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Diaspora 9:3 2000 Provincials and Tropicopolitans: Eighteenth Century Literary Studies and the Un-Making of "Great Britain" Suvir Kaul University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804. Srinivas Aravamudan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. In a well-known essay, Dipesh Chakrabarty calls for historians to begin "the project of provincializing 'Europe,' the 'Europe' that modern imperialism and (third-world) nationalism have, by their collaborative venture and violence, made universal" (240-1). Chakrabarty offers an acute diagnosis ofthe intellectual and disciplinary problem at hand: For generations now, philosophers and thinkers shaping the nature of social science have produced theories embracing the entirety ofhumanity. As we well know, these statements have been produced in relative, and sometimes absolute, ignorance of the majority of humankind—i.e., those living in nonWestern cultures. This in itself is not paradoxical, for the more self-conscious of European philosophers have always sought theoretically to justify this stance. (225). Chakrabarty's primary concern, as the title ofhis essay makes clear ("Postcoloniality and the Artifice ofHistory: Who Speaks for 'Indian' Pasts?"), is with historical and social scientific inquiry into the making ofIndian or, by extension, "Third World" societies. For him, both the uneven "development," or advent into "modernity," ofthese societies and the formal explanations offered for such uneven modernization are products of imperialism. He argues, therefore, that our revisionist intellectual projects have to work with the "recognition that Europe's acquisition ofthe adjective modern for itself is a piece of global history of which an integral part is the story of European imperialism" (241-2). Ifthe only paradigm of"modernization " is one that Europe has made available and—even more importantly—one that Europe already embodies, materially and otherwise, writers of revisionist histories of "Third World" societies face an absolute difficulty: 421 Diaspora 9:3 2000 "Europe" cannot after all be provincialized within the institutional site ofthe university whose knowledge protocols will always take us back to the terrain where all contours follow that of [a] hyperreal Europe—the project of provincializing Europe must realize within itself its own impossibility. It therefore looks to a history that embodies this politics of despair. (243) I invoke these ideas here to invite us to consider whether Chakrabarty 's intellectual and disciplinary "politics of despair" might cause us to think differently about our own revisionist postcolonial projects. Problems such as those Chakrabarty develops here have, of course, occurred to other scholars in literary and cultural studies too; recently, Ania Loomba has argued that "the burden of a Eurocentric past" is inherited by postcolonial studies tout court. However, for her, the fact that postcolonial studies derives "much of its energy and revisionist power ... from its provenance within anti-colonial and progressive political movements" (an energy that is "enhanced when postcolonial studies keeps in mind or addresses directly neo-colonial imbalances in the contemporary world order") allows a more sanguine view ofthe future of such intellectual work, particularly if such work absorbs itself "far more deeply with the contemporary world, and with the local circumstances within which colonial institutions and ideas are being moulded into the disparate cultural and socio-economic practices which define our contemporary 'globality'" (256-7). Loomba's way out from the disciplinary and intellectual history Chakrabarty charts is for postcolonial studies in general to commit itself not so much to a "politics of despair" as to a "politics of the present," one that will "energise" inquiry into the here and now as it will into the past, into those historical periods defined by the construction of modern colonial systems and empire. The postcolonial studies that results ranges over a variety of archives in its search for materials with which to construct histories and cultural analyses different from those produced and celebrated by colonial historians and social scientists. Rather than read, for instance, only those documents produced by colonizing and imperialist cultures, postcolonial critics have attempted to locate and read the records (both textual and non-textual) of the resistance (and sometimes simply of the existence) of colonized peoples. In some cases, the very act ofidentifying and working on such "archives" is revisionist, in that colonial systems ofknowledge (including those inherited in the name...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 421-437
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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