratic movement, usefully complicating the “black-white binary.”3 He also looked forward to the moment when Indigenous Australian identities might them­ selves be further pluralized by not being locked into anthropologically-defined images; by having the possibility of being “acquired and performed;” and even, in the process, having the possibility of subjects selecting which aspects of their heritage they might want to carry forward. I want to explore further this idea of diachronically negotiable identities, with a cross-cultural comparison that takes the concept of time to be a substance, fun­ damental to history, that can thicken with particular concepts, structures, and pos­ sibilities. These become more visible when there is a hiatus, an interruption in the time of a whole community’s mode of existence.4 My example will be from the Goolarabooloo people of Broome, Western Australia, as illuminated by a North American case. In times of radical upheaval, people ask why the usual possibilities are no longer open to them; things they have spent their whole lives immersed in or preparing for. They are even faced with the possibility of no longer being able to


Stephen Muecke

be the same kind of people that they once were. So, they have to think about what defined their existence, in a past that now starts to take new shape as their “herit­ age” (this might now appear as a new concept), and then to rethink radically what may be possible to carry forward, given the new conditions imposed upon them. The questions now take a form like: “How can we continue to be Goolarabooloo people?” “Will our grandchildren still be calling themselves Goolarabooloo, and what will this mean for them?” For the Broome example, I want to discuss this through the figure of Paddy Roe. He became prominent as a community leader in the 1960s, having been born in about 1912 a few miles from the pearling and pastoral town that was gazetted as late as 1883. In his lifetime – he lived until 2001 – he saw his civilization, Goolarabooloo, west coast culture, taken to the verge of collapse. Born at an out­ station, a day’s walk from Broome, he was brought up by thoroughly traditional people. Many would have only had a few words of English and they carried on as best they could know that “whitefella” incursions into their buru, their home countries, were proceeding apace. Could they imagine the extent of the destruc­ tion to come? We have no records of what they thought about this, but Paddy was certainly thinking about it. I was witness to this thinking, much later, when he was a great-grandfather, talking about watching kids going to Sunday school in the 1950s and 60s when assimilationism was the reigning policy. I am putting this together from things he told me in the 1970s and 80s: kids in their Sunday best tripping off to learn about Jesus and salvation with the Catholics. It must have torn at his heart, though he was never angry or confrontational about such things. He was much more proactively diplomatic when it came to “whitefella” institutions. For his part, at the weekends especially, in their days off school, he liked to take the kids into the bush and teach them about the country. But this was not the major issue. It was not a case of a bit of this and a bit of that, sometimes weekend trips out on country, sometimes Sunday school. The major issue was the threat of the collapse of the major institution that kept Goolarabooloo culture going: what if there weren’t enough boys going through the Law, that is, the initiation ceremony called ungawi? What if their parents won’t let them because they are going to Sunday school instead? Putting boys through ungawi is not an isolated event; it puts them on a path where they are pro­ gressively introduced to all the important places, sacra, songs, and stories. They are expected to come back each year and participate, eventually rising even to the level of maja, law bosses. If this central institution were to collapse through lack of boys, it could not be replaced by some ersatz performance like painting up and dancing on the town oval. In such a situation, for the Goolarabooloo, time would stop. The world would come to an end; there would be no way of going on as Goolarabooloo, because this ceremony is central to a complete range of activities, from the esoteric to the mundane, that keep the whole cosmos alive. For the mundane, for instance, you could visit a family where a boy’s auntie is preparing a meal. You ask about what she is doing, and she excitedly tells you that she has to get a big stew ready because tonight “that business” is on, and

Indigenous histories and indigenous futures 225 the whole mob will be going bush for three days. But without the ceremony, the preparation of such a meal is indeed mundane. It would no longer have a point, or its point would just be eating for survival. In that sense, a whole way of life is tied up with the ceremony, and the ceremony with the way of life. This example is like one given by Jonathan Lear for the North American context in his 2006 essay, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. His essay is about a figure called Plenty Coups, a celebrated Crow chief from Mon­ tana who took his people through a period of “radical historical change.” Plenty Coups is pictured in the book carrying a “coup-stick,” the first of two objects I want to use to think with. The Crow used it for “counting coups.” As nomadic hunters with dangerous enemies, they had to mark their territory. A Crow brave who planted his coup-stick in the ground would have to protect that place with his life against advancing Sioux or Black Foot warriors. Or he would use it to mark coups, by striking the breastworks of the opposing warrior, before engaging him in battle. A young brave who thus started to count coups (a ritual that took place after battle) was proclaimed marriageable; once married, his wife would strongly participate in his and the whole tribe’s ongoing achievements. She’d been playing at it through her childhood. So, the point about the object (the coup-stick), the battles to protect territory, and the support of the women, was the bravery of the Crow warrior. This culture had complex cultural mechanisms for inducing courage in Crow men and keep­ ing them courageous. Courage was one central concept that thickened the Crow conception of time, so that time was not merely passing, ticking along, but onto­ logically constitutive: continuing to be courageous was the whole point of being Crow. So, when the buffalo are wiped out and the Crow end up on the reservation, unable to hunt or go into battle, Plenty Coups quite rightly says: “after this noth­ ing happened”: Plenty Coups refused to speak of his life after the passing of the buffalo, so that his story seems to have broken off, leaving many years unaccounted for. “I have not told you half of what happened when I was young,” he said, when urged to go on. “I can think back and tell you much more of war and horse-stealing. But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing hap­ pened. There was little singing anywhere. Besides,” he added sorrowfully, “you know that part of my life as well as I do. You saw what happened to us when the buffalo went away.”5 This is the phrase that caught the attention of Jonathan Lear, philosopher of his­ tory. How can the old chief say, “after this nothing happened” when many things in fact happened in Plenty Coups’ amazing life? He went to Washington more than once, met world leaders, and very importantly laid his coup-stick and war bonnet on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a major ceremony in 1921. In the Apsáalooke language he said, “For the Indians of America, I call upon the Great


Stephen Muecke

Spirit of the Red Men with gesture and chant and tribal tongue, that the dead have not died in vain, that war might end, that peace be purchased by the blood of Red men and White.” Plenty Coups did find new ways of being courageous, even though he said, in the memoir he dictated to Frank B. Linderman at the end of his life, “after this nothing happened.” It was not a matter of adjusting or adapting, as if it were a lifestyle choice: pick a new kind of courage from the shelf. Lear gives another allegorical example. You go to a restaurant and order a buffalo meat burger. The waiter says, “Sorry, buffalo is off today, here’s the menu.” The change was more radical than mere choice; more likely the restaurant itself has disappeared, so the whole idea of “ordering a burger” is not possible any more. So, finding new ways of being courageous, and being courageous as a Crow, was no simple “squaring of the shoulders” or finding psychological strength “within oneself” (as people absurdly advise). It would involve rethinking everything: “the concept of courage will itself require new forms” says Lear, who goes on: What would be required . . . would be a new Crow poet: one who could take up the Crow past and – rather than use it for nostalgia or ersatz mimesis – project it into vibrant new ways for the Crow to live and to be. Here by “poet” I mean the broadest sense of a creative maker of meaningful space. (51) So, let me take you back to Broome in the period between the wars. There the young Paddy Roe was attentive to his environment and saw how much things were changing. He walked with the old people and attuned himself to the feeling for their country north of Broome, then, as they died of old age, buried them one by one in the sand dunes near the old northern camping places. They had said to him, “You will have to look after this country; we don’t have any children; you will have plenty of children,” The future was looking so bleak that he could either give up and take to the drink – as he did briefly during the Second World War when the Japanese Zeros were bombing Broome – or find a new kind of courage. But wait, no, it wasn’t courage at all in the case of the Goolarabooloo. Even though they did engage in some warfare, before the imposition of white law, courage was not the concept that thickened their lives and their particular sense of time. Paddy Roe and the other elders were fearful for the survival of their way of life in the assimilationist era in the mid-twentieth century. Their languages were banned at school, missionaries had been shutting down ceremonies, and whites were generally contemptuous of Aboriginal culture. For them it was all-important to hang onto the Law, and, because of the severe pressures being applied by the settler-colonists, they needed some kind of Goolarabooloo “foreign policy” to negotiate a middle ground in which this law could continue to be practiced. Unlike the Crow, who had traditional enemies in the Sioux, and had to maintain their courage against them, according to Lear’s analysis, Paddy Roe’s Nyigina language group was far from being isolated. The priority was not to protect terri­ tory from neighbours, but to look after a Law (songline, dreaming track) that nec­ essarily traversed a number of territories, buru, that might have different dialect

Indigenous histories and indigenous futures 227 groups associated with them. The general culture of the west coast peoples, “salt water mob,” goes by the name of Goolarabooloo and it is underpinned by the Southern and Northern Law traditions, stretching from Bidyadanga (La Grange) in the south, through Broome, and north up Dampier peninsula as far as Ardya­ loon (One Arm Point). Once a year or so the law bosses open up a law ground for the ceremonies that initiate their boys into the life of the country and its sacred culture. In the 1960s, Paddy Roe and other senior law bosses (Peter Angus, Sandy Paddy, John Dodo, Uncle Possum, Donald Grey, Marty Gilbert, Loki bin Sali, Stumpy Domagee) were concerned about the impact of town life and assimilation under colonialism and set about reviving ceremonial culture. They used Gool­ arabooloo as the most appropriate unifying name for their effort. It was not a sacred term, in the way that the names for initiation ceremonies carry an aura of the sacred. It was a very public name, and it was in no way a new term. We don’t know how old it is, but the earliest appearance in the European record is in Daisy Bates who did research around Broome from 1901. One of her main informants was a Ngumbal man, Billingee, from Jajal (on the coast north of Broome, south of Quondong Point), and he and his countrymen identified as “Koolarrabulloo” leading her to think it was a tribal name for the Broome area. In The Native Tribes of Western Australia, she elaborates: “Kularrabulu (kularra – west or sea­ coast; bulu – people). Some of their principal watering places were Jajjala, Jirrngin-ngan (Broome), Wirraginmarri (creek).”6 This history indicates the longevity of the interesting phenomenon that I want to call a cultural confederacy along this coast. What is being brought together are communities, clans or language groups. According to Paddy Roe, Goolarabooloo includes the following language and dialect groups: Karajarri, Yawuru, Jugun, Ngumbal, Jabirr-Jabirr, Nyul-nyul, and Bardi, dialects that shade into one another, sharing about half their vocabulary from one end of the peninsula to the other.7 “We should be all one,” he used to say.8 Goolarabooloo culture is underpinned by the Dreaming (called Bugarrigarra in the West Kimberley) that gives the practice of ceremony the authority to pass on culture and law through initiation. Only those who are made into law bosses (maja) can draw down on this Bugarrigarra authority. By way of analogy, I could compare this cultural confederacy to some­ thing like the European Union, an area where each ancient language or dialect merges into the neighbouring one; where there is, broadly speaking, a common culture and value set, and, importantly, the nations are politically unified in the interests of maintaining the peace. Similarly, around Broome. Having a common sacred identity, that requires peaceful collaboration, avoids the dangers of inwardlooking tribalism centred on any particular language group. Paddy Roe’s ances­ tors, in their wisdom, created this system that Paddy and the other maja managed to perpetuate as the proper way to help the survival of traditional Aboriginal cul­ ture in the West Kimberley.9 Only a few years later, after he published Reading the Country,10 Paddy Roe and Frans Hoogland established the Lurujarri Heritage Trail, an innovative move that made visitors even more attached to Country by taking them walking through it.


Stephen Muecke

“We should be all one,” expresses an inclusiveness that reinforces sovereignty through generosity: our heritage is the gift we keep giving to each other. When we are on our law grounds, all differences (and weapons) are left ‘outside’ and we make our shared culture increase in the very bodies of the young boys coming through. And when this gift is extended to non-Aboriginal people, as in: today – English, Japanese, Chinese, we all friend, we all living together now – we can’t say where they come from – and now people just the same, Garadjeri, Nyangumarda, Mangala, Barda, ALL these ALL – people, Nyigina, these people no matter where they come from all these language – but we should be all one – like in early days11 When this gift is extended to non-Aboriginal people, it is not so much a new kind of time, but a reconstituted spatiality centring on the country. Non-Aboriginal people are rarely invited to go through the Law, but they are invited to walk the same track that the Ancestors travelled. The Lurujarri walking trail is a pedagogic experience, where tourists learn to get a feeling for country, and are given a name for this “gut feeling,” liyan. It was all very well for Paddy Roe to write books with me, thus speaking to the world about his country, but the Lurujarri trail better expresses the philosophy of inclusiveness that I want to argue was his innovative, diplomatic move, that was a continual gesture of their sovereignty: “Look! This is our country!” Crucially, it made the move of inviting strangers into the Goolara­ booloo society and culture. Isn’t this an effective kind of foreign policy, given that the main problem faced by both the Goolarabooloo and the Crow was this: “What the hell are we supposed to do about these dangerous invaders?” Clearly, another kind of foreign policy could be border protection and violent attitudes towards strangers. That was the Sioux policy by the way, while the Crow followed Plenty Coups in controversially siding with the American army against the Sioux, their traditional enemies. Maybe the Crow did better in the end; they retain to this day a bit of their land as a reservation. My second object to think with is a Goolarabooloo shield, which Paddy Roe used to make an argument about two institutions, the Australian government and the Goolarabooloo, and the role they play in protecting country. In an image in the possession of the Goolarabooloo community, and available on their webpage, Paddy Roe puts two objects into dialogue, on the occasion when he was photo­ graphed by an unknown person after receiving his Order of Australia medal in 1990.12 He is shown holding the medal, like a little round shield itself, side-byside with his own garbina, carved with the traditional parallel grooves, ramu, in the lightning-strike design for Goolarabooloo country, where the storms come in from the sea late in the season called laja, the build-up to the Wet. Perhaps he

Indigenous histories and indigenous futures 229 was wondering what the medal was really for, so he gets the garbina to ask it, as recorded by an unknown person at the time: This is my gulbinna [sic] (shield). The government gave me this medal. This gulbinna is asking the medal, you going to break up the country or keep it the same as in bugarre garre [sic] (dreamtime). He thus challenges the two objects to perform their protective role. Why protec­ tion? If you think back beyond when it was taken, to the history of the Broome area, the people of the Kimberley were subjected to successive waves of dispos­ session and terror since the late nineteenth century. Armed resistance was out of the question in open country, with only spears and boomerangs against guns. Pro­ tection came down to some kind of diplomacy; artful storytelling in Paddy Roe’s case as recorded in his books, Reading the Country (1984), and his first book, Gularabulu, published in 1983. Artful diplomacy was Paddy Roe’s version of Goolarabooloo “foreign policy,” literally a strategy for survival. In the face of colonial violence, one had to protect oneself and one’s community by thinking in terms of shields, and with persua­ sive figures of speech. The metaphoric role of the shield is confirmed when it is doubled up by the little medal-as-shield, and their relationship of diplomacy is made explicit through the dialogue. A shield has power; the garbina has a design that reproduces the “lightning” power of the bugarrigarra, and so does the figure of speech, the metaphor that animates the garbina and gives it words addressed to the colonisers, but only obliquely, for Paddy Roe has thought to animate the objects and make them address each other like diplomats between the worlds of coloniser and colonised. The cleverness of Roe’s composition draws observers into a sympathetic relationship with him, his people, and their dreaming. That sympathy is the real protection. Even now, some decades later, it draws the viewer in again, to reflect upon history and the power of survival. My argument needs one final piece to fall into place. I have argued that the con­ tinuity of cultures as cosmoi, worlds, in the context of major disruption, needs first the reconstitution of heritage (what is it we value about what we had in the past?), then an innovative strategy for what can pragmatically be carried forwards to assure that time for the cosmos in question does not stop. Plenty Coups reinvented courage, and Paddy Roe used the structure of his dreaming track to emphasize “inclusiveness” and actually incorporate “whitefellas” in his vision for the future. Both Plenty Coups and Paddy Roe were poets of radical hope. They had thought about the future and how it would work for their grandchildren. In this speculative or experimental spirit, Paddy Roe’s invention of “Goolarabooloo for­ eign policy” as a future-oriented strategy turned him into an “historical person,” a history-maker, and hence less authentically Aboriginal in the judgement of some anthropologists. In a recent Native Title hearing, antagonistic conventional anthropologists working for other claimants worked hard to trash his reputation. In Native Title legislation, and in the language of the professional anthropologists


Stephen Muecke

who helped draft the legislation, the phrase normative system refers to the cultural patterns of traditional society, say 100 years ago, and contemporary Aboriginal people today can only hope to retain parts of this in their lives. Everything in the present is judged, for Native Title purposes, on the basis of what would be “contemplated” in this normative system. Paddy Roe’s innovations could not be contemplated; only people with “bloodlines” to country could. This kind of “modernist anthropology,” says Kathleen Stewart, follows a “mantra of a literally ‘grounded’ writing anchored to the deadened realism of finished forms and social facts.”13 Our writing of history is thus articulated in the present to assure the continuity of time from past to future. Our writing cannot afford to gaze back on the past as if it were across a chasm, from this subject position to that distant object, as if a recording subject could see a whole “normative system.” This gaze on the past is a bit like looking the wrong way through binoculars. I would maintain we can only see fragments of the past as it is in the process of setting up possible futures, talking risks with time and its organising structures and concepts. Individual roles can be highlighted as I have done here, but conflicting interpretations, layered and emerging over time, also fragment the picture, so that our writing of history becomes much more kaleidoscopic. Time, the stuff of history, is probably not best thought of philosophically (as in Being and Time), but practically and technologically, which is, of course, another way of doing philosophy. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari praise this “English” pragmatism in What is Philosophy? There are concepts wherever there are habits, and habits are made and unmade on the plane of immanence and radical experience: they are “conventions.” This is why English philosophy is a free and wild creation of concepts. Once a proposition is given, to what convention does it refer, what is the habit that constitutes its concept? This is the question of pragmatism. How is time conventionalised? With calendars and clocks, or with what White­ head calls the “passage of nature”?14 Do you check your wristwatch before acting, or let your capacity to pay attention be extended through the interaction of goan­ nas, birds, fish, clouds, winds, and the passage of the six seasons which you might be in the habit of talking about if you live in northwest Australia? Paddy Roe doesn’t check his wristwatch. What he does do is turn his hands one over the other in a tumbling gesture at the same time as he is saying the words generation after generation. I think that is how the Goolarabooloo always thought about time, in terms of its generative potential.

Notes 1 The UTS Review was a cultural studies journal edited by Meaghan Morris and Stephen Muecke at the University of Technology, Sydney, from 1995 until it was relaunched at the Cultural Studies Review in 2002.

Indigenous histories and indigenous futures 231 2 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Reconciliation and Its Historiography: Some Preliminary Thoughts”, The UTS Review, vol. 7, no. 1, May 2001, pp. 6–16. 3 Ibid., p. 15. 4 I owe the methodological utility of the hiatus to Bruno Latour: “All ethnologists are familiar with situations like this – and they know how indispensable such moments are to the investigation. But the notions of surprise and trial, if we shift them slightly in time, can also serve to define how the informants themselves have had to learn, in their turn, through what elements they too had to pass in order to prolong the existence of their projects.” Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 34. 5 Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 2; Indigenous Australian leader, Noel Pear­ son, also makes use of Lear in Quarterly Essay 35 Radical Hope: Education & Equal­ ity in Australia (Melbourne: Black Ink, 2011). 6 Daisy Bates, The Native Tribes of Western Australia, ed. Isobel White (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1985), pp. 59–60. 7 K. Hosakawa, “The Yawuru Language of West Kimberley: A Meaning-Based Descrip­ tion”, PhD, ANU, 1991, p. 9. 8 “no matter where they come from all these language – but we should be all one – like in early days people used to live – ”


10 11 12 13 14

Paddy Roe, in Stephen Muecke, Textual Spaces: Aboriginality and Cultural Studies (Sydney: University of NSW Press, 1992), p. 104. Yawuru elder Pat Torres writes: “. . . all the groups that I am related to belong to the “saltwater culture” or gularrabulu, also spelled goolarabooloo, which translates approximately to “the place in the west.” Pat Mamanyjun Torres, “Nila.Ngany – Possessing/Belonging to Knowledge: Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Yawuru Abo­ riginal Australia”, in Nomalungelo I. Goduka and Julian E. Kunnie (eds.), Indigenous Peoples’ Wisdom and Power: Affirming Our Knowledge Through Narrative (Burling­ ton, VT: Ashgate, 2006), p. 21. Krim Benterrak, Stephen Muecke, and PaddyRoe, Reading the Country (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1984). “The Children’s Country: Ethical Statements, Useful Instructions”, Oceania, vol. 59, no. 2, December 1988, p. 148. See www.goolarabooloo.org.au/paddys_story.html. Kathleen Stewart, “The Point of Precision”, Representations, vol. 135, Summer 2016, p. 43. A. N. Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), cap. 54.

20 Figures of immanence Saurabh Dube

The chapter ahead is something of a patchwork, one that stitches, layers, and pieces together common motifs of academic life and uncommon shapes of critical questions.1 Indeed, the layered form of the essay echoes with my many conversa­ tions and critical engagements with Dipesh Chakrabarty and his corpus. Here, I chiefly focus the immanent and the scholastic: but I also necessarily draw in attributes of the analytical and the affective as well as issues of entitlement and enquiry. The bid is at once to affirm the presence in the world of these conceptsentities and to unravel their constitution and contention in academic arenas. It is in these ways that I enter into a dialogue with important emphases of Dipesh’s work, raising questions regarding worldly immanence and secular transcendence, modern scholasticism and academic privilege in our own times. Across more than four decades, the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty has made a wide-ranging case for a scholarly practice that combines imaginative-critical questioning(s) of modern knowledge with democratic-careful affirmation(s) of social worlds. These bids have followed distinct pathways. From an untangling of culture and consciousness as “the unthought of Indian Marxism,” especially in considerations of the working-classes and their pasts; through to the query­ ing of routine projections of an imaginary yet tangible Europe as the benchmark, indeed habitus, of history and modernity. From delineations of affective sociality as shoring up the habitations of modernity, the making of modern worlds as “one’s own;” through to the conjuring of the “time of gods and spirit” as probing the limits of analytical history-writing. From unraveling the separations and spillo­ vers between the “public” lives of history and the “cloistered” of the discipline; through to unfolding a contrapuntal compact between global histories and plan­ etary pasts, as revelatory of their boundaries and frontiers. My submission is that in these ways, at the widest level, Chakrabarty’s writings have presciently queried the conceits of an a priori adjudicatory, meaning-legislative reason; implicitly interrogated the routine aggrandizements of what can be called modern scholasti­ cisms; and placed a question mark on the intimacies of epistemic entitlement – and their everyday violence – in our worlds. An abiding engagement with Dipesh’s ideas, imaginaries, and arguments runs through the substance, sensibility, and structure of this chapter, which draws upon his sensibilities and emphases yet takes these in distinct directions and terrains.

Figures of immanence 233 Here, I explore issues of worldly immanence exactly while querying the inces­ sant clamor of a secular transcendence.2 While both these terms shall be clari­ fied further, it is worth noting that the latter, secular transcendence, consists of persistent claims upon worlds and words that are better described as scholastic – assumptions and assertions that intimate a modern scholasticism.3 My endeavor is to unravel such scholasticisms by following at once the conceptual conventions and everyday life-worlds of the academy, in order to track how the immaculate ought of scholasticism can beget and betoken the cultural privilege of academic arenas. In taking up these tasks, keeping in view Dipesh’s dialogue with theory at large, I enter the protocols of discrete traditions of social theory, along the way putting a distinct spin on the project of “provincializing Europe,” revealing the lee-ways and limitations of specific strands of European thought upon distinct registers, of immanence and transcendence. Taken together, this chapter weaves together motifs, designs, and patterns of the formidable presence of scholastic reasoning, the pervasive projections of secular transcendence, the incessant place of cultural entitlement, and the quiet possibilities of worldly immanence – all in the manner of a quiet conversation with Dipesh Chakrabarty, open to the perusal of the interested reader.

First stitches Concerning the critical questioning(s) of modern knowledge as bound to imagina­ tive affirmation(s) of social worlds, under issue also are the ways in which aca­ demic and everyday arenas come together and fall apart. This is to say that rather than bracketing and sheltering intellectual arguments from the wider worlds in which they are embedded, such claims and conceits require being constantly sub­ mitted to the demanding terms of quotidian terrains, including the mutual intima­ tions of power and meaning, authority and alterity, the dominant and the subaltern in these domains. Drawing upon such dispositions – while braiding together analytical impulses with hermeneutic sensibilities – my own endeavor has distinguished between his­ torically located “subjects of modernity” as bearers of heterogeneous reasons/ understandings, on the one hand, and routine representations of the “modern subject” as insinuating a singular rationality, on the other.4 The distinction is especially important for thinking through a pervasive meaning-legislative, adju­ dicatory reason that abounds in the academy while also of course extending far beyond. Indeed, such a rationality (and rationale) frames the objects it considers in the image of the commentator-analysts’ singular, self-same reason rather than as subjects of other reasons, entailing equally issues of entitlement and privilege, affect and embodiment.5 The present chapter takes forward these concerns by narrating the pervasive presence of distinct scholasticism(s) – involving the substitution of any contentious “is” by their own “ought” – in academic and everyday worlds. Indeed, I explore how these tendencies are tied to formidable conceits of knowledge-making that are variously founded on terms of transcendence, secular yet prophetic, which


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come to haunt even those bids that seek to escape them. Throughout, I shall seek to unravel, if often implicitly, the place of a worldly immanence – itself tied to textures of affect and embodiment, formations of the sensuous and the political – as a means of approaching and understanding the past and present.6 At the end, I shall draw together these considerations by articulating anew my prior proposal made in 2004 of a “history without warranty,” propositions in which an engage­ ment with Dipesh loomed large, often implicitly but also otherwise. Clearly, running through this chapter is a querying of the prerogatives of scho­ lasticisms, especially the immaculate ought they betoken and betray, in academic arenas. Here, I approach the academy as a culturally and politically layered arena, constituted by distinct formations of privilege and hierarchy, entitlements and their interrogations, which turn, for instance, on gender and caste, class and race, status and sexuality. Academic arenas can be thought of, then, as rather in the manner of ethnographic fields, located in space-time, ever part of social worlds with their own quotidian cultures, in which academics work but also live. The utterances and practices of scholarly subjects, especially those of the observer, in everyday academic spaces – for example, seminars, cafes, bookshops, and social media – can be enormously revealing here. Such routine words and reflex ges­ tures often reveal wider assumptions and affects, entitlements and experiences of intellectual terrains. Unsurprisingly, too, despite the constant clamor of academic arguments as being unsullied by everyday worlds, the certified statements within academy are ever haunted by the mundane, its perversions and possibilities. Indeed, the point precisely might be to not separate the everyday assumption and the accredited expression of intellectual endeavor. For, taken together, at stake are unsaid, under-said, and already-said orientations and arguments undergirding life and understanding within academic cultures. In the pages ahead, I explore at once the quotidian manifestations and the licensed expressions of scholarly domains. It is in these ways that I also intimate, necessarily implicitly, the wider terms of privilege and their questioning in social worlds, which academic arenas embody and in which they are embedded, albeit of course in their own ways.

Unraveling immanence My arguments are undergirded by overlapping dispositions to academic catego­ ries and social worlds. This brings up the question: What do I mean by imma­ nence? To start off, here is what I pit immanence against: the widespread view of the world as “disenchanted,” such that the place in this world of “the value properties (good or bad, hostile or benign) that make normative demands on us” is sought to be excised, indeed exorcized.7 Needless to say, such seeing has played a central role also in the conception of world “as alien to our sensibilities of practi­ cal engagement, . . . something either to be studied in a detached way or, when practically engaged with, to be engaged with as something alien, to be mastered, conquered, and controlled for our utility and gain”.8 Now, I query the presumption of such detachment and avow instead being open to “not only the words on our pages and on our lips and not only the images on our canvases, but [to] objects and

Figures of immanence 235 things in the world, including in nature, [that] are filled with properties of value and meaning”.9 At the same time, however, I hold also that the terms and textures of disen­ chantment bear their own enchantments, which extend from the immaculately imagined origins and ends of modernity through to the dense magic of money and markets; and from novel mytholo­ gies of nation and empire through to hierarchical oppositions between myth and history, emotion and reason, ritual and rationality, East and West, and tradition and modernity. Intensely spectral but concretely palpable, forming tangible representations and informing forceful practices, the one bound to the other, such enticements stalk the worlds of modernity’s doing and undo­ ing. The enchantments of modernity give shape to the past and the present by ordering and orchestrating these terrains, at once temporally and spatially.10 Such ordering and orchestration also extend far beyond a mere detached observ­ ing of the world. Rather, we are in the face of powerful processes, embedded within pervasive projects of meaning and power, which name and objectify worlds in order to rework and remake them. Here, the antinomies and enticements of modernity become structures of sentiment and attributes of experience in the lives of subjects. Being made of the world – that is, as formidably “worlded” – these oppositions and enchantments acutely acquire value properties, which invite and incite action and contention. As we shall soon see, enormous significance is borne here by the affective, the embodied, and the extra-analytical, the everyday and the mundane, all issues/forms of immanence, which unfold on distinct registers/ fabrics. To start off, the claims that I question in this essay are neither treated as ideo­ logical aberrations and mistaken practices nor cast as mere objects of knowledge, detached attributes of social worlds, awaiting simple confirmation or ready refu­ tation. Instead, they are approached as stipulating and shoring-up the worlds we inhabit, such that these meanings and practices appear as conditions of knowing, insinuating ways of being, which require careful, critical articulation. This means further to desist from defining such propositions and positions as principally cerebral-cognitive endeavors. It is to register rather their dense worldly dimen­ sions, which not only name the world but work upon the world in order to remake it. Does this possibly put another spin on the need to think through analytical categories of an academic provenance by bringing them in conjunction with the quotidian configurations of the terrains they describe, the resolute requirements of immanent worlds? Can this be done by neither privileging the one (the academic or intellectual) nor the other (the everyday or mundane), but vigilantly unraveling both in view of their critical articulation, while keeping in view the insight of the radical Durkheim that it is in routine worlds (arguably of immanence) that the unimaginable is imagined? There is more to the picture. For, in approaching and understanding academic and everyday arenas, it might be critical to stay longer with corporeal, affective,


Saurabh Dube

sensuous ways of experiencing/knowing/being.11 These query pervasive, persis­ tent presumptions of fully fabricated subjects – possessed of an already-intimated reason – yet without being pre-social in any sense, derived as they are from nec­ essarily heterogeneous yet increasingly overlapping immanent life-worlds. Put differently, can apprehensions of social life eschew starting off with the “bounded, intentional subject while at the same foregrounding embodiment and sensuous life”?12 Here, might “affective circumstances” take experiential precedence over, while being constitutively coeval with, more formal procedures of reason? Indeed, with “subject and sense” shaped by elements of experience,13 might we also take a cue from Gadamer – who articulates of course a distinct intellectual tradition – in order to ask: How might we open ourselves to the awareness of “being exposed to the labors of history” that “precede the objectifications of documentary historiog­ raphy” and explanatory anthropology?14 Clearly, I am not speaking of the affective and the extra-analytical, each ever embodied, as a sort of “return of the repressed” under modernity.15 Rather, I am referring to the affective, the extra-analytical, and the embodied as routinely woven into our everyday and academic modern worlds, each ever announcing, well, immanence.16 How might such immanent attributes of social life – including the place and play of longing and loss, color and smell, the sensitive and the sensuous – be drawn into descriptions, woven into narratives, rather than pursue what has called a “sense-less science?”17

Motif one Not long after the attacks of 9/11 in New York, the political theorist Craig Cal­ houn was in Mexico City. At El Colegio de México, Craig focused on “actually existing cosmopolitanism” as a “view from the frequent-flyers lounge,” raising a range of critical questions. Principally, he suggested that: On September 11 [2001], terrorists crashing jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon . . . precipitated a renewal of state-centered politics and a “war on terrorism” seeking military rather than law enforcement solutions to crime. . . . One need be no friend to terrorism to be sorry that the dominant response to the terrorist attacks has been framed as a matter of war rather than crime, an attack on America rather than an attack on humanity. . . . Militarism gained and civil society lost . . . as the US and other administrations moved to sweep aside protections for the rights of citizens and immigrants alike and strengthen the state in pursuit of “security”.18 Calhoun went to explore the terms of this challenge to cosmopolitanism – through claims on technology, economy, and ideology – whose very anti-Western impulse revealed a contending modern project, a statist anti-modernism formative of modernity and its contradictions. All reasonable provocations, one would assume, which bid us to stay with and think through our own taken-for-granted presumptions about images and worlds, especially turning on cosmopolitanism and modernity, state and citizen, the West

Figures of immanence 237 and the non-West. Yet what concerns me here is not so much the arguments them­ selves as a response they elicited. For, in the discussion that followed, a famous Mexican anthropologist cum international cultural bureaucrat, who had looked increasingly unconvinced through the proceedings, had only one question for the speaker, whom she knew very well. “Have you gone over to the other side, Craig?” she asked with an air of impatient finality. I was somewhat bewildered at first, but as the conversation continued gradu­ ally understood what was at stake in the query. The underlying assumption of the anthropologist interlocutor was that alterity and authority have to conform to the analyst’s vision of difference and power, tradition and modernity, the non-West and the West, the other and the self. Needless to say, such analytical and extraanalytical assumption was profoundly grounded in entitlement and privilege – affective and experiential – of institutional and everyday academe, alluded to above. Where was the need to query cosmopolitanism, to register different claims on tradition, to recognize distinct visions of modernity? After all, are not such matters (always) explained and (already) set in place through scholarly presump­ tion of the way the world “ought” to be? Here was/is to be found the formida­ ble conceit of pervasive scholasticisms: an immaculate “ought” of the analyst/ observer – academic or/and quotidian – that trumps over every contentious “is.” As the “ought” orchestrates and becomes the “is,” those who do not fall in line go over to “the other side.”

Untangling scholasticisms Scholasticisms entail understandings and orientations that present their particular case as the general story while forgetting the conditions that make this possible: they privilege a view from somewhere as the vista for everywhere; underwrite an adjudicatory rationality as overriding all worldly reasons; universalize ethical and aesthetic judgement by suppressing the social-economic-cultural fields in which such judgements are embedded; and secure their “ought” as riding over each “is” that constitutes the world.19 Scholasticisms abound in the academy, as deliberated pieces of scholarship and as routine expressions in its quotidian life, acutely embodying and endorsing, constitutively coining and crafting, enti­ tlement, privilege, and hierarchy – in/as argument, affect, and effect. Indeed, exemplified by the everyday academic encounter that was just recounted, scho­ lasticisms come into play in frontal ways, their arms swinging, and their fangs bared, as it were.20 All this is (relatively) easy to establish and (principally) undemanding to upbraid. Therefore, I turn now to a more difficult task. Specifically, my bid is to untangle the ways in which the condition of possibility of salient scholarship can consist of its braiding of scholastic persuasions – including, the presence and triumph of the “ought” – with rather more contending dispositions. Such distinct orientations attempt to approach and explicate subjects and worlds in terms of their mundane mix-ups and murkiness, or the contentious “is” that is the stuff of history and politics, words and worlds, thinking and living. To illustrate this, let


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me turn – somewhat unconventionally, for a historian-anthropologist who inhabits distinct borderlands – to the work of the European philosopher Jürgen Habermas. There is method to my madness. On the one hand, Habermas’s elaborations of reason as “communicative action” and a self-critical modernity have extended the democratic horizons of the “unfinished” Enlightenment project.21 Thus, when the philosopher posits reason as “communicative action,” his protocols of argument at once displace a merely subject-centred rationality and underscore the “counter-discourse” of modernity.22 They announce immanent issues of an inter-subjective rationality as well an obli­ gation to the other in deliberation. On the other hand, these tendencies in Habermas’s thought are profoundly worked over and consequently marginalized by distinct, overlapping orientations. First, is the imperative in his schemas of the “ought” that is profoundly tied to a scholastic reason. Second, Habermasian projections of an “idealized history” pre­ sent the past in terms of modular temporal schemes, involving attenuated stages of succession. Third, the philosopher assumes a telos that is built into language at large. Lastly, his equation of modernity with Europe, I submit, has an extraanalytical, experiential, even affective provenance. Together, my point concerns the requirements of staying with and thinking through these contrasting dimensions yet conjoint dispositions in the thought of Habermas.23 And I begin appropriately with the philosopher’s proposal of the counter-discourse of modernity. As is generally known, at least to the initiated, Habermas explores the primary crossroads of this counter-discourse to point toward a “path open but not taken: the construal of reason in terms of a noncoercive intersubjectivity of mutual understanding and reciprocal recognition.”24 Here are to be found formulations that see reason as ineluctably situated, that is to say “as concretized in history, society, body, and language;” view its potential as requiring realization in the “communicative practice of ordinary, everyday life;” and, against totalized critiques of reason, emphasize its capacity to be critical.25 At the same time, we need to ask if such moves by Habermas possibly reduce political power matrices to relations of communication,26 which “surreptitiously throws the political back onto the terrain of ethics.”27 Likewise, do such measures suppress visceral registers of being and difference to a telos of language that pro­ vides the model for practical, rational discourse, one that ever tends toward con­ sensus?28 Further, what are we to make of the feminist critique that Habermas’s understanding of communicative action emphasizes a technical understanding of rationality, which abstracts from as well as delegitimizes particularities of nonlinguistic forms of communicative action?29 Finally, are Habermas’s propos­ als not fused together with his ethnocentric framing of rationality, which itself arguably rests upon his prior, experiential elision of modernity with Europe? Is this what underlie his framing of modernity as an entirely internally selfgenerated, European phenomenon, occluding any linkages with empire or nonWestern worlds? The point is that to register Habermas’s avowal of the situated and critical nature of rationality is to affirm how his thought might be made to address issues

Figures of immanence 239 of immanence, at least when expressed upon distinct registers of the mundane, the theoretical, and their interplay. Yet in order to recognize such horizons, the task of careful affirmation must attend to the philosopher’s a priori presumptions that reveal a transcendent “ought,” a formative scholasticism, as well as the extraanalytical elision of modernity with Europe: these measures circumscribe the exact “is” that his thought avows regarding the situated attributes of rationality. Such simultaneous measures are critical for articulating immanence (yet with­ out turning it into an antidotal, utopian horizon) while tracking scholasticism (but without treating it as a distant, dystopic enemy), since the scholastic and the immanent are ever of the world, which is never innocent. This brings me to Habermas’s emphasis on a community of dialogue. Here, the philosopher endorses how in deliberation the utterance of the other places an obligation on/to the self, while insightfully acknowledging also the unpredictable, potentially disruptive attributes of the utterance in everyday life.30 Indeed, Habermas argues further for the disclosure of particularity that makes it possible for the (now [?] de-centred) subject to “bear witness to the possibility of no-saying” to the identity he or she has projected on the other, despite the subject’s investments in the latter’s identity.31 All this is important accomplishment, pointing to the commitment to conversa­ tion – as a matter of understanding and living – in contentious worlds formed by heterogeneous subjects, subjects that militate against being indolently contained within safe boundaries of self and other. Approached in this way, Habermas’s formulations might even aid our own avowal of immanence. An avowal of imma­ nence rather than the triumph of a transcendental meaning-legislating rationality, one which subjugates all actors, each world, and every other to the sovereign sub­ ject’s self-same adjudicatory reason. Once again, the possibilities at stake have to be culled from the way that the philosopher’s thought inhabits the world – or, is made to do so – as announcing immanence. Yet at the very moment of acknowledging such possibilities, let us consider also the other side of Habermas’s reasoning on deliberation and dialogue, involv­ ing utterance and other. Foremost is the concern that the philosopher’s considera­ tions of such issues appear as “typically overshadowed by the excessively precise normative character of the obligation” that Habermas finds the self as incurring.32 This is a move that is itself connected to his belief in eventual consensus.33 Indeed Habermas’s wider proposals regarding the other and/in argument cannot remain untouched by his “underlying claim that an orientation to consensus is built into the telos of language.”34 This leads to the often exclusive, uneasily a priori, and unsteadily depoliticizing cast of the philosopher’s promulgations on communica­ tion and consensus, the inter-subjective and the non-coercive, and language and reason. Scholasticism strikes yet again. All this has implications, finally, for Habermas’s call for a self-critical moder­ nity, whose value in our times of raging authoritarian, governmental, muscular nationalist-populisms we would be churlish to ignore. At the same time, however, the philosopher’s proposals are upheld and upbraided by his a priori elision of modernity with Europe, such that both these entities-concepts appear as historical


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fact, theoretical metaphor, and analytical abstraction. Here, it is not only that the West is rehearsed as modernity, but that modernity is staged “as the West.”35 At the same time, far from merely pigeonholing Habermas’s writing as Eurocentric, such recognition importantly entails entering related protocols of the phi­ losopher’s thought. In such procedures, it is not simply an excision of the non-West but rather a patterned, attenuated, idealized history of Europe that itself shores up Habermas’s critical theory of modernity. Such idealization marks Habermas’s his­ tory of the (Western) nation, as ably unraveled by – the self-admittedly “critical Habermasian” – Craig Calhoun.36 They extend to the ways in which Habermas’s conception of the liberal public sphere presents an idealized history of liberal bourgeois public spheres, refusing to admit to the plural traditions of reasoned exchange that marked eighteenth-century Western Europe. Thereby, it ignores how the bourgeois public appropriated and marginalized such more inclusive notions of public participation and discussion by strategically closing off from the arena the range of possible discussants.37 Particularly poignant here are feminist critiques of how the occlusion of women from the bourgeois public sphere was not a mere accident, but that these public spheres, as recounted by Habermas (and others), were acutely constituted by, premised upon, such gendered exclusions.38 Building on these discussions, I would like to suggest that at stake here are not mere errors of understanding, analytical and empirical. Rather, such idealized pro­ jections of history and society have a deep provenance, wide implications. Con­ sider now Habermas’s proposition that under modernity the notion of the “new” or the “modern” world loses a “merely chronological meaning” to take on instead “the oppositional significance of an emphatically ‘new’ age.”39 This means further that for the philosopher the normative order of modernity has to be ground out of itself, rather than drawing its dispositions from models offered by other, obviously prior, epochs. Now, as I have argued earlier, on offer is an idealized representation that is at once persuasive and acutely representative.40 Indeed, despite their own distinc­ tions, Habermas’s formulations are part of wider delineations of modernity that have each entailed a ceaseless interplay between the ideal attributes and the actual manifestations of the phenomenon. This has meant not only that the actual has been apprehended in terms of the ideal, but that even when a gap is recognized between the two the actual (of modernity) is seen as tending toward the ideal (of modernity) with each shoring up the other. Here, it is exactly the admixtures of the actual articulations and the idealized projections of modernity that have defined its worldly dimensions. Taken together, these procedures, announcing hierarchi­ cal mappings of time and space, not only order the world but actually constitute it, such that Habermas’s propositions participate in the worlding of modernity – as part of an (ultimately) adjudicatory bid to redeem, bring to a close, the unfinished Enlightenment project.41 Under discussion are key questions. What is at stake in critically yet carefully entering the protocols of Habermas’s thinking? Might such measures reveal the limits of principally lamenting and readily rebutting the absence in “classical” Eurocentric theory of the non-West and empire? Do our assertions and critiques of

Figures of immanence 241 this kind variously circumscribe critical readings of European thought, its problems and potentialities as betokening each other? Might we trace instead the pervasive subordination of the immanent, the affective, the everyday, the extra-analytical, the mundane to the imperatives of a scholastic reason, an adjudicatory rational­ ity? Should not such querying be conducted in the widest worlds – non-Western and Western, quotidian and scholarly, subaltern and elite? Is there not a certain poignancy, pathos even, which is encountered when thinking through scholarly protocols – such as those of Habermas – that attempt to acknowledge and avow difference yet can only do so by returning to a resolutely singular scholastic “ought”? Is it not a matter of foreboding that we are in the face of the legislation of meaning and the ordering of life that remake the world – not only through modular grids but in an exclusive image?

Motif two Two decades ago, at a workshop on modern historiography in Mexico City, a graduate student raised a question about the necessity of specifying what exactly is at stake in discussing history as always appearing in the image of modernity. The speaker, an upcoming academic star, simply looked away. In the midst of the studied silence, the condescension was palpable. As many of the student’s cohort and various certified scholars snickered, even those sympathetic to the query and its spirit looked toward their toes in embarrassment. Here was a public lesson on the unstated requirement to never doubt doxas, which beget themselves, as effect and affect of analytical entitlements, everyday hierarchies, and their routine repro­ duction in academic arenas. Unable to contain myself, I rephrased the salience of the student’s question, emphasizing the need to address at least the coupling of history-writing and the nation under regimes of modernity and their imaginaries. The speaker looked unsettled yet was about to answer when a very senior historian, a venerable man­ darin, seized the microphone. As not only the esteemed chair of the session but the presiding deity of workshop – and patron of several historians across genera­ tions – this don and doyen among scholars, magisterially addressed the audience. To query modernity, nation, and history-writing, he pronounced, was the stuff of new-fangled “postmodern” and “postcolonial” theories. The true historian dili­ gently worked in the archives, far away from such speculation. Yet all that the esteemed historian said about the single-minded purpose of value-free research in the state archives reproduced commonplace assumption regarding the modern nation and its historiography as the incessant march of progress. Here, the more scholasticism drew sharp boundaries between itself and the mundane as well as the theoretical, the more it tripped itself up in its disorderliness, its complicity with routine statist-developmental imaginaries. Two weeks later, I was speaking at the weekly colloquia of a distinguished department in a famous university. A little apprehensive, I drew upon my wider construction of an ethnographic history of an “untouchable” community in order to raise issues of the interplay between caste and power, myth and history, and


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the enchantments of symbols of governance of the modern state and the fabrica­ tions of religious legalities by subaltern communities. At the end, I also cast my net somewhat wider. Seizing on ethnographic and historical materials, I spelled out the implications of my analysis for the persistence of routine antinomies – of modernity and tradition, state and community, rationality and ritual, and reason and emotion – within influential strands of social and political theory in Western and non-Western contexts. During the discussion, an avant-garde scholar, a bearer of cutting-edge anthro­ pology, put a question to me in the kindest of ways. I was asked about the manner in which my work related to the study of lower-caste and untouchable groups, which the academic stressed was the real area, the actual field of my research. In response, I outlined some of the continuities and differences between my work and other studies of Dalit communities. Yet I also stressed that critical issues of myths and the making of modernity, orality and the construction of histories, and writing and the fashioning of traditions were equally the area(s)/field(s) of my research.42 It was a wholly civil exchange. Yet the to and fro has stayed with me in the years after. At stake was a key distinction, based upon academic entitlement and schol­ arly hierarchy, between the “is” and an “ought.” Here, a study of Dalit, subaltern groups undertaken by a younger historian appeared as an inherent condition of limits for wider theoretical enquiry – the inescapable “is” of academic endeavor. In contrast, a higher status was occupied by the intellectual labour of accom­ plished analysts, conducting research across multi-sited ethnographic sites, initi­ ated into theory, and unconstrained by stifling “areas”, which is what (we were being told) critical reflection “ought” to be. Scholasticism has many stripes.

Final sutures Despite the able efforts of the two distinguished professors (alongside the endeav­ ors of others), I have been unable to give up my habits, which turn on conjunctions of narrative and theory. Around a decade and a half ago, articulating everyday legalities/illegalities, colonial cultures, and an evangelical modernity – and issues of meaning, power, and difference, very broadly – I made a case for a history without warranty.43 First, the procedures of a history without warranty approach the “universal” and the “particular” through close attention to their shared entail­ ments and mutual productions, as well as their founding exclusions and consti­ tutive contradictions. Second, here are to be found dispositions toward prudent interrogation and critical affirmation, which are each ever open to revision. Third, as already noted, these protocols permit careful considerations of conceptual cat­ egories of an academic provenance by bringing them in conjunction with the quo­ tidian configurations of these entities. Finally, in these ways, a history without warranty attends to the assumptions, categories, and entities that shore up worlds and subjects, making palpable a thinking-through of modernity and its margins, ever staying with the scandals of the West and nation.44

Figures of immanence 243 I would like to suggest now that my emphases on immanence shift the terms of a history without warranty in a specific manner. Indeed, the explicit acknowl­ edgement and articulation, in work as in life, of the affective and the embodied, the experiential and the extra-analytical, the quotidian and the mundane – that is to say, of the immanent – as coursing through social worlds has critical conse­ quences. First, despite its avowal of the ontological, the prior somewhat cerebral cast of a history without warranty is now made flesh, blood, and spirit. Second, categories (academic and social) are themselves rendered even less as principally instrumental explanatory devices and much more as constitutive attributes of social worlds, which often, variously bear value properties, inviting and incit­ ing meaningful practices. Finally, the earlier emphases of a history without war­ ranty concerning prudent querying and critical affirmation of social worlds now acquire greater immediacy and indeterminacy, interrupted by the uncertain, the uncanny, and the unimaginable. If truth is a matter of wager, a bet that one takes with oneself, as Merleau Ponty once argued, this is because truth is about life and living, politics and worlds, each betokening the other. These are life-worlds, satu­ rated with immanence, that are ours to carefully question, to ethically articulate, and even to re-enchant amidst the enchantments that abound. This might particu­ larly be the case as we think through entitlement and privilege exactly in order to actively unlearn privilege and entitlement. At the end, all of this is to ask also if certain key question simply disappear as we acknowledge the presence of immanence amidst the enchantments of moder­ nity? What is at stake in enquiring whether the most careful, creative of “our” understandings might yet subsume and subordinate – to our compellingly held claims – contradictory worlds and their contentions? In responding politically and affectively to the urgency of the present, are we to abandon the impulse to cautiously probe and critically affirm social worlds alongside the desire to care­ fully narrate and searchingly describe them? Taking seriously the requirements of evidence and the fidelity to facts, might we also consider sieving evidence through critical filters and construing facts, times, and spaces unexpected? Can such facts speak in the uneasy echoes of limiting doubt rather than readily deal in satisfying certainties? Is this why even a doomed humanist like me continuously struggles now with Dipesh’s considerations of the contrapuntal compact between the work of global histories and the labour of planetary pasts, looking beyond the time of Trump to the age of the Anthropocene?

Notes 1 Put another way, this chapter is in the nature of a bricolage, where as an undisci­ plined artisan-bricoleur I pay a small tribute to a many-fangled author-flaneur, Dipesh Chakrabarty. 2 In a sense, the widest question I am asking is the following: In articulating worlds today and yesterday, can our endeavor rest upon an acceptance of immanence rather than seek requirements of transcendence? Here, it warrants emphasis that transcend­ ence and immanence are usually understood in relation to the divine, based upon the


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antimony between the religious and the secular, or the opposition between enchant­ ment and disenchantment in/of the world. As should soon become clear, querying such antinomies my emphasis is on a worldly immanence, which is not predicated upon the divine. Equally, in speaking of transcendence – in relation to scholasticism – my refer­ ence is to assumptions of immaculate knowledge that occlude and ignore the traces and tracks of its maculate birth in the world. Roermund provides a distinct take on “secular transcendence”, which intriguingly intersects with aspects of my proposal regarding transcendence. Bert van Roermund, “Kelsen, Secular Religion, and the Problem of Transcendence”, Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy, vol. 44, 2015, pp. 100–115. 3 Scholasticism commonly refers to the system and method of teaching and learning of theology and philosophy that was predominant in Europe from the 12th to the 16th cen­ turies. The term was invented by 16th century Renaissance humanists to pejoratively describe the stylistic verbosity and sterile intellectualism of such tendencies. Now, as Pieper has shown, such ready assessments bear closer scrutiny, yet it is important to track as well, following Bentancor, how scholastic presumption could be implicated in wider projects of power and meaning, such as imperial processes and mercantile capitalism. Josef Pieper, Scholasticism: Personalities and Problems of Medieval Phi­ losophy (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2001); Orlando Bentancor, The Matter of Empire: Metaphysics and Mining in Colonial Peru (Pittsburgh: University of Pitts­ burgh Press, 2017). At the same time, principally drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and conjoin­ ing this with the emphases of Jacques Rancière, my use of scholasticism has a wider purchase: it refers to orientations and understandings in the past and the present that turn their particular case into the general story while forgetting the conditions that make this possible. Put differently, scholasticisms cut across different ideological ori­ entations and distinct political practices as part of their apprehending, objectifying, and acting upon the past, present, and future: What is common to all of them is the formative privileging of their own “ought” over the acute contentions, or the exact “is”, of contradictory worlds, assiduously brushing aside also contending historical subjects. Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000); see also, Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); Jacques Rancière, The Philosopher and His Poor, trans. Andrew Parker, Corrine Oster, and John Drury (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004); see also, Jacques Ran­ cière, The Nights of Labor: The Workers’ Dream in Nineteenth-Century France, trans. John Drury (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989); Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, trans. Kristin Ross (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). Now, scholasticisms exist as dispositions and structures – or, as structured dispositions – that are not only academic, merely intellectual, simply philosophical. Actually, scholasticisms are terribly worldly. They embody and engender entitlement, privilege, and hierarchy – of arguments and analyt­ ics, of words and worlds. All this is elaborated ahead. 4 Actually, the distinction lies at the core of my understanding of modernity, which I approach not merely as an idea, an ideal, an ideology but as historical processes of meaning and power that stretch back over the past five centuries. Saurabh Dube, Subjects of Modernity: Time-Space, Disciplines, Margins (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017); Saurabh Dube, Stitches on Time: Colonial Textures and Postcolonial Tangles (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004). See also, Saurabh Dube (ed.), Enchantments of Modernity: Empire, Nation, Globalization (London: Routledge, 2010); Saurabh Dube and Ishita Banerjee-Dube (eds.), Unbecoming Modern: Colonialism, Modernity, Colonial Modernities (London and New Delhi: Routledge and Social Science Press, 2019, Revised Edition with New Introduction); Saurabh

Figures of immanence 245 5 6

7 8 9

10 11

12 13 14 15 16

17 18

Dube (ed.), Modern Makeovers: Handbook of Modernity in South Asia (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011). These are all questions that I have discussed in frontal and fledgling ways elsewhere. Dube, Subjects of Modernity; Dube, Stitches on Time; Saurabh Dube, After Conver­ sion: Cultural Histories of Modern India (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2010). It warrants emphasis that my arguments have learnt from and circulate amidst a dense corpus and wide variety of writings in the humanities and social sciences, philosophy and critical enquiry, cutting across different theoretical traditions, which cannot be spelled out here. Akeel Bilgrami, “Understanding Disenchantment”, 2010, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2010/ 09/06/disenchantment/, accessed 27 February, 2018. Ibid. Akeel Bilgrami, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 183. It should soon become clear that while agreeing with Bilgrami on the “value properties” in the world (including, nature) that make norma­ tive demands on us, my arguments equally bear distinct emphases. Thus, Bilgrami assumes that “disenchantment” has been the dominant motif of the modern world over the past four centuries. Against this he posits the creative forces of “enchantment” and its recognition – by the seventeenth century English radical sects, the Romantics, and Gandhi, for instance – such that power is opposed/undone by difference. Instead, I focus also on how the terms of disenchantment create their own enchantments, which find form and assume substance as antinomies and enticements, categories and con­ tentions, meanings and practices at the core of social worlds. These come to embody value properties that make claims on subjects and their actions. It only follows that my proposal regarding immanence draws in the affective, the embodied, the experiential, and the extra-analytical as signaling the immanent as a routine part of mundane worlds. Arguably, Bilgrami is not especially concerned with such dimensions of the enchant­ ments of disenchantment and immanence of the everyday. Dube, Subjects of Modernity, p. 64. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004); Patricia Ticineto Clough and Jean Halley (eds.), The Affective Turn: Theoriz­ ing the Social (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007); Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007); see also Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011); W. J. T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). William Mazzarella, “Affect: What Is It Good for?” in Saurabh Dube (ed.), Enchant­ ments of Modernity: Empire, Nation, Globalization (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 291. John Rajchman, “Introduction”, in Gilles Deleuze (ed.), Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life (New York: Zone, 2001), p. 15. Hans-Georg Gadamer cited in Zygmunt Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity (Lon­ don: Routledge, 1992), pp. ix–x. Mazzarella, “Affect”, p. 293. It should be evident that I am bringing together a range of different arguments derived from distinct traditions of understanding. The overlaps and tension between their assumptions and emphases require further staying with, critical thinking through, which I cannot pursue here. Johannes Fabian, Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. ix. Craig Calhoun, “The Class-consciousness of Frequent Travelers: Toward a Critique of Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism”, in Saurabh Dube (ed.), Enchantments of Moder­ nity: Empire, Nation, Globalization (London: Routledge, 2010), pp. 310–340. Cal­ houn’s presentation was derived from this text.


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19 As already indicated, my debts to Bourdieu – alongside my learning from Rancière – are immense here. Given the constraints of space, what I cannot explore are my differ­ ences with Bourdieu, especially his frequent formalism and cerebral self-indulgence, which can run counter to my affirmations of the affective, the embodied, and the imma­ nent. Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations; see also, Bourdieu, Distinction; Rancière, Phi­ losopher and His Poor; see also, Rancière, Nights of Labor; Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster. 20 Nor is this a matter solely of intellectual arenas: academic modes of argument are appropriated, expropriated, and made anew in wider social terrains. 21 Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987). 22 Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols., trans. T. McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984); Habermas, Philosophical Discourse of Modernity; Jür­ gen Habermas, Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, trans. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992); Thomas McCarthy, “Introduction”, in Jürgen Habermas (ed.), Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), pp. vii–xvii. 23 I recognize of course that writings on Habermas and discussions of his work are aca­ demic industry. Clearly, my effort is not aimed as either exegesis of, or commentary on, the philosopher’s corpus. Rather, I wish to enter the protocols of his thought and reason(s), albeit on my distinct registers, in order to reveal the contradictory stitches that suture his arguments. Such contradictions and contentions are not mere mistakes, but arguably the conditions of possibility of his assertions, a matter that I had first approached in Dube, After Conversion. This registered, it bears pointing out that my emphasis on the simultaneous possibil­ ities and problems in the work of Habermas intersects with feminist engagement with his writings. Such engagements underscore at once the democratic horizons suggested and yet the gendered exclusions performed by the following: Habermas’s account of the public sphere; his theory of communicative action; his dualistic theory of society; and his discussions of deliberative democracy. Of these, I discuss ahead the first two themes, and shall refer there to feminist criticism on these questions. Here, I would like to acknowledge the astute mapping of this literature provided by Mojca Pajnik in an essay that I have read with some effort in imperfect translation. Mojca Pajnik, “Feminist Interpretations of the Public in Habermas’s Theory (FEMINISTIČNE INTERPRETACIJE JAVNOSTI V HABERMASOVI TEORIJI)”, Javnost – The Pub­ lic, Slovene Supplement, vol. 13, 2006, pp. 21–36. See also, Mojca Pajnik, “Feminist Reflections on Habermas’s Communicative Action: The Need for an Inclusive Political Theory”, European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 9, 2006, pp. 385–404; Marie Flem­ ing, “Women and the ‘Public Use of Reason’”, in Johanna Meehan (ed.), Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse (New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 117–137. 24 McCarthy, “Introduction”, p. xvi. 25 Ibid., pp. xvi–xvii. 26 Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, trans. J. Shapiro (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971); Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action. 27 Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations; see also, Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, trans. Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991). 28 Stephen K. White, Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 36, 138. 29 Pajnik, “Feminist Interpretations of the Public in Habermas’s Theory”. 30 Habermas, Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, pp. 321–326; White, Sustaining Affirmation, p. 37. 31 Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, p. 399.

Figures of immanence 247 32 White, Sustaining Affirmation, p. 36. 33 Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, p. 314; Habermas, Philosophical Dis­ course of Modernity, p. 311. 34 White, Sustaining Affirmation, p. 36. Consider now another statement of Habermas: “. . . the use of language with an orientation to reaching understanding is the origi­ nal mode of language use, upon which indirect understanding, giving something to understand or letting something be understood, and the instrumental use of language in general, are parasitic.” Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, p. 288 (emphasis in the original). 35 Timothy Mitchell, “The Stage of Modernity”, in Timothy Mitchell (ed.), Questions of Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), p. 15 (emphasis in the original). 36 Calhoun, “Class-consciousness of Frequent Travelers”, pp. 319–320. 37 Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, pp. 65–66; Craig Calhoun (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992). 38 Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actu­ ally Existing Democracy”, in Craig Calhoun (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), pp. 109–142; Joan B. Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); Pajnik, “Feminist Interpretations of the Public in Habermas’s Theory”. See also, Fleming, “Women and the ‘Public Use of Reason’”; Dena Goodman, “Public Sphere and Public Life: Toward a Synthesis of Current Historiographical Approaches to the Old Regime”, History and Theory, vol. 32, 1992, pp. 1–20. 39 Habermas, Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. 5. 40 Dube, Subjects of Modernity, pp. 70–73. 41 I have further discussed such questions in relation to the work of intellectual historians of Europe such as Reinhart Koselleck and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht in Dube, After Con­ version. See also, Dube, Subjects of Modernity. 42 Saurabh Dube, Untouchable Pasts: Religion, Identity, and Power Among a Central Indian Community, 1780–1950 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998). 43 Dube, Stitches on Time; see also, Dube, After Conversion; Dube, Subjects of Modernity. 44 It bears emphasis that the conceptions, propositions, and outrages queried by a history without warranty are understood as acutely intimating conditions of knowing, entities and co-ordinates shoring up the worlds that we inhabit, demanding critical articula­ tion. At the same time, precisely such recognition learns yet differs from anti- and post-foundational perspectives such that there is a certain shift of “intellectual burden from the preoccupation with what is opposed and deconstructed”, to equally engaging “what must be articulated, cultivated, and affirmed in its wake”. White, Sustaining Affirmation, p. 8; Dube, Stitches on Time; Dube, After Conversion; Dube, Subjects of Modernity.


Note: page numbers in italics indicate figures. “+ R”: rule of law in British India as “rule of law + R” 74 Aboriginal history 141, 223; autobiography 10, 57; children separated from families 142 – 144; see also Goolarabooloo; stolen generations narrative Adelman, Jeremy, “What Is Global History Now?” (paper) 180 Adivasis: as activists 94 – 95, 98,102; artists 94; constitutional rights 103; as indigenous people 93, 99, 102; loss of livelihood 91; religious rituals and forest 94; and Scheduled Areas 96 Adorno, Theodor, poetry after Auschwitz 49, 154 Ambedkar, Bhimrao Dr (Dalit leader) 63, 80, 163 Anthropocene 13 – 14, 68; human species as geological force of 1, 4; see also climate change Anthropogenic 202 – 204, 208 anticolonialism 10, 124 – 125, 127 Arendt, Hannah 164 – 166, 201; “right to have rights” 53; “Thinking and Moral Considerations” (essay) 53 – 54; “What Is Freedom?” (essay) 165 Bates, Daisy, The Native Tribes of Western Australia (book) 227 Beck, Ulrich, global modernity and risk 101 Being and Time (book) [Heidegger] 66 Bellacasa, Maria Puig de la, organisms and soil 205 belonging: histories of 184 – 185; moral discourse of 98 – 99 Bengal 116; partition of British 108 – 112; peasant castes 107 – 108, 115

Benterrak, Krim, Muecke, Stephen, and Roe, Paddy, Reading the Country (book) 227 Between the World and Me (book) [Coates] 48; Rwandan genocide 7 – 8; as “speaking from the void” 47 Bharadwaj, Sudha 99 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) see BJP Binney, Dame Judith 26 BJP 120, 134 – 135; Narenda Modi 164 Blaustein, George, Albtraumneid (“nightmare envy”) or Nachtmareifersucht (“nightmare jealousy”) 127 Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (book) [Kiernan] 202 – 203 body 48, 190 – 191 Bringing Them Home (report), Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 145 British: India 41, 74, 77, 80 – 82, 98; Empire 164, 170, 174 Broszat, Martin, “A Plea for the Historicization of National Socialism” (essay) 155 Buck-Morss, Susan 131 Butler, Judith 189, 191 Calhoun, Craig 240; cosmopolitanism 236 Calling of History. The: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (book) [Chakrabarty] 67, 141 “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (essay) [Spivak] 167 capital, logic of 37, 58, 66 capitalism: digital 216 – 220 Carr, E.H., What Is History? (book) 70, 158

Index Caruth, Cathy, trauma recall 154 caste 81, 105 – 107; see also upper caste dominance; “untouchables” Centre for Science and Environment, Rich Lands, Poor People – Is Sustainable Mining Possible? (report) 102 Chakrabarti, Prafulla 112 – 113, 115 Chakrabarty, Dipesh 1 – 5, 21: “history-poor” 140; Europe as benchmark of history and modernity 232; 19; reconciliation and its historiography 223; “the unthought of Indian Marxism” 232 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, works: The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (book) 3 – 4; “The Climate of History: Four Theses” (essay) 4, 201, 215 – 216; “The Future of the Human Sciences in the Age of Humans” (essay) 202; Habitations of Modernity (book) 66; “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts” (essay) 57; “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” (essay) 2, 64; Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (book) 57 – 68; Rethinking Working-Class History (book) 7, 36 Charmaz, Kathy 205 Chatterji, Joya 109, 115 Chemmencheri, S.R. 103 Chhattisgarh 91, 93, 95; see also Adivasis Civil Disobedience movement 107 climate change 68, 101; Adivasi villagers’ response to 91; as collapsing traditional dichotomy of natural/ human history 201; environmental degradation 101, 204 – 205, 208; see also Anthropocene “Climate of History, The: Four Theses” (essay) [Chakrabarty] 201, 215 – 216 coal: Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act (1957) (India) 95; contestation with indigenous peoples 102; mining 94 – 95, 99; see also Adivasis; land acquisition Coates, Ta Nehisi: robbery of time 54; Between the World and Me (book) 7 – 8, 47 coercive: apparatus of Empire vs. resistance 75; colonial coercion 79, 86; power of state 169 Cold War 125, 127, 133; dreamworld 131 – 132, 136; vs. national development 123 – 124; post-Cold War reforms 135


collective: memory 10, 151 – 153, 155; “singular” 157, 159 colonial: Assam tea plantations 39; English 174 – 175; modernity 25 colonialism: British 30; coercive 77 – 79, 86; decolonization 122; and social reforms 80 – 81, 91 communalism 78, 81 – 82; Hindu 135; religious 133 “Confessing to Genocide” (report) (Rwanda) 52 Cummings, Bruce 37 Dalits 159; politics of 57; West Bengal population of 117; see also Ambedkar, Bhimrao Dr; Macwan, Martin; “untouchables” Dawson, Graham, “cultural memory” and cultural construction of belonging 153 Descartes, René 218 – 219 Des Forges, Alison, Leave None to Tell the Story (book) 50; see also Rwandan genocide development 23 – 24, 109, 123, 126 – 130, 132, 136; companies 111; flouting FRA and PESA for 101; Indian model of 99; narratives of 95; postcolonial 124 dominance see upper-caste dominance dwelling 60; politics of 66 – 67 Earth System Science 68 “earth” vs. “planet” 1, 4, 70 educated classes 79, 107, 133, 179; refugees 111 – 113 Edwards, Coral (member of stolen generation) 142 Empire 81; coercive apparatus of 75; and race 77; see also British, Empire Enlightenment 8 – 9, 40, 78 – 80, 157, 187; human as sovereign subject 195; “unfinished” project of 238, 240 Europe 58, 60, 240; as benchmark of history and modernity 232, 238 – 239; and history-writing 33; idealized history of 240; as model of accomplishment 19; see also Enlightenment Experience of Freedom, The (book) [Nancy] 166 exclusion 62, 68, 166, 242; gendered 240; social 209 expertise 96, 132, 127; and Cold War 122, 124, 126



Fabrication of Aboriginal History, The (book) [Winschuttle] 223 Fanon, Frantz 76, 78, 81 Faye, Emmanuel 184 feminist: critique(s) of Habermas 238; history and activism 189; politics 57; writing 188 – 189; see also gender film: documentary 126, 143, 145; Indian 132 – 133 forest see Adivasis; FRA; land acquisition FRA: and ownership of forests 102; recognition of Adivasis rights 96; see also Adivasis; development Fraser, N., Justice Interruptus (book) 102 freedom: of equality 171 – 172; Gandhi’s street politics of 164 Friedlander, Saul, “Some Reflections on the Historicization of National Socialism” (essay) 155 – 156 Fujii, Lee Ann 51 “Future of the Human Sciences in the Age of Humans. The” (essay) [Chakrabarty] 202 gacaca (“grass mat” courts) (Rwanda) 8, 52 – 53 Gadamer, Hans-Georg 157, 236 Gandhi, Mohandas (Mahatma) 78, 88; concept of love 168; Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (book) 163; independence from Britain 164 – 165, 170; satyagraha 167 – 170; street politics of freedom 164 Garve, Christian 177 – 178 gender 188 – 194; see also feminist; medieval Japanese texts genocide see Holocaust; Rwandan genocide Ghosh, Amitav: The Glass Palace (novel) 74, 80; Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (book) [Chakrabarty] 91; writing about families 73, 85 Ginzburg, Carlo: historian and inquisitor 26; “rhetoric of proof” 20; see also White, Hayden Glass Palace, The (novel) [Ghosh] 74, 80 global: influence of Cold War 125; meaning and impact of history 180 globalization 57, 59 Global South 123, 128 Goolarabooloo: cultural confederacy 227; Lurujarri Heritage Trail 225, 228;

people 223; shield 228 – 229; see also Roe, Paddy Government of India Act, 1919 30 Gramsci, Antonio, dominant culture as hegemonic 116 – 117 Habermas, Jürgen 239; “unfinished” project of Enlightenment 238, 240 Habitations of Modernity (book) [Chakrabarty], “dark side” of cultures 66 Hartemink, Alfred E., and McBratney, Alex 202; soil science renaissance 204 Heidegger, Martin 58 – 59, 65, 166, 181 – 185; Being and Time (book) 66, 183; Schwarze Hefte” (“Black Notebooks”) 184 Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (book) [Gandhi], untranslatability of swaraj 163 historical wounds [Chakrabarty]: as mix of history and memory 140; of stolen generations 141 historicism 3, 19, 61 historiography 158 – 159 history 68, 122, 127, 140; “affective” 64, 66; “cloistered” 22, 67; democratizing 141, 158; of humans and life on planet 70; oral 41 – 142, 152; public lives of 22, 67, 141, 145, 232; and society 240; transnational and trans-regional 180; traumatic memory vs. 142, 157; “without warranty” 242; see also minority pasts history, discipline of: academic and evidentiary protocols of 22; and academic privilege 232; as challenged by climate change 201; as “cloistered” 67; Dalits and 159; public interest in 122; research 113 historical: acquisition of knowledge 144; public scorn for expertise 122 history-writing: challenges to 66 – 67; limits 232; protocols of 160 HM see Habitations of Modernity Holocaust: historicizing 155 – 156; Lanzmann, Claude on 155 – 157; memoirs 152, 154 – 156; see also Rwandan genocide; trauma humus 201 – 202, 205, 208 – 210 identities: in colonial and modern nation states 102; ethnicity and racialization 52 Ilaiah, Kancha 159 immanence 70, 234, 239

Index India: and Cold War 125, 129; cinema as shared culture in 132; coal and deforestation 95; and discourse of economic and social development 95; and Soviet foothold in Global South 127 – 128 India Forest Acts (1865 and 1878) (India), and land acquisition 95; see also Adivasis Indigenous peoples: as challenge and solution to settler colonial state 25; difference 179; histories and futures of 223; New Zealand and Māori 25 – 27; rights flouted in seizing land for mining 93; see also Aboriginal peoples; Adivasis; Māori people Intimate Enemy, The (book) [Nandy] 79, 88 It’s a Long Road Back (1981) (documentary), removal of Aboriginal children 143’ Justice Interruptus (book) [Fraser] 102 jute-mill workers 1 – 2, 7, 39 – 40 Kaube, Jürgen 184 Kiernan, Ben, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (book) 202 – 203 Klein, Kerwin Lee 151 knowledge: colonial 57; geopolitics of 33; questioning 232 Kohli, A. 99 Koselleck, Reinhart, Enlightenment and “collective singular” 157 LaCapra, Dominick, traumatic memory and history 142 land acquisition 91 – 96, 100 – 102; Land Acquisition Act (1894) (colonial India) 95; Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (2013) (India) 95 – 96; Permanent Settlement Act (1793) (India), and land acquisition 95; of villages for coal mining 91 – 92; see also Adavisis Langer, Lawrence 152 Lear, Jonathan, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (book) 225 – 226 Leave None to Tell the Story (book) [Des Forges] 50


Leopold, Aldo, Sand County Almanac (book) 204 Lerner, Daniel 124 – 125 liberalism 38, 64 – 65, 77 – 80, 136, 164 – 165, 167; and citizenship 40; and Gandhism 131; Indian 29; and race 74, 76 liberty 163 – 167, 169 – 171, 173; see also freedom Lieux de Memoire (book) [Nora] 151 – 152 Linke, Armin: “Anthropocene Project” (exhibit) 215; drawings of Tower of Babel 216, 219, 221 Link-Up Diary (1985) (documentary), removal of Aboriginal children 143; see also stolen generations narrative Locke, John, principal of property 95 Lousy Little Sixpence (1983) (documentary), removal of Aboriginal children 143 Macwan, Martin (Dalit activist) 81 Mahmood, Saba 195 Mamdani, Mahmood, Rwandan genocide 51 – 52 Māori people 22 – 25; see also Aboriginal history Margalit, Avishai, negative politics 51 Marie Louise (survivor of Rwandan genocide) 51 Marx, Karl: “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” 180 – 181; Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (“A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”) 181; logic of commodity production 84 medieval texts of Japan: agency and 194 – 197; conceptualizing gender and agency 187; inter-penetration of human and nonhuman worlds 194; gender 190 – 192; waka poetry 192 memory 54, 158 – 160; and contestation with politics 153; and history 151; and Holocaust 156; as representation 154; as reproducing past 151; traumatic 142; see also collective memory; Holocaust Mill, John Stuart 74 – 75, 77 “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts” (essay) [Chakrabarty] 68; see also Provincializing Europe: minority pasts [Chakrabarty] 140 modernity 238 – 240; alternative forms of 124; language of political modernity 115; and transgression of categories 219



Modi, Narendi (Prime Minister of India) 32, 164; see also BJP Munyankore, JeanBaptiste (Rwandan teacher of humanities), “learned people” as criminals 48 – 49 Musicana; extraits d’ouvrage rares ou bizarres (book) [Weckerlin] 218 Muslims, partition of Bengal vs. joining Pakistan 109 Myga-Piątek, Urszula 206 – 207 Nancy, Jean Luc, The Experience of Freedom (book) 166 Nandy, Ashish 57, 61, 66, 68, 126; The Intimate Enemy (book) 79 narrative(s): conjunction of with theory 242; of development 95; dominant of Cold War 123; racist/coercive side of colonialism as omitted from Indian 77 – 79; relation of historical to literary imagination 66; of stolen generations 141 – 145 national development: and international rivalry 127; indigenization and identity making 26 – 27; sovereignty 124, 126 National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) see NURC report (Rwanda) Native Tribes of Western Australia, The (book) [Bates] 227 necro-: humanities 209; politics 203 Nehru, Jawaharlal: on Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) 130; as negotiating between reform and reaction 132; postcolonial politics at work 125; seen by U.S. as reliable opponent of communism 127 – 128 neighbor, concept of 52; see also Rwandan genocide Neumann, Boaz, ecologism and Holocaust 202 New Science (book) [Vico] 208 – 209 New Zealand 22 – 25; see also Māori people Ngata, Sir Āpirana, as seeking accommodation within settler state 22 – 25 non-human 12, 69 – 70, 209 Nora, Pierre, Lieux de Memoire (book) 151 – 153 NURC report (Rwanda): “rhetoric” as major cause of genocide 49 – 51

Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) (1996) (India) see PESA partition: of Bengal 108 – 113, 118; of India 105 PE see Provincializing Europe PESA: indigenous peoples’ contestation over coal and forests 102; see also development “Plea for the Historicization of National Socialism, A” (essay) [Broszat] 155 poets, Adivasi 94 polemics and myth-building, advantage of 127 “politics of despair” see “provincializing” Europe Porte, Jayanandan 95 “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” (essay) [Chakrabarty] 19 post-independence India 126 – 127, 129 postwar cosmopolitanism 123 – 124 “provincializing” Europe 37 – 38, 233; effect of on South Asian history-writing 33; and “politics of despair” 64 – 65 Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (book) [Chakrabarty] 21, 57 – 68, 140, 167; American English in 174; areas of silence in 74; “Histories of Belonging” 184 – 185; Indian constitution 32; History 1 and History 2 167; Western thought as “indispensable and inadequate” 34, 62, 65, 174; see also Ghosh, Amitav; historical wounds; minority pasts “Public Life of History, The” (essay) [Chakrabarty] 141 Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) (film) 143 Rabindranath see Tagore, Rabindranath race 8, 48, 84; and caste 81; and Enlightenment 82 – 83; as a foundational category of thought 74 – 79 racism 8, 78, 84, 164; and Enlightenment 82 – 83; South Asians as fundamentally misrecognizing 82 Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (book) [Lear] 225 – 226 Ramanujan, A.K. 74, 83 Rao, VKRV, economic aid to India from U.S. and Soviet Union 130 Rau, Sir Benegal Narsing 29, 31

Index Read, Peter, and Goodall, Heather, combination of oral history and archival research 142 Reading the Country (book) [Benterrak, Meuecke, and Roe] 227 reconciliation, as aim of gacaca 52 – 53; discourse of and stolen generations narrative 145; and historiography 223; in Rwanda 49 refugee(s): 110 – 114; Bengali Hindu 105; as constituency for Left 115; demands from 118; movement (West Bengal), 115; Syrian 54; “untouchable” labouring classes 114 Rethinking Working-Class History (book) [Chakrabarty] 7, 36, 39, 58, 65 rhetorical element(s) as major cause of Rwandan genocide 49 – 50; see also NURC report (Rwanda) Rich Lands, Poor People – Is Sustainable Mining Possible? (report), Centre for Science and Environment 102 Ricouer, Paul, and “collective memory” 153 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (2013) (India), replacing Land Acquisition Act 95; see also land acquisition Roe, Paddy (Goolarabooloo community leader) 224 – 230 Rowlatt Act (India), imprisonment without trial 30 Rwandan genocide 48 – 54; abyss of language of humanism and humanities 48; as “intimate affair” vs. distancing mechanisms of Holocaust 52; Leave None to Tell the Story (book) [Des Forges] 50 RWCH see Rethinking Working Class History RWH see Rethinking Working-Class History “Sabhyatar Shankat” (essay) [Tagore] 78 Sand County Almanac (book) [Leopold], land ethics 204 Sarkar, Jadunath: 4, 19, 111 – 112; “historical truth” 68 Sarkar, Sumit, engagement with Provincializing Europe 36 – 37 satyagraha 167 – 170 Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA) (2006) see FRA


Scollon, Ronald, and Scollon, Suzanne B. K., semiotic and non-semiotic spaces 207 Scott, Joan Wallach, feminist politics 189 secular transcendence 232 – 233 settler state (Australians), and stolen generations narrative 145; see also Ngata, Sir Āpirana 22 – 25 Shklar, Judith N., “putting cruelty first” 51 Shukla, Alok (Jana Abhivyakti), Adivasi forest holy sites 97 “Some Reflections on the Historicization of National Socialism” (essay) [Friedlander] 156 Spiegel, Gabriel, oral and visual testimony 144 Spivak, Gayatri, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (essay) 167; see also Subaltern Studies squatter colonies see refugee colonies Steiner, George, world of Auschwitz as lying outside speech 154 stolen generations: historic wound of 141; narrative of 142 – 145; Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) (film) 143; as symbol of history of relations between Aboriginal and settler 145; see also Aboriginal history Sturken, Marita, Tangled Memories (book) 153 Subaltern 3, 117 Subaltern Studies 2, 56 – 58; non-human as missed opportunity in 70; as reaction to authorized national histories 122 swaraj 163 – 166 Swarajist Congress in Bengal, “HinduMuslim pact” 107 Tagore, Rabindranath 61, 84, 88; intellectual wealth of 64; “Sabhyatar Shankat” (essay) 78 Tale of the Genji 195 – 196; robes as privileged repositories of physical and psychic attributes 191; see also medieval Japanese texts Tangled Memories (book) [Sturken], “cultural memory” outside of formal history 153 testimony: as commodity 144; as relating past in public realm 144; oral form seen as “virtually transparent form of transmission” 144; see also Holocaust, memoirs; stolen generations, narrative of “Thinking and Moral Considerations” (essay) [Arendt] 53 – 54



Tilak, Bal Gangadhar, and colonialism 80 – 81 Torikaebaya Monogatari (The Tale of “If Only I Could Change Them Back”), gender as a “becoming” 191 – 192 “translation” of actions and utterances farremoved world 175 transmission of pasts, vs. acquisition of historical knowledge 144 trauma 53, 142, 145, 154 – 158; see also Holocaust Tripura: Bengali refugees in 105, 119 – 120 UCRC see United Central Refugee Council (UCRC) “unbecoming human” 207; and becoming symbionts and/or holobionts 202; necrohumanities 209 – 210; see also Anthropocene United Central Refugee Council (UCRC) 112 – 113, 115 “untouchables”: in Bengal 10; Namasudra 114; social movements of 109 – 110; see also refugee camps upper-caste dominance 105 – 110; culturalideological force of 113 – 117; hegemony of Hindu 116 – 119 Van Der Kolk, B.A., and Van Der Hart, O., trauma as timeless 154 Veer, Peter van der, spirituality in broad mix of cultures 179 Vico, Giambattista, New Science (book) 208 – 209 vikas (development), coal mining in Chhatisgarh 94; see also land acquisition vulnerability 143, 166; as satyagraha 169; weaponizing of 172

Weckerlin, Jean-Baptiste, Musicana; extraits d’ouvrage rares ou bizarres (book) 218 Weisbord, Noah, reconciliation as aim of gacaca 52 Westad, Arne, empire of justice (USSR) vs. empire of liberty (U.S.) 130 West Bengal: Bengali Hindu refugees in 105; cultural-ideological force of Hindu dominance in 113 – 117; Left Front rule in 116; political mobilization of rural peasantry in 106; taboo on mention of caste practices in 105 – 106; see also upper-caste dominance Western thought 61 – 65, 67; see also Enlightenment “What Is Freedom?” (essay) [Arendt] 165 “What Is Global History Now?” (paper) [Adelman]180 What Is History? (book) [Carr] 70, 158 White, Hayden 57, 68; questions of narrative vs. research practice 20; see also Ginzburg, Carlo Windschuttle, Keith, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (book) 223 Women of the Sun (1982) (docu-drama), removal of Aboriginal children 143 writer(s): Adivasis 94; as humanist, revisiting violence and erasure of everyday existence 47 – 48 Yerushalmi, Yosef 153; perceiving and organizing past via historiography 158 – 159; Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (book) 151 Young, James 152 Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (book) [Yerushalmi], decline of collective memory 151