Monthly Archives: July 2006

Critique of Nativism

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In sentiment, nativism is both anti-imperialist and anti-brahminical. But practically, it is neither entirely free of the structures of thought that are entangled in imperialist or brahminic discourses, nor does it have the potential to be a pan-Indian theory in literary and cultural criticism.

G.N. Devy, who contests a Sanskritic tradition as an alternative to western paradigms of cultural criticism, aims to postulate a modern ‘Indian’ tradition based on bhasas, but he doesn’t attend to the possible diversities and tensions within the bhasa traditions. Even within a bhasa tradition, say within the bhasa tradition of Marathi, there are tensions, and conflicts. The diversity of bhasa traditions and their varied histories foreground the problems in postulating any such panacea.

Bhalchandra Nemade suggests that nativism attends to the locality-specific nature of literary production and dissemination. If so what is the limit of the native? Nativism faces the problem of where to draw the boundary: home, street, village, caste, gram, taluka, district, state, nation? In other words, among linguistic community, caste community, geographic community, etc., what constitutes the locus or desh of deshivaad, or native of nativism?

It is in its hope that it is possible to retrieve from bhasa traditions all analytical apparatus for literary/cultural criticism in the contemporary society that I find nativism as a concept eliding the fractional nature of the traditions on the one hand, and the dissimilarity of the social groupings of the past from the present, on the other. Any ‘pure’ notion of the native space is infeasible. The biggest challenge to nativism is in formulating ways and means of responding to the massive challenges thrown up by the processes of modernization of daily life and now globalisation.

The debates in nativism sidestep the institutional forms / discursive practices within which it is undertaken. That, the native in nativism is never a subject unmarked is to be kept in mind. The opposition between nativism and western tradition itself is a structured one. This opposition is not an unproblematic field. It alerts us to the peculiar status of modernity which constitutes the oppositional effect, as well as the effect of the need to escape it.

Critiquing west, modernity and the various forms of imperialist practices is surely necessary. But this critique cannot shut out ideas on the grounds of their nativity. Uncritical adherence to as well as uncritical rejection of modernity/ western traditions are equally unhelpful. In focusing on the complicity of nativism, that nativist critique is also being staged within the premises of modernity, I am trying to suggest the necessity of a hybrid approach, unabashed in its critique yet alert to the fields of energy affecting such a critique.

A far more problematic challenge would be to negotiate with the issues of the structure of hegemony, dismantling the discursive apparatus of this hegemony, issues of time and space of access and social groups having the access to them and to what end these are employed, to what extent is there a space within our cultural practices that are unaffected by modernity and contact with west, what hegemonic forms are the resistances taking?

State vs. Subjects

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There is always much talk of the state’s power over its subjects. In India, does state have absolute power over its subjects? Many would suggest that state is only one institution that subjectifies citizens; one may think of other institutions that have similar power over people. But we also need to look at the ways in which people elude this institutional power. One may be the victim of state violence any time; it is also true however that state in India is often unable to bring everyone under its purview. The million ways through which subjects slip out of state’s power, conduct their activity in defiance of state, is common. This is not to be understood only in terms of anti-state activities. But many mundane life practices give the slip to state and hint at the sovereign status of people. I mean to say, though in modern societies state is a repository of excessive power, and though its monopoly over affecting people’s life is monstrous, we need to also remember how an active attempt is always made to escape subjectification. I think the phenomena of resisting the processes of subjectifications are very important too. Lqack of attention to such processes lead us to view state power as absolute.

Death control

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OLN Swamy in sampada.net discusses death of languages. Speaking of Kannada, he points out that it too is seen as endangered. It is a serious matter as it involves the survival of richness of cultures in the world, not only the matter of survival of a language.
But can the life and death of languages be controlled? On the face of it, yes. We dont have to look far beyond the history of colonisation to learn about how death can be brought upon a language and its culture. But, the same history also tells us about the remarkable resilience of languages and cultures when we notice those that overcame it.
We tend to approach language and culture in an anthropocentric manner, attributing to it human frailties. Death to a language is not an event; it is a process in which not individuals but multitudes partake of decision making. People dont let a language die, centripetal and homogenising processes of hegemonic languages notwithstanding.
Languages go through radical revisions such that one may become another, or many, but all these happen as willed by its users. When a population of the size of some nations speak a language, as with Kannada, any talk of its death is, well, a kind of angst.
In this context one must also remember the many languages in one language. I think one of the processes leading to the death of a language that OLN mentions points to this. He says when users begin to use another language, this happens. But those users would also be importing the linguistic behaviours of their language into the new one they use. This leads to a situation where Kannada for eg may be at once a multiple language. It already is a multiple language is my hunch.
Another issue is, if a society wills to migrate from one to another language, what of our anxious concern for preservation of languages? Furhter, is the process of death of languages coupled with birth of new ones? Or new birth of prevailing ones? Umm, got to think about it.