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Identity and Politics

Parshotam Mehra

By Dibyesh Anand
Routledge, New Delhi, 2009, pp. xx 190, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 8-9 August/September 2009

The book is the South Asian edition of Geopolitical Exotica: Tibet in Western Imagination which attempts to bring together representations of Tibet and the study of international relations. The author has examined ‘Exotica Tibet’ (ET)—a short hand for western exoticized representations of Tibet—and underscores its constructive significance for the ‘Tibet question’. ‘ET’ is questioned in terms of how Tibet is represented and what impact these representational regimes have on the ‘Tibet question’. Anand is persuaded that while Tibet excites the popular imagination, it has been treated cursorily if not in a cavalier fashion within political studies.   More, the broad contours of international relations have not dealt with postcolonialism and the Tibet question sufficiently. In the event, he has set himself the task of ‘borrowing from IR (international relations), postcolonial theory and Tibetan studies to set up a theoretical framework’ within which to understand what he calls the ‘poetics and politics’ of ‘ET’. This framework, the author is emphatic, not only recognizes the cultural underpinnings of world politics but also politicizes our understanding of culture.   The opening chapter highlights the ethnocentrism of international relations and spells out a critical approach to the subject. Cultural representation of the non-western ‘Other’, it suggests, lies at the core of western colonial and neocolonial discourses. It identifies significant rhetorical strategies that characterize western representation of the non-western ‘Other’ and focuses mainly on western colonial representations. Later, in chapter 3, the author attempts an in-depth analysis of a selection of prominent cultural sites within which ‘ET’ has operated in the twentieth century. This includes works of fiction, travelogues, memoirs, films and images. The idea is not so much to provide an exhaustive list of such sites as have contributed to the creation of the image of ‘ET’ but to lay bare the representational strategies operating within them.   The last three chapters—‘The West and the Identity of Tibet’ (chapter 4), ‘The Politics of Tibetan (Trans) National Identity’ (chapter 5) and ‘Postcoloniality and Reimag(in)ing Tibetanness’ (chapter 6)—shift attention to examining the impact of representational regimes on the ‘identity of Tibet as much as Tibetan identity’. Thus an historical analysis of the critical role played by British imperialism in the framing of the Tibet question in terms of sovereignty, suzerainty, autonomy and independence is followed by a discussion of how sovereignty relates to the conjunction of international relations, imperialism and Orientalism. In chapters 5 and 6 the specific case ...

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