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?

2 responses »

  1. The article raises important questions. However, I do wish you had tried to provide the answers to some of the questions. This makes it seem incomplete as an analysis.
    When you suggest a hybrid approach, you may also want to analyse its limitations and see whether it could really be a sustainable approach.

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