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An Absent Presence: Tracing the Difference


Lakshmi Kannan

INDIGENOUS ROOTS OF FEMINISM: CULTURE, SUBJECTIVITY AND AGENCY
By Jasbir Jain
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2011, pp. 341, Rs.695.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 3 March 2012

Every author needs a defining moment to get started on the long, arduous path towards writing that next book. And that cathartic moment came to Jasbir Jain while she was on a lecture tour in the US, talking extensively on 'Women and History: Memory, Resistance and Agency' when she suddenly realized that she needed to 'fill in gaps' in areas if she sought to locate the details for the sheer multiplicity of women's issues. She knew too that unless she worked on that next book, the contours of issues would not emerge with contextual clarity. Roots of Feminism: Culture, Subjectivity and Agency, born out of that intensely introspective moment resonates with some telling observations and questions that you and I have always wanted to voice, but perhaps never quite found the nerve to do so. The book with its exhaustive bibliography is immensely valuable not just for academic scholars and researchers, but for literary historians, culture critics, writers, artists and actors who wish to understand how, or why, the 'Absent Presence' of the past casts a long shadow to the present, and how women and their agency make a difference. If I could be forgiven for referring first to the concluding chapter, 'Tracing the Difference', I wish to share with the reader Jain's metaphor of tracing to understand the position she takes in this study. The very act of tracing has Derridean connections, says Jain, for 'Semiology has lifted both "trace" and "difference" into a philosophical plane...one pointing to similarity, the other to difference.' With this as her position, Jain assimilates the insights of religious history, sociology, psychology and other related disciplines, and works her way through her predominant methodology-the literary constructs in various genres that developed, or thinned out, or perished, or even rose into major movements. They cover a wide range-personal narratives, re-writings of epics that subverted the accepted message, diaries that lay  "how does she perceive her 'self' under all these layers? It has to come from the depth of her subjective consciousness. Jain refers to The Silken Swing, a joint study by Fernando Franco, Jyotsna Macwan and Suguna Ramanathan, who bring new findings from psychology to show how subjectivity can actually empower a woman despite the gap in her thought and action because it 'alters the perspective that the person brings to bear upon the world'." buried in obscurity for a long time before ...


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