Monday, 26 July 2010

Ramachandra Guha on the demise of the bilingual intellectual

Last year Ramachandra Guha rehashed an essay on the demise of the bilingual intellectual in India.
Guha does not claim to be, properly speaking, bilingual and thus his essay throws no direct light on his own mysterious intellectual demise many years ago.
Guha spends some time quoting the always hilarious Mahatma who thought Raja Rajmohan Roy would have been a better intellectual if he hadn't known English! Guha does not mention that Gandhi was not, and never claimed to be, an intellectual- you see, Gandhi had studied English and thus, by his own argument, was fucked in the head- as his public career amply demonstrated. However, Gandhi did not claim to be an intellectual. He thought God talked to him coz like he'd given up sex and was sleeping with his nieces to correct their sleeping posture and that made him a 'Mahatma' rather than a 'Maha pervert.'
Tagore, whom Guha quotes as an example of an bilingual intellectual, was an artist and hereditary Guru not a thinker and certainly nothing so declasse as an 'intellectual'.
Ranade, Gokhale and the Servants of India could have developed into public intellectuals doing research on economics and sociology and so on but their heart wasn't really in it. They just wanted those insufferable Goras to fuck off back to Blighty and if Gandhian voodoo or Khilafat voodoo or the German submarines or the Jap bombers or whatever secured that goal then they too were quite happy to drop the intellectual pose.
Ambedkar had first class intellectual credentials but his was a lone voice. Well there were plenty of others like him but what to do? India is like that only- no?
Guha goes on about Rajaji- again NOT an intellectual- NOT an expert on Hindu Mimamsa or even Jurisprudence come to that- NOT an economist, not an I.R guy- and why is Rajaji relevant? Well he wrote books for kids which his daughter or grand-daughter or somebody translated into Hindi which is important because...urm... well, like Rajaji wrote it in simple Telugu or Tamil or something and it was translated into simple English and.... urm... well that's intellectual right? Menaka Gandhi wrote an encyclopedia of children's names- so she's an intellectual. Jade Goody wrote an autobiography- so she's an intellectual coz people who write books are intellectuals- that's the test, right? Y'know, like Jeffery Archer and ... urm P.G Woodhouse and like some other guy was a librarian or something and this other poor bastard had the misfortune to earn his bread as a Prof. of Eng Lit and so, like, he must have been an intellectual right? And Ram Manohar Lohia had a German PhD- like that's a recommendation!- and so the fact that what he liked doing was camping in some rural backwater where he could kid himself that the people he was meeting were more mentally slothful and deluded than himself- he was definitely an intellectual, right?
Guha thinks J.P Narayan- who sold hair straightener to Negroes to get his Wobbly American Socialist credentials- was smart, well, the fucker did impress Arthur Koestler thus proving he was fucked in the head long before the full unfolding of his sheer silliness could work its full complement of mischief on the Indian polity.
Intellectuals gotta use their fucking intellect! And when they find out they are wrong they got to use their intellect some more to find out why they were wrong. If they get to communicate this to a wider public- then they're public intellectuals, rather than Media whores.
Nobody Guha mentions used their intellect to this effect or to this end. Their strong suit was their passionate commitment to some holier than thou pi jaw shite, or doctrinaire lets-kill-everybody shite. Well that's not entirely true. There is also the provincial navel gazer who becomes a visiting professor in America and whose writing is defensive rather than crepuscular, if not straight forwardly of the Emperor's new clothes variety.
Guha doesn't mention Acharya Kosambi- coz he was like RElIGIOUS? And that's not intellectual at all. The Marxist Kosambi also doesn't get a mention coz... urm... well he actually discovered something in Maths or Stats or something so he's like TECHNICAL guy & not an intellectual. As for critics like Prof. S.R Faruqi or the numberless poets who write in two or more languages- urm well they're like LITERATURE guys and that's not intellectual right?
Jagdish Chandra Bose? Scientist. Doesn't count if a scientist publishes in English and then writes novels, essays or whatever in one or more Indian language coz like SCIENCE guys aint intellectuals right?
Subramaniyam Swamy? Intelligent, thus the very reverse of 'intellectual'. Indeed, not loving any Indian language well enough to also write in it, is a necessary though not sufficient condition for the sheer silliness that only our 'public intellectuals' preen themselves on.
In one respect Guha has a point- imagine Gayatri Spivak or Amartya Sen writing their shite in Bengali- would Spivak get away with saying 'India is named after Rama's younger brother' (Critique of Post Colonial Reason) or Sen get away with his specious nyaya/niti distinction or his silliness about the Bhagvad Gita? Well actually, in Bengali, maybe they would get away with it. (Contra Guha, under the Commies, if any Indian language can now be called 'subaltern' it is not Malyalam or Kannada or Tamil but Bengali). Perhaps, if Sen had been writing in Bengali, he wouldn't have gone off on the wrong track. Spivak, on the other hand, was always beyond redemption.
Guha mentions a lot of people who have written books and who occupy academic positions. They're intellectuals surely? No. What isn't belles lettres is just the working of Gresham's Law as applied to publishing whereby the blurb- 'the author graduated from X and held such and such senior position or won such and such Literary consolation prize for being a benighted darkie.'- pre-empts the text.
Guha does not know what an intellectual is coz it is not clear that he ever even tried to be one. Being a writer and a columnist and making speeches was so much easier, provided the effort to really think was never made.
His article about the rise and demise of the bilingual intellectual is hilarious for overlooking the one obvious fact. Thought isn't about language. Not any more. Not now we got Mathematics. Not now Science is univocal at the global level.
The importance of language as providing a basis for wage and service provision discrimination is undermined by Globalized free trade- what people want is access to 'Globish' for their kids- not English per se. In any case, the hyper trophy of Academic specialization had already led to over publication in the 'Globish' sub-dialect for peer consumption- i.e. a lot of intellectual activity is occurring outside literary language properly so called.
One reason why people started turning away from vernacular literature was because, by the 70's, Dalit, Modernist and Revolutionary literature was concerned with lowering rather than raising the social horizon of the reader. At one time, the way you got ahead in life was by reading novels, newspaper articles, listening to the speeches of leaders etc. so as to improve your vocabulary, syntax, accent and so on. After 1970, all that changed.
Does it matter?
Language does not matter. If it did, Paninian Sanskrit would be an impossibility- nothing could have been written in it.

In truth, the task of the intellectual never had very much to do with language- even in linguistics and hermeneutics. Maths can capture some of what the intellectual is doing- and the reason intellectual activity is now divorced from language is coz technology makes it much easier to number crunch and thus evaluate positive theories rather than invest simply in attitudinizing and pi-jaw.
Granted people like Guha are still able to make a living by peddling that shit. But they aint intellectuals- just a careerist claque hired for by the Balzacian prostitutes strutting the Comic Opera stage of Public life.
Did India produce actual real life intellectuals? Guys who had original thoughts and who worked them up into a system and sought to validate them empirically so as to give policy prescription a more productive basis than paranoid polemics and careerist claptrap?
Yes, actually India did, does and will continue to do so. Caste and dialect and which fucking school you went to don't come into it. Sorry but there it is.
Does India have public intellectuals? Yes- crap ones. So does America. So does England. On the Continent, of course, things get a lot worse. They're all a bunch of evil, twisted, bastards.

What is striking in everything Guha writes is how much of it one already knows and how large a proportion of that is irrelevantly cited. The point about doing research is uncovering relevant stuff that aint common knowledge and using that new information to put forward a more thought provoking model. In Mimamsa, apoorvata is a condition for meaning. That's right, you've got to have something new to say to qualify as being capable of using language meaningfully. But that means you need an inquiring mind- to have alternative, competing, models thronging in your mental background so that you can evaluate and assimilate new stuff you turn up when researching a topic.
Language, here is the obstacle not the instrument which is why bright guys like A.K Ramanujan, B.K Matilal- is Purushottama Bilimoria intelligent? dunno, but let's include him as a courtesy- ended up having nothing worth saying in their own languages.

Since India teaches nothing if not the conviction that language is the soul's anus- there is no fundamental problem in which any district of India has not produced a 'son of the soil' with something valuable from which all can learn . Equally, no district of India is devoid of substantial resources and instruments of coersion to bury all original or meaningful thought under Guha-style meretricious tripe.


  1. A very poor piece. Such thoughts in which one just wants to slander others should better be kept to oneself, but then those whose thoughts are not publish-worthy use blogs as outlet. The writer of this piece is such a person - a deeply frustrated person, abusing everyone on earth. With Gandhi his frustration comes as no surprise - it is a frustration of all common men who cannot come to terms with the fact that this man - the most famous in the last century and one who had at his command the following which by its sheer numbers had eluded Alexander, Napoleon or anyone else in human history. Their frustration with Gandhi stems from the fact that they cant give up sex for a month, and they think merely because of this Gandhi became what he was. Also the guy simply doesn't understand what Guha meant by an 'intellectual' and the academic definition of 'intellectual' - it is a person who doesn't engage in a material production process but in engagement with ideas either his or of others - so originality is not a condition. Advice to the writer of this piece - Try giving up sex, who knows you'll become a Gandhi.

  2. A delightfully dotty comment from Anonymous- 'try giving up sex and who knows you'll become a Gandhi.'
    Unfortunately, to give up sex, at my age, I would have to re-marry. So long as a woman is only a girl-friend she insists that the machinery be kept in working order. After marriage, they all want us to become Gandhi.

    The other comment is foolish- viz 'the guy simply doesn't understand what Guha meant by an 'intellectual' and the academic definition of 'intellectual' - it is a person who doesn't engage in a material production process but in engagement with ideas either his or of others - so originality is not a condition.'
    Engagement with ideas means saying something new about them. Mere mechanical reproduction does not count. A lawyer, a teacher, a doctor, a bureaucrat, etc, may reproduce information and ideas but unless something new, in the critical sense, is added no intellectual activity is accomplished.

    Anonymous has not refuted the notion that Mimamsa holds apoorvata to be a condition for meaningfulness. Actually, he has not engaged with it at all. Why? Occam's razor supplies the answer- He is ignorant and stupid.

    The main point is that intellectual activity is no longer language based. Writing in 2 or more languages has no importance whatsoever. It is no longer the case that there is a hierarchy of languages. What is important is Mathematics and Model building.
    Guha failed to provide a model for recent Indian history. Instead he went in for pi jaw and moralizing and slack jawed journalese.
    That's why he's a man of letters not an intellectual.

  3. I am sorry to tell you this is a very poor piece of writing. You are simply denigrating a respected intellectual for no good reason.
    While it is true that mathematical and statistical techniques are more important for Social Sciences than literary skill- and perhaps the factual content and quantitative analysis is more important than which language is used, still fluency in the language of the ordinary person is of paramount importance.
    Take the example of noted novelist and I.P.S officer Vibhuti Narain Rai- both he has done academic research properly quantified and with analysis and also explained problem for ordinary people through award winning literary work in Hindi and Urdu.
    You are mentioning Mimamsa concept of 'apoorvata'- let me tell you for your kind information that till recently Hindus were believing that riots are only started by Muslims and Hindus are bearing brunt. This is not guess work but found out by proper research and methodology. Thus, V.N Rai is true bilingual intellectual who is telling new thing which is serving the National interest and is not what you are calling a type of prostitution. I think you may be unaware of what is being published and read nowadays.

  4. It appears that Vibhuti Narain Rai is a courageous and clean police officer whose literary, intellectual and Social-Consciousness raising activities have won praise from the highest in the land.
    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that people like him are helping to change social attitudes by bringing facts- verifiable statistical facts- to their attention. Furthermore, precisely because he writes in Hindi- his message had a direct impact, though at the same time it also exposed him more to political fire.
    This is a point which is well worth making.
    I'm sorry you think I write badly. Thank you for your valuable comment.