The trouble with our intellectuals or, for that matter intellectuals anywhere in the world, is that they are a confused lot and they try to hide their confusion by playing with words. The more confused they are, the more they conjure up new words and visions that have little to do with reality.
Consider a word like ?post-modernism?. What on earth is post-modernism? For that matter, what is implied by the word ?modernism?? At what point in history do people become ?modern?? When they throw out traditional values? Would it be at the turn of the 19th century? Or when the British set up railways and telegraph? Or when Macaulay wrote his famous Minutes prescribing how to turn Indians into brown Englishmen? And at what time does modernism cease to be so and post-modernism take over? Every day at dawn? And when one talks of the future, what precisely does the word imply? For anyone alive today, the future begins tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, in an endless series.
One of the contributors to this book on the future of knowledge and culture, Zia-ud-din Sardar, tries hard to explain post-modernism, and one must sympathise with him. The word, he says, implies that it is against tradition and morality and post-modernism is defined as transcending modernity which itself surpasses tradition.
Is the concept of post-modernism western in origin? Can it be resisted, Zia-ud-din says that non-western cultures need to do more than simply offer cultural resistance, indeed they must become ?cultures of resistance? and promote and enhance indigenous culture in all its forms and variety, and jealously safeguard its traditions. But isn'tthat going back to pre-modernism? These thoughts arise as one reads this work which carries the sub-title A Dictionary for the 21st Century.
In their preface to the book, the editors point out that in 1989 ?the twentieth century finally emerged from the cocoon of its predecessor by demolishing the last great institutional symbol of its captivity to the earlier century, namely, the breakup of the Soviet Union.?
Historically, more than geographically, one might concede that the Soviet break-up ushered in a new era. But in what sense has that affected other nations? Can'twe insist that India emerged from the past in 1947 or that Communist China emerged from its Communist cocoon, following Mao'sdeath and the emergence of a new political order? Modernism and post-modernism are not reflected in one particular ideological collapse.
Turkey entered the modern era, one suspects when Kemal Attaturk abolished the caliphate and pulled his country, steeped in Islam into a new way of life that was secular. Now Turkey seems to be slipping into the pre-Attaturk days, making a mockery of modernism, unless one accepts the definition of Richard Rorty, described as ?one-time American guru of post-modernism? who defined it as rejecting everything as absolute and rejoicing in total relativism. Post-modernism is reportedly understood in terms of seven defining principles: No Truth, No Reality, Only Images, No Meaning, Multiplicities, Equal Representation and Total Doubt and offers a rather trimmed view of life without dogma but totally nihilistically. This doesn'tnecessarily come through in about sixty odd essays included in this book on various subjects relating to the global framework of knowledge and culture that question whether we have arrived in the new millennium, and have become post-modernist and where we are headed. The subjects handled are of every day occurrence and are presented in alphabetical order, starting with Apologies and Architecture and ending with Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Yahoo, the latter two certainly post-modernist in conception. And included are such subjects as Coca Cola, corruption, developments, education, genocide, Islam, knowledge systems, Marxism, McDonalds, pollution, refugees, sanctions, tourism and even more mundane subjects like consumerism, laughter, poverty and spin doctors. The last mentioned phrase, spin doctor is a modern American import.
What is spin? It is not quite the truth, nor a blatant lie. It is slippery like an eel, ambitious and equivocal.
Spin doctor can be a term of abuse, but as Raminder Kaur who has written about it says, it can also be a term of admiration and public inspiration. Don'twe all know that there are as many spinners in the media as there are in the corridors of state politics? Decades ago, the politician was on his own. Jawaharlal Nehru did not require a spin doctor, nor did Mahatma Gandhi, Today, everything from the speeches a politician makes to the interviews he gives and the image he projects are controlled by spin doctors. It was apparently around 1980 that the culture of spin doctoring became as familiar as politicians themselves.
In 1979, in Britain, the Conservative Party'scampaign for the general elections entailed the unprecedented commissioning of the advertisement giants Saatchi & Saatchi. Their catchphrase Labour is Not Working came to be the talk of the town. It is believed that the entire spin staff appointed by John Major did not exceed eight. Under Tony Blair, the number rose to an astounding 69 and Blair and Spin came to be identified as synonymous.
According to Kaur, spin in India is of a different kind with politics mediatised through the use of religious icons and signifiers such as Ram and the Janmabhoomi Mandir. In the Gujarat assembly elections in Congress circles there must surly have been regrets that the services of spin were not methodically used. One wonder whether any reputed spin doctor would ever have recommended to Sonia to accuse Modi of maut ka saudagar. The US, interestingly did not use spine doctors to sell the 123 agreement to India. The West?certainly in India?is co-terminous with modernity and has been considered the seat of knowledge.
Macaulay sold the West to India through English and the success he attained is truly remarkable. Modernism came to India after Macaulay'sMinutes got accepted by the East India Company. Sad that this work does not mention even once. Post modernism in India led to the formation of linguistic states but in India, Macaulay-ism still holds good and has a firm grip on Indian society. Ashish Nandy hasn'tgiven it any thought. Is the creation of linguistic states a post-modernisitic error on the part of the Government of India or is it a veritable signpost to where we are headed? Only, one fears, time alone can tell.
(Penguin Book India Pvt. Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)