This short introduction to the following collection of essays seeks to map out the different
ways in which the discourse of civilization has been understood and deployed
over the past century. We can find tensions in the understanding of civilization
between conceptions of it as singular and multiple, between civilization as a process
and an achieved state, between spiritual and material civilizations, and between elite
and popular or ethnographic versions. These tensions reflect the ambivalence of civilization
as subservient to the goals of the nation-state and as encompassing a higher,
authorizing ideal that continues to this day.
Cousins, James Henry, 1873-1956 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Internationalism in literature.
Decolonization in literature.
Focusing on decolonization and the home rule movement in India and Ireland, this
article examines the career of the poet and theosophist James Cousins, who left a flourishing
career in Dublin and settled in India in 1915. The substantial body of work published
by Cousins in India represents his attempt to work through issues of realism and
idealism in art that, in his view, remained unresolved in the Irish cultural renaissance.
In his literary criticism he sought to find satisfactory models to deal with the pressing
questions of decolonization and home rule. Privileging art over politics, Cousins
regarded the Indian renaissance not as a moment of political awakening but rather as
a movement toward aesthetic and philosophical unity, in stark contrast to the Irish
literary revival, which was driven primarily by political goals. Drawing on such diverse
thinkers as Tagore and Okakura, Cousins maintained that the struggle for freedom was
essentially an expansion of critical consciousness. The real measure of civilizational
strength for him was the accommodation of inner growth by external conditions.
Where such conditions did not exist, only violence could result. Cousins pointed to the
French Revolution as history's prime example of the reduction of the ideal to the assertion
of local, narcissistic needs. The result of the friction between world idealism and
political realism was the self-centered nationalism that Cousins abhorred as an aberration
from the true course of human history. In his attempt to develop an aesthetics
that could accommodate politics without being subordinated to it, however, Cousins
drove his own work into oblivion, as other models of internationalism that were more
overtly political and economic gained ascendancy.
Perhaps the most fundamental and enduring effects of the worldwide crisis of the European
colonial order brought on by the Great War of 1914-1918 resulted from the challenges
it provoked on the part of Asian and African novelists, poets, philosophers, and
emerging political leaders. Four years of indecisive, mechanized slaughter on the Western
Front gave rise to spirited and widely publicized critiques of the civilizing mission
ideology that had long been invoked to justify European dominance. Since at least the
early nineteenth century, the credibility of the civilizing mission credo for European
colonizers as well as subject peoples depended increasingly on its emphasis on the
unprecedented superiority that Europeans had attained in science and technology over
all other peoples and cultures. Some Indian and African, and indeed also European,
intellectuals had challenged these gauges of European racial and historical preeminence
in the decades before 1914. But the appalling uses to which European discoveries
and inventions were put in the First World War raised profound doubts among
intellectuals across four continents about the progressive nature of industrial civilization
and its potential as the model for all of humanity to emulate. The highly contentious
exchanges that these questions gave rise to in the postwar decades soon coalesced
into arguably the first genuinely worldwide discourse and proved a critical prelude to
the struggles for decolonization that followed.
Individualism -- Vietnam -- History -- 20th century.
Radicalism -- Vietnam -- History -- 20th century.
This essay examines the ways in which explorations of van minh or civilization in Vietnamese
radical thought of the colonial period opened up novel apprehensions of the
self. It locates Vietnamese articulations of self and society in the global circulation of
civilizational discourse and its redemptive, egalitarian, and transcendent yearnings.
Although the turn to collectivist paths of political and social action in the 1930s forestalled
the radical vision, it has reemerged in contemporary Vietnam, where questions
of individual freedom and moral autonomy shape indigenous debates over the uneasy
relationship of postcolonial Vietnam with the forces of globalization.