HST287: Reading notes, 25-Nov-2004

Chaturvedi, Vinayak. Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial. (New York: Verso, 2000)

Chaps. 1, 2, 5, 6, 8-12, 14, 15

1) On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India, Ranajit Guha. Pp. 1-7.

"The historiography of Indian Nationalism has for a long time been dominated by elitism. (p. 1) Both the colonists and the bourgeosie-nationalists who attempted to adapt and prosper under their rule shaped the written history of India.

With this opening sentence the subaltern studies group both the essence of the group's work and the style perhaps (Marxist? we'll see)

stimulus       - response
colonialists -  nationalists

"The general orientation of the other kind of elitist historiography is to represent Indian nationalism as primarily an idealist venture in which indigenous elite led the people from subjugation to freedom." (p. 2)
this "cannot explain Indian nationalism to us...for it fails to acknowledge, far less, interpret, the contribution made by the people, on their own, that is, independently of the elite to the making and development of this nationalism." (p. 2)

elite politics - mobilization is vertical - adapting to colonials
subaltern politics - horizontal, kinship, community (p. 4)

elites sometimes tried to mobilize the masses, sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed: workers never succeeded in organizing/banding together with peasants or bourgeosie to overthrow colonials

"It is the study of the historic failure of the nation to come to its own a failure due to the inadequacy of the bourgeosie as well as of the working class to lead it into a decisive victory over colonialism and a bourgeosie-democratic revolution of either the classic nineteenth-century type under the hegemony of the bourgeosie or a more modern type under the hegemony of worker and peasants, that is, a 'new democracy'--it is the study of this failure which constitutes the problematic of the historiographyof colonial India." (p. 6)

"...we are convinced that elitist historiography should be resolutely fought by developing an alternative discourse based on the rejection of the spurious and unhistorical monism characteristic of its view of Indian nationalism and on the recognition of the co-existence and interaction of the elite and subaltern domains of politics." (p. 6)

The call of the subaltern studies group is to become a point of convergence for all who wish to study the politics of India and find elitest historiography both oppressive and decidedly shortsighted and incomplete.

2) The Nation and Its Peasants, Partha Chatterjee. Pp. 8-23.

Peasants in Europe and Russia; extinction or absorption
In India there was a paternal relationship. Colonials saw peasants as needing protection, they were simple but easily aroused to violence. Nationalists saw them as unaware of their expolitation, so they needed to be guided. In both cases, peasants were seen as objects of these strategies, not as individuals or groups in their own right.

Sometimes peasants seemed to be aware of and fit into national political struggle, sometimes it was marred by sectarian strife. Why?
To find out we need "a critique of both colonialist and nationalist historiographies by bringing in the peasantry as a subject of history, endowed with its own distinctive forms of consciousness and making sense of and acting upon the world on its own terms." (p. 10)

Guha studies insurgency because that is where peasant consciousness left its mark on those in power--in the 'dialectical relation of power' (p. 11) can be seen the imprint of the peassant mind (they don;t record their own). "Guha used colonial discourse of counter-insurgency to read, as a mirror image, the discourse of insurgency." (p. 12)

Guha, six aspects of "insurgent peasant consciousness: ambiguity, modality, solidarity, transmission, and territoriality (p. 12)

Principles of community:
Subaltern studies; to write "an Indian history of peasant struggle" not " a history of peasant struggle" (p. 18)

Cool sentence:
"The relation between history and the theoretical disciplines of the social sciences is necessarily one where structural neatness of the latter is constantly disturbed and refashioned by the intransigent material of the former."

There was no overall Indian revolution, but some of the 'local'revolts involved areas/populations larger than some European countries and more complex

"We could argue that it is always the spectre of an open rebellion by the peasantry which haunts consciousness of the dominant classes in the agrarian societies and shapes and modifies their forms of exercise of domination." (p. 22)

Summary/future: "An Indian history of peasant struggles is a fundamental part of the real history of our people; the task is for the Indian historian to perceive in this consciousness of his or her own self." (p. 23)

5) Recovering the Subject: Subaltern Studies and Histories of Resistance in Colonial South Asia, Rosalind O'Hanlon. Pp. 72-115.

A recap of the movement - primarily about recovery of the people's history as opposed to elite history. Article proposes to be:
non-elite and non-Marxist (i.e. about people, not general classes) and non-nationalistic (i.e. not everything that nationals do is part of an anti-colonial struggle
"The teleologies of Marxist historical writing have acted to empty subaltern movements of their specific types of consciousness and practice, and to see in the history of colonial South Asia only the linear development of class consciousness." (p. 76)

It is clear what the contributors are disatisfied with. She wants to ask if they "share some more positive common ground or set of assumptions." (p. 77)

Point: when your object is to write a history of the masses it can (and often does) take on the  form of recovering the experience of the group being studied. Currently, elite=bad, the people=good, so you want your project to reflect the ideas of the people. Those who study the elite defend themselves by saying those in power determine what happens in society so to study a society we need to study them.

Make the subaltern a subject in his own right by reclaiming his own history, not a reflection of elites, a pawn, a victim (p. 80)
But watch out for essentialist reductionism: if there is a history of their own it implies that 'they' are a cohesive 'they' (p. 82) and that they exist outside the influence of the elite (p. 84) (She sees Guha as doing this) (a similar example: not all women are/have same interests as white middle class women - p. 98)

There has been some criticism of the project, from without as well as from within, that the contributors have dwelt largely on moments of overt resistance and revolt." (p. 99)
Why? we demand that subalterns show their independent will

By focusing on what we see as positive: independence, we miss what they might consider positive or, we foist our own preconceptions on them which prevents us from seeing reality (and is a power play, too)

Irony: "like the subaltern himself, those who set out to restore his presence end only by borrowing the tools of that discourse, tools which serve only to reduplicate the first subjection which they effect, in the realms of critical theory." (p. 105)
But what form should the subaltern take if not that of autonomous subject-agent (the all powerful western ideal of independent and free person)
(Bush: freedom on the march another name for imposition of power)

So, for example, if the group is looking for resistance actions, how should they define them. What constitutes resistance?

She thinks we should move away from the current definition of resistance, violent, deliberately political, and examine other more subtle forms or rather We Should do Both. (p. 111)

6) Rallying Around the Subaltern, C. A. Bayly. Pp. 116-126.

Subaltern studies and students went from a minority to a majority, though most use traditional sources (police reports, newspapers, admin memos and official accounts) as their sources. Mostly they have been focusing on resistance.
The effort has been one of filling in gaps, recovery, rather than applying theory.

The movement itself grew out of leftist period--it was cool to study the down-trodden, the forgotten ones (If you privilege the gaps in history you also privilege the gapees.)

"Any historical thesis must surely address itself to the question of historical change, and in this particular case to the question of why peasant, tribal or worker movements occurred at particular times and not at others; what were the major determinants of change; to what extent was peasant solidarity enhanced over time; more importantly why did it decline at others?" (p. 120)

He willfocus on Pandey's 'Rallying Around the Cow' to determine how subaltern scholars address the ideas of change. Pandey sees "several basic parameters of change which lie outside the subaltern world but continue to inform is (p. 121)
So, even peasants have a pecking order. Trying to speak of 'the peasant' ignores this and so we don;t get the whole picture--and so certain moments or actions cannot be properly understood. (They are being forced into a mold which does not fit.)

"In practice the Subaltern historians quite often allude to these issues, but the rhetorical devices of 'subaltern' and 'peasant resistance' often impede them in this more subtle analysis." (p. 126)

8) Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Perspectives from Indian Historiography, Gyan Prakash. Pp. 163-190

By saying 'the third world should write its own history' you are furthering the us/them, normal/abnormal, third world is a monolith dichotomy.

But (!!) by acknowledging that 'the third world' is itself a historic construct we can examine how it became so and see it as just another historical entity to be studied.

Orientalism--Europeans are scholars and audience, orientals are 'inert objects of knowledge' (p. 164)

Start: 1757 - East India Co conquers Bengal - must learn about the natives so translate their work to study them
then: find roots - Europe the more advanced civilization from Indian child-like roots
1920-30: Nationalist movement - first looked at ancient India, then regional histories
"The assumption that all that was valuable in world civilizations originated in Greece was challenged." (p. 168)

Also argued that Hinduism does not equal Indian.

The old historical model: Ancient India; Hindus subdued by Muslim tyranny and so vulnerable to conquest by Britain

1940s: So, Nationalism at least makes India an active subject rather than a passive one but it is still a single Oriental entity.

1950s: U.S. $cholarships - the search for the 'authentic' India, anthropology, etc. the 'scientific' objective outside study, Marxist  - domination and struggle
new post-Marxist: looking at relationships between colonialists and nationals, asking how historic aspects of each led to building of current India - foundational

early subaltern: still subaltern consciousness
later subaltern: more post-structuralist

Big Point:
The Orientalism of studying India may, ironically, be the best tool for studying "Westernism" not because they are essentialist differences but because "Western tradition was itself a peculiar configuration in the colonial world" (p. 186) not a tradition but a historic construct developed and defined at a specific time.

9) After Orientalism: Culture, Criticism and Politics in the Third World.
Rosalind O'Hanlon and David Washbrook.
Pp. 191-219

Ouch: The anti-postmodernist (esp. American-flavored) article, or, postmodernists are just as biased and short-sighted as the colonials they complain about.

Post-structuralism and postmodernism. Characteristics of:
The article asks: Is Prakash's 'post-foundational' approach to Indian history the best way to gain critical understanding to it? (esp. "given the manner in which these perspectives have come to be interpreted and absorbedinto the mainstream of historical and anthropological scholarship, particularly in the United States." (p. 191)) They are reacting to chap 8 article

They argue that it is not, that these methods are as prescriptive as those they replace, and that historians are misinterpreting Said when they assume that his "work provides a clear paradigm for a history that transcends older problems of representation." (p. 192)

When we invoke Derrida we are pointing out that all foundations/structures are constructed, thus one is no more useful/objective than another, thus we should simply do without. The authors say this misses the crucial point: "we cannot actually do without some categories and some means of evaluating orders of certainty, in order to comprehend, to explain, to elucidate and to do. That these categories are conventions, Searles further argues, is no bar to our continuing to use them provided we recognize them for what they are, inventions of our own necessity. However, this recognition involbes a change in the way we conceive and test them -- not against metaphysically conceived standards of objectivity but against their adequacy in serving the purposes for which we want and need to use them." (p. 195)
Very pragmatic yet savvy.
So, Prakash's Derrida-derived approach is at odds with his avowed purpose of historical reconstruction and political engagement.

(Somewhere in there is a difference between the practice of history and the practice of literary studies, I think...between art/aesthetics and craft/usefulness maybe)

They go on to describe how several historians fall into this dichotomous trap.

Here's an interesting thought, esp as re: the amount of 'noise' our century is generating, not to mention that old stereotype of the Lone Historian:
"To state the obvious, the historian must undertake the prior, and in part subjective, tasks that only the historian can do: to turn the noise into coherent voices through which the past may speak to the present and to construct the questions to which the past may give the present intelligible answers." (p. 198)

Isn't this exactly the struggle Ayres describes re: The Valley of the Shadow?

Another dilemma: we study subalterns to emancipate them, hear their voice and their history. But we use Foucauldian terms/methods which actually cast power in terms of relationships, not emancipation at all.

Like feminism, those studying it must "continue to act as if such a category exists, [even if they question that such a limiting category indeed does] precisely" because the world acts as if it does. (p. 203)

Same is true of Said's Orientalism: you can invoke Foucault but it is contradictory to then try to use history for political or emancipatory activity.

Other approaches: ethnography: Clifford and his Papgos Island people writing the book on their culture in such a way that is both a handbook (for indigenes) and a description (for non-natives). Of course, by choosing his set of authors he is privileging those voices, just as the East India Company did by choosing the Brahmins as the source of knowledge re: India. Thus that view is the one that is adopted/imposed on all other views.

"Yet what is striking about these debates, particularly those employing postmodernist perspectives, is how one particular identity, that of class and material relations, is so often downplayed or screened off...What it means is that the true underclasses of the worls are only permitted to present themselves as victims of the particularistic kinds of gender, racial and national oppression which they share with preponderantly middle-class American scholars and critics, who would speak with or in their voices. What such underclasses are denied is the ability to present themselves as classes: as victims of the universalistic, systemic, and material deprivations of capitalism which clearly separate them off from their subaltern expostitors. In sum, the deeply unfortunate result of these radical postmodernist approaches in the minorities debate is thus to reinforce and to give new credence to the well-known hostility of American political culture to any kind of materialist or class analysis." (p. 215)

Well, duh!!!

"There runs through [current academic writing] a desire to be seen on the side of the dispossessed against power, working with their strange voices and different stories, subverting dominant cultures and intellectual traditions 'from within the academy'. But in the case of postmodernist approaches, these commitments can be made with a lightened burden of authorship and a comforting sense that in this volatile new world of cultural self-invention, the critic's own history is at best a fable. What all this begins to look very like, in fact, as a new form of that key and enduring feature of Western capitalist and imperialist culture: the bad conscience of liberalism, still struggling with the continuing paradox between an ideology of liberty at home and the reality of profoundly expoitative political relations abroad, and now striving to salve and re-equip itself in a postcolonail world with new arguments and better camouflaged forms of moral authority."

10) Can the 'Subaltern' Ride? A Reply to O'Hanlon and Washbrook, Gyan Prakash. Pp. 220-238.

In which Prakash gets a chance to reply to Chap. 9!

O'Hanlon and Washbrook are actually trying to look for mastery over ambivalence. They set up a false dichotomy between Marxism and poststructuralism so they can shoot it down. They misrepresent Derrida, deconstructive criticism, capitalist modernity and its relation to colonialism, Said and the relation to liberal humanism, and postmodernism and the politics of differentiated subject positions. (p. 223)

Conclusion: the Brits are ticked off at the Americans. They see a problem but erroneously assume they know the cause, based on their own prejudices re: Marxism. The Empire Strikes Back.

"The insistence that the histories of the metropolitan proletariat and the colonized worker are discrepant, even if both are exploited by capitalism, therefore, is to insist on difference as the condition of history's possibility, and to rearticulate it differently than White mythology." (p. 236)

Go Two Horses!! Ride 'em cowboy!

11) Orientalism Revisited: Saidian Frameworks in the Writing of Modern Indian History, Sumit Sarkar. Pp. 239-253.

The problem with postmodern pointing out the interstices is the same mote/beam problem as meta-izing: each person must step outside to point out the mote, each step outside makes the beam more glaring to the next person, who must then step outside....etc.

Article's main thesis: "One can respond to vital and central issues, but in ways that are ultimately unhelpful and even counter-productive--and that, I have been arguing, is what fundamentally characterizes the Saidian framework, at least as far as my own discipline of history is concerned. The assumption that no other intellectual tradition or resource exists to confront the admittedly central issues highlighted by Said or FOucault is deeply self-limiting." (p. 252)

Current phase: "common sense" yes we are creating categories, but at least with postmodernism we are aware that we are doing so. The author wonders if this is a valid argument.

(neat phrase "fetishizing capacities of concepts" (p. 241, quoting Marx?)

In the 'academic common sense' model, Marxism and economics are curiously absent from histories of politics and cultures. The author contends that this is shortsighted. In the case of Indian history the emphasis is still on the Big Bad Colonial and the Good National, as if there was no transference/impact between the two. (Colonialism didn't completely transform all society/cultural groups/cultural practice in India.)

Examples of Saidism gone to far:
- Lata Mani on sati - she ignores much of the literature on pre-colonial practice and women's voices, using only that which supports her thesis. "It soon becomes clear tha tthe real purpose of establishing such a unifying structure is to imply that the reformist advocates for the discouragement or banning of sati were not in any meaningful sense more progressive and humanistically inclined that their opponents." (p.248) ('They were just as bad in the bad old days as well.')
 - O'Hanlon and feminism in India: patriarchal oppression of women is seen as an effect of British colonialism. She ignores the fact that pre-colonial Indians were quite skilled at suppressing women! Also, making 'British male' into a homogeneous monolith she is also shortchanging the complexity of the colonialists' views.

"The applications of the Saidian framework to india, then, have so far produced little more than reiterations of the already said." (p. 249)

So, why,if they continue to screw it up so badly, do scholars continue to use the Saidian framework?
- cross-disciplinary variations, appealing and different
- distance: most Saidian scholars are outside the areas studied
- power structures are of interest to today's people, so models, like Foucault's, that look at power, resonate
- anti-Marxism

Is there another way?
- Thompson, Customs on Commons, "raised important questions about the assumption...that hegemony necessarily 'imposes an all-embracing domination upon the ruled.'" (p. 252)

What is needed? "the development of analytical tools appropriate for South Asian colonial contexts which will be able to handle more effectively the nuances, ambiguities and interrelationships of multiple kinds of power and oppression." (p. 253)

12) Radical Histories and Question of Enlightenment Rationalism: Some Recent Critics of Subaltern Studies. Dipesh Chakrabarty. Pp. 256-280.

or, how postmodernism does/doesn't lead to fascism!

Hyper-rationalism of Colonial Modern: "scientific rationality . . .was introduced into colonial Indoa from the very beginning as an antidote to (Indian) religion" esp. 'superstitious' Hindus. Colonialists thought rationality would lead to conversion to Christianity. Instead it lead to  secular anti-religious modernity.

(Interesting: he personalizes examples and the examples are of kinship/firendship; that's one of the new trends...groups/individuals/)

Key point:
"Why does one of our most capable and knowledgeable historians[Sarkar: The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal] fail to give us any insight into moments in the history of our political and public life when religious sentiments presented themselves as their own end and not as means to some end defined by European political philosophy, however much some Indians may have made that philosophy their own? It is because history for Sarkar is a perpetual struggle between the forces of 'reason' and 'humanism' on one side and those of 'emotion and faith' on the other." (p. 264)

"Frankly, if Enlightenment rationalism is the only way human societies can humanize themselves, then we ought to be grateful that the Europeans set out to dominate the world and spread its message. Will our self-proclaimed 'rationalist' and 'secularist' historians say that?" (p. 272) i.e. Catch-22: imposition of enlightenment/colonialist ideas is bad, but if you assume they led to good (modern, secular) than they must be good, but they were obviously bad so historians must show they were bad, but...

"I am trying to think my way towards a subaltern historiography that actually tried to learn from the subaltern..." (p. 272)

The paragraph, p. 273, about the dialog between the academic and the subaltern: the point that while the academic may say he is engaging the subaltern, the outcome is given: the subaltern as a historic voice has no current voice to speak: the academic seeks to convert the subaltern to the scientific way, the subaltern will not convince the academic that superstition is true--rather reminds me of Lewis's "we had some fine arguments I can tell you," and Joy's reply about predictable outcomes

ramsci defines the subaltern as that which cannot (but must) imagine itself as the state instead of retaining it's current fragmentedness. "What would Indian history be like if it were
imagined as fragmentary? Not 'fragmentary' in the sense of fragments that refer to an implicit whole but fragments that challenge not only the idea of wholeness but the very odea of 'fragment' itself (for if there were not to be any wholes that wouldthe 'fragments' be 'fragments of)?

Even the concept of freedom and diversity for all the world is western monomania! How dare we dictate!

"It would be sad if we ceded this entire heritage [poetry, mysticism, romanticism] to the Hindu extremists out of a fear that our romanticism must be the same as whatever the Europeans produced under the name in their histories, and that our present blunders, whatever these are, must be the same as theirs in the past. What, indeed, could be a greater instance of submission to a Eurocentric imagination than that fear?" (p. 277)

Yes, for us as well!!

14) The Decline of the Subaltern in Subaltern Studies, Sumit Sarkar. Pp. 300-323.

Primarily points out the inconsistencies of subaltern studies writers: motes/beams again
Mostly with definitions being limiting, with major themes of the day becoming misued, outmoded, and replaced (Marxism, nationalism, community, secularism, fragmentism, etc.)

Misgivings about late subaltern studies:

15) The New Subaltern: A Silent Interview, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Pp. 324-340.

(The book is point-counterpoint. Modern day scholarship is point counterpoint. Graduates learn this model and apply it unconsciously to daily life? Blogs/lists can acccelerate that process but will they also accelerate the hardening of devisive lines in our culture???)

Is the book linear? Is that meaningful? What if it were hypertext?