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Transnational Engagements

Simi Malhotra

By Kris Manjapra
Harvard University Press, London, 2014, pp. 442, price not stated.


Kris Manjapra’s Age of Entanglement is a worthy and comprehensive study of the transnational engagements between Germans and Indians, from the nineteenth century to the Second World War, when both nations were trying, in their own ways, to free themselves from British hegemonic control. Of course, Manjapra is quick to point out, and rightly so, that though there might have been a common axis for the Germans and Indians to come together, i.e., their opposition to British domination, this exchange can hardly be thought to be between equals. Therefore Manjapra hopes that his exploration in this book will ‘inject a necessary dose of realpolitik into the study of transnational intellectual history, through a focus on alliance building, political rivalries and multilateralism’ (p. 6). Consequently, Manjapra examines the political and intellectual coalitions beyond Europe —with Indians in this case—which helped critique the nineteenth century engineered universalism, that of the Enlightenment of Europe and the Empire.   Sidestepping the well-rehearsed arguments of colonial encounters and cross-cultural studies, Manjapra chooses to call his method of studying this exchange between Germans and Indians as a study in ‘Entanglements’, which, as he states, ‘occur when groups, alien from each other in many other ways, begin to need each other like crowbars or shovels to break apart or to dig up problems of the most pressing concern for themselves’ (p. 6). For Manjapra, ‘Entanglement’ is not only a tool to circumvent staid colonial/postcolonial arguments but also a means to inspect threads of history, as they interlace and separate, as a mode of study that foregrounds the ‘multifocal interest in the politics, poetics, and practices of transnational relations’ (p. 6).   As Manjapra argues, the rise of German nationalism in Europe endeavoured to challenge the idea of Europe from within, whereas the rise of anti-colonial nationalism in India attempted to challenge the idea of the unshakeable empire, and these taken together posed a formidable challenge to the well-established nineteenth century world order, that of British dominance. Manjapra studies the travel of ideas, intellectuals, and texts—between Germany and India—as both events and metaphors, though he does add that German travel to India is not to be seen as similar to Indian travel to Germany. And so he adds, ‘similarities are not at issue here; entanglements are’ (p. 2). Therefore, as part of the same project, he takes up the study of events such as the visit of Crown ...

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