“Svaraj and Postmodernism"
"Kala Prayojan "10 (Oct-Dec 1997): 102-114.
In this paper I argue that the critique of modernity need not be mounted from a postmodernist platform. Both in Europe and in India there was an older tradition of dissent. Indeed, both Marx and Freud emerge as two powerful examples of modernity’s internal critique. However, it is from an older, spiritual centre that I wish to draw my strength. In the West, this tradition included various figures like Blake, Goethe, Carlyle, Dickens, Emerson, Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Weil, and so on. These figures are varied in their response, but have one common thread running through their work. They use religion, mysticism, spirituality, or literature to critique modernity. That is, they do not attack modernity on its own terms as Marx or Freud does, but invoke from within Europe, alternative traditions of epistemology and metaphysics. This “other mind of Europe,” can, as Gandhi realised, serve as a useful ally in our own quest for selfhood. In India, we find a critique of modernity from its very inception. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj (1909) is perhaps the most powerful and far-reaching of these critiques. Now, can we argue that Hind Swaraji is postmodern? I would prefer to think of it as anti-modern, neo-traditional. Yet it does share and anticipate some of the criticisms mounted by postmodernism later.
In other words, I argue that we do not need postmodernism to critique modernity; we can use critical traditionalism better. Indeed, historically speaking, we in India have never fully accepted or internalised modernity. That is why we need not debunk it as urgently as the postmodernists have to.
In the second part of my paper, I offer a serious critique of postmodernist relativity or anomie from the point of view of Indian critical thinkers like Gandhi and Aurobindo. The latter spoke of an “antinomian tendency” that constantly recurs in the life of Europe. But instead of going above the normative and authoritarian regime of rationality, it instead plunges into anarchy and nihilism, denying all ethical obligations in its search of vital freedom. I argue, therefore, that the various expressions of the postmodern condition “in their very poignant cry for total emancipation, actually result in legitimating various kinds of irresponsibility.” That is why such free play is available only in the most secure and materially advanced nations of the world, where like spoilt children of late capitalism, these philosophers can make a mess which others must clean up. Postmodernity, in other words, rides piggy back on the most oppressive features of modernity, just as globalisation needs missiles and racist visa regimes for its survival. The free flow of capital is promoted, but the movement of labour is strictly curtailed. This is the paradox of the postmodern condition. It’s anit-foundationalism itself becomes a pseudo-foundation which only entraps us in the prison house of language. This is a chakravyuva into which we may well know how to enter, but not how to get out. --Makarand Paranjape, is a Professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for English at the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. ...