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Pitching SpaceTime

9 Jul

A pitch for the combined reading of

Ranajit Guha, History at the Limit of World-History and
Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject.

In two interlocking review-essays.

was roundly rejected.

for it featured most alarming graphs.

Limits, in math, are a clever, offside approach to concrete integers. If you apply them to functions, they can illuminate indeterminate relationships and make them almost comprehensible. Ranajit Guha attempts something similar in his book. He sneaks upon the Geist-of-the-world, the angst of world-history: Spirit, Reason, God, all wrapped up into one. He studies modernity-minted “stages” in history, laying out, in parallel, the invention of prose. He demonstrates, very effectively, the irrationality at the heart of rational-minded positivist historiography. He contests the view that historiography can be tied down to specific places, people and times; suggesting that E Pluribus Unum is a doctrine better suited to zealotry than to history.

To use the supremely rational art of math to make my point.

He contests a linear approach to history, like so:

Cartesian History

In favour of a reciprocal relation; or if that be too simple, a secant-function.

Inverse History

Reverse History

Though he concedes that sometimes a mere change in co-ordinates, from prose to poetry, does the trick.

Polar History

My approach was undergirded by Guha’s insistence in History at the Limits of World History that conceptualising history as a path along which we plod, qua Hegel, is flawed: what we need is a more diverse, fragmented historiography, the better to frame our fragmented selves. Different models need to be adopted for different phenomena: a narrative on colonialism can use reverse-history where one on the postcolony might find the inverse-history formula more appropriate, while globalisation can only be described as a polar phenomenon.

My other point was the ol’ paradox of rationality: an argument stolen from Mahmood Mamdani, among oh-so-many others. Those enlightenment-bogies, the neo-liberals, wage war masquerading as a defense of “liberal values”. They have inherited a particular thought-system from their forbears, as have we, to some degree: one which equates progress with rationality and rationality with mathematico-empirical inquiry. My outrageous graphs were an attempt to formulate those premises within drastically different arguments. Maths itself, it should be noted, sees no causality between reason and increment.


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