Sustainability and the Crisis of Global Modernity
Reading Group Meeting #5
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
- Duara moved to Singapore in order to move closer to the intellectual circles that he discusses in his work, including in The Crisis of Global Modernity. The Crisis of Global Modernity is, in many ways, an attempt to summarize his career.
- How does Duara use the term “transcendence”? How can we connect this idea to the utopian themes that we’ve discussed all semester? Particularly interesting is his idea of a non-Hegelian transcendence, which lies closer to the Bakhtinian polyphonic ideal than dialectical Marxism.
- Duara notes that he is trying to be very careful not to essentialize Asian culture, and he makes a lot of caveats in order to break apart any undifferentiated idea of Asia. But if the book’s goal is to identify an Asian alternative, does he ever center in on what he means by that? Does identifying an “Asian alternative” require some degree of essentialism?
- To what degree is this book about circulations? He opens his second chapter by talking about the circulation of a scrap of paper, which launches him into a discussion of the circulation of people and ideas. How do these circulations move beyond a discussion of just being dialogic (i.e., between two people) and closer to a polyphonic circuit?
- To what extent are the ideas in this book new? In South Asian historiography, the nation was decentered in the 1960s—did the same process happen in East Asian historiographies? Duara proposed a worldview that fits much more into the idea of a decentered network, but the idea of a linear narrative has long since passed. His contribution may lie more not in just decentering that narrative, but by spending so much time talking about the institutions and processes that undergird the process of decentering the nation.
- How does he use religion? How does his insistence on using religion as a transcendent solution function as a new contribution to the field? Is there a tension between his use of religion and the technological solution he proposes? In addition, as a non-specialist, is there any problematics in his treatment of specific religions?
- The audience of the book is academic, but the solutions it proposes are much more about policy change and practical shifts as a moral imperative. What impact does he want this book to have? With whom is Duara in conversation? For example, how can we connect this work to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work on the anthropocene and provincializing Europe?
- How does he use the term “sustainability”? He uses it for a variety of meanings—does it work as a coherent whole?
- Where does he draw the borders of “Asian traditions”? He uses the idea of cultural fields as a way of defining the limits of what fits into regional categories, but what might be left out? What about religions like Islam, which have many practitioners in the region, but are generally left out of this work?
- What is Duara’s political agenda? Is it feasible? Take, for example, his writing on ASEAN, which is an organization that has been widely criticized for its problematic relationships to power, but one that he praises heavily. Why might he include such a view? How does it fit within his ideas about empowerment?
- What constellations of power, other than the idea of the nation, might Duara be arguing against? And how do some of the organizations that are supranational (e.g. ASEAN) end up reifying the nation?
- This book is focused on the global, but how does he use that category to reimagine the local? In particular, on his chapter on NGOs, how does he use them to discuss the ways in which the local has been changed by the global?
- What is Duara’s idea about temporality and teleology? Does he, like Benjamin, have an idea about a messianism that can be grabbed from the past? Or is his argument more about recovering potentialities (shards) and applying them to our conception of modernity? Does the fact that he often finds these shards in indigenous groups fall too close to a romanticization of indigenous knowledge?
- How does he deal with the dichotomy he establishes between tradition and modernity—one of the oldest and most problematic dichotomies? How do the circulations he describes (e.g., Thoreau and Emerson reading Roy’s modern translation of the Vedas) transcend and reify these dichotomies?