History, the Human, and the World Between [NOOK Book]


History, the Human, and the World Between is a philosophical investigation of the human subject and its simultaneous implication in multiple and often contradictory ways of knowing. The eminent postcolonial theorist R. Radhakrishnan argues that human subjectivity is always constituted ?between?: between subjective and objective, temporality and historicity, being and knowing, the ethical and the political, nature and culture, the one and the many, identity and difference, experience and system. In this major ...
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History, the Human, and the World Between

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History, the Human, and the World Between is a philosophical investigation of the human subject and its simultaneous implication in multiple and often contradictory ways of knowing. The eminent postcolonial theorist R. Radhakrishnan argues that human subjectivity is always constituted “between”: between subjective and objective, temporality and historicity, being and knowing, the ethical and the political, nature and culture, the one and the many, identity and difference, experience and system. In this major study, he suggests that a reconstituted phenomenology has a crucial role to play in mediating between generic modes of knowledge production and an experiential return to life. Keenly appreciative of poststructuralist critiques of phenomenology, Radhakrishnan argues that there is still something profoundly vulnerable at stake in the practice of phenomenology.

Radhakrishnan develops his rationale of the “between” through three linked essays where he locates the terms “world,” “history,” “human,” and “subject” between phenomenology and poststructuralism, and in the process sets forth a nuanced reading of the politics of a gendered postcolonial humanism. Critically juxtaposing the works of thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Adrienne Rich, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, David Harvey, and Ranajit Guha, Radhakrishnan examines the relationship between systems of thought and their worldly situations. History, the Human, and the World Between is a powerful argument for a theoretical perspective that combines the existential urgency of phenomenology with the discursive rigor of poststructuralist practices.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[A] compelling interrogation. . . .” - Christine M. Battista, Modern Fiction Studies

“Radhakrishnan's great contribution in this book [is that] he shows that every proposition offered in the service of understanding the world is also a form of negation, and even the best intentions of theorists and poets may foreclose on the very generative potential of alterity, of the unfinished processes of becoming.”

- Stephen M. Levin, MELUS

“[A] work of noteworthy scholarship. Committed rigorously to the in-between space father than ‘the comfort and security of a monologic home’ (24), History, the Human and the World Between emblemizes intellectual cosmopolitanism with the author's existential respect for the particularity of humanity, poststructuralist critique of totalization, and a fervent pursuit of the dialogical relations between the compulsion to define and a learned conviction about the limitation of defining and definitions.” - Leilei Chen, Ariel

“Highly recommended.” - K. M. Kapanga, Choice

History, the Human, and the World Between will certainly become a significant locus of theoretical discussion given R. Radhakrishnan’s remarkable ability to bring into conjunction lines and lineages of thought that are so often pursued discretely.”—David Lloyd, author of Ireland after History

“In this provocative, enlightening theoretical exegesis, R. Radhakrishnan brings together a series of theorists—Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, Ranajit Guha, and David Harvey—who are rarely, if ever, examined in conjunction with each other. Maintaining a powerfully rigorous and lucid focus on the epistemological structures underlying their theories, Radhakrishnan brings them all to bear on the problematic relations between the human subject, history, temporality, and world created by the interaction between these. This is an excellent book.”—Abdul R. JanMohamed, author of The Death-Bound-Subject: Richard Wright’s Archaeology of Death

“R. Radhakrishnan’s caring but critical engagement with the writings of Ranajit Guha and Edward Said—set in the background of some deep reflections on the intellectual heritage of poststructuralism—reinvigorates for our times the long-standing conversation between postcolonial critics and modern European thought. A stimulating contribution to contemporary debates.”—Dipesh Chakrabarty, author of Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822389309
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 3/24/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,314,139
  • File size: 824 KB

Meet the Author

R. Radhakrishnan is Professor of English, Asian American Studies, and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Theory in an Uneven World and Diasporic Mediations: Between Home and Location.

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Read an Excerpt

History, the Human, and the World between


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3965-6

Chapter One

Revisionism and the Subject of History

FIRST, THE INTRANSIGENT AND RAW IMMANENCE of existence that was parsed into temporality that in turn was semanticized into history to be recovered and redeemed as anthropocentric meaning by the human subject: I begin with a series of cognitive neo-Hegelian displacements only to suggest that the emergence of historicity is in fact constituted by an inescapable asynchrony that bequeaths its lag as the affirmation of history. History neither nails time to an exact calendar, nor does it produce historicity as the exemplum of the temporal condition. History as a genre is rather like the legendary Ganesha in Hindu mythology who transcribes into écriture the orality of Vyasa's tale and in so doing inaugurates the time of the between that articulates the time of the telling to that of the writing in a relationship of epistemological difference. Those of us who know that profound tale will remember that Vyasa insists as a precondition that his amanuensis Ganesha has to make sure that he understands what he is writing even as he writes. Not to be outdone, and in a spirit of competitive reciprocity, Ganesha would have Vyasa promise that the dictation be nonstop. This is indeed a magnificent allegory about history, meaning making, and historiography. Even as the two interlocutors commit themselves to their mutual task, they are not willing to let the task dictate itself: in other words, this business of narration and its grammatological rendition is neither all natural nor all artificial. The qualitative condition making that characterizes the transaction makes it clear (1) that just any kind of narration will not do; (2) that just any kind of redaction or transcription will not suffice; and (3) that any attempt to guarantee quality on behalf of either the narration or the transcription can only be undertaken in a spirit of relational autonomy and reciprocal accountability. The pace of the narration is pitted, as in a game, against the temporality of understanding. This joint project is conceived of both symbiotically and agonistically: Vyasa and Ganesha are both contestants and collaborators. Ganesha shrewdly points out to Vyasa that the appropriate temporality for the narrative is that of the perennial flow, whereas Vyasa reminds Ganesha that the temporality of the transcription cannot be legitimated except as a function of cognitive/ hermeneutic reception and understanding. Both the venerable sage and the dynamic note taker are rigorously concerned about the temporality that marks each activity even as they envision the two activities as constitutive of a transcendent horizon perennially in the making. I will just mention in passing that in this tale of voice and écriture, the teller is human whereas the amanuensis is a god. To bring Michel Foucault to the Mahabharatha, what is being enacted here is the perennial drama of the "empirico-transcendental doublet" whose commitment to the reality of immanence can only be registered as the unreachability of meaning as transcendence. Conscious of its ontological liminality, history as the representation of the real can at best thematize its exquisitely timed belatedness even as it makes its generic truth claims about what happened, and indeed about the nature of "the about" as the precondition of all representation.

If the foregoing paragraph is persuasive at all, then it follows that the very notion of revisionist history is a tautology; for, all historicizing is taking a second look at what has already been otherwise. It is in and through that glance toward the "what-has-been-ness" of a moment that seemed so one's own in the heat of the experience that history emerges as a kind of a "diving into the wreck," to use Adrienne Rich's terms: for if moments do not die, then there is no history. But on the other hand, moments do not really die except by way of the historical imagination. My point is not just that (1) in the flow of time as a river one never touches the same drop again, or (2) that the moment of the touching and the self-reflexive moment that recognizes the moment of touching as such are temporally nonidentical, but rather that the very constitution of historical reality is premised on an undecidable relationship between the immanent objectivity of what is be-ing and the representational truth claims of history with its transcendental will to meaning. (This scenario could be complicated further by the insight that "time as a river" is already a figurative anthropocentrism that has nothing to do with the anterior objectivity of time.) Here is another way of saying it: of all the genres, history, with its representational claims about reality, facticity, and experience, is best oriented as a compensatory discipline that has to both mourn over a loss beyond recuperation and at the same time name that loss perspectivally and contingently. It is indeed possible, but also mute and inhuman, not to want to return to that loss presented to the human subject as a wreck of meaning and significance. But the opposite of that possibility is not an unerring or incorrigible remembering; it is an agonized countermnemonic commitment that has to learn to live in the tension between a rigorously historicized anthropocentrism and an ontological critique of anthropocentrism. I will return to this theme in the heart of this chapter, where I will be interpreting the multivalent possibilities opened up by Adrienne Rich in her poem "Diving into the Wreck."

Perhaps by now it may be clear why I have chosen to begin with a discussion of temporality rather than of historicity. Without in any way rupturing the necessary relationship between the two, I would like to bring a little more thematic focus on temporality so as to raise anthropocentrism and anthropochronism as issues in themselves, that is, before they are justified and legitimated axiomatically in the name of the human subject and human historiography. It is indeed part of my objective also to question the representational adequacy of history and historiography by (1) naming the truths of history as generic truths; and (2) insisting that the privilege accorded to history as the bottom-line custodian of the truths of reality needs to be renegotiated with the truth claims of other generic imaginings, such as those of theory, literature, and philosophy. Moreover, the rhetoric of temporality has a great deal to contribute to the practice of self-reflexive historicity. The discourse of temporality has built into it a kind of phenomenological solicitude for Being, a kind of Gelassenheit, that historiography would do well to tap into if it intends its self-reflexive practices to be anything more than mere procedural performances or exercises in disciplinary narcissism. The invariable question that comes up when any attempt is made to valorize the practice of self-reflexivity is the following: In the name of what is self-reflexivity being invoked? There is thus a dire need for some sort of an outside, an hors-texte, or an ethico-political imperative of the nameless, of that which has not yet spoken or been spoken for; and this need has to be nurtured in the space between the real and the disciplinarization of the real. When one considers how history is actually not history but a bewildering range of power-knowledge-laden regimes such as empiricism, positivism, historicism, materialism, spiritualism, capitalism, messianism, providentialism, evolutionism, developmentalism, and so on, it becomes clear why there is the need to invoke the phenomenological register of temporality: not because temporality is prediscursive or uncontaminated by history or by the knowledge-power nexus, but rather because it performs as a site and a language where the process of the historicization of ontology can be thematized as a process and not naturalized as reality. In other words, phenomenological temporality is like that fleeting moment at dawn, that fleeting, inchoate instant of possibility before the traffic of the day and the mechanisms of quotidian instrumentalization take over and the day becomes a historical production. It is that moment of pause that precedes the moment at which we all make lists for the day, along with the strategies and the modalities that will help us realize our objectives for the day. It is even conceivable that if that moment were to be experienced with any intensity, or conviction, it might alter the items in our list, change the way we configure our lists, enable us rethink our priorities, or significantly help us reimagine the ways in which we align the time of our questions to the time of our answers. For my purposes, temporality may also be considered as that space of prerepresentation, of multiple and often contradictory possibilities that get systematically and ruthlessly forgotten when the representational and the highly politicized regimes of history tighten their normative nooses of the "about" around the tenuous pulse of the living moment. I will be arguing, later on in the chapter, that the politics of a humane, pluriform, and multilateral historiography should empower the perennial irruption of such undecided moments of phenomenological possibility within the flow of normative teleologies and other developmental-instrumental narratologies.

Clearly the discussion so far about temporality has had a decidedly allegorical flavor to it, and I certainly do not intend to apologize for it. The challenge, however, is to find ways of articulating the allegorical with the historical: in this case, articulate the allegory of history as a second look with the worldly history of revisionism that has everything to do with ideology, power, and the antagonistic and contestatory politics of resistance. How does one cothink the solicitude of the second look as a form of "letting be," that is, as a form of Keatsian negative capability and as a way of critiquing the anthropochronic will to meaning with the all-too-dire need, in a world structured in dominance, to invest in the humanly historical in the name of justice and ethico-political equity? How should the human subject reconcile the Marxian view of doing knowledge as transformation with the conservative ecosolicitude of listening and letting be? In other words, how should the human negotiation with the alterity of nature be mediated and exemplified by the negotiation of human nature with itself? Where indeed does the blueprint of domination, aggression, and colonization take shape: in the human being's inhumanity to a fellow human being, or in the human's rapacious and invasive attitude toward nature? How is Captain Ahab's hubris to be understood: as primarily an act of violation against Moby-Dick, and ergo against humanity by way of the brutalities of capitalism and its unconscionable modes of surplus production, or the other way around? Are the two effects co- and synchronically causal? Are they effects of concomitancy? Or are they primary and secondary expressions of the same pathology? But, on the other hand, is it not possible to argue that human nature is that dangerous Derridean supplement, that lurking culture as second nature whose very purpose is to show up the finitude of nature as text and thereby deconstruct it from within? If human nature is necessarily characterized-unlike that of the plant, the animal-by a sophisticated consciousness of alienation and secondarity, how is the dualism of the cogito to be explained away except through bad faith? If nature becomes a text only through that second look of the human gaze, then does the intelligibility of the worldly text lie in the world as an inherent property, or is it the function of the cogitating human subject who in textualizing the world also admits to the finitude of anthropomorphism and anthropochronism? The hubris of the human subject lies not so much in its domination or colonization of nature, but rather in the assumption that human nature functions as a double measure: both as anthropocentric and as the promise of the transcendence of the anthropocentric in the name of Being or nature. This is indeed a tricky double bind. The historicizing human subject could either take itself and its position for granted in the scheme of things and therefore do the best it can, without any need for self-reflexivity; or the historicizing human subject can assume the burden of anthropocentrism seriously and rigorously and still continue to act and perform on the basis of a self-reflexive and doubled consciousness.

Here is the problem however. Once anthropocentrism and anthropochronism are let into the picture, they have to be acknowledged as chronic rather than as "corrigible" problems. The human subject can make a difference by taking one of several attitudes toward anthropocentrism and anthropochronism, but the one thing it cannot do is to escape that mark or that complicity altogether. As even a brief look at the politics of such alterity-oriented thinkers as Martin Heidegger tells us, there is no easy and sure way of negotiating between the human commitment to "the be-ing of Being" and its obligation to human historicity. There are two kinds of epistemological arrogance that need to be taken into account. First, there is the primordial arrogance of the assumption that the human subject can indeed unpack the potentiality of nature in the name of human progress and development. Second, there is the equally alarming assumption, an intrahuman, secular-historical assumption, that there is indeed a universal human subject that can speak for all cultures, histories, and civilizations. Despite Heidegger's ample hermeneutic generosity, the Dasein remains irreducibly Eurocentric and conceals the genealogy of its own historicity. What then about the Afrocentric, the Indocentric, the Sinocentric, the androcentric, and the gynocentric subjects, and the ongoing strife and contestation among these centrisms, each of which would love to speak for the whole world in the name of its particular worldview and axiology? The problem is one of scale and priority. For there to be any meaningful invocation beyond anthropocentrism, it is a prerequisite that the domain of the intrahuman be rid of unevenness, asymmetries, and inequalities. There simply cannot be as many "natures" as there are anthropocentrisms.


Excerpted from History, the Human, and the World between by R. RADHAKRISHNAN Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 000
Introduction 000
1. Revisionism and the Subject of History 000
2. Edward Said and the Politics of Secular Humanism 000
3. Worlding, by Any Other Name 000
Notes 000
Works Cited 000
Index 000
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