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Critiques of Modernity: Partha Chatterjee and Michel Foucault in an Intercultural Perspective

30. Juni 2011 von Kanchana Mahadevan

‘-And in India as in Greece they committed the same blunder:...-“we must have been divine, for we possess reason!”…’-Friedrich Nietzsche This paper compares the Indian historian Partha Chatterjee’s critique of European rationality with that of the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Crossing disciplinary, geographic and cultural boundaries, it explores both their intersections and divergences. Chatterjee argues that the Indian context reveals modern rationality and individual freedom as neither universal nor immutable. For modernity manifests itself in its “other” non-Western world through the avatars of colonial oppression and aggressive separatist movements. In a patronizing spirit of tolerance, Western liberalism treats these avatars as cultural obstacles. Yet Chatterjee notes that the resultant dichotomies of progress/colonization, masculine/feminine and spiritual/material are central to national consciousness. Foucault’s similar critique of modern reason perceives it as a historical variable. For him the state and subject coevally emerge with modernity and are linked to power. They are the outcomes of “governmentality” or regulation of both the self and the other creating internal hierarchies within Europe. Foucault recommends renouncing modernity’s universality to pursue an aesthetic of existence. Chatterjee and Foucault share a suspicion towards universal reason, a Nietzschean genealogy and an ambivalence towards modernity. Yet they have significant differences. Chatterjee’s critique of modernity targets colonialism. In contrast, Foucault directs his critique to everyday practices such as sexuality and their normalization processes within the West. Moreover, Chatterjee recommends a collective struggle, while Foucault suggests a more individualistic path as alternatives to vicissitudes of modernity. This paper will show that the critique modernity is not homogeneous; its priorities differ in relation to geo-political and cultural contexts.

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