AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 176

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Session 176: Transnational Flows and Nationalist Imaginaries in Early 20th Century Asia

Organizer: Martin Ramstedt, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany

Chair: Fadjar I. Thufail, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Indonesia

Discussant: Martin Ramstedt, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany

Literary critiques like Figueira’s Translating the Orient: The Reception of Śākuntala in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1991), demonstrating how an ancient Indian play by the Sanskrit-poet Kalidasa gained wide popularity amongst 19th Century European literati, or Tzoref-Ashkenazi’s Der romantische Mythos vom Ursprung der Deutschen: Friedrich Schlegels Suche nach der indogermanischen Verbindung (2009), discussing how the younger Schlegel constructed India as the Teutonic homeland and thereby “liberated” the nascent “German nation” from the clasp of Biblical, i.e. Judaic, history, have sensitized us to the fact that Western explorations of Asian literatures, religions, and languages played a significant part in the conversion of Western subjectivities to modernity. Works like Van der Veer’s Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (2001), substantiating Edward Said’s postulation that the experience of empire shaped the subjectivities of both colonized and colonizers, and Anderson’s Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (2005), showing how the Filipino novelist and hero José Rizal during his sojourn in Europe entertained contacts to Euro-pean anarchists, émigré nationalists, and “cacique” Spain, have added to the insight that transnational flows of intellectual and political creativity under the colonial condition did not only originate and center in the West. This panel seeks to investigate further interactions of Asian intellectuals with “foreign” Eastern as well as Western thinkers, philosophical concepts and political ideas in the late 19th and early 20th Century in order to understand more deeply the emergence of different national imaginaries that have helped to shape “alternative modernities” in contemporary Asia.

B.R. Ambedkar and the Kantian Modernity of the Constitutional Nation State
Vinay Dharwadker, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Dr B. R. Ambedkar was not only the principal legal architect of the Constitution of India after Independence, but also the leader of the movement among the former “untouch-ables” in the Hindu caste system that culminated in a mass-conversion of about three mil-lion of them to Buddhism in 1956, and hence in the birth of the Dalit community and its emancipation in history. As part of his graduate training at Columbia University in the second decade of the twen-tieth century, Ambedkar engaged not only with European, American, and colonial law, legal systems, juridical traditions, and jurisprudence, but also, more broadly, with Enlightenment philosophy and social theory. This paper will explore his early writings in English and Marathi to see how he interpreted and modified the Kantian modernity of the constitutional nation-state and of the cosmopolitical order of nations in relation to Hindu-ism, caste, and the republican formation of an independent India after decolonization. It will also examine the extent to which the early Ambedkar, writing in the 1910s and 1920s, anticipates Jurgen Habermas’s much later exposition of “the unfinished project of modernity” and the legal and institutional dimensions of the public sphere. Such an analysis will fill a major gap in current discussions of Dalit intellectual, political, and so-cial history in the international academy, which arises from a neglect of the depth and complexity of Ambedkar’s engagement with the European Enlightenment and of the modernist-cosmopolitan foundations of his thought.

The Narrative Politics of Exile and Wandering in Sharat Chandra’s Devdas and Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar, the Clown
Lalita Pandit Hogan, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, USA

In the paper, I will focus on wandering (of the main characters) and the narrative politics of this motif that deals with nascent as well as fully developed ideas of nationhood in the larger Indian subcontinent, along with their contemporary global ramifications. The em-phasis will be on early 20th century discussions of nationalism (for instance, Tagore and Gandhi). Rushdie’s novel presents the continuity of a legacy of skepticism (Tagore) as well as a justified necessity for nationalistic sentiment (Gandhi) – of Kashmiri Muslims, for instance, their utopian dream from which, ironically Kashmiri Hindus are necessarily excluded. In Rushdie’s novel (2005) the wandering hero encapsulates irreconcilable op-positions inherent in today’s national, international and global politics – of Kashmir, In-dia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US, and former Russia, while in Sharat’s novel (written in 1901 and published in 1917), the lovelorn Devdas journeys in trains all over pre-partition India, trains that pass through places that would later be in Pakistan, implying to us today that such a train journey would not be possible after the partition of 1947. Leav-ing his mark on other geographies, the revenge driven, wronged husband, Shalimar, is endowed with many passports, and travels all over on assignments related to global jihad against super-power supremacy amid divided nations. My main argument is that in Shalimar and Devdas the mythos of romantic tragedy resonates with discursive subtexts dealing with nations and nationalisms, classes and class consciousness; Tagore’s influen-tial essay on Nationalism will supply theoretical context and link between Sharat and Rushdie.

Centering the Periphery: Constructing National Identities on the Borders of Asia
Mark E. Lincicome, College of the Holy Cross, USA

This paper undertakes a comparative examination of the master narratives that articulated “modern” national identities for Japan and Australia between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While important historical and cultural differences left distinc-tive marks on the “Japanese” and “Australian” identities that emerged from this process, analysis of these master narratives also reveals important similarities between them. As Gavan McCormack observed in The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence: “Like Japan, Australia in the nineteenth century adopted policies of mono-ethnic, racial superiority, denigration of its aboriginal inhabitants, chauvinism, and rejection of Asia. While Japan declared its sloughing off of Asia, Australia declared itself white, and both insisted on their superior racial qualities.” To understand the reasons for, and sources of, these parallels, this paper asks why the ideologues, policymakers, writers, diplomats and educators who contributed to these dis-courses attached particular significance to Japan’s and Australia’s putatively unique spa-tial and cultural location on the periphery of Asia? The paper contends that this and other parallels were neither coincidental nor the result of premeditated intellectual exchange or collaboration between Japanese and their Australian counterparts. Rather, these parallels grew out of a similar set of challenges perceived by individuals in both countries, who drew upon the same reservoir of current “scientific” theories—about evolution, climate, race, ethnicity, gender, civilization and culture—in order to invent a nation that was poised to resolve these challenges. In the process of articulating a “national” identity, they also articulated regional identities for “Asia” and the “West.”

Technology of Ethics and Nationalist Imaginaries: Science, Education, and Arts in Early 20th Century Indonesia
Fadjar I. Thufail, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Indonesia

In 1908, Javanese students of the Netherlands Indies Medical School (STOVIA) estab-lished Boedi Oetomo, an organization to help students in finding stipends for their stud-ies. It later transformed into a political organization based on Javanese cultural values that inspired the creation of other youth organizations elsewhere in the archipelago that were based on ethnic, gender, and / or religious identity. The proliferation of political or-ganizations culminated in 1928 when the youth congress was held in Batavia to formulate a common allegiance to a nationalist cause. Between 1908 and 1928 different discursive imaginaries of Indonesian nationalism had in fact been developed and contested. While the Boedi Oetomo movement had emerged among practitioners of science, the subse-quent period showed more involvement of legal scholars, educators, and artists in linking the idea of nationhood to history, language, and morality. This paper argues that nationalism is more than a political idea or concept, but also a technology of ethics. It engenders norms like how Indonesians in the early 20th Century ought to recognize and speak about themselves. This paper discusses various interactions between nationalists such as Moh. Yamin, Bahder Johan, and Ki Hajar Dewantara, with foreign intellectuals, both Asian and Western, such as Rabindranath Tagore, Theosophist leader D. van Hinloopen Labberton, and Dutch scientists. From these interactions sprung different and rival technologies of nationalist ethics which animated and structured the public spheres of law, science, education, and arts in the period of 1908 to 1928.