Europe and the Question of Modernity'
'Modernity' was Europe's claim to hegemony, the terrain in which she naturalised her claims of superiority over the rest'of the world. How to approach this problematic in any spirit of critical confrontation that is non-reductionist and not politically opportunistic and double-faced? This exercise in self reflectiveness, given the inherent modesty of my intellectual equipment, I owe to the memory of the great teacher whom this lectures series commemorates: a lecture in memory of someone whose lesson of intellectual alertness remained interrupted, always in the form for a dialogue. What I shall never be reconciled to is that the he will not interrupt this dialogic flow with the 'critical response* bom of his enormous reading. For Professor Amal Bhattacharji, a non-sectarian Marxist living and writing up to the 'sixties, English studies reeked of domestication through colonialism. A professed Occidentalist, Europe provided for him the critical edge of a alterity that would energize our analysis of the West. I offer, with considerable modesty, my intervention in a series that has had contribution from a galaxy of intellectuals and scholars.
A possible sub-title of this presentation may well have been 'Where angels fear to tread'. Choice of such a vast problematic owes not a little to the memory of affection with which a formidable intellectual like Professor Bhattacharji indulged my queries. I feel it is my singular good fortune that through the past quarter of a century, some of which has been exhilarating and some exceedingly sad, there has never been an absence of stimulation, both intellectual and activist. What I have to say to-day owes a great deal to the challenges posed by scholars and activists mostly younger than myself, strewn all over India and occasionally abroad. Though the format of this presentation does not permit me to acknowledge them openly, I am conscious, at every step, of treading, on a shared terrain. As always I remain open to critical
* Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur Unversity, Calcutta.
** Twenty First Amal Bhattacharji Lecture, February, 1996.
Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 7-8, July-August. 1996