A SECULAR SUBJECT like history faces certain problems in handling practices in which gods, spirits, or the supernatural have agency in the world.Nonsense. Gods, spirits and the supernatural don't exist. That's why they pose no problem.
My central examples concern the history of work in South Asia. Labor, the activity of producing, is seldom a completely secular activity in India; it often entails, through rituals big and small, the invocation of divine or superhuman presence.Rubbish. Work may be preceded or followed by 'rituals big or small'. However Work does not entail such rituals.
Secular histories are usually produced by ignoring the signs of these presences. Such histories represent a meeting of two systems of thought, one in which the world is ultimately, that is, in the final analysis, disenchanted, and the other in which humans are not the only meaningful agents. For the purpose of writing history, the first system, the secular one, translates the second into itself.No. It rejects it completely. A political history of contemporary America would not 'translate into itself' things like Alien Abductions and the war between the Vampire and the Werewolves. Perhaps, Dipesh is thinking of David Icke.
It is this translation—its methods and problems—that interests me here as part of a broader effort to situate the question of subaltern history within a postcolonial critique of modernity and of history itself
So Dipesh is interested in the supernatural only because he is trying to show that his own specialty 'Subaltern Studies' has a special place within Post Colonial theory. But, both are worthless.
Dipesh believes that Einstein's theory has caused a 'linguistic turn' in Time itself. This is nonsense. Human beings can't exist in a zone where gravitation bends Time appreciably. Social Science is unaffected.
...the kind of correspondence that exists between our sensory worlds and the Newtonian imagination of the universe, between our experience of secular time and the time of physics, breaks down in many post-Einsteinian constructions.This only matters to physicists and cosmologists who are looking at things on a very small or very big scale. It is wholly irrelevant to human history.`
In the Newtonian universe, as in historical imagination, events are more or less separable from their descriptions: what is factual is seen as translatable from mathematics into prose or between different languages.Nonsense. Newtonian physics can be expressed in relational, not substantive, terms. There were philosophers, like Liebniz, Berkeley, Mach and so forth, whose work Einstein referenced. There will always be a problem of disentangling facts from values or concepts- the famous quid juris/ quid facti distinction.
Thus an elementary book on Newtonian physics can be written completely in the Bengali alphabet and numerals, using a minimum of mathematical signs. But not so with post-Einsteinian physics: language strains wildly when trying to convey in prose the mathematical imagination contained in an expression like “curved space” (for, thinking commonsensically, in what would such a space exist if not in space itself?).Sheer nonsense! Both Newtonian physics and Einsteinian physics contain paradoxes concerning 'action at a distance'.
In this second case, one might say that the assumption of translatability does not quite hold, that really the imagination of Einsteinian physics is best learned through the language of its mathematics—for we are speaking of a universe of events in which the events cannot be separated from their descriptions.Newton and Kant and so forth thought that Time could be separated from Space. They were wrong. But this does not affect History or Economics at all. I suppose, Mach did impact on Marxian 'Social Science'. But one can have a coherent Machian Marxist Economics.
Modern physics, one might say, took the linguistic turn early in this century.One might say that if one wanted to talk nonsense. Why not speak of 'Quantum Subaltern Studies' or 'Sociological Super-String Theory? '
Post-Einsteinian cosmology, as the physicist Paul Davis puts it, makes even mathematical sense only so long as we do not try to take “a God’s-eye-view” of the universe (that is, so long as one does not try to totalize or to view a “whole.”)Paul Davies is a popular author. By quoting him as authoritative Dipesh shows that he himself does not believe his own thesis. One can read a book about post-Einsteinian Physics written in simple English or Tamil or Bengali.
“I have grown used to dealing with the weird and wonderful world of relativity,” writes Davis. “The ideas of space-warps, distortions in time and space and multiple universes have become everyday tools in the strange trade of the theoretical physics.... I believe that the reality exposed by modern physics is fundamentally alien to the human mind, and defies all power of direct visualization.” Historians writing after the so-called linguistic turn may not any longer think that events are completely accessible by language, but the more sober among them would strive to avoid lunacy by resorting to weaker versions of this position.No Historian who thinks Einstein or Everett matters for writing History is not sober or sensible. Rather, he or she is subscribing to the Husserlian phenomenology described in Colin Wilson's 'the Space Vampires' whereby the world changes every time people come up with a better value of Pi.
As put in the recent book 'Telling the Truth about History', historians, writing in the aftermath of postmodernism, would work toward an ideal of “workable truths,” approximations of facts that can be agreed to by all even after it is granted that language and representations always form a (thin?) film between us and the world (in the same way as we can mostly ignore the insights of Einsteinian or quantum physics in negotiating our everyday movements in practical life). The higher ideal of translatability between different languages—thus Vietnamese history into Bengali—remains worth striving for even if language always foils the effort. This ideal—a modified Newtonianism—is, in their view, the historian’s protection against the sheer madness of postmodernist and cultural-relativist talk about “untranslatability,”“incommensurability,” and all that.So American historians recognize that Po Mo shite is worthless. What conclusion does Dipesh derive from this fact?
Unlike the world of the physicist Paul Davis, then, in the discipline of history the imagination of reality is dependent on the capacities of “the human mind,” its powers of visualization.WTF? Good Physicists need imagination, so do good Historians, so do good human beings doing good human things. Physics does not know if the Anthropic Principle represents a constraint on fundamental variables. History does not know if there are true non deterministic Cliodynamic formulae. The 'human mind' may or may not be a constraint on both subjects.
The use of the definite article— “the human mind”—is critical here, for this reality aspires to achieve a status of transparency with regard to particular human languages, an ideal of objectivity entertained by Newtonian science in which translation between different languages is mediated by the higher language of science itself.Quite false. A Relationist or an Occassionalist might subscribe to the Principle of Compositionality while a Substantivist might not. Dipesh is babbling ultracrepidarian crap.
Thus pani in Hindi and “water” in English can both be mediated by H2O.Only for a specific purpose- e.g. translating a Science text book.
Needless to say, it is only the higher language that is capable of appreciating, if not expressing, the capacities of “the human mind.”It is an open question as to whether the Antropic Principle applies. Thus we don't know if Physics is supervenient on Bio-Chemistry. We don't know of any language 'higher' than natural language. We do know no natural language is higher than another.
I would suggest that the idea of a godless, continuous, empty, and homogeneous time, which history shares with the other social sciences and modern political philosophy as a basic building block, belongs to this model of a higher, overarching language.Why? Mathematics acknowledges non-deterministic 'oracles'. It doesn't believe in a 'higher, overarching language'. On the contrary, it asserts the impossibility of a sufficiently rich language containing its meta-language.
It represents a structure of generality, an aspiration toward the scientific, that is built into conversations that take the modern historical consciousness for granted. A proposition of radical untranslatability therefore comes as a problem to the universal categories that sustain the historian’s enterprise.It is a nuisance, not a problem.
But it is also a false problem created by the very nature of the universal itself, which aims to function as a supervening general construction mediating between all the particulars on the ground.Nonsense. Supervenience does not mean mediation. A supervening theory may be more general and abstract but mediation is through whatever is cheapest. I hand over a coin and buy a bunch of bananas. The pound coin is a pretty insignificant part of the monetary base upon which Monetary theory is supervenient. But it suffices for the purpose of the transaction in question.
The secular code of historical and humanist time—that is, a time bereft gods and spirits—is one such universal. Claims about agency on behalf of the religious, the supernatural, the divine, and the ghostly have to be mediated in terms of this universal.If I show that a particular 'supernatural' agency is a social mimetic of a non-deterministic 'Oracle' then I have proved the utility of a particular Belief system. Marxism's appeal was in part based on being viewed as Oracular.
The social scientist-historian assumes that contexts explain particular gods: if we could all have the same context, then we would all have the same gods.Rubbish! Welsh Presbyterianism is flourishing in Meghalaya. This does not mean the Welsh and the Khasis share a social context. It is true that 'social-scientist historian' is taken to mean 'idiot' by a lot of people. Still, it is difficult to believe, in this day and age, that anyone thinks that all Christians have the same social context or that a Tibetan Buddhist, like Steven Segal, shares much in common with a yak herder in Bhutan.
But there is a problem. Although the sameness of our sciences can be guaranteed all the world over, the sameness of our gods and spirits could not be proved in the same objective manner (notwithstanding the protestations of the well-meaning that all religions speak of the same God).This isn't true. Objectively, I can judge a Ghanaian Vaishnav Acharya- like Swami Ghanananda- to be equal to one from my natal place. Why? His discourses are as erudite and filled with spiritual wisdom.
So it could be said that although the sciences signify some kind of sameness in our understanding of the world across cultures, the gods signify differences (bracketing for the moment the history of conversion, which I touch on very briefly in a later section).This can't be said by a Hindu who meets an African or European or Japanese Swami. Nor can it be said for a Christian who recognizes that there could be a Black Pope or a Chinese Pope or an Indian Pope.
Writing about the presence of gods and spirits in the secular language of history or sociology would therefore be like translating into a universal language that which belongs to a field of differences.So would writing about the existence of the subaltern or the proletariat or the bourgeoisie or the power elite or the nomenklatura or the Elders of Zion or the Lizard People from Planet X.
Dipesh says he is going to talk about Indian labor in this chapter. Does he actually know anything about the subject?
in a society such as the Indian, human activity (including what one would, sociologically speaking, regard as labor) is often associated with the presence and agency of gods or spirits in the very process of labor. Hathiyar puja or the “worship of tools,” for example, is a common and familiar festival in many north Indian factories.WTF? Hathiyar means weapon, not tool. It is only performed by Rajputs. Visvakarma divas is what is celebrated in factories. It does not matter in the slightest- whatever Amaresh Mishra might think.
Why? Hinduism is the dominant religion in India. A Pundit can always find a way to comply with Religious/ Astrological regulations and scruples without disrupting the production process.
Kipling's story 'the Bridge Builders' does feature a hallucinatory episode where the Gods of India have to be placated before the Bridge can be built. However, there is no Hindu Pundit present. Peroo, the lascar, is from the Chittagong hills.
How do we—and I mean narrators of the pasts of the subaltern classes in India—handle this problem of the presence of the divine or the supernatural in the history of labor as we render this enchanted world into our disenchanted prose—a rendering required, let us say, in the interest of social justice?For a Hindu, there is no great scandal in saying that a 'samskar' has no magical result, but, rather, a purely moral and spiritual effect.
Hinduism, as interpreted by contemporary Gurus and Acharyas is concerned with Social Justice. Why? The Religion will atrophy and die without it.
And how do we, in doing this, retain the subaltern (in whose activity gods or spirits present themselves) as the subjects of their histories? I shall go over this question by examining the work of three Subaltern Studies historians who have produced fragments of histories of work in the context of “capitalist transition” in India: Gyan Prakash, Gyan Pandey, and myself. I hope that my discussion will have something to say about the historian’s enterprise in general.Unfortunately, none of these three knows anything about Indian Labor. They haven't actually done any genuine historical research. They just scribbled high falutin' nonsense.
Dipesh thinks Vishavakarma Divas became a public holiday because of 'it has obviously been subjected to a process of bargaining between employers, workers, and the state'. This is nonsense. It is a holiday only in Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab- where organized labor is weak- and only because of the votes commanded by the Visvakarma community. I think Karnataka may make the day a public holiday for the same reason.
Dipesh mentions Pandey's work on Julahas- but Julahas can speak for themselves and tell a different story. They are pure Muslims. They don't have any Quran except the Quran. Ignorant outsiders have written stupid lies about them.
Some weavers were Hindus, some were Sikhs and so on. This did not affect the quality of their weaving. Religious differences could express themselves within a locality as different positions in the value chain. But, again, that might not happen. Now, everybody wants the same thing- viz. a good education in a STEM subject for the brightest of their kids. The idiots are welcome to study History at JNU.
Why is Dipesh such a dipshit? It is because he learned from worthless shitheads-
.. I have learned from Vincente Raphael’s and Gayatri Spivak’s discussions of the politics of translation. We know that given the plurality of gods, the translation from godly time into the time of secular labor could proceed along a variety of paths.Nonsense. Hinduism has lots of gods but muhuraths occur in chronological, not 'many fingered' time.
But whatever the nature of the path, this translation, to borrow from Spivak’s and Rafael’s handling of the question, must possess something of the “uncanny” about it.Why? When translating 'Dracula' or H.P Lovecraft into Hindi or German, fidelity, not 'uncanniness' is required.
An ambiguity must mark the translation of the tool-worshiping jute worker’s labor into the universal category “labor”: it must be enough like the secular category “labor” to make sense, yet the presence and plurality of gods and spirits in it must also make it “enough unlike to shock.”Rubbish! Everybody knows foreigners are weird. It's like how if you are a burger flipper in McDonald's Delhi, you have to keep a live cobra coiled tightly around your scalp to meet Health and Hygiene conditions.
There remains something of a “scandal”—of the shocking—in every translation, and it is only through a relationship of intimacy to both languages that we are aware of the degree of this scandal.This is sheer idiocy. Simultaneous interpreters at the U.N are not in a constant state of shock. Rather, they are bored out of their skull.
Dipesh is trying to sex up his boring shite by pretending it features Gods and Vampires and Werewolves and so forth. Nice try, Dipesh, but no cigar.
Dipesh does ask a relevant question-
Why did the Indian working class fail to sustain a long-term sense of class consciousness?We know the answer. Organized labor secured a quasi-rent while new entrants were consigned to 'temporary' status.
Dipesh can't accept this answer. Instead he thinks that some Gods or Vampires or Werewolves caused the problem.
The real labor of my mill workers, then—let us say their relationship to their own labor on the day of Vishvakarma puja—is obviously a part of the world in which both they and the god Vishvakarma exist in some sense (it would be silly to reduce this coexistence to a question of conscious belief or of psychology). History cannot represent, except through a process of translation and consequent loss of status and signification for the translated, the heterotemporality of that world.Hindu History can represent that which Dipesh thinks impossible. There is no heterotemporality here at all. Grace operates in linear time. Rituals are defasible because Grace has wriggle room- karma is like an arrow which has already been shot from the bow but which a superior arrow, flying faster, can divert from the target.
History as a code comes into play as this real labor is transformed into the homogeneous, disciplined world of abstract labor, of the generalized world of exchange in which every exchange will be mediated by the sign “commodity.”History is not a code. It is a record. There is no world where 'every exchange will be mediated by the sign 'commodity' because of problems with transaction costs, information asymmetry, non-convexities, local monopoly, repugnancy, uncertainty and so forth.
Yet, as the story of the Vishvakarma puja in the Calcutta mills shows, “real” labor inheres in the commodity and its secularized biography; its presence, never direct, leaves its effect in the breach that the stories of godly or ghostly intervention make in history’s system of representation.Many Calcutta mills were owned by Europeans which is why the State cracked down harder on Labor. The reason mill supervisors allowed Hindu rituals was because recruitment of 'simple' workers from other regions was caste based and thus the ritual had an economic function.
As I have already said, the breach cannot be mended by anthropological cobbling, for that only shifts the methodological problems of secular narratives on to another, cognate territory. In developing Marxist histories after the demise of Communist party Marxisms, our task is to write and think in terms of this breach as we write history (for we cannot avoid writing history). If history is to become a site where pluralities will contend, we need to develop ethics and politics of writing that will show history, this gift of modernity to many peoples, to be constitutionally marked by this breach. Or, to put it differently, the practice of subaltern history would aim to take history, the code, to its limits in order to make its unworking visible.History is already a site where 'pluralities contend'. But Dipesh isn't contending with the vast majority of historians who think 'Subaltern Studies' historiography is worthless shite. Instead he thinks 'the practice of subaltern history' can do something both impossible and undesirable- viz. make the unworking of something which does not exist visible.