Modern Asian Thought Annual Lecture
July 14, 2014
By ASHIS NANDY
Ashis Nandy is an Indian political psychologist and social theorist. His critiques on European colonialism, development, modernity, cosmopolitanism, and secularism has been popular worldwide. He served as a faculty and later the Director of Center for the Study of Developing Studies(CSDS), in Delhi. He also served as a Research fellow in some prestigious Universities in the U.S.A. He authored and co-authored various books, on crucial contemporary issues in India. He is the recipient of Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2007.
Ashis Nandy mainly starts by talking about ‘memory work’. He points out that we have surpassed the time where ideas were considered sacred and were certified as scriptures. While citing the examples of genocide in the 20th century and afterward, he opposes the idea of nationalism and blames the role of modern nation-states behind the mass destruction of humankind.
He argues that several communities hold memories of their past and future, such as their self-definition, formations, creations, challenges, and hardships. The small marginalized cultures are focused, those were not recorded in writings and scriptures, yet it is possible for these cultures to survive, sustain and grow; there are still some areas of cultures that are not covered by literature. In all such culture, a secret self is created by these memories which the speaker terms as ‘mnemonic memories’. The sheer memories that he mentions are the ones those protect vulnerable communities in private autonomous and violent space, outside the domain of space and outside authoritative professional historical constructions of the past. And, there are some cultures those are completely memory based. These spaces less encumber by ideological demands, political correctness, and reliable empirical basis. Talking about memories, he says that the checks and cross-checks of memories give rise to a world of multi-polar memories. And then, the rises of ‘other cosmopolitan’, in which some societies in Asia and Africa still continues to live, and terms this as ‘silk route cosmopolitanism’. He notes it as a cosmopolitanism that is more radical and thus hosts the otherness of others. Next, the speaker contradicts to the power relationship between the memory based and the text-based by saying that the more we try to marginalize the memory based knowledge, the deeper we push it down in our awareness. Since we cannot forget these memories, they return and haunt us during uncomfortable moments. That survival of memories challenges our beliefs and self-definition, thus seek to redefine our collective self. We remain fearful and anxious while facing the threat because it challenges us. Collected memories are a part of everyday life that refuses to fade away, they exist in the form of alternate emotions and social criticism.
The modern nation-states projects ideologies of progress, development, national security and monolithic ideas of national hiring and include it in the disciplinary conventions. The speaker regrets pretentious ideas of these refurbished memories that are not being captured in texts and audiovisual records. He presents various examples of Indian history to explain his arguments and thoughts about human genocides and blames the policies of the nation-states for this destruction. He terms the Russian, Chinese and the Indian as three great presenters of the world, who were independent, immovable, resilient where only a century ago, becoming blind, and depends on experts, policymakers, global market and multi-national corporations. They are back broken, their self-confidence wiped out. While providing the example of Indian ‘music culture’, he points out how Indian memory has remained memory dependent. He believes that victims of societies, if not the nation-states that have to impose responsibilities on victims once they emerge empowered and triumphant from their audit. A society rises from its sufferings when it tries to rise out of other similar societies with similar suffering.
The contemporary population possesses a sense of omniscience when it comes to the question of ‘knowledge’. A culture of knowledge and learning has been generated where information processing has become more important than information creation. In the contemporary knowledge learning process, the universities equip us very well for a professional knowledge but did not prepares us with the fundamental question of knowledge itself, and this gives us to what the speaker terms as ‘black holes’ of knowledge in every discipline.
Lastly, the speaker criticizes the European knowledge of social sciences that answer and reflect the historical events of genocide and European colonization. He provides brief examples of the discovery of America and European colonization to justify his critique. He blames the European colonizers of dividing and emphasizing the Asian and the African population based on borders of religion. And thus questions: what knowledge was produced by Europeans? What did they do to that knowledge and how did they utilize it that is rearing others’ life? He opposes the concept of history because it freezes the past since history prioritizes in archives and does not do justice to knowledge. While concluding, the speaker says that history should be used to modernize ourselves and move forward from memory based knowledge.