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Social Text 18.3 (2000) 47-66

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Ghostly Appearances:
Time Tales Tallied Up

Geeta Patel *

Paradoxically enough, temporality can be said to have genealogies of its own. In what follows I trace the coimplications of Christian, Christian-secular, and Hindu temporalities in the capitalist production of the militarized Indian nation. Here the production of a linear past-present-future relation (linear even as it curves back through the past) requires certain forms of subjectivity: a farmer who establishes a rural-urban progress narrative; a domesticated insinuation into gender in which a woman desires and represents both timeless tradition and modern commodities. In this reading, I show the ways in which Hindu nationalist temporality relies on both missionary and secular-Christian times.

At the close of the essay, I explore ways of narrating colonial temporalities differently, using the work of two historians. This, because in order to get to the before or the after of colonialism one must traverse it. Only through such narrations, and the affect that engenders them as painful, can substantive differences in subject positions become available. The questions that frame this discussion include the following: How can we think subjectivity through other possible times, given that subjectivities in the "modern" are inseparable from particular ways of narrating time? Is it possible to speak of temporality, to feel temporalities, in transformatory ways, without asking readers to travel through narrations of time?

Rather than merely restating Foucauldian points about disciplinary time and the carceral body, I pose these questions about time in relation to colonialism and nation-formation. I suggest that instead of changing one clock into another (e.g., traditional into modern), or speeding up and slowing down time (e.g., the acceleration of history), one must consider the persistence of at least three ways of telling time at once. This persistence abets forms of recursiveness and domination, even as it might offer ways to disturb them, or more disturbingly regenerate them in new alignments. The complex relationship between telling time and telling time's history means that I cannot simply present these temporalities in a linear fashion to the reader. Instead, I enact the temporalities I argue from and argue for, inviting readers to enter into the narration. If we wish to envision different horizons, we may have to begin by attending to bodily implications in avowedly "nationalist" orders of time. [End Page 47]

Scenes from History, Politics, and Religion

The millennium seems not to be a site of the production of excessive anxiety in South Asia. Why? 1

Indian editorials speak United Nations warnings about the millennium bug: "Failures in one country could have significant effects on many other nations." 2 Banks--from India to Hong Kong--are reportedly talking to one another across national "borders" about systemic infections and their mitigation, and suggest immunizing banking systems against the millennium bug lest it impede the flow of capital. But these articles about the bug rarely bring the millennium into the house, the home, and the domestic. The discussions about process in South Asia--about prostheses breaking down or refusing to move in/to their appointed times--are seldom conducted in relation to the personal or the domestic (computers, banks, electric grids, telephone systems, stock markets) breaking down. Even as a middle class grows in South Asia, the emergent bourgeoisie accumulate technological prostheses in the house: TVs, VCRs, and computers. These prostheses are fetishes, worshipped as the consolidated avatars of global consumerism in households that celebrate their turn toward an emergent global capitalism even as they hold on to newly formed notions of the "traditional." As avatars, the prostheses "abound in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties," mystifying the relations between transnational capital, mobile labor, and the schismatic productions of classed fractures. 3 As avatars, the prostheses also become the syntagmas of what is missing from the nation, taken into a bourgeoisie home as one site where idealized nationhood is played out. The prostheses become naturalized extensions of the hand of the bourgeoisie, spoken about as simplifying urban lives, as easing the availability of news and pleasure. However, for the purpose of...


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pp. 47-66
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Archived 2005
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