A book review Thursday, May 18, 2006 Below is a link to a review recently written by me. This has been published in Seminar. THE INSURRECTION OF LITTLE SELVES: The Crisis of Secular-Nationalism in India by Aditya Nigam. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006.
These narratives and references thus calls for a scrutiny of various concepts, i.e., ‘mass man’, ‘homogeneous empty time’ of modernity (Walter Benjamin) and nation (Benedict Anderson) and demands a recognition of different temporalities and their articulation. This is particularly crucial as ‘nationalism, because it was coeval with industrial/capitalist development, was also coeval with large-scale dislocation in social terms, leading to an uprooting of communities and their insertion into a different logic of modern community-identity formation’ (p. 307). This is a helpful framework and allows substantive analytical freedom to engage with the community of Dalits who ‘represent a deep resistance to the two great artefacts of our modernity, secularism and the nation. By privileging lived experience, as for instance feminism does, it also represents a resistance to the fundamental epistemic disruption instituted by modernity, that between the subject and object’ (p. 309).
The merit of the book lies in its successful translation of this ‘lived experience’ of the concept of abstract unmarked individual citizen at theoretical levels, that too in a remarkably lucid language. On the other hand, it demonstrates how ‘lived experiences’ of the communities like Dalits, Muslims and Marxists are represented by ‘secular-nationalists’ in their own terms, not merely denying these communities a political participation in their own manner but making the very process of the (non)emergence of ‘mass man’ a unique one in Indian contexts. It is these denied voices or repressed selves that have returned in the last two decades forcing us to adopt new analytical frames. This new framework demands we move beyond the language of either state or civil society. The notion of political society (Partha Chatterjee) is helpful in this context. ‘Here the key figure,’ the author concludes, ‘is the bilingual intellectual/activist who speaks at once the language of community and that of civil society. In other words, the privileged position of the enlightened intelligentsia has to be abandoned’ (p. 325). Sadan Jha india-seminar.com Posted by Sadan Jha at 3:41 PM khayalat