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Questions of Modernity

Timothy Mitchell Editor
Series: Contradictions
Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 260
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsqrg
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  • Book Info
    Questions of Modernity
    Book Description:

    Modernity has always laid claim to universal certainty-which meant assigning a different and lesser significance to anything deemed purely local, non-Western, or lacking a universal expression. Focusing on the making of modernity outside the West, eight leading anthropologists, historians, and political theorists explore the production of new forms of politics, sensibility, temporality, and selfhood in locations ranging from nineteenth-century Bengal to contemporary Morocco. _x000B_ _x000B_Contributors: Lila Abu-Lughod, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Partha Chatterjee, Veena Das, Nicholas B. Dirks, Stefania Pandolfo, and Gyan Prakash._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8906-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Timothy Mitchell
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxviii)
    Timothy Mitchell

    The essays in this book approach the question of modernity by taking seriously the emergence of the modern outside the geography of the West. Each of the essays examines the realization of modernity beyond Europe, exploring the appearance of particular forms of politics, sensibility, temporality, and selfhood in locations ranging from nineteenth-century Bengal to contemporary Morocco. The purpose in bringing them together is not to offer a more global history of the modern. One of the characteristics of modernity has always been its autocentric picture of itself as the expression of a universal certainty, whether the certainty of human reason...

  5. One The Stage of Modernity
    (pp. 1-34)
    Timothy Mitchell

    Our sense of ourselves as modern, of our time as the era of modernity, is today open to two kinds of question. One is the now familiar debate about whether modernity is a stage of history through which we have already passed. The global mobility of finance, the world-encircling webs of image-making, the contingency of social identities, and the collapse of emancipatory visions have produced in recent decades an increasing confidence that modernity has given way to a new condition. The name it is given, the postmodern, identifies it only in terms of the stage it claims to move beyond....

  6. Two Two Poets and Death: On Civil and Political Society in the Non-Christian World
    (pp. 35-48)
    Partha Chatterjee

    Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, the most renowned modernist literary figure in nineteenth-century Bengal, died on April 8, 1894. Three weeks after his death, a memorial meeting organized by the Chaitanya Library and the Beadon Square Literary Club was held at Star Theatre.¹ It was decided that the speakers would be Rajanikanta Gupta, the historian; Haraprasad Sastri, the famous scholar of Buddhism and early Bengali literature; and Rabindranath Tagore, then a young but already much acclaimed poet. Nabinchandra Sen, one of the most respected senior figures on Bengal’s literary scene and a younger contemporary of Bankim in the civil service, was asked to...

  7. Three Witness to Suffering: Domestic Cruelty and the Birth of the Modern Subject in Bengal
    (pp. 49-86)
    Dipesh Chakrabarty

    Ekshan,a Calcutta-based literary magazine, published a remarkable essay in 1991, “Baidhabya kahini” or “Tales of Widowhood.”¹ The author was Kalyani Datta, a Bengali woman who, since the 1950s, had been collecting from older Bengali widows she personally knew, stories about the oppression and marginalization they had suffered as widows. Datta’s article reproduced these widows’ tales in their own telling, based on notes she had taken from informal interviews. Unfunded and unprompted by any academic institutions, Datta’s research was a notable instance showing how deeply a certain will to witness and document suffering—in this case, the plight of the...

  8. Four Modern Subjects: Egyptian Melodrama and Postcolonial Difference
    (pp. 87-114)
    Lila Abu-Lughod

    In the late 1980s, a group of young university-educated Egyptians performed for their friends in Cairo a clever satire of local television. Recordings of the show later circulated informally on audio and video cassettes. The performance made fun of the language of state officials and religious authorities, whose frequent appearances on discussion programs are seldom popular. The final three sketches on the tape, however, took on Egyptian television’s most popular programming, the dramatic serials and films. Two of these stories were set in the countryside, where the misdeeds of foolish or violent peasants were easily found out by more educated...

  9. Five The Thin Line of Modernity: Some Moroccan Debates on Subjectivity
    (pp. 115-147)
    Stefania Pandolfo

    Reflecting on his own clinical experience, and on the history of psychiatry in Morocco, Jalil Bennani, a Moroccan psychoanalyst, writes that since the establishment of the first psychiatric institutions during the colonial period, “the symptom has been increasingly addressed to the representatives of modern science, while people are increasingly alone with their suffering.”¹ What colonial psychiatrists did not understand, however, and their Moroccan successors have trouble recognizing now, he says, is that the symptom has been also deeply entangled with an understanding of illness and its agents radically foreign to the discourse of that science.

    The term “symptom” here refers...

  10. Six The Sovereignty of History: Culture and Modernity in the Cinema of Satyajit Ray
    (pp. 148-165)
    Nicholas B. Dirks

    After the opening credits, which flash against a glorious chandelier that will carry the symbolic burden of the fortunes of a palace and its royal family in modern rural Bengal,The Music Room (Jalsaghar,1958) opens with the face of a turbaned man who, it soon becomes clear, is a zamindar, or landlord. As the camera pans back, the image is uncannily still, until we realize that we are looking at a photograph, at a face frozen on paper. The scene then changes to a palace, where we see, from behind, an old feudal retainer bringing a hookah to the...

  11. Seven The Making of Modernity: Gender and Time in Indian Cinema
    (pp. 166-188)
    Veena Das

    In his essay on the painter of modern life, Charles Baudelaire stated that modernity is “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable.”¹ This particular intuition about modernity, that it has to do with the fleeting, the transitory, the contingent, and that its privileged time is that of the eternal present, has led several scholars such as Charles Taylor and Alasdair Mclntyre to look at the stable and the immutable as the characteristic of tradition.² Yet the past few decades, when the idea of multiple modernities was presented in...

  12. Eight Body Politic in Colonial India
    (pp. 189-222)
    Gyan Prakash

    January 10, 1836, was a special day in Calcutta. As Pandit Madhusudan Gupta, a student at the newly established Medical College, plunged his knife into a human body, a taboo was broken, Indians, it was said, had finally risen “superior to the prejudices of their earlier education and thus boldly flung open the gates of modern medical science to their countrymen.” Fort William celebrated modern medicine’s assault on the body and its onward march by firing a gun salute. A century later, Mahatma Gandhi referred to another kind of assault on the body by writing frankly about his unsuccessful efforts...

  13. Contributors
    (pp. 223-224)
  14. Index
    (pp. 225-229)