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Political Economy and Computing
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Works of 'dd/ts'
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Composed by dd/ts, 2010.
Three and a Half
Making of the Book:
Trauma of Avant-garde Third World Writing
I. How It Did
Laclau-Mouffe. These are mere names, western names. They provide for us
only the pretext to articulate and circulate our text. The illegitimate
children of Macaulay need a few western brand-names in order to salebrate
In other words, we foreground Resnick-Wolff and Laclau-Mouffe, consciously, in order to tell a story unfolding itself in the background that forms the real pre-text of this book. What follows, then, is an account of that story — the story behind the writing of this book, the tears and bloodshed; OK, you may call them postcolonial paraphernalia.
We can foresee the raised brows of our refined readers: come on, tell your story sharp and direct! Who cares for the melodrama behind the writing of a book? Such is the dominant western concept of writing. But there are westerns and westerns, not all westerns will buy this position — there are voices of dissent. And we will not rush into a style of writing which just no westerns permit.
We have talked about Resnick and Wolff — they have written a great book, Knowledge and Class, in an impersonal style, with detachment, hiding their emotion. But does not suppressed emotion, like repressed sex, do harm to a project — here, a book? A western — Sahib — reviewer of Resnick-Wolff’s Knowledge and Class writes:
The argument compels reflexivity, but the writing keeps the reader at bay. How is this text made, he or she may wonder. A close collaboration as that of Wolff and Resnick is rare. How does that affect the production of the text? Did their personal circumstances matter? Does it matter that this text has been produced in the context of lively discussion that has led to a new journal, Rethinking Marxism? The notion of overdetermination suggests they do, but the distant impersonal style employed in this book hides these processes from view. Style is substance, too.
Style is substance, too. More so for our book. This book is about a new third world as well as a new third world writing.
One of us tried to discursively articulate this new third world more than a decade ago (Chaudhury, 1984, 1988) in terms of a new concept — synthetic space — that has a strong parallel to what is currently called hybrid space in postcolonial studies. That concept of synthetic space, even in that primary form, highlighted some of the moments of hybrid space that are lacking even in the current literature on it. For instance, the metaphoric cuts and metonymic slidings in a hybrid space. And the question of its symptoms and how agencies in a hybrid space negotiate and reconcile with these symptoms.
There happened a presentation of that understanding of a hybrid space — which was called synthetic space — in a seminar on Gramsci.
The point the paper wanted to make was very simple: the need to move beyond Gramsci. The concept of hybrid space — that, in our opinion, describes the postcolonial space — resists being captured in terms of the Gramscian categories. But, what followed was a total failure to communicate this point, as will be apparent from the reviewer’s comments enclosed in this chapter.
It was in no way at all a question of intellectual shortcoming on part of the discussant. In this area of social studies what is crucially lacking, particularly in a country like ours, is a certain attitude to any new idea. Academia in a country with a colonized past is not particularly eager to hear new ideas from one of its next-door neighbors. Any new idea, as a rule, has to come from abroad.
A non-immigrant non-frequent-flying third world writer cannot speak. If she ever comes to discover she has got something new to say, she won’t say. She must wait. If she differs, she will have to defer. She must wait, so that the westernized friends can catch up with this newness, and perhaps, in the meantime, overtake it. So that she can continue in the job, the one and only job assigned to her/him — the job that is the destiny — writing footnotes to works done in a distant world, for nameless people, in an alien language.
If that be our destiny, we can encounter it only by making a writing form out of it. Let us pretend, then, that we are extending and contesting a few ideas from the west — here, in this particular case, of Resnick-Wolff and Laclau-Mouffe. That is why, after delineating our writing strategy in Chapter One, we start off with a discussion of their writings in Chapters Two and Three. But the following critique of Gramsci might well be a take-off point for this book.
While writing, refined western intellectuals hide their emotions. We hide ourselves. The following records the way the first author of this book began the writing of a book, may be this book, a decade ago.
II. A Section Written a Decade Ago
This section quotes, almost in entirety, with one or two minor changes chipped in here and there, an essay named "From Hegemony to Counter Hegemony/ A Journey in a Non-Imaginary Unreal Space" by Ajit Chaudhury, published in Economic and Political Weekly, Review of Political Economy, January 30, 1988. The seminar where this paper was presented took place earlier, in 1987.
The limits of Gramsci follow from this that he had to work within the orthodox Marxist paradigm. In the process, Gramsci hits the limit of the orthodox school, which in turn also defines the limit of Gramsci.
This paper intends to be a critique, and a parallel construction, of Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony. In short, the paper restructures some of Gramsci’s major theoretical categories in the light of Hegel’s and Freud’s analysis. The central propositions of the paper are:
Proposition I: Hegemony epitomizes the elite’s dream. In Gramsci, the elite and the subaltern are defined over a homogeneous cultural space. Consequently, the signals have identical significance to the agents concerned. Thus, collaboration on the part of the subaltern is represented as the negative — a mirror image — of the elite’s power of persuasion: collaboration is not seen as an autonomous element embedded in the consciousness of the subaltern — subalterns collaborate with what they consider right and just. Similarly, the elite’s persuasive power, inasmuch as it is defined over a different cultural space, is also culture-specific. Therefore, there are possibilities of displacement of the signs of collaboration within the same cultural space — from collaboration to resistance — as also from one space to another. Similarly, possibilities of condensation also exist. Hegemony is an expression of these displacements and condensations as in a dream: it epitomizes the elite’s dream.
Proposition II: Counter-Hegemony is a quantitative extension of the signs of the displaced (synthetic) hegemonic power. A symptomatic reading of hegemonic power reveals the true position of the elite, from which follows counter-hegemony as a leap.
Thus, my point of departure is the dream — a non-imaginary unreal space — and not reality: hegemony is an expression of the elite’s dream. Therefore, I begin with questions like: what is the structure of the elite’s dream? How is it formed? What does it signify? Can we fulfill our dream? Etc.
Structure of Hegemonic Power
We begin from the first principles — the elementary aspects of elite/subaltern relationships. The elite and the subaltern relate themselves in the idiom of power — of dominance and subordination. Dominance subsists in its explicit other: subordination. Again dominance, as also subordination, is itself a complex: of persuasion (P) and coercion (C). Similarly, the complex of subordination includes as its elements collaboration (C*) and resistance (R). Therefore, dominance/subordination relations define a complex of complexes.
Hegemonic power is a mapping of P and C* in the (D, S) space. For this to be a valid mapping, it is necessary that (D, S) is homogeneous. But P|. D is qualitatively different from C*|. S. P and C* define an exchange relationship — P flows from the elite to the subaltern and C* flows from the subaltern to the elite. If a cultural space separates the elite from the subaltern, then it is theoretically necessary to show how signals are transmitted from one space to another. In other words, collaboration is not immediately a negative persuasion. To persuade, it is necessary — though not sufficient — that a subject persuades an object who understands the language of persuasion. The question is: how does the elite construct the universal, that is, hegemonic power?
Hegemonic power, therefore, does not immediately follow from the elite’s persuasive principles: it is the elite’s appropriation of the collaborative principles internal to the subaltern as an autonomous force, a displacement of the collaborative principles. More correctly, hegemonic power is a condensation of the persuasive power and the displaced (synthetic) collaborative principles. The subaltern can now read the language of persuasion — by means of its own modified language, that is, of collaborative principles.
Hegemonic power, therefore, is a complex of different qualities. The hegemonic power thus formed can be called synthetic hegemonic power as opposed to simple hegemonic power flowing from the elite’s persuasive principles. In this connection it needs to be stressed that by hegemonic power Gramsci means simple hegemonic power. Gramsci, however, observes that the elite’s simple persuasive principles do not always work in modern capitalism. The situation comes out in Gramsci as an illustration of the failure of the hegemonic power. I, on the contrary, would like to argue that the hegemonic power still continues to work in this situation — but in an altered form. For example, Gramsci, in his discussion of passive revolution, illustrates a situation where the capitalist cannot rule by its thesis, and constructs a surrogate synthesis to incorporate a part of the antithesis. The surrogate synthesis, in Gramsci, signifies the failure of hegemonic power. We should like to designate Gramsci’s surrogate synthesis as displaced (synthetic) hegemonic power. Since Gramsci could not recognize the displaced (synthetic) hegemonic power, it was, naturally, not possible for him to ask questions like: how is the displaced (synthetic) hegemonic power formed? What are its limits? How does counter-hegemonic power grow out of the displaced (synthetic) hegemonic power? Etc. These are the questions we take up in this paper. These questions are particularly important in less developed countries where the capitalist class cannot establish its simple hegemonic power. In the existing literature the situation is often described as leading to Caesarism. It is our conjecture that the supposed Caesarism can very well be a case of hegemonic rule by the capitalist class: only we fail to recognize this hegemonic power because it appears in an altered form. We hope that an analysis of the displaced (synthetic) hegemonic power will bring out these issues more sharply.
It needs to be stressed that the displaced (synthetic) hegemonic power is not the elite’s appropriation of the antithesis — it is not a thesis incorporating a part of its antithesis to block the synthesis.
Since collaborative principles are not the other of persuasive principles, they do not stand in a thesis/antithesis opposition. Indeed, the moment we pose dominance and subordination as complexes, it is difficult to pose them as Hegelian others — one has to reformulate the concept of an other. Elements of the complex neither annihilate each other as in Hegel’s doctrine of being, nor do they support each other as in the doctrine of essence: they condense (and they condense because they can be displaced from one complex to another). Indeed, thesis-antithesis do not stand even as Hegelian categories. An analysis of the implications of the argument appears in section IV.
A Dream Sequence
The following records the dream of an elderly woman, highly cultivated and held in high esteem:
She went to the first military hospital and said to the sentinel at the gate that she must speak to the physician-in-chief (giving a name which she did not know) as she wished to offer herself for service in the hospital. In saying this, she emphasized the word service in such a way that the sergeant at once perceived that she was speaking of ‘love service’. As she was an old lady, he let her pass after some hesitation, but instead of finding the chief physician, she came to a large gloomy room, where a number of officers and army doctors were standing or sitting around a long table. She turned to a staff doctor and told him her proposal: he soon understood her meaning. The words she said in her dream were: ‘I and countless other women and girls of Vienna are ready for the soldiers, officers or men, to….’ This ended in a murmur. She saw, however, by the half-embarrassed, half-malicious expressions of the officers that all of them grasped her meaning. The lady continued: ‘I know our decision sounds odd, but we are in bitter earnest. The soldier on the battlefield is not asked whether he wishes to die or not.’ There followed a minute of painful silence; then the staff doctor put his arm around her waist and said: ‘Madam, supposing it really came to this, that … (murmur).’ She withdrew herself from his arm, thinking ‘They are all alike’ and replied: ‘Good heavens, I am an old woman and perhaps it won’t happen to me. And one condition must be observed: age must be taken into account, so that an old woman and an young lady may not … (murmur).’
… As she went up, she heard an officer say: ‘This is a tremendous decision, no matter whether she is young or old; all honor to her.’ With the feeling she was simply doing her duty, she went up an endless staircase.
In spite of the absences and suppressions — where the gaps occur the speeches are interrupted by a murmur — we can get at the meaning of the dream: the dreamer is ready at the call of duty to offer herself to gratify the sexual needs of the troops, irrespective of rank. The old lady in white dress comes out as a self-appointed prostitute.
Here is a classic case of displacement: the prostitute appears in an altered form — a nurse. The old lady does not make any incorrect statement, nevertheless her statements are not true: there are absences, commissions, suppressions, alterations. A symptomatic reading of the lady’s statements brings out the truth.
The opposition here is not between transient and permanent or finite/infinite, as in Hegel: we do not annihilate or negate the lady’s statements. Indeed, we accept the lady’s basic position: that she is respectable. But we also add: she is a prostitute. In short, she is a respectable prostitute. Now, the quality of a respectable prostitute is different both from the qualities of respectability and of prostitution: we have here a condensation of respectability and prostitution. A close scrutiny will reveal that there is nothing immoral about being a respectable prostitute. Being a respectable prostitute is a necessary step to being a decent lady — the respectable prostitute contains in an embryonic form the decent lady, one has only to take a leap. So we proceed in the following steps:
It is superfluous, but still I add: the lady epitomizes our elite appearing in the guise of a well-meaning nurse, this is its hegemonic power. We cannot negate this hegemonic power; we can only contest it.
From Dream to Reality
It immediately follows why and how I differ from Gramsci’s concept of hegemony: I do not subscribe to the thesis-antithesis-synthesis paradigm of orthodox Marxism. In Gramsci, displaced (synthetic) hegemony follows because the thesis incorporates a part of the antithesis, and thus blocks the synthesis. In other words, the ruling class constructs a surrogate synthesis. Two things follow straight way:
Our position is that the synthesis cannot be a point of arrival: it tells only half the story. We counterpose to synthesis the Hegelian universal which involves both synthesis and analysis. A moment of the universal represents hegemony for the elite; a more developed moment signifies counter-hegemony for the subaltern. Counter-hegemony is a quantitative extension of hegemony which involves a change in quality. On the other hand, Gramsci counterposes surrogate synthesis and true synthesis. Displaced (synthetic) hegemony follows from a surrogate synthesis, while counter-hegemony is an expression of the true synthesis. In other words, counter-hegemony is not a supersession of bourgeois hegemony, it is a plain and simple rejection of the hegemony of the ruling class.
It will be more appropriate if we can incorporate the spirit of Gramsci within a Hegelian frame. The ruling class does not, in fact, project a moment of the universal — it presents only its surrogate. In other words, the moments of the universal undergoes a process of displacement or transvaluation at the hand of the ruling class. Construction of counter-hegemony involves two steps:
In other words, false consciousness cannot hide the truth; it reveals the truth. Silence, absence, slips, errors, all contain in them the elements of truth. It is the purpose of theoretical labor to extract truth by forcing false consciousness to reveal itself. We do not always negate: we do sometimes, as Foucault says, contest. Contestation is a necessary step for negation/transgression, transgression for counter-hegemony, for counter-hegemony is a journey from a lower moment of the idea to a higher one.
III. A Section That Is Not Ours
In this section we are quoting the relevant part of the paper of Partha Chatterjee (except of the obvious spelling changes due to the differences in the British and the American system) that came as a reaction to the above paper by Chaudhury. This paper by Chatterjee, titled "On Gramsci’s ‘Fundamental Mistake’" was published in the same number of Economic and Political Weekly.
Ajit Chaudhury’s paper deals with a ‘fundamental mistake’ in Gramsci. He locates this ‘mistake’ by constructing a ‘model’ out of Gramsci’s writings on hegemony, passive revolution, subaltern consciousness, strategies of counter-hegemony, etc, in the Prison Notebooks. I do not think Chaudhury will claim that this is a full, or literal, or even a correct, reading of Gramsci. It is a deliberately one-sided reading which brings out a consistent chain of argument that is representative of what may be called an ‘orthodox’ variety of Marxism. Locating oneself within that tradition, it is possible to identify Gramsci’s extension of the orthodox argument. Chaudhury’s task is to show that this extension is untenable in terms of the orthodox framework. That is Gramsci’s ‘fundamental mistake’.
I will come back later to the implications of Chaudhury’s demonstration that it is impossible simply to extend the orthodox argument to deal with the sorts of problems with which Gramsci was concerned, viz., the problems of hegemony and counter-hegemony in countries which have not passed through a ‘classical’ bourgeois revolution. Let me first go through some of the details of Chaudhury’s demonstration.
The Simple Structure of Hegemony
Hegemony in Gramsci’s ‘model’ (as constructed by Chaudhury) implies the following:
Taken together, these characteristics of hegemony mean that the dominant ideas propagated by the ruling classes constitute the paradigm (code, language, culture) within which both persuasion and collaboration is practiced. When the subaltern classes collaborate with their rulers, they do so because, and only because, they accept as their own the dominant ideas propagated by the latter. Collaboration is thus a mirror image (negative) of persuasion. Of course, since we (the critical theorists) know that this society is class-divided, we also know that the persuasive principles of the elite only reflect its specific class interests. Hence, what the elite projects as generally valid for society as a whole is in actuality only valid for its sectional interest as a ruling class. When the subaltern classes collaborate, they do so because they falsely believe that those sectional principles are valid for them as well. Hence, we obtain a simple structure of hegemony where persuasion is only an extension of the coercive powers of the elite and collaboration the result of the false consciousness of the subaltern classes (i.e., of the mirror image of ruling ideas in subaltern consciousness).
I do not think it can be denied that there is a long and influential tradition in Marxist thinking which looks at hegemony in precisely these terms. Ajit Chaudhury’s exercise may be seen as an attempt to judge the extent to which Gramsci’s ideas can be fitted within that framework. Chaudhury shows that if we take hegemony in Gramsci as having this simple structure, then the latter’s contribution to the orthodox theory of counter-hegemony will consist of the following extension. The orthodox theory takes the capital/labor relation in bourgeois society as comprising a thesis and its antithesis, socialism is the new synthesis constructed by a working class which successfully overthrows the bourgeoisie. Gramsci considers the non-classical case of ‘passive revolution’ where the bourgeoisie seeks to achieve hegemony by itself incorporating a part of the antithesis, i.e., by constructing a surrogate synthesis which blocks the true synthesis. Examples of such non-classical cases will be Bonapartism/Caesarism, fascism, Americanism, and Fordism. The content of hegemony here will be different from that in ‘classical’ bourgeois society. Strategies of counter-hegemony, consequently, will also have to be different.
The question is: if the structure of ‘classical’ hegemony is a simple one — that is to say, if the bourgeoisie is able successfully to propagate its sectional interests in a universal form, if it is able to use its persuasive principles to elicit the necessary collaboration from the dominated classes (by creating a mirror image in subaltern consciousness within a single homogeneous cultural space), i.e., if it is able to ‘rule by its thesis’, then why should it need a surrogate synthesis? There can be no such need. The need will arise only if the simple hegemonic process fails. Thus, within the orthodox framework, the ‘non-classical’ cases must all be cases of the failure of the classical form of bourgeois hegemony.
It that is so, what is the form of surrogate synthesis? Can hegemony here retain its simple structure as in the classical form? It can be shown very easily that it cannot. If persuasion by the elite is not able to elicit collaboration from the subaltern classes, it must mean that the mirror image is not produced in subaltern consciousness. This can happen if subaltern consciousness occupies a different cultural space from that of elite consciousness. In such a situation, the simple structure of hegemony will not apply. What the elite must attempt here is an appropriation of elements of collaboration in subaltern consciousness which spring from an autonomous cultural space. These elements of collaboration will not be the mirror image of the elite’s persuasive principles. Such an appropriation can be made possible only by constructing a surrogate cultural space in which the elements of persuasion and collaboration (the latter not the negative of the former) appear as distorted, displaced and condensed. Such hegemony, in other words, will have a complex, not a simple, structure.
Before we go on to Ajit Chaudhury’s analysis of this complex structure of hegemony, let us take note of two implications of this demonstration. If Gramsci’s problem is to understand the ‘non-classical’ cases of bourgeois hegemony as classified under the term ‘passive revolution’, a mere extension of the simple hegemony model will not serve the purpose. This means, first, that the thesis–antithesis–synthesis form of arguments will have to be abandoned. If the surrogate synthesis consists of the appropriation by the thesis of a part of the antithesis, the thesis itself cannot be defined unambiguously, for now it is no longer the projection of the sectional interests of the bourgeoisie in the form of a universal: it contains other (different, contradictory) interests. Besides, the surrogate synthesis can now be expected to produce a new antithesis which will not be identical with the original antithesis. The very form of the orthodox problematic will need to be changed. In other words — and this is the second implication — hegemony will have to be thought of as a complex structure, which again is something the orthodox ‘model’ does not permit.
I think the usefulness of Ajit Chaudhury’s one-sided reading of Gramsci is to show the impossibility of an ‘orthodox’ resolution of Gramsci’s problem (along the lines of, say, Plekhanov, Luxemburg or Bukharin — perhaps Trotsky and Stalin as well).
The Complex Structure of Hegemony
Chaudhury’s treatment of the complex structure of hegemony brings out the following characteristics which are the opposite of those of the simple structure:
The result is hegemony ‘in an altered form’, which Chaudhury calls ‘displaced hegemonic power’.
Chaudhury’s analysis here is avowedly ‘structuralist’, in Althusser’s sense, and in line with this form of argument, he presents hegemony as ‘the elite’s dream’. Distortion, displacement, condensation — all of them Freudian categories used in Althusserian analysis — are deployed here to reveal the complex structure of hegemony. (I think Chaudhury also uses the device to suggest that hegemony represents the elite’s ‘wish’ which it can fulfill only in a dream, not in actuality.) The particular dream used by Chaudhury is reported in Freud (both in the ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ and in the ‘Introductory Lectures’) and is used by the latter to illustrate the form of ‘censorship’ (in this case, the ‘murmurs’ resorted to by the lady at the most embarrassing moments in her proposal to the soldiers) as an instrument of distortion of the dream-content. The interpretation in terms of the prostitute/nurse dichotomy is Chaudhury’s own — it does not occur in Freud — and, as far as I can make out, the image of the lady ‘in a white dress’ is Chaudhury’s addition; it does not occur in Freud’s account of the dream.
In any case, it is not difficult to see what Chaudhury means. The bourgeoisie wishes to present itself as prepared to provide ‘services’ to all, ‘irrespective of rank’. Yet it also wishes to maintain its standards of ‘respectability’, which necessitates distinctions of rank. ‘Universal’ services can be provided only by selling oneself in a marketplace where all are sellers and buyers: the ‘respectable’ person must become a prostitute. The opposition between ‘respectability’ and ‘prostitution’ is sought to be overcome in the condensed terrain of a dream where the two terms are displaced from their original cultural moorings. This is the surrogate field of displaced hegemonic power.
Chaudhury argues that this displaced hegemonic power cannot be negated; it can only be ‘contested’. We cannot counterpose the surrogate synthesis with a true synthesis. We cannot assert a counter-hegemonic strategy which constructs a true synthesis simply by rejecting the surrogate synthesis. The counterposing of surrogate/true synthesis is implied by a Gramscian ‘model’ built along orthodox lines. Consistent with his argument up to this point, Chaudhury must reject the validity of this implication.
What he proposes instead is, first, an interrogation of the displaced hegemonic power to ‘determine its truth-content’, i.e., tracing the way back from the displaced (surrogate) universal ‘to its original point’, and second, moving from this lower moment of the universal to a higher one. Let us consider the implications of Chaudhury’s proposed journey.
Coping with Complexity
It must be obvious by now that this journey is impossible within the confines of the orthodox model; it can only be undertaken if one takes the structure of hegemonic power as a complex.
What does Gramsci have to say about this? We may use this opportunity to bring in the other side of Gramsci — the side which Chaudhury had deliberately left out in his construction of ‘Gramsci’s model’. Does one not get in Gramsci’s writings sufficient evidence that he too thought of hegemonic power as having a complex structure? Let us take as an example Arun Patnaik’s discussion in his paper ‘Gramsci’s Concept of Commonsense’ (appearing elsewhere in this issue). In his review of Gramsci’s criticisms of Bukharin on the one hand and Croce on the other, Patnaik brings out the following characteristics of the hegemony process:
A little reflection will show that these are exactly equivalent to a*), b*) and c*) which Chaudhury had described as characteristics of the complex structure of hegemony. Arun Patnaik’s reading of Gramsci, therefore, brings out precisely that which Ajit Chaudhury had shown to be impossible in an ‘orthodox’ construction of Gramsci’s ‘model’.
This will not be surprising to anyone familiar with Gramsci’s texts. In fact, some may wonder if an ‘orthodox’ construction of Gramsci’s ‘model’ was at all warranted. I think, however, that Chaudhury’s construction is useful in focussing our attention more closely on what precisely is involved in our abandonment of the simple structure of hegemony and what we must do to cope with a complex structure.
Chaudhury’s two-step proposal involves, first, a return to the ‘original point’ of the hegemonic process, and second, a movement from a lower to a higher moment of the universal. The first step implies a questioning of the surrogate (that is, false) form of the universal and the uncovering of its ‘truth-content’. One obvious difficulty here is that while Chaudhury rejects (quite correctly, in terms of dialectical logic) ‘true synthesis’ as a valid Marxist category, he asserts that there is an ‘original truth content’ which lies transvalued and displaced in the surrogate universal. He gives no indication as to what this might be, if not an original thesis/antithesis antinomy. The second difficulty is that the return to an original point and the subsequent moment to a higher universal would seem to imply that the displacement in hegemonic power can be completely erased; if this journey of counter-hegemony is indeed successful, the displacement might never have happened at all.
I think it can be argued that this part of Chaudhury’s proposal is wholly at variance with Gramsci’s suggestions. Gramsci takes the form of displaced hegemonic power quite seriously. He not only asks: ‘What is the truth-content which lies displaced in the surrogate universal?’ (perhaps he does not ask this question at all); he also asks: ‘What makes it necessary for the elite to construct a surrogate universal? What makes it possible for it to deploy the surrogate effectively?’ Crucially, Gramsci seeks to establish, in their relation to each other within the hegemony process, the positions of the elite and the subaltern as conscious historical subjects inhabiting autonomous cultural domains. Can this be done in Chaudhury’s structural model? I have serious doubts about this. Althusser’s method has great force in demonstrating the poverty of a Marxism which treats a social formation as an aggregate of simple structures. It is the critique of reductionism which Chaudhury applies with precision to show the impossibility of tackling within that sort of framework the ‘non-classical’ cases of hegemonic power. (Perhaps Chaudhury will even argue — and I am with him if he does so — that there are in fact no ‘classical’ cases at all; hegemony in class-divided society is always complex.) But can he take the next step as easily as he thinks? Will he not, if he has to remain true to his structuralist method, be forced to put down the possibilities of change as conditioned by ‘structural overdetermination’ and leave it at that? Can he seriously talk of ‘conscious historical subjects’ and of ‘conscious mediation’ within this framework? Was there not a logical imperative in Althusser’s method itself which forced him to talk of ‘history without a subject’?
Chaudhury has sought to get out of the problem by an appeal to Hegel. Having interrogated the surrogate universal and uncovered its truth content, Chaudhury’s counter-hegemonic strategy is to move from a lower to a higher moment of the universal. The first and most obvious difficulty here is to reconcile the Althusserian (or Freudian) notion of the structure with the forms of Hegelian logic. Chaudhury himself says that the elements of a complex structure cannot be seen as annihilating each other as in Hegel’s doctrine of being (obviously), nor as supporting each other as in the doctrine of essence (in which case the structure cannot be defined as a whole consisting of parts, which would be a real problem). To enable him to find an access to the Hegelian universal, Chaudhury must first backtrack, that is, extract the truth-content in the displaced universal. Does this mean then that we first reconstruct the complex as a simple structure, redefine it as a Hegelian whole, discover its contradictory essence, and then make the journey towards the suppression of the contradiction in a higher moment of the universal? Will not the first step in the journey mean throwing away the baby with the bathwater? One certainly cannot see Althusser approving of this procedure. Indeed, one has grave doubts about whether the marriage which Chaudhury proposes between Hegelian logic and the Althusserian method can ever be consummated.
IV. Rewriting Gramsci in the Context of Cultural Differences
This paper quoted in the earlier section records Chatterjee’s comments. We appreciate it. Chatterjee responded to Chaudhury’s ideas about Gramsci with due responsibility, that is, in black and white.
Chatterjee’s fundamental objections are the following:
We will now respond to these criticisms one by one. First let us deal with the first criticism by Chatterjee. We must admit the elegance in Chatterjee’s summing up of Chaudhury’s position as represented in the paper regarding synthetic cultural space.
As Chatterjee sums up: synthetic cultural space (in Chatterjee’s words — ‘complex structure of hegemony’) is a product of cultural differences that separate the elite’s persuasive principles and the subaltern’s collaborative principles. But Chatterjee does not agree that this instance of cultural difference is absent from Gramsci. In his view, Gramsci’s concept of hegemony too occurs in the context of such cultural differences, though the popular rendition of Gramsci dilutes this as simple hegemonic space devoid of cultural differences. In this connection, Chatterjee admits the merits of Chaudhury’s formulations.
The ‘fundamental mistake’ of Chatterjee flows from the fact that he understood difference in the sense of the everyday usage of the term — as distinct from its discursive postmodern connotations. The source of this misunderstanding was his elision of the concept of homogeneous cultural space that nuances Chaudhury’s exploration of hegemony.
For instance, thesis and antithesis are, of course, different — but they flow from, in Gramsci, a surrogate synthesis and therefore reside in a homogenous cultural space built on a surrogate essence. Such differences flowing from some sameness (real or posited) is not difference as a discursive category. Partha misses this point.
Chaudhury, on the contrary, abandoned the very thesis-antithesis-synthesis paradigm. As Chaudhury wrote in his 1987 Gramsci paper "synthetic hegemonic power is not the elite’s appropriation of the antithesis — it is not a thesis incorporating a part of its antithesis to block the synthesis" in order to form a surrogate synthesis. … "Indeed, the moment we pose dominance and subordination as complexes, it is difficult to pose them as Hegelian others — one has to reformulate the concept of an other."
The above should be self-explanatory. Still, Chaudhury did explain more — in fact, over-explain — to drive this point home. Nothing is obvious from all perspectives.
Imagine a modernist space and the space of tradition as two Hegelian others, the elite residing in a modernist space and the subaltern inhabiting the space of tradition. As Hegelian others, both modernism and tradition here are capable of being recognized on their own, that is, in terms of their respective essences.
Partha Chatterjee would say that here the elite and the subaltern occupy different cultural spaces. A surrogate synthesis would then emerge with the thesis appropriating some collaborative principles internal to the subaltern. Therefore Chaudhury’s position of the elite and the subaltern inhabiting different cultural spaces does not inaugurate a break from Gramsci. But, the central thrust of Chaudhury’s argument rests on the claim that modernism and tradition as Hegelian others are not different as understood in postmodern academic discourses. Because, as Hegelian others they flow from some imagined, may be potential or may be posited, unity that renders them as parts of a homogenous cultural space.
In Chaudhury’s construction, elite space and subaltern space are two structures (complexes) that cannot recognize themselves in terms of their essences. But, they have to know themselves in terms of, among others, their differences from each other — that is, what the other structure is not.
This was and is a break. Something new. Thus understood, the instance of cultural difference is absent in Gramsci. And this instance now leads to new questions and new answers in the context of a discourse on hegemony. Chaudhury’s question was, how can the elite (or more correctly, the elite space) have its hegemony over the subaltern in such a situation? A situation in which the elite space can neither annihilate nor appropriate the subaltern cultural space.
Recall: Partha Chatterjee’s stress is on the instance of appropriation. Look: we are going to traverse here an uncharted terrain of hegemony — beyond Gramsci, beyond Laclau and Mouffe, and of course, much much beyond Partha Chatterjee.
Now, the question is: how can the elite space, or more generally a space — say space I — can have its hegemony over another space II without appropriating or including it — even while it excludes the other. How can a space have its hegemony over what it excludes?
Chaudhury’s answer to this question, as recorded in the 1987 paper, was: "through exchanges" — of goods, meanings. In this context, Chaudhury used such Freudian categories as displacement and condensation. Lacanian terms, metonymy and metaphor would bring out the subaltern nuance of the answer at a later stage of the analysis.
Chaudhury’s argument was: categories from the elite space get displaced into a subaltern space during a course of exchange between these two. The categories of the elite space get condensed into the categories of the subaltern space. Categories that include, among others, the subaltern’s concept of negation. In Lacanian terms the statement would be: metonyms of the elite space migrate into and get condensed in an altered subaltern space in and through a process of exchange and start re-constituting its categories, even its concept of negation.
More correctly, in the beginning there is neither an elite space nor a subaltern space — there are only two spaces — space A and space B. Space A emerges as an elite space through a process of (unequal) exchange that involves transfer of A’s metonyms into B signifying a surreptitious intrusion of space A into space B. Chaudhury understands hegemony as a process of such unequal exchange out of which emerge elite and subaltern as discursive categories.
So, the categories of elite and subaltern are not Chaudhury’s points of departure, but, actually, points of arrival, through an exposition of the process of hegemony. If Chaudhury had started off with such categories, it is because Chaudhury, in that Gramsci seminar, was talking to an audience uninitiated in postmodernism. So, forget (the) elite and (the) subaltern and pretend that there are only spaces — cultural space A and cultural space B. Let us be a bit more concrete: call A-space ‘modernist space’ and B-space ‘tradition-bound space’.
But how do we recognize modernism and tradition? We recognize it by what it is and what it is not — by its reality and negation. A spectrum of constitutive principles informs a modernist space. But not simply their presence, modernism does also know itself in terms of their absences. But note: modernism as a category, in this frame of conceptualization, has no essence.
Likewise, a tradition-bound space has its own reality and negation.
It is this abstract scheme that informs Chaudhury’s rendition of elite space and subaltern space. Elite space has its own reality (persuasive principles) and negation (coercive principles). On the other hand, collaborative principles embody the reality of subaltern space and principles of resistance signify its negation.
Now what is Partha Chatterjee’s concept of (complex) hegemony in this context?
Let us consider a concrete example.
Assume that God is a constitutive element in modernist space — it does not matter whether it is a Christian God or bourgeois God (a concept of equality). On the other side a tradition-bound space has its own gods. God and gods reside, in Partha Chatterjee’s conceptualization, in two different cultural spaces. Chatterjee would identify (complex) hegemony as a situation in which the elite recognize, honor and appropriate the gods of the tradition-bound space in order to produce a composite God ruling over the subaltern gods in the tradition-bound space. Chaudhury might add in Parenthesis that this is the Hindu mode of exercising hegemony over the margins in Indian Pre-Muslim history.
But that is altogether different from Chaudhury’s point. God and gods, in Chaudhury’s opinion do not reside in two different cultural spaces, in as much as they flow from a potential unity or synthesis — here, from the idea of composite God. Nor is Chaudhury’s concept of synthetic hegemony predicated on the possibility of an appropriation of subaltern gods by the elite.
Synthetic hegemony does not seek a unity, composite or otherwise. Its allegiance is to differences. One might say that it is hegemony in a postmodern world.
Synthetic hegemony occurs through a process of exchange (of goods and meanings) that involves externalities. Metonyms of the reality of space A get condensed into the negation and reality of space B and thereby usurp space B silently, surreptitiously, unseen. Space A and B apparently remain as what they were: different. But space B is now ruled by the part objects from space A that agents of space B do not recognize: they think that they are worshipping their own good old goddesses oblivious of the obvious that their goddesses now put on denim jeans.
And as they negate too, they forget they are affirming an alien God, for the metonyms of the realities of another space now constitute even their negation.
V. Some Entirely New Conceptual Tools
But why did Chatterjee — or for that matter, the brightest stars of Chaudhury’s generation in Calcutta — miss this simple point? Because they did not take Chaudhury’s redefining of the concept of hegemony seriously. And hence, treated it as a structuralist legerdemain. Recall Chaudhury’s definition of synthetic hegemonic power:
It (synthetic hegemonic power) is the elite’s appropriation of the collaborative principles internal to the subaltern as an autonomous force, a displacement of collaborative principles. More correctly, hegemonic power is a condensation of the persuasive power and the displaced collaborative principles.
Displacement, condensation, synthetic: all these are not clever and deceitful use of jargons, but convey a new meaning of hegemony that Hegelian concepts such as thesis, antithesis and synthesis cannot capture. Elide over them and the entire message of the paper gets lost on you.
What does displacement mean? Displacement is an important Freudian category that Freud deploys to discover the structure of dream. It designates a situation in a dream sequence in which a signifier appears in an altered form. Condensation, on the other hand, represents a case where different signifiers combine into one. Synthetic hegemony as "a condensation of persuasive power and displaced collaborative principles" means that the synthetic hegemony is structured by a whole range of signifiers that are combines of persuasive power and altered (dwindled, dwarfed, distorted) collaborative principles. Condensation carries within it a sense of hybridity.
The construction of collective and composite figures is one of the chief methods by which condensation operates in dreams…A collective figure can be produced for purposes of dream-condensation, namely by uniting the actual features of two or more people into a single dream-image. It was in this way that the Dr. M of my dream was constructed. He bore the name of Dr. M, he spoke and acted like him; but his malady belonged to someone else…One single feature, his pale appearance, was doubly determined since it was common to both of them in real life. (Freud, 1976, 400)
Who, then, did visit Freud in his dream? Dr. M? Or, someone else? Or, perhaps, neither Dr. M nor someone else, but a hybrid signifier hinting at some of its fragments? Instead of using the term hybridity, Chaudhury used the concept synthetic hegemony in the 1987 paper.
Chaudhury’s concern there was to provide a preliminary — and, excuse us for our arrogance, pioneering — theoretical outline of a cultural space informed by such synthetic signifiers constituted out of the interaction between two different cultural spaces.
More: Chaudhury raised the issue of hegemonic power within the context of a synthetic space — how to prise open the instance of dominance of one set of signifiers within a cultural space over those of another. When signifiers are synthetic, the issue of dominance gets blurred and therefore needs to be theoretically posed and discerned.
We are happy to see Chatterjee using in his later works (Chatterjee, 1993), a term ‘synthetic hegemony’ that Chaudhury brought into circulation in Calcutta in that Gramsci seminar. We are happier to see that Chatterjee (1993) has come out of some of his earlier Gramscian obsessions that counterpose hegemony to passive revolution as a blocked dialectic.
Let us listen to what Chatterjee (1986, 30) said:
In situations where an emergent bourgeoisie lacks the social conditions for establishing complete hegemony over the entire nation, it resorts to a passive revolution by attempting a molecular change of the old dominant classes into partners in a new historical block.
And Chatterjee (1993) changes his position and writes:
In passive revolution, the historical shifts in the strategic relations can be seen as a series of contingent, conjunctural moments. The dialectic here is not blocked in any fundamental sense. Rather, the new forms of dominance of capital become understandable, not as the immanent supersession of earlier contradictions, but as parts of a constructed hegemony, effective because of the successful exercise of both coercive and persuasive power, but incomplete and fragmented at the same time because the hegemonic claims are fundamentally contested within the constructed whole.…The dominance of capital does not emanate from its hegemonic sway over civil society. On the contrary it seeks to construct a synthetic hegemony over the domains of both civil society and the precapitalist community. (Chatterjee,1993,212).
For us, it is flattering to see the leap in Chatterjee’s understanding of the nuances of hegemony. But we are sorry to say that his essentialist bent of mind is capable of receiving only a small fraction of the wisdom (please, again, forgive our arrogance) of the 1987 Gramsci paper. Chatterjee’s essentialism leaps out of him in spite of his use of terms such as ‘fragments’, ‘contingent’, ‘conjunctural’ etc.
Firstly, capital cannot produce synthetic hegemony — indeed no subject can produce it. Synthetic hegemony is produced.
Secondly, neither civil society nor community is distinguishable, immediately. Because, they are formed by synthetic signifiers. If there are any such things as community and civil society, they need to be re-produced theoretically, as two distinct spaces. Only then the question of hegemony can legitimately be asked, given that hegemony as a concept has been theoretically produced.
It is not a question of constructed hegemony, but of construction of hegemony as a concept. Then why does Chaudhury say — how does he claim — that what is involved is a hegemony of the elite (space) over the subaltern?
Because: elite’s persuasive principles do not alter, fundamentally, in this course of interaction. It just gets deposited in the subaltern cultural space which the subaltern consume, unconsciously.
Lacanian categories such as metaphor and metonym can bring out this point in a more focussed way. While the elite space appropriates the signifiers in the subaltern space in their metaphoric transformations, metonyms of the signifiers in the elite space get deposited in the subaltern space. These days, we designate this asymmetric exchange between the two spaces informing (elite’s) hegemony (over the subaltern) as mimicry of overdetermination.
Look: the above does not necessarily entail an appropriation or inclusion of the subaltern (signifiers) into the elite space. The elite space remains what it is. Valorization of the subaltern signifiers does not alter it remarkably. But the (metonyms of) signifiers in the elite space intrude into the subaltern space, alter it, and put their marks on it, silently, surreptitiously. In other words, the elite space colonizes the subaltern space. Thus comes into being a colonized subjectivity, excluded from the elite space, yet thinking, speaking and writing in its idioms.
In fact, it is the question of colonial hegemony that prodded and prompted Chaudhury to undertake the task of formulating the concept of synthetic hegemony. Partha Chatterjee’s book on the concept of India as a nation — how it emerges out of the nationalist discourses during colonial India — came out just a year back (Chatterjee, 1986). Chaudhury had been asked to write a review of the book for a Bengali journal Baromash by its editors. We might add that Partha Chatterjee himself was one of the editors of the journal. Chaudhury raised the issue of synthetic hegemony there, in concrete terms, within the context of such nationalist discourse deferring a theoretical formulation of the problem at a later stage. The review was published in Baromash in April, 1987.
Partha Chatterjee’s rendition, in that book, portrayed the concept of Indian nation emerging as a surrogate (constructed) universal that joins modernism, colonial heritage, and indigenous tradition. In this context, Chatterjee valorizes the strength and merits of indigenous tradition and the concept of Indian nation building on and around it.
Chaudhury argued in his review that the very concept of indigenous gets altered, dwindled and dwarfed during and within such nationalist discourse. And, what finally emerges out of it is a concept of tradition constituted by modernist discourse. The central thrust of Chaudhury’s arguments lay in the claim that colonialism (modernism) colonizes the very space of tradition by putting its mark on it. Synthetic hegemony consists in a misrecognition of these modernist twists and bends incorporated within the very body of tradition. The important question it raises is: how a distant power (colonial, Asiatic, postcolonial) exercises its cultural hegemony on the agents without appropriating them in its fold — indeed simultaneously subjecting them to a process of exclusion, even seclusion. Colonial hegemony thus raises a new question that has never been asked before in the modernist discourse and thus requires a new answer in terms of new conceptual tools. Chaudhury’s concept of synthetic hegemony is a riposte to this challenging question.
This is the kind of hegemony that we are observing in our space that rules over the wise and the pagans alike. Chaudhury made a very modest attempt to problematize this hegemonic scene more than a decade ago. As far as we know, till now none else in our shared global village has come up with such a concept of hegemony. Not even Laclau-Mouffe who have constructed a concept of hegemony in a postmodern context. Chaudhury did not have to look for and think over his concept of synthetic hegemony in North American universities. He found it in this very Job Charnock’s city — Calcutta — just bent down and picked it up. For, this is colonial hegemony. Colonizer Job Charnock left it behind.
VI. Cross-comparing with Other Positions
Let us state quickly what is new that Chaudhury’s 1987 Gramsci paper has (still) to offer to current cultural studies. We will contrast, briefly, that position with those of Laclau-Mouffe and Homi Bhabha. Earlier we have discussed Laclau-Mouffe to a fuller length. Here we just insert a few words in the particular context of Synthetic Hegemony. A similar thing with Homi Bhabha — later in this book we are going to discuss him more thoroughly.
Laclau-Mouffe’s (henceforth LM) central questions are: why hegemonic formations are necessary and how they are formed. LM built on the premise — or more correctly, the lemma — that society is impossible. The lemma derives from the postmodernist (now commonplace) assumptions — such as there are no essence, logos, or closed totalities — that inform their model.
Their founding concept is antagonism that articulates the lemma of impossibility of society. In their conceptualization, antagonism issues from plural metaphoric surpluses of subject positions in a constituency. Impossibility of subject in general — and impossibility of working class as a subject in particular — is the primary upshot of these conflictual subject positions. In LM’s frame, impossibility of subject and impossibility of society are one and the same thing.
Hegemonic formations, then, are necessary, in their scheme, for the society to function. Hegemonic formations consist in privileging a few signifiers that structure the other floating signifiers around a nodal point. A hegemonic formation thus derives from the surplus meanings of the contingent privileged signifiers.
Chaudhury’s journey began from where LM ended. While LM ask how a hegemonic formation comes into being, Chaudhury’s concern is with the mode of interaction of multiple hegemonic formations. The key question that Chaudhury asks is: how one hegemonic formation dominates over another hegemonic formation?
We suppose that an illustration will help to foreground the issue. Consider modernism. In Partha Chatterjee, it is capable of being recognized in terms of its essence. For LM, it is a hegemonic formation that comes into being in the way we have discussed. Likewise, tradition too is a hegemonic formation in their conceptualization.
LM ask: why hegemonic formations are necessary, what inform them and how one hegemonic formation can counter another hegemonic formation. But they never ask the question how plural hegemonic formations interact with one another and in this process one hegemonic formation dominates over the rest.
On the contrary, what intrigues us is the question how one cultural space as a hegemonic formation can dominate over another cultural space, a different hegemonic formation. This question gets blurred in LM, for their concern is with a single hegemonic formation. In the final analysis, their novel analytic turns out to be totalitarian — albeit contingent, with cracks and fissures — but, none the less totalitarian, with a few privileged signifiers transmitting their surplus meanings to the entire system. Hegemony in LM means hegemony of a few signifiers within a culture, and synthetic hegemony — with one culture dominating another culture.
We would say that this lacuna inflects their discourse on counter-hegemony that mandates radical democracy as the bottomline of all counter-hegemonic struggles. Before positing radical democracy as a counter to the dominant hegemonic formation, we will ask: how radical democracy interacts with, interprets and intervenes in the dominant culture? In short, we would like to examine first whether the concept of radical democracy itself gets inflected by and inflicted with the ‘evils’ of the dominant culture.
It is postcolonial cultural studies that has foregrounded the issue of cultural differences. But unfortunately, instead of streamlining the discourse on hegemony, it has served only to put it under the carpet. Instead of positing cultures as hegemonic formations, it views them only as differences: modernism is what tradition is not. Likewise tradition is understood as a negation of modernism. The unity that emerges, then, is an overdetermined unity of negations or differences that Homi Bhabha — a foremost member among the group doing cultural studies — calls third space. And this over-valorization of differences in culture pushes in the background the moments of their (hegemonic) realities and thereby the entire issue of hegemony, for hegemony is the intrusion of the hegemonic reality of one cultural space into another cultural space through its metonyms.
VII. Sameness, Difference and Diversity
Let us return home. We were talking about Partha Chatterjee. LM and Bhabha can wait. The problem with Chatterjee is that he does not quite get the contextual meaning of the pair of words ‘cultural differences’ associated with Chaudhury’s poststructuralist frame of reference. The sub-title of the paper — "A Journey in a Non-Imaginary Unreal Space" — refers to the symbolic space that Lacan talked about. And the theoretical categories that Chaudhury deployed in this paper are displacement and condensation which get translated in Lacan as metonymy and metaphor. Chaudhury’s use of the term — (cultural) difference — has to be understood, therefore, in a Lacanian — or, more generally, poststructuralist — sense that does not flow from some idea of sameness grounding a totality. Poststructuralism dispenses with all notions of totality. Difference in poststructuralism means difference without any reference to sameness.
Chatterjee’s, or, for that matter, Gramsci’s, notion of cultural difference, on the other hand, is situated within a Hegelian conceptual framework running in terms of such categories as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. If, for instance, the thesis is capitalism and the antithesis is feudalism, then the elite in capitalism and the subaltern in feudalism, of course, occupy different cultural spaces. But these cultural differences are mere moments in the journey of the Hegelian idea referring to some sameness that the concept of the Hegelian idea entails.
For instance, consider a typical Gramscian subaltern (that Chatterjee refers to) who has not read Hegel or Kant, and goes by the principle of commonsense and has deep faith in religious (Christian) values. The cultural values of this typical subaltern are, certainly, fundamentally different from those of an educated modern western man. But poststructuralists will not call it cultural difference, instead, they would designate this as cultural diversity. It is precisely because of this reason — his leanings towards Hegelianism — that Chatterjee loses from view how Chaudhury’s formulation of the problematic of hegemony distances itself from that of Gramsci. Chaudhury’s articulation of the problematic of hegemony is in the context of cultural differences, while that of Gramsci deals with a situation of cultural diversity.
What then, is cultural difference that draws a wall between the elite’s persuasive principles and the subaltern’s collaborative principles?
Chaudhury had in mind the sort of cultural difference in a colonial context. As a footnote to Chaudhury’s essay indicates, persuasive principles and collaborative principles "…are Guha’s concepts. The implications of these concepts have been discussed at length in Guha’s ‘Idioms of domination and subordination in colonial India’, a paper presented at the subaltern studies conference, Calcutta 1986."
Chaudhury’s intervention in Guha’s essay consisted in foregrounding the issue of cultural difference in the field of transmission of what Guha calls — elite’s persuasive principles and the subaltern’s collaborative principles. Chaudhury then followed through the consequences of this cultural difference in the context of a master/servant (elite/subaltern, colonizer/colonized) relation: how the elite’s persuasive principles (the concepts of equality, freedom etc) get translated into the subaltern’s collaborative principles (flowing from dharma).
Freudian categories such as displacement and condensation come out to be very important in this context. They turn out to be the principle vehicles in this process of translation.
So what was really at issue in Chaudhury’s paper was cultural difference in a colonial situation that cannot be written off or negated. But, that has to be encountered and negotiated upon, with a whole range of transnational consequences by way of a series of displacements (metonymic slidings) and condensation (metaphoric cuts).
Though Chatterjee entirely missed these subtle instances in Chaudhury’s poststructuralist formulation, he would encounter these issues later in his treatment of colonial difference (Chatterjee, 1993). But we must say that his treatment of colonial difference (cultural difference in a colonial context) leaves much to be desired, mostly because of his empiricist moorings and inadequate understanding of what cultural difference as distinct from cultural diversity entails.
The concept of colonial difference that Chatterjee talks about has always been present in Chaudhury’s essay as an absence: colonial difference is a particular type of cultural difference (that we will shortly explain) in the context of a visible master-servant relation that defies erasure. Thus understood, it is a theoretical concept. It involves four moments:
Only the fourth moment was absent from Chaudhury’s discussion, all others had been present.
Colonial difference, for us, is an overdetermined structure of master-servant (coercion-resistance) relation and a specific kind of cultural difference (persuasion-collaboration principle) marked by principles of equality in the master’s space and that of hierarchy in the servant’s space. Coercion-resistance relation, on the one hand, determines and constitutes cultural difference: the colonized culture is what is not the colonizing power’s culture. On the other, cultural difference determines and re-affirms coercion-resistance relation: the principle of hierarchy in the colonized space invites and legitimizes a hierarchical colonial structure. Colonial difference then presumes a specific kind of master’s space that embraces the principle of equality and master-servant relation simultaneously, in one complex. In other words, master’s reason of equality must contain unreason always already inherent in it. This precisely what Lacan-Žižek would call symptom that expresses itself in various forms. Colonial difference is one such form.
Colonial hegemony is constituted by, among others, ideological fantasies that cover up the symptoms. Let us understand this in terms of a deconstruction of Freud’s analysis of a dream that has been already referred to in Chaudhury’s 1987 paper that is quoted in full in Section I of this Chapter.
We would like to posit it as a dream dreamt by the General of the Army (the colonizer), and not the lady. The dream serves as a wish-fulfillment of the colonizer (the General): they (the women) want to get screwed. This serves to cover up the colonizer’s/General’s wish to screw the colonized people. The colonizer is a gentleman and a rapist, simultaneously and together — he rapes gently. This displaced version of the dream expresses this symptom covered up by a fantasy. And when the colonized receives it as his/her dream (the dream of the old lady) — cometh the Genesis — colonial hegemony is born.
The purpose of Chaudhury’s paper (1987) was precisely this: to describe the colonial space as what Lacan calls symbolic space where the objects in the imaginary (the images) go through different forms of displacements and condensations (metonymic slidings and metaphoric cuts). Chaudhury called this colonial symbolic space as synthetic space to mark it as overdetermined by the Lacanian Real — the unsaid — that is to say, marked and masked by ideological fantasies.
We can appreciate Chatterjee’s uneasiness about Chaudhury’s rendition of Gramsci. Chatterjee problematized, implicitly, the social reality around him in terms of a complex space. Chaudhury, on the contrary, posited a synthetic space. Complex space, we might recall, is that which can be captured in terms of an essence or surrogate universal (like nation, community) that binds the mutually fighting thesis and antithesis to defer their synthesis. The concept of synthetic space, on the other hand, dispenses with a thesis-antithesis conceptual framework altogether and views the entities at issue as overdetermined by one another. We might add that a simple space is one that can be grounded on an unreconstructed (Hegelian) universal such as the notion of ‘right’ or ‘efficiency’ in the context of a capitalist society.
Look: both complex space and synthetic space are the same when viewed from the perspective of a simple space — as what the latter is not. So it is quite legitimate for Chatterjee to think, from his undertheorized epistemological stance, that he (with his complex space) and Chaudhury (with his commitment to synthetic space) are rendering the same thing. But, it gives us relief to see that finally he spots something wrong with his equation and grasps that they two are not saying quite the same thing. He also spots that Chaudhury is a structuralist. But here Chatterjee notes his dissent: one cannot rearticulate Hegel to a structuralist frame.
From the vantage point of 2000 we can say that Chatterjee’s puritan discursive stance — of a strict separation between Hegel and structuralism does not carry much weight these days. Structuralism is no longer considered much of a break from Hegel. For instance, it is one of Žižek’s merits that he joins Lacanian structuralism and Hegel. So, without going into a methodological detour, we choose to focus upon the substantive part of the issue at stake: what are the steps involved in our re-mix of Hegel and Althusser and their theoretical consequences?
A structuralist space is a synchronic space that is analogous to Hegelian space announcing the End of History. It exhumes unhappy consciousness. Happy consciousness for those favoring the status quo and unhappy consciousness for those committed to socialism.
We propose here a break away from unhappy consciousness through skepticism to a kind of stoicism: a knowledge of lack of freedom in reality in order to be free in the terrain of thought. If we cannot change the order of reality, we can at least make some changes in the order of discourse.
What is at stake here is the Hegelian vector of stoic skeptic unhappy consciousness — we are going to invert it. Ours is a move from unhappy consciousness to stoicism. So how can our structuralist frame jettison Hegel?
Recall what happy consciousness means: a feeling of attainment — of the End of History. Our motivation throughout this chapter, or the book in general, has always been to interfere with, interrogate and intervene into this happy consciousness. That is why Chaudhury invoked one of Freud’s contestation of a dream consciousness, symbolizing here the bourgeoisie’s dream of an attainment.
Some are happy only with a contestation of a happy consciousness. We call them skeptic. Most of our postmodern colleagues — all of them — choose to be skeptic, with a few (Foucault, for instance) desperately groping for freedom in between the flashes within skepticism. They all are prisoners of Reason — condemned to be confined by the four walls of skepticism.
Our project is to make a break through these walls of the legacy of western postmodernism. Our proposition is that this unending skepticism enslaves us even more — reaffirms and perpetuates our chains, even in the terrain of thought. If not in reality, we would like to be free at least in the terrain of thought.
That requires, first and foremost, that one gets out of this all-embracing skepticism to finally realize that one thing is beyond contestation: that we, an overwhelming majority of people on the globe, are still a variety — variation — of servants (postcolonized servants, as we would say later in the book).
That puts our skepticism to a stop — and we at last know what we are and where we stand. The cataclysm has happened and we are among the ruins. We have got to live no matter how many skies have fallen. Life goes on heedless of what we are: whether we are masters or servants. One then becomes a stoic. Her/his endeavor is to make the best of a big bad mad world, out of its master-servant relations that are upon him.
So, what is on our agenda is nothing short of an inversion of the Hegelian stoicism→ skepticism→ unhappy consciousness sequence. The reverse move happy consciousness→ stoicism involves what is analogous to the Hegelian notion of supersession: thesis (here, skepticism) annihilating its binary opposite, antithesis, to lift it up into a higher form of existence called synthesis (here, stoicism).
Analogous, but not homologous. Because, the Hegelian method — or, for that matter, any method — taken out of its system entails a translational problem which is nothing short of a violence.
Our import of the Hegelian categories into a structuralist rendition of Gramsci is, of course, guilty of this violence. But so also are great dialectical materialism and historical materialism: Marxian dialectical and historical materialism disengage dialectics from its initial idealist roots and rearticulate them to materialist problematic. Which is a violence, as you will presently see.
Recall the Hegelian vector of stoicism→ skepticism→ unhappy consciousness. Skepticism is always already present in stoicism; stoicism, from its very inception, carries the traces of skepticism. Skepticism, then, is nothing but the actualization of the possibility of skepticism within the idea of stoicism. The two, skepticism and stoicism are not two categories differentiated by time and space. Both of them are moments of one idea. The higher moment of idea (skepticism) annuls the lower moment of idea (stoicism) to elevate it into a higher form of existence, that is, unhappy consciousness.
By contrast, historical materialism often deals with categories divided by time and space. For instance, embryonic capitalism as the thesis on the margin of a feudal society, the antithesis. Materialist dialectics deals with two material entities as thesis and antithesis and as such must be differentiated in time and space, something that a Hegelian dialectics would call a violence.
We contend that our inversion of the Hegelian vector — a reverse journey from happy consciousness to stoicism — does less violence to Hegelian dialectics than what its materialist counterpart does. For, what we are dealing with is a variation of Lacanian structuralism, as the very title of the essay suggests (note the phrase: ‘Non-Imaginary Unreal Space’). So, happy consciousness here is happy consciousness with a gap. That is why it is possible to contest this happy consciousness which carries within its idea the traces of skepticism. To call into question the concept of equality, it is enough to interrogate the concept of equality, as we shall see elsewhere.
Stoicism is a discovery of the gaps of the gaps. If happy consciousness is a (false) feeling of an attainment of freedom, skepticism is finding out holes in it — a glimpse of the power relations lurking within. One becomes stoic by way of a knowledge of the gaps: where power of the master ceases and the servant becomes himself, that is, free.
We shall see elsewhere how one discovers this space of freedom through an interrogation of the dominant morality. Our concern here is primarily to drive home why and to what extent this reverse journey that we undertake within a structuralist frame can be captured, explained and expressed in terms of the popular Hegelian categories such as thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In short, our motivation is to contest a position — Chatterjee’s position — which is becoming a prejudice for a large section of academicians (both Calcuttan and Non-Resident-Calcuttan) that categories of one system defy translation into another system.
Look: thesis-antithesis-synthesis are not, strictly speaking, Hegelian categories. Hegel talks about lower moments of the idea being superseded by their higher one and not the thesis superseding the antithesis — to form a synthesis. Thesis-antithesis-synthesis sequence is a conscious distortion of Hegel to suit Marx’s dialectics to a materialist frame. Similarly, we too can play around with these categories in order to integrate them into our poststructuralist frame of an overdetermined totality (albeit, with gaps, fissures and cracks).
What does this play involve? It is a play by the savage — his bricolage — that absorbs everything occurring on earth and in heaven to fit in with his tiny world made of a whole series of his totems and taboos. He can soft-pedal one of these categories and play up the rest to make a whole lot of poststructuralist paradigms.
But where does it leave us? Not in the realm of fantasy. But neither in the realm of defeatism. For poststructuralism does not rule out possibilities of change and actions. It just limits their scope. Stoicism of the 21st century is a search for the knowledge of this limited scope. The agent has finally known himself to be colonized on the postcolonial scene, in a melodrama of difference. What will he do now? What are the things he can do? What is his dharma?
The legitimate children of Macaulay are those taught in expensive English-medium schools (Arundhati Ray, Gayatri Spivak, Salman Rushdie). We picked up English on the road, as leftovers. But please: do not try to correct the above construction — don’t write sic.