Almost twenty years ago, the cretin Amit Chaudhri wrote as follows about the bigger cretin Dipshit Chakrafuckoff's 'Provinicialising Europe'
I went to a Protestant school in Bombay, but the creation myth we were taught in the classroom didn’t have to do with Adam and Eve. I remember a poster on the wall when I was in the Fifth Standard, a pictorial narrative of evolution. On the extreme left, crouching low, its arms hanging near its feet, was an ape; it looked intent, like an athlete waiting for the gun to go off.
No it didn't. It looked like an ape. Apes don't go in for competitive sports.
The next figure rose slightly, and the one after it was more upright: it was like a slow-motion sequence of a runner in the first few seconds of a race.
Only our tree dwelling ancestors had curved spines Our hominid ancestors in the Savannah had straight backs. Amit is misremembering the poster. It would have looked like this-
The pistol had been fired; the race had begun. Millisecond after millisecond, that runner – now ape, now Neanderthal
who had straight backs but were more robust than our gracile ancestors
– rose a little higher, and its back straightened. By the time it had reached the apogee of its height and straight-backedness,
All hominids roaming the savannah were straight backed.
and taken a stride forward, its appearance had improved noticeably; it had become a Homo sapiens, and also, coincidentally, European. The race had been won before it had properly started.
Clearly that 'Protestant School' did something very wicked to this Bengali boy. It should have showed Hanuman accomplishing great things. Then it should have depicted Tagore sitting on the floor but getting a Nobel prize for writing stuff which maybe meant something. Finally it should have ended with Dipesh spinelessly crawling down the sewer of some Academo-bureaucratic availability cascade of nonsensical shite. Incidentally, there are plenty of Chaudhris and Chakrobortys who look White, talk White, and sneer at White proles. Anthony Burgess, who was only an NCO during the War records his seething resentment of one such 'Aryan' officer who, like Amit and Dipesh, spoke the ultimate 'Aryan' language. Why is Amit pretending that he is a Dravidian or Sub-Saharan African darkie like wot I iz?
This poster captured and compressed the gradations of Darwin’s parable of evolution,
It was a theory, not a parable.
both arresting time
Nope. It represented a temporal sequence.
and focusing on the key moments of a concatenation,
What 'key moments'? It simply showed a sequence featuring different stages of evolution
in a similar way to what Walter Benjamin thought photographs did in changing our perception of human movement:
But the poster wasn't a series of photographs. It did not capture reality. It illustrated a theory.
'Whereas it is a commonplace that, for example, we have some idea what is involved in the act of walking (if only in general terms), we have no idea at all what happens during the fraction of a second when a person actually takes a step.
Photos were able to help a guy win a bet that a galloping horse has all its hooves off the ground at some point. I imagine that sports coaches use photographs to study how star athletes run so as to figure out how to improve technique.
Photography, with its devices of slow motion and enlargement, reveals the secret. It is through photography that we first discover the existence of this optical unconscious
No we don't. I suppose Benjamin thought that telescopes reveal our unconscious perception of distant Nebulae. The fact is the naked eye has physiological limitations.
just as we discover the instinctual subconscious through psychoanalysis.'
Nope. We discover through psychoanalysis that psychoanalysts are charlatans.
The poster in my classroom, too, revealed a movement impossible for the naked eye to perceive: from lower primate to higher, from Neanderthal to human, and – this last transition was so compressed as to be absent altogether – from the human to the European.
Clearly Bengalis are some sort of monkey- at least in their own opinion when they compare themselves to Europeans. Amit doesn't get that he went to an English medium school which was set up for European Christians. The teaching materials it used were imported from the UK or other White English speaking countries.
These still figures gave us an ‘optical unconscious’ of a political context, the context of progress and European science and humanism.
No it doesn't. Schools which use materials from English speaking countries are going to show White, not Indian, people because the vast majority of English speaking countries are populated by White people. The political context is that White peeps be White. Boo hoo!
Here, too, Benjamin has something to say. In a late essay, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, he stated: ‘The concept of the historical progress of mankind cannot be sundered from the concept of its progression through a homogeneous, empty time.’
Meaningless shite. The concept of a trajectory can't be sundered from the concept of Time- unless you are smart and know about configuration spaces and so forth.
‘Homogeneous’ and ‘empty’ are curious adjectives for ‘time’: they are more readily associated with space and spatial configuration.
Benjamin wasn't a physicist. He was merely invoking Newton's description of Time.
Certain landscapes glimpsed from a motorway, or the look of a motorway itself, might be described as dull and ‘homogeneous’;
Dull, yes. Homogeneous no.
streets and rooms might be ‘empty’.
only relatively speaking.
My mentioning motorways isn’t fortuitous.
It is foolish.
When Benjamin was formulating his thoughts on progress and history, and writing this essay in 1940, the year he killed himself, Hitler, besides carrying out his elaborate plans for the Jews in Germany, was implementing another huge and devastating project: the Autobahn.
That predated Hitler. The first such highway was inaugurated by Cologne's Mayor Adenaeur. The War halted autobahn construction. It restarted in the post-war period. Why does Amit think it was devastating?
The project, intended both to connect one part of Germany to another and to colonise the landscape,
It had already been colonised. Germans lived all over the place.
was begun in the early 1930s; it’s clear that Hitler’s vision of the Autobahn is based on an idea of progress –
Bengalis are against progress. They want to go hang from tree branches by their tails while eating bananas.
‘progress’ not only in the sense of movement between one place and another, but in the sense of science and civilisation.
Amit is against Hitler not because he was a shitty psycho but because he built highways and believed in science and civilization.
In India, in other parts of the so-called ‘developing’ world,
Amit is against 'developing'.
even in present-day New York, London or Paris, it’s impossible properly to experience ‘homogeneous, empty time’ because of the random, often maddeningly diverse allocation of space, human habitation and community.
Whereas Calcutta aint maddening at all.
It is, however, possible to experience it on Western motorways and highways.
Or on a train or a plane.
Hitler was a literalist of this philosophy of space and movement:
So that was his major fuck up- in the opinion of a cretin.
he wanted space to be ‘homogeneous’, or blond and European.
He wasn't blonde. Also he let Indians into the Waffen SS while killing lots of blonde peeps.
Benjamin knew this first-hand; he was writing his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ as a Jewish witness to Nazism and one of its potential victims.
Smart Jews did not stick around to be a witness to evil shit.
Hitler’s anxiety and consternation at Jesse Owens’s victory in the 100 metres at the Munich Olympics in 1936
He wanted a German to win.
came from his
Racist belief not the sort of
literalism of space,
which people who don't want to bump into things tend to have
his investment in progress and linearity.
But FDR and Churchill were more invested in both. That's why they kicked Hitler's ass.
That idea of space was at once reified and shattered when Owens reached the finishing line before the others.
For Amit. He would totally lose his shit if he watched a pole vault competition.
Benjamin had been thinking of history in terms of space for a while;
Why not Chemistry in terms of masturbation? That was my approach.
and, not too long before he wrote about ‘homogeneous, empty time’, he’d posited an alternative version of modernity and space in his descriptions of the flâneur, the Parisian arcades and 19th-century street life.
Benjamin was welcome to move to Calcutta which had that sort of street life and plenty of pseudo-intellectuals. It too smelled bad.
The Parisian street constitutes Benjamin’s critique of the Autobahn:
It failed. On the other hand it would be fun to see Amit wandering up and down the M1 being a flaneur till he gets flattened by a lorry.
just as the crowd, according to Benjamin, is ‘present everywhere’ in Baudelaire’s work,
Baudelaire translated Poe whose 'man in the crowd' only exists with others. Bawdy says the poet can enter into everybody around him in a crowd. Benjamin saw Poe's story as the prototype of the empiricism of the detective story. Bawdy's take is more spiritual.
and present so intrinsically that it’s never directly described, the Autobahn is implicitly present, and refuted, in Benjamin’s meditations on Paris. The flâneur, indeed, retards and parodies the idea of ‘progress’.
But those guys were making progress in the Arts. Bawdy was an innovator.
‘Around 1840 it was briefly fashionable to take turtles for a walk in the arcades,’ Benjamin writes in a footnote to his 1939 essay on Baudelaire. ‘The flâneurs liked to have the turtles set the pace for them. If they had had their way, progress would have been obliged to accommodate itself to this space. But this attitude did not prevail; Taylor, who popularised the watchword “Down with dawdling!”, carried the day.’ The flâneur views history subversively; he – and it is usually he – deliberately relocates its meanings, its hierarchies. As far back as 1929, Benjamin had explained why the flâneur had to be situated in Paris:
in the 1840s- sure. Fads are only cool in the moment. Anyway, under the Second Empire, Paris got boulevards.
The flâneur is the creation of Paris. The wonder is that it was not Rome. But perhaps in Rome even dreaming is forced to move along streets that are too well-paved. And isn’t the city too full of temples, enclosed squares and national shrines to be able to enter undivided into the dreams of the passer-by, along with every shop sign, every flight of steps and every gateway? The great reminiscences, the historical frissons – these are all so much junk to the flâneur, who is happy to leave them to the tourist. And he would be happy to trade ” all his knowledge of artists’ quarters, birthplaces and princely palaces for the scent of a single weathered threshold or the touch of a single tile – that which any old dog carries away.
What could be more Italian than the passageiata?
There’s an implicit critique of the imperial city,
Paris had Emperors and lots of Colonies. Rome hadn't had any such thing for almost 1500 years.
and the imperialist aesthetic, in this description of Rome, with its ‘great reminiscences’ and ‘historical frissons’, and in the contrast of ‘national shrines’ and ‘temples’ with the ‘touch of a single tile’. Benjamin is not alone in using these metaphors; both Ruskin and Lawrence (who probably took it from Ruskin) use Rome as a metaphor for the imperial, the finished, the perfected, as against the multifariousness of, say, the Gothic, the ‘barbaric’, the non-Western.
The Goths were Western. The English may have pretended that Paris wasn't the center of culture, but Rome was pretty shabby back then.
Benjamin doesn’t quite romanticise the primitive as Lawrence at least appears to: instead, he comes up with a particularly modern form of aleatoriness and decay in the ‘weathered threshold’ of a Parisian street.
Decay isn't aleatory. It is deterministic.
Of course, the flâneur was not to be found in Paris alone. There was much wayward loitering in at least two colonial cities, Dublin and Calcutta. This – especially the emergence of the flâneur, or flâneur-like activities, in modern, turn of the century Calcutta – would have probably been difficult for Benjamin to imagine. Benjamin’s figure for the flâneur was Baudelaire, and for Baudelaire – and, by extension, for the flâneur – the East was, as it was for Henri Rousseau, part dreamscape, part botanical garden, part menagerie, part paradise.
Though lots of it was ruled by boring White bureaucrats.
Could the flâneur exist in that dreamscape? Dipesh Chakrabarty, the author of Provincialising Europe, whose meditations on the limits of Western notions of modernity and history are impelled by Benjamin but who also has the word ‘postcolonial’ in his subtitle, was born in Calcutta.
But he got the fuck away from there quickly enough.
His inquiry is partly directed by the contingencies of
teaching retarded shite to retards though there might be a couple of CIA agent wannabes among his students.
being a South Asian historian in America, and also by being a founder member of the subaltern studies project, which attempted to write a South Asian or, specifically, Indian history ‘from below’, by bringing the ‘subaltern’ (Gramsci’s word for the peasant or the economically dispossessed) into the territory largely occupied by nationalist history.
This was more safely done from places like New York or Vienna because there are too many actual subalterns in India. Some of them became Chief Ministers.
But the inquiry is also shaped by the Calcutta Chakrabarty was born in, much as Benjamin’s work is shaped by the Paris he reimagined and, to a certain extent, invented. From the early 19th century, the growing Bengali intelligentsia in Calcutta was increasingly exercised by what ‘modernity’ might mean and what the experience of modernity might represent, specifically, to a subject nation, and, universally, to a human being.
Paris started to get electric lighting in 1878. Calcutta did so about a year later. In 1886 Tagore was singing his songs by electric light at the second INC conference.
Chakrabarty’s book is not only an unusually sustained and nuanced argument against European ideas of modernity,
Which is why he settled in America.
but also an elegy for, and subtle critique of, his own intellectual formation and inherit-ance as a Bengali.
But he doesn't write in Bengali. Whatever his inheritance, he wants no part of it.
The kind of Bengali who was synonymous with modernity and who believed that modernity might be a universal condition – irrespective of whether you’re English, Indian, Arab or African – has now passed into extinction.
No. There are plenty of Bengali scientists and hedge fund managers and so on. Purnendu Chatterjee is about the same age as Dipesh. He became a billionaire after working for Mckinseys. He has big investments in India in petrochemicals and other such sciencey stuff.
Chakrabarty’s book is in part a discreet inquiry into why that potent Bengali dream didn’t quite work – why ‘modernity’ remains so resolutely European.
Or Chinese or Japanese or Korean or Malaysian or Emirati. But this modernity is American- not European.
Chakrabarty’s writing is not without irony or humour;
or stupidity or ignorance
the cheeky oxymoron of the title is one example.
Europe became provincial, if not a protectorate, in 1945.
At least a quarter of Chakrabarty’s work was done, and his challenge given an idiom, when he reinvented this terrific phrase, which was probably first used with slightly more literal intent by Gadamer.
He said ' Europe... since 1914 has become provincialized,...
only the natural sciences are able to call forth a
quick international echo'.
According to Ranajit Guha, who is or used to be to subalternist historians roughly what Jesus was to the apostles, the ‘idea of provincialising Europe’ had ‘been around for some time, but mostly as an insight waiting for elaboration’ before Chakrabarty articulated and substantiated it so thoroughly.
Europe bankrupted itself during the First World war. It became dependent on American capital. Poverty made it provincial. After the Second War, American soldiers were stationed on its soil. Their music and their cinema and their diet became the foundation for youth culture. Academics looked for ways to emigrate to the US. They repackaged their stupid shite for the American market. Sometimes they needed to pretend to be Leftists in order to make their hegira. It was hilarious to see little brown monkeys praising a Socialism they had done everything possible to escape. Also 'post colonial theory' explained why those shitholes had become colonies in the first place. Brown peeps be as stupid as shit.
The ‘idea’ itself is set out and argued for in the introductory chapter. Chakrabarty begins with a disclaimer: ‘Provincialising Europe is not a book about the region of the world we call “Europe”. That Europe, one could say, has already been provincialised by history itself.’ The essay has two epigraphs: the first, from Gadamer, seems to speak of Europe as a ‘region of the world’; the second, more tellingly, from Naoki Sakai, describes the ‘West’ as ‘a name for a subject which gathers itself in discourse but is also an object constituted discursively’.
Did History make Dipshit stupid or was his stupidity self-constituted by his own alterity as the ipseity of the discursive practices of stupidity?
What Chakrabarty wants to do with ‘Europe’, then, is in some ways similar to what Edward Said did with the ‘Orient’: to fashion a subversive genealogy.
Europe's mummy was a big fat ho who put out to Neanderthals.
But instead of Said’s relentless polemic, Chakrabarty’s book features critique and self-criticism in equal measure. For me, Chakrabarty has the edge here,
coz he's a fellow Bengali
because for Said the Orient is a Western construct, an instrument of domination: he doesn’t – and never went on to – explore the profound ways in which modern Orientals (Tagore, say) both were and were not Orientalists.
Tagore ponced around in a kaftan because he was the hereditary leader of some silly sect. He was an Oriental in the profound sense that he scolded the West for a payment of $700 per scold.
Chakrabarty’s work suggests, I think, that the word ‘Eurocentric’ is more problematic than we thought; that, if Europe is a universal paradigm for modernity, we are all, European and non-European, to a degree inescapably Eurocentric.
If we write in a European language or live in a White country- sure.
Europe is at once a means of intellectual dominance, an obfuscatory trope and a constituent of self-knowledge, in different ways for different peoples and histories.
Sadly, you have to be smart or do smart things to get to 'intellectually dominate' anything.
Said’s great study takes its cue from the many-sided and endlessly absorbing Foucault,
i.e. it was ignorant, paranoid, shite.
in its inexhaustible conviction and its curiosity about how a body of knowledge – in this case, Orientalism – can involve the exercise of power.
Though it was obvious that the profitable exercise of power is what paid a few pedants to prose on in a bigoted fashion.
Much postcolonial theory, in turn, has taken its cue from Said and this strain of Foucault.
Which is why it is shit. Economics matters. Geopolitical strategy matters. Pedants don't matter. Why get exercised about mean things Kant or Hegel said about darkies? Nobody reads either of those cunts unless they want to be stupid and boring or are paid a little money to bore the shite out of students too stupid to do STEM subjects.
Chakrabarty’s book comes along at a time when this line of inquiry, which has had its own considerable rewards and pitfalls, seems one-dimensional and exhausted. In spite of the ‘postcolonial’ in the subtitle, it owes little to the fecund but somewhat simplified Foucauldian paradigm.
So, paranoia is played out. Let's try dementia instead.
Instead, its inspiration seems post-structuralist and Derridean, and it rehearses a key moment in Derrida: the idea that it is necessary to dismantle or take on the language of ‘Western metaphysics’ (which for Derrida is almost everything that precedes post-structuralism and, in effect, himself), but that there is no alternative language available with which to dismantle it – so that the language must be turned on itself. For Derrida’s ‘Western metaphysics’ Chakrabarty substitutes ‘European thought’ and ‘social science thought’:
European thought is both indispensable and inadequate in helping us to think through the various life practices that constitute the political and the historical in India.
It is wholly misleading. Prashant Kishore doesn't bother with that shite. He gets paid a lot of money and is called the 'King maker' of India. Mamta isn't calling Dipshit for help when election time comes around. He knows shit about Indian 'life practices'.
Exploring – on both theoretical and factual registers – this simultaneous indispensability and inadequacy of social science thought is the task this book has set itself.
But social science thought is statistical and game theoretic. Dipshit doesn't know maths. Purnendu Chatterjee knew math which is why he became a billionaire. Prashant Kishore has an engineering degree and then worked in data analysis. Had Congress put him in charge it could have a chance in 2024.
This is not very far from Derrida, who writes at an important juncture in Writing and Difference of
conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools that can still be used.
Nothing wrong with instrumentalism.
No longer is any truth value attributed to them:
Cash value is. Pragmatism, which is an American philosophy, has triumphed. Phenomenology pooped itself. Only retards study that shite because all dissertations under that rubric are equally meaningless.
there is a readiness to abandon them, if necessary, should other instruments appear more useful. In the meantime, their relative efficacy is exploited, and they are employed to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are pieces.
This silly cunt didn't get that instruments- tools- aren't parts of a machine. You use a spanner to tinker with a machine. It isn't part of that machine.
This is how the language of the social sciences criticises itself.
No. The language of social science is statistics. If you show that a theory involves a correlation which the data contradicts, then the theory is wrong.
Derrida is reflecting here on Lévi-Strauss, who when confronted with South American myths finds the tools of his trade obsolete but still indispensable.
But everybody now thinks Anthropologists are monkeys with PhDs.
The idea of Chakrabarty registering a similarly self-reflexive moment about thirty years later, in relation to Europe, modernity and ‘life practices in India’, is poignant and ironic: he belongs to the other side of the racial and historical divide; to a part of the world that should have been, at least in Lévi-Strauss’s time, and by ordinary European estimation, the object rather than the instigator of the social scientist’s discipline.
There were successful Indian anthropologists in Levi-Strauss's time. Then the Indians discovered they had shit for brains.
It would have been next to impossible for Lévi-Strauss to foretell that something resembling his anxiety about the social sciences would one day be rehearsed in the work of a man with a name like Dipesh Chakrabarty.
Why? The dude read 'Man in India' an anthropological journal started by Sarat Chandra Roy. What Amit is getting at might be the sort of disgust expressed by Connor Cruise O'Brien for post-modern Indian historiography. He thought Indians should first get modern- i.e accumulate data sets- before following French fads.
And this, of course, is the crux of Chakrabarty’s book. ‘Historicism – and even the modern, European idea of history – one might say, came to non-European peoples in the 19th century as somebody’s way of saying “not yet” to somebody else.’
But, as Ranajit Guha points out, Ramram Basu had written the first Bengali history book in 1802. True, it was shit but it did express Kayastha hatred of Brahmins so it was definitely a part of Indian historiography which consists of praising your caste or sect and shitting on its rival.
The fact is, if someone can say 'not yet' to you and you accept that verdict, they you really aren't ready.
To illustrate what he means, he turns to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and On Representative Government – ‘both of which,’ Chakrabarty says, ‘proclaimed self-rule as the highest form of government and yet argued against giving Indians or Africans self-rule.’
He was also against feeding the starving Irish Catholic whom he considered lazy and mendacious.
According to Mill, Indians or Africans were not yet civilised enough to rule themselves.
Like the Irish.
Some historical time of development and civilisation (colonial rule and education, to be precise) had to elapse before they could be considered prepared for such a task. Mill’s historicist argument thus consigned Indians, Africans and other ‘rude’ nations to an imaginary waiting-room of history.
Including the Irish. Catholics are lazy creatures.
The ‘imaginary waiting-room of history’ is another of Chakrabarty’s compressed, telling images. I don’t know if he picked it up from the German playwright Heiner Müller, who uses it of the ‘Third World’ in a 1989 interview; but he employs it to great effect.
Dipshit is part of a Ponzi scheme in which kids are told they aren't ready to think for themselves or get jobs. The University is a real 'waiting room' which is fine if you are doing STEM subjects but a calamity if you are studying stupid shit.
The phrase has purgatorial resonances: you feel that those who are in the waiting-room are going to be there for some time.
Because they aren't good enough for Heaven nor bad enough for Hell. If you study shite at Uni it is because you aren't yet bad enough for a life on the dole. However you probably are good enough to rise through thrift and enterprise and hard work.
For modernity has already had its authentic incarnation in Europe: how then can it happen again, elsewhere?
Mimetics. Japan rose. Then Korea. Then China. They didn't bother with any 'waiting room'. Calcutta, in the other hand, fell steeply.
The non-West – the waiting-room – is therefore doomed either never to be quite modern, to be, in Naipaul’s phrase, ‘half-made’; or to possess only a semblance of modernity.
Unless per capita income and technological innovation overtakes that of all others.
This is a view of history and modernity that has, according to Chakrabarty, at once liberated, defined and shackled us in its discriminatory universalism; it is a view powerfully theological in its determinism, except that the angels, the blessed and the excluded are real people, real communities.
Dipshit is crying his little eyes out because Bengal is a shithole. That's racial discrimination innit?! Whitey should work harder to become poor and weak and stupid. If you take my course, you too can become as stupid and useless as me.
Chakrabarty’s thesis might seem obvious once stated; but the ‘insight waiting for elaboration’, to use Ranajit Guha’s words, must find the best and, in the positive sense of the word, most opportunistic expositor.
Both Guha and Dipshit write gobbledygook. They are good expositors only of obvious nonsense.
In Chakrabarty, I think it has. (The urge to provincialise Europe has, of course, a very long unofficial history. It’s embodied in jokes and throwaway remarks such as the one Gandhi made when asked what he thought of Western civilisation: ‘I think it would be a good idea.’
This was a joke which frequently appeared in American humor magazine in the 1920s.
Shashi Tharoor is having a dig at historicism when he says, in The Great Indian Novel, ‘India is not an underdeveloped country. It is a highly developed country in an advanced state of decay.’)
India received advise from the best economists in the world. If development econ weren't worthless shite, it would indeed be 'developed'. But most of what the Planning Commission initiated was already obsolete and bound to decay. If a thing is not fit for purpose the resources for its maintenance won't be available.
Chakrabarty has given us a vocabulary with which to speak of matters somewhat outside the realm of the social sciences, and to move discussions on literature, cultural politics and canon formation away from the exclusively Saidian concerns of power-brokering, without entirely ignoring these concerns.
What fucking vocabulary has he provided? He recycles cliches in a stupid manner because what he is going for is 'intellectual affirmative action'.
In the light of Chakrabarty’s study, Naipaul’s work begins to fall into place. Here is a writer who seems to have subscribed quite deeply to the sort of historicism that Chakrabarty describes.
Naipaul wasn't exactly subtle. His work falls into place quickly enough. But he was bigoted towards Africans and Afro-Caribbeans and even African Americans. I suppose this had to do with the sense of inferiority felt by rural Hindus towards urban Presbyterians and Afro-Caribbean people.
From the middle period onwards, in books such as The Mimic Men, A Bend in the River and In a Free State, Naipaul gives us a vision – unforgettable, eloquent – of the Caribbean and especially Africa as history’s waiting-room.
No. He gives us a racist picture of Africans as crazy killers. Mimic Men is milder- after all an Indian is the protagonist.
Modernity here is ramshackle, self-dismantling: it exists somewhere between the corrugated iron roof and the distant military coup, the newly deposed general.
No it doesn't. Modern countries lack any such things.
The ‘not yet’ with which Forster’s narrator indefinitely deferred, in A Passage to India, the possibility of a lasting friendship between Fielding and Aziz are also the words that describe Naipaul’s modern Africa.
No. Africa will revert to cannibalism. The sad thing is that soon after Naipaul's stint in Kampala, some African dictators were in fact accused of cannibalism.
The opening sentence of A Bend in the River (which so exasperated Chinua Achebe) – ‘The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it’ – owes its tone less to religious pronouncements than to
Samuel Smiles on speed.
a belief in what Benjamin called ‘the march of progress’ in the ‘homogeneous, empty time of history’.
No. You can be a nothing and still march along with everybody else. Naipaul was saying you have to be something, be someone- you have to assert yourself.
Naipaul’s theology stems not so much from Hinduism, or the brahminical background he’s renowned for, as from Mill.
His daddy read Samuel Smiles. As an atheist, the man had no theology.
It was Mill, as Chakrabarty points out, who consigned certain nations to a purgatory, in which, in different concentric circles, they’ve been waiting or ‘developing’ ever since.
Mill had no such power. Like his Daddy he was a pen-pusher for the East India Company.
In fiction, the greatest explorers of this Millian terrain have been Naipaul and Naipaul’s master, Conrad.
Nonsense! Millian terrain in English Liberalism, rights for women etc. Shaw buried Mill to take his place.
Chakrabarty’s study also helps to clarify the ways in which we discuss and think of the ‘high’ cultures of the so-called developing countries: not only the ancient traditions, but the modern and Modernist ones as well.
We'd actually have to study Sanskrit to discuss and think of India's high culture or 'margi' tradition.
This is an area of self-consciousness, and a field of inquiry, that is potentially vast, important and problematic; it also happens to be one that ‘cultural studies’ has largely missed out on, being more concerned with popular culture and narratives of resistance to empire.
Narratives of resistance to empire make a lot of money at the box-office. Po-Co shite is for losers.
Yet for almost two hundred years, in countries like India, there has been a self-consciousness (and it still exists today) which asks to be judged and understood by ‘universal’ standards.
As opposed to what? Standards set by your Mummy?
It isn’t possible to begin to discuss that self-consciousness, or sense of identity, without discussing in what way that universalism both formed and circumscribed it.
If you form a thing you also set limits to its size and spatial location. Sadly, universalism can't form anything. Only particularity can do so.
In some regards, then, cultural studies is hostage to
the kind of historicism that Chakrabarty talks about: it can’t deal with the emergence of high Modernism in postcolonial countries except with a degree of suspicion and embarrassment,
unless the thing sells big time. Modern Yoga may be a hybrid or hotchpotch, but it is big business. Namaste!
partly because of the elite contexts of that Modernism, but partly, surely, for covertly historicist reasons, such as a belief that no Modernism outside Europe can be absolutely genuine.
Or much cop because the thing is an imitation of an imitation by a guy who is probably half starved. Thus the Indian versions of Superman, back in the Eighties, were pretty shitty.
Take the Bengal, or Indian, Renaissance: the emergence of humanism and modernity in 19th-century Calcutta. The term ‘renaissance’ was probably first applied to this development by the eminent Brahmo Shibnath Shastri; it was later employed by historians such as Susobhan Sarkar.
Bengali was being Sanskritized. The Brits supported Sanskrit scholarship. On the other hand the native Navya Nyaya school declined and disappeared. By 1857, the Occidentalists prevailed and so Calcutta University neglected Indology. However Punjab University went the other way a couple of decades later.
Marxist and, later, subalternist historians have with some justification raised their eyebrows at the term. They have tried to dismiss it as intellectually meaningless, mainly because they see it as an elite construct, an upper-middle-class invention that raises too many questions, and which, while identifying too closely with British ideas of ‘progress’, was also an instrument of vague but voluble nationalist blarney. All this is true.
No. It is a fact that the bildungsburgertum turned away from Persian towards secular or humanistic Sanskrit literature. That was a Renaissance in the European sense. But, ultimately, it was English which won out. Bengalis was a dialect of vacuous bombast. English was the language of achievement.
But it ignores the fact that a construct can be a crucial constituent of an intellectual tradition.
Because that tradition is a construct.
The European Renaissance is a case in point: we now know that it is largely a 19th-century invention,
No we don't. The term rinascita ('rebirth') first appeared in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists circa 1550.
but that doesn’t reduce the role it has played in the drama of European intellectual and cultural history – it only problematises it.
How? It is a fact that the Black Death meant that productivity had to increase. It is also a fact that Muslim expansion brought Greek intellectuals into Italy. There was a virtuous circle between an expanding economy and an increase in the demand for knowledge of a secular type.
The opening of Susobhan Sarkar’s
a Marxist. He thought the bourgeoisie was very wicked.
Notes on the Bengal Renaissance, which first came out as a booklet in 1946, makes clear the unease that historians felt on first using the term:
The impact of British rule, bourgeois economy and modern Western culture was felt first in Bengal and produced an awakening known usually as the Bengal Renaissance. For about a century, Bengal’s conscious awareness of the changing modern world was more developed than and ahead of that of the rest of India. The role played by Bengal in the modern awakening of India
was entirely the work of the Brits
is thus comparable to the position occupied by Italy in the story of the European Renaissance.
Back in the early nineteenth century, some educated Bengalis were very enterprising and crafty. But once they turned into rack-renting absentee landlords, they declined. Still, so long as the Brits were ruling Calcutta it couldn't turn into a complete shithole. Unlike Italy, which was independent, Bengal could only play a role because that's where the Brits ruled India from.
Whether these claims are true or not is open to debate; but they’re disabled by their uncritical investment in the idea of Europe as the source, paradigm and catalyst of progress and history, both in an earlier and in the colonial age.
But, in Bengal, it was as clear as daylight that the place only rose because of the Brits and that if declined after they departed.
The habit, in the context of Indian culture, of not only invoking Europe but making it the starting point of all discussion, was
a product of Brits ruling the fucking country!
inculcated by 19th-century Orientalists: the translator and scholar William Jones
the guy was a British Judge!
called Kalidasa, the greatest Indian poet and dramatist of antiquity, the ‘Shakespeare of the East’. To do this, Jones had to reverse history – Kalidasa preceded Shakespeare by more than a thousand years.
No he didn't. He was saying Kalidasa was pre-eminent among Sanskrit dramatists in the same way that Shakespeare was pre-eminent among English dramatists. Everybody has heard of Shakespeare. Few in India know a Kalidasa from a hole in the ground.
Jones is not so much making a useful (and supremely approbatory) comparison as telling us inadvertently that it’s impossible to escape ‘homogeneous, empty time’: that as far as Kalidasa is concerned Shakespeare has already happened.
Nonsense! Jones's work attracted attention because Indian culture was ancient. It may have predated the Greeks.
This language persisted in the subsequent naming of periods in culture, and of cultural figures; and educated Bengalis followed the example of the Orientalist scholars. Thus Bankim Chandra Chatterjee,
who worked for the Brits as a 'Dipty'.
India’s first major novelist, became the ‘Walter Scott of Bengal’.
Because Derozio died young. He was trying to be an Indian Walter Scott. Indians got the message. Don't write English verse. God will fuck you up. Michael Madhusudhan Dutt started off in English. But like Derozio's, his English was horrible. Perhaps the same is true of his Bengali. Could Aurobindo's Savitri have been less boring and stupid if he'd written it in Bengali? Perhaps.
Both Scott and Chatterjee wrote historical novels, but when the comparison was first made, on the publication of Chatterjee’s first novel, Chatterjee claimed he’d never read Scott.
Though he was a graduate of Presidency College. Perhaps, Chatterjee was telling the truth. Smart peeps don't read books. They just pretend to have done so.
Even if he had, to call him the ‘Walter Scott of Bengal’ is subtly different from, say, Barthes remarking, ‘Gide was another Montaigne,’ where a continuity is being established, a lineage being traced.
No. Gide wrote two essays on Montaigne but admitted, in his Journal, that he was bending Montaigne's sayings to express his own very different views. Barthes was a silly man. The fact is everybody sees himself in Montaigne who, after all, pretty much invented the essay. Few are like Gide.
In the phrase that describes Chatterjee, however, an inescapable historicism refuses a literary continuity, and turns Chatterjee into an echo. Walter Scott in Bengal is Walter Scott in the waiting-room.
Nonsense! Bankim immediately inspired the Hindu Revolutionaries who, however, to Tagore's disgust, alienated the Muslims. Indeed the 'Vande Mataram' issue remains as divisive as ever.
The ‘first in Europe, then elsewhere’ paradigm that Chakrabarty speaks of – what is now the developmental paradigm – is what made the process of modernisation in non-Western countries seem to many, European and non-European, like mimicry.
Nothing wrong with mimicry. We learn to speak and acquire skills in no other way. But this involves adaptation and discarding some mimetic targets in favor of others which are more feasible. We may start off wanting to be Einstein and settle for being a Software developer. On the other hand, mere copying is foolish.
‘We pretended to be real, to be learning, to be preparing ourselves for life, we mimic men of the New World,’ Naipaul’s narrator, Ralph Singh, says in The Mimic Men; Chakrabarty’s friend, the exuberantly impenetrable Homi Bhabha, has an essay on mimicry and colonialism, ‘Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse’, that has long been part of every postcolonial primer.
Because it teaches you how to write in a manner which may appear scholarly but is actually stupid and ignorant. The joke here is that these guys are mimicking stupidity because they are pedants teaching stupid shite about mimetics.
In it he tries, using Lacan and referring in passing to Naipaul’s great, intractable novel, to complicate and even rescue the idea of mimicry, to make it subversive: mimicry undermines the coloniser’s gaze by presenting him with a distorted reflection, rather than a confirmation, of himself.
The colonizer beats you if you look at him crossways. His gaze is directed at natural resources or sweated labor to exploit. Niggers prancing around in top hats didn't subvert shit. White peeps would pay good money to have a hearty laugh at the spectacle.
Some of the essay’s formulations about mimicry – ‘almost the same but not quite’; ‘almost the same but not white’ – are close enough to the kinds of problem Chakrabarty addresses.
But these are the kinds of problems which only preoccupy 14 year old girls. By 16, they've gotten over it. Boys are too thick to have any conception of this sort of stuff. They are too busy masturbating or playing ball.
Once again, though, as with Said, I think Chakrabarty’s work gives us a richer, more penetrating language to deal with modernity and the colonial encounter.
We want modernity- that stuff is cool. We don't want no fucking colonial encounters up our backside.
There’s a barely concealed utopian rage in Bhabha against the compulsion towards mimicry, and also an unspoken nostalgia for a world in which mimicry isn’t necessary.
Yet he has spent his life mimicking Lefty bullshitters though he is a shrewd enough Parsi from Mumbai.
For Chakrabarty, ‘Europe’ is a notion that has many guises, and these guises have both liberated us and limited us, whichever race we belong to.
Not if you are starving in some slum in the Turd World.
There is, therefore, a valuable element of self-criticism in his study: to provincialise Europe is not to vanquish or conquer it – that is, provincialising Europe isn’t a utopian gesture –
vanquishing and conquering aint utopian. Does Amit really not know this? Perhaps. But it is equally likely that he just jots down any shite that floats into his head.
but a means of locating and subjecting to interrogation some of the fundamental notions by which we define ourselves.
These fuckers think they are the Gestapo! Even if Amit can locate me, he can't interrogate me because I'll slap him silly.
Despite its title, it might be more productive to read The Mimic Men with Chakrabarty’s book rather than Bhabha’s essay in mind. Ralph Singh, a failed politician from the Caribbean island of Isabella, now retired at the age of 40 to a boarding-house in London, and writing something like a memoir, is not so much disfigured by ‘mimicry’ as haunted, even entrapped, by the language called ‘Europe’. It’s not a life story he wishes to compose. ‘My first instinct was towards the writing of history,’ Singh says, and he returns again and again to an analysis of a way of thinking and seeing. ‘I have read that it was a saying of an ancient Greek that the first requisite for happiness was to be born in a famous city,’ he writes. ‘To be born on an island like Isabella, an obscure New World transplantation, second-hand and barbarous, was to be born to disorder.’
Because the Brits fucked off. That was Niradh Babu's point. He ends 'Unknown Indian' by appealing to Whitey to come back and rule over Bengal. But the Colonial enterprise was no longer profitable. Bengalis had seen to that.
‘Second-hand’, like ‘half-made’, is a word weighted with the historicism
or just racism. Whites rule, Darkies drool.
that gives Singh his sense of being a failure from the start, and Singh’s creator much of his pessimism. Even memory, the site of renewal for the Romantics and Modernists, is deceptive: ‘My first memory of school is of taking an apple to the teacher. This puzzles me. We had no apples on Isabella. It must have been an orange; yet my memory insists on the apple. The editing is clearly at fault, but the edited version is all I have.’
American kids give teacher an apple. This was clearly a confabulation. On the other hand I really did tour the world as a Secret Agent back in the Sixties. I shot a lot of people and had sex with Arsulla Undress. But I wouldn't kiss her on the mouth. Girls have cooties.
The orange exists in the waiting-room.
No. It is a confabulation.
Its historical and physical reality counts for little; Ralph Singh’s memory is ‘discursively constituted’,
No. It is a confabulation. The guy is writing in English and trying to fit a rich Caribbean reality into 'lean unlovely' prose.
and has its own truth; and, at the time of the narrative’s composition, it is all he has of Isabella.
Unless he pops down to the offie and buys a bottle of its famous Rum.
Connecting the two halves of Chakrabarty’s study – the first largely a self-reflexive appraisal of social science writing,
which the cretin can't do because he doesn't know Statistics. But then neither does Amartya Sen. Guys who understand the Ito calculus can get very rich running a hedge fund.
the second a critical engagement with modern Bengali culture – are not only the themes of historicism and modernity, but the figure of Benjamin. Chakrabarty picks up the key insight about the ‘homogeneous, empty time of history’.
History populates time with events. It provides data sets to the Social Sciences. Gassing on in Hegelian vein may have been cool while the Soviet Union existed. It is silly to do so now.
The phrase was made current in the social sciences by Benedict Anderson in his classic discussion of the rise of the nation-state, Imagined Communities;
which may apply to Indonesia. Sukarno laid claim to Malaysia. Then it turned out he had little grasp on Reality. The good news is that Hindus and Muslims joined together to slaughter Commies.
but Chakrabarty’s usage of it, concerned primarily with the European notion of modernity, is Benjaminesque in spirit.
Which would be cool if Dipesh swallowed a lot of morphine tablets and topped himself.
Yet the references to Benjamin after the introduction are relatively few. This is an interesting and intriguing elision: perhaps Chakrabarty needs him to be an invisible presence.
Or maybe Dipshit doesn't want people to start shoving morphine tablets down his throat.
In the second half of the book I sensed him most powerfully in the chapter ‘Adda: A History of Sociality’; and it might have been enriching to have the connection made explicit, or to know whether Chakrabarty himself was fully conscious of it. ‘The word adda (pronounced “uddah”)
Fuck off! It is pronounced addah.
is translated by the Bengali linguist Sunitikumar Chattopadhyay as “a place” for “careless talk with boon companions” or “the chats of intimate friends”
Not necessarily. Members of a particular adda may have no other social or personal connection.
Roughly speaking, it is the practice of friends getting together for long, informal and unrigorous conversations.’ Never was adda so theorised and romanticised as it was in Calcutta, as both a significant component and symptom of Bengali bourgeois culture in the first three-quarters of the 20th century. Even the usage of the word is different in Bengali from Hindi, say, where it means a meeting-place not a practice.
A 'mehfil' would be more structured and rigorous. People would be expected to think before they speak though, no doubt, some contributions would be spontaneous.
Chakrabarty goes on:
By many standards of judgment in modernity, adda is a flawed social practice: it is predominantly male in its modern form in public life; it is oblivious of the materiality of labour in capitalism;
But Bengali labour in capitalism is often wholly immaterial. All want employment, none wants to work.
and middle-class addas are usually forgetful of the working classes.
Amit and Dipshit are constantly crying their little eyes out as the remember the plight of the proles.
Some Bengalis even see it as a practice that promotes sheer laziness in the population. Yet its perceived gradual disappearance from the urban life of Calcutta over the last three or four decades – related no doubt to changes in the political economy of the city – has now produced an impressive amount of mourning and nostalgia. It is as if with the slow death of adda will die the identity of being a Bengali.
No such luck. Adda survived the lockdown.
The figure who comes to mind when I read this is Benjamin’s flâneur;
who was smart and who thought before he spoke
and, though Chakrabarty doesn’t explore the correspondence between flânerie and adda, the resemblances are striking. Both adda and flânerie are activities whose worth is ambivalent in a capitalist society: they rupture the ‘march of progress’. Flânerie is ‘dawdling’, and adda a waste of time which, at least according to one writer, Nirad C. Chaudhuri, ‘virtually killed family life’.
Very true. Wives tend to discourage the babbling of nonsense in all but itty babies.
Neither flânerie nor adda is a purely physical or mental activity; both are reconfigurings of urban space.
Because when you take a leisurely walk or stop for a chat, the roads and buildings all get reconfigured. Shit like that happens all the time- to those on a pub-crawl.
The flâneur, as Benjamin saw him, walked about the Parisian arcades of the 19th century, but as Hannah Arendt pointed out, he did so as if they were an extension of his living-room: he deliberately blurred the line dividing inside from outside.
In India, the roads are a toilet. We've gone further in blurring the lines.
Something similar happened with adda in Calcutta in the 20th century; it either took place in drawing-rooms, in such a way as to disrupt domesticity and turn the interior into a sort of public space; or on the rawak or porches of houses in cramped lanes, neither inside the home nor in the street. For historical and social reasons, both activities are largely the preserve of the male; there are few female flâneurs
though female street-walkers get more money
and, as Chakrabarty points out, female participation in an adda is exceptional.
Bengali women are smart. Both East and West Bengal are ruled by the tough women.
Benjamin’s relationship to the flâneur and his subterranean affirmation of daydreaming in his meditations on flânerie lend his work an odd poignancy and ambivalence; given that Benjamin was a Marxist, the flâneur could never be wholly legitimate either outside or inside his work.
Unless he was killing the class-enemy. Stroll around by all means, but keep knifing the bourgeoisie and praising Stalin.
Some of Chakrabarty’s concerns in this book – modernity, adda and the shadow of Benjamin’s flâneur –
have no connection whatsoever. Socrates was a flaneur. A symposium was an adda, Neither are modern.
occupy a similarly ambivalent position in relationship to his provenance as a subalternist historian.
That shite was played out. It was obvious that these guys weren't studying Munda languages and compiling oral histories and so forth. They were just pretending to have some connection with the Naxals in the tribal belt.
The subaltern is certainly an interloper in this book (especially in a terrific essay, ‘Subaltern Pasts, Minority Histories’), but the modern is an equally problematic one: they both challenge the historian, in this case the subalternist historian, with the limits and responsibilities of his discipline.
Dipshit first studied Physics and then did an MBA. His history PhD was from Australia. But he wasn't doing statistical work or ethnographic or philological work and knew less Indian history than the average UPSC candidate. Still, he was an entrepreneurial and did well enough for himself. But Purnendu Chatterjee became a billionaire and is providing good jobs to tens of thousands of people.
It is the ambiguity of Chakrabarty’s own position as both a critic and archivist of modernity that gives his study its poetic undertow and its intelligent irresponsibility.
If you want to do 'subaltern' history, you have to do a lot of ethnographic work and then make complicated econometric models. You can't just stick with your ancestral Bengali and Convent School English. There is no ambiguity in Dipshit's position. He is an entrepreneurial charlatan just like Gayatri Spivak or Homo Baba. They could have learnt something useful from the West and translated it for the folk back home. Instead they provincialized themselves and got tenure on the basis of intellectual affirmative action. Shame on them. Amit, by contrast, wants to be a real boy wot rites novels. But real boys want to have adventures or, if they can't, they make them up. Nobody sets out to write a more vacuous and boring novel than Tagore. But that's what happens when overeducated Bengalis, shunned from every adda, take up the quill.