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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review of the Presentations and Discussions on History and Cultural Studies

The study of history and culture are the two sides of one coin. They complement each other. The culture of a society or a nation is very much influenced by its history. So the manner of interpreting history is very important. So the presentations and discussions on history and culture raised different questions and problematized the understanding of history. What are the parameters used to analysis the history? How does the imperialism influence the history? Whether the past is fixed or not?

The first presentation was based on the article, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for "Indian" Pasts?” by Dipesh Chakrabarty. It problematized the idea of “Indians” representing themselves in history. In the academic discourse of history “Europe” remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories. All other histories, Indian, Chinese, Kenyan etc., tend to become variations on a master narrative that could be call the history of Europe. In this sense, Indian history itself is in a position of subalternity. Europe works as a silent referent in historical knowledge itself becomes obvious in a highly ordinary way. There are at least two everyday symptoms of the subalternity of non-Western, third-world histories.
Third-world historians feel a need to refer to works in European history; historians of Europe do not feel any need to reciprocate.

The dominance of Europe as the subject of all histories is a part of a much more profound theoretical condition under which historical knowledge is produced in the third world. Our footnotes bear rich testimony to the insights we have derived from their knowledge and creativity.

For generations now, philosophers and thinkers shaping the nature of social science have produced theories embracing the entirety of humanity. These theories have been produced in relative and sometimes absolute ignorance of the majority of humankind i.e., those in non-Western cultures. The everyday paradox of third-world social science is that the third world intellectuals use these theories eminently useful in understanding their societies.

For example, following the western methodology of writing history on the basis of historical transition, the Indian history is also written. To prove this the writer takes Sumit Sarkar’s Modern India (regarded as one of the best textbooks on Indian history written primarily for Indian universities). The text opens with “The sixty years or so that lie between the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and the achievement of independence in August 1947 witnessed perhaps the greatest transition in our country’s long history. A transition, however, which in many ways remains grievously incomplete, and it is with this central ambiguity that it seems most convenient to begin our survey.”

Now the question arises, what kind of a transition was it remained? Answer is grievously incomplete. The study of such a failed history creates a lackness, absence or incompleteness. This history lead us to the British conquer and to the medieval period. This led to modernity. The terms have changed with time. The medieval was once called despotic and the modern is the rule of law. For example, Alexander Dow’s History of Hindostan, (1770) says: “this fundamental jurisprudence was the rule of law that contrasted with a past rule that was arbitrary and despotic ...Despotism was the opposite of English constitutional government.”
In the nineteenth and twentieth century’s, generations of elite Indian nationalists found Indian history between the two poles: despotic-constitutional, medieval-modern, feudal-capitalist. Within this narrative shared between imperialist and nationalist imaginations, the Indian was always a figure of lack. There was always the theme of inadequacy or failure.
This discussion led to Provincializing Europe. Here Chakrabarty is not dealing with "the region of the world we call 'Europe,'" but rather the "imaginary figure [of Europe] that remains deeply embedded in clich├ęd and shorthand forms in some everyday habits of thought." European thought is no longer the sole property of Europeans and can be used by postcolonialists to good effect, when revised for local conditions.

The Second presentation was based on the article “The Many worlds of Indian History” by Sumit Sarkar. It explores the idea of Indian History, its limitations and the development of history in the late colonial and contemporary times .Finally, the article concludes with a discussion on the how the gap between the writings of elite people on history and the teaching done by primary school teachers can be bridged in the academic arena. . In this article Sumit Sarkar first describes how Indian history failed to project reality. Our historigraphical essays tend to become bibliographies, surveys of trends or movements within the academic guild. Through the Ramjanmabhumi issue in Ayodhya, he gives a clear idea about how history is created because of faith and academic knowledge is sidelined. This, however, was very far from being a simple triumph of age-old popular faith over the alienated rationalism of secular intellectuals. Scholars and researchers have limited role here.

Sumit Sarkar says in his essay that the main aim of teaching history is limited to stimulating patriotism among students and to build in a quiz culture where the students should have by-hearted knowledge of various dates and events. Thereby we fail to imbibe in ourselves questioning attitudes and the ability of critical evaluation.

Impact and impositions of Western English education has affected Indian history. Two major changes occurred because of the influence of Western English education. British rule brought a notion of time as linear abstract and measurable. The other major change was they divided period into three phases. This led to the four yougas being replaced by three phases (i.e., Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Schema).

The focus of this essay, however, is not the history of India. Rather, the purpose of this piece is to explore very schematically some of the issues and examples for the abandonment of history and show what is the present stage of our history and how it can be effectively produced in future in the academic arena. Sumit Sarkar argues that the shift from late colonial history has produced one-sided accounts that artificially separate from pure history. As a result, the main essence/aim of Indian history and its basic purposes has been neglected altogether.
In the third part Sumit Sarkar compares two periods in Indian History i.e. late colonial Indian history and contemporary history. He says that, hierarchical division is more visible in late colonial period opportunities, for any kind of education was more restricted and therefore education and research was not sharp in the late colonial period. But in contemporary times, research and education has grown considerably. In late colonial period, absence of internal hierarchization is more visible. Sumit Sakar gives the example of Sir Jadunath Sarkar whose formal degrees were in English, and till retirement he combined research with the teaching of history.

In contemporary India very significant shifts in basic approaches and choice of research question has taken place. In 1950 the themes like social formation, debates about the existence and nature of Indian Feudalism, the possibilities of capital development in pre-colonial time were focused on, but in late colonial period the primary focus was on information about kings, dynasties or conquests. In 1960-1970 there were major changes happening in history. Firstly, there was the emergence of the Left. Secondly, the lower cast became more powerful due to peasant revolution. Thirdly, women participated in revolutionary activities. Sumit Sarkar says that, due to these changes Subaltern Studies and Women history came into existence. Meanwhile, there was a spate of research publications on tribal peasant and labour movements, as well as a few pioneering, sympathetic studies of lower-caste initiatives in large part independent of, or even hostile to, mainstream nationalism. The hierarchical divisions between scholars at research institute, university teachers, and those working in undergraduate colleges are visibly deepening in contemporary times. Sumit Sarkar gives the example of Ekalavya volunteer group who tried to bridge the gap between the primary school teachers and the elite researchers through teaching-cum-research seminar. They encouraged classroom discussion and creative assimilation.

Other questions that came up for discussion were, on Gramsci’s notion on common sense? How do the social and the political get connected to the education about which Sumit Sarkar has discussed in the later part of his essay? What does Partha Chatterjee say about the adoption of modern principle of European history in India?

For the further discussions the class invited Dr.Vageshwari SP, Christ University. She initiated the discussion on systematic breaking down of history. The problem in the study discourse is that we consider history as fixed not dynamic. We are not questioning the history. In India, the study of history is based on the methodology of imperialism and Geometry which provides a defined way of studying history.

The theory of relativity challenged the undisputable absolute truth of the past. Study of history is a truth making process.

One of the problems is how to convert the cultural practices to academic. Here many times form takes over content and we fail to bring up tools for the analysis.
Rewriting history is always a part of society. Here, why the history is rewritten is important, not what is rewritten. What is the agenda behind it?

The syllabus of the history in higher education should be re-worked. It should be based on facts as well as issue based.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

English Education and Cultural Hegemony in India

Report of Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

The topic which my group took for cultural studies paper presentation was literary theory and cultural studies. In this major topic we focused on two essays, one is Gouary Viswanathan’s Introduction to Masks Conquests and Susie Tharu’s and K Lalita’s Empire, Nation, and the Literary Text. Through these essays we are tried to focus how literary studies and cultural studies are related.

Gouari Viswanathan in her essay talks about the introduction, and development of English education in India. In the essay the author says that the colonial rulers introduced English education as a weapon for the domination over colonized, India.

Using the story of Bangalore Nagaratnamma’s reprinting of the eighteenth century Telugu text Radhika Santwanam by Muddupalani, Sisie Taru and Lalita introduce the rationale behind the effort to collect the materials which have been seised by the people who have power. The main intention of the writers is to show how power controlled the literary work and how the literary production was always subject to gender, class, empire, and nation prejudices.

Presentations and classroom discussions on Literary and Cultural Studies were on the second week of November. For the general discussion of the module our group called Ms. Sreelatha from English and Media Studies Department. The main questions and arguments which came during discussions were, how is the notion of discipline linked with cultu re andhow language works within the discipline of cultural studies. The main argument which Ms Sreelatha proposed was, when we discuss literary studies with cultural studies, first we need to discuss with literature. Another question which came was, how culture is portrayed in literature. Other questions that came up for discussion were, is epistemological basis necessary to begin a study? Is cultural Studies having a philosophical basis? How discussion in literature and literary studies slips into question of language, identity, nation etc… andwhy Indianness? In attempting an answer one needs to acknowledge that, Cultural studies inculcates a questioning attitude which is absent in many other disciplines. Does learning a literature from a culture means one is influenced by that particular culture? The main argument for this question was based on the presumption that one culture being influenced by another and that it is not just an individual influence. Cultural influences are not very obvious. It’s in the psyche. Why should there be a division on national cultures? What is the problem in learning national cultures?

The final argument about the discipline and literature came was, we are still following the traditions of colonial rulers and what we are trying to do is just imitate them because the rules are not changing. To change this we need to raise questions and theoretical discussions which will help to create our own cultural basis in literature and in the discipline of English Studies.

Discussion on Philosophy and cultural Studies II MA English

Report of the Presentation on Philosophy and Cultural Studies

For the module on Philosophy and Cultural Studies, two seminal works were discussed in the class; 1) Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences by Derrida and 2) Can the Subaltern Speak by Gayathri Spivak. This report is based on the presentation on the second text and the subsequent discussion on it in the II MA English Literature with Communication Studies as well as the lecture of Mr. Sunder Sarukkai on Experience and Cognition based on his article, Dalit Experience and Theory.

Gayathri Spivak’s essay problematises three central theories of experience; 1) the postcolonial theories, 2) the subaltern concern and 3) the subalternised woman. She argues that the intellectuals are complicit in silencing the experiences of the colonised, the subaltern and the woman by appropriating their experiences inaccurately in the narratives. She questions the authority of the intellectuals to speak of the experience of these oppressed. Theorisation on the subaltern experience is palimpsestic in nature because even as the intellectual tries to construct a history/experience of the subaltern, the authentic history/experience undergoes erasure. The intellectual’s attempts to essentialise the subaltern experience actually cancels out the multifarious entity of the subaltern experience. She argues that the intellectual should constantly question one’s own ground of argument. All the subalterns, be it the postcolonial countries or the women who belong to innumerable backgrounds and conditions, cannot be put under one monolithic categorisation. Citing a couple examples of women suicide in India during the colonial period she argues how the British understanding legal explanations under the pretext of supporting women’s cause, overlooked the actual reasons for their suicide. What then is the intellectual capable of theorising? The possibility is to form a strategic solidarity with the subalterns for the sake of an argumentative support and buying their own space in the debate all the while being aware of the intellectual’s shaky ground on which one stands to argue. This she calls strategic essentialism.

The crux of the argument is, that the personal lived experience cannot be in any way generalised. The humans are in need of an unmediated channel to share one another’s experience in totem. However the unmediated experience does not take place and what is transferred to others is only partial and makes the other incapable of making the experience for theorising.

Establishing the relationship between culture and philosophy is fundamental in proceeding any further on this module. Sarukkai considered experience as the basic stratum of culture while an argument was brought to establish culture as the substratum of philosophy or the latter as the product of culture. Further arguments are required to establish both the syllogisms. For example, is it possible for anyone to have an experience outside one’s culture? Or, is culture the common fund of experiences of a group of people? As the understanding goes now the linear progression of experience-culture-philosophy is the paradigm to work with.

The question on the emergence of different philosophies at different historical junctures deserves an attention. How will one account for the emergence of Platonian idealism and Aristotelian empiricism as the product of the Greek culture while the existentialists and phenomenologists appeared only hundreds of years later in another culture. A vague attempt at answering this question was that a certain political climate is responsible for the emergence of certain types of philosophies. It was monarchy that gave conducive atmosphere for philosophies that were centred around the analysis of matter and the world. With the emergence of democracy and other people-participative forms of government the discussion on the subject of experience shifted to the human person, the meaning of his existence and experience and thereby giving rise to the existentialist philosophies. The emergence of the nihilist philosphies can be attributed to the disillusionment caused by the world wars. Going into the depth of this argument one finds that the mode of exercising power influences heavily if not being the deciding factor on the emergence of different philosophies.

This further shifted the questions on the difference between what is generalisation and essentialisation. They are to be differentiated as two different logical procedures of argument. In the process of essentialisation a general principle is arrived at by observing the experiences of A, B , C and so on. The generalisation is the reverse process of applying a principle or a personal experience as a general principle to a larger category without actually observing all of them. The former is called induction and the latter deduction.

Sarukkai explores the quintessential difference between the subjective lived experience and the mediated experience. The mediated experience has primarily a certain freedom to choose to undergo or not a certain experience, secondly one has the freedom to leave from the experience if it is not satisfactory and thirdly he has the freedom to modify that experience.

While exploring the lines of argument of Sarukkai and Spivak the philosophies could be accused of complicity in essentialising the diverse human experiences. The question itself is heavily loaded with the nuances of the individualistic turn the capitalistic philosophy of the west has taken. This question arises only when individual is possible despite the social. But the society has not been always so. In the earlier cultures which privileged the social over the individual, the subjective experiences do not take significant discussions at all. When the society is essential to make the individual possible the focus of the discussion can centre only on the society. Society being a common institution, the individual variances are shed to create minimum common identities or the essential. To treat such essentialisation as a malady could arise from subaltern, post colonial or postsructuralist perspectives in social sciences. But natural or physical sciences cannot be held accountable for such essentialsiation. If these sciences fail to draw similarities and essentialise the nature of human bodies, every body has to become a ground of experiment at the cost of its life. The question then extends to what can be essentialised and what cannot be on the basis of empirical proofs.. Such normative approaches are still unacceptable to a postcolonial reading. The arguments go in infinite regression ad infinitum.