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Section III notes that historical narratives that attempt to understand longer-term socio-economic dynamics are not necessarily historicist in an evolutionary and teleological sense and that a distinction should be made between teleology and explanatory mechanisms that underpin long-term historical developments if we are not to end up with disjointed mininarratives that are identical in their emphasis on difference.

Section V takes issue with the exoticism that underpins the fetishism of difference implying a perduring categorial disconnect between the West and the many Orients that it seeks to dominate, if not hegemonise; this section maintains that as capital subsumes the supposedly exotic world of colonized subjects, superficial differences notwithstanding, the categories of political economy are capable of yielding an overall better understanding of the symbolic world of those who are incorporated into structurally subjugated positions in a capitalist world economy.

Sometimes this is accomplished by gross and arbitrary aggregation, and other strategies of assimilation, often across vast reaches of space This homogenisation and misnaming may, of course, have a number of functions: to suggest at the simplest level that the Others have no history to distinguish them from each other—they are identical in their barbarity or savagery.

On the other, for Romantics in search of a noble savage untainted by bourgeois proprieties they serve quite another function, for, however denigrated they are, they nonetheless represent some sort of vital force: life-affirming and connected to nature or to a world where gods and spirits are quite as real as automobiles and cement mixers. This was perhaps inversely related to the capitalist development of the metropolis: to a system where production dominated humans, and where stifling conventions rendered social life rational but severely anaemic. It is counterbalanced—more than counterbalanced, one would think—by an opposing strategy: that of exaggerating and playing up, not to mention playing off, differences among the colonized populations Difference, a keyword of imperialist discourse, is not understood in historical-material terms as the result of historically determinate processes but in ascriptive terms, religious affiliations, and so on In this context, it matters not a great deal if this style of theorizing—for example in the Indian Subaltern Studies —began with the intention of challenging the hegemony of colonial historiography and its supposed derivatives 22 , it quickly settled into the fundamental coordinates of Orientalism.

The authenticity of indigenous cultural forms lies presumably not only in their imperviousness to the Enlightenment but also in their entrenchment in the lifeworlds of subaltern populations. They show the limits of the discipline of history itself But, this subaltern consciousness seems also to have made itself at home in the world of capital, if only in the position of consumer So, what then is the space of place? Small-scale face-to-face communities, modern nation-states, something in between?

These forms of solidarity and difference would have to be considered part of a dynamic and ever-changing political-economic landscape 29 , not one emplaced in the tunnel of precolonial, colonial, postcolonial time. Of course, not all totalising explanations are equally able to serve this cause; neo-classical economics has its own variety that completely naturalises capital, making it a perpetual, end-of-history formation.


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Difference takes shape against the background of some more general identity, without losing the autonomy of the elements that constitute it. To think in categories like abstract capital and abstract labour the capital relation is not to obliterate or do violence to categories generated within other fields of self-understanding but to acknowledge that such categories are only relatively autonomous.

There may be many culturally specific names for work but over time, under the dominion of capital, they come down to different names for abstract, socially necessary labour Do they lie, as the epigraph to this article suggests, in the radical incommensurability between human time, individual time and socio-economic time, the rhythms and cycles of the modes of production, unfolding over generations and centuries, such that as biological organisms of a limited lifespan we glimpse, at best, only this or that incomplete moment? Further, if the entire field was to be conceived as a web of linguistic communications composed of a multiplicity of games whose rules were incommensurable and relations agonistic, then science, too, becomes one more language game Any pretension to explanation based on universal rules and categories would have limited purchase, whether based on revolutionary tales of humanity as the agent of its own emancipation through advances in the knowledge of the material and human sciences or evolutionary Idealist variants The mere fact that they have found adherents across the political spectrum suggests that it was and, to some extent, remains the illusion of an epoch.

Perhaps this sort of overreach invites its own retribution in the form of a thorough debunking of the claims to improving human welfare, easily accomplished in the face of the obscenity of mass starvation in structurally adjusted Africa and mass distress in other parts of the global South.


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More controversially, it invites, too, a delegitimisation of the claims of science itself to contribute either to human welfare or even to a proper explanation of natural phenomena much less human societies. This, of course, is a caricature, part of what might be called a grand-narrative-in-reverse and we need not dwell on it too long. A teleology is a historical outcome preordained in the beginning of the events that led to it.

Revealed religions would fall into this category as would secular notions like Manifest Destiny and end-of-history triumphalism. On the other hand, as Thompson insists, the continuous enhancement of scientific knowledge is not a teleology, for once the process has started with proper structural underpinnings and no exogenous hostile force it is self-generating. There may be some quibble with this characterization but within limits it seems true enough. Biologists have identified such a principle in natural selection, one that has been refined but not supplanted for the last century and a half Marx was quite insistent that his procedure was scientific and distinguished his methods from those of Utopian socialism.

Unlike teleologies, such an account does lend itself to debate, re-theorisation, refutation, and further refinement and indeed the history of debates within Marxism has been both lively and a point of renewal. But, this is hardly what exercises postcolonial theorists in their rejection of the Enlightenment and Marxism, because, if the truth be told, indigenous institutions that are frequently implicitly defended were, and are, no less cruel 51 , and the religious traditions that are identified with authenticity produce their own grandly teleological narratives. Something else is at stake.

The next section will examine at greater length what that might be. The whole pretension that history is just another literary narrative gives way to something else: a going beyond sheer micronarrative and surface forms to investigate a deeper content.

Antinomies of Modernity : Essays on Race, Orient, Nation

The content may be unstable—when has it been otherwise in history; after all, not even the most impeccable Rankean historian of today would interpret the French Revolution the way its contemporaries did—but that does not prevent the actual investigation of a reality that is not simply revealed to common sense or a superficial gaze. Something else is needed—a feel for time and place, for cultural nuances, for what might have been meant , and so on So perhaps this is the return of a repressed sense of history, not as mere textualisation but a longer-term unfolding of dynamics contained in the capitalist mode of production, conceived in its larger dare one say, totalising sense.

At the other end, postcolonial theorists like to ally themselves—however hesitantly—with thinkers like Jameson for whom history is not a cul-de-sac culminating merely in the bland seduction of the commodity. For, although postcolonial theory mainly addresses the former colonial world, a reading of the literature suggests that it is global in scope and ambition.

The term postcolonial has now come to embrace the former white-settler colonies, and indeed the United States While, of course, the departure of the British rulers in launches the Indian postcolonial, no such punctual breaks seem necessary for the chronology of postcoloniality. When, after all, does the postcolonial begin in the United States, or, what sort of historical periodisation would be appropriate for Latin America? In East Timor, McClintock notes, the Portuguese had scarcely left before the Indonesians invaded and initiated an especially violent colonial occupation, in collusion with US imperialist interests in South-east Asia.

In Mozambique, independence from Portugal in was but the prelude to a long drawn-out and extraordinarily vicious conflict with a right-wing militia armed and supported by white-supremacist Rhodesia and, later, apartheid South Africa, whose cosy relationship with Western governments was a matter of common knowledge What is the validity of a post-marked term that cannot seriously explain both the continuities and changes that have occurred between the dominant capitalist powers and those they dominate?

And which certainly seems not to be able to pay attention to the internal divisions of the latter societies, including the surge of virtually genocidal attacks on Muslims in India, for example, except to point a finger at something called modernity?

COSMOPOLITANISM, PATRIOTISM, NATIONALISM. WHICH ROAD TO MODERNITY?

What are the implications, in short, of ignoring the brute realities of imperialism and class politics and focusing so singularly on the contested world of conflicting representations 64? Some useful ground, no doubt, can be covered by examining contested representations of an epochal event like the Vietnam War, for instance, but can any account of it afford not to situate those representations in a historical understanding of capitalist economic cycles, the military-industrial complex, the geopolitics of the Cold War, the rise and fall of hegemonic powers, not to mention American anxieties about their place in the world?

It shares with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory a sense of the sheer ambition of Enlightenment-inspired Reason to subjugate a host of different ways-of-being-in-the-world to itself and the eminent possibility of the eruption of all sorts of barbarisms that Reason could never entirely banish Colonialism comes to stand for both the agency of Enlightenment-inspired reason and its unrepressable barbarism Postcolonial theory also shares with the more romantic variants of nationalism a sense of historic loss, as colonial rulers supplanted previously unbroken indigenous traditions with their own However, the loss would appear to be a qualified one: no longer a subject of critical study and continued theorisation, lost traditions survive in submerged forms in the subaltern consciousness.

Of course, this kind of Romantic nationalism produced its own forms of violence, political and epistemic, especially directed against national minorities: as early as the s and s it was generating Indian variants of blood-and-soil ideas for recuperating traditions submerged by foreign—mainly Muslim—occupation Postcolonial theory, in claiming to give voice to these submerged traditions, produces a grand narrative of loss, even regression.


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Any argument relating to a sense of a realisable future which potentially inheres in the present—an idea that can be plausibly traced to the Enlightenment 78 , but which informed and continues to inform much progressive thought in the ex-colonial countries—has to be dismissed. But an absolute scepticism of totalities usually masks a suspicion of certain kinds of totality and an enthusiastic endorsement of others. This is entirely the case with postcolonial theory as well. In the world of the latter, mundane matters, caste hierarchy, ritual notions of purity and pollution, and patriarchal forms of domination were all mediated through interactions between humans and the spirit world Subjecting labour to serious systematic analysis is to give the game away, to play up to colonial categories.

Arguably, a variety of ideological formations—whether informed by categories derived from spirit cults or by neoclassical economics—has a role to play in constituting social-productive relations. This can be supported by noting that generally the densest thicket of symbolic categories develops in close proximity to some aspect or other of production, either.

And, through their resistance, workers, too, enrich this discursive field creating or reinvigorating symbolic categories of resistance. Either way, it is in such times that the historicity of forms of exploitation and oppression become more transparent to the subordinated groups than either before or after. In any transitional period, the discourses of the exploiters and the exploited enter into more or less sharp, if temporary, dissonance and allow for the imagination of alternative horizons of possibility 88 , and the prospect of organising new forms of collective resistance.

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In the modern epoch of capital, this also means the clarification to some extent of the very category of class. Even if the English progenitors of these settlements had not come to India, for example, with the vocabulary of political economy ready to hand, they would—in transplanting the social-property relations of their home country—have introduced into India the categories corresponding to the relations of exploitation under those new conditions.

They might have had to resort to neologisms. Labour, too, would have acquired, in those circumstances, indigenous names unrecognisable to colonial rulers but the perduring categorial dissonance implied by Prakash in his World of the Rural Labourer in Colonial India seems untenable Rather like the category of caste, arbitrarily rendered into some uniform system over the length and breadth of India for the purposes of administrative rationalisation, labour, too, comes across, in his account, as an administrative convenience.

All sorts of people, hitherto representing their life by thousands of localised conventions, would now be shoehorned into the singular abstract category of labour. It is therefore grounded in some ancient, unhistorical, biological human capacity to resist oppression. If one chooses to do so by forming a union as opposed to invoking gods and spirits that is simply the result of more or less arbitrary conventions. It is almost as if the history of capital cannot be written in largely historical-materialist terms, in which the capital system has an origin, a trajectory, systemic tendencies including periodic economic crises and recoveries, and so on, while keeping a fairly firm grip on historical period and spatial configurations.

The Politics of Difference and the Project of Provincialising Europe

Nor for that matter is much attention paid to structural adjustment, macro- and micro-economic policies, and the crippling debt regime imposed on former colonies by the so-called multilateral agencies, and the devastation of the forest reserves of many third world countries like Indonesia and Brazil 96 , all of which began in the late s and have accelerated in the last decade or so, in an uncanny replication of the timeline of postcolonial theory itself. Far better to argue that the capital system is either a mere convention quite as arbitrary as any ascriptive category, say race or caste or a natural economy i.

For then there is only the exertion of the biological will to live or a renaming of the reality in order to escape its oppression. This is probably a very appropriate position for former Maoists who have repudiated their youthful indiscretions and turned to poststructuralist and postmodernist thought for inspiration. Some at least of the earlier postcolonial theorists, no doubt, come from those ranks Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token. Have Institutional Access? Forgot your password? PDF Preview.

Table of Contents. Restricted Access. Related Content. In The Postcolonial Orient , Vasant Kaiwar presents a far-reaching analysis of the political, economic, and ideological cross-currents that have shaped and informed postcolonial studies preceding and following the moment of world history. Author: Markus Vink. In Encounters of the Opposite Coast Markus Vink provides a narrative of the first half century of cross-cultural interaction between the Dutch East India Company VOC , one of the great northern European chartered companies, and Madurai, one of the 'great southern Nayakas' and successor-states of the Vijayanagara empire, in southeast India c.

Orientalism and Comparative Political Theory | The Review of Politics | Cambridge Core

A shared interest in trade and at times converging political objectives formed the unstable foundations for a complex relationship fraught with tensions, a mixture of conflict and coexistence typical of the 'age of contained conflict'. Drawing extensively on archival materials, Markus Vink covers a topic neglected by both Company historians and their Indian counterparts and sheds important light on a 'black hole in South Indian history'.

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