Escaping postcolonial bind

Chatterjee talks about how Washbrook’s revisionist attempts to recover Indian history for India, by ‘tracing the continuities from precolonial to early colonial processes’ (30) actually in fact serves to exculpate Britain (and France as well, I would add, to a small extent) from their responsibilities as ex-colonisers of India, because the ‘new’ history would see colonialism as resulting from processes that were happening in India already, before the British (and French) came to power.

She suggests that Washbrook inevitably does this this by writing from within the same discursive conditions, in that he does not question the concept of ‘capitalism’ — in her words, ‘assuming the universality of the categories of political economy’ (33) — because his argument depends on fundamentals of western social science.

While I do agree with her, I also think that this is a conundrum that might be impossible to get out of. After all, ‘discursive conditions’ can be interpreted very broadly, and Chatterjee herself is writing, I would suggest, as a social scientist, be it as historian or political scientist. Certainly if she is to be a ‘postcolonial writer’ she cannot escape the postcolonial bind that she claims Washbrook to be bound by. In addition, is she not writing in English?

I agree that Washbrook’s usage of ‘capitalism’ needs to be qualified and critiqued. But I also think that perhaps Washbrook’s attempts is about recovering a denied history, which is itself an endeavour that has greater significance than the actual content of that new history — it signposts to us the futility of writing that which is lost using the tools of the ex-oppressor. Maybe the subaltern (Indian history) cannot be spoken for.

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