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Complementary/Contending Strands

Sekhar Bandyopadhyay

Edited by Saurabh Dube
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2004, pp. 275, Rs. 650.00


Postcolonial theory has developed in recent years in different discursive areas, modernity and nationalism being its main focus. The major thrust of this theory is to interrogate post-Enlightenment European modernity, which colonialism made into a universal model of progress for the colonized societies, a paradigm that established an indelible connection between nation and nation-state. The most legitimate goal for all nations was to form a nation-state—as it happened in Europe—all histories thus became versions of the history of Europe in various stages. Dipesh Chakrabarty has recently called it a stagist theory of history and has called for constructing alternative histories to situate the discussion of nationalism outside the discourse of modernity. There were initially two major geographical areas within which this particular mode of history-writing developed—in South Asia it started with the emergence of Subaltern Studies and in Africa with the works of Franz Fanon and his followers. Later on it was applied to case studies in Latin America, East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and more recently Eastern Europe. In recent years various strands have developed within the rubric of postcolonial writings, some complementary, some contending, but all interrogating the hegemony of colonial modernity and recognizing and acknowledging postcolonial difference. The present volume brings together thirteen important essays that belong to this genre. All of these are related to South Asia and were previously published—and were written by some of the luminaries in the western academia. It includes at the end an interesting cyber-interview with Dipesh Chakrabarty clarifying some of the theoretical issues arising from this volume as well as from Chakrabarty’s earlier writings. The editor, Saurabh Dube, himself a well known practitioner in this field, has provided a valuable theoretical introduction to the collection, although his impenetrable writing style will not make it an easy read for the uninitiated. The essays in this volume are organized into three broad themes. The first group on ‘Colony and Empire’ includes, first of all, an essay by Ranajit Guha, who argues about the Raj being ‘dominance without hegemony’—a regime that ruled without consent. This article shows the failure of liberalism to contain the predatory nature of colonialism that not only took away freedom of the colonized, but also victimized its own European servants, whose moral dilemmas about the oppressive nature of the empire and anxieties about their own isolation, were ultimately made subservient to ...

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