CONTEXTUAL UNIVERSALISMS INDIGENOUS DISCOURSES OF HUMAN

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2012 Mukti Lakhi, Contextual Universalisms Indigenous Discourses of Human Rights and Modernity in. India and South Africa,Mukti Lakhi Ph D,Cornell University 2012. DISSERTATION ABSTRACT, Contextual Universalisms investigates the universal ideas and values that. define Enlightenment humanism such as secular rationality individual freedom and the. capacity for democratic thought and argues that these notions are also instantiated. within colonized cultures relatively independently from European versions of these. concepts in context specific forms I explore marginalized articulations of these values. and the discourses of human rights they develop through Indian and South African. literatures, I probe these indigenous manifestations of universalisms or modern. constructs through which cultures define humanity by focusing on exemplary literary. texts from the Global South that show how theoretical and philosophical notions of. universal humanity and human rights have been developed They reveal that these. ideas are not colonial imports or even products of the colonial encounter and that. they become self evident through context specific forms of local literary traditions. Furthermore the subaltern authors of these texts reflect and produce a grassroots. populism that defines itself through indigenous universalizing notions of rights. They create movements of popular resistance through distinct local and intellectual. cultures and institutions very different from those used by colonialists or even by. hegemonic nationalist groups in their own societies. The recognition of modern humanist values in indigenous texts as both. contextual and universalizing revises previous understandings of colonized. societies as pre modern and of modernity as a European import Instead these. contextual universalisms testify that the discourse of European colonial modernity. is not the only discourse of modernity through which to view the colonial past. thereby rethinking current ways of reading Anglophone Indian and South African. texts Indeed these indigenous literatures redefine modernity as a descriptive word. for any period of radical rupture and resistance against past orthodoxies a way of. questioning the present that insists on a radical humanism In doing so these texts. destabilize widely accepted scholarly binaries between tradition and modernity. and the religious and the secular suggesting that modern ideals may well have a. more complex history than is often imagined,BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.
Mukti Lakhi was born in Belgium Before beginning her Ph D in English at Cornell. University she obtained a BA in English and History from the University of York UK. and an M Phil in Criticism and Culture from the University of Cambridge UK. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, I would like to thank Satya P Mohanty for guiding me with his holistic approach. to the Ph D you taught me as much about the mindsets of success as about writing and. rigorous thinking Thank you for investing so much time and effort in me I would also. like to thank Elizabeth Anker who was ever ready with motivating comments insightful. feedback as well as friendship I very much appreciate your belief in me as well as your. unhesitating willingness to hold my work up to the highest standards Thanks also to. Durba Ghosh for being there with support and encouragement from the very start I could. not have asked for better mentors Finally I am thankful to Cornell Peace Studies and the. Einaudi International Studies Center for funding my research in South Africa. Thanks also to my friends Krupa and Gagan who were active and caring. participants in all my mischievous as well as mature endeavors Tsitsi for being my best. friend in Philly Virginia Bryan and Danielle who refreshed me with their Madeline s. sessions and or Harlem meetings And Sreematidi for being a fantastic friend as well as a. fabulous teacher, This dissertation is dedicated to my home my jaanu Rahul whose constant. encouragement wisdom adventurous spirit and belief that I can do anything and. everything made it all possible To my loving parents who supported me on my. intellectual journey no matter where it took me To my sister Nidhi and brother Prabudh. for the daily Skype interruptions that sustained and invigorated my thinking To Nirmala. aunty for the constant love and support that provided Rahul and I with a home away. from home And to Goju and Jobi for being nattus and lighting up my life. TABLE OF CONTENTS,Dissertation Abstract,Biographical Sketch. Acknowledgments,Preface vi,Introduction 1, Chapter 1 Theorizing Alternative Modernities Differently Through. Contextual Universalisms, Chapter 2 Radical Religious Rationalities in Colonial Indian Poetry.
Chapter 3 A Chief is a Chief Through Other People Modern 104. Democratic Ideals in Zulu Poetry, Chapter 4 Affective Agencies Contextualizing Individual Freedom in the 136. Colonial Indian bildungsroman,Conclusion 174,Bibliography. In ancient India the saint poet Vyasa wrote an extensive mythological history. called the Mahabharata now considered one of the founding texts of Hinduism In it. one of his principal characters stated that the supreme human being should be defined. regardless of their caste according to their capacity for truth charity forgiveness good. conduct benevolence kindness observance of the rites of his order and mercy 1. Centuries later in pre colonial South Africa Zulu tribes measured the worth of a human. according to their generosity and kindness towards others proclaiming that a person is a. person through other people 2 And later still in early twentieth century India a young. anti colonial revolutionary called Mohandas Gandhi resisted the racist statements of his. colonizers with the words gentleness self sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive. possession of no one race or religion 3, All these statements were uttered in very different times and places by singular. personalities whose lives were defined completely independently of colonialism or. wholly through the lens of the colonial encounter Nevertheless what unifies them is a. conviction that underlying the diversity of human experience it is possible to discern a. rational universal and given human nature possessing qualities such as kindness. 1From the conversation between Yudhisthira and Naga Nahusha in Ved Vyasa The. Mahabharata of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa trans Kisari Mohan Ganguli Calcutta Bh rata. Press 1894 Book 3 of 18 Vana Parva, This is translated from the popular Zulu maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. Mahatma Gandhi Young India 10 August 30th 1928 292. generosity freedom and justice And these diverse thinkers turned to this belief to fuel. their popular movements of resistance against those who would deny them human. status These statements were all made towards the crafting of ethical social orders. whether to contest the ancient feudal systems of caste in South Asia to create communal. systems of agriculture in pre colonial South Africa or anti colonial movements against. foreign oppressors in the colonized global South, Ironically in the post colonial and globalized world humanisms of any kind have.
been dismissed precisely because of these universalizing tendencies Post colonial critics. such as Enrique Dussel have rightly pointed out that universalizing Enlightenment. discourses of the human were used against colonized subjects the European white male. embodied the supreme human and classified oppressed natives as never quite attaining. human status 4 Other scholars including feminists such as Carol Quillen have argued. that modern universalisms are imperialist since they arose out of Enlightenment Europe s. liberal humanist ideology they are incapable of taking into account cultural differences. when imposed on to non Western contexts 5 Post modernist thinkers such as Michel. Foucault have in turn noted that because power is all encompassing universalizing ideas. of rights are always already implicated in hegemonic ideological systems and the power. relations they generate as Enlightenment humanist discourses were even when. Enrique Dussel The Underside of Modernity Apel Ricoeur Rorty Taylor and the Philosophy. of Liberation trans Eduardo Mendieta Atlantic Highlands NJ Humanities Press 1996. Citing feminist theorists Marnia Lazreg Rey Chow and Uma Narayan as positive examples Quillen. suggests that in writing about the human self one must convey a self embedded in human relations and. social structures This means that one should write about a part of the non West from a perspective that. sees a historical connection between Western liberal humanism and European domination See Carol. Quillen Feminist Theory Justice and the Lure of the Human Signs 21 1 Fall 2001 100. universalizing humanisms posit themselves as transcendent they always vary according. to the vested interests within which they are articulated 6. As I argue in my introduction the dismissal of modern humanisms because of. their supposedly inevitable implication in relations of colonial power ignores the. presence of alternative non imperialist humanisms of the kind outlined by Vyasa or pre. colonial Zulu tribes Instead due to an exclusive focus on nationalist humanisms such as. Gandhi s all non Western modern universalizing constructions are assumed to be. derivative discourses products of the appropriation of hegemonic ideologies by the. colonized 7 Such an assumption reduces non Western histories solely to homogenized. relations of colonial power with colonial rule seen as bringing about a complete rupture. from the past local power relations originating from pre colonial times and regional. movements of subaltern resistance against them suffer a historiographical. disappearance 8 The corollary is that modernity itself is seen as a Western import into. colonized societies a set of ideas and ways of life that must be appropriated by the. Foucault argues that modern humanist ideas have always already been invented as. instruments of a certain political and economic power See Noam Chomsky Michel Foucault. The Chomsky Foucault Debate On Human Nature New York New Press 2006 54. See Partha Chatterjee Nationalist thought and the colonial world a derivative discourse Ann. Arbor University of Michigan Press 1986 for an example of a text that focuses on the ways that. nationalist thinking based itself on colonial discourses even while it pretended to return to a pure. indigenous past While this is a fair critique of nationalist thought I argue that the overwhelming. focus on colonialist discourses has led to the overlooking of those indigenous thinkers that did not. draw on them, For a comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon see Sumit Sarkar The Decline of the. Subaltern in Subaltern Studies in Reading Subaltern Studies ed David Ludden Delhi. Permanent Black 2002, colonized and made their own through a creative cultural syncretism 9 This dissertation. responds to these debates by highlighting the value of alternative indigenous. universalisms to Indian and South African movements for social justice I demonstrate. how subaltern writers conceptualized modern universalisms independently of. Enlightenment European influence from within the cultural epistemes that permeated. their consciousnesses and harnessed them against the powerful groups in pre colonial. and colonial societies Following Antonio Gramsci I define subalterns as marginalized. peoples who inhabit liminal spaces and who have little or no social political cultural or. geographic access to or influence on those who exercise hegemonic power 10. Drawing on these subaltern writings and oral literatures I attempt to recuperate a. critical humanism for the work of literary critics and philosophers in the process pointing. to ways of studying non western colonized societies and cultures that are not implicated. in colonialist knowledge systems I do so by classifying marginalized universalizing. philosophies as contextual universalisms These were universalizing discourses that. reflected shared understandings of values such as individual freedom rationality and. democracy but were manifested differently according to historical and cultural. specificities They were universalizing because they posited transcendent concepts of the. human that sought to include rather than exclude difference within the category of. humanity And they were contextual because they were rooted in local cultures and. Amitav Ghosh argues something similar to what I am asserting in reaction to Dipesh. Chakrabarty s theorization of alternative modernities along these lines in Provincializing Europe. Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty A Correspondence on Provincializing Europe in. Radical History Review 83 Spring 2002, Antonio Gramsci argues that subalterns suffer under the hegemonic domination of a ruling elite class. that is part of the state The latter denies them participation in and access to the local history and. culture of nation Selections from the Prison Notebooks ed and trans Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell. Smith London Lawrence Wishart 1971 52, arose in response to local networks of power not solely in relation to European. colonialist hegemonic discourses that were imposed from above. Along with contextual universalisms this project explores another closely. related theme that of indigenous modernities Any exploration of modernity must also. consider its ideological underpinnings or the universalizing manifestations of humanist. concepts in context specific forms I explore marginalized articulations of these values and the discourses of human rights they develop through Indian and South African literatures I probe these indigenous manifestations of universalisms or modern constructs through which cultures define humanity by focusing on exemplary literary

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