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Challenging Western Interpretations of Thought

T.C.A. Ranganathan

By Leela Gandhi
Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2015, pp. 161 66, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

This is the latest offering of the author, who is the John Hawkes Professor of English and Humanities at Brown University, and the founding co-editor of the journal Post-Colonial Studies. Postcolonial studies represent an academic branch of studies which debunk and challenge western interpretations of thought. The rise of this branch of discourse in western academics is often dated from the publication of Edward Said’s influential critique of western constructions of the Orient in his 1978 book Orientalism. A layperson can get an initial perspective from the handy internet toolkit, Wikipedia, which indicates that postcolonial studies draw from ‘postmodern thought’ to analyse the politics of knowledge (creation, control and distribution) by analysing social and political power that sustains neo-colonialism/colonialism. As a genre of history, says Wikipedia, postcolonialism questions and reinvents the modes of cultural perception, the ways of viewing and of being viewed. As Anthropology, it records human relations among colonial nations and the subaltern people exploited by colonial rule. As a critical theory, postcolonialism presents, explains and illustrates the ideology of neocolonialism. Leela Gandhi is the daughter of the late Indian Philosopher, Ramchandra Gandhi (to whom this book is dedicated) and, accordingly the great-granddaughter of M.K. Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari. This is her fourth independently authored book: Her first, Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction was described as mapping the field in terms of its wider philosophical and intellectual context, drawing important connections between postcolonial theory, poststructuralism, postmodernism, Marxism and feminism. Her next book, Affective Communities was written to reveal ‘for the first time how those associated with marginalised lifestyles, sub cultures and traditions—including homosexuality, vegetarianism, animal rights, spiritualism and aestheticism— united against imperialism and forged strong bonds with colonised subjects and cultures’ mapping the connectivity between Edward Carpenter and M.K. Gandhi and between Mirra Alfassa and Sri Aurobindo. Her third offering was Measure of Home: Poems. The current work is described in the book cover as focusing on ‘defining a shared culture of perfectionism across imperialism, fascism and liberalism—an ethics that excluded the ordinary and the unexceptional’. She ‘also illuminates an ethics of moral imperfection, a set of anticolonial and antifascist practices devoted to ordinariness and abnegation’. Moral imperfectionism is presented as the lost tradition of global democratic thought, which could be a key to democracy’s future—defining ‘democracy as the shared art of living on the other side of perfection’ and ‘mounts ...

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