- Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire by Kris Manjapra
Age of Entanglement examines political and intellectual interactions between Germans and Indians between 1880 and 1945. More specifically, it examines the way Indian and German intellectuals collaborated during this period to disrupt the authority of the British Empire, “the alpha empire of the nineteenth century” (3). Manjapra argues that Indian and German intellectuals were united by their common opposition to British political and cultural hegemony, as manifested through three signifiers: “Enlightenment, Europe, and Empire” (5).
Manjapra offers a persuasive and lucid account of these interactions, especially regarding their motivating nationalisms. He is especially convincing on the thesis that the unprecedented scholarly and scientific collaborations between German and Indian intellectuals in the Wilhelmine era were “kept in their array by the galvanic force of a third party: the lodestone of the British Empire” (3). However, Manjapra’s thesis is less persuasive in its attempted identification of Europe and the Enlightenment with the British Empire (3, 5, 7, 9, 36–37, and 54) and the British Empire with “Empire” itself (3–4, 5–6). Was Germany really the “European world power at the vanguard of projects for ‘de-Europeanization from within’” (5)? Was the British Empire the exclusive or even the main “harbinger of Enlightenment universalism” (7)? Manjapra’s own research shows that German intellectuals were extremely conscious, indeed, jealous of their status as Europeans. German politicians and administrators pursued colonial projects in Africa and Oceania. When German intellectuals turned to India, it was not primarily out of an interest in Indian culture, but for an ersatz [End Page 224] Aryan identity that would confirm their status as a “white” race, indeed, as the whitest among the European races. British institutions were not the sole or even the most forceful disseminators of “the hegemonic Enlightenment broadcast” (9). After the Humboldtian educational reforms of 1809–1810, German universities firmly identified themselves with Enlightenment principles. The interactions between German Orientalists and native scholars also illustrate that German intellectuals viewed their contribution in Enlightenment terms. Not only did they see their scholarship as embodying the principles of the scientific Enlightenment and themselves as protagonists of the Enlightenment but they were also conscious of bringing about a similar Enlightenment of the Indian public (see Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee, The Nay Science: A History of German Indology [New York, 2014], 103–08; 279, n. 556; 347–49; and 412–13). German Orientalists underway in India were extremely conscious of their European identity, seemingly becoming secure of it only here for the first time. The Indienreise became an obligatory part of the education of German Orientalists, necessary to affirm both their status as Europeans and the necessity, value, and distinctiveness of generating an Enlightenment discourse about India.
Part of the problem lies in the insufficient philosophical exploration of the Enlightenment. Manjapra identifies Enlightenment science with three features: “the search for rational universal laws that authoritatively categorized, arranged and ordered the natural and the human domains” (8); “the idea of the ‘rational’ individual as the observer, knower, and master of his or her environment” (8); and “positivistic subjectivism” (10). Borrowing Foucault’s concept of “counter-sciences,” he argues that the collaborations between German and Indian intellectuals led to the creation of “post-Enlightenment” “counter-sciences” that “broke old unities apart into smaller and smaller fragments” and “rearranged [these] pieces into newly enchanted wholes” (10). “This work of rearrangement,” he further claims, “was constitutively transnational.” It relied on “relays of intellectual interdependence” between “Europeans and colonial peoples” (10).
But he never shows how the sciences in the fields of encounter he discusses achieved this. (Besides the one reference, Foucault never returns in the entire book.) The intellectual project of the Enlightenment is itself not developed in any detail. Manjapra does not describe the way Enlightenment subjectivity remains inscribed at the heart of the epistemic project of modernity or the way the relation of the knowing subject to its external reality — as its observer, knower, master, and maker — is presumed by many...