SCRAPS ON MODERNISM, POST-MODERNISM AND INDIAN RESPONSES

DEBAPRASAD BANDYOPADHYAY
INDIAN STATISTICAL INSTITUTE
KOLKATA

Modernism is not put here as an event within a chronological time frame, rather it is
perceived here as a mental attitude of a group with a given locus. Post-modernist is a
flaneur, who is gazing the text of modernism with his/her subjective standpoints and is
interrogating the truth-claims of the modernist….
PHASE-I: MODERNISM
We, the modern children of enlightenment, are in the entry point of a scientific project.
Here is an object—a thing—a signified-- I have to know this object definitely,
deterministically and scientifically… And in this way scientific truth would be revealed.
We are assigning signifier on it.
Alternatively, we are imposing certain true structure on it.
We have to know its “true” structure objectively without any subjective bias.
Therefore, we need analytical tools, certain formalisms, which could reveal the definite
meaning, origin and development of the object.
Formalism contains scientific categories, certain taxonomies—order of things.
This order of things reveals the true nature or essence of the object given.
Hidden core of the object and the deployed arbitrary signs would be an overt and known
as well as essential generalized existence.
We can now generalize an ideal as well as universal situation with the tool of (my)
imposed structure.
PROBLEMS
1. What is objectivity? Can a human subject/ observer escape the limit of the
sense organs? An ant is seeing an object--a human being is observing an

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object--an ET is gazing an object. In their observations, no doubt, there are
dimensional differences. Whose observation is more “true”?
Proposition: thing outside me is unknown and unknowable. Every

objective

truth-claim suffers limits of our subjectivity. What is “real” then?
”I” is constrained by his/ her anthropocentric limits of perception, does not exactly know
(though human scientists generally pretend to know) the ‘other’’s (e.g. ants, camels,
other women or an alien form the other galaxy) perceptions regarding the same object.
Therefore, any objective truth- claims on the part of scientist-“I” have anthropocentric
limit as “I” cannot escape or exclude its own subjectivity at the time of any true or false
claims about external object. Even the proposition, “Every knowledge is subjective” falls
within the limits of human perception. Therefore, before displaying the foundational
claims of any discipline, one may keep in mind the loci of context-sensitive “I” (who is
also an S/HS), who is proposing the “truths” of any subject by making something as an
“object”. e.g., an ant is seeing an object--a human being is observing an object --an ET
is gazing an object. In their respective observations, there are many dimensional
differences. None knows whose observation is relatively more “true”. Thus the answer
from certain philosophical schools is: things outside me are “unknown and unknowable’.
Every

objective truth-claim suffers limits of our supposed anthropocentric subjectivity.

Therefore, many contingencies must be kept, when one is claiming any “truth” about a
discipline. This attitude may be termed as strategic positional subjectivity, which does
not allow pretentious objectivity by coercion.
Cf. “We all start from ‘naïve realism,’ i.e., the doctrine the things are what
they seem. We think that grass is green, that stones are hard and snow is
cold. But physics assures us that the greenness of grass, the hardness of
stones, and coldness of snow are not the greenness, hardness and
coldness that we know in our own experience, but something very
different. The observer, when he (sic) seems to himself (sic) to be
observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the
effects of the stone upon himself (sic). Thus, science seems to be at
war with itself: when it most means to be objective, it finds itself
plunged into subjectivity against its will. Naïve realism leads to
physics, and physics, if true, shows that naïve realism is false. Therefore
naïve realism, if true, is false; therefore it is false.”—B. Russell.

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2. Therefore, let us be metaphysical or spiritual—as there is no objective truth let
us imagine something beyond physical—the true origin. Let us search God,
Ghost, and Specter….
Sed contra: If physical perception fails, that does not prove the triumph of
spirituality—a metaphysical presence beyond corporeal.

Searching for truth is a

disease. All these efforts for will to know leads to will to power. The trajectory of
knowledge is power. Truth is a metaphor or a metonym.
3. Knowledge is related to polymorphous power. Each case of knowing (in a form
of discipline-subjectification) is subscribing the state and mercantile enterprise
to govern the body of the subject –thus subject is objectified as well as
subjected in the domain of epistemology.
I am reiterating here the question initiated by Daniel Cohn-Benedict (and of course
Foucault) in the context of Students’ Revolution in Paris (1968). In a pamphlet
entitled “Why Sociologists?” he argued, “The practice of organizing capitalism
creates a mass of contradictions; and each particular case a sociologist is put to
work. One studies juvenile delinquency, another racism, a third slums, Each seek
an explanation of his (sic) partial problem and elaborates a ‘theory’ proposing
solutions to the limited conflict he (sic) is studying. Thus, while serving as a
‘watchdog’ our sociologist will at the same time makes his (sic) contribution to the
mosaic of sociological ‘theories’. (Cited in Dews, 1987:172).
4. The taxonomization/categorization of the object is controlled/ appropriated/
approximated by the spatio-temporal “other” factors. No categorization is
eternal, rather a type of representation. We are playing with representations.
Each representation has its own Truth-Room. Each Truth-Room/Little box
contains a toolbox of its own.
Within this little box or TR of one vegetarian, all the animal proteins, onion and musur dal
are prohibited and another vegetarian thinks s/he can consume onion and musur dal
along with egg and still preserves vegetarian status according his/her world-views. In
case of determining the semantic status of the term ‘vegetarian’, are we ready to
incorporate two Truth Rooms (TR) of two vegetarians, or the ‘meaning’ of the term is to

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be decided positively, formally and deterministically by terminating the second
vegetarian as vegetarian? Where are the entry-points of such TRs? Where does stand
the closure of such TRs? Or, they “all look just the same”?

PHASE-II: POST-MODERNISM
1. No Formalism is complete or adequate to handle “all” the human or non-human
problems. The expectation for handling “all” the problem by imposing structure
or formalism is a failure—a closure.
2. Essential generalization does not work as it ignores different shades of different
objects (—the end of metanarrative[s]).
3. There is no such singular origin—there is no fixed meaning.
4. Analysis is violence—violence to other – intervention into the body of the
subject (Anatomo-bio-politics).
5. Plurality is the buzzword at this moment. There is no science exists in singular
number—there are sciences—regional sciences.
INDIAN RESPONSES
1. Negation of Nationalism and Science-technology nexus
and establishment of eco-friendly concept of samavaya:
Gandhi, Rabindranath….
2. Introduction
perspectives):

of

anekantavada
Krishnachandra

(theory

of

Bhattacharya

many
and

Kalidas Bhattacharya in Philosophy; Abu Sayed Ayub,
Buddhadeb Basu and Sudhindranath Dutta in Bangla
literary criticism and translation theory; P.C. Mahalanabis
and J.B.S. Haldane in Statistics and natural sciences. All
of them deployed anekanta-theory in their respective
fields. All these instances may be regarded as (post-)
colonial responses to the monolithic enlightened science.

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EPILOGUE TO INDIAN RESPONSES- A PASTICHE FROM AN OPIUM-CONSUMER
Kamalakanta, once deprived of milk by Prasanna Goalini, the milkmaid, felt that “The
whole world is a market”. He then went to the market and after witnessing different
shops in the marketplace, at last he saw this ad:

MESSRS BROWN JONES AND
ROBINSON
NUT SUPPLIERS
ESTABLISHED 1757
ON THE FIELD OF PLASSEY.
MESSRS BROWN JONES AND ROBINSON
Offer to the Indian Public
A Large Assortment of
NUTS
PHYSICAL, METAPHYSICAL
LOGICAL, ILLOGICAL,
AND
SUFFICIENT TO BREAK THE JAWS
AND
DISLOCATE THE TEETH OF
ALL INDIAN YOUTHS
WHO STAND IN NEED OF HAVING THEIR
DENTAL SUPERFLUITIES CURTAILED.
Kamalakanta heard that the shopkeeper is calling, - “Come black lads, come to eat
Experimental Science. No. 1 experiment is a fist….” After noticing the coercive
experiment, kamalakanta observed that one white man bogged down into the brahmins’
coconut shop. Out of fear all the shopkeeper Brahmins escaped and the Englishmen ate
coconuts after piercing it with British ‘weapons’. After being asked by Kamalakanta, the
Englishman answered that they are doing “Asiatic researches”. Before being exposed to
the white man’s “Anatomical Research” Kamalakanta escaped from the market place.
The narrative at a time handled the market management of epistemology, colonial

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intervention in the Oriental space in the name of ‘Asiatic Researches’ and the
deployment of coercion along with the whitemen’s global science(that, according to them
cannot be reduced to “Western Science”), that is only the “experimental science” (reader
must note that these words are in English and not translated in Bangla text by
Bankimchandra) developed on the basis of Mill’s method. Furthermore, “experimental
science” had become a commodity that could, with the punch of PHYSICAL,
METAPHYSICAL, LOGICAL, ILLOGICAL NUTS, dislocate the teeth of ALL INDIAN
YOUTHS. This incidence of “dislocation” of space is the key to this paper.
However kamalakanta did not aware of another possible domain: Brahmins, without
being escaped from their shops, they participated in the discourse of western science
and de-signed their shop according to that derivative paradigm and subsequently
produced commodities like “Vedic Science” that is to be cultivated in a “vedic
University”!!!

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