Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 25-26 (Dec 1993) p. 1.


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Introduction: Careers of Modernity

Curiously, but somehow expectedly, almost every piece in this special issue on modernity and modernism has also addressed the question of nation/nationality/ nationalism. Any examination of the modem in the Indian context today must predictably engage with the largest imagined space which claimed the nomenclature of the new, or at least with the Utopian projection of the ideal community, freed from colonial domination, and free to create a world untainted by inequalities of caste-class, community or gender. It was a community, however, only of those who were eligible to be citizens, and the question of how citizenship was conferred is in many ways the same question as how the nation was imaged. Nationalism was a marker of the readiness to enter the 'modern' age, and the modern person produced as 'Indian7 was also the free, agentive, romantic subject of liberal humanism. Modernity was thus used, even in progressive politics, against claims to caste or community identities, and in non-left discourse, against gender and class identities as well. To be modern was to transcend divisions that set Indian against Indian, that were preventing the new nation from taking its equal place in the world.

Today, when the nation is increasingly under interrogation, we need to examine the significance for cultural politics of rethinking modernity, modernism and the modem. Several essays in this issue look at how the modem presents itself as the 'universal modern', and how a discourse of truth, spontaneity, authenticity and realism (naturalized to such an extent that even denunciations of the modem tend to conform to these criteria) is generated, among other realms, in film, photography, popular or high literature. What the essays investigate is the politics of modernism, of how cultural practices and traditions become configured as, and recast in, the image of the modem.

Also under scrutiny, therefore, are the politics of modernity: how first in the name of the nation and now in the name of the new global economy the imperative to 'be modem' issues forth and is heeded. As Susie Tharu and I have argued

Numbers 25-26


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