Drinking to excess has been a striking problem for industrial and post-industrial societies – who is responsible when a ‘free’ individual opts for a slow suicide? The causes of such drinking have often been blamed on heredity, moral weakness, ‘disease’ (addiction), hedonism, and Romantic illusion. Yet there is another reason which may be more fundamental and which has been overlooked or dismissed, and it is that the drinker may act with sincere philosophical intent. The Existential Drinker looks at the convergence of a new kind of excessive, habitual drinking, beginning in the nineteenth century, and a new way of thinking about the self which in the twentieth century comes to be labelled ‘Existential’. A substantial introduction covers questions of self, will, consciousness, authenticity, and ethics in relation to drinking, while introducing aspects of Existential thought pertinent to the discussion. The Existential-drinker canon is anchored in Jack London’s ‘alcoholic memoir’ John Barleycorn (1913), where London claims he can get at the truth of existence only through the insights afforded by excessive and repeated alcohol use. The book then covers drinker-texts such as Jean Rhys’s interwar novels, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend and John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, along with less well-known works such as Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, Venedikt Yerofeev’s Moscow–Petushki, and A. L. Kennedy’s Paradise. The book will appeal to anybody with an interest in drinking and literature, as well as those with more specialised concerns in drinking studies, Existentialism, twentieth-century literature, and medical humanities.
This book explores modernity, the disciplines, and their interplay by drawing in critical considerations of time, space, and their enmeshments. Based in anthropology and history, and drawing on social-political theory (as well as other, complementary, critical perspectives), it focuses on socio-spatial/disciplinary subjects and hierarchical-coeval tousled temporalities. My effort is to carefully consider the oppositions and enchantments, the contradictions and contentions, and the identities and ambivalences spawned under modernity. At the same time, rather than approach such antinomies, enticements, and ambiguities as analytical errors or historical lacks, which await their (eventual) correction or (inexorable) overcoming, Subjects of Modernity attempts to critically yet cautiously unfold these elements as constitutive of modern worlds. The work’s affiliation with distinct borderlands and its acknowledgment of the production of time and space by subjects, social and disciplinary, play a crucial role here.
To adopt such an apparently oblique, ostensibly elliptical, perspective on modernity is not only to interrupt the long-standing, straightforward storylines of the phenomenon, it is also to query routine portrayals of homogeneous time (that are yet founded on inaugural, spatial ruptures) and antinomian blueprints of social space (which nonetheless entail a singular temporal hierarchy), each one binding the other. Needless to say, such projections undergird the frequently formalist and often a priori representations of modernity which abound in our present. Together at stake in this book are efforts to explore modernity as a contradictory and checkered historical-cultural entity and category as well as a contingent and contended process and condition. That is to say, on offer is an understanding of modernity as acutely construed by social-spatial/disciplinary subjects and as crucially defined by heterogeneous-coeval hierarchically ordered temporalities. As we shall see, all of this shores up, as well, what the work might contribute to discussions of modernity after so much has been said and written about the subject.
It warrants emphasis that the conditions of possibility for this work lie in a series of critical questions concerning modernity, history, and the West/Europe, which have been raised by distinct perspectives in recent decades.1 I indicate three such sets of queries here.2 The first set concerns vigorous challenges to univocal conceptions of universal history under the terms of modernity. Imaginatively exploring distinct pasts that were forged within wider intermeshed matrices of power, such emphases have questioned pervasive imperatives of historical progress and the very nature of the historical archive, both intimately linked to aggrandizing representations of a reified (yet palpable) Europe/West.3
Second, for some time now, critical scholarship has contested the enduring oppositions – for example, binaries between tradition and modernity, ritual and rationality, myth and history, and East and West – that have shaped influential understandings of the past, key conceptions of culture(s). On the one hand, such theoretical interventions have derived support from critiques of a subject-centered reason and a meaning-legislating rationality, critiques that have thought through the dualisms of Western thought and post-Enlightenment traditions. On the other, critical discussions of cultures and pasts have equally challenged the analytical antinomies of modern disciplines, interrogating essentialized representations of otherness and querying abiding projections of progress, which are variously tied to the totalizing templates of universal history and ideological images of Western modernity.4
Third, close to our times, dominant designs of a singular modernity have been increasingly interrogated by contending intimations of heterogeneous moderns. Such explorations have critically considered the divergent articulations and discrete representations of the modern and modernity, which have structured and sutured empire, nation, and globalization. As a result, modernity/modernities have been themselves revealed as contradictory and contingent processes of culture and control, as checkered, contested histories of meaning and mastery in their sedimentation, formation, and elaboration. It follows, too, that questions of modernity today increasingly often escape the limits of sociological formalism and exceed the binds of a priori abstraction, emerging instead as matters of particular pasts and attributes of concrete histories and defined by projects of power and molded by provisos of progress.5
Engaging and extending such inquiries and emphases, this book explores modernity, the disciplines, and time-space in specific ways, precisely through its location in the disciplinary borderlands of anthropology and history, articulating from their margins areal knowledge(s), including of South Asia as envisioned from Latin America. Of particular significance here is my thinking through of the place and play in influential scholarship of the face-off between portrayals of community, subaltern, tradition, and difference with projections of state, West, modernity, and power. On the one hand, these presumptions reveal linkages with enduring oppositions between “enchanted spaces” and “modern places,” which themselves rest upon pervasive procedures of the temporalization of space and the spatialization of time. On the other hand, I do not cast the recent writings and protocols under discussion as distant enemies which can then be easily interrogated and banished forthwith. Rather, such scholarship is acknowledged to be lying closer to home, informing the present inquiry.
Here the crucial questions turn on the unsteady oppositions – as well as their productive ambiguities – concerning temporal/spatial distinctions of the modern and the non-modern/trans-modern that have characterized South Asian subaltern studies, Latin American scholarship on coloniality/decoloniality, and postcolonial perspectives at large. The critical concerns extend to the tangible presence yet ambivalent articulations of time/space – turning on “culture” and “tradition” – in formations of history, anthropology, and historical anthropology. On offer are intellectual articulations of hegemonic and critical representations of the temporal and the spatial; at stake also are epistemic productions, strange and familiar, of space and time. Several of these considerations will emerge through a rather personal narrative in the following chapter.
Next I explore how the developmental idea of a surpassing of the past is central to modern imaginaries, of academic and everyday natures as well as their entwined expressions. At the same time, the work highlights that such segregation of the past from the present, although assumed to be principally temporal, nonetheless embodies profoundly spatial attributes. Thus, the place-holding presumption of a homogeneous history allows an imaginary yet palpable West – its singular temporal trajectory working in tandem with its exclusive spatial location – to become the horizon for the present and posterity of other cultures, which are seen as succeeding or failing to meet their destiny. Yet historical ruptures also insinuate stubborn knots, which once again irreducibly braid the temporal and the spatial. This is to say that prior places/times, at once anachronistic yet entirely coeval, appear enmeshed with contemporary stages/spaces, thus intimating the tangles, tatters, and textures of the past and the present, the spatial and the temporal.
Taken together, these overlapping measures reveal that routine representations of historical temporal ruptures alongside their hierarchical, spatial distinctions under discussion, underlie homologous oppositions between tradition and modernity, ritual and rationality, myth and history, the magical/medieval and the modern, community and state, and East and West. This is true of the distinctions yet overlaps between modernity, modernization, and modernism. Now, such matrices require understanding as the enduring enticements of modernity. But here are exactly found narratives, oppositions, and enchantments that should not be treated as mere objects of knowledge which can then be readily discarded or easily overcome. Rather, these stories, antinomies, and seductions need to be approached as key conditions of knowing under modernity.
Further, I track the interplay between disciplines, focusing on the relationship between anthropology and history. Here, my effort is to discuss formations of modern knowledge as themselves insinuating crucial attributes of procedures of modernity, especially the antinomian articulations of time-space that shore up disciplinary subjects. On the one hand, I explore the mutual reinforcements of time (in the form of history and temporality) and space (in the guise of tradition and culture) as simultaneously separating yet holding together these knowledge formations, whose disciplinary configurations have wide implications in social worlds. On the other, I consider the terms and textures of ambiguity and ambivalence in the recent renovations of anthropology and history, including in the making of historical anthropology. Under discussion throughout are distinct contradictions and contentions of modernity: from the formidable interleaving of analytical and hermeneutic orientations – especially, their competing conceptions of the relationship between knowing/explication and place/location – as underpinning modern knowledge(s) through to the ongoing presence of “heroic histories” in explanations of disciplines and their makeovers, where such projections often overlook their own presuppositions regarding temporal location, spatial locution, and historical progress. Unsurprisingly, it is also the larger undoing, often implicit, of hierarchical mappings of space and time that have revealed the critical possibilities of historical anthropology.
As the next step, the work explores issues of identity under modernity. Here, through their essential association with particular places, bounded spaces, identities are frequently rendered as a means of negotiating or overcoming modernity, which in turn is apprehended as an unbound yet homogeneous entity, seeking to remake the world in its temporal and spatial image. Staying with and thinking through such portrayals of identities as preceding modernity and/or as antidotes to it, I focus on the simultaneity of spatial imaginings, temporal schemes, and developmental sequences in these arenas. This makes it possible to register that, across the past few decades, the increasing inflation of identities – one that is, unsurprisingly, accompanied by the constant clamor over them – forms part of the spatial segregations, developmental distinctions, and historicist hierarchies of modernity.
At the same time, these measures offer an opportunity to propose a distinct perspective on identity, one that holds up a mirror to modernity. Drawing upon historical anthropology, subaltern studies, postcolonial perspectives, and social-political theory, I make a case for the enmeshed productions of modernity and identity, formed and transformed within spatial/temporal processes. Here are to be found entangled procedures of empire and Enlightenment, race and reason, colony and nation, history and community, power and meaning, and authority and alterity, which stretch across while they equally construe continents and epochs, space and time.
Finally, the thematic fabrics and critical motifs outlined above are unraveled and sutured through interpretive threads and analytical stitches of time and space. Considering that both these concepts-entities are often apprehended as being not only amorphous but also abstract, a few clarifications are in order at the outset. Recognizing that space and time have each found varied salient expressions in the disciplines studying physical worlds, my concern in this book is with the social dimensions of these categories and processes. Intimately enmeshed, the one with the other, social space and social time are far from being merely passive contexts, readily given backdrops, and already received conduits for human action. Rather, under consideration is the incessant interplay between routine cultural understandings, dominant ideological representations, and fraught everyday productions of space and time as constitutive of – shoring up as well as shaped by – social conventions and historical practices. Put differently, time and space, elaborated in tandem by social subjects, are at once critical constituents and active outcomes, formative attributes and key consequences of meaning and power, alterity and authority, and practice and process that define our worlds and their divisions.6 In this book, I will attend to the active interchanges between the usual understandings, the hegemonic representations, and the quotidian constructions of space and time, principally focusing on their elaborations in modern social imaginaries, especially of scholarly persuasions.
A handful of common concerns joins these critical considerations together.7 Let us begin with my notion of subjects of modernity, which shores up the study. Now, the category-entity refers to historical actors who have been active participants in processes of modernity: social-spatial actors who have been subject to (shaped by) these processes, but also subjects of (themselves shaping) these processes.8 Unsurprisingly, these temporal/spatial subjects have registered within their measures and meanings the formative contradictions, contentions, and contingencies of modernity. Clearly, these propositions rescue modernity and its subjects from their ready conflations with exclusive images of the (Euro-American, often male) modern subject, a point that becomes especially evident in my discussion of historical identities as shaped by global processes of empire, nation, community, and modernity. At the same time, there is rather more to the picture. For, under the rubric of subjects of modernity, I equally include subject as implying branch of learning and area of study, topic and theme, question and matter, and issue and business. Such subjects appear no less formed and transformed by spatial imperatives and temporal stipulations. Taken together, my articulation of subjects of modernity can productively widen the range of address of modernity and its participants, not only in an empirical manner but, saliently, in conceptual, critical ways, including the entangled productions of time and space in these arenas.
Moreover, there is a persuasive reason for conjoining these distinct registers of subjects of modernity. Arguably, disciplinary formations of modern knowledge often sharply separate academic arenas from everyday worlds. Here, the unsullied arrangements of the former are assumed as readily understanding the murky manifestations of the latter. Indeed, on offer often is the privileged view from nowhere that becomes the compelling vista for everywhere. Thinking through such pervasive supposition and its formidable scholasticism, this book is acutely aware instead of the mutual constitution of the academic and the everyday (as well as of the analytical and the affective, the rational and the embodied, and the hermeneutical and the experiential), especially vigilant of how these terrains simultaneously come together yet fall apart. Here, I unravel academic knowledge(s) and disciplinary protocol(s) as insinuated in wider social worlds and their constitutive conceits, each shaping and sheltering the other, and I register how analytical and scholarly procedures split yet suture embodied and everyday arenas of affect and identity under modernity, ever attentive to the spatial/temporal imperatives in these arenas.
Further, it only follows that Subjects of Modernity is held together by overlapping critical dispositions. Here are to be found orientations that refuse to render the worlds of modernity and its subjects as mere objects of knowledge awaiting their ineluctable endorsement, inevitable refinement, or irrevocable exorcism at the hands of prescient knowledge(s). Instead, the work crucially acknowledges and approaches these arenas and subjects as acutely intimating conditions of knowing. Indeed, such prudent avowal becomes the means to explore the generative meanings and practices of spatial/temporal/disciplinary subjects of modernity as key coordinates that shore up our worlds.
Lastly, the study is premised upon the recognition that the practices and meanings under discussion demand not only critical articulation, but also careful affirmation. Such procedures of the simultaneous querying and affirmation of historical/contemporary worlds and socio-spatial/disciplinary subjects of modernity entwine hermeneutic impulses and critical considerations. This is to say that they imply protocols entailing the interplay of prudent questionings of cultural worlds and their academic apprehensions with close attention to the diversity and distinction of these terrains. Here, there is neither an excision of the details by their being assimilated to the endless analytics of unpicking and unmasking, principally unhinged from temporal/spatial matrices, nor is there a privileging of particulars by their being presented as innate embodiments of alterity and locality, difference and place.
Having outlined the broad lineaments of the endeavor ahead, before proceeding any further it is only appropriate that I now introduce the key tendencies that both influence my wider work and carry key implications for this Theory for a Global Age series.9 Here are to be found bodies of writing that have been deeply contentious and that I read critically in Subjects of Modernity. For these reasons, it is only after presenting their emphases and attending to the protocols of their arguments – rather than assimilating them to my purposes, as is often the case with readings of these tendencies – that I filter this corpus through its own conceits, especially through the means of a personal narrative in the next chapter. (Those readers who are already very familiar with postcolonial perspectives and subaltern studies can, of course, skip the ensuing section and move to the one that follows.)
Unraveling orientations: the postcolonial and the subaltern
Around four decades ago, Edward Said’s seminal study, Orientalism, crucially underscored the mutual entailments of European colonialism and empire with Western knowledge and power.10 Of course, long before the appearance of this work there existed several studies of European images of non-European peoples which identified various stereotypes, especially surrounding the identities of the “self” and the “other.” However, such work tended to be “documentary rather than critical or analytical,” so that an intriguing array of examples of European representations was presented, but their “discursive affiliations and underlying epistemologies” were frequently underplayed.11 Intervening in this field, Orientalism made a persuasive case for the discursive fabrication – at once ideological and material – of the Orient as an object and identity through the profound dynamic of knowledge and power constitutive of Western empires.
Now, it is not only that anticolonial thinking has a longer past than Said’s study – a question to which I will return – but that, exactly at the time of the first publication and early receptions of Orientalism, there were other writings expressing related concerns.12 At the same time, it is equally the case that Said’s arguments had an unprecedented ripple effect on scholarship. On the one hand, Orientalism had shifted the terms of debate and discussion on metropolitan representations of non-European peoples and their historical identities. Here was a shift from uncovering the singular biases of determinate depictions to unraveling the deeper domains of discursive domination, a move that further highlighted the complicity between earlier imperial imaginings and contemporary academic renderings of the Orient. On the other hand, Said’s work came to crystallize the key emphases – and critical tensions – of an emergent academic arena, one entailing explorations of colonial discourses and imperial representations.
In this terrain, the implications and weaknesses of prior critical work on colonial writing, including Orientalism, were elaborated, extended, and exceeded by studies bearing distinct orientations. Especially important were Homi Bhabha’s explorations of the inherent “ambivalence” of colonial discourse13 – as well as the disruptive “hybrid” identities of colonized subjects – in order to challenge singular conceptions of colonial cultural writings.14 Such endeavors further intersected with other ongoing struggles around issues of identity and history, especially those undertaken by minorities and feminists.15 They also acutely elaborated post-structuralist theory, expressly endorsing antihumanist perspectives.16 Taken together, from the early 1980s, discussions and debates on Western representations of non-Western worlds, as part of the wider elaboration of critical theories of colonial discourse, led to the gradual emergence of the field (now even considered a discipline) of postcolonial studies, not solely in metropolitan academic arenas but gradually also in provincial scholarly terrains.17
Over the past two decades, important interventions by postcolonial critics – as well as by scholars of anthropology, history, and religion – have gone on to access yet exceed colonial discourse theory. Exploring the “idea,” “invention,” and “imagination” of diverse subordinate, geopolitical terrains, histories, and identities across the globe,18 such endeavors have further seized upon the contradictory, contingent, and contested dynamics of empire and nation. These dynamics were driven by interlocking identities of class, gender, race, and sexuality. As we shall see, such writings have focused on projects of power as shaped by the acute entanglements of the dominant and the subaltern, the colonizer and the colonized, and the metropolis and the margins. They have variously questioned thereby the unchallenged efficacy accorded to authoritative agendas of empire, nation, modernity, and globalization. Indeed, such scholarship has drawn upon historical, ethnographic, and literary materials to trace the interplay between the construction and institutionalization of emergent articulations of time and space, entailing key conjunctions of racial and sexual boundaries and gender and class divisions as constitutive of colonial cultures, postcolonial locations, and Western orders.19
Accompanying these developments, from the end of the 1970s critical departures were afoot in the history writing of the Indian subcontinent. Reassessments of nationalism in South Asia were often central to such endeavors.20 Here an important role was played by the formation of the subaltern studies project, based on meetings between a small set of enthusiastic younger historians of India, most of them then in England, with a distinguished senior scholar of colonial India, Ranajit Guha, who taught history at the University of Sussex. The protagonists were separated by a generation, yet shared a mutual political and ethical sensibility.21 The purpose of their discussions in England and India was to thrash out a new agenda for the historiography of the subcontinent, an agenda that recognized the centrality of subordinate groups – rightful, but disinherited, protagonists – in the making of the past, and thereby redressed the elitist imbalance of much of the writing on the subject. Thus the subaltern studies project was born.22
Drawing on yet departing from wider traditions of “histories from below,” especially its British variants, an opening programmatic statement defined the aim of the endeavor as an effort “to promote a systematic and informed discussion of subaltern themes in the field of South Asian Studies to rectify the elitist bias of much research and academic work.”23 Here, the category of the subaltern, derived from the writings of Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci, was used as a metaphor for the general attribute of subordination in South Asia, whether such subordination was expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender, race, or office.
It follows that the earlier exercises within the endeavor reconstructed the varied trajectories and the modes of consciousness of the movements of subordinate groups in India, in order to emphasize the autonomy and agency of these communities.24 Such articulations of historical action within subaltern studies had a dual dimension: for one part, the notion of subaltern could acquire the attributes of a singular and homogeneous entity; at the same time, expressed as a critical category, the subaltern held possibilities of sustaining analyses that elaborated the articulation of distinct identities, of community and class, caste and race, and gender and nation.
Not surprisingly, as part of the extended development of the subaltern studies project, the articulations of the subaltern – as a category and an entity – have found ever varied and ever wider manifestations. On the one hand, more recent writings within the project have discussed the multiple mediations and diverse modalities – social and epistemic in nature, cultural and discursive in character – that shore up the production of subaltern subjects and their mutating identities. Here especially significant are the ways in which the notion of the subaltern has served to interrogate dominant knowledge(s) of empire and nation, state and modernity.25 On the other hand, with the original impulse of subaltern studies finding varied appropriations and extensions across different continents from at least the 1990s, there have arisen debates and discussions that have been animated by broader considerations of colonial knowledge and postcolonial difference, multicultural politics and cultural identities.26 Especially influential in these arenas are the writings of Gayatri Spivak, for instance, that harness “deconstructionist” readings and “strategic” sensibilities to fashion against-the-grain readings of subaltern subjects.27 All of this has further underscored the question of the convergences between subaltern and postcolonial studies.
Now it warrants emphasis that postcolonial and subaltern approaches are often elided. Yet, as the discussion so far has indicated, the two should not be simply collapsed together. Thus, while postcolonial orientations emerged under the sign of the colony, the subaltern studies project was born under the mark of the nation. This is to say that, whereas postcolonial understandings privileged colonialism as a historical departure in the making of the modern world, subaltern studies project took as its starting point the requirements of examining “the failure of the nation to come into its own.”28
It is also the case, however, that from the beginning critical engagements both with colony and nation have characterized these two approaches, at the very least implicitly. This should not be surprising. To start with, the ideological antecedents not only of postcolonial perspectives but also of subaltern studies lay in long and critical traditions of anticolonial thought and decolonizing practice. Here, the writings and politics of Frantz Fanon, Amílcar Cabral, and Aimé Césaire could acutely influence the very formations of postcolonial scholarship. At the same time, the terms and textures of subaltern studies – in a manner convergent with postcolonial perspectives – emerged equally informed by wider anti-imperial sensibilities. Such sensibilities extended from the diverse politics of counter-colonialism and decolonization that began in the 1940s through to the events of the 1960s entailing critiques of imperialism and racism – embodied, for example, in the dramatic moment of 1968 – and the continuation of these struggles into the 1970s across different parts of the world.
Together, postcolonial and subaltern studies were preceded and shaped by these wider developments and the extension of their spirit into academic arenas, especially the emergent critiques of reigning paradigms within the disciplines as well as formations of new perspectives on the Left, including combative social sciences, “world systems” theory, radical peasant studies, and critical revisions of Marxism.29 Indeed, having registered the limitations of readily collapsing subaltern and postcolonial perspectives, it is worth noting the key intersections between these inquiries, which have also influenced the terms and textures of historical anthropology, another important tendency undergirding this book.
This book is located on the cusp of anthropology and history. Now, if the association between these two disciplines has been checkered and contradictory, the alliance between them has also been passionate and productive.30 Displaying limited comprehension and lingering mistrust of each other, history and anthropology have often talked past one another.31 Conversely, at different times and in distinct locations, important practitioners of these bodies of knowledge have underscored their key convergences, highlighting the necessity of crossing borders and straddling the boundaries that separate them. However, over the last four decades, the interchanges between these inquiries have acquired fresh purposes in theoretical and empirical studies. The conjunctions have been accompanied by key considerations of the history of anthropology and the anthropology of history. At stake has been a serious rethinking of the status of the two disciplines.32
How are we to understand historical anthropology? Is it a form of knowledge principally entailing archival research and fieldwork, themselves framed as prefigured and already known procedures that subsequently find productive combination in this interdisciplinary terrain? Is historical anthropology, then, only an inquiry that conjoins the methodologies and techniques of two taken-for-granted disciplines? As Brian Axel has argued: “In all the bustle to try and figure out how history and anthropology can use each other’s techniques (and thus, supposedly, constitute a historical anthropology), what most often goes without comment is the presumption that history and anthropology are whole and complete in themselves. Here, we regard such a presumption as a problem – one leading to the very common way of speaking about historical anthropology as exemplifying the dialogue between history and anthropology.”33
My own attempts involve approaching historical anthropology in a manner that rethinks its constituent disciplines and their wider interplay. To do this is to look beyond merely tracing the “dialogue” between anthropology and history, in order to attend instead to their critical makeovers and mutual renovations, which signal convergent dispositions yet divergent articulations.34 This is also to say that the shared entailments of history and anthropology are grounded in common assumptions and mutual denials, disciplinary genealogies that have deep provenance and wide implications in social worlds. Examining such reciprocal principles, turning on space and time, which prop up history and anthropology, I seek to probe the business-as-usual of anthropology and history as well as to present the consequences at large of the meeting and mating of these inquiries.35
In more recent years, as anthropologists and historians have rethought theory, method, and perspective, archival materials have been read through anthropological filters and fieldwork has been harnessed to the historical imagination. All this has significantly opened up questions of the nature of the “archive” and the “field” as well as of time and space, albeit often implicitly. Anthropological agendas have been yoked to historical accounts of the interleaving of meaning and practice. Historical sensibilities have informed ethnographic explorations of the interplay between culture and power. Such blending has produced hybrid narratives, rendering the strange as familiar and accessing the familiar as strange, the better to unsettle our notions of strangeness and familiarity regarding historical worlds and contemporary ones. While such developments have not been all of a piece, the critical possibilities they suggest intimately inform the account ahead.
Rather more than a conventional monograph, Subjects of Modernity is better understood as an extended essay in the sense of an argument in six parts. It draws together the past and the present as well as theory and narrative by sowing the empirical, the historical, the ethnographic, and the methodological deep into its critical procedures. Thus the work straddles the standard splits between the contemporary and the historical as well as the theoretical and the empirical: indeed, their conjunctions spell the spirit and substance of the study from this introductory endeavor, through its distinct chapters, and on to an eventual epilogue.
Chapter 2 is cast as something of a personal narrative. It recounts how I arrived at inklings and intimations of space and time – in tandem with understandings of disciplines and subjects, modernity and identity – beginning with my pre-apprentice days in Delhi through to my apprenticeship at Cambridge, moving on to my journeyman sojourns in Mexico and to my artisanal concerns in the present. At stake especially are encounters and entanglements with time and space as folded within the creases of subaltern studies, decolonial understandings, and postcolonial perspectives. On the one hand, I explore how these shifting orientations have drawn upon hegemonic representations as well as non-certified imaginations of time and space, to now press familiar associations and unravel unusual enunciations of these concepts and processes. On the other, I track the active construal, the exact production, of space and time within the epistemic practice of these critical perspectives.
Chapter 3 draws on social theory, political philosophy, and other scholarship in the critical humanities in order to make its claims concerning the mutual binds between everyday oppositions, routine enchantments, temporal ruptures, and spatial hierarchies of a modern provenance. My reference is to productions of space and time, antinomies and enticements, as hegemonic representation and quotidian presumption. Laboring together, these have split, sutured, and shaped modernity by intimately informing the meanings and practices of its socio-spatial disciplinary subjects. The spatial/temporal templates under discussion not only clarify the distinctions and overlaps between modernity, modernization, and modernism, but also reveal how modern enticements and antinomies, far from being analytical abstractions, intimate instead ontological attributes and experiential dimensions of the worlds in which we live, and the spaces and times that we inhabit and articulate.
Chapter 4 charts its course through a large, varied corpus of anthropologies and histories, produced principally in the twentieth century. On the one hand, I elaborate the incessant interplay of temporality and tradition, spatiality and history, and place and culture by tracking the formidable presence and acute articulations of hegemonic representations of time and space, of the modern and the non-modern, in these disciplines. On the other, I register that these arenas are equally shot through with an unstable entwining of hermeneutical and analytical assumption. Now, the focus on the braiding of the analytical and the hermeneutical, each entailing a distinct relationship between knowledge and place, knowing and location, has critical consequences. It helps to unravel the unstable production of space and time precisely as part of disciplinary practice, which now instated and now interrogated dominant blueprints. Such measures, in turn, serve to think through temporal ruptures and to scrabble spatial hierarchies, revealing wider antipodal modalities at the core of different critical traditions.
My deliberations include the work on time-reckoning and historical dynamics – implicitly insinuating particular places and abstract spaces respectively – in the writings of “masters” such as Franz Boas, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, and Pierre Bourdieu. They extend to mid-twentieth-century social-scientific considerations, located on the cusp of colony and nation, alongside older and more recent writings in history and anthropology across different parts of the world. Here are to be found tacit assumptions concerning space, time, and progress that hold a mirror up to the ambiguities and ambivalences of modernity and its disciplines. Yet also encountered are possibilities of other imaginings and critical expressions of socio-spatial and hetero-temporal disciplinary subjects and cultural terrains, past and present.
Chapter 5 turns to issues of identity and modernity. Based on rather particular readings of an array of historical and anthropological writings, it critically conjoins these with salient emphases of subaltern studies, postcolonial scholarship, and social theory, which are also configured in newer ways. Specifically, I render these understandings, including against their own assumptions, as bearing distinctive expressions of space and time. Thus, I approach identities as referring to broad-ranging temporal-spatial processes of formations of subjects, intimating at once particular personhoods and collective groupings. Here, identities comprise a crucial means through which such processes are perceived, experienced, and articulated. Indeed, defined within cultural-temporal and socio-spatial relationships of production and reproduction, appropriation and approbation, and power and difference, cultural identities (and their mutations) appear as essential elements in the quotidian constitution (and routine transformations) of social worlds. Following these propositions, historical anthropologies, postcolonial perspectives, and subaltern studies – when unraveled along and against the grain of their claims and conceits – have a broad purchase. They untangle cultural/historical identities, grounded in space/time, as constitutive of colony and empire, history and community, and nation and modernity across the continents. Such critical and processual, theoretical and empirical, understandings not only militate against the attribution of an inescapable a priori particularity to identity, but they actively uncover the spatial segregations and temporal hierarchies that attend mappings of modernity.
Chapter 6, an extended epilogue, weaves together the different strands of the study by exploring the terms of modernism on the Indian subcontinent. I focus first on critical modernist moments, cutting across aesthetic forms and the twentieth century, in South Asia. Self-conscious breaks with prior artistic traditions within the subcontinental aesthetic landscape – alongside engagements with wider modernist imaginaries – have instilled these tendencies with rather specific energies, twists, and textures. Alongside, however, are claims of a surpassing of the past that appear variously inflected by empire and nation, communitarianism and nationalism, memory and history, the mythic and the primitive, a fractured independence and violent Partition, the political and the postcolonial, gender and sexuality, body and pain, and the epic and the contemporary.
Taken together, the discussion suggests the salience of tracking heterogeneous, yet overlaying, temporalities of modernisms in South Asia, including the creation of time and space within aesthetic practices of modern subjects. Indeed, these considerations are further clarified through the formidable images and fragmentary texts of Savindra Sawarkar, an expressionist and Dalit artist. Central to his unsettling iconography and imagination are distinctive representations of history and the here and now working in tandem, which evoke and create space and time, past places and present tempos, in order to reveal their immanent frames while pointing toward other futures. Here the claims, contentions, and contradictions of a rather particular modern subject, his twisted times and places, bring to life the anxieties, ambivalences, and identities spawned by modernity and its subjects, who construe temporal-spatial matrices even as they are shaped by snarled spaces and tangled times.