Sunday, March 3, 2013

The presence of English in India at the crossroads chapter 2

Probal Dasgupta

Kumud Chandra Dutta Memorial Lectures 1997 (Dibrugarh University, Assam)

Published as ‘The presence of English in India at the crossroads’, pp 1-132, in Probal Dasgupta, Udayon Misra, Amaresh Datta (2002) English at Crossroads: The Post-Colonial Situation: Kumud Chandra Dutta Memorial Lecture Series, 1997-98. Guwahati: Students’ Stores.

Posted here chapterwise; this is the second of six chapters. In the text itself I call the chapters ‘sections’ and the sections ‘subsections’.

2. Against Denudation

2.1 Introduction

After the presentation of the initial package, we turn now to the work of unpacking. We visualize this labour wheelwise. Our initial package was like a hub. What follows is a series of partly independent spokes. Aesthetics forces us to call the spokes of our wheel Sections of our Argument rather than spokes. I hope they will be effective spokespersons. Section 2, against denudation; section 3, against essentialism; section 4, against industriality; section 5, against naturalism; section 6, the narrative basis of cognition.

This section Against Denudation offers epistemological tools for a regionalist reconstruction of generality. It conceptualizes the current shift from nations as the dominant umbrella category ‑‑ and the concomitant Olympian imperative of industrializing the nations that places a certain precision‑essentializing science at the heart of the intellectual enterprise ‑‑ in terms of an anti‑essentialist, anti‑puristic planet‑reclothing that undoes the old denudations by replacing global characterizations of explanatory accounts with principled, non‑economistic and therefore local parsimonies. The antiessentialism section which follows will continue this theme and make specific tools available for study­ing the link between languages as the only possible theoretical characterization of meaning and reproducible truth available after essentialism.

This is an appropriate point at which to think about how the spokes of our argument wheel are linkable in the mind of the posited reader. Actual readers will feel free not make other links, or none at all, or to resist the whole package.

To my mind, a certain Olympian parsimony lies at the heart of the package whose outer crust is the industralizing Nation. This parsimony is economistic, but not necessarily in the sense of taking economics alone seriously. It is economistic in perhaps the sense of allowing the logic of an economy (be it an affective or an aesthetic or a cognitive economy) to find its way to such boundaries that one can then smugly ‑‑ within such a Domain, whose boundaries have become exact thanks to the pitting of forces against each other ‑‑ say that the Managers of such a Domain must not multiply its entities beyond Necessity. Once the notions of such economy‑minded Managers, such a bounded Domain, and such a perception of Necessity are given, you will find that Olympian conclusions follow inexorably, even if the logic takes its own time to play itself out.

I read this economism as an imperative of letting the What determine the Who, letting the economy determine its boundaries and thus indirectly the cultural identity of the nation whose boundaries give the Managers their playing field, level or other­wise. And I take it that the long‑term way to reverse this is to let the Who determine the What. This takes the form of indepen­dence struggles.

The resistance to English as the Olympian presence ‑‑ which need not necessarily involve resisting all English ‑‑ is then like our older resistance to the English in that one must propose a certain decolonization. In the present case, it is a matter of reversing the colonization of the culture by the economy, of the intelligible by the mindless‑perceptible.

This then is the context in which the present section of the argument addresses a planetful of nations denuded, deforested, by an on‑going industrial plunder of resources seen as mere booty both by the industrialists and by the brazenly greedy consumerist populace that their depredations have successfully populated the planet with. This denudation is not just a metaphor for the destruction of our physical environment. I intend it as a general name for the killing of our cultures as the narrative, conversa­tional foundations of our identities. The issue is how to reverse not just the process itself, at the level of plugging an ozone hole, but the very logic that will keep recreating the process if we are so foolish as to address the symptoms and not the malaise.

We obviously need to reclothe this denuded planet. Here is a sloganlike summary of what I think this reclothing involves: The unexamined life is not worth living; examinations when examined turn out to have a narrative form; ergo, the untold or unnarrated life is not worth living. Healthy narratives make for healthy conversation to conversation links, and thus healthy cultural cognitive flows.

Is this idea strong enough to sustain a new, non‑economistic parsimony? I should think so, a thought that I propose to unpack throughout this argument, over the next few spokes of the wheel.

One elementary misreading by many readers of those who speak the way I do takes the form of believing that we anti‑essential­ists oppose science or Reason. We don't. We oppose racism, sex­ism, and other chauvinisms, on which all essentializing manouevr­es rest. And we find that the practices of many people who regard themselves and are regarded as scientists ‑‑ the effective owners of the terminology and real estate of the sciences today ‑‑ are in fact essentializing and hostile to Reason. Our arguments are attempts to show this to the satisfaction of listeners willing to consider such a conclusion to be thinkable. There are few listen­ers with this property. Hence the popular acclaim for the propa­ganda machines which lie about what we are saying.

In response to this fact about the public and the traps it is caught in, I shall couch the main argument in this section around the point that a rational, materialistic account of human life requires shifting from a nationalist umbrella with its sharp boundaries and possessive mentality to a regional and interactive mode of communities setting themselves up in the very patterns of their life‑practices. That is the burden of the present section. I propose that this type of parsimony, exercised not by managers but by inhabitant communities over their habitats, subtends a more explanatory episteme even within the narrowly conceived task of constructing explanatory scientific accounts of observables. In other words, it is not the work exemplified here that contra­venes of the scientific tradition, if by that one means the programmes initiated by people like Galileo or Darwin. It is the working paradigm of practitioners of what the universities recog­nize as science that is irrational and out of step with the Galilean tradition. "Scientists" and their sympathizers, who of course think otherwise, are invited to view the present document as posing an intellectual challenge that they might want to meet when they condescend to find the time for the trivial task of swatting this particular fly.

In the present section, I argue that the process of moderni­ty ‑‑ of implementing programmes that follow from serious inquiry ‑‑ brings us face to face with communities, whose habitats are here portrayed as Regions and New Regions. Communities do not trap individuals in any unique allegiance. A person is normally a member of several communities at once. Communities work in terms of relationality and mutuality of definition both within the region and across regions where they face other communities. The fact that communities function in terms of cultural models invit­ing other members and passers‑by to accept temporary or permanent guesthood ensures that the problems of chauvinism do not enter constitutively into the very content of a community. For example, a community qua community lays no unique claim over all of a territory, excluding the rights of others. (If and when it does, it turns into a nation, and the usual problems emerge.) Thus, it is only in the context of community‑held regions that non‑essen­tialist social, political, expressive, and cognitive practices can grow.

The present section emphasizes the need to attain an ex‑fierce viewpoint as a prerequisite for thinking the region as a thought. Some steps are proposed that help us to get there. This work contributes to a possible materialism that takes the located inquirer seriously as part of the process of inquiry itself. Taking the located inquirer seriously inevitably leads our over­all argument towards the idea that any inquiry must take a narra­tive form based on a narrated cognition at the heart of the inquiring self, whether visualized as a community or as a person.

The enterprise of attaining an ex‑fierce viewpoint also ends up showing us a way out of hastily globalizing and detail‑ignoring Olympian projects that often claim the initial alle­giance of those who wish to root for "scientific" or "modern" forms of thinking. We are trying to persuade some of these think­ers to think again. More importantly, we appeal to the thinkers' children to see that their elders and betters are complicit with systematic cognitive (and often practical) wrong‑doing.

This is the task of the present, anti‑denudation, section of the argument. The next, anti‑essentialist, section addresses the nation. It is the fierce community transformed into the nation, always tending in a fascist direction, that has made the big machine tick, championed record‑breaking monumentality and exact­itude of measurement (The unmeasured life is not worth living) as an end in itself, and produced today's global consumerism.

Section 3 appeals to us all, in the context of contemporary proposals that historiography should try to find neutral stand­points, to take seriously the core proposal of Esperanto culture. This core proposal, from the Esperanto movement ‑‑ the first serious critique of nationalism, which emerged shortly after the Italian and German adoption of the Anglo‑French model of the nation‑state ‑‑ is that the forging of sustainable links between communities must take the form of interlocal bridge‑building. Bridging involves mixing elements from all partners and effecting translations. Today's world has made it more important ‑‑ and less difficult ‑‑ to realize that most people are physically or culturally displaced. This makes translation a typical act of communication. For no real transaction today can ever fall purely within the scope of any isolated homogeneous community.

Section 4 returns to the issues of English in India more directly, bringing some of these theoretical results to bear on this problem. Earlier debates about English in this country have tended to get stalemated over whether speakers of this language do or don't form a homogeneous or specifiable community. Section 4 suggests that the debate should be displaced. We should start asking if even the question of whether such a subcommunity will emerge within the broader Indian community prejudges answers to deeper questions. Examples of deeper questions are, How may the Indian public as a whole wish to take stock of its cognitive resources as action cycles and find parsimonious, economical, rational, but possibly non‑Olympian strategies for some of its work? And how might such a map still retain some space for Eng­lish as part of the knowledge system in a future scenario where knowledge is perhaps no longer viewed as the monopoly of any one linguistic code?

Following up on that cue, section 5 questions the notion of a linguistic code in general. It argues that a serious linguis­tics must stop assuming even the idealization of a pure code for even grammatical purposes. It bases this argument on recent mainstream advances in grammatical theory.

Finally, section 6 asks what a person who knows all this is going to be like. It visualizes a person in terms of an inner self‑knowledge in a narrative form coupled with an outer ring of transactions with real or imagined others. Section 6 brings down to brass tacks the question of how, in a parsimoniously ordered flow of life, narrative emerges as the basic presupposition of all other representations of reality. These brass tacks touch base with literature, returning our story to the interface bet­ween language and its presence in human life as the community's literary record of past conversations that language keeps us continuous with.
        The present section, to return from this tour of all the spokes of the wheel to spoke number Two, spells out an agenda for anti‑essentialism on the basis of methods drawn in part from the linguistics of speech communities. Our task here is to build tools for what we may call a regreening account of regions whose materiality crucially helps arrive at a non‑essentializing view of our surroundings as self‑definition or identity factors. It is proposed that these tools underwrite a critique of older, non‑green materialisms of the sort presupposed both by the mind‑set of classical developmentalist scientism and by its romantic other, modernism. This proposal is packaged as a reading of the postmodern predicament that leads to a humanism rather than to a dispersion of postmodernisms.

Such a reading contests mainstream responses to the postmod­ern predicament. This relation between the present section and other writings is going to be clear to readers committed to other readings of the postmodern condition.

What may need immediate clarification is the continuity of the work done here with other forms of materialist opposition to the idealist style. The idealist style puts you at a distance from some idea that you admire and hold up for emulation by yourself and others. It discourages detailed engagement with the details of the situation you are in. For the idealist style tends to dismiss immediate details as contingent and irrelevant to the contemplation of essences. I submit that the anti‑essentialist reading of situations and their aggregates offered here extends people's here‑and‑now styles of coping into more general but recognizably "green" construals and proposals. We need to con­trast this style of coping, in our thought and action, with the more familiar non‑green or essentialist idealisms. The link between these idealisms and the worship of nations is often hard to perceive and resist. For such idealisms even tend to find their way into many paradigms which, given their grounding in general considerations of science or formal rationality, seem at first sight not to take part in the general worship of nations. We need to work our way past their apparent neutrality.

We begin with a subsection that underlines the humanist component of the argument, drawing on the results of applying certain fundamental ideas of the linguistics of speech communi­ties to a field often called literary theory or, in one of the senses of this polyvalent term, critical theory. The ideas ap­plied come from basic structuralism. For convenience of refer­ence, we shall here call the application simply structuralism. A langue is a coherent set of norms whose appeal reaches and holds together a community whose territorial boundaries are perceived as being specifiable. (One often indicates such perception by calling these boundaries imaginable.)  Basic structuralism says both that there is opacity or unintelligibility across such territory boundaries and that a certain transparency holds within such a territory. Liberal humanism proper in its prestructuralist form looks only at the transparency and wishes the opacities away. Basic structuralism in its early, linguistic form distrib­utes the old liberal humanist generalizability of communication over specific territorial communities as crucibles of langues. We proceed to our argument now.

2.2 Outlining a postmodern humanism

Taking for granted the context of literary criticism as a space of discussion, the present subsection argues for a humanist viewpoint that addresses structuralist concerns but stresses identifications rather than rejections.

The postmodern predicament ‑‑ shared even by persons and communities unwilling to go in for the postmodernisms that have been advertised as responses to this predicament ‑‑ arises from what is often seen as a fatal flaw in the liberal humanism which underlay new criticism and other textual explication approaches. Here is one packaging of the usual argument.

Child C asks Teacher T to explain a passage. T informs C, "Here we are expected to understand the text thus and so if there is to be a connection between us free readers and the work of a free writer." Giving every explication this uniform framework is the constitutive gesture of liberal humanism. It carries the idea that this gesture alone leads to valid readings. The free author is in principle speaking to every fellow enjoyer of the same freedom‑space. The continuity of scholarship across universities embodies this supposedly universal and unbroken liberty. But these suppositions of universally free scholars disinterestedly reading from a universal pool of texts is demonstrably false. The relevant demonstrations use argument forms often called structur­alistic.

Appealing to theories in traditions of historical material­ism or psychoanalysis, structuralists unmask any reading position as a bias. Their antihumanism works like this.
In one direction, you take the reader's "human" understand­ing of the universalities which, via her readings, connect her to laws and other active norms written up as or embedded in texts. You weave these understandings into an 'ideological' superstruc­ture. This may take the form of a vocabulary in terms of which such readings are constructed.

In another direction, you conjecture that the basic inter­ests that keep the reader alive and willing to sustain these comprehensions are a matter of some other vocabulary, like libido or production. You set up an infrastructure in terms of basic continuities across readings. You employ the vocabulary of libido or production, or whatever, to define that infrastructure.
Your structuralist move is to argue that crucial patterns, apparent in the way your people read the texts, derive from underlying infrastructural forces that make the people tick. Your move goes semiotic if you add the point that the people attach to some of the crucial surface patterns certain types of signifi­cance that betray the way they carry an emotional or economic charge.
The point, then, is this. Antihumanism, in a structuralist or semiotic form, unmasks the apparently disinterested readings as being in fact interested. It shows that a reader telling herself she is just an Every‑Me facing a text by just an Every‑You is actually a gendered, classed, raced, nationed entity reading as and on behalf of a particular constituency. Forces embedded in and constituting the text pull and push her qua reader in various ways that no real author could control as a matter of authorial intention. In other words, the reader's innocuous general readerly face is a mask. Once this is removed by unmasking, you hope to obtain faces that are real and thus never unspecifiedly abstract. As you struggle to specify them, you hope to find actual presences able to sign their writings with signatures replacing the once unnoticed masks of nation, gender, class, race.

Your hope of seeing faces recedes as the structuralist gesture persists, unmasking away, inviting you to stop expecting any faces at all! No giver of validities of any sort emerges from this exercise, which leaves you panting but not in noticeably better critical health.
Now, consider a reasonable contemporary critic. She and her peers have thus become more real for each other thanks to some structuralist athletics. They now start asking each other: who identifies the identifications? Who in/validates the various validities? In whose sense of home do guests/hosts learn mutuali­ty of guesthood‑hosthood so that their politics of friendship can supersede patriarchy, patronage and other forms of bossing? These realistic questions take a critic towards nations and other structures, seen not as institutions but as repertories, stages.
Here we return to the humanist considerations we began with. Recall how liberal reading practices seek to forge writer‑reader relations through the would‑be transparent text. Even an ideal transparency obviously sets tacit limits, of genre, of language, or other parameters defining overall conversations texts draw from. A conversation invites others into the community, up to a point. But sharing postulates a horizon encompassing all poten­tial sharers likely to be interested in this or such conversa­tions. It is within such real, if tacit, national or quasi‑na­tional boundaries that a space can even appear universally trans­parent.
Thus even antihumanist oppositions work within the same national arena to contest elite control of what counts as typical of the relevant space ‑‑ or hegemony, as such control is often called. Neither side of the debate can avoid this implicit hand­waving at the nation‑arena. To the extent that the nation‑sky is the natural limit to the liberal humanist gesture, this commit­ment to the nation‑arena ties the entire discussion to the nation and cognate institutions in ways that are worth exploring.     
Liberal humanism obviously leads to an acceptance of the nation as a natural organizing category within which the trans­parency of ideal communication is possible. But am I suggesting that antihumanist or structuralist positions also mysteriously imply such an acceptance?
No. My point about structuralist antihumanisms is that their rejection of the overall national umbrella as a transparent space within which communication can be universalized is best seen as a point of departure. They then proceed to communitize subnational segments ‑‑ they root for communities of women, of dalits, of adivasis, of the marginalized members of some region. I suggest that even structuralisms and their poststructuralist exaggera­tions (terminating the hope of finding a face behind the masks) really point to a general search for potential identifiers and host‑guests who can validly define themselves and each other relationally. And segments as subnational communities plausibly answer this type of Who question. Only they can give reality to faces, which other entities can only borrow and wear.

Notice that now we make our constitutive moves as we work towards a postmodern humanism. We recognize that even a reason­able contemporary critic, hoping to be mature enough to avoid getting trapped under any radical or extremist hat, may want to do business with the impulses which set these communities up as the spaces of literary critical interest. This point permits us to envisage a postmodern humanism.
As a humanism, such a viewpoint stresses identifications rather than rejections. It must assume the nation as the overall crucible, a point I have made above. Given that assumption, a specifically postmodern humanism responds actively to the need to notice the relational, mutual defining style of communities as each other's guests and hosts. Their accommodations keep consti­tuting the nation as the possibility of space, as the making of a room in which transparency can be imagined as an option.
This formal point, if valid, implies that people identify mainly with regions of various sorts. The contiguous geographical region is an obvious prototypical example. But you soon encounter noncontiguous regions, like the ones I propose to call the New Regions: Women, or Dalits, or Adivasis, or Children. These are parts of a national whole. And, precisely as segments, they stand out as communities with a continuity of their own and capable of entering into mutual definition and accommodation relations with other new regions. My argument is that only regions, i.e. parts of a whole, can set up shop as communities that define contexts of self and other. The identifier is necessarily a community that is sharply delineated relative to other communities within a gen­eral horizon vaguely bounded, out there, as the nation.
A literary criticism that does not identify too fiercely with these identifiers can root for these regions and yet recon­firm the liberal humanist postulate of an outer universalism within which all this revolves. The space may thus get redrawn as a more general set of universalizations, mediated by translation and other cross‑boundary relays that counter the hegemonies.
When does one leave the fierceness sufficiently far behind to be able to find such an agenda feasible? When one can afford to stop seeking revenge against the hegemonic elites whose gravi­tational fields had bent the general light. Revenge merely coun­ters victory with victory. The point is to stop bending the light.
Is there then a uniquely universal The Light that should be left unbent? Not as far as I can see, of course. But the point is that our seeings are different. So we need a generality that enables us to leave our negotiations unsponsored, as open as we can make them. If the liberal humanist contours of the nation give way to fiercely regional and new‑regional counterhegemonies coalescing to seek victory, we are letting ourselves in for new tyrannies. Be it a knowledge and technology supremacy such as the white colonizers impose and reimpose, or a return to the gods of somebody's fathers, or a new worship of aesthetics, any supreme new key will lock discourse into a Castle of some sort. And, what will you do if we Kafka your tune, an open Trial is what litera­ture, as a crystallization of feeling that forgets neither the gods nor the books, must continue to seek. Texts "get by with a bit of help from my friends". And critics, at their best, are friends first and foes only when they happen to practise Defoe's individualism under erasure.

2.3 An ex‑fierce materialism

It is now important to bring the tools whose properties we have been exploring to bear on the problem of giving the task of not bending the light priority over the "normal" wish to retali­ate fiercely against the hegemonic elites. Call this the ex‑fier­ceness problem. To address this, we need to see how the material­isms we usually inherit are based on notions of consumable ob­jects that draw sharp boundaries and ultimately underlie the fierceness of any possessive, animal territoriality.

In the analysis of consumption‑pleasure as well as in the study of production‑labour, many "normal"‑materialist authors have tried to flesh out a scientific research programme. This programme gives rise to a materialism of objects that invite consumption. Such a view does not begin by trying to understand the selves who do the consuming or the way these selves see their cardinal others.

There was a not very distant past when such a doctrine alone qualified as a materialism. Theories in that mode used to be advertised, and widely accepted, as offering the only possible scientific base for a depiction of the realities of human life. Many thinking people went so far as to believe that this mode had superseded all forms of utopian idealism. Such was the context in which many radicals in the thirties saw themselves as defining the Modern for all fellow passengers on the supreme trip.

The excesses of the votaries of this type of scientizing must have influenced all of us more than we assume. It must have been either their influence or some related factor that prevented so many of us from demanding of any "materialist" description of life at least that it should describe how actors of various ages, tied up in diverse relationships, distinguished by many forms of power and infirmity, play negotiable roles in the drama of enjoy­ment and labour. We shall take a quick look at the question of pleasure, and a slower look at the issue of labour and its locat­edness, vis‑‑vis this formulation of the question of a material description of life.

It is important to pause at this point and ask why one should be looking at methods of describing life at all. Our reason for doing it is that human lives are lived under particu­lar descriptions. The way we describe or narrate our existence matters because we do not have any merely physical existence that could be regarded as quite independent of these narratives. This point is the basis of our interrogation of the Olympian worship of the measured existence.

Our first move is to raise the question of the actual traf­fic of pleasure. In other words, we need to place under scrutiny all  idealizations of the homo economicus type that visualize individual subjects as seeking a pure, homogeneous consumption‑pleasure as a utility which rational behaviour will maximize the pursuit of. That idealization is associated with accounts that see production as leading to products ‑‑ isolable objects that can be simply "consumed". The economic base of many widely used systems of thought is still stuck with the consequent chore of auditing the accounts of human production and exchange networks defined in terms of objects of "use". Many theories of such networks avoid the question of how such use does or does not connect with observably heterogeneous and context‑sensitive patterns of pleasure. Thus their theories of labour are tooth­less, unable to link labour to the pleasure that precedes and follows it.

I am suggesting that idealizations of the homo economicus type abstract away from the significant data and treat the data as distant. They are in other words impatient about local de­tails. This impatience makes them "fierce". We need to attain a patience that makes us willing and able to go right down into the details of any particular place we are looking at. If this slows down the thought we would like to finish, so be it. All globaliz­ing, abstract, system‑building processes that are in a hurry end up ignoring the local. Such ignoring hurts concrete interests that become visible to slower people who bother to go native and look at details. A willingness to hurt local interests to serve the cause of your abstract thoughts makes your thinking "fierce". It is important to see that this logic does not spare even those abstract bookworms who have built themselves up as soft‑spoken gentle individuals. We are discussing cognitive style, not emo­tion or fashion or manners.

To this end, we need to work with and ecologize the concept of subjectively enjoying objects and services. This is a step beyond the notion of pleasure ‑‑ which, in any psychological tradition, even if one revises the conventional premises of existing psychologies, keeps us at a level where certain configu­rations of psychic protoplasm can, insecurely and precariously, become subjectivities only in the sense of providing sites through which real factors transmit their pressures and attrac­tions to affect other real entities. Such accounts leave the subjectivities as unreal buffer zones. In such psychologies pleasure, which precedes all conscious subjectivities, never becomes Our question, for there is no epistemologically available We who can ask it.

The question of enjoyment or renunciation that a Cognitive Resource Oriented Approach ‑‑ call it a CROA ‑‑ starts with is unmistakably yours and mine. For a CROA, the use of a resource devoid of any abstractive attention defining the subjectivity as independent leaves the resource controlling the user, not the user in charge of the resource. Now consider a subjectivity which, through reflective abstinence or other methods, attains a non‑greedy attitude. This enables a recognition of the resource in its dignified reality. The user is free and no longer unre­flectively bonded to it. A return now to the practice of using that resource with a fuller understanding of one's selfhood turns the activity into a free and conscious enjoyment, truly associat­ed with a subjective self.

Now we look at some consequences derivable from this funda­mental logic of personal  independence from objects.

As long as you engage in retaliative response to the actions of enemies, you respond to the aggressor's violence in the same violent currency. In order to establish credible independence from the object of your fury, you need to show that you can, say, keep your cool when provoked. Then you can argue that, unlike your adversary, you are not fixated on the juvenile object‑based logic of quid pro quo, but a rational being whose courage has outgrown that juvenile stage and is wedded to the knowledge that that logic does not lead to sustainable action patterns.

Many people misread arguments of this type as proposing that moral considerations be permitted to outweigh rational ones. But a careful reconsideration of the relevant factors enables us to turn this argument on its head.

Assume, for a moment, that scientists are rational beings and try to maximize the growth of commonly available perceptions of true utilities and disutilities. Making this assumption, one would have expected scientists to keep discovering truths and open up liberating possibilities with us all in mind. Why, then, have they instead been handing over the fruits of their labours to the emperors, in exchange for weapon‑linked research funding?
It is important to notice that the question is usually left unanswered at the normal interpersonal level, both by working scientists and by the bibliographically well‑equipped theoreti­cians who sing their praises. In that obvious sense, the question is still alive, even if the prevailing ethos ensures that it is seldom asked.

The empire, with its means of mobilization and compulsive commerce, overwhelms its subjects with commodities and hooks them on these long distance delights. These addictions are created with great care and forethought, to enrich the emperor's favour­ite merchants. Surely this cannot be the basis for an independent life to proceed freely, keeping its own accounts? One would expect any rational being to see this. And scientists and materi­alists claim to be rational.

The least one wants is for each place to manage normal life on its own, treating external resources as auxiliary supplements, and without becoming totally dependent on them. Otherwise popula­tions cannot attain a regionally confident selfhood presupposed by any project of adult rationality.

This issue of taking a stand is a problem of whether science ‑‑ possible only as one sector of a community's self‑reliant life ‑‑ can be pursued. To see this, note that any materialist analy­sis must include some factor of awareness of the position of the observer directly shaping what he or she can observe. This posi­tion is literally the ground on which s/he stands. Thus the demand for the autonomy of that ground is a demand for the invio­lability of one's own turf on which one takes a situated stand, as a being with a body not reducible to a shadow or a marionette. The demand for local autonomy, then, reformulates what amounts to a presupposition for scientificity, and thus for modernity.

This way of looking at the issues also allows us to see how the enterprises of an ex‑fierce and thus independent quest for a self‑identifiable and thus dignified locality connect with the proposal that we should all take responsibility for cleaning up after whatever we do in industry and everyday life. We clean, and thus constitute, a located self. What is such a self? A telos, perhaps, of that very cleaning‑up endeavour. Assume that people identify and nurture specific sites of cleaning which is for them to clean up as part of ‑‑ or as ‑‑ their very existence. This assumption materializes in the form of a variety of specific endeavours. Correspondingly, the word Self refers to a variety of endeavour‑arenas. There is then no single self, if by that you mean a naively material singleness of reference. Thus, the enter­prises of ex‑fierceness connect with an obvious sprawl of regio­nalities.

Your abstract self then finds, in and as the place, a con­crete self which gives sense to the notions of self‑cleaning or self‑reliance. A place lives as a concrete self to the extent that the work‑cycle of such domesticity ‑‑ for it always is a cycle, never a naive continuity ‑‑ goes on.

And now you see where such an epistemology clashes with the classical scientific rationality. Cleaning up has never been a high priority. Science has traditionally never had the patience to do anything about even the more obvious side‑effects of the undertakings sponsored or supported by scientists. The classical science mind‑set enfranchises new industrial endeavours which simply take the line of least resistance, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, on the network of living tissue, on the processes of purification.

Surely the scientific imperative taken seriously will en­courage us in all communities to try to clean our minds. We will then really root for recognizable pieces of cognitive truth instead of getting used to admiring cleverness and getting away with shortcuts. One would also want a serious science to encour­age people to learn how to clean personal and national bodies, and to in other ways come to terms with these bodily realities.

That the cyclical domesticities of a region are worthy objects of scientific inquiry is perhaps not as clear as it should be. Once these considerations are taken into account, we begin to meet the challenge of developing sustainable descrip­tions of what human life is and means. And these descriptions then begin to feed the way we live it out.

Both the pleasure theory component and that ex‑fierce com­ponent of CROA, in their different ways, divide into regional self‑domains the accounting of the human enterprise that pursues what otherwise looks like abstract profit on all humanity's behalf. This makes them radical alternatives to the utility functions on which most mainstream formalizations in the social sciences still base their characterizations of choice, action, welfare, and so forth.

These radical alternatives suggest that only those who first settle down in the terrain and the specific language of their situated pursuits may hope for sustainable and therefore intelli­gible progress. There is then no such procession as "everybody advancing together"; that way jostling lies, despite familiar liberal humanist propaganda.

2.4 Crucibles of constitutive contact

For any "together" to be real, people have to gather each other in communities. This is never done on a mass basis. Masses are side effects. Institutions exist because persons are in real contact with each other as a matter of practices. And the prac­tices take a contactual form. Any given "everybody" is thus relative to a particular giving that creates this givenness.

Understanding this is crucial for a serious theory of human perception. Contexts shape perception. The crucibles, within which  humans see themselves as existing at all, come into play to constitute perception‑enabling contexts. This is the back­ground milieu or informal context on which all formalities take a free and often unrecognized ride.

The premises of such a vision have actually caught up with us today, have they not? Now that the unbroken historical flow of a certain enterprise of modernity halts, we all inspect the flow or the ex‑flow on the islands of the broken geography of postmod­ernity, the islands which today's parlance prefers to call sites. And we notice that this inflection of an integrated history into a differentiating and thus specifying geography finds resonances in the CROA projects as outlined here.

It is the postmodern predicament that motivates this and related alternative projects. The positive plenitude of consum­able commodities versus the negation embodied as poverty, scarci­ty, and disappointed hopes ‑‑ apparently the global drama of our times ‑‑ stops in its tracks. All its modern credit‑accounts are thrown into postmodern debit‑doubt.
Thinking that responds to the postmodern predicament opens accounts, not in a homogeneous arithmetic, but in variegated individualized totalities. These are panoplies of joys and frus­trations shared. Of renunciations. Of firm loyalties. Of little winnings and losings of selfhood‑energy. Such details locally colour these accounts differently from region to region. These credits, like the more familiar numbers, also wax and wane. So they do qualify as accounts. But, unlike numbers, their contours are irregular. In this they resemble the coastlines of real islands and continents. Like any regional materiality, then, these accounts too are situated, unique, concrete.

So it makes sense to describe the waxing and waning rhythms of all wealth and poverty; all victory and defeat; all profit and loss, in terms of a broad notion of accounting. This broad notion requires a generality whose mathematics goes well beyond the limits of arithmetical common sense. It calls for crucial nonlin­earity. Thus we arrive at the frontier where the linear calcula­tions of classical modernity give way to the nonlinear dispersion of the postmodern.

It is here that we find it necessary to stress that it is a task for our period to use both nonlinear formal methods to understand our scene and the themes of something along the lines of CROA to visualize the substances that call for these particu­lar formal methods.

You may take either a pleasure theory or the quest for ex‑fierceness as a point of departure. Either way, the proposals you start with allow you to see that terms like Place, Region, Geog­raphy, Local Colour, Island need not be confined to territories that are made of earth and water and are continuous stretches of that material. Consider any terrain on which living beings choose to make a home together. That domain of domestic activity counts as a region or place. Such a terrain, irrelevantly, may or may not look like a piece of real estate to the physical eye. That does not matter. Equally irrelevantly, such a terrain may well be inextricably connected other terrains on some landmass. Any region, even if it is connected in that way to other places, needs to have a minimal sovereignty of its own. Such sovereignty enables the region's selfhood energies to identify the place as a place.

For example, feminism becomes possible because women consti­tute a region in this generalized sense of the term. Call the women‑region a New Region. Yes, it is true that they inhabit no separate landmass. Indeed, they and their men share the same houses. The same neighbourhoods. The same towns and countries. Such sharing does not interrupt the integrity of the women‑region.

Feminism demands autonomy for the women‑region. There is no need to regard this as a fantasy of a land devoid of all males. The demand for regional autonomy is a coherent redescription of classical requests to let women have the normal rights they should be, but are not, allowed to enjoy as ordinary human be­ings. This redescription is in tune with the region‑respecting style of postmodernity.

Another of these New Regions is the environment. Do we need to protect the environment from the ravages of polluting megain­dustries? Do we need to understand the silent and complex domes­ticities that go into its making? Will only such protective action and serious understanding enable us to offer it our in­formed cooperation? Then the environment must be recognized as a New Region. It must become, for our changing eyes, a global homeland for humankind. This home has been quietly lying, much mutilated, under the many structures of our homes and exiles. Despite its long invisibility, we find we can recognize it as an integral region, for all its physical brokenness.

Could it be that we have known all this without such fatuous restatements? Is this universal homeland that which tourists glimpse on trips to the sea, the mountains, the countryside, the national parks?

Well, perhaps those sacred journeys we undertake to satisfy the god of Leisure give us darshans. Fine. We ritually pay the temple touts to catch these glimpses. But surely this is idola­trous playing at worship, and provides no opportunity for true meditative communion with our universal homeland. This idolatry exhibits the painful features of all idolatries.

These facts are especially clear, and especially painful, to ecological activists. They have made their pain a familiar part of the postmodern period's alphabet. But what do they say? Do the Greens, or whatever they call themselves, demand a drastic remov­al of the machine‑cover to liberate primaeval nature? Nobody pleads for such devolution; only extreme technology freaks pre­tend to see such Luddites around and to "criticize" them. The Green demand to allow the environmental rhythms to run at their own natural pace resembles the fundamental feminist demand. It amounts to a demand for regional autonomy for another New Region. A typical ecological activist wants an acceptable equation bet­ween the efficiency of human home rule and the living vigour of the human homeland.

Let us continue to gaze at the fact that demands for New Region autonomy do not amount to separatism. The dalits of India have not been demanding some patch of the country where they will set up house as Dalitbharat. Not even the adivasis, who lapse into Jharkhandi or Bodo territorial demands in the old style, have ever demanded one big "Aadivaas" zone which they will carve up into separate tribedoms. The general form of the demand of the indigenous peoples is for global recognition of their fourth world as a world, not as a little tract of land somewhere. They make this demand as autochthonous communities, the original friends of the planet, who feel closer than anyone else to the imperilled environment.

"Change the arrangements of your states", the dalits and the adivasis have been saying to India and its colleagues. "Let some of our children get into your schooling‑based, job‑bespeckled sacred stables. Allow them to hold their heads high and to cher­ish the memory of their dalit or adivasi heritage. Do not force them all to meet the criteria of your snobbish examiners. Those of us who wish to please these snobs will do so. But do not, when you give us our minimal rights to access your system, keep press­ing for what you call Success. Your stately domesticities are geared to apron strings that set a classical style for all em­broideries of the land. Loosen them forthwith."

In an initial gesture of identifying these regions which became important sites of postmodern struggle, we may call them New Regions. This does not subsume them under any efficient external formula that defines New Regionhood. The clearest common denominator is the negative fact that they are not continuous patches of land and water. But their discontinuities are of different sorts and degrees. No two new regions are really alike. This is unsurprising. No two states govern themselves in exactly the same political style. We need not expect more homogeneity in this case. A given new region derives its identity as well as its boundaries from what its inhabitants actually feel. We do not postulate new regions simply to construct a theoretical argument. This formal argumentation is only one factor in the larger labour of negotiating a shift in the general perspective.

We are now ready for the explicit work of situating the postmodern relative to the modern. The basic picture does not show a modern period and then a postmodern period. Rather, we see modernity itself as a gradual and always precarious adoption of a particular kind of cycle of action, call it the modernity cycle. Each turn of the cycle takes you through a modern season, so to speak, and a postmodern season, just as each annual journey of the earth round the sun takes us through a hot and a cool season. It may help to think of the modern season in the modernity cycle as a hot season pointing back and forth to past and future sum­mers. This corresponds to the sense of modern living as progress. Existence in its modern aspect views itself as a historical progression. The postmodern season, imaged in our metaphor as a winter, works differently.

Consider the two seasons in terms of two basic questions. Modern living organizes itself around the basic question of cutting one's ties with the past. Can one attain escape velocity to cut these ties? How much is such an escape going to cost? What mode of living will suit me after I cut loose? As one moves ahead in this sense, one becomes aware of breaking with many pasts. This precarious enterprise does not work for many people; they become victims and not agents of modernity. The agents of modern­ity, who succeed in seeing and living out their lives in this mode, adopt a general and abstract rationality. For them, the modern wears a universal mathematical face, ubiquitous and there­fore rendering invisible the particular local colour of this or that place or person. Correspondingly, the mathematics is linear.

What about the basic question of the postmodern season? Well, postmodernity has no quarrel with progress, which may dash your expectations of a simple dichotomy. What happens is that the postmodern mood takes on the job of cleaning up after history. It draws a road map and keeps track of the routes that progress takes and fails to take. This season's questions look like: Which progressives have tried to set up what new and serious mode of living? Which past were they running away from as they tried this? What toys and games proliferate as a result of their grim and tense seriousnesses? Assuming you have identified the roads their progress followed, which spots on which of these roads have been illegally occupied by squatters as these games took over the space of seriousness? Where are the resulting suburban slums? Where are what Calcutta calls hawkers' colonies? Where are the permanent stages and stage props for street gatherings? How does this geography enable the actors to keep reliving last summer's history?

We reserve the idea of history for the answers to the modern season questions. What satisfies the query of the postmodern is geographical information. About what places? About the abodes where various forms of abiding are being worked out. What kind of information? News about their domesticities. What the radio calls local news, differing from national news in its low coefficient of historicity. What key catches all the postmodern information the way History catches answers to the modern question? No gener­al key exists. One reason why postmodernity is fun is that no single inquisitive busybody can keep track of these domiciles in any one formula, not even in principle. Which means you cannot offer a real definition of the postmodern. Our picture is about as good, you will find, as the others in the market. You will also find that the things on offer are roughly convertible into each other without any exactly definable exchange rates making these informal exchanges official.
You are right to worry about eclecticism and vapid pluralism if you find this long‑winded analysis collapsing into a live and let live approach to all activities and approaches on the contem­porary map. Of course. We are insisting that the new regions, which come to the fore in the period when the postmodern seasons of our modern years gain recognition, do not get their collective act together in one great big joint struggle for the postmodern. Which is why the postmodern talk sounds like unsituated big words to many listeners. This means in practice that the visions of feminism, of dalit rights, of adivasi rights, of the rights of children, of the regreening of the environment, of Esperanto, and other one‑issue movements, cannot formally aggregate into a write‑up that would turn into a Grand Headline Manifesto for all that breathes in today's postmodern air. Fine. Nevertheless, if you move around and look at one new region after another, you do notice some obvious connections. And you feel like at least reporting what you see, even if it will not underpin any grand political unification. Even if the point is to rejoice in the dispersion or the decentrality, one does need at least a practi­cal map of this chaos and its regions. Hence the following re­marks offering such a practical map, and what may be a principle of notional unity connecting and helping to make sense of the new regions.

Let us begin with histories and heritages. That takes us to the State format in which these appear. A heritage derives au­thority from the documentary continuity of a meganarrative. Such continuity features especially the battalions of writers. For they produce the archive in its continuity. But continuity also means the monarchies and other hierarchies sponsoring these battalions.

It is this context that helps us understand the standard extension of the State from its repressive core (the army, the police, the court, the legislative agency, supportive branches of the executive) to cultural continuities like the church, the school, the family. Note that popes and headmasters and fathers run a system of continuous writing, if only of diaries and cru­cial letters.

Now, what about the continuity handed down by word of mouth, and from hand to hand, which precedes State‑borne histories and heritages and yet has never been seriously interrupted by the rise of the State and its ministates (churches, schools, fa­milies)? That continuity, we are about to see, is a perennial tradition which is stronger than historical transmissions just as the mass of water is stronger than the landmasses which emerged from it.

The continuity of the environment's natural cycles sponsors all other flows and transmissions. These cycles repeatedly nar­rate and renarrate the basic stories of participatory and commu­nicative relations between life and life. Patterns drawn from these narratives resonate in aboriginal myth and living. One clear counterpart to the reciprocal and participatory aboriginal formation which survives under all historical forms of the State is the home, the domestic crucible of all sociality.

How much does one mean by Home in such a statement? One means by this not the stateward‑looking, property‑conscious, patriarchal side of the family. One means the regular corevolu­tion of the cultural cycle with the natural organicity cycles. The cultural cycle subsumes such actions as cleaning, cooking, cultivating, which I propose to call generically Cleaning, since they all involve turning unusable matter into usable matter. The natural cycle of living includes such basic circadian cycles as people falling asleep and waking up; people going to work and coming back; people tensing themselves and relaxing; people feeling hungry and thirsty and quenching these needs; and such cycles as various needs for company and their satisfaction; physical growth, reproduction, sexuality, menstruation; these cycles in the animals one keeps in the household or is in direct contact with, and human labour on behalf of those animals; friendship and other sharing of project space with others, the point at which the natural seamlessly meets the cultural cycle, for each turns to the other when in need.

The corevolution of the cultural cycle of Cleaning with the natural cycle of Life is normally managed by women. The stores, the kitchen, the delivery room, the Cleaning job as a whole, the choice and use of economically and formally‑aesthetically viable methods to keep all bodies clean, clothed, and unhungry ‑‑ these and related concerns shape the flow of domesticity. This flow involves both the nature and the culture we often dichotomize in a way that is "neither all organic / nor all epiphanic" ‑‑ words once used by the poet Buddhadeva Bose, speaking of love; his original Bangla words were 'kichhu taar jaiva / kichhu taar daiva'.

It is these foundations of the daily management of ordinary life that underwrite the New Regions. Consider these foundations. The world of living things. The original human equation with this biosphere. Domesticity as a nuanced restatement of that equation in the context of dwellings in complex societies. The continuing and unrelieved labour of women in all social classes as the practical managers ‑‑ with more participation from men in the lower classes ‑‑ of this domesticity. This domesticity's inherit­ance of the basic function of human hosthood which is pivotal for the social interdomestic order very clearly in the preliterate aboriginal communities but equally visibly in historical civili­zations. Call all these foundations Management.

Management stretches a whole netting of daily pieces of Yes and No over the expanse of a place and keeps it going in its placehood. This yes and no can be pleasure and unpleasantness, or thirst and its quenching, or distraction and full attention, or strain and relaxation, or more formally familiar categories like cooperation and competition. These pluses and minuses alternate to keep a place going and create a sense of place the same way that breathing in and breathing out, in its specificity, keeps a body in a proper state of specific and continuous embodiment, giving it its sense of body the way these yes‑no alternations give a place the sense of place.

What is special about the recent self‑consciousness of the New Regions? It is the way they focus on the importance of this continuous dynamism, suggesting that these ordinary transactions are where the action is. We have all been working out, in various individual ways, the shared realization that it is wrong‑headed to pay exclusive attention to the National News. True, the grand pieces of National News are what states and their histories advertise, for that is what nations are made of. But we now know we have to pay a new type of serious attention to the Local News that weaves, unweaves and reweaves the locality of each locus. We are beginning to hear the voice of these small time routines despite the continuing general hegemony of the historical or big time we are used to.

Let me unpack this point further. The formal functioning of any state, in its official and unofficial actions, carries with it a constant sense of mobilized tension. The general point is that one must always keep winning wars and proving that one has won them. This point takes shape in the king, a victorious hero ever prepared to test his valour. His readiness socially trans­lates into all the fighters, bureaucrats and functionaries of the kingdom remaining in a state of constant vigil. In the life of a state, the jobs and enterprises of the lesser mortals essentially mimic the ways of the kings and their successors in these re­spects. In sharp contrast to all this, domesticity prizes the relaxed art of management more than the spoils of victory and the tense price one must pay for a victor's life. The domestic human being wants to pass the examination of peace, not war.

The question of war is whether one succeeds in being more combat‑ready than one's real or potential adversaries, and in saving face. Peace asks much tougher questions. Only gradually does one realize that these call for sustainable courage and toughness. Some of the questions sound like this. Is your own life‑cycle, with or without adequate participation in the exist­ence of others, renewing its uniqueness of motion? (Do you keep your integrity, as we usually put it?) Do everybody's rhythms of mobilization and relaxation continue to balance the four condi­tions of rigorous wakefulness, redemptive dreams, relaxed sleep, and epiphanic release from the rigour of such cycles?

One may argue, then, that the new regions seek their identi­ties and traditions in the difficult domain of peaceful quotidian existence. Peace is not to be visualized as a picture of stasis. One knows that a typical school classroom is noisy, and that many secrecy‑requiring situations may compel a team of soldiers to keep quiet. But it is perfectly obvious which of these is symbo­lic of peace and which, of war. Peace is an arena of tumultuous negotiations, where breakdowns quickly attract attention, but where no supreme fantasy of imperial omnipotence overshadows and stifles all these noises. Peace is where domesticity is able to exist, locally and daily, in the dignity of its finiteness.

The demand that the organized systems of mobilized and institutionalized activity should leave the domesticities and their practitioners enough space for a dignified existence is a common key at which the otherwise divergent melodies of feminism, environmentalism, the fourth world and other new regionalities come together. Their activists prefer to appeal to the agencies of modern progress rather than to take up arms. As they come into their own, the postmoderns tend to leave military methods to the votaries of the older "modern‑only" mode. Gradually getting used to the style of petitioning and appealing, the various practi­tioners of the postmodern season transform themselves and their adversaries. This is one of the fruits of the nonviolent methods which Gandhi used to hope satyagrahis for all causes would make available to all men and women of goodwill.

As such a shift makes its wider consequences felt, all of us, while remaining engaged with the problems of our national histories, begin to notice in our own lives the resonances of these rich traditions and continuities which modern thought had permitted nationalism and historicism to suffocate. This may mark the beginning of a general postmodern mood.

Such a mood takes the home and not the fortress as a natural point of departure. It regards all living beings as potential guests. Since humans outrank all other species with respect to certain abilities and resources, it becomes our task to practise exemplary and systematic hospitality. The postmodern mood is going to find it unnatural to continue to extend the accountancy of boundary‑bound property and commercial transactions as a general mathematics to all reckoning, all dealings with reality. A resource‑object is capable of cycling through all the festivi­ties, the gift‑givings, the hospitable excesses of a reciprocal social life, moving from hand to hand and enriching all the cycles it touches; that is what makes it a resource and not a mere object. Suppose we make this realization the cardinal point of a new "explicationism" which, in the postmodern season, spills over and begins to vie with the classical reductionisms. Then the derivational reductionism associated with linear mathematics and its typical philosophy ‑‑ the old materialism that this essay started off with ‑‑ will stop monopolizing intellectual atten­tion. Reductionist methods will remain in use, but only where appropriate. This will be the cultural equivalent of a democracy sending the army back to the barracks.

2.5 Back to tools

With the cultural crucibles in place as welcoming sites and agencies, it is possible now for our argument to return to tasks of theory constructing and tooling. Contemporary narratives are driven by theory because displacement has upset all the nation‑states ‑‑ all the old territorial settlements of certain rooted communities that had managed to subjugate others, to stake a unique claim over certain lands, and to give their inscriptions priority over all conversations and other transactions. Theory is where the terms of settlements are under renegotiation.

What tools will empower theory to do this effectively? We are all trying to contribute pieces of answers to this global question. In the following section, we propose the notional use of Esperanto as a metonym ‑‑ as something like a Universal Lexi­cal Mediator between the apparently "settled" but now obviously re‑unsettled lexicons of the nations.

For expository convenience, we couch our exercise in terms of the needs of a neutral historiography enterprise whose right to exist seems to be gaining general recognition. But our own agenda here is to make conceptuals tools available to bring our debates closer to the option of a systematic mutualization of the guest‑host relation. Such a mutualization, if imaginable, will create a new environment in which liberal humanism can be revi­talized on universalist terms without immediately attracting the shrill charge that some elite is trying to impose its fake neu­trality on the subjugated. It then becomes possible in principle for all comers ‑‑ and old comers must learn to keep welcoming each other as well as future comers ‑‑ to recast all communities, and the category of Community itself that is invoked in every system of knowledge and belief, along serious humanist lines. The culture of such a generalized social order will nurture the idea of an international human inheritance, and will cease to view literatures and languages as separate entities.


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