[Reader-list] Re:

V NR vnr1995 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 23 04:31:17 IST 2005

1. First essentialism. We cant describe any phenomenon completely; nor
can we experience the micro structure of any phenomenon. Hence the
criticism that essentialism is a sin has become a mantra, but without
localizing the problem and without having intended effects. All
theories in natural sciences are essentialistic; so are even false
theories, like Phlogiston theory, theory of elan vital. Our pet
descriptions of our experience of what we see are essentialistic.

2. Monolithicity and complicity are addressed in different posts.

3.  "To ask the question at all implies a belief that it is
answerable, which in turn involves an assumption that  culture has
already occurred in an observable fashion.  This assumption
immediately pushes culture into the past (it does not matter whether 
this is the immediate past of yesterday, or the remote past of
history).    And culture is most alive when it is in the present, when
it is actually experienced."

Many questions are asked, even though they dont have answers at the
moment. The only way to shelve any question is to show that what such
a question presuppose is false. What culture is presupposes, weakly,
that there exist human cultures, and that whenever two persons from
different cultures, say German and Nigerian, they experience cultural
differences.  Indian culture of yesterday is different from Indian
culture at the moment: what does it say? Culture has a past, present,
and a future unless such a culture disintegrates: Graeco-Roman culture
disintegrated, and in whose place Western culture has emerged.

Well, do we directly experience an entity called culture? What we have
are various objects, called cultural phenomena: ritual, religion,
worship, ethics, morality, learning, etc. Somehow, culture functions
as explanatory device in accounting for variegated phenomena: that is,
it brings in some order among various puzzling phenomena. This in and
of self is not explanation: one has to show how it links together.
Cultural anthropologists and philosophical anthropologists have some
vague idea that culture has something to do with learning: for more,
check Etienne Vermeersch: An analysis of the concept of Culture,
pp1-73, in Bernandi Bernanado (ed) The concept and the dynamics of
Culture, Hague:  Mouton. What this 'something' is? Balagangadhara in
"His The heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West and dynamic of
religion" has put forward a high level hypothesis: that culture is a
configuration of learning; that cultural differences are differences
between differences between configuration of learning. His hypothesis
accounted for  as a cultural phenomenon the emergence of natural
sciences what we see today in the West; the disintegration of
Graeco-Roman culture; discussions about bards in Plato and Aristotle;
the role of stories in Indian culture;  the emergence of normative
ethics in the West, etc.

4.1 "What is the basis on which claims to define culture operate,
intersect and compete?"

Each one of us has a say on everything we know of: whenever we define
something, we are falling back on the background knowledge, which
includes our pet theories, beliefs, intuitions, etc. Your definition,
however essential, does not satisfy others; hence, counter-intuitive
consequences. One way is to systematize your intuitions about what
culture is; compare such a systematization with others'. Here, one
systematization is better than the other: so, one can refute entire
systematization, not a definition.

4.2. "What are the politics, myths, beliefs, genealogies and spatial 
practices that underpin the construction of such claims?"

Every theory, every description, every fact is a construct. The real
question is: whether such a construct represents what there exists?
Our descriptions are not neutral; but some description is better than
others. And our descriptions presuppose background knowledge: that is,
beliefs, intuitions, other theories.

4.3. "What are the traces we leave in space that eventually accrue into
memories and symbols?"

I don't get the import of the above question.

4.4 "What are the conversations and intersections that take place between
tacit experiences and explicit definitions of culture?"

Check 4.1 and 4.2, replace background knowledge with tacit knowledge a
la  Michael Polanyi.

4.5 " (Most important to us) What is the complicity of the intellectual in
all of these processes?"

No intellectual has committed any crime. First, we need to disentangle
epistemic question from moral question. Moral criticisms presuppose
epistemic criticism. For instance, It is hard to dub colonial writers
criminals, just because they have misrepresented for 200 years: the
question is, why have they produced that they did? Clue: there is a
difference of kind between Greek's travelogues and those of
missionaries/those of Islamic travellers. But what one observes
depends on the background knowledge. The misrepresention has to
nothing to do with Individuals, but with the background knowledge that
 has structured what they have seen, and continue to see, in India, or
in any other place.

4.6 6. "How can we individually use such critique to construct our own
ideology and ethics"

Definitely, inadequacies of some conceptualization leads to a better
theory (a critique of a theory includes pointing empirical anomalies
and conceptual anomalies). No fruitful epistemic criticisms from
subaltern and/or postcolonial writers, except for some hunches like
that colonialism has everything to do with education project. The
reason is that: both subaltern writers and the writers these
subalterns criticizing share the common fund of background knowledge;
for example, recall the talk of rights, hence the language of rights.

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