Abstract : Modernity is a difficult concept to define. More so are modernity’s local and national versions, as the term ‘modernity’ is understood primarily as a universal and universalising mindset. That is why we see an internal schism develop within the concept when we propose an Indian version of modernity. Though the presence of this schism might at first appear as a methodological flaw, closer examination would reveal that it is this schism that characterises Indian modernity, and perhaps even constitutes it. It is through this schism that traditional ideas make their unobtrusive entry into modernity and act as an effective bulwark against the forces of Euro-centrism dominating colonial modernity. In the case of India and other post-colonial countries, on the contrary, modernity also means, apart from the rejection of what is unhealthy in the past, an effort at a re-definition of the self by a recovery from the past of the memory of what really constitutes their history and cultural identity. This is a difficult process, a process marked by tensions and contradictions, and taking place, especially in the contemporary world situation, in a site that is shared by cultural agencies that have diverse, even antagonistic, ideological and economic interests. It is the schism in modernity mentioned above that acts as a sort of buffer against the pressure emanating from these tensions and antagonisms. The present essay is an attempt to gauge the intensity of this schism as it narrows down at the point where colonial modernity in the context of India, and especially of Kerala, comes into contact with questions of aesthetics.
Keywords: Indian modernity, colonial modernity, dialectic of modernity, literary ideology, unversalising mindset, historical/cultural identity, secular society’s imaginary, cultural symbols ,humanising activities, colonial activities
Modernity is a difficult concept to define. More so are modernity’s local and national versions, as the term ‘modernity’ is understood primarily as a universal and universalising mindset. That is why we see
an internal schism develop within the concept when we propose an Indian version of modernity. Though the presence of this schism might at first appear as a methodological flaw, closer examination would reveal that it is this schism that characterises Indian modernity, and perhaps even constitutes it. It is through this schism that traditional ideas make their unobtrusive entry into modernity and act as an effective bulwark against the forces of Euro-centrism dominating colonial modernity. European modernity, after all, implies only a social renaissance, part of a society’s relentless and ‘ever renewed effort at self-definition by rejection of a past,’ as the German theorist of reception, Hans-Robert Jauss, was to describe it.2 In the case of India and other post-colonial countries, on the contrary, modernity also means, apart from the rejection of what is unhealthy in the past, an effort at a re-definition of the self by a recovery from the past of the memory of what really constitutes their history and cultural identity. This is a difficult process, a process marked by tensions and contradictions, and taking place, especially in the contemporary world situation, in a site that is shared by cultural agencies that have diverse, even antagonistic, ideological and economic interests. It is the schism in modernity mentioned above that acts as a sort of buffer against the pressure emanating from these tensions and antagonisms. The present essay is an attempt to gauge the intensity of this schism as it narrows down at the point where colonial modernity in the context of India, and especially of Kerala, comes into contact with questions of aesthetics.
Among other things, modernity as a concept has been described as a secularising process, where secularism carries with it the suggestion of a belief in this-worldliness as opposed to the belief in a transcendental order promised by the clergy. When Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri define modernity as a ‘discovery of the plane of immanence,’3 it is precisely this secular dimension of modernity that is adduced. This is important in understanding Indian modernity because of the pivotal role that the decentered cluster of cultural symbols and images drawn from diverse constituents can play in a secular society’s imaginary. Where Indian modernity differs from its western counterpart, basically, is in maintaining a critical relation with a pluralistic tradition of values as an aspect of the modernity project itself. This is one reason why the cultural tyranny associated with western modernity appears somewhat less
rapacious in the Indian context. It is Indian modernity’s recognition of the country’s inbuilt cultural pluralism that characterises the constitution
– in both senses of the term, the constituting bodies as well as the written constitution – of the Indian nation, though the state itself cannot be said to have always acted in consonance with its spirit. Indeed there have been systematic attempts recently to wreck the multi-cultural fabric of the nation, and if the nation has succeeded in thwarting them, it only proves the maturity and relative success of the modernity project that is in place in India.
One will have to consider, along with the internal schism that is part of the modernity project in India, the dialectic of modernity that has often conditioned the logic of its progress in contemporary societies. I do not believe, contrary to the assertions of many self-proclaimed postmodernist and postcolonial thinkers, that modernity has been the cause of the several ills that afflict India today. One need not lean on a theorist like Jurgen Habermas to see that modernity has indeed led to much material progress in Indian society. That it has also led to the opening up of the world vision of a good majority of the citizenry is also transparent. On the other hand, one does not need the support of a critic of modernity like Michel Foucault to learn that modernity has also acted as an oppressive agency of the dominant classes in marginalising several de-voiced segments of the social spectrum. This is the dialectic of the modernity project that has rendered it both radical and reactionary at the same time. A range of contemporary theorists has pointed to this dialectic as instrumental in constituting the identity of the modern subject.4
The operation of this dialectic, needless to say, has been very crucial in the constitution of the modern Indian subject too. This is important in tracing the trajectory of the subject participating in the practice of Indian literature as authors and as readers, and even as characters, because it is an already fractured subject that gets entry into the texts of modern Indian literature. The concrete manifestations of this fracture are multiform. Indeed the experience of modernity for India cannot but be multiform both at the synchronic and historical levels. The Indian nation and its culture, literature, arts, ideas and forms of knowledge are all indicative of a positive lack of fullness. Sudipta Kaviraj has very logically pointed out how ‘India’ – the notion of a unified nation – is an
ideological construct, the effect of a narrative contract entered into by a number of incoherent groups that do not share any common cultural or political identity. He says: ‘The naming of the Indian nation, I wish to suggest, happens in part through a narrative contract. To write a history of India beginning with a civilisation of the Indus valley is marked impropriety.’5 But this ‘impropriety’ – quite desirable in the context of the Indian nation and in the interests of the citizens of the world opposed to the idea of turning the world into a unipolar one – is being perpetrated with élan by the practitioners of Indian literature, as though they are duty bound, being members of the community of narrators belonging to a modern, civilised world, to carry out all that has been laid down in the contract. That the very idea of a contractual identity is becoming increasingly unsustainable for various sections of present-day India of course is a different story.6
Connected with the notion of the dialectic of modernity is also the concept of the self-destruction of the spirit of modernity at the historical level. The suggestion here is that modernity is doomed from the very beginning by its own inner logic, as acquisition of knowledge, a function of modernity, will invariably lead to forms of tyranny that, in order to sustain itself, will breed myths that invalidate both modernity and knowledge. What sociologists like Dipankar Gupta do when they deny that India has ever been truly modern is to refuse to see this inner logic of modernity.7 True, it is a perceived absence of the individual and ethical qualities that Gupta associates with civilised – modern – behaviour that prompts him to turn away from specimens of Indian modernity. Modernity certainly is a more complex affair, and the reversion of the concept into a mythology is the worst that can happen to it in the contemporary world. Horkheimer and Adorno in fact were talking about such a tragedy befalling the concept of Enlightenment modernity in their famous critique. The argument, to be sure, is greatly relevant in a discussion of art and literature, since the questions of myth and mythology that the Frankfurt scholars raise in their debate have as their immediate context their anxieties about ‘culture industry,’ the instrumentalist and propagandist culture of the mass media, especially of the cinema and the radio, enlisted in the service of the Nazi state and the totalitarian ideology. Works of art as accessible for public consumption and enjoyment as a municipal park should perforce be worthless, thought Adorno and his
friends. True, the Frankfurt scholars’ disdain for popular art forms has justifiably invited widespread criticism from several materialist critics who regard their attitude as nothing more than another elitist position in the evaluation of literature. But to be fair to Adorno and his colleagues, one must remember that they were working in hostile and embattled circumstances that hardly allowed them the luxury of taking a chance with cultural practices that could easily be recruited by the enemy camp in manufacturing and manipulating public opinion.8 If contemporary thinkers are less worried about the power of mass-mediated images produced by the capitalist classes, this is not merely because of their newly acquired sensitivity to the complexities of reception, but also because of their more secure knowledge of the operation of consumer culture, a knowledge built upon – both by enriching and negating – the pioneering scholarship inaugurated by the culture studies of the Frankfurt theorists themselves.9
At stake here is the function of literature as a form of cultural and political practice. Adorno too was concerned about this, as his argument was against the mutation of literature into a new form of mythology that stripped art of its political function and turned it into an object of esoteric contemplation. But the mythologisation of artworks has been a standard procedure of modernity, and in the case of Indian art, especially, modernisation has worked in tandem with Indian mythology in constructing an iconography that would elicit a ready response from the modern Indian reader. Several art historians and critics have shown how Raja Ravi Varma’s naturalistic paintings of the late nineteenth century related to modernity by constructing such an iconography.10 This has been shown to be true of other typically modern, and modernistic, art forms like the cinema, especially as represented by its pioneering figure, DG Phalke.11 In both these cases, there has developed a mythology around the life of the artists themselves, which, even as it has kept them divorced from the world of everyday reality, has also promoted a specific kind of hermetic reading of their works that, in a curious turn, has fed into and replicated this mythology.12
There are certain inherent dangers in letting such aesthetic mythologiationsations pass unexposed. For one thing, the turning of history into myth involves a process of de-politicisation of the sensibility that
comes in the wake of a society’s ideological work. Aesthetics, or its operative form that can be called the hermetic aesthetic, is a major instrument of such de-politicisation in the contemporary capitalist world. Secondly, the category of aesthetics, ever since its inception as a systematic domain of knowledge in the eighteenth century, has also been implicated in the colonialist process in that it was with the support of this category that several Euro-centric notions were smuggled into the imaginaries of the subject races in the colonies. This can be illustrated with the help of any number of writings written, especially in the coloniser’s language, by some of the competent writers of India, Africa or the Caribbean islands. The ideologies of modernity and reform in these lands could not be extricated from the notion of aesthetics in that the coloniser undertook much of his humanising and civilising activities in the colonies with the help of literary works that were notified as carrying material of enormous aesthetic value. Thirdly, the category of aesthetics presupposes a process whereby cultural production gets de-linked from material and historical practices, and in that sense signifies the moment of literature becoming independent of the various social functions that it served in the past. This is a matter of wide-ranging cultural importance, on which there is a minor canon of theoretical literature in circulation today.
The term ‘hermetic aesthetic’ that I employ here is a kind of shorthand for the literary ideology that has been handed down to India and other Third World cultures through colonial mediation. In as much as this concept addresses the wider question of literature itself becoming dissociated from material practice in the present-day world, it coincides with the literary ideology of contemporary global culture. But it is pertinent to suggest here that the concept of the hermetic aesthetic has a certain specific resonance in the Indian cultural context in view of the metaphysical dimension that the discourse of literature had in the Indian past. The concept of literature’s autonomy, framed as it was at the dawn of modernity in the theories of the European romantics, could touch a sympathetic chord in the Indian literary mind in the nineteenth century primarily because the dominant tradition of aesthetic thinking in India developed from within a non-secular, quasi-religious, and metaphysical ambience. This has also been the general western perception of Indian aesthetic attitude for most part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.13 That the concept of the autonomy of art was not merely a romantic artistic
doctrine but was an integral aspect of the ideology of modernity will become clear if we remember that almost half a century before the emergence of the usual names associated with the romantic aesthetic, one of the architects of the philosophy of modernity, Kant, in his Critique of Judgement (1790) had formulated a theory of art that rested on the principles of art’s ‘disinterestedness’ and its ‘purposiveness without a purpose.’ This was one reason why literary modernism, when it replaced romanticism as the dominant literary tendency in the western world at the turn of the century, had no problem in assimilating the concept of art’s autonomy as its own central principle in the twentieth century.
There indeed is reason to believe that the development of the hermetic aesthetic was but the natural culmination of the progress of the colonial literary ideology that from the very beginning wanted the discourse of imagination to be kept separate from the discourse of reason. One will only have to look at the contents of some of the early literary publications that arose in Malayalam as a result of the colonial contact for a corroboration of this observation. Look, for example, at the contents of Vidyasamgraham (1864-66), one of the early printed periodicals published under the supervision of Christian missionaries, the harbingers of western modernity in Kerala.14 The most interesting point about the articles published in the issues of this magazine is that it provides a decisive clue to the kind of discourse that developed in Kerala as part of colonial modernity. It was a discourse of rationality – of instrumental reason – that, as we see it today, has for long remained blind to certain basic aspects of culture. All forms of knowledge in the era of modernity were articulated within the limits of this discourse. These include knowledge forms in the inchoate areas not only of science, aesthetics and literature, but also of ethics, history, socio-political reform, administration and jurisprudence. Even a casual perusal of the contents of the eight published issues of Vidyasamgraham would let us see that, in spite of the journal’s apparently multi-disciplinary thrust, almost all the articles included in it argued ultimately for an amelioration of the material condition of man. Modernity, in the end, and by implication, was defined in terms of such an amelioration, for which modern education was presented as the most potent and useful instrument. The title of Vidyasamgraham – which can be translated as ‘the treasury of learning’ – pointed specifically to this moral purpose. So did almost all the articles
printed, not only the essays on such topics as steam engine and telegraph, whose overtly scientific subject matter connected them directly with the advances of modern technology, but also the essays on the subjects of religion and ethics supposed to express a transcendental vision. This in a sense is part of the general colonial tendency, shared alike by the scholars associated with the Asiatic Society of Calcutta in the east and the Bombay Literary Society in the west of India.15
There is also an attempt to see modern science in terms of colonial modernity’s missionary ethics. One of the essays on ethics (Sanmargopadesam meaning ‘ethical instruction’) printed in the first issue of the journal, for example, talks about the importance of producing authentic books about modern science in Malayalam. This attitude has continued to be significant for all discourses connected with modern knowledge in the era of colonialism. Even works of imaginative literature are cast in the discursive mould preset for pragmatic writing and instrumental rationality. This is what one is to deduce from the novels produced in Malayalam in the latter half of the nineteenth century, most of them translations from western and Indian languages, all of which speak in the moralising idiom of Sanmargopadesam. One might think especially of Catherine Hannah Mullens’s Bengali novel, The History of Phulmoni and Koruna (1852) and Mrs Richard Collins’s English novel, The Slayer Slain (1859), both of which were translated into Malayalam a few years after their composition and were in due course to take their rightful places in the history of early Malayalam fiction.
There is no space for the hermetic aesthetic or any kind of aesthetics here, as the public culture in India, in the colonial modernity’s scheme of things, is not yet mature to handle aesthetically significant stuff. This is evident in the creative tension of Chandu Menon, the illustrious author of Indulekha (1889), who ventures into the business of novel writing after trying unsuccessfully to translate into Malayalam some of his favourite English novels. His purpose in a sense is to translate colonial modernity into Malayalam in a context where he finds it difficult to disentangle himself from the matrix of interconnected ideas pertaining to modernity like education, reform, ethics and science. The matrix, prosaic in form and with no twists and turns that mark the language of poetry, is integral to the ideology of colonialism. One can translate this matrix with the
same ease that one may have in translating an essay on popular science on such topics as steam engine or telegraph, the kind of stuff that was translated and published in Vidyasamgraham and other missionary journals. Menon refers in the introduction to his novel to the response of a learned friend who asserts that fiction is a luxury that the Malayalam language would do well to disregard. ‘Books on science are the need of the hour. Malayalam has no place for books on other subjects at the moment,’ he is on record as telling Menon’.16 The statement corresponds with the general tone of colonial modernity, which, in the Indian context, put a premium on the language of reason at the expense of the language of imagination. Most Malayalam narratives published prior to Indulekha were merely attempts at translating the ethics of colonial reason into the culture of the colonised. Indulekha was different. Though full of internal contradictions, one might consider this novel to embody Indian modernity’s pioneering attempt to recapture aesthetics and the culture of imagination, long overshadowed by colonial modernity’s ethics of reason.
To pursue the trajectory of the ethics of colonial reason further forward, one might elaborate the unfolding scenario as a discursive formation, as an organisation of discourse that constitutes modes of knowledge within the structures of inclusion and exclusion. Bernard S. Cohn argues such a formation to have emerged at the time in parts of India, which according to him acted as ‘the language of command’ and did the work of ‘converting Indian forms of knowledge into European objects.’17 Discourse in this formulation is to be understood as a specific and somewhat inescapable way of speaking about the world of social experience, which in India in the age of colonial modernity is linked to the western enlightenment project ‘devoted to the cultivation and spread of modern sciences and arts among Indians, if possible in the Indian languages.’18 The primary object of starting educational institutions in the nineteenth century under the aegis of colonial administration, whether through the missionaries or through the reformists in India, was, as Partha Chatterjee observes, the ‘nationalisation of modern knowledges’ that would serve the interests of colonial modernity.19 In fact the motive behind the institution of the CMS College, the birthplace of Vidyasamgraham, could not have been much different from the reason given for the founding of the Hindu College at Calcutta in the same period, and this involved, in
the words of the scholar and a later Principal of the College (renamed Presidency College after a few years of its establishment), S.C. Sengupta, ‘the cultivation of English literature and European science rather than Hindu theology or metaphysics.’20 The asymmetries between Cohn’s views on the conversion of Indian forms of knowledge into colonial objects and Chatterjee’s on the nationalisation of modern forms of knowledge indeed are only apparent. They would dissolve into thin air the moment we decide that discourse implies a way of organising knowledge and experience within the structures and processes of power.
The upshot of the above analysis is that though the missionary discourse that arose in nineteenth century Kerala may appear to be different in flavour from Cohn’s ‘language of command’ designed specifically to introduce young British officials to the manners and customs of a subjected race, it certainly partook of the rational, scientific and pragmatic qualities appropriate to the language of immediate reference in the colonial world. This is yet another way in which the dialectic of modernity operated in Kerala. Modernity split the discursive practice into an emotionally surcharged private language and a rationally controlled public language, and promoted the latter as the appropriate medium for all inter-personal transactions, including for those The ways that the discourse adopted to strengthen itself too partook of this dialectic. The technology of printing that started making its impact on the reading habits of the people of Kerala from the early nineteenth century is one of these. Though printing helped in spreading literacy and the positive values of civility and conviviality among the masses, and led to a weakening of the aristocracy’s hold on knowledge resources, printing’s inherent bias against textual pluralism can be seen to have exerted some deleterious impact on the process of modernity. Subsequent developments have also seen the technology of printing becoming crucial in the consolidation of the arbitrary and instrumentalist dimensions of modernity. This arose not only from the specific, identifiable messages that printed prose communicated, whose ideational force in a society in transition can hardly be underestimated, but also, and more importantly, from the ideological function that printing discharged by setting up norms for writing and reading. Printing set precise limits for discourse and determined the shape of knowledge in circulation. By promoting
assumptions about normal and deviant forms of knowledge, it also helped the society decide what was to be counted as true knowledge.
Prior to the advent of printing, knowledge and literature circulated in Kerala, as it did in other parts of the world, either orally among the masses or through hand-copied palm-leaf or other kinds of manuscripts kept in collections maintained often by kings and the aristocracy, to which only a minority had access. In broad terms, one might say that both these forms of knowledge transmission were accommodative of socio-historical dynamics in that the oral and manuscript transmission of literary and philosophical knowledge allowed for the limits of knowledge to be set and re-set in each instance of oral performance or the hand-copying of manuscripts. Though it is possible to imagine a particularly mischievous interpreter or copyist entering a wild interpolation into the text of a narrative, it is more sensible to assume that interpolative changes are historically conditioned. Romila Thapar says with reference to the various versions of the Sakuntalâ story in its travel across history that ‘when a theme changes in accordance with its location at a historical moment, the change can illumine that moment, and the moment in turn may account for the change.’21 A.K. Ramanujan states that a poet never tires of chiseling at his poem to make it read better, but the history of its evolution comes to an end the moment it gets into print. ‘By printing it you put a kind of moratorium on it,’ is his poetic description of the situation.22 There is plenty of literature on the way in which the introduction of printing brought about a dramatic shift in the pre-modern situation in all Indian languages.23 What printing did was to introduce the notions of textual purity and authenticity into the domain of culture. These notions were quite unknown to pre-modern scholarship that paid little attention to the ‘true’ versions of proverbs, legends, songs and tales transmitted orally. In a sense the ideas of multiple temporalities, spatialities and subjectivities seem to be inherent to this scholarship, however vague they might have been to those who subscribed to it. This was what made an oral story telling a communal, rather than an individual, experience in the pre-modern situation. As theorists of folk narratives point out, the basic elements of story telling are the property of the community, which the individual storyteller draws upon in telling a story. In the case of folk songs, likewise, once the basic elements of composition of the song form are made available to a community, the community would go on
generating compositions in answer to the needs of the context. It was this quality of ‘generativity’ inherent in folk creativity that was curtailed and standardised by the introduction of printing, which also abetted the process by facilitating the constitution of the discipline of ‘folklore’ or ‘folkloristics.’ The production of printed dictionaries and books of grammar can be said to have further systematised this curtailment.
It was at this conjuncture of historical, discursive and epistemological complexities that Indulekha was born. It was a difficult novel in that it both expressed and suppressed the discursive thrust of the age that generated it. Indulekha partook of the scientific temper of the Vidyasamgraham essays and the moralising idiom of Mrs. Mullens’s and Mrs. Collins’s translated novels. In this sense it was an expression and translation of the scientific and pragmatic ethics of reason that colonial modernity sought to propagate. But it also constituted a suppression of this ethics in that it was the outcome of its author’s conviction that aesthetics and imagination would not lend itself easily to translation. Though Chandu Menon stops short of stating that the aesthetic was what got lost in translation, his experience with the art of translating novels had allowed him to see that it was not a useful and pleasurable exercise.24
The fabrication of the hermetic aesthetic too is linked to this conjuncture. As already suggested, the development of this aesthetic is to be regarded as the natural culmination of the progress of the colonial literary ideology, which from the very beginning wanted the discourse of imagination to be kept separate from the ethics of reason that dominated colonial modernity. The history of literature in all Indian languages since the late nineteenth century has also been a history of the consolidation of this aesthetic that has made sure that modern literatures in India will forever remain alienated from the materiality of culture. This seems to have been the unspoken message of the coloniser’s declared agenda on modernity and reform. Inasmuch as the coloniser undertook his civilising activities in the colonies with the help of literary works, the agenda to be sure could not be extricated from the category of aesthetics. Here then is a living proof of aesthetics presupposing a process whereby cultural production gets de-linked from material and historical practices, and of literature becoming independent of the various social functions that it served in the past.
1 The present essay has been excerpted from two of my recent – forthcoming, at the time when it was originally presented at the seminar on Many Modernities – publications, where the ideas discussed here have been elaborated with reference to other contexts. The publications are:
P.P. Raveendran, Texts, Histories, Geographies: Reading Indian Literature (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2009), Chapter 1, and P.P. Raveendran, “Modernity and Knowledge Production: Malayalam Thought Processes in the Modern Period,” Chapter 38 in Science, Literature and Aesthetics, ed. Amiya Dev (Volume XV, Part 3 of the History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilisation) (New Delhi: PHISPC/Centre for Studies in Civilisations, 2009), 743-768.
2 Hans-Robert Jauss, Aesthetic Experience and Literary Hermeneutics, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 260.
3 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2000), 71.
4 The classic text that elaborates the argument regarding modernity’s dialectic that would lead to its own eventual decline, of course, is Max Horkheimer and Theodor W Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (London: Verso, 1979).
5 Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘Imaginary Institution of India,’ Subaltern Studies 7(1992): 16.
6 The most strident opposition to such an idea in recent days has come from scholars elaborating the dalit and feminist perspectives. For representative positions, see Gail Omvedt, Dalit Visions: The Anti-Caste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1995) and K. Sangari and S. Vaid, eds., Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989).
7 Dipankar Gupta, Mistaken Modernity: India Between Worlds (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2000). Gupta’s central concern is with the lack of ethical values shown by what he calls ‘westoxified’ Indians in their inter- subjective relations.
8 Adorno’s famous example for such manipulation is the use of Wagner in the days of Hitler. Wagner in the nineteenth century, it may be pointed
out, anticipated and metaphorically presented some of the racist positions that Hitler was to elaborate in developing his anti-Semitic postures. The fact that Wagner’s diaries and letters as well as some of his essays like ‘Judaism in Music’ contained anti-Jewish utterances has compelled critics to suggest that his operas or music dramas carried implicit anti-Jewish comments. Siegfried, the warrior hero of his opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung, in this reading, will become the archetypal proto-Nazi. Hitler certainly must have recognised this aspect of Wagner’s work, a fact corroborated by his remark, ‘whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must first know Wagner.’ (Qtd. in Robert Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolph Hitler, New York: Basic Books, 1977, 113.) Leo Lowenthal, another member of the Frankfurt School, in a later reflection on the subject provides two other, perhaps more interesting, examples from the theatre. One is that of an English production of Othello in the eighteenth century when the hero does not kill Desdemona at the end of the play, but asks forgiveness of her and suggests that, in the interest of the institution of marriage, they work up a new arrangement. Another example is from an early twentieth-century production of Ibsen’s Doll’s House presented in Munich, where Nora, at the end of the play, instead of locking the door from outside, locks it from inside and returns to her husband for the sake of saving her marriage. See Leo Lowenthal, ‘Sociology of Literature in Retrospect,’ Literature and Social Practice, ed. Philippe Desan et al (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 14. Though Lowenthal’s examples are from a more traditional, literary medium than Adorno’s, the problem with Adorno’s position – that it fails to recognise the agency of the consumer – persists here too.
9 See Arjun Appadurai and Carol A. Breckenridge, ‘Public Modernity in India,’ Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in Contemporary India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), 2-4.
10 See, for example, Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India 1850- 1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), Chapter 5; Geeta Kapur, When Was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India (New Delhi: Tulika, 2000), 145-79.
11 See Ashish Rajadhyksha, ‘The Phalke Era: Conflict of Traditional Form and Modern Technology,’ Journal of Arts and Ideas 14/15(1987): 47-78.
12 This has been especially true of Ravi Varma. Geetha Kapur is explicit about the development of such a mythology around the life of Ravi Varma, while Partha Mitter’s account throws light on the myths created during the artist’s lifetime itself about his extraordinary abilities as a painter. See Kapur, When Was Modernism, 148-49; Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 180-82.
13 Mircea Eliade of mid-twentieth century is quoted as saying that in the ‘Far East’ what is called ‘aesthetic emotion’ still retains a religious dimension even among intellectuals. See Gene H. Bell-Villada, Art for Art’s Sake and Literary Life (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995),
1. This indeed is a survival from the attitude of the European Orientalist scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
14 This bilingual journal was published as a college magazine from the CMS College, an institution started by the Church Missionary Society at Kottayam as part of its educational reform project in the nineteenth century. Only eight issues of the journal were published from 1864 to 1866. The issues of Vidyasamgraham have recently been collected and reissued by the Malayalam Department of C.M.S. College in the form of a single volume. See Vidyasamgraham (1884-66; rpt. Kottayam: Benjamin Bailey Research Centre, 1993).
15 Kumkum Sangari in the course of her discussion of colonial pedagogic practices refers to the division that the colonial scholars made between the physical sciences and the moral sciences, the latter unifying the realms of religious and ethical knowledge that attempted to comprehend the present and past conditions of the inhabitants of India. She quotes specifically from Sir James Mackintosh’s presidential lecture at the first meeting of the Bombay Literary Society in 1804, in which the areas covered by the ‘Moral’ are characterised as forming ‘the very science of administration.’ See Kumkum Sangari, ‘Relating Histories: Definitions of Literacy, Literature, Gender in Early Nineteenth Century Calcutta and England,’ Rethinking English, ed. Svati Joshi (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994), 32-123.
16 O. Chandu Menon, Introduction to the first edition, in Indulekha (1889; rpt. Kottayam: SPCS, 1966), 19. (Translation mine)
17 Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: British in India
(New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), 21.
18 The formulation is Partha Chatterjee’s. See his Our Modernity, The Srijnan Haldar Memorial Lecture, 1994, (Rotterdam/Dakar: Sephis-Codesria, 1997), 15-16.
19 Chatterjee, Our Modernity, 16.
20 Jasodhara Bagchi, ‘Shakespeare in Loin Cloths: English Literature and the Early Nationalist Consciousness in Bengal,’ Rethinking English, ed. Svati Joshi (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994), 150.
21 Romila Thapar, Sakuntala: Texts, Readings, Histories (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1995), vii.
22 AK Ramanujan, Uncollected Poems and Prose, ed. Molly Daniels-Ramanujan and Keith Harrison (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), 45.
23 See some of the essays in Stuart Blackburn and Vasudha Dalmia, ed. India’s Literary History: Essays on the Nineteenth Century (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004), especially the ones by Indira Viswanathan Patterson, Stuart Blackburn (both on Tamil literature), and Velcheru Narayana Rao (on Telugu literature). Also see Stuart Blackburn, Print, Nationalism and Folklore in Colonial South India (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003). The most important theoretical statement on the relation between print capitalism, modernity and nationalism, of course, is to be found in Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1984).
24 See O. Chandu Menon, Indulekha, Introduction to the first ed., 16.
P. P. RAVEENDRAN. Is Professor, School of Letters, Mahatma G.andhi University.