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 chapter considers aspects of the interplay of modernity and history, as entailing pervasive procedures of the temporalization of space and the spatialization of time. We have seen that these protocols have twin dimensions: on the one hand, they entail routine projections of historical time as necessarily homogeneous and yet founded on inaugural spatial ruptures; on the other, they involve antinomian blueprints of social space as innately split but ever along a singular temporal hierarchy. The configurations bind each other. At stake, actually, are oppositions and enchantments of modernity. And so, it is through the “oblique” perspective of the enchanted antinomies of modernity – rather than the dominant motif of its innate disenchantment – that this chapter approaches anew modernity’s constitutive terms and their interplay with time and space, the past and the present.
The idea of modernity rests on rupture. It brings into view a monumental narrative: the breaching of magical covenants, the surpassing of medieval superstitions, and the undoing of hierarchical traditions. The advent of modernity, then, insinuates the disenchantment of the world: the progressive control of nature through scientific procedures of technology and the inexorable demystification of enchantments through powerful techniques of reason. Indeed, it is possible to argue – along with Martin Heidegger, for example – that the privileged dispensation of legislative reason within regimes of modernity gathers together nature and humanity as conjoint attributes of a disenchanted world.
Yet processes of modernity create their own enchantments. Here are to be found enchantments that extend from the immaculately imagined origins and ends of modernity through to the dense magic of money and markets; from novel mythologies of nation and empire through to hierarchical oppositions between myth and history, emotion and reason, ritual and rationality, East and West, and tradition and modernity. Intensely spectral but concretely palpable, forming tangible representations and informing forceful practices, the one bound to the other, such enticements stalk the worlds of modernity’s doing and undoing. The enchantments of modernity give shape to the past and the present by ordering and orchestrating these terrains, at once temporally and spatially.1
The first chapter discussed the proposition that the developmental idea of a supersession of the past is crucial to modern imaginaries. This is true of academic assumption and everyday understanding, and also underlies the mutual articulations of modernity, modernization, and modernism. Such splitting of the past from the present is simultaneously temporal and spatial. Here the singular temporal trajectory and the exclusive spatial location of an overweening imagined yet tangible West together map the history and the here and now of all existing arenas, projecting their problems and possibilities as always lying along an a priori axis of space and time.2 These images of historical temporal ruptures alongside their hierarchical, spatial distinctions have crystallized into constitutive hegemonic representations of modernity. Forming dominant persuasive presumptions of the modern, they underscore mutual oppositions between tradition and modernity, ritual and rationality, myth and history, the magical/medieval and the modern, community and state, and East and West. Such matrices intimate the abiding enticements of modernity: assiduously woven into formidable fabrics of empire, nation, and globalization, their presumptions and representations are, unsurprisingly, acutely articulated by historical subjects in their quotidian construal and everyday experience of space and time. This is to say that at stake are ruptures and representations, antinomies and assumptions, enchantments and apprehensions that form key conditions of knowing under modernity.
To pose matters in this manner is to register the salience of modernity’s oppositions but without reifying them, to think through the enchantments of modernity yet without attempting to exorcise them. Indeed, my arguments do not propose a general solution to the oppositions and enchantments of modernity. Thus, I eschew readings that relentlessly seek foundations of such oppositions and enchantments in Enlightenment principles and post-Enlightenment traditions, only to abandon from imagination and understanding diverse human energies and enormous historical passions that have claimed these antinomies and animated these enticements. Rather, my effort is to work toward carefully questioning and critically exploring social worlds, particularly their scholarly apprehensions, in view of the place and persistence of modernity’s oppositions and enchantments in academic and everyday temporal and spatial understandings.
All of this further suggests specific overlapping dispositions to analytical categories and social worlds (which were discussed in the previous chapters, yet which I emphasize again). On the one hand, modernity and its stipulations do not appear in this book as mere objects of knowledge, out there, at a distance, awaiting discovery, confirmation, or refutation. They intimate instead conditions of knowing, entities and coordinates that shore up the worlds we inhabit, demanding critical articulation. On the other hand, in deliberating the authoritative terms and the pervasive enchantments of modernity, my efforts do not simply cast these as ideological aberrations and mistaken practices. In necessarily different ways, they recognize, rather, their dense ontological dimensions, which simultaneously name and work upon the world in order to remake it.
This registered, it still remains to state some of the ways in which my arguments address other scholarly articulations of modernity’s enchantments. As Bruce Knauft has suggested, from around the last decade of the twentieth century, the excesses of the “post” in postmodernism have led scholars across a range of disciplines “back in a significantly new key” to the study of modernity.3 Here, critical considerations of modernity have unsurprisingly entailed imaginative analyses of the magic of the modern.
In the air for long now, the notion of the magic of modernity has found interesting articulations, especially in critical anthropology and cultural studies, during recent years. An important role here has been played by the ideas of Marx on commodity fetishism and the magical nature of money and markets, including the extension of these ideas to other terrains. In the past, analytical endeavor – especially using filters of “critiques of ideology” and those of “false-consciousness” – subsumed such suggestions of Marx to his related emphases on reification and alienation. But the newer writings register modernity’s magic – and the interplay between the magical and the modern – as more critically constitutive of social worlds.4 Important strands of such work have focused on the magic of capitalism and/or on the fetish of the state.5 Still other exercises have moved toward the simultaneous evocation and defacement of power, pointing to the sacred character of modern sovereignty, in order to re-enchant modernity through surrealistic representation and writing and ecstatic thought and theory.6
Here, I consider it important to critically crystallize such consideration of the magic and/or the modern by placing the magical formations of money and markets as well as the fetish of state and sovereignty as part of the wider enchantments of modernity. I have noted that the enchantments extend from immaculate notions of origins and ends of modernity through to monumental mythologies of empires and nations, further encompassing modernity’s hierarchical oppositions that split social worlds while holding them together. Now, the present work registers these enchantments as formative of modern worlds. That is to say, once again, I approach the enchantments of modernity not merely as objects of knowledge but as conditions of knowing. In these ways, I eschew the lingering tendency to variously dismiss the representations and foundations of modernity having once uncovered their contradictions and conceits. It only follows that, while learning from surrealist, Dada-like scholarly unmasking of modern power, my work as a whole points to the need to look beyond uneasy yet ready answers to history and modernity. My bid is to patiently and prudently stay longer instead with critical questions arising in these terrains, especially by unobtrusively endorsing a new ongoing “ontological” turn in political and social scholarship, which was indicated earlier.7
There is something uncannily haunting, unerringly close to home, about modernity’s enchantments, now drawing in and reaching beyond scholarly understandings. Consider the manner in which the term “medieval” bears enormous import for delineations of modernity, an issue that I have discussed elsewhere in relation to imperatives of contemporary politics.8 The point here is that specters of the medieval – think of the Taliban, of Al-Qaeda, of ISIS, among other examples – darkly delineate practices, beliefs, cultures, faiths, and histories as at once a prior spatial presence and an ongoing temporal horror in the mirrors of modernity. They hover in the present in ominous ways.
Why should this be the case? I began by noting that as an idea, ideal, and ideology modernity and the modern appear as premised upon fundamental spatial-temporal ruptures: a surpassing of tradition, a break with the medieval.9 Time after time, in this vision of the past, present, and posterity, an exclusive, imaginary, and bloated West has morphed into history, modernity, and destiny, realized or unrealized, for each society, any culture, and every people.10 Even more widely, assiduously plotted against the horizon of a singular modernity, along the axis of an exclusive time and its hierarchical spaces, distinct meanings, practices, and institutions appear primitive or progressive, lost or redeemable, savage or civilized, barbaric or exotic, ever behind or almost there, medieval or modern.
These peoples have missed the temporal-spatial bus of universal history, or they hang precariously from one of its symmetrical sides. Patiently or impatiently, they still wait for the next vehicle plying the road of modernity. Comfortably or uncomfortably, they now sit within this transportation of historical time, this vehicle traversing social space. Their distance from the modern registers redemptive virtue or their falling behind on this route reflects abject failure.11 Rather more than ideological errors, awaiting their inexorable exorcism through superior knowledge, such mappings circulate as structures of feeling, instituted as categorical entities, intimating the measures and the means of the modern, which is to say they are abiding enchantments of modernity.
From where do such hierarchal oppositions and their immense enchantments arise? For a long time now, formidable antinomies between static traditional communities and dynamic modern societies have played an important role in understandings of history and culture.12 At first, the spatial-temporal duality might seem to be little more than an ideological plank of modernization theory, counterposing primarily non-Western tradition with chiefly Western modernity. But the antinomy has wider implications and deeper underpinnings.13 It is not only that the duality has animated and articulated other enduring oppositions, such as those between ritual and rationality, myth and history, community and state, magic and the modern, and emotion and reason. It is also that as a lasting legacy of developmental temporal ideas of universal natural history and of aggrandizing spatial representations of an exclusive Western modernity, such oppositions have found varied expressions among the distinct subjects that they have named, described, and objectified since at least the eighteenth century.14 At stake, indeed, are mappings of time and orderings of space, which substantialize both (space and time) in antinomian ways.
Representations emanating from the European Enlightenment have played a key role here. Now, it would be hasty and erroneous to see the European Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as all of a piece. From contending strains of rationalism in France and empiricism in Britain through to different conceptions of universal and natural history, it is more useful to speak in the plural of Enlightenments.15 Here were to be found, too, challenges to rationalist procedures through varieties of Counter-Enlightenments, which shaped the Enlightenment.16 Despite such plural procedures, it has been generally accepted that the period of the Enlightenment was accompanied and marked by ideas and processes of the secularization of Judeo-Christian time.17 Actually, such secularization of Judeo-Christian time during the Enlightenment was an emergent and consequential idea, but a circumscribed and limited process.18
In this context, discrete yet overlaying developmental schemes underwrote grand designs of human history, from the rationalist claims of Voltaire and Kant through to the historicist frames of Giambattista Vico and Johann Gottfried von Herder. There was profound contention among such schemas, yet in different ways they each projected developmental blueprints of universal history, turning on space and time.19 Such contrary strains and convergent emphases were bound to the fact, many times overlooked, that the Enlightenment was as much historical as philosophical, as much about the rewriting of history as about the rethinking of philosophy. The consequences were limited yet significant. On the one hand, throughout the nineteenth century but also afterwards Judeo-Christian and messianic time, temporality, and telos – and the spatial imaginaries on which they rested – did not lose their influence in Western worlds.20 On the other, by the second half of the nineteenth century, at the very least in the Protestant West, secularized time could acquire a naturalized aura and developmental thought was distilled (uncertainly yet potently) as historical progress, each seeking to transform spatially segregated worlds in its image and wake.21
It followed that time and space, articulated in tandem, came to be increasingly mapped in hierarchical ways to plot peoples and cultures in the movement of history that was primarily projected as the passage of progress. Frequently articulated by the Ur-opposition between the primitive and the civilized, in place here nonetheless was neither a singular Western “self” nor indeed an exclusive non-Western “other.” Rather, at play in this terrain were the spatial severalty of Western selves and the temporal hierarchies of non-Western otherness. In this scenario, many peoples (for example, Africans, African-Americans, and indigenous groups in the Americas and across the world) were still stuck in the stage of barbarism and savagery with few prospects of advancement. Other societies (for example, those of India and China) had reached the ascending steps of civilization yet lacked the critical foundations of reason. Still other people (chiefly of Western European stock) had evolved to the higher reaches of humanity through advantages of race and rationality and propensities of history and nationality. Indeed, it was the past and the present of this last set of people, comprising the enlightened European elect, that was seized on and rendered as a looking glass at large. In this mirror was envisioned the universal history of human destiny, a destiny represented as groups and societies caught in warps of space and vortexes of time, either failing before or rising to the stage of modernity that was ever cast as spatial and temporal apex.
It was registered earlier that dominant notions and pervasive narratives of modernity involve a break with the past, a carving up of space: here, stories of modernity ever intimate ruptures with ritual and magic and breaches with enchantment and tradition, setting to work procedures of the temporalization of space and the spatialization of time. Following authoritative understandings, as an epochal concept, modernity has been seen as embodying a distinct and new status from preceding periods. Two immensely influential contemporary discussions explicating the critical attributes of modernity should suffice here.
The philosopher Jürgen Habermas has suggested that under modernity the notion of the “new” or the “modern” world loses a “merely chronological meaning” to take on instead “the oppositional significance of an emphatically ‘new’ age.” It follows from this that the normative order of modernity has to be ground out of itself, rather than drawing its dispositions from models offered by other, obviously earlier, epochs.22 Similarly, the historian Reinhart Koselleck has argued that, starting in the eighteenth century, the regimes of historicity under modernity have entailed a series of homologous disjunctions between the past and the present, prophecy and prediction, and eschatological imaginings and secular visions. This is to say that modernity innately insinuates novel orientations to the past, present, and future.23
These are persuasive arguments that carry their own truths. But they also principally present modernity in idealized terms, overlooking also their own implicit articulations of time and space. At the same time, precisely for these reasons, the understandings are acutely representative. None of this should be surprising, for the persuasions and truths of such arguments and their presentation of modernity in idealized terms are inextricably entwined with each other. Indeed, at stake here is nothing less than the abiding enchantments of modernity.
First, influential and commonplace explications of modernity have for a very long time now proceeded by locating its constitutive terms as being entirely internal to an imaginary yet tangible space-time called Europe/West. This is to say that they have understood modernity as phenomena generated purely internally within the West. Produced within this spectral yet palpable Europe, it was only later that modernity was variously exported to other parts of humanity. Now, precisely this measure serves to override dynamics of colonizer and colonized, race and reason, Enlightenment and empire, and indeed space and time, dynamics that been constitutive of the terms and textures of modernity as history.24
Second, the protocols of modernity have all too frequently been approached through a resolute sieving of the necessarily uneven historical processes that have attended the emergence(s) and development(s) of the phenomena. Across disciplines, from history to sociology to philosophy, modular designs of modernity are assumed in place more or less a priori. These frames and filters then provide the means with which to approach, analyze, and apprehend the causes, characteristics, and consequences – as well as the terms, terrains, and trajectories – of modernity, including its expansion across the world in predetermined ways.25 This has served to subordinate the everyday manifestations and critical margins of modernity – entailing of course key coordinates of space, time, and their regular and irregular productions – further underplaying the contentions and contradictions of modernity in Western and non-Western worlds.
Third and finally, representations and definitions of modernity – and its attendant processes such as secularization as well as its cognate concepts such as liberty – have entailed a ceaseless interplay between their ideal attributes and their actual manifestations. This has meant not only that the actual has been apprehended in terms of the ideal, but that even when a gap is recognized between the two the actual is seen as tending toward the ideal with each shoring up the other. At stake are more than simple errors of understanding, since it is exactly the admixtures of the actual articulations and the idealized projections of modernity that have defined its worldly dimensions.26 Taken together, these procedures announce salient registers of hierarchical mappings of time and space. In both conscious and inadvertent ways, such registers entail two simultaneous measures. Rehearsing the West as modernity, they equally stage modernity “as the West.”27
The idea of modernity as a coming apart from the past rests on the imagination of ruptures within Western history, that prior terrain of the past intimating distinct (and often diminished) coordinates of time and space. But such an idea cannot help also turning on the importance of disjunctions of the West with non-Western worlds, a categorically distinct lower space-time, whether explicitly or implicitly. On the one hand, the caesura defined by modernity as the new beginning is shifted into the past, “precisely to the start of modern times” in Europe.28 It is ahead of this threshold that the present is seen as being renewed in its vitality and novelty under modernity. On the other hand, exactly when the modern is privileged as the most recent period, the novelty and vitality of modernity confront specters of the “medieval,” the “superstitious,” the “prophetic,” and the “spiritual” meandering in their midst. These spirits are a prior presence and an ongoing process. Each attempt to engage them in the present entails marking them as an attribute of the past. My reference is to the ways in which in dominant representations, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or ISIS are simultaneously “coeval” and “medieval”; and the manner in which, in pervasive understandings, the importance today of “indigenous spirituality” and “local tradition” is at once contemporary yet anachronistic.
I am suggesting, then, that the meanings, understandings, and actions that fall outside the disenchantment-driven horizons of modernity have to be plotted as lagging behind this novel stage. Here, spatial mappings and temporal measurements of the West and the non-West come to rest on the trajectory of time, an axis that claims to be normatively neutral but in fact produces profoundly hierarchical spaces. This is to say that the precise notion of modernity as a rupture with the past carves up social and historical worlds into the traditional and the modern, further naming and animating other temporal-spatial oppositions such as those between ritual and rationality, myth and history, and magic and modernity.
Why should the antinomies of modernity have played an important role in the mapping and making of social worlds? These oppositions emerged embedded within formidable projects of power and knowledge, turning on Enlightenment, empire, and nation as well as within the challenges to these projects. These have been motivated if diverse projects “not simply of looking and recording but of recording and remaking” the world, as Talal Asad tells us.29 Unsurprisingly, the oppositions themselves assumed persuasive analytical authority and acquired pervasive worldly attributes, variously articulated with dominant representations of modernity and its spatial-temporal trajectory as a self-realizing project of progress and a self-evident embodiment of history. As worldly knowledge, then, these neat proposals, abiding oppositions, and their constitutive presumptions entered the lives of historical subjects, albeit at different times and in distinct ways. Formidably if variously disseminated as ways of approaching and modes of apprehending social worlds, they have appeared equally instituted as tissues of affect and textures of experience, intricately articulated (in inherently heterogeneous ways) with the production and meaning of space and time within everyday practices. And so, it should not be surprising that, their critical questioning notwithstanding, these oppositions continue to beguile and seduce.30
The pervasive presence of modern oppositions, especially in intellectual arenas, derives in no small measure from the manner in which modernity is often elided with modernization, and at other times folded into modernism. As is generally known, the notion of modernization as expressed by its different theorists/theories refers to modular temporal-spatial projections of material, organizational, and technological – as well as economic, political, and cultural – transformation(s), principally envisioned in the looking glass of Western development. Here, different, often hierarchically ordered, societies are seen as succeeding (or failing) to evolve from their traditional (or pre-modern) states through linear stages of succession to become modernized (or capitalist) arenas.31 Now, the simplistic, step-by-step, spatial schemas and the reductive, totalizing temporal templates of modernization theories have always been far too tendentious.32 And so, too, have they been decisively questioned and firmly rejected by critical scholarship for some time now. Yet motifs of modernization have also crucially carried wide resonance, easily elided with mappings of modernity, such that each shores up the other.
Why should this be the case? To begin with, as was just discussed, a crucial characteristic of pervasive articulations of Western modernity has hinged on their positing of the phenomenon as marked by a carving up of space and time, a break with the past, a rupture with tradition, a surpassing of the medieval. In this scenario, the blueprints of modernization have actually distilled the designs of modernity, the aggressive spatial assumption of the latter holding in place the schematic temporal prognosis of the former. Taken together, modernity’s discourses and modernization theories, inextricably entwined, the one with the other, have articulated an imaginary but palpable distended and aggrandizing Europe/West as history and modernity, the telos of time and space, for each society, culture, and people.
Yet there is more to the picture. Reaching beyond routine representations, in artistic, intellectual, and aesthetic arenas, each understood broadly, modernity has often appeared in intimate association with its cognate (or conceptual cousin), modernism. Modernism is also an enormously contentious term, which necessarily follows from the contested and contradictory character of the tendencies it describes. Here are to be found cultural movements, styles, and representations, going back to the mid-nineteenth century and extending into our own times, which have been diversely expressed and performed in different parts of the world. Following Theodor Adorno, modernism has been a principally “qualitative” rather than a merely “chronological” category,33 but it is also the case that the internal endeavors within modernisms to surpass the past, articulate the present, and envision the future have been intrinsically heterogeneous ones. They have variously engaged and interrogated, accessed and exceeded Enlightenment thought and Romantic tradition, abstract reason and religious truth, surface coherence and tonal depth, Western representations and precolonial narratives, the certainties of science and the presence of God, and governmental authority and popular politics. All of this raises intriguing issues of the configurations of time and space within the ideational articulations and aesthetic practices of modernism(s).
On the one hand, from Charles Baudelaire’s avowal of “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent” through to modernist rejections of realism and replication in favor of discontinuity and disruption, and from Ezra Pound’s invitation to art to “make new” through to the many manifestations of modernisms flowing from the mid-twentieth century (and earlier), a key characteristic of these cultural tendencies has been to emphasize the difference of the contemporary present from past epochs. On the other, as Peter Childs has argued, modernism has always involved “paradoxical if not opposed trends towards revolutionary and reactionary positions, fear of the new and delight at the disappearance of the old, nihilism and fanatical enthusiasm, creativity and despair.”34 Now, to hold together the discourses of modernity and the articulations of modernism is not only to trace the interleaving yet distinct ways in which they each offer a cessation and overcoming of the past, it is also to register that the constitutive contradictions and contentions of modernism(s) can hold a mirror up to the characteristics, contingencies, contentions, and coordinates, especially of space and time, of that acutely authoritative universal: modernity.
To approach the entanglements between modernity, modernism, and modernization in this manner, where the one is not simply folded into the other yet their mutual linkages are adequately acknowledged, might have critical consequences. Building on my prior proposals, modernity is now understood not only as a forceful idea and ideology, but as also entailing heterogeneous histories and plural processes.35 These imaginings and procedures extend back to the last five centuries and interlock in critical ways, such that both models of modernization and movements of modernism appear as crucial components, yet small parts, in the broader articulation of modernity. There are at least two faces to the phenomenon, each insinuated in the other. Intrinsic to each is the importance of querying pervasive procedures of the temporalization of space and the spatialization of time.
On the one hand, as part of a familiar picture, constitutive of modernity are processes of reason and science, industry and technology, commerce and consumption, nation-state and citizen-subject, public spheres and private spaces, and secularized religion(s) and disenchanted knowledge(s). Here, it warrants emphasis that vigilance is required regarding the endless unfolding of these developments as inexorable heroic histories, which themselves segregate space and hierarchize time through the assumption of a (readily) simple “before” and a (necessarily) complex “after,” a beginning and an end, of these processes. Indeed, instead of teleological tales of the march of modernization/modernity, such stories require to be unraveled as rather more checkered narratives, even as models of modernization are registered as part of the protocols of modernity.
On the other hand, although this is often overlooked, at the core of modernity are also processes of empire and colony, race and genocide, resurgent faiths and reified traditions, disciplinary regimes and subaltern subjects, and the seductions of the state and enchantments of the modern. Lessons learned from the split, Janus-faced nature of modernism assume salience here. This is to register at once that ceaseless portrayals of modernity as embodying a singular seamless trajectory are actually shored up by hierarchical presumptions and antinomian projections of space and time; and that procedures of modernity have been contradictory, contingent, and contested – protocols that are incessantly articulated yet also critically out of joint with themselves.36
It is precisely these procedures that emerge, expressed by subjects of modernity. Here, my reference is to historical actors who have been active participants in processes of modernity: social actors who have been both subject to these processes but also subjects shaping these processes. Over the past few centuries, the subjects of modernity have included, as was noted in the introductory chapter, peasants, artisans, and workers in South Asia that have diversely articulated processes of colony and post-colony; indigenous communities in the Americas under colonial and national rule; peoples of African descent not only on that continent but in different diasporas across the world; and, indeed, subaltern, marginal, and elite women and men in non-Western and Western theaters. Unsurprisingly, these subjects have registered within their measures and meanings the formative contradictions, contentions, and contingencies of modernity.
I am suggesting that at stake in this discussion of subjects of modernity are key questions of heterogeneous yet coeval temporalities and overlapping but contending productions of space. First, it is well known that conceptions of modernity generally proceed by envisioning the phenomenon in the image of the European and Euro-American (frequently implicitly male) modern subject.37 On the contrary, I am indicating the inadequacy of conflating the modern subject with the subject of modernity. Is it perhaps the case, then, that my articulation of subjects of modernity productively widens the range of address for modernity and its participants? And that it does this by querying the hierarchies and antinomies of time and space that underlie formidable projections of a routinely timeless tradition and an endlessly dynamic modernity?
Moreover, mine is not a chronological claim that everyone living in the modern age counts as a modern subject. For subjects of modernity have revealed, again and again, that there are different ways of being modern, now accessing and now exceeding the stipulations of the Western modern subject. Yet, all too often, in fashioning themselves, subjects of modernity have also scarcely bothered with the Western modern subject exactly while articulating the enduring terms of modernity. What are the implications of such recognition for weaving in distinct textures and transformations of affects and subjectivities – including inherently plural experiences, articulations, and elaborations of time, space, and their enmeshments – in considerations of modernity?38
Finally, it bears emphasis that there are other modern subjects besides Western ones, embodying formidable heterogeneity yet coevality of the temporal and the spatial, the affective and the subjective. Does this not suggest the need in discussions of modernity to rethink exclusive images of the modern subject in the past and present, across non-Western arenas and Western ones, and through space and time?39
Distinctions of modernity
Let me turn, then, to some of the distinctions of subjects of modernity and modern subjects, all the while keeping in view modernity’s enchantments. I begin with questions of religion and politics under regimes of modernity. Here, the presumption sharpening the immaculate image of modernity is the following: since the Protestant Reformation, at least in the modern West religion has undergone a profound transformation, becoming a largely tolerant and broadly private affair with processes of secularization encompassing the “private” intact autonomy of religion.
When I write critically of this presumption, please do not get me wrong. Mine is not the silly suggestion that processes of secularization over the past few centuries are only a fiction, a lie. Nor am I simply proposing that there is an unavoidable discrepancy between the ideal of secularism and its realization in history, an inevitable distance between preaching and practice, thereby casting the story of secularization as an incomplete narrative yet to arrive at its immanent resolution. Rather, my point concerns how the force and reach of this presupposition, not unlike the telos of progress, another monumental enchantment of modernity, constitute the very basis of our worlds, their inherited and internalized verities lying at the core of commonplace conceptions and authoritative apprehensions of religion and politics.40
Among the consequences, enormously pertinent is the excision of distinct intermeshing(s) of religion and politics in the modern West.41 Here apprehensions of the interplay between the categorical terrains of religion and politics in, say, the United Kingdom or the United States of America – as part of a reified West – usually rest upon a readily proffered putative gap between the ideal and the real. The former, the doctrinal ideal, is the true norm while the latter, the not-perfect reality, is merely a deviation.42 This underplays the manner whereby the ideal and the actual – of the separation between religion and politics – mutually shape and reshape one another, each apart yet ever entwined, both much more than mere straw figures. It also means that distinct intermeshing(s) of religion and politics in Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism, in Afghanistan or India or Mexico, in modern times usually appear as figures of absence, lack, and failure, imperfect images in the mirror of an immaculate secular West. Such projections insinuate once more the abiding enchantments of modernity.
There are weighty elisions at stake here. Let us briefly consider the interplay between authoritative traditions and monumental histories at the core of the modern self-fashioning(s) of state and nation, especially in recent times. I have implied earlier that representations of modernity imbue categories and arenas with a distinct salience. One such category/arena is the concept-terrain of tradition.43 This has meant that in the business of negotiating and enacting modernity as image and practice, subjects of modernity – from the first world through to the fourth – have unraveled particular traditions as constitutive of their specific identities. Such moves have been characteristic as much of “local” communities as they have of nation-states, acutely intensified under conditions of contemporary modernity.44 Indeed, the burden of authentic traditions and authoritative identities in such distinct yet overlapping terrain – from the “local” to the “national” to the “global” – emerges intimately bound to the hierarchical, spatial-temporal oppositions of modernity, figures of endless enchantment.
Here novel construal and institutionalization of hoary traditions of peoples and territories has gone hand in hand with newer construction and sedimentation of monumental histories of state and nation. This has happened over the short run and in the long haul, from the altering faces of national civilization in India to the changing destinies of the Mestizo nation in Mexico to the shifting fortunes of the multicultural state in Western democracies. Yet, this should hardly surprise us. For quite as the performative and the pedagogical imperatives of the nation entail one another, so too is the nation configured simultaneously through its past traditions and its present distinctions – history as imagined and instituted on a monumental scale. This is to say that terms and visions of monumental history lie at the heart of narratives and practices of the modern state and nation, albeit assuming critically different forms.45
In presenting this picture in broad and rapid strokes, I am aware of the dangers of bringing into existence newer modular designs of modernity while overlooking critical dimensions of its prior understandings. For example, am I disregarding key processes of secularization, individualization, and the separation of private and public domains, privileging rather exclusive enactments of monumental histories as constitutive of modernity? Well, actually, not at all.
On the one hand, I have earlier pointed to processes of secularization and formations of the private and the public as among the important attributes attending modernity. Yet I have also implied that it is important to look beyond an exclusive pathway of secularization and individualization, recognizing precisely the diverse articulations of the “private” and the “public” across time, space, and their enmeshments while registering the immaculate image of these processes in the unfolding of modernity. For to do otherwise, might be to endlessly endorse the hierarchical, spatial-temporal oppositions of modernity or to merely reiterate the empirical complexity of modern history as restlessly defying analytical categories, or indeed to be simultaneously bound to the one move and the other measure.
On the other hand, I also admit to the salience of thinking through the distinctions of monumental histories of state and nation, which come in different shapes and sizes, divergent hues and patterns. At the same time, my point is that we encounter in such distinct expressions of monumental history plural, disjunctive articulations of modernity, which is as true of secular states as it is of regimes that reject principles of secularization, individualization, and the separation of the private and the public. After all, for very long now, antimodernist propositions – including, critically, positions that refuse claims made on behalf of the secular – appear enmeshed with authoritative terms, enduring oppositions, of modernity. Similarly, the negotiation and rejection of a dominant Western modern within enactment(s) of monumental history bear critical consideration. Taken together, at stake is nothing less than concatenations of distinct coeval temporalities and productions of overlapping heterogeneous spaces that variously straddle and scramble the hierarchies and oppositions of modernity.
Posing matters in this manner clarifies that presumptions projecting India as a land of endless tradition, recently rising from its slumber in the wake of globalization to truly embrace a Western modernity, share common ground with the pictures of the past few decades portraying the Indian subcontinent as combining the traditional with the modern. Both arguments rest upon exclusive, temporal blueprints and hierarchical, spatial oppositions of an essentially Western modernity and an innately Indian tradition. Instead, I am suggesting that the processes of modernity, including their contentions, on the Indian subcontinent over the past two centuries need to be understood as being shaped by diverse subjects of modernity as well as by distinct modern subjects.
Consider the case of anticolonial political nationalism on the subcontinent, which had its beginnings in the late nineteenth century.46 On the one hand, subaltern initiatives in the wider terrain of Indian nationalism were the work not of modern subjects but of subjects of modernity. These endeavors participated in procedures of the modern nation by articulating specifically subaltern visions of freedom and their own initiatives of independence. Here are to be found frames of meaning and idioms of struggle that accessed and exceeded the aims and strategies of a generally middle-class nationalist leadership. It is not only that the supplementary nature of subaltern practices straddled their particular renderings of the nation and their distinct politics of nationalism, it is also that subaltern nationalisms carried forward agendas of the peasant insurgent in nineteenth-century India, an insurgent who was not a “pre-political” subject but one entirely coeval with, a contemporary and a constituent of, politics under modern colonialism and colonial modernity.47 In each case, Indian subalterns engaged and expressed modern processes as subjects of modernity.
On the other hand, middle-class nationalism in India, the work of Indian modern subjects who were rather different from their Western counterparts, expressed its own distinctions. Drawing upon Enlightenment principles and the post-Enlightenment traditions of the West, it did not simply replicate but reworked these in distinct ways. Here were to be found translations and transformations of the ideals of the sovereign nation and the free citizen of Europe through grids of the subjugated homeland and the colonized subject in India. Such emphases only received a distinct twist in the politics of Mahatma Gandhi, who drew on various strains of modern Romanticism and Indian philosophies to construe thereby his own “critical traditionalism.” Gandhi’s radical critique of liberal politics and modern civilization was in fact thoroughly expressive of modernity, particularly its contestations, enchantments, and disenchantments.48 In each instance, at stake were the fashioning and formation of the Indian modern subject, who drew upon yet went beyond images and ideas of the Western modern subject, telling us once more that there are different ways of being modern.49
The discussion above suggests that processes of modernity in India, as elsewhere, have been characterized at once by contrariety and contention as well as ambiguity and ambivalence, a key claim of this book. This is as true of the present as it was of the past. Therefore, I now raise a few questions concerning the ways in which modernity is being articulated and debated in political and intellectual fields in India today, especially seeking to draw out critical implications for understanding its enchantments and oppositions, temporal and spatial.
Over the last hundred years, the politics of the Hindu nationalist Right, which has been thoroughly modern, nonetheless intimates a profound ambivalence toward modernity. This is expressed, for example, in its recent articulations of an alternative Hindu universalism, which is not a mere critique of the West. As Thomas Hansen has argued, this alternative universalism forms “part of a strategy to invigorate and stabilize a modernizing national project through a disciplined and corporatist cultural nationalism that can earn India recognition and equality (with the West and other nations) through assertion of difference.”50 Within Hindu nationalism, the fetish of the modern nation stands closely connected to such ambivalence, at once animating and utilizing ideological control and disciplinary strategies.51 The assertion of the difference and purity of Hindu civilization and the salience of a strong and powerful modern nation go hand in hand.
Conversely, in recent years a variety of intriguing perspectives has served to open up questions of modernity in India.52 Extending from the antimodernist “critical traditionalism” of Ashis Nandy through to the philosophical provocations of Dipesh Chakrabarty and on to wide-ranging histories/ethnographies, they provide valuable lessons provided we are willing to learn imaginatively and critically.53 To begin with, we are reminded that the very meanings of modernity, delineations of democracy, and purposes of pluralism cannot be separated from inherently different formations of social subjects in inescapably heterogeneous worlds, shaped by the past and emergent in the present. It is in the practices of these subjects that there inhere ethics and politics for realizing and/or rejecting the possibilities of modernity, plurality, and democracy.
Next, it follows that to recognize the assiduous production of traditions by subjects of modernity is not to cast these – traditions and subjects – as somehow erroneous, faulty, or insubstantial. Instead, it is to acknowledge the enormous burden of such traditions in dominant projects of state and nation and the ethical force of particular claims upon community and tradition. At the same time, in each case this admission further entails exploring how signs of state come to lie at the heart of traditions and communities, authoritative traces that communities and peoples yet work upon to engender distinct meanings of nation and modernity, the unknown and the familiar.
Finally, it is becoming clear that to register the contingency and plurality of modernity across the world is not merely to harp on about “alternative modernities.” Rather, it is to reconsider modalities of power, formations of difference, and their restless interplay at the heart of processes of modernity. Indeed, this also means not turning way from, but prudently unraveling, the exclusive images of Western modernity as shaping the concatenations and contentions of every modernity, while further recognizing that such stipulations are differently worked upon by social subjects to yield expected outcomes and unexpected consequences. Modernity as history is intimately bound to images of modernity.
Such considerations are further clarified by turning to discussions of modernity in Latin America. Intimations of modernity have long haunted Latin America, generally reflecting the phantasms of a reified yet tangible Europe. The region has itself been envisioned, uneasily yet readily, as part of the Western world, albeit with specific lacks and within particular limits. All of this is a result of dominant mappings and authoritative “metageographies,”54 which have split the world into the Occident and the Orient, the West and the East, shored up by discourses of Orientalism55 and Occidentalism56 formidably present in aesthetic and everyday expressions.57
In Latin America, as in most of the world, dominant blueprints have rested on the modern stipulation decreeing that modernity had already happened somewhere else.58 If this has generated among Latin American moderns the anxiety of looking unoriginal, it has also led them to a variety of searches for a distinctively national modern, modernism, and modernity, as one poised between the West and the Rest. (Unsurprisingly, diverse “indigenist” and “primitivist” discourses and representations have often played a critical role here.) In early and mid-twentieth-century Mexico, for example, we only need to think of the works and lives not merely of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo but also of “Los Contemporáneos” such as Jorge Cuesta and Salvador Novo (and, somewhat later, of the “Grupo Hiperión”). The point is that discussions of modernism – in their simultaneously republican and authoritarian, political and aesthetic, governmental and everyday avatars – have provided some of the most sustained understandings of narratives of modernity in Latin America.59 This tendency continues into the present.60
It is against this background, then, that we need to register the broad sets of recent discussions of modernity in Latin America, which have all put a question mark over facile polarities between prolific modernisms and deficient modernization in the region as expressed by influential authors.61 Two of these tendencies we have discussed already. The first concerns the critique of modernity implied by perspectives on the “coloniality of power” and “decolonial knowledge.” The second involves recent work on Latin America and the Caribbean that has provided fresh meanings to discussions of the magic/insanity of capitalism and colonialism62 and of the fetish/reification of state and nation.63 To these we need to add a variety of writings on Latin America (and the Caribbean) that have imaginatively explored critical issues of modernity and its margins.
Such questions have found multiple expressions in discussions of architecture and the built form,64 peasant and popular politics,65 space and territoriality,66 culture and consumption,67 and representation and subalternity.68 At stake are writings that have explicitly engaged historical and contemporary terms, textures, and transformations of modernity. In this terrain, the explorations have ranged from influential considerations of the hetero-temporal coordinates of national time-space69 through to mutual mediations of modernity and nation.70 They have engaged issues of piety, intimacy, embodiment, and image under entwined regimes of modernity and religion;71 modernity in its Baroque formations72 and its vernacular configurations;73 finally, the wide-ranging acute contradictions and contentions of modernity.74
Taken together, here are to be found works focusing on different articulations of modernity as historically grounded and culturally expressed, articulations that query a priori projections and sociological formalism underpinning the category-entity.75 Indeed, in Latin America and elsewhere, formations and elaborations of modernity are increasingly being discussed and debated today as contradictory and contingent processes of culture and power, as checkered and contested histories of meaning and mastery. The spirit and substance of these writings shore up my efforts in Subjects of Modernity.
I began this chapter by declaring that to adopt the oblique perspective of enchantment is a possible means of understanding modernity in newer ways. Now it remains to be stated that, for me, the enchantments that endure are also enchantments to endure, in order to better query their shadow and substance in the past and the present. For consider the irony and the travesty if our task consisted of merely demystifying – whether through the ruse of aggrandizing reason or the expedient of the critique of ideology – the enchantments of modernity. These enchantments constitute the formative entities and key coordinates of our worlds, which are not worlds or entities to presciently and pointedly disenchant. Rather, these are worlds to carefully question and ethically articulate, even worlds to re-enchant.76 These tasks are taken up in distinct registers in the chapters that follow.