Saturday, February 5, 2011

When choosing between words and not-words...

Note to academics: "problematize" is not a word, nor should it be. "Complicate" works just fine. "Problematic" is an adjective, not a noun. "Problem" works just fine.

The Nation and its Fragments by Partha Chatterjee was... fragmented. Chatterjee argues that the standard, unified story Indian nationalists tell leaves too much out, excludes too much. He substitutes instead a very messy picture. It's possibly more fair to the variety of groups, but it does not make for an enjoyable read. For that matter, neither does the jargon, repeated use of Bengali words without adequate context and definition, and the occasionally muddled prose.

There were some beautiful passages. His examination of Keshabchandra Sen and his analysis of 19th-century autobiographies of Bengali women were particularly lucid and interesting. I also do not doubt that if I were more familiar with Indian historiography I would have liked it better. For most of us, who were coming at it from outside the field and with only loose familiarity with the subaltern school, it was largely inscrutable.

PS: Do check out #035. Except skip the first video, and instead watch the far, far superior version I posted long ago. One of my favorite live TV performances of all time.