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Empire and Nation

Empire and Nation: Selected Essays

Partha Chatterjee
with an Introduction by Nivedita Menon
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Empire and Nation
    Book Description:

    Partha Chatterjee is one of the world's greatest living theorists on the political, cultural, and intellectual history of nationalism. Beginning in the 1980s, his work, particularly within the context of India, has served as the foundation for subaltern studies, an area of scholarship he continues to develop.

    In this collection, English-speaking readers are finally able to experience the breadth and substance of Chatterjee's wide-ranging thought. His provocative essays examine the phenomenon of postcolonial democracy and establish the parameters for research in subaltern politics. They include an early engagement with agrarian politics and Chatterjee's brilliant book reviews and journalism. Selections include one never-before-published essay, "A Tribute to the Master," which considers through a mock retelling of an episode from the classic Sanskrit epic, The Mahabharata, a deep dilemma in the study of postcolonial history, and several Bengali essays, now translated into English for the first time. An introduction by Nivedita Menon adds necessary context and depth, critiquing Chatterjee's ideas and their influence on contemporary political thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52650-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Nivedita Menon

    To introduce a set of essays that one has not selected is to risk misreading the curatorial intention. Nevertheless, secure in the knowledge that Author/Curator is dead-dammit-dead, I draw my legitimacy from the simple fact that I am one of those whose engagement with the contemporary has been utterly transfigured by reading Partha Chatterjee’s work over the years.

    The reader familiar with his work should know that this collection is a new arrangement of some of his essential writings. It is also not surprising, for anyone who has followed Chatterjee’s slow building up of arguments over the years, to find...

  5. Part I: Empire and Nation

    • 1 Whose Imagined Community? (1991)
      (pp. 23-36)

      Nationalism has once more appeared on the agenda of world affairs. Almost every day, state leaders and political analysts in Western countries declare that with ‘the collapse of communism’ (that is the term they use; what they mean is presumably the collapse of Soviet socialism), the principal danger to world peace is now posed by the resurgence of nationalism in different parts of the world. Since in this day and age a phenomenon has first to be recognized as a ‘problem’ before it can claim the attention of people whose business it is to decide what should concern the public,...

    • 2 The Constitution of Indian Nationalist Discourse (1987)
      (pp. 37-58)

      Antonio Gramsci’s writings have prompted some Indian Marxist scholars to reconceptualize the relation between nationalism and capitalism in India. Following Marx’s ideas on the relationship between base and superstructure, his view of the state as ‘coercion plus hegemony’, and of the struggle for power as the struggle for ‘domination plus intellectual-moral leadership’, these Indian Marxists have examined afresh the so-called ‘renaissance’ in nineteenth-century India in terms of the aspirations of a new class to assert its intellectual-moral leadership over a modernizing Indian nation and stake its claim to power in opposition to its colonial masters.¹ It has been demonstrated that...

    • 3 History and the Nationalization of Hinduism (1991)
      (pp. 59-90)

      History is today, not implicitly but in the most explicit way possible, the pretext for violent political conflict in India, a conflict which threatens to tear apart what was for several decades taken to be the consensus about the fundamental character of the nation-state which the constitution calls ‘India, that is Bharat’. For almost three years now, the most contentious debate that has preoccupied the very centre of organized political life in India—as distinct from the continuing insurgencies in Punjab, Kashmir, and Assam which to a large extent have been kept to the margins—is a dispute over the...

    • 4 The Fruits of Macaulay’s Poison Tree (1985)
      (pp. 91-110)

      The time has come once again to talk about the ‘Bengal Renaissance’. And also to talk about ourselves.

      It was in the age of nationalism that the story of our renaissance was invented. Our nationalism required not only the ennobling memory of an ancient and glorious civilization, it also needed to affiliate itself with a more recent tradition of the authentic rediscovery and reinterpretation of that ancient heritage. For us, the renaissance had to be a modern—and for that reason historically authentic—recreation of our memory of the nation’s glorious past.

      In their eagerness not to miss out any...

    • 5 Of Diaries, Delirium, and Discourse (1996)
      (pp. 111-115)

      I am not in the habit of reading books. Many years ago, I read a book in which it was said that although the British were rogues and bloodthirsty murderers, they nevertheless united India and by giving it the railways and the rule of law and Palgrave’s Golden Treasury made it a modern country. And now that India was free, after sterling sacrifices by the nation’s leaders, we should march ahead and build dams and aircraft carriers and spread the message of Vedanta and thereby take our place among the front-ranking nations of the world. I never read a book...

    • 6 The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question (1989)
      (pp. 116-135)

      The ‘women’s question’ was a central issue in some of the most controversial debates over social reform in early- and mid-nineteenth-century Bengal—the period of the so-called ‘renaissance’. Rammohun Roy’s historical fame is largely built around his campaign against satidaha (widow immolation), Vidyasagar’s around his efforts to legalize widow remarriage and abolish Kulin polygamy; the Brahmo Samaj was split twice in the 1870s over questions of marriage laws and the ‘age of consent’. What has perplexed historians is the rather sudden disappearance of such issues from the agenda of public debate towards the close of the century. From then onwards,...

    • 7 Our Modernity (1994)
      (pp. 136-152)

      There are a few unusual features I have noticed about this lecture.¹ First of all, I was stunned by the discovery that, unknown to me, I had somehow acquired the standards of sagacity, antiquity, and grandiloquence usually expected of people who are asked to deliver formal lectures of this kind. Second, there can be nothing more unusual than the fact that I am delivering a lecture in memory of Srijnan Halder who was my student and barely old enough to be a younger brother. Indeed, had Srijnan been delivering a lecture in my memory, it would have been far more...

    • 8 A Tribute to the Master (2001)
      (pp. 153-160)

      Janamejaya said, ‘But tell us, O regenerate sage Vaisampayana, how did the blind king Dhritarashtra react when he heard that the master Drona, commander of his troops, had secretly met the most brilliant warrior of the rival camp?’

      Vaisampayana said, ‘Hearing of Drona’s meeting with his favourite pupil Arjuna and of his attempt to turn the young warrior’s attention away from the concerns of the state to the joys and sorrows of the everyday, the monarch Dhritarashtra grew most perturbed. Displaying all the signs of restlessness, he turned his head in the direction of Sanjaya, who had just come back...

    • 9 Those Fond Memories of the Raj (2005)
      (pp. 161-163)

      There are reasons why the last surviving English gentlemen are today only to be found in India. They have brown skins, they don’t speak the Queen’s English, but in their hearts they are deeply appreciative of the legacies of British colonial rule. They care little for most aspects of contemporary British culture, though. They have no interest in British domestic politics. They have no taste for British art. They sneer at the British fondness for badly cooked curries. They rejoice in the fact that the best English literature today is produced by the ex-colonized. They watch the English football league...

    • 10 Beyond the Nation? Or Within? (1997)
      (pp. 164-178)

      ‘We need to think ourselves beyond the nation’, declared Arjun Appadurai in the first sentence of his 1993 essay ‘Patriotism and Its Futures’.¹ Since that announcement, and indeed for some time before it, the demand has been made with increasing urgency to give clearer theoretical shape to the practices, locations, solidarities, and institutions that seem to be emerging beyond the familiar grid of the nation-state system. One obvious reason for the demand is empirical: there is little doubt that the volume of significant social phenomena that are in one way or another of a ‘transnational’ kind has grown considerably over...

  6. Part II: Democracy

    • 11 Democracy and the Violence of the State: A Political Negotiation of Death (2001)
      (pp. 181-202)

      I begin with a word on Saadat Hasan Manto whose Urdu short story ‘Toba Tek Singh’ will feature in the final section of this essay on the violence of the state. Like most Bengalis of my generation, I was brought up to believe that there did not exist, in any other language of India, any semblance of a literature that could even be vaguely construed as representing a modern aesthetic sensibility. However, to the credit of my embarrassingly narrow-minded and chauvinistic compatriots, I have to confess that I first came across Manto in the late 1970s in a Bengali translation...

    • 12 Secularism and Toleration (1994)
      (pp. 203-235)

      There is little doubt that in the last two or three years we have seen a genuine renewal of both thinking and activism among left-democratic forces in India on the question of the fight for secularism. An important element of the new thinking is the re-examination of the theoretical and historical foundations of the liberal-democratic state in India, and of its relation to the history and theory of the modern state in Europe and the Americas.

      An interesting point of entry into the problem is provided by the parallels recently drawn between the rise of Fascism in Europe in the...

    • 13 Satanic? Or the Surrender of the Modern? (1988)
      (pp. 236-240)

      Is the Government of India seeking directly to interfere with the right of free speech? Is it trying to control what will be written and what will be read? Is it trying to create a climate where no uncomfortable question or dangerous thought will raise its head?

      On the face of it, this must be the explanation behind the decision by the government to ban Salman Rushdie’s novel. The book was banned as soon as it was published, before most people had a chance to read it. In other words, even before its literary or other qualities could be judged,...

    • 14 Development Planning and the Indian State (1994)
      (pp. 241-266)

      Although it is a virtual truism that the state is the central actor in any programme for planned economic development, its role in planning is not for that reason any less problematic. What does it mean to say that ‘the state’ acts? Does it act on its own? Do others act through it? Who does it act upon? On other entities outside the state? Or does it act upon itself? To talk about the state as an ‘actor’ is to endow it with a will; to say that is acts according to coherent and rational principles of choice is further...

    • 15 We Have Heard This Before (1990)
      (pp. 267-272)

      When the interests of dominant minorities are threatened, the reactions are always the same.

      A hundred years ago, when the demand was made that, to enable Indians to sit for the examinations to the Indian Civil Service, the age limit of applicants be raised and arrangements made for examinations to be held in India, British civil servants were aghast. ‘That would bring disaster’, they said. ‘We could never maintain the efficiency of the service. Indians cannot have the same abilities as graduates of British universities. Besides, these jobs will be cornered by a tiny elite among Indians. What good will...

  7. Part III: Capital and Community

    • 16 A Response to Taylor’s ‘Modes of Civil Society’ (1990)
      (pp. 275-288)

      While writers in Eastern Europe have recently appealed to the concept of a civil society with an initiative and organization independent of and opposed to the state, Charles Taylor has warned us of the dangers of transposing too easily the results of a historical development specific to Western Europe to situations in other countries that do not necessarily share the same preconditions.¹ He has also pointed out that the state–civil society opposition is too simplistic an abstraction even in the case of Western liberal democracies, for it ignores the profound ways in which the state and civil society are...

    • 17 A Brief History of Subaltern Studies (1998)
      (pp. 289-301)

      In the form in which it is currently known, ‘subaltern’ historiography derives from the writings of a group of historians of modern South Asia whose work first appeared in 1982 in a series entitled Subaltern Studies.¹ The term ‘subaltern’ was borrowed by these historians from Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist whose writings in prison in the period 1929–35 had sketched a methodological outline for a ‘history of the subaltern classes’.² In these writings, Gramsci used the word ‘subaltern’ (subalterno in the Italian) in at least two senses. In one, he used it as a code for the industrial proletariat....

    • 18 The Colonial State and Peasant Resistance in Bengal, 1920–1947 (1986)
      (pp. 302-339)

      It is widely agreed that a prolonged period of modern colonial rule in pre-capitalist societies establishes the conditions for the rise of capitalist relations of production in agriculture. At a general level of analysis this is almost a truism. The task of historical analysis, however, is to look into the specific processes by which these relations emerge in different regions under colonial rule, the different ways in which pre-capitalist agrarian forms are replaced, modified, or retained, and the manner in which these differences affect the conditions within which the political struggle among classes is carried out.

      There are two major...

    • 19 On Religious and Linguistic Nationalisms: The Second Partition of Bengal (1999)
      (pp. 340-358)

      It is instructive to compare the first partition of Bengal in 1905 with the second in 1947. The first partition of Bengal into two provinces—Bengal in the west and Eastern Bengal and Assam in the east—was almost exclusively the result of an administrative decision at the top. There was no mass political agitation of the kind we now associate with nationalist mobilizations, making the demand that the province be divided in accordance with cultural demography. On the contrary, the partition decision provoked what was perhaps the first mass nationalist agitation in India—the Swadeshi movement—demanding the repeal...

  8. Index
    (pp. 359-368)