07/12/08_2 Another Modernity?

It took me a week to finish reading Gyan Prakash's Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India. The prose is dense and I knew almost nothing about the historical making of modern India, but it was great reading one chapter every night. It revealed important light for me the connection between Postcolonialism and the historical study of science, and Indian scholars had made respectful contribution by probing the history of modern nation-state making and the problem of a east-west, ancient-modern, static-progressive dichotomy in the grand narrative of Eurocentric history. Prakash's analysis of science's cultural authority in India has been particularly interesting to me. I imagined a comparative project juxtaposing the modernizing projects happened in Japan, China and India, and analyzing the relationship between different conditions of political sovereignty (completely-independent, semi-colonized and completely-colonized) and the cultural representations of western science and technology. For example, the construction of a major bridge across the Ganges River, the Yangtzi River and maybe some other major river in Japan---how do people perceive and portray the engineering achievement in terms of their own situations? Do they share the same mentality and dilemma trying to achieve a unique modernity?

Prakash's account of how Indian elites tried to locate their own "scientific past" is especially revealing in its astonishing resemblance with the Chinese counterpart. It immediately reminded me of the construction of "四大发明" and the re-discovery of 梦溪笔谈 and 天工开物 as part-and-parcel of the construction of a Chinese scientific past, so that the modernizing project can gain its legitimacy and consistency with this reconfigured history. Comparing it with the monograph studying 北京人 and the origin of the Chinese people in Dilemmas of Victory: the Early Years of the PRC, it is well worth further investigation on similar projects.

Of course, Prakash could also be critiqued as being excessively theoretically-minded (see his wide usage of Foucault on governmentality!) and overlooking the benefits of modernization, but his aspiration, I believe, lies in the confidence on critical history, from which "a new post-colonial India" could spring. He also brought other theorists such as Theodor Adorno to my attention:

"Late-comers and newcomers have an alarming affinity to positivism.... It would be poor psychology to assume that exclusion arouses only hate and resentment; it arouses too a possessive, intolerant kind of love, and those whom repressive culture has held at a distance can easily become its most diehard defenders."
---Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, trans. E.F. N. Jephcott (London: NLB, 1974), 52.

...Adorno, Benjamin, Heidegger, Arendt... @_@


Angela X. Woo said...

currently in berlin. cannot read chinese at the hostel pc. so picked up your old entries. sorry that early on due to my messy thesis, couldnt read them in time.

adorno is quite good. actually though core frankfurt school has been criticized by many. their writings are quite powerful.

eyesopen@bdwm said...

Bon voyage! see you in Chicago in August:)