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Shiva Meets Godzilla

Postmodernity is like a Godzilla movie, a media fiction that stalks our dreams and makes us wish we could do things differently. Kathy Acker thinks Godzilla is both symptom of and response to the "universal principle" at work in the twentieth-century and culminating in postmodernity’s particular intersection of a cultural micromesh of normalization and the global economic facts of life. In the original Japanese films, Godzilla is a hero who defends against true monsters; in the American versions, Godzilla is the monster. Acker is right to see the Japanese version as more resonant. The American film works to contain the energy of Godzilla within a classic binary of good versus evil. The Japanese film sees Godzilla as somewhat ambiguous–he mashes buildings, after all–but as what saves us from Gidron, Mechagodzilla and his E.T. masters, Rodan, Megalon and the Ctopians, and other signifiers of the forces beyond our control or comprehension.

We dream Godzilla because we cannot easily identify or comprehend the agents of the era in which we find ourselves. The neurotic tension in the American social imaginary may impose its tightly plotted secondary elaboration, but the monsters keep coming back. Perhaps it is significant for students of American postmodernity that our film monsters are more typically psychopaths–the belief that the era is insane is a symptom of the expectation that it at least ought to conform to our tensely held masterplots of history. More radical American postmoderns like Acker have levitated the subtext of the west’s cultural dreamwork and left it hovering right on the surface of their fiction in its interplay of conventional forms, explicit analysis, pervasive irony, grotesquerie, Deleuzian multiplicities in every sphere of thought, and blunt records of the daily experience of life in hyperreality.

That interplay of elements reshapes American fiction at the end of the grim century of modernity by differing from the attempt among the majority of culture-makers to persist in an older narratology. If Godzilla is the bad guy, we know how to think about it. But if Godzilla is, sort of, a good guy battling a Megalon sent to defend the underground kingdom of Ctopia from our nuclear pollution, then we lose our thematic grip. We didn’t make the monstrous Megalon coming to get us, but we made him come; we walked out of the theological "paradise" of the nontechnological Ctopian culture, killing a third of it before we even understood this subliminal version of ourselves. The guilt we might feel for such a collective deed resonates with that uneasiness afflicting contemporary Indians who feel the Atlantis of their golden age of tradition subsiding beneath the waves of postmodernity.

We are saved by a prehistoric survivor from Monster Island, an oasis outside the forces of history and nature whose name fortuitously includes that of God. If Godzilla is our name for the tangle of guilt and hope, agency and helplessness, and the long trail of specific issues and crises indexed in his story, he is a good sign also for the crisis confronting Indians as they face the onslaught of contemporary conditions (economic, social, cultural, political, psychological, moral). Our Godzilla comes from his oasis in our imagination, embodying our wish that some kind of old-fashioned or even primitive (but, to us, lost) strength and instinct might be an adequate resource to what menaces us. What differentiates our nightmare from India’s? We generated both Megalon and Godzilla: postmodernity is our complex creation in which the central values of our "enlightenment" have produced both "the idea of a free, human, social life" and "the court of judgement of calculation, the instrument of domination, and the means for the greatest exploitation of nature" (Acker 72).

India’s Godzilla is experienced as an intruder, a set of forces from the outside that many construe as another wave of imperialism. India banned Coke and instead sold domestically owned and produced Thumbs Up cola; now, after Narasimha Rao’s "economic liberalization," Coke is back and has turned the Thumbs Up corporation into one its own bottling plants. Coke is Godzilla, is the Global Economic Machinery (GEM for short), is this crisis imposed upon Indians, or so the reading goes. In the other corner, Monster Island is The Mahabharata The Ramayana, the epic repositories of godkings and domesticated earth mothers. Ram, Shiva, Arjuna–a varied cast supports a whole range of imagined responses to The Crisis, including the BJP’s concoction of a neo-hinduism built on the semitic theological model, but also simply the pervasive preoccupation with the village as the focus of one’s feelings about the golden island of tradition outside the forces of nature and time, an ideal (an idyll) pulsing away in the collective memory.

Indian fiction stages this confrontation between Shiva (&Co) and Godzilla in a world of different ways. When commentators gather to organize these writings into "Indian Literature," I suspect their thinking machines are most likely tuned to modernism. It would be easy to tell the story of this writing as the confrontation between Indianness and the effects of imperialism and westernization: "imperialism" cues the postcolonial master narrative, "westernization" cues that of Tradition vs Modernity. But Godzilla is not modernity, he is postmodernity. Neither he nor "economic liberalization" nor "westernization" nor hyperinflation are from the outside; they are not "other." They are now Indian and have been for decades. The master narratives of imperialism and westernization are subplots, mirrorings of the protagonist’s bildungsroman. Pip comes to London in the middle of the nineteenth-century full of provincial notions of being a gentleman; he winds up a junior executive in a multinational corporation. That is the meeting of a tradition (of monied gentry and coherent social strata) with modernity (the individual as the citizen of one nation in the world and positioned in a corporately generated profession).

Postmodernity is something else. It’s about commodity culture picking up the pieces of modernism’s fragmented self and turning each into a hyper-consumer. It’s about the GEM transforming every human, anywhere, into a target market, and making nation states into local mechanisms for troping or coopting disruptive energies with protective order and regulatory defusings of protest. It’s about the media normalizing its participants to conceive of their all too obviously fluid and multiple identities and statuses as style trends within reassuring genres of romance, adventure, dramas with resolution. It’s about a politics of token participation, an ethics of self-preservation, a work ethic of hyperachievement measured by the logic of corporate balance sheets. It’s about cultural materials and social forms used as misdirection–as obsolescent structures of feeling that both distract us from what has really happened and channel us into ever more exacting modes of being. Family can be used to motivate self-sacrifice and the deferral of gratification long after the possibility of joint family life, perhaps even of nuclear family life, is defunct. But postmodernity also gives rise to postmodernism, counter-strategy, inhabiting the allotted positions and speaking the prescribed vernacular in a minor key, as a double agent, as (strategically) schizophrenic in the Deleuzian sense.

Indian fiction is richly resonant with symptomatic misdirections and inspirational counter strategies. It has taken me years to understand what this resonance sounds like: the most striking feature of living and thinking on changed sociocultural grounds is the continuing appeal of cultural optics focused in the wrong direction, with an inappropriate depth of field, with an obsolete vector of astigmatic correction. The Monster Island from which the ten heads of Ravanna stare into late twentieth-century Indian life is a resource as only fictions with truth effects can be. When Kali rattles her garland of skulls, she is a startling sign holding contradictions in a subliminally understood configuration. It’s our business to explicate that configuration in a way that sets Shiva and Godzilla to dancing in the same postmodern ring of fire.

To do so, I want to look through three kinds of writing each of which, in its own way, works at the intersection of postcolonialism, as we’ve learned in earlier chapters to rethink it, and the same postmodernity that has stayed in evidence throughout as a necessary context of our readings. Essays, a short story, a novel: how can we use them to bring into final focus what fiction and academicians have taught us?

Rethinking English

Svathi Joshi provides us a volume of stories in the guise of essays (Rethinking English: Essays in Literature, Language, History [Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994). These are modernist stories, well-made indeed, even brilliant–a record of epiphanies in which the protagonists disengage themselves from simplistic myths about the history of English language and literary studies in India. The narrators are richly reflexive about the complex of economic, social, and even libidinal structures that condition their minds and narratives. In her introduction, Joshi abjures "liberal assumptions about English literature as ‘universal’ and ‘normative,’ and orthodox critical methods that deny any possibility of connecting the English text with our material world" (1). She alters the classic map of "English" by grouping together the construction of Tradition by "militant Hindu majoritarianism," indigenist academic discourse, and western theorizing about the "Third World":

Perhaps it is predictable in some quarters that a 1994 book rethinking English would desire "a historicizing process that would be closely attentive to the interrelatedness of cultural forms, material structures and social formations" and that would "dismantle the epistemology of neatly homogenized, essentialized binary polarities of the native and the western" (3-4). Predictable, I would say, because no book which touched so dense an intersection in Indian life could hope to function without some such way of tracking intricacies and complicities.

Describing "the myth of some essential indigenism" as "the most enduring form of our own colonialism and … indicative of our inability to think of other forms of our collectivity" (6), Joshi voices one of the desires most symptomatic of postmodernity, that of conceiving in a credible way the ideal of "collectivity." The task is caught between "progressive" (i.e., Marxist) ideals of nonhierarchical society and postmodernity’s organization of multiple and overlapping subgroups for the niche-marketing of products, policies, and politicians. The way out is ordinarily conceived with modernity’s logic, since Grand Theory is easier to do within a long familiar paradigm than within the one in which one’s own consciousness and circumstances are being formed. Joshi’s conclusion discards the logic of polarities without taking us to some other side:

The point is no longer (simply) a critique of colonialism and imperialism: they are modernity’s training grounds for postmodernity, for the organization of us all as (multiple) otherness, for the reification of otherness as market profiles, for the infinite proliferation but of multiple forms of decentralization. Joshi’s methodological polarity between "civilizational otherness" and "the arena of struggle" expresses resignation in the face of the sheer logical difficulty of situating both of these within the same analytic itinerary quoted above.

Colonialism, imperialism, postcolonialism, and the differentiation of the west and non-west are partly dated narratologies, and partly containers for arenas of historical struggle we must "locate in their historicity and the complexity of contending ideological and social formations" (27), to quote Joshi’s call. To do so, we need the resources of what she too easily dismisses as "the dominant discourses of post-modernism which deny all questions of history and identity, collective and individual, and hence a site for struggle and change" (25). Aijaz Ahmad has demonstrated at some length why such figures as Edward Said and Fredric Jameson must pass through a critique from those whom they have "othered" in quite modernist ways, but these two figures ought not be identified with "post-modernist discourse," a much more various phenomenon than their work would suggest. When Ahmad feels the impact of being "othered" by Jameson’s totalizing, and when he notes Said’s "Auerbachian High Humanism" and his lack of references to scholarship from outside the western academy, he is noticing the persistence of an older logic in the work of two great scholars who have turned the machinery of Modernity upon distasteful manifestations of the paradigm. We are sorely afflicted by inadequate readings of poststructuralists, lapsing into an easy but severe distortion that allows one to dismiss their political resonances rather than working through the ways in which their paradigmatic shifts challenge our expectations and criteria for agency, politics, and historical consciousness. Postmoderns and poststructuralists are lousy modernists, but they’ve aimed at postmodernity instead…

Poststructural theory is properly understood as a radical response to the facts of life under postmodernity. "Radical" is meant in its etymological sense of thinking a thing back to its roots and attempting a profound displacement of its forms and history. Other generations have taken this as their mission as well, but the distinctive confluence at mid-century of the world’s wars, liberation movements, globalized commodity economy, and media hyperventilation decisively condition the grounds on which we live and theorize and account for the measure of consensus among those determined to recode, radically, the conceptual resources they draw upon. Whether one calls this a glide or a rupture depends upon the temporal focal length of one’s lens. Joshi’s goals are not easily seen through to their conclusions without a more kindly attitude toward discourses of post-modernism one wishes were more "dominant."

This book has at times verged on a migration into Deleuze and Guattari’s usually misunderstood Capitalism and Schizophrenia: at its most tantric or Buddhist moments it has also seemed a translation of Deleuze and Guattari’s molecular flows, rhizomatic relations, lines of flight, capitalist decoding, and deterritorializing, and on through the glossary of neologisms enabling us to a deeply new way of thinking about the crisis of subjectivity in the west. My personal life experiences as a 1948 baby-boomer, my restlessness with my teachers’ modernism, my decade of clarifying the radical fringes of American art, and my reading of nonwestern analyses of contemporary history and culture–all this has made some of the postmodern discourses essential to my work. There are many ways, of course, of responding to the socioeconomic facts of life we term postmodernity. But I’m convinced that the more critically astute of postmodern theories are indispensable, and that the least useful among them are precisely those that most constrain poststructuralism’s energies within an often unconscious investment in their modernist antecedents.

Jasodhara Bagchi’s story tells how nineteenth-century Bengalis made use of the English literary studies instituted for the rising middle class. She wants to go beyond "the simplistic charge of ‘comprador culture’ leveled against this educational programme" (148), or the equally simplistic belief that "English literary studies were a colonizer’s plant on the Indian consciousness to gag it into the torpor of slavery" (146). Obviously the educated Bengalis were "making a niche for themselves in the new socio-economic terrain opened by the British" (148), but her story recovers a more complex texture of agency. She tells, for example, of the alliance between the modernizers typified by Raja Rammohun Roy (who wanted to "stem the growing menace of Orientalism") and Hindu conservatives like Raja Radhakanta Deb (who secured caste and creed bars for entry to Hindu College, and to its hostel, even after the colonial state took over the college): both had reasons to oppose imperial utilitarian schemes. At the same time that "caste, class, and gender divisions" were maintained in the new college, a secular education "created a space that was an ideological equivalent of what has been characterized as ‘civil society’" (148), a place in which students "could cultivate their cultural/spiritual sphere." The "new learning … enabled the self-construction of the new Indian male" (149) that responded to the contradictions of life under the colonial regime by "playing" the parameters more inventively than reductive stories would suggest.

"In Bengal at the beginning of the modernization programme under colonial domination," Bagchi continues, "English literature was perceived as the Prince Charming whose magic wand alone could wake the Sleeping Princess of our own culture from the curse of both the orthodox pandits and the sahib Orientalists" (152). This "new project of hegemonization of native elite culture" in the "civil" space occupied by the new middle class is the "Bengal Renaissance," she argues. Her protagonists introduce "Bacon and Hume into the heart of the ‘Orientalist’ scholarship of Sanskrit College" and write quasi-Miltonic epics in the vernacular; they teach Sanskrit and translate Shakespeare with equal enthusiasm. They attempt a "recovery of self under colonialism," in other words, that negotiates the contradictions of its own cultural and political tributaries, as Bagchi notes in summarizing the polemics of the times:

Bagchi’s story features a "paradoxical class formation" that drew on "native" and "English" materials to generate the "counter-hegemonic claims of an indigenous middle class" (158). Her thematic bottom line is that nothing is simple, that the hybrid culture bred in the Bengal Renaissance was the concoction of a class playing history for its own best ending. It could only reflect the class interests of its architects. Some contemporary perspectives might wish there had been a wider social consciousness, might emphasize one of the reductions Bagchi disparages in order to tell a master narrative, might want the Bengal Renaissance as an episode to use in coaxing the present into becoming the denouement of that master narrative.

The crux is whether we will read history, present or otherwise, with a logic that tends to singularize its strands, or with one that has so multiple and dense a sense of dialectics that it strikes some as scarcely intelligible. History is a frighteningly open story, and we are nowhere near a utopian coalescence of class interests, for postmodernity is an age in which not just classes, but class factions are hyperorganized though shifting congregations called together in a busy cross-hatching of media-driven interpellations. They assemble at odd hours, in different groupings on alternate Tuesdays, the same bodies attending different sessions at different hours, depending upon how they can be targeted by the pulses of normalization and work-extraction. Like the colonial subject, the postmodern subject must choose a zone from a four square grid of fabrications which are not static answers but ongoing participatory serials. The grid might be drawn this way:

Attitude (Ø) & Fiction (Æ)


"the New"

E.g., Joshi’s "militant Hindu majoritarianism" or U.S. right-wing Republican fantasies: concocting a rule-governed Answer from the storehouse of tradition & myth Those who embrace "economic opportunity" with full-throttle "entrepreneurial" gusto: playing the system for self-interest and "one’s own," or lapsing into the "slacker’s" cryogenics

Weaving out of traditional values, structures, & patterns a strategic response that recovers a sense of pleasure & meaning from the onslaught of economic & social change Inhabiting the forms and structures of The New as a double-agent, tutored in Foucauldian analysis and Deleuzian strategy, recoding the machinery from within for an active, improved subject position

Reductive, yes, and highly dependent upon the imagination of the reader to realize the diversity of forms possible in each "box" and the real world slippage between its categories. And for some insufficiently differentiated blocks of thinkers, a means of noting differences–does a Marxist comply with marxist tradition, imposing a master narrative’s Answer, or does a Marxist recode the machinery of The New out of a rich sense of contemporary dialectics? It depends on how that individual negotiates not only his/her own social position, but a relation to both conventional logics and more contemporary flexible, poststructural, or fuzzy logics…

All of which means that we can’t keep living and writing from India in a postcolonial box and living and writing from America in a postmodern box: there is obvious difference we must recognize and negotiate, but there are also strong resonances between the colonial and postmodern conditions of both, as the elements in Bagchi’s story should suggest. Social fragmentation, insistent but contradictory multiplicities internalized as one’s consciousness, economic forces and institutions beyond the power of individuals to control, competing logics with historical alliances to incompatible social and cultural powers–all this sounds disturbingly akin to the postmodern condition, even though the story is set in the supposed "periphery" of nineteenth-century India. In one of those fascinating metalepses history offers us, the Bengali Renaissance stages a version of what everyone in the world now must confront.

Both contexts feature an alien power with global pretensions (the British Empire, the multinational character of capitalism), both thus render artificial the traditional boundaries of nation or kingdom, both require a nonincremental shift in the economic facts of life, both thus impose an extent and rapidity of change disruptive to cultural and individual continuity, both impose the need to inflect in a new idiom an otherwise lost tradition, both thus make painfully clear the constructed nature of culture and the strategic stakes in its formulation, both foreground suddenly and in crisis mode the (formerly repressed) multiplicity of the self, both rapidly reprogram ideological state apparatuses (schools, media) to accelerate the sense of fluidity and of the inevitability of change.

Harish Trivedi’s story is about how "to write now in the English language … about how English language and literature in India signifies a crucial degree of assimilation and internalization already" (181). His story goes back to the time when Indians were "not only imitating … but also training the new form as a weapon on the English government in India," a lively bit of subverting the "major" literature from within its forms (187). Of one protagonist, for example, he concludes that "this is not an instance of influence alone … [but] also at the same time, and already, a problematization and a critique of that influence" (190). Trivedi formulates this process as a crisis:

Trivedi moves us quickly beyond reductive readings to what it feels like to negotiate fundamental contradictions. Basic socioeconomic change means basic change in identity, sensibility, world-view–a process that is a painfully bewildering response to only partially understood historical forces.

Trivedi’s story ends happily, sort of, for "with the acceptance of modernism and progressivism in India, we finally caught up with the latest in English literature" (198). He finds, now, "that there was no literary thought or trope moving anywhere in the western world which was not also at the same time moving within an Indian head," a fact he links to Independence, but which may have as much to do with the arrival of postmodern dynamics to England and India with near simultaneity. Trivedi’s story is itself a response to postmodernity, using terms equally appropriate to his own subject position in postmodernity: for reasons already rendered, his story can use historical writers’ subversion of dominant cultural forms to reposition himself against "new historical forces not always fully grasped or entirely welcome," namely those of an omnivorous global postmodernity.

Badri Raina’s story is equally compelling. Though he evinces real distaste for poststructural theory, his evocation of "the politics of English in India" responds to an Indian version of the phenomena which prompt poststructuralists to their agonized meditations on language strategy:

Within a language are the conceptual coordinates, the sedimentary layers of social history, the archive or intertext of that language, and "the dynamics of rhythm and gesture" that pace and shape the relations among insight, emotion, and expression. Naming the difference between "reveling" in English as a young man in America and some years later refusing a semester’s teaching assignment, Raina explains his "unwillingness to incur, even if for four short months, a construction of my self which I felt to be now unacceptably alienating" (268).

The explanation hinges on "a growing abhorrence towards a privatized capitalist notion of individuality" and his increasing discomfort with "our theoretical endorsement of sociality and a communitarian ethos on the one hand, and our zealous privileging of a literate personhood that rarely seeps into any sustained large-scale sociality on the other" (268). His complaint is against the kind of subject interpellated by late modernist culture, which persists as one rather well-rewarded response to life in postmodernity. He has used reflections upon his American experience and his English "self" to accelerate his grasp of "new historical forces" as they are functioning in a culture half-strange in its American materialist form, half-familiar in its New Delhi/Bollywood correlatives. As he recovers the story of how this "alienating" self came to be, he builds a list of linkages that positioned the Indian psyche within a grid more extensive than "tradition" or "nation."

He notes, for example, that "the new desired order of consumption made obligatory the reconstitution of the commercial and professional middle classes in the colony" (273). Combining this with "the need to cut the costs of administering the colony" (275), one sees the culture machine supplementing the Colonial State Apparatus in order to normalize this population, making it congruent with the only slightly more empowered middle class in England. Neither middle class, that is, was destined to see its way to an alliance with the oppressed rather than the owner class and both remain dependent upon economic machinery they cannot even significantly regulate, let alone control. So quick a process is this rationalist preparation of the world as a "manipulable other" that Raina’s Ranmohun Roy is as interested in "the development of the productive processes within the colony" as he is with producing a Bengali Renaissance: the transformation of identity, sensibility, and world-view sets in motion the development of a professional managerial class for which commodities validate taste and productivity validates identity. That class has been the critical political and op-ed block that has colluded in the accelerated pace of postmodernity and its sweeping achievements in the Reagan-Thatcher-Rao eras.

Raina’s story moves toward its conclusion by following a trajectory from Gandhi to Lohia in which his collective protagonist is meant to recode tradition in order to resist the global whimper in which the world of utopian aspiration ends. Three passages along the way take the pulse of this protagonist. The first is some offhanded sarcasm suggesting an unexplored linkage between the "sartorial self-consciousness and an adolescent irreverence" among nineteenth-century Bengali youths in the first wave of literary aspirations in English and the present "reception to combinations of rock-pop culture and specific patterns of consumption and ‘knowledgeable’ nonchalance" (278). Raina is dismissing radical pretence that fizzles in clothes styles and other purely personal markers, but there is a telling resonance between the colonial and postmodern displacements of uneasy energies into "adolescent" and "orgiastic effervescence" (278, 277). These ideological slackers comply with the consumer version of (displaced) rebellion: they are the X generations of their respective historical moments, cancelled at the intersection between exhausted and crushed traditions and new historical forces beyond their grasp or will to conceive.

Raina’s principal villain, however, is that long-lived rationalist reformer evolving from Roy into Nehru, and for whom English (as a language, a literature, a secular ideology, a barrier to unruly masses) solved "ideological imperatives":

This busy passage correlates many of the features of the transition machine from modernity to postmodernity, holding together the elitism of this class with its phantom base of style, knowledge, discourse, taste, and the all-powerful edge of technological expertise. A disturbing similarity arises between the elite civil servants of the colonial regime and that layer of privileged workers we know as postmodernity’s yuppies. Like the orgiastic style tourists, the two regime’s babus are densely symptomatic of the contradictions they must negotiate within a narrow band of "class" self-interest.

Raina includes another offhandedly sarcastic quarantining of a group (from square 1-A on my grid!) in a reference to "a new Orientalism on the scene now which seeks to reconstruct Hinduism afresh as a militant politics pressed to the service of a potentially fascist future" (293). Raina’s context makes this strategy seem a white-knuckled response to radical change, holding on to a rule-governed prescription for a safe stasis. But Raina’s real denouement is movingly expressed as the requirement

I understand how easy it would be to dismiss this "precondition" for revolution as another version of bourgeois containment, but I think it is far beyond that reductive vision of social change. Raina’s story is a great engagement with the implications of how the culture machine constructs subjectivities, great because of its sobered sense of what remaking or recoding actually entails. I’ve seen a difference between theory students who limit themselves to "ineffectual cerebration" by affecting undigested terminology and vague style, and those who agonize over "quite deeply felt" shifts in their entire sensibilities and world-views. And my story of Indian fiction in the preceding chapters found the individualist focus blossoming into the sociopolitical crux and ultimately following Raina’s cycle of deconstructing and reworking subjectivities. We are again, it seems at Foucault’s epigraph to my chapter on politics about seeking liberation "from the type of individualization which is linked to the state."

Raina pairs Gandhi and Lohia as teachers of strategically recoding Tradition without minimizing the "period of crisis, of bewilderment and trial by new historical forces" (Trivedi 192). His story seeks to heal the split, what Trivedi called the "dissociation of sensibilities," opened in the evolution of modernity into postmodernity, particularly that division between the personal space postmodernity wants us all to accessorize and a social space in which work has some grace to it and leisure is not so full of price tags.

Joshi’s volume also contains Aijaz Ahmad’s condensed version of In Theory, his indispensable critique of how western scholars have mapped out the study of "third world" literatures. On the one hand, I’m not sure how it would be possible to conceive the state of such literary scholarship without Ahmad’s story of how the term "third world" arose or his responses to the influential statements of figures like Edward Said and Fredric Jameson. On the other hand, there are significant limits to the very interpretive code that enables his insights into Said and Jameson and his invaluable speculations about what the study of "Indian literature" entails.

One begins with some unease over an early comment: "so fundamental and even genetic is the relation, indeed the dependence, of the Indian university upon its British and American counterparts that knowledges produced there become immediately effective here, in a relation of imperial dominance, shaping even the way we think of ourselves" (207). Unease arises because the story seems to stop with the chapter on "imperial dominance," one level of historical sediment, among others, and not the latest. Ahmad’s theoretical eyes are upon the imperialism of "capitalist modernity" and the ideology of class privilege. My concern arises when he seems to dismiss all poststructural thought because of his distaste for a brand of contemporary theory disembodied from daily realities of the least privileged. I think using more reflexive poststructural theory is helpful, even essential, for analyzing the postmodern dimension of Indian experience, and I think that when Ahmad is not disparaging recent theory his practical engagements parallel its best insights. His story only seems to stop with the chapter on imperialism because his Marxism is quite fluent in contemporary dialectics.

Does that fluency, however, make so acute his sense of individual insufficiencies that he is too negative toward all poststructural work and the specific insights it can generate? From the conclusion of another of his invaluable essays ("The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality." Race and Class 36.3 (1995):

Ahmad’s ideological razor cuts to the quick those who are trapped on the line between compliance and recoding for lack of a sufficiently reflexive critique of their own positioning. The victims of this passage have turned "postcolonial" theory into another species of bourgeois universalist thought. The modernist individual consciousness is a difficult shape to outgrow, and its persistence in a generation’s partial reading of poststructuralism folds such readers back into a form of compliance deserving of Ahmad’s critique. But I suspect my understanding of postmodernity and his of the "Late Imperial marketplace" are quite close; his Marxist itinerary and my own poststructural passages lead to different inflections of the consequences and possible responses. When a theorist uses "contingency" to strip history and density, s/he does express a perhaps unwitting compliance with class positioning in the Late Imperial marketplace of postmodernity, a subjection to a cultural logic inadequately analyzed and recoded.

What I fear Ahmad can lose by deprecating poststructuralism is what might really be meant by the phrases he lampoons in this comment:

Individuals must learn how to fashion themselves anew in the ways that can affect their placement (and Ahmad, of course, believes this or there would be no point to his attentiveness to class connotations in postcoloniality). Mobility may be, as Deleuze and Guattari suggest, a movement in place (and the pages of Manushi contain many narratives of women who turned, in place, and refashioned themselves and the structural determinants of their place). Nothing can easily remedy the bitter realities of life at the bottom of postmodernity’s food chain. But much of the very specific enabling power of some poststructural theory is an existential rhetoric in which words that irritate Ahmad, when they come from the mouths of well-paid expatriates, can become catalysts for the alliances and activism he admires among those who invest themselves in refashioning social and economic structures.

If Ahmad’s distaste for poststructural mannerisms may blunt his appreciation of its practical political potentials, it may also obscure some benefits of a hybridization already produced. I don’t mean to celebrate anyone who embraces hybridization without interrogating "into whose culture is one to be hybridized and on whose terms" or who "pretends that all consumers are equally resourceful and … all cultures are equally available for consumption" (17) rather than having passed through specific filters in the distribution process. I do mean, however, that impact is bidirectional and that cross-cultural alliances and affiliation (even cathexis, perhaps) can thrive on even rough parallels among histories with "structural endurance" (15). In fact, careful poststructuralists may be among the most skilled at articulating both the parallels and the differentials of specific or "local" histories. Something productive can emerge in the relation between a "postmodern" American and a "postcolonial" Indian, in other words, precisely because of the parallels implicit in these stories between postmodernity and colonialism and because the Indian also confronts postmodernity and the American has access to colonialism of a kind from both sides of the relationship.

First, bidirectionality, then cross-cultural resonance. For work in one place to become "immediately effective" somewhere else is a postmodern fact of life that certainly takes on special resonance when we’re talking about Indian universities appropriating western work. The postmodern, multinational phase of capitalism has "colonized" the traditional dominance of elite academic institutions, and academic media are effective cousins of mass media in the rapid global dissemination of that dominance. Several points follow from thinking this way. As we’ve seen in Bagchi’s study of the Bengali Renaissance, appropriation of dominant discourse has never been a simple matter, and it doesn’t seem a fair implication that contemporary Indian scholarship suffers "dependence" or feels any more dominance by a dozen prestigious western institutions than those of us experience here who also work outside their venerated halls. It is because of postmodernity that "we" are immediately affected, or that "even the way we think of ourselves" is shaped by the encounter with empowered and widely merchandized ideas. Resistance to such intellectual currency and the difficult recoding of its materials are postmodern survival strategies and remain the contemporary analogy to Bagchi’s Bengalis.

At the same time, the reception of these empowered ideas does resonate with the historical stratum of colonialism, and we need grids and stacks of heuristics that include the interaction of these strata. Otherwise we could miss some of the complexity of Indians’ reception of cultural products and the significance of the variations in western writing about Indian literature. No one is more acute that Ahmad in exploring the imperial aura to some accounts, but it also happens that some westerners find "Indian" theory "immediately effective" to the point of "shaping even the way we think of ourselves." In postmodernity such influence can be bidirectional if reflexive critique undermines at least in part a westerner’s vestigial imperialism. American scholars, for example, are born ideologically blind to the range of privileges afforded them by the dominant position of American economic power. Although poststructural views are not the only means to gaining sight, they enable an awareness of the machinery of postmodernity that can illuminate both that privilege and the sense in which one’s subjection to postmodernity has kinship with the experience of a colonial subject. Attention to historical detail, to "local" formations, to the implications of class–such attention is not only compatible with poststructural thinking but an effect of its premises. Many Indian thinkers I see having encountered poststructural theory are even less docile than the Babus of the nineteenth century, adding to their strategic use of the machinery a sharpened sense of the microlinkages between electoral politics, the economic and media forces at play in them, and the very nature of the subjectively constructed by it all. Perhaps nothing but contradictions and a constant need for reflexive vigilance afflict the project of reading cross-culturally, of reconceiving the position in which one is born, of conducting both studies of culture and political alliances directed against hegemony, of correlating the ongoing history of colonialism and the unfolding of postmodernity, of constantly repositioning oneself in relation to systems of inherited thought and evolving "hegemonization" of cultural and social forms.

This reading of stories ends with the attempt to make the mutual construction of reader and story its foreground. The experience shakes both structures to their foundational assumptions, their cultural logics. Mutually denaturalized, both become more readily available to analysis and recoding, both seem to acquire a clearer sense of contradictory multiplicities occupying forms and structures like stories and consciousness. My story has tended to recode in The New of poststructural thinking, practiced reflexively, mobilized as a critical response to the hegemonic onslaught of The New of postmodernity and its Late Imperial marketplace. But I think it will also be valuable to pair this discussion with the reading of another story which takes on the task of recoding Tradition, a real story, a fiction which marks itself as such.


In Anantha Murthy’s Samskara, the reprobate Naranappa tells a parable: a teacher’s description of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala so inflamed a young brahmin’s passions that he ran out into a wilderness of sexual entanglement. Naranappa is bent upon desublimating the unresolved tensions deep in Brahminical asceticism, and Shakuntala is the ideal sex object lurking in the guise of classical literature, a potentially prurient catalyst to male desires that are supposed to be transformed into a more religious devotion. Naranappa thinks Brahmins like Kalidasa’s work because it exercises their still raw lusts. But in Vaidehi’s "An Afternoon with Shakuntala" (in Tharu and Lalita’s Women Writing in India, Volume II, 535-47), we hear a different use of Kalidasa’s Sanskrit drama. Karnatakan-born Vaidehi retells the story through Shakuntala’s voice to a friend, Sakhi, as darkness falls on her forest home. Alone with her friend, Shakuntala makes clear how she has been constructed in the social imaginary and especially in Kalidasa’s very gendered composition.

The first half of the story reflects upon the young Shakuntala as a co-conspirator in an illusory lovers’ discourse. She follows lines from the script of sentimental romance ("the moment I set eyes on him, it felt as if I had known him for eons") with deflationary comments from her retrospective narrating self ("Shall I say that was the first illusion?"–535). She alternates between the experiencing self’s immersion and the narrating self’s demystification, noting how her younger self repressed a warning voice in order to "become a canvas" with the royal Dushyanta as the "supreme artist": "he painted on, never asking for meaning, just gazing at me." His gaze fixes her as his creation, the creature of his desire, an experience "so real" that she is soon pregnant. She questions even the bee that, in Kalidasa, startles her and causes Dushyanta to assume the role of protector: "Why did that bee appear there that day? To weave a snare of illusion around me? The people ascribed stories after their own heart to it, but was it the bee that circled around me or did I circle the bee? What matter. I was ensnared of my own will. That is an irrefutable truth" (536). The snare of illusion is willed by her, the bee providing only a focal point for stories rather than the force of outside agency. Shakuntala knows somehow about the degree to which we are always already unconsciously invested in the very cultural illusions that ensnare us.

"I needed him," she tells us, not for his brilliance as a king or his personality. "No–it was for myself that I wanted him, for my own sake" (536). He completes a dyadic relation upon which her validation depends, "passive" as her role must be as object of the male gaze. When Dushyanta leaves to go back to his capital, she tells us, "‘You have too soft a heart. You should steel yourself,’ he said while leaving, when I had cried out, ‘I cannot live without you. I shall lose my mind, my life’" (539). Full of a cultural ethos rendering woman as contingent upon men, her dyad with Dushyanta repeats one with her foster father, the sage Kanva, with whom, earlier, she had played out a similar scene: "I said, ‘Shakuntala will never leave you.’ His smile turned serious in an instant. ‘You should not say such things, my dearest,’ he chided in a voice that was ever so soft, almost like one’s inner voice" (536).

Shakuntala has internalized these paternal advisors as one "inner voice" among several within her, and if part of the emphasis is upon the costs of having taken as her form of innocence the Radha-Sita lines of self-sublimation, another is upon a multiplicity of inner being that no Kalidasa could understand. Sometimes, it is Kanva’s voice warning her or rising within her, sometimes Dushyanta’s speaking to her, sometimes it is a voice "silken, warm, brimming with motherly care" (537), and sometimes "a shrill, bitter voice trying to cry out amid all that sweeping sweetness, ‘Child, isn’t it probable that he is only trying to find someone else in you? Perhaps you are only a substitute’" (538), as if a bird were carrying Woman’s knowledge of the rigid scripts of the male imaginary, one in which a woman is only ever a substitute, his psychological function rather than herself.

That awareness of the scripting within her own psyche is not enough to shield her as these events transpire, and one of Shakuntala’s strongest points of reflection as she looks back is upon her own complicity. "If this be illusion, let that be my portion" she says to herself as she first confronts Dushyanta in his palace after he has abandoned her (543). It is her portion, of course, in three senses: in the social grammar that makes her subservient to both the man and the king in him, in the social structuring of her own desire and self-expression, and in the literary record made of her life. In her anger at being denied by him, she has the horrific curse on her lips, "Anarya!," which means "non-Aryan; unworthy, inferior," a list that undoes his race, caste, and status, but though "I became fire itself," when it comes to unmanning the King, "speech had burnt itself to dusty ash. I was struck, dazed" (543), unable to say The Word. She realizes, looking back, that "beneath that raging fire there was still the cool stream of love flowing by itself ever so softly," holding her hostage to the position and discourse which strikes and dazes her before she can step free of its murmuring limits.

That complicity persists even much later, after her son is nearly grown, and Dushyanta comes to claim the political heir he has failed to sire elsewhere. Even then, when he lectures her about the impermanence of sensations from his comfortable position as chief consumer of the nation, she finds that "love tortured me all the more, strengthening itself, defying my commands and pleas" (545-6). She holds a knowledge even then, she holds voices that argue within her, but she cannot step out of the role imposed upon her without the years of meditative life in an ashram that follow this incident. Thinking she would be incurably grief-stricken that her son is gone from her, she feels, instead, a postmodern kind of relief:

Retrospectively she quite understands the extent to which we’re made to "feel so" as to comply with the roles and expectations to which we are tuned, the extent to which we are drifters between one bank of preconscious investments or another. She also knows something about the potential of realizing we "are never all this or that," that we are composites and can mobilize some parts against others and be players as well as victims.

Such wisdom comes late: "Life is something that eludes the grasp of thought, that blossoms just as it seems about to fall, dry and dead. Why hadn’t I realized all this before? And, if you go searching, who is there who is not alone?" (544-5). Knowing doesn’t secure you against your deeper investments in social forms, and though the sociality of those forms may be illusory, it also functions for individuals, if at great cost, against the loneliness of the organism floating in a hostile ecosphere. That salve can be enough to induce compliance with these forms, at least in the moment of intense need. Worst of all, it can take a lifetime to undo one’s acculturation, to unlearn the social machine, to get to one’s own beginning. Perhaps she tells all this to her friend because Sakhi is likely to read only the authorized male versions of these matters. Those versions, she says, are specifically male texts meant "to justify his existence to the whole world. Not to protect truth" (546): it is for her to protect a woman’s version of truth for Sakhi and to serve her as the kind of teacher she never found.

And so she counterpoints elements of her real story against the poet’s instant classic. In the case of the sage Durvasa, a sort of surrogate grandfather who Kalidasa says cursed Shakuntala for loving Dushyanta, she says,

Romance, the "painted glitter of love" she calls it just before (541), is a sheltering tale that comforts, that dissolves her ethical line, washing it away in the warm flow sanctioning the male desire of its current "object" substituted into the syntax of possession. Shakuntala’s Durvasa is angry at Dushyanta’s conduct and urges her to use the royal signet ring she has been given to hold the king to his promises, an anger unknown in Kalidasa’s story.

That royal confrontation, too, is changed in Shakuntala’s version. Kalidasa has her lose the ring, as if the great law of karma were validating her fate. But she chooses differently. Standing there before the arrogant Dushyanta, the ring in her hand, knowing her power over him, she pretends to lose the ring, refusing to "beg" and be "self-denying" by using it, asking Sakhi, "would a ring ever be an antidote to a memory so conveniently erased?" (544). Such legal arrangements are as false as Kalidasa’s poetry or the King’s later philosophical ramblings: "Profound scholar that he was, he held forth meticulously, so that I could comprehend the complexities of human relationships. And his paramours, his bedchamber, the oddities of love, affection and sex, all became examples of that great philosophy" (545). These male discourses busily construct shelters for their privileged occupants but cells for their objects, and it takes Shakuntala’s irony to wither its assurance.

At the time of her experience of Dushyanta, she had bought into Kalidasa’s myth identifying woman with nature, accepting both as irrational forces to be used or mastered as needs dictate:

She can say later that "I was Nature herself" even during her second confrontation with the king, presumably because she is outside all this male discourse and power piling up in her reflections, and because that discourse has taught her to validate herself through just such a "natural" self-image (lest she does find how to call the King, to his face, "Anarya!" or realize he is thinking of another woman, another city). But unlike the "profound scholar" the king feigns to be with his elaborate equivocations, she earns her wisdom apart from the tidiness of textual traditions:

Living through the dualities to an equipoise beyond makes her sound more like the classical ideal of Hindu and Buddhist thought than any of the principal players in this story of kings and sages. That she is both her own teacher and pupil means that she has had to step away from the existing discourse of her culture and to create both parts in a pedagogy otherwise absent, silenced, no doubt as "struck" and "dazed" as she once was before living these cultural contradictions through in all their "cruel intensities."

Hers is not an answer then, really, is it? Because it does not "solve" the problem, it does not "fix" the wrongs, it does not transform society into utopia. All it achieves is hard-earned wisdom apart from the textualities that become the selves of good citizens in her culture. It is an insurgent sort of wisdom because of its distancing of her from these discourses, its variance from her youthful compliant self, its awareness of the persistence within her of both this insurgent wisdom and the "love" of the patriarchal sheltering romance. Our only perspective upon her from within this story is that of Sakhi, more than a little puzzled by this long monologue she listens to all afternoon, until in twilight she’s aware most of all of the "strands of silver" beginning to show in Shakuntala’s hair. "Who is she?" Sakhi wonders… "Lover? Loner? Or yogin?" (546). In the culture’s inscription, excluded from it, or simply beyond it or through it? However closely we verge on a touch of melodrama here, Shakuntala’s remains a powerful voice for Sakhi to mix into her own brew. One wonders whether Sakhi is capable of capable of following Shakuntala’s difficult track of transforming a lover’s rejection into a rejection of lovers’ discourse and the larger weave of patriarchal discourses that originally positioned her as subservient to father, uncle-sage, and lover. As Sakhi looks back, leaving, she sees that "nothing was visible under the dark sheet of night," as if Shakuntala had never been there, as if the story were Sakhi trying to recode the traditions winding through her own psyche, as if Shakuntala’s voice had been "only the wind blowing like a billowing breath" (547).

The point, of course, is not which tale is the true story of a historical Shakuntala. That truth standard is itself a feature of the male discourse the story seeks to displace a bit. The point is rather just that, displacing, unsettling the limits to imagination set by closures of poetic or philosophical or social form. Vaidehi takes a story so pervasively canonical as to seem even more like Nature than Shakuntala feels, and then gradually works into our minds not some simplistic "true" alternative, but the recognition that neither Shakuntala, Nature, nor we ourselves are ever "all this or that, even when we feel so." This and that, perhaps, and the more we can cultivate such multiplicities, and the more we can be aware of their contention within us, the more likely we are to step out from our internalized version of all these sociocultural tyrannies, the more likely we’ll be able to play them against each other rather than their playing our multiplicities against us. At one point, thinking about her passion, she muses, "It was as if my appetite fed on itself and grew, as if my thirst slaked on itself and begged for more…" and then, of course, he "turned cold, rudely cold." The appetite that feeds on itself is the appetite to be gazed at and construed as the object of desire: so powerful is her cathexis in this displacement of her libido that she experienced it as "real" food and drink rather than tropes or signs for it.

But she learns to tell the story differently than she experienced it. She learns to add commentary to narration, desublimation to the rapture, demystification to the coldness of authoritative voices in her culture. In "An Afternoon with Shakuntala," we learn how a voice operates that manages what Harindra, in the novel to which we are about to turn, never quite reaches under the influence of his "Tribal Hangover." He needs a bit of the older Shakuntala’s ability to be his own teacher and pupil, to learn from the psychic economies that chain you to a banquet of subjectivity without nurture, that draw your investments into roles and plot lines that doom you as the object of gender, of race, of region under the reigns of traditional patriarchy, of imperialism, or of postmodernity. Hers is a postmodern response to this fundamental challenge. And Harindra’s? Let us see, for if Vaidehi leaves her protagonist alone in the dark after trying perhaps futilely to "teach" her life to her friend, Goonewardene leaves his protagonist even more deeply hungover from his intoxicating brew of gendered privilege.

The Tribal Hangover

The Postcolonial Condition is nowhere more explicitly engaged than in Sri Lankan writer James Goonewardene's The Tribal Hangover (New Delhi: Penguin, 1995). The novel's diagram is painfully full of the sufferings and hardships of the postcolonial man (gender intended here) caught between two worlds. First is the global (or western) culture of White World, from which he is partially barred by color and partially empowered as a member of the professional managerial class (he holds a doctorate and a university position). Second is his idea of something else–brown, indigenous, and familial or traditional as opposed to his Australian world's white imperial settlers with their decoded postmodernity. The novel wills him from rags to riches, from isolated exile to reintegrated "native." Crackling in the air are all the contradictions that make this romance of recovery uncreditable, so much so that the prose and the narrative form creak and groan under the strain of imposing a Hollywood idyll upon material that refuses to so easily untangle its contradictions.

In Goonewardene's allegory, the Sri Lankan Harindra is adopted as an infant by a German couple resident in Australia. Europeans transplanted to a new land, the Adelaide Richters resonate in multiple ways for Goonewardene's allegory: they combine eradicating aborigines and commandeering a chunk of Asia for white lebensraum, and they combine the rough working class that supplied the more brutal imperial muscle and the racist stain of Nazi Aryan propaganda (Richter called his adoptive son a "black gorilla"–22). Even the name "Richter" smokes with connotations of righteousness, rectitude, rectum, as if it were meant to suggest the missionary zeal with which the church sought to retain the colonial souls for their economic masters. As another feature of the allegory, everyone seeks to rename Harindra. The Richters impose a surname he finally sheds in favor of simply "X" as a way "to free himself from whatever vestigial remains of the traumas he had been subject to in the past" (44). His Indian girl friend wants to call him Harindranath so he'll sound more "Indian" to her ears; the Aussie toughs who circle him call him "Harry" instead of his given name ... journalists write him up as a feature story, students claim him as their cause celebre, Ukrainean Anna wants him to be her brown and sensitive exotic lover. The list goes on in all the worlds through which Harindra passes once he runs away from the Richters and learns to survive on the streets, eventually earning a doctoral degree and a teaching position.

What he really wants is to discover the core of authenticity that is lost to him as an "exile" with no known connection to his native Sri Lanka. One of the fruits of his doctorate is a constructivist paradigm:

He resolves "to dismantle the structures built round me" (81), beginning with a strong sense of having been "branded and sold" (37), the victim of a plot by the empowered upon the third world with the collusion of unprincipled locals. Growing up as the brown man out in a white cocoon, "he developed the feeling that he was marked for destruction. He was doomed. He was born with a curse. He had been singled out to bear the burden of some unknown crime, and it was he who had to pay the penalty" (5).

What saves him from sinking is partly the sheer anger generated by his scenario of victimization–his scholarship generalizes his personal case to the general asymmetry of first/third world relations. Partly too, he knows the irony that "the means for emerging from the depths of the mud had been available in this strange continent of contradictions" (25).

An increasingly renowned academic, he begins unraveling the "warm cocoon" with the postmodernist strategy of turning the tools of power against Power, the tools of subject-formation against the formation in which one finds oneself placed. "Each individual was the source of his own salvation," he takes as his mantra (38), confirming it during the final Sri Lankan section of the novel when a monk he accosts tells him, "A way out of one's suffering is discovered by each individual in his own way. This is what Buddhism teaches" (208-9). He phrases this dharmic imperative in explicitly "postcolonial" terms as he begins disengaging from his Indian friend, Kamini, with whom he is on the verge of falling in love:

It's a bold proclamation: Harindra believes that "the only identity people could and need have was their ability to think clearly and freely, without digging themselves into a corner of one kind or another and into political or narrow national burrows" (138). Liberalism is, well, liberating, and its universalizing is a powerful purgative of the "thought systems and customs and methods of regimentation" one internalizes.

What saves Goonewardene's fiction from banality, however, is that Harindra doesn't just step free of bad culture into Rousseauistic purity. The experiences that he goes through in his Sri Lankan journey repeat the lesson he almost learned during his roustabout days trying to earn a living in the Australian outback. In that country he faces the racist taunters, he frightens successful Asian immigrants for whom he was "their ghost ... their phantom selves" (10), reminding of them of the "failed coloured man" they might have been. He flees "the broken, defeated aborigines ... sprawled out on the pavements of Adelaide or elsewhere, drunk and dead to the world" (11). He is surprised by "open-hearted, open-faced Australians" who helped "establish his faith in mankind" through their kindnesses (12). Though he recognizes "the difficulty people had in placing him within the customary social and legal framework in which they lived" (6), his color, beauty, and intelligence confounding their expectations, his simple plot of victimization disables him from understanding how contraries relate in that "continent of contradictions."

He has, after all, grown up in Australia, strong with its complicated relation to its own myths of origin, equally strong in its western capacity to exoticize the island paradise. And so he is haunted by Sri Lanka. Before he runs away from the Richters, he "lay in his room, brooding on the kind of life he may have had in the island he had been brought over here from and out of that imaginary island he created his dream world, his dreams and the world into which he would escape" (23). This construct is his cocoon, as surely as the liberal universalism he adds in his university days or the turn to women accompanying his sexual awakening.

Events batter these cocoons. His experiences with the range of Australians he meets should have, as we have seen, taught him something like the logic of self-difference. This lesson doesn't take. But he does get some glimmers along the way of other problems that do not go away. His chum of university days, Kamini, backs off from him as he comes to the verge of falling in love: her orthodox Indian family, she confesses, would reject him for his illegitimacy and castelessness and non-Hinduness. Some forms of Tradition are barriers, not homes. His affair with the Ukrainian girl, Anna, is brief and intense. He tries to resist the romance of it (67, 133), but he is drawn in by the lure of sex, sympathy, and some shared emotions (her family are refugees from Stalin). Most of all, I think, he is drawn in by the feeling that the relationship has "solved" his problem:

Time went by, but not those phobias and barriers. Harindra doesn't even get it when his week in Sri Lanka extends into a month, then longer, or when Anna tells him on the phone, "You crazy Asiatic man, don't get trapped by one of those women out there and tell me it was your destiny" (201). "Asiatic" and "those" name two barriers they have retained despite the rush of romance, and when he gets Anna's terse letter that "I've met an Australian young man whom I intend to marry very shortly," he still doesn't perceive more than a removal of an emotional encumbrance to a new girlfriend. Anna names again the "insuperable difficulties" of their differing backgrounds, but Harindra's only visible response is to clasp his new girl and think that "maybe Nimali is the miracle I was waiting for" (236). He ought to have learned the persistence in the psyche of cultural backgrounds and the impermanence of romance as a solvent, but he hasn't. He has been more "buccaneer" than Buddha and more liberal individualist than one who has fully historicized his common cause with other nomads.

When he does finally meet the woman who is apparently his great aunt–the language is oddly equivocal–she tells him of a raging grandfather who drove his low caste father into exile in India and his mother into drinking insecticide, an all too common and gruesome form of suicide in Sri Lanka. The persistence of caste and the imperiousness of the patriarch might have warned him that none of his simpler explanations about Sri Lanka will do. He preserves a kernel of the victim scenario when, on arrival in Lanka, the inhabitants look to him "like a gathering of Jewish prisoners before transportation to the death camps" (159-60). He preserves a kernel of the white man's exoticizing of Lanka: "the people of this island were governed by passion. ... It stood to reason. They were exposed too long to excessive temperatures of a tropical sun" (220). He preserves some first world grousing about third world inefficiencies: "men of modern times live in a fantasy world they create out of a mythical past. They live in poverty and ignorance and dream of these ancient glories" (192).

Harindra is a man with a logic inadequate to the situation he faces. His final "resolution" is no more promising in its infantilizing dependency: "he glanced at Nimali, and he realized that perhaps, in the future, he would have to depend more on her than on his grand-aunt. These two women would have to play an important role in the future, especially if and when he decided to relinquish his citizenship in Australia" (241). What discourages readers about Harindra is that he can only come close to holding in mind the complexities of his situation. He can say, for example, that "the island ... seemed to have lost itself sometime, somewhere along its journey into the future. Nothing seemed to make sense. He couldn't take what was happening as normal to a people, but he was linked with all this. He felt himself trapped in the island's despair, but the people seemed resigned to it all" (169). He's right that the island has lost itself on the way into postmodernity, and that he is both linked and an outsider to "the people," unable to quite grasp their modes of coping with history. Hence his "jubilant" response, when he drives on into the richer and more westernized sections of Colombo, signals his at least doubled (mixed) response of despair and possibility, of distance and complicity.

Unfortunately, this complexity confuses rather than leads to an adequately nuanced model of his postcolonial condition. At another point he glimpses his double-bind in a passage worth quoting for the sheer pathos of it:

I say pathos because no "emotional links" will ever solve the crisis this moment feels–that he can never be a native, can never be one with the soil anywhere. He can feel himself "between these two worlds" (153), and the names of the two may shift from episode to episode in his life, but he will always be relational, diacritical, rather than essential, authentic to the self-identical core.

Even the apparition of his dead mother in a schoolgirl photo remains unreal ("he tried to feel some emotion for her, but he could not produce any reaction within himself"–commendable honesty, but a painful reality). "All he himself was aware of," he realizes without apparently understanding the implications, "was the Australian scene, and the big-built Australian teenage girls he had experience of and had been frightened of" (240). As he gravitates from the ogrish Aussies to the pliant childlike Nimali, he remains with only an imposed past and thus of necessity a borrowed, fake, frightening one driving him toward his "flower" Nimali as an emotional antidote to the cruel mother of Australian culture (not my choice of gender imagery). The present is clearly confusing; the future has only an Australian passport and a mountain flower as reassurance.

But my words are crowding in around Harindra's. I am trying to make clear with my poststructural logic what he can not with his logic of identity. Perhaps that makes me one of the new cultural imperialists, but I don't think the narrative form here serves "him" any better. All these love scenes are sadly horrendous, their bad prose imposing male ecstasy so artificially as to exaggerate the strain of sex as a solution. Another example of such strain is his Sri Lankan friend Manique's tiresome lecture about Sri Lankan history and society and his equally artificial letter to another friend in Colombo about Harindra’s views on global overpopulation and such. These prosy, intrusive, wooden passages degenerate quickly into very forced and artificial prose, suggesting that here, too, is a cocoon–exposition–inadequate to the task of explaining the postcolonial condition. A third formal disequilibrium is the more general, painfully predictable Roots Journey including the winsome innocent who offers herself according to the highly stylized dictates of what we can dub Worldporn: "She tore her clothes off her body. 'Here, you see, you can do what you want with me' (226). Not surprisingly, when Harindra rises next morning he "at last, felt reconciled to the island" (227). The clunky sex and the ludicrous ease with which a deflowering (Nimali is his "delicious flower of the mountains," a [too] recurrent phrase) resolves the complex contradictions of an Australian "returning" to merely genetic origins ... together these aesthetic speed bumps knock Goonewardene's vehicle out of alignment. The strain signifies that resolution is authorially imposed upon materials that resist their would-be master.

Now it's not so easy to end a discussion with this note of censure, because the clarity with which Goonewardene evokes Harindra's dilemma is precisely the strength that overwhelms the romance idyll within which he tries to contain this crisis. Which is another way of saying that this postcolonial condition is one which is not solved by a linear flight to an integrative resolution any more than Shakuntala’s response was a "solution." It's probably obvious to most readers that Harindra and Nimali will have a lot of problems to negotiate, and whether Harindra keeps his cushy teaching job in University Australia or migrates back to his chosen myth of origin, he will have to placate that persistent side of himself that remains affiliated to the road not taken. That is the logic of the postcolonial condition, and Harindra ought not be criticized for wishing not to face it any more squarely than he does, nor ought we to cross too far over a line into condescension because sweet Nimali looks like a good solution at the moment. But at the risk of abusing a distinguished writer, my guess is that his staunch modernist commitments to classic models of subjectivity and logic preclude his resisting the mechanics of closure offered by the romance idyll, just as they preclude his distancing himself from their promise of an emotional resolution to a historical contradiction that is the unpleasant essence of the postcolonial condition.

So, perhaps, The Tribal Hangover is in part a lesson about how arbitrarily Romance suppresses the novel's richly sensed contradictions beneath the luxurious and intellectually lascivious smoothness of its formal design. One finds a startling contrast with Goonewardene's earlier novel, One Mad Bid for Freedom (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1990). This book is a burlesque whose mock heroic language reduces disciples to drunkards, sages to sots, and contemporary Sri Lanka to a beach bum brawl. Its epic catalogs align bombast, delirium tremens, plain delirium, politicians, Sinhala revivalists, the Sri Lankan army, the LTTE (Tamil separatist guerillas), the (marxist) JVP, the mafia, the academics, the journalists, everyone in fact, to "a biological reversal to prototypes" (124), a reversal of evolution degenerating into prehuman behaviors. It features a band of skin divers and snake catchers and flora samplers gathered around an alcoholic naturalist and sage, Korala, who dies in the opening pages and whose rants punctuate the narrative (which is about the futile efforts to turn his retreat shack into some sort of memorial).

In Korala's final reported rave, Modernity has produced a new phenomenon in human history, "the mass mind" (131). The inevitable conclusion of this development is "that mankind must necessarily and progressively reach a zero point in its capacity to think constructively." He thinks of "organized societies in which human individuals go about their daily tasks thinking each one has his own identity and power to make decisions–this is a myth, an illusion" (132). "You talk of leaders and decision-makers–there are no such beings left any more. ... The leaders are merely the instruments of that mass mind. They are reacting to each other, like a flight of geese, a herd of deer, a swarm of migrant birds" (132-3). James Goonewardene has invented a mad guru in order to push to the extremes of authorial imagination a line of Baudrillardian reasoning in which the game is always already lost. The one real wisdom of Sri Lanka seems to be the mystery of the ruins of a Buddhist monastery: "who was it who lived up in the mountain of Ritigala and passed on by word of mouth and by example the eternal truths they discovered in those mountain recesses and died as silently as they lived?" (139).

The absolute other to the silence of that poignant ending is the sheer excess of verbiage all through this novel that often allows its epic lists to overextend, its punch lines to repeat themselves, its episodes to drivel on into tedium, its tone to thump back and forth from bathos to bombast. Ending the novel with such a question places outside the frames of Korala's friends and students any answers to the novel's issues. Jolting lists of war injuries mix with the weak vacillations of drunken beach bums, in effect reducing all the players in the Sri Lankan game to midget status–even the sacred Colombo resident Sir Arthur Clarke is lampooned. They all become mere twitches of a mass mind too intoxicated with arrack and ideology and glib self-importance to have any vision comparable to the lines of foundation stones crumbling in the grass and weeds of the Ratigala site.

As in The Tribal Hangover, Goonewardene releases the complexly destructive forces of the Present upon his pages. But here he juxtaposes them to the rugged persistence of an alcoholic sage who chronicled flora and fauna purely for his own edification, and to the ghosts in those Buddhist ruins. No closure, just proximity, then cessation. No rushes of adrenalin or libido to wash over the outlines of the scylla and charybdis etched in his pages. In that thematic structure of segmentation, James Goonewardene invokes an aesthetic form that simulates the profound social and cultural discontinuities underlying the withering ironies and manic dissipation, the raging berserkers and murderous goondas. Reverend Sinhala revivalists are as ludicrous here as communist ideologues: Goonewardene apparently thinks fabricated pasts and arbitrarily imposed social engineering are no better than drunken fests among a band of aging stumble bums drowning their last sparks of energy and attentiveness to nature. They are all of them up against a reality infinitely more difficult than any such solutions can conceive. Something about his burlesque form–let's think of it as irony's capacity to undo all complacencies–allows Goonewardene a postmodernist sidestep of his narrative machinery, "genetically programmed to move from one fixed point to another" (133), as he says of the modern mass mind. All the more's the pity that his next novel, The Tribal Hangover, regresses to narrative prototypes and feigns too shapely an answer to questions that are more like mountain ruins than mountain flowers. But then that is the way with the most pressing issues in this era–the more one allows their ironies to flower, the bleaker the prospects seem, but the more stable and conventional a narrative form one casts them in, the more obvious becomes the willfulness and arbitrariness of cultural artifice. These novels are paradigmatic of the postmodern, postcolonial writer's dilemma. Goonewardene’s Baudrillardian pessimism is one postmodern episode, but we are lucky to have the alternatives we’ve found so far. That other choice, Shakuntala’s recombinant and subversive narrative, or Mehta’s prying open the Novel with Ovidian transformation, or Hariharan’s quilted narrative, begins to look like the only strategies for a form open enough to make its ironies productive rather than finally just cruel or wistful.

Godzilla Meets Shiva…

…and the meeting occurs in a haze, a rush of static, not of Kalluri’s spirit voices, but of the master narratives accompanying the energies of decoding tradition and managing the data flow of capital. Modernity slides into postmodernity when the modus operandi of capitalism becomes naturalized, internalized, and generalized to all spheres of being. The persistence, the half-life, of that master logic, that logic of mastery, pervades the imaginations of the witnesses to this meeting. Joining the logic are all the many layers of historical experience carried in one form or another in the memory of each witness, and joining those layers are all the many markers that condition the daily experience of each witness according to class, gender, caste, profession, region, education, and a dozen other affiliative strands that tangle and twist together in the often confused mass of an individual. The meeting is different to each witness, and each will do something different with that meeting.

All that is not in question is that the meeting has taken place, already, in innumerable ways and places and forms. And I don’t think it is well understood, by which I mean productively understood, unless one finds a way to avoid the unconscious forms furnished by master logics. I keep having to further my efforts to think in a postmodern way about postmodernity in order to contend with my own desires to extract or impose as I read, and in order to realize something about the arguments that rage in journals, at conferences, through footnotes. Joshi’s anthology, Vaidehi’s story, Goonewardene’s novel: these are our last glimpses at the fertile writing of South Asia, and they together serve to dramatize the particular intersection of postcolonialism and postmodernity that has become this final chapter’s subject.

It is a perilous subject to address head on, explicitly. To discuss postmodernism is to become embroiled in the massive confusion generated by our disagreements over how to use the term. To connect postmodernity and postcolonialism is to step into a second set of controversies, and although the preceding chapters worked through my way of thinking "postcolonialism," and of thinking its current life in the era of postmodernity, I recognize that the dangers of cultural imperialism are rife, beginning with my presumption to speak at all about South Asian writing and including my insistence that a global postmodernity has already defined the context in which this writing takes place. But I think it’s important to work at the structural parallels between postcolonialism’s theme of recovering from the colonial era and postmodernism’s theme of resisting the contemporary dominance of daily life by the forms and powers of the Global Economic Machinery I’ve mentioned.

To be again plain about it, I know these two "posts" are on different trajectories and trail different histories behind them, that they work very differently in different national or regional settings. But I also know that they are, now, mutually implicated, and that in addition to the general benefit of learning about another culture’s history, literary forms, and cultural logic, we in the west, reading South Asian writing, have a great deal to learn about the fundamentally colonial relationship between individuals and cultures, and about strategies of resistance that are at work elsewhere with important relations to our own most resistant fiction. In a book finished just as I began Mirror to Mirror, I looked closely at my generation’s Suburban Ambush, its assault upon our own colonization by electronic media and our own harnessing to what Dwight Eisenhower ominously called "the military-industrial complex" and what we’ve since learned to call Postmodernity.

In both literatures, American and Indian, we can find close analyses of the effects of history, of emerging economic structures, of a rapidly integrating global media oligarchy, and of recodings that strive to see anew such basic categories as the self and the social. Sometimes, as we have discovered, seeing anew means seeing with an updated old wisdom, "timeless" as Hariharan put it. But in every case, seeing clearly means knowing what we’re really up against as individuals, classes, genders, ethnicities, and regions struggling to better our lots and those of others with whom we have the generosity and compassion to find common cause without reinsinuating historical patterns of dominance and stereotyping.

Much of this book has developed Shiva’s side of the story, though without I hope the naivete of Harindra’s return to the Island or the western faddist’s consumption of Karma Cola. Western readers need to know "How Art Works," need to know how an Ashis Nandy mobilizes the critical resources of tradition as one means of coping with the colonial hangover and resisting the postmodern onslaught. All our attention to Nandy and Kakar, Das and Marriott, has been an effort to develop western readers’ grasp of these elusive insights, while lacing them with the political edge of Partha Chatterjee and Aijaz Ahmad.

We need also to formalize a bit our sense of precisely this intersection of postcolonialism and postmodernity–of Godzilla–in order to make explicit the full complexity that we saw, for example, emerging from our discussion of Anantha Murthy’s Samskara. Think of this section as a "realization of past perceptions," to recur to a crucial line of that book. In any case, from my classroom experiences of working out such material with students, I bring up some charts and tables and summaries that may help to make explicit my current sense of this complicated relation of Shiva and Godzilla, postcolonialism and postmodernity.

Let’s start with postmodernity. I’m not original in using suffixes to distinguish between the economic forces and social structures of a historical phase–postmodernity–and cultural responses to these economic facts of life, cultural responses that can range from the most regressive to so progressive that they remain almost unreadable for some time. Postmodernism must serve to designate all these cultural responses. The adjective, postmodern, is ambiguous, since it can refer to postmodernity’s facts of life or postmodernism’s responses, and we find ourselves in the near absurdity of talking about a postmodern postmodernism that focuses its energies of resistance upon postmodernity’s distinctive challenges rather than, say, still focusing upon modernity’s economic and social issues, or conceiving itself as a purely aesthetic movement responding to modernism, that rich body of cultural responses to modernity.

Confused? Most of us are, composited as we are by anachronistic education and hyper-contemporary immediate experiences. Let me show you a chart that may help (see Table One). Its left column is -ISM’s side of the page, cultural responses to history, and its right column suggests snapshots of the -ITY of economy. I am assuming here capitalism’s genius for decoding social relations and cultural forms and reorganizing them for its benefit, and I am also assuming that responses to phases in capitalism’s development may be residual, drawing upon past social and cultural practice, emergent, drawing upon what is just beginning to be conceived, or, in the real world beyond charts and tables, some mix of the two.

I also take postmodernism to be ways of responding to postmodernity, but this assumption is by no means universal. Many think of postmodernism as what comes after modernism, which makes all of their definition an issue of purely cultural or aesthetic history. I find it more useful to think of postmodernism as an emergent culture talking back to the newly emerging shape capital takes just now in history. Hence you see in my chart one vertical arrow, pointing to modernism, one horizontal arrow, pointing to postmodernity, and one wickedly diagonal arrow pointing back to modernity, since I think many of us, at least part of the time, are addressing modernity’s state of affairs rather than our own. Old habits die hard, as they say.

If Postmodernism were thought of as what comes after modernism, then much would depend upon what slice of modernism is taken as your sample of that very complex and various bundle of movements. Just some of the possible samples are listed (Pound’s strain differs from the Lawrencian, which differs from Corbu), each of which determines the definition of postmodernism that will be produced. Play the game of Defining Postmodernism by working out what each after would look like. This is what many scholars do who prefer not thinking about politics and economics, and while I would never want to minimize the power of the literary fathers (and the mother or two permitted within the canon), I think of the vertical vector not as filiation, paternity, but as a glance for resources that raids modernism’s storehouse of literary strategies on its way to raid those on up the vertical line into earlier historical forms.

If, however, you begin thinking about the horizontal arrows on this chart, you can see that Modernism comprised many different strategies of response to Modernity’s impact upon traditional social structures and cultural forms. Some raced back in time to rescue the fragments of the western tradition; some surrendered the political field and concerned themselves with aestheticism (the power or nature of art as a purely formal medium of perception and expression); some sought to cleanse Modernity of its irrationality and violence with the cool rationality of abstraction or functionalism; others contested Modernity on its own terms trying to turn its massive machinery to ends thought more humane. The same multiplication of responses characterizes postmodern cultural practice, as I’ve pointed out. Some of it engages only with modernism, exhibiting only symptomatically its attitude to postmodernity. This kind of work we must read as we’ve read, say, Goonewardene’s novels, looking to see what structures are registered and then conjured aesthetically into a satisfying sense of closure, of spatial form (as Joseph Frank christened it). Some postmodern cultural practice takes on postmodernity fairly directly–though the strategy for doing so can splay out into quite different kinds of art, writing, and thought.

The right side of The Page is the least familiar to students of the arts. Under the headings of Modernity and Postmodernity you will find pointers toward the huge body of opinion about what characterizes the social machinery of Modernity (accelerating throughout the nineteenth-century and culminating in the first two-thirds of the twentieth) and Postmodernity (which begins to emerge in different places at different times, but becomes all but inescapable by the end of the sixties). This side of the page describes shifts in the nature and techniques of capitalism (e.g., from commodities to services, or from manufacturing to information services as its nature, from print to film to electronic media as its cultural technique and, as its production techniques, from heavy industrial sectors in the west to outsourcing and offshore dispersion and from central banking to electronically flowing funds). It suggests some key themes of its social impact as it accelerates its rate and intensity of penetrating and reorganizing culture and society.

Given Postmodernity’s access to electronic media culture and the ruthless thoroughness with which it dissolves everything into the liquidity of exchange value, Postmodernity can penetrate anywhere and everywhere simultaneously and genetically re-engineer the social and psychological DNA of the global population. It has gone far beyond selling cider presses and magazine subscriptions… It is, indeed, a Godzilla, partly of our making, partly the unexpected effect of our makings, partly what we hope might finally save us somehow from our own messes. But when we look at this chart in order to think about the specific nexus of postcolonial and postmodern, we must reformulate it. As a first draft of that reformulation, let me offer the following recasting of my table of Postmodernity (see Table Two).

The left column is still for cultural responses to the right column’s sociopolitical facts of life, though I’ve changed the headings to those which speak explicitly to the postcolonial era in India. And though even on the first chart, there is an atemporal element with each of its three major headings still in practice in my multi-layer model of history, in this chart’s conception of the postcolonial situation, all three–Nonmodern, Modernist, Postmodernist–are alive, well, prominent, even powerful forms for voice in South Asian thinking and writing. Alive, in fact, often in the same individual drawing upon her nonmodern heritage and her modern professional education to invent a new kind of present within postmodernity.

Moreover, the elements in each of these three zones of response undergo striking transformations as they circulate within the discourse of another. Village India, for example, is one thing to a villager down a two-day path in outer Rajasthan or inner Madhya Pradesh, and quite another to a southern village girl married to an urban upscale Tamil in New Delhi. For Indira Gandhi’s best friend, Pupul Jayakar, the idea of vrata, or the idea of clay earth mothers dug up at Mohenjo-Daro, is something quite different from what She means to unreconstructed tribals living beyond the reach of the census takers. We spent time reading Peacocks and Dreams, a nostalgic recall of a shattered village innocence; we read closely Samskara, rites for the dead nonmodern village and one effort to think its strengths and those of existentialist modernism into the hybridity of postmodern form.

By the same token, for all the sense of new-found critical insight in western proponents of syncretism, one can only understand Hinduism itself (and the word itself is misleading in its singularity, its hint of identity and essence) by taking in its very long history of weaving local cults into the story cycles surrounding its continuously innovated deities. As versions of Hinduism assimilate the Modern and Postmodern facts of life, we may not find them all equally palatable, but they are nonetheless strategic recodings that Ashis Nandy has taught us to see as resistance, and that we have seen as expressions or inflections of Tradition. And we are all perhaps too accustomed to the ways in which Modernist forms of thought assimilate and recode its nonmodern other, its anthropological subject, its museum object, its statistical econometrics, its photography exhibit of dancing tribals. But we have also seen Modernist narrative confronting postmodern conflicts and contradictions, trying to assimilate them to the love story of a Tribal Hangover or When Bamboo Blossoms. Such narrative form imposes a resolution, however arbitrary, upon difficult, even brutal and violent cultural contradictions, as when it grafts modernist liberation aspirations upon the non-negotiable contradictions of poor women’s lives in the pages of Manushi or of Women Writing in India.

Postmodernist recodings work similarly in assimilating cultural memory to current practice, but I want to argue that these works are extremely attuned to the very specific historical complexes sketched in the facing column. I think this attuning is true whether we mean drawing upon western modernist literatures to speak to postmodern Indian realities in The Fair Tree of the Void, or whether we are talking about Githa Hariharan’s intricate weaving together of Vasu Master’s past blindnesses, his traditional lessons, and his sobering encounters with the new India’s forces and structures. After "An Afternoon with Shakuntala," we’ve seen the effects of an even more radical recoding of traditional lessons. The analytical acuteness that drives the poetic beauties of the prose in novels by, say, Gupta or Roy, is a necessary ingredient of the ability of beautiful language to avoid the black hole of purely aesthetic appeal. The ability to connect communal violence with homophobia in Funny Boy, or to feel the history of post-Partition honing its postmodern edge in Lajja, or to bring together such communal violence with the equally violent impact of new money buying out old values in All is Burning… these species of shrewdness of insight and delicacy of intonation are to me distinctive of a postmodern response to all that’s piling up on pages like my chart.

In rough parallel to these possible kinds of responses, in the right column I’ve stressed those traits of the experiences of Imperialism, Nationalism, and Postmodernity that have seemed most pertinent to my study, though any of us can play the entertaining game of adding elements until the page length explodes. Again, there is an atemporal element to this right column because Nationalism and Imperialism overlapped, and both overlap with Postmodernity as it sweeps across the subcontinent. As always, we face the challenge to our mental dexterity of understanding both a sequence and a simultaneity with these headings (generally chronological, they also overlap). We face as well as the probability that any one individual could easily maintain unconscious, almost libidinal investment in the forms and allures of the imperial ethos amidst a fervent nationalism that migrates, however problematically, into the era of postmodernity.

It is complicated, though anyone interested in Asian materials should by this point be thoroughly acclimated to the contradictions and asymmetries of self-difference. My listings under Imperialism, absurdly selective, are meant more as a prose poem than a complete scholarly catalog: they are meant to suggest what impacted at the deepest level of the Indian unconscious, changing it forever, though not, as we have seen, by any means replacing it. The railroad about which Sembene writes so eloquently in his Senegelese novel Gods Bits of Wood was, in India, what made fast and visible the pilgrimage routes that bound the religious geographies of South Asia into transnational cultures. The army was power, the judiciary and the Indian Code were rule-bound civic life, British education and its civil service meritocracy was a meritocratic alternative (at however fearful a cost) to caste-bound identity and profession.

Under Nationalism, I’ve offered another prose poem evoking how the movement Nehru led reinvented a cultural mosaic as, at least on paper, a nation state. Parliamentary secularism in place of kshatriya and brahmin, economic development instead of inherited craft, class rather than community, media rather than guru, geopolitics instead of village relations: each of these provided alternative life narratives to both the Imperial and the Nonmodern alternatives with which they mixed in individual psyches, in local lives, and in increasingly international roles. As Postmodernity has exploded worldwide, yet another prose poem mixes in with Sanskrit verses and ragas, manifestos and five-year plans. Contemporary realities are forever different for Asians, and the sheer reach of their demands is much more extensive than my other headings. While it is true you can find hand-etched antique cowbells commemorating this or that particular march by Mahatma Gandhi, suggesting an impressive penetration of his swaraj agitations into rural India, such an iconic bell hardly compares with the spectacle of turbaned laborers from outlying villages crowding into the lobby of the tourist bungalow to watch Swatch ads and Dynasty reruns courtesy of Rupert Murdoch’s eye in the sky.

Perhaps, finally, we must end all this accounting with enough of a specific focus to feel out the depths of intensity and even of anguish that swirl around issues that can too easily become bloodlessly theoretical in the hands of academicians like me. So, here’s one, a bit of a meditation on one item of my Nonmodern list, one perennial theme in Indian studies, something familiar to anyone who has had so much as a travel video experience of South Asia. "The essence of India lies in its villages," or so each documentary intones. The national myth of Village India lies in every discussion of the subcontinent and in every Village in which villagers tell themselves the myth as a defense against those features of the present they would like to reject. "A vast majority of India’s population still lives in villages like x," the documentary voice insists, substituting for x the lucky recipient of a camera crew and a well-educated smile consorting with the village (male) elders.

It is possible to define any country by its rural semi-participants, and what these documenters are really saying is that the globally dominant multinational corporate "essence" of postmodernity hasn’t completely reorganized the consciousness of the entire Indian population. But that population doesn’t count–it couldn’t or the documentary couldn’t be made. It does not count because there is no point of access into contemporary reality for Village India’s remnants–except at the cost of whatever the ambience-masters consider Village India to be. "Leave yourself at the door and walk right in"–so reads the invitation to postmodernity. Village India has no point of access to any decision that matters or to any institution in which any shaping of alternatives could take place. To engage in the debate (even to know the debate) is already to have left Village India on the one-way vector of the cultural bildungsroman.

If India’s "heart," its "soul," is Village India, then its heart and soul are already gone. You couldn’t see or "tell" its story so luxuriantly if it weren’t. You can find fossils, but not the dinosaurs, despite the jurassic parks managed by the bureaus of tourism, crafts, and tribal affairs. India is a living museum, the way Appalachian pockets of the United States are living museums in which one finds deceptive residues of history. These residues are like the civil war reenactments where grown men dress up in replicas of 130-year-old uniforms and march by their saluting sons and run across the grass to simulate a buried battle. No doubt the sensation of authenticity is satisfying to those whose lives are spent in labor so alienated that we’re forced to read overeating and neglectful childraising symptomatically.

We don’t see the American Civil War, mountain life, or Village India; we don’t see history; we see others-to-our-present. Even when we try to tell it "the way it was," even when the historian comes on PBS radio trying to say what the reality of battle was, we hear more what we are not than what "they" were. We see, for example, mountain life’s economic and cultural self-sufficiency (as opposed to our own helpless dependencies on structures too large to conceive, let alone control). We see the Civil War’s ambience of a great tragedy about something that mattered (as opposed to our own trivial and incremental erosion). We see Village India’s web of value-laden interdependence quite apart from the economic treadmill, the modernization of social textiles into mass production, the isolation of individuals in a landscape in which agency is transformed into black-box processes and monopolized by institutions.

Which is not to say that you cannot go out into Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh and find suitable locales for documentaries and coffee table photobooks. But these are not generative growth points, not the points from which the future of India will spring. They show a familiar pattern in which each successive age group falls further and faster away from forms as dead to them as if the villagers were reenactments like US civil war buffs or christmastime christians animating greeting card scenes. We need to pronounce its death formally, because the transfusions of nostalgic investments aren’t working, and the values and strengths we imagine in Village India traditions aren’t there except as bits of code we must engineer into a recombinant future. Staying "there" is one way of conniving a denial of the life offered by postmodernity, but the margin is getting slimmer by the season, and the daily realities of actual life in the villages are in fact already dependent upon the superstructures of postmodernity. What is obvious in the urban teens I’ll get to in a few paragraphs, so media-formed that they are like re-enactments of advertising, is becoming increasingly true for even the remotest villages who know that their practice is not Life itself, but one practice among many in a very wide world. Theirs is a practice denaturalizing even as they perpetuate it. Having to become conscious and strategic about what had been as "natural" as breathing–this is a difficult change to negotiate without being stripped clean of belief altogether, the smooth-bodied monads of a zero degree consuming mass.

Village India is a line of merchandise put out by a motley crew of hegemony vendors–acharyas, politicians, anthropologists, fictioneers, development types, journalists, travelers. And literary critics. Village India (VI ™) allows one to finesse the appearance of an alternative to modernity decades after that alternative was locked onto a life support system, the line of its half-life graph precipitously plunging despite the best efforts of Nehru’s peculiar brew of TATA INDUSTRIES and socialist planners. VI ™ seems to organize local points of resistance to the distinctive feature of postmodernity, namely media-driven homogenization of social and personal spheres along commodity culture lines.

VI™’s points, however, are more like a hunting dog’s reenactment of field training– VI™ points to the already long hunted "difference" of the nonmodern. Gandhi staged VI™ as a show for newsreels and the generation(s) that thought they wanted precolonial life: he played the Media Machine against itself before Americans knew there was such a thing (Ashis Nandy has started us on the track to understanding this side of Gandhi). And Gandhi composed his sermons as tripwires that short-circuited the western repression of its own losses under modernization. He played all available code systems against the power formation around him, failing only to prevent "English rule without the English" when the Congress Party did not disband and Jinnah did not become prime minister of Greater India. Which is to say that Gandhi didn’t go far enough into postmodernity to outwit the impending disaster of citizenship in the "new" state of India.

He’d have had to delink consciousness and the social forms engendered by the state and the already emplaced Global Economic Machinery (GEM), a difficult task for someone for whom they had been so instrumental. Against GEM,VI™ and its related counter-mythologies were pointless. They offered believers the illusion of a set of values and a way of life quite obviously problematic for those who actually chose it as their imagined relation to reality. Those who learned to spin and like khadi still could not insulate themselves from the dual demands of GEM’s money-economy: that they work for institutions (directly or indirectly through government subsidies, moneylenders, and the middlemen who buy and sell labor and its products), and that they pay a cash price for everything that was moving increasingly closer to global price levels. The economic warrant of Village India–opting out of the money economy–has expired.

There is, in other words, nothing timeless about VI™: it is a dated phenomenon, a spinoff of GEM rather than a thing in its own right, and it has no infrastructure or grounding on which to rest. It has already changed from "a timeless way of life" (docuspeak) to a Social Problem (development speak for residual pockets to be rooted out and reengineered). Reengineered as what? For whom? Those questions are more easily answered than less specifically economic queries: if VI™ rests within an imaginary infrastructure, if its grounding is GEM-supported as a piece of ideological tourism, then representations of VI™ should tell us more about the experience of postmodernity’s onslaught than about the alleged timelessness of Indian Tradition. Village India’s purveyors are better seen as denizens of the postmodern jungle than as cryogenic survivors from precolonial India: these salesmen dwell in a strategically constructed fiction that pushes the myth of nonmodern space in the very middle of India’s transition to the postmodernity commodifying the globe. To put it bluntly, the story of VI™ is a symptom of India’s transformation to a postmodern society of imagery, not simply its transformation into a modern state with a sometimes threatened core of authentic identity.

Which means a timeout here to confront explicitly an easy misreading. These points do not pertain simply to urban India where the New Delhi boys are riding Bombay’s Texas-Jeans-tails into MTVworld. They are the obvious ones who define themselves through a jazzy image-repertoire that sedates their anxieties over their difficult entry into GEM’s slots. VI™ functions much more deeply than that, as something closer to a vital defense mechanism in the social imaginary, but one that works especially with a middle-aged middle class to keep them from seeing GEM’s writing on the wall. Hence while the teen-agers are already "gone" into postmodernity, VI™ serves as a strand that connects the medulla oblongata of the nostalgic urbanite with the family members back in the village. It obscures the social anger of the settlement-dwellers in the shadow of the New Delhi Bahai temple over the frustration and starvation they left back in the villages. It reassures the villager that his way is that of an ancient rightness, and that her way is at least connected to the rhythms of nature and divinities. It is a web constructed in order to network the radial points of myths made as refuges from GEM life: while village idylls finesse a contrary to modernity, it is one that buries modern frustrations in an imaginary context in which "traditional values" can be felt as in themselves sufficient correctives. Moreover, VI™ connects new stories about villages with an earlier generation of liberal portraits of the untouchable’s suffering. Village dystopias reconcile readers to the imperfections of GEM life–just feel what we’ve left behind. In hindsight, the life of Anand’s coolie implicitly modela many a contemporary Indian’s life under GEM, at times a pathos of clouded and barely emergent political awareness about why life can be so hard. Such novels’ liberal myth of rights and equality was a weak wish against the momentum of institutions with heavy economic ballast to them.

VI™ is useful only strategically–as a utensil in the postmodern war of fictions, suitably demystified, understood with the grit of historical awareness rather than the nostalgia of willful romance or the malice of an ideologue. But as "truth" in the usual sense,VI™ is not a place apart but the battlefield of a guerrilla war in which romantic partisans for life conceived as a rajput movie attempt to ambush the intractable forces of contemporary GEM life. VI™ can only be read symptomatically. In its healthiest form, it becomes both a critical tool against postmodernity’s devalued life and a discipline of compassionate ethics and conceptual innovations as we work to dissociate our deepest selves from the silicon implants of social technology. But that is not a path accessible from its usual form as, already, a mere sign.

The same sort of "versioning" could be done to Hinduism (consider the BJP version), or to Hindu and Buddhist ideals (New Age catalog religion), tribal (tattoo parlor primitivism) and earth mother motifs (paperback how-to self-help green witchcraft?). If postmodernity is allowed to author these versions with the conditioned reflexes of its commodity channeling within video visions and tradebook writing, then, like VI™, they will become confused self-simulations and thus all but lost to the sort of strategic inflections of a Nandy or a Hariharan.

The postmodern art of relating the nonmodern to postmodernity’s facts of life is akin to the postmodern craft of exploiting postmodernity’s media channels against their controlling interests. Analytical acuity and a bit of genius for recombinant inflection remain coequal requisites for the job, as we’ve seen in Vaidehi’s short story. I have been changed by evolving through this project and by reading through the last decade or two even of just that Indian fiction translated into English. Sitting in my study amidst ragas and thang-kas, leafing through my 600+ narratives from all the regions and principal languages of the subcontinent, I have studied these deposits, the very fine grain of the shrewd vitality and compassionate acuity of postmodernism Indian style. Such experiences have taught me to understand that South Asian writers are ahead of most of us in spelling out how to achieve the potential of these prerequisite talents.

Reading the best of these writers is finally the meditative discipline of adjusting one’s intellectual instincts and creative rhythms to the tala of an alternative postmodernity pacing their unfolding insights. It is finally learning to hear its raga’s system, neither aleatory nor predetermined. It is as if at some deep level one had become one of the novices hearing, finally, the teacher’s OM coming from their own chests. Perhaps the comparison sounds a trifle New Age, though even that woefully commodified line of schlock is capable of sampling snatches of the world on its way down the dizzy whirlpool of postmodernity. "New Age" is a blundering form of recoding, perhaps, though often, in individual cases, arresting enough social pathology that we ought to "read" the phenomenon rather than too quickly dismissing it.

How instructive it is to turn from that shape of appropriating the nonmodern to the version we see in a Nandy or a Mehta, a Hariharan or a Vaidehi, a Roy or a Gupta. In these works we escape the queasiness of a shallow style or faddism and find instead historical resonance, breadth of social vision, awareness of the many economic blades and compressing social walls of postmodernity’s pit and pendulum, sensitivity to the values and resiliency of a freshly inflected tradition, and an ongoing creativity in formulating newly conceived models of the self and the social. Their mirrors are just such an acute reading of postmodernity and just this inspiring an inflection of tradition. Mirror to mirror, Shiva meets Godzilla. While ethnic cleansing, multinational sweatshops, IMF/World Bank restructuring, and neofascist recidivist types animate the Kaliyuga dance of postmodernity’s destruction of our collective lives, perhaps this other meeting can claim the benign dance of preservation, renewal, and even outright triumph over the monstrous products of our greediest, most ill-considered mechanical and social technologies.

Mirror to mirror indeed. My first experience of India was missing a connection in then Bombay. A British Airways bombscare in London had delayed flights, and we’d had some nasty scenes of the imperious European insisting upon a seat occupied by a most kindly and indulgent Indian national. My memories of an unexpected day in Bombay mix a few scenes… the beach scam artist who doubled the fees once we were aboard his tourist camel with a fourteen-month-old and then, while we argued, swatted its rump to gallop us across the sands of Bombay’s famous Chowpatty beach arc along the sea… And puja plates of flowers and fruit passed high through the incense to barechested priests at the Mahalaxmi temple by the suits and saris of new and old India… A very kind gentleman who led a travel-dazed American family back around a subtle corner to their tucked-away budget hotel… Well, there’s more, but this is not Lonely Planet’s so much as a scholar’s survival guide to cross-cultural reading at a postcolonial intersection of history and postmodernity. My first taste of India pulls together living metaphors of the many tributaries of experience that feed this book’s insights. The best bit of that day is that our chance guide found serendipitously on a mid-afternoon Bombay street exchanged addresses with us. In an era when postmodernity seeks to reduce all localities to digits in a postal code index, we need to exchange addresses more often. And then to write.

Mirror to mirror.