Questioning the Conceptual Validity of Nativism

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Among the literary critics in India are some who feel that the quiet acceptance of the Euro-American critical models in literary criticism in India is a problem. They insist on developing native models of literary criticism.  This school of thought is less pronounced these days though some years ago it was in circulation more prominently. I am unsure of the conceptual validity of this school of criticism. My article on the issue “Violated Spaces: Questioning the Conceptual Validity of Nativism”  was recently published in The Atlantic Literary Review, January-March 2009 issue. Below is an extract of the article.

What is nativism? It is a bad question. Because before completing itself as a question, it takes on the shape of answers. These become visible if we attend to its parts: the first part ‘what’ is already imposing a structure to the possible answers as ones that offer an essence, an identity as against, say, a time, a space or a mode. The second item ‘is’ presupposes singularity, presence, not something past, yet complete, total and definite. Contrast it with ‘are’, ‘may be’. The third item is a name, indicating an already formed entity, the ‘ism’ suggesting its reaches as a model and programme of action. The symbol item ‘?’ asserting it to be a question despite the answers already posited, presenting the sentence as a seeker of answers but that are within the structure of the question itself. There is yet another item which is unstaged in the sentence: that is the asker, the seeker who may also be the provider, the one structuring the answers. Thus the question is an act – a performance, an action in time/space, a pretence and in its insistence on structuring, a law. Some of the difficulties alluded above are implicit also in the conceptual field bearing the name ‘nativism’.

Why should we talk about nativism? I consider this concept a major departure from the imperial and brahminic paradigms of cultural criticism in India. In sentiment, nativism is both anti-imperialist and anti-brahminical. But practically, in some of its manifestations I am here considering, 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. While the conceptual terrain of nativism makes the claim for a native theory of being, of cultural self, the very condition of the proposition and its field of operation are violated by the simultaneity of the singularity of self and the extensive plurality of everyday life. In this sense, the hope that nativist thinkers entertain, of inhabiting an uncontaminated homogenous space, is always already violated. This paper is concerned not so much with the merits of nativism, whatever those might be, as the problems with the concept.

The journal is published by the Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi.

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