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The waiting room of history

  • Published at 08:11 pm January 4th, 2018
The waiting room of history
The viewpoint that European history offers us a framework for “universal human history” has been challenged by a slew of postcolonial intellectuals and scholars who have rejected the Eurocentric discourse in knowledge and history. Shahaduzzaman, a celebrated fiction writer in Bangladesh, elaborated on this point at Kala Kendra, Dhaka on December 19. The small apartment housed a relatively large crowd who rushed there early to attend a session with their favourite writer, famed for Crutcher Colonel and his most recent book, Ekjon Komolalebu, a nonfiction book on the life and works of poet Jibanananda Das. Shahaduzzaman discussed at some length Dipesh Chakrabarty's influential book Provincializing Europe. He explained how Chakrabarty addresses the mythical stature of Europe that is confused with modernity in many non-Western countries. This imaginary Europe, Chakrabarty argues, is built into the social sciences and other discourses. Highlighting Chakrabarty’s points, he commented: “When it comes to the philosophy of Europe, they call it European philosophy, but they would call African philosophy as ethno-philosophy .... The inclusion of non-European art, culture and philosophy in European discourses is meagre and marginal.” Then he explained how Chakrabarty dug up the ethos in European historicism that says that all history must be progressive, that the developing nations that manifest capitalism differently, are “in the waiting room of history or representing an incomplete transition to capitalist modernity,” as is always seen by Europe. “This trap makes all the other non-European countries experience an inferiority complex,” Shahaduzaman observed. Defying the European dogma, Chakrabarty demonstrates in his book, through examples from Bengali history, the myriad ways in which indigenous intellectual traditions and cultural values interact with European intellectual traditions, enriching the concept of modernity that should be seen as no less than their European counterparts. The discussion continued with a greater flow and intensity, and at a certain point he asked the audience: Should then the non-Europeans renounce all European discourse and knowledge base? Throwing light on Chakrabarty’s position that shunning or rejecting European social theory and philosophy is not a viable position, he said we should rather find out ways to revitalise it and allow its use in more subtle ways in “Other” realities and settings. Chakrabarty observes precisely in his book: “Provincialising Europe is not a project of rejecting or discarding European thought [but rather it] becomes the task of exploring how this thought may be renewed from and for the margins.”