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Gyan Prakash. Writing POst Orient a List Stories of the 3rd World

Gyan Prakash. Writing POst Orient a List Stories of the 3rd World

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Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History
Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Perspectives from IndianHistoriographyAuthor(s): Gyan PrakashReviewed work(s):Source:
Comparative Studies in Society and History,
Vol. 32, No. 2 (Apr., 1990), pp. 383-408Published by:
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WritingPost-OrientalistHistoriesoftheThird World:Perspectivesfrom IndianHistoriography
GYAN PRAKASH
PrincetonUniversity
To ask how the"thirdworldwritesits ownhistory"appears,at firstglance,tobeexceedinglynaive.Atbest,it reaffirmsthe East-West and Orient-Occidentoppositionsthat haveshapedhistoricalwritingsandseems tobeasimple-minded gestureofsolidarity.Furthermore,napparentlyprivilegingthewritingsof historianswiththird-worldorigins,thisformulationrenderssuch scholars into "nativeinformants"whose discourse isopenedupforfurtherdisquisitionsonhow"they"think of"their"history.Inshort,thenotion of the thirdworldwritingitsownhistoryseems toreek ofessentialism.Seenin anotherway,this formulationcanbe construedaspositingthat thethirdworld has a fixedspaceof its own from which itcanspeakinasovereignvoice. Formany,this notion of aseparateerrain srenderedproblematicbytheincreasingrapidityand thevoraciousappetitewith whichthepostmoderncultureimperializesand devoursspaces.In view of the aboveobjections,itappearshazardous toevenpose,letaloneanswer,thequestionas to how thethird world writesits ownpost-Orientalisthistory;and,giventhefire drawnbywell-intentionedattemptsolocate this third-worldvoice,such anenterpriseeemspositivelyfoolhardy.Ipersistpreciselybecause the call formappingpost-Orientalististoriographiesalsoacknowledgesthattheknowledgeaboutthe thirdworld ishistorical.The
Thisessaywasoriginallypresentedasapaperin apanelentitled "AfterOrientalism:heThirdWorld Writes its OwnHistory"at the AmericanHistorical Association's annualmeetinginCincinnati,December 1988.Iam thankfuloCarolGluck,whoseimaginationandorganizationaleffortsmadethispanelpossibleand whoseinvitationpromptedme to thinkabout thesebroaderquestions.Remarksbyothers onthepanel-ErvandAbrahanian ndEdwardSaid inparticular-and thequestionsand comments fromtheaudience,clarified theissues involved.CommentsfromNicholasDirks,JoanScott,andCarolQuillenwereextremelyuseful inrewritingtheoriginalpaper,and the criticismsandsuggestionsof the revisedpaperofferedat theworkshopon"Colonialism andCulture"bythisjournal (ComparativeStudies inSocietyandHistory),atAnnArbor,Michigan,May1989,particularlyy RogerRouse andVicenteRafael,were ofgreathelpinwritingthepresentversion.1Arecentexampleis theexchangebetween FredericJameson andAijazAhmad,inwhichJameson'swell-intentioned but"first-world"gesturedrewdeservedcriticism. SeeJameson's"Third-WorldLiterature n the Eraof MultinationalCapital,"SocialText,15(Fall1986),65-88;andAhmad's "Jameson'sRhetoricof Othernessand the 'NationalAllegory',"SocialText,17(Fall1987),3-25;and Jameson'sreplyonpp.26-27.0010-4175/90/2893-0300$5.00?1990SocietyforComparativeStudyofSocietyandHistory
383
 
384GYANPRAKASH
attentionto thehistoricityofknowledgedemandedbytheinvitationto chartpost-Orientalisthistoriography,herefore,runs counterto thoseproceduresthatgroundthethirdworldinessencesand seehistoryas determinedbythoseessentialelements.Itrequiresherejectionof those modesofthinkingwhichconfigurethethird world in such irreducibleessencesasreligiosity,under-development, poverty,nationhood,non-Westemess;and it asksthatwere-pudiateattemptsto see third-worldhistoriesin terms of thesequintessentialprinciples.Thus,thepreviouslymentionedobjections,insteadofinvokingessentialism,unsettle the calmpresencethat the essentialistcategories-eastandwest,first worldand thirdworld-inhabitin ourthought.Thisdisruptionmakesitpossibleto treatthe third world as avarietyofshiftingpositionswhichhave beendiscursivelyarticulatednhistory.Viewed in thismanner,theOrientalist,nationalist, Marxist,andotherhistoriographiesecome visi-ble as discursiveattemptso constituteheirobjectsofknowledge,thatis,thethird world.As aresult,rather hanappearingasafixed and essentialobject,the thirdworldemergesas aseriesofhistoricalpositions,includinghosethatenunciateessentialisms.Thisessayis anattemptomapthedifferentpositions occupied byIndia inthepost-Orientalisthistoriographies.To doso, however,requiresthat webegin bydefiningandsituatingOrientalism.Forthispurpose,nothingsmoresuitablethan Edward Said'sgeneraldefinitionofOrientalismas abodyofknowledgeproducedbytexts and institutionalpractices.2Accordingtohim,Orientalismwasresponsibleforgeneratingauthoritativeandessentializingstatementsabout the Orientand was characterizedbyamutuallysupportingrelationshipbetweenpowerandknowledge.AsIreflectonSaid'sanalysis,thereare threekeyelements thatinmyviewgaveOrientalism tscoherence:first,its authoritativetatus;second,itsfabricationofthe Orientintermsoffoundingessences invulnerable ohistoricalchangeandpriorto theirrepre-sentationnknowledge;andthird,its incestuousrelationshipwith the Westernexerciseofpowerover what wecallthethird world. Thisessay analyzesOrientalismn Indiawithrespecttothese threeelementsinorderto sketch inwhatwaysandin which contexts Orientalismhassurvivedandchanged,anddescribeshistories that canbe calledpost-Orientalist.
ORIENTALISM'SINDIA
Orientalismwas aEuropeanenterpriserom thevery beginning.The scholarswereEuropean;heaudience wasEuropean;and the Indiansfiguredas inertobjectsofknowledge.The Orientalistpokefor the Indianandrepresentedheobjectintexts.Because the Indianwasseparatedrom the Orientalistknower,the Indian asobject-aswellasitsrepresentation-wasconstruedtobeoutsideandoppositeofself;thus,both theselfand theother,therationaland
2
Orientalism(NewYork:Vintage,1979).

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