Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 17-18 (June 1989) p. 3.

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Introduction: Representations in History

\I\Kumkum Sangari

Is the cultural formation of India, as it took shape within the exigencies of colonial rule still a matter of concern for us? It appears at times that this is a subject which has been the natural terrain of history writing and other critical enterprises, demanding nothing newer than a heightened self-consciousness. At other times it seem^to be a subject which produces a sense of ennui and exhaustion—evacuated as it is by the proliferation of academic discourses on the making of the 'orient'. We do not feel that there is anything to be gained by dutifully filling in India on the 'orientalist' map. And yet large areas of uncertainty about the economic, epistemic and discursive processes of our cultural formation still remain. These historical processes and accompanying representational modes are meshed in the paraphernalia and constitution of most of the academic disciplines we engage in, have engendered many modes of self-perception and representation, and structured many kinds of institutions and social practices, which are yet to be fully understood. It may be worthwhile, however, to make some attempt to reconceptualize the field, though always and only where it presses with some urgency on our sense of the contemporary.

We are living in a time which is witnessing a resurgence, from different and intersecting ideological positions, of a number of new and subtle orientalizing discourses. Some of these involve areas of state functioning, of mass perception, national and international arenas for the deployment of culture, and Indian as well as metropolitan academic discourses. First, there is the escalation of a communal politics and the growth of a chauvinist and fundamentalist social milieu where a major ideological prop is found in versions of essentialist indigenism, in which descriptions of caste, gender, language et al are offered as eternal verities even though they may not have taken shape earlier than the colonial period. In this respect the biases of the nineteenth-century Indology have left their mark on colonial and nationalist historiography as well as on popular perception of an Aryan/Hindu culture. Second, there is an assertive state-sponsored display of Indian Tradition and Culture, especially of the classical, the folk ^nd the tribal, intended as a saleable compensation for the lack of democratizing initiatives on Its own part. For example, the tribal is represented as a self-congratulatory mark of the surviving pre-modern indigenous, even as the tribals themselves face and Struggle

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