restricted access History, the Human, and the World Between (review)
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Reviewed by
R. Radhakrishnan. History, the Human, and the World Between. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. x+285 pp.

How can the human, the human who is multilaterally constructed in and through the interstices of historicity's shaping forces, coextensively dwell in a world that is perpetually mutable and transient? Furthermore, how can the human eke out an existence that is both historically grounded yet philosophically ephemeral, an existence that confronts the multifaceted layers of colonial power and environmental abuse that have carved out the world of the present? These are just some of the questions R. Radhakrishnan's History, the Human, and the World Between asks us to consider.

Beginning with a chapter on revisionism, Radhakrishnan explores the relationship between historicity, temporality, and philosophy in order to unveil an "ethico-political imperative of the nameless, of that which has yet to be spoken or been spoken for" (34). In this chapter, Radhakrishnan performs a Nietzschean genealogy in order to emphasize that "the human subject can have no access to life except by way of history" (50), and his focus is stringently concerned with the social subject's historical formation and the perennial possibilities that reside within the actual act of revisionism. But in exploring this concept Radhakrishnan finds himself within an intellectual double bind, a bind that leads him to latently explore the following questions: at what point of juncture do theoretical intellectualism and actual political activism and mobility intersect? And within the interstices of this juncture, does ontological historicity predetermine temporality? Or does temporality take immediate precedence over historicity? This is precisely where Franz Fanon, "the Fanon who sought to combine [End Page 391] radical political activism of the here and now with the transcendent vision of deconstructing binarity as such" (37), plays an important role for Radhakrishnan's own self-reflexive intellectual revisionism. Fanon, who inaugurates an "indictment of a specific historicity and . . . an invocation towards another and nonbinary temporality" (113), embodies a sense of what Radhakrishnan explores in his following chapter on the late Edward W. Said, the concept of worldliness.

At the beginning of his second chapter "Edward Said and the Politics of Secular Humanism," Radhakrishnan opens his discussion with a personal anecdote about the late Edward Said, a fellow intellectual, mentor, and personal friend. While in a bookstore in Chennai, Radhakrishnan admits to feeling a moment of grief for his late friend as he picked up his latest book, Humanism and Democratic Criticism. But his grief was "immediately expelled" when he saw "the cover of the book, with the 'Admit All' stub; and then everything felt fine and restored again." This ticket stub, for Radhakrishnan, is a symbolic representation of Said's own intellectual commitment toward secular humanism because "the authority of the ticket that admits some and not others is maintained under erasure to tell us that admittance is being won and secured in the name of all" (116). Radhakrishnan finds tremendous value in Said's intellectualism, and what follows in this chapter is a generous yet rigorous critique of Said's commitment and inhabitation of the space "he loved to call secular humanism." As Radhakrishnan muses, "to Said, the book, necessary and precious as it was, was also at the same time a very special point of entry into the worldliness of the world" (117) and "what holds his criticism together and gives it its coherence is an agenda that is in and of the world" (119). Exploring Said's passionate distaste for parochial intellectual theorization, Radhakrishnan remarks that Said, in his criticism of such theorists as Foucault and Derrida, "begins to realize how loyalty to [a] subject position can become a trap, and a hindrance to a freer understanding of location as worldiness" (128). But on the same token, Radhakrishnan finds it troubling that "the same Said who has problems with theory's tout court dismissal of humanism has no problem invoking the modality of the tout court in a totally appreciative and uncritical manner" (141). It's as though Said commits the same intellectual quandary he prohibits in using "humanism as an inclusive umbrella to cover universal history" (140). But although Radhakrishnan problematizes Said's humanistic positionality, he...