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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reconceptualizing the link between religion and politics

“Today we don’t know how it will all turn out. Maybe in the future we will say that we’ve learned a lot from all this and have emerged purified from dogma. Of course, for Peter at the moment it is very painful and completely unwarranted. The bid to evict him from the ashram and the country is a sign of the depths to which the dogmatism of religious distortion has sunk at this time.”
Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) was a Bengali poet who marks the transition to Bengali Modernist poetry. Necessitated into the career most common to modern poets, he was a teacher of English in Barisal (Bangladesh) and Calcutta and was well-read in Mallarme, Rimbaud, Valery, Pound, Eliot and the like, whom he often references in his prose writings. Jibanananda relies largely on imagistic and symbolical means to express in his poems a complexity which grapples with the subjective realities of modern urban life. The range of Jibanananda’s poems far exceeds the scope I have outlined in this essay, but my purpose here was only to touch on some important repeating themes and concerns in his work. I believe that in work of this kind, new directions towards the Future Poetry announced by Sri Aurobindo were taken, directions that have added to the store of approaches that might be utilized in the climb to a higher utterance, which yet recognize the range and complexity of consciousness in its engagement with modern existence.
This article elucidates the meaning of Indian nationalism and its connection to religious universalism as a problem of ethics. It engages in that exercise of elucidation by interpreting a few of the key texts by Aurobindo Ghose on the relationship between ethics and politics in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Both secularist and subalternist histories have contributed to misunderstandings of Aurobindo’s political thought and shown an inability to comprehend its ethical moorings. The specific failures in fathoming the depths of Aurobindo’s thought are related to more general infirmities afflicting the history of political and economic ideas in colonial India. In exploring how best to achieve Indian unity, Aurobindo had shown that Indian nationalism was not condemned to pirating from the gallery of models of states crafted by the West. By reconceptualizing the link between religion and politics, this essay suggests a new way forward in Indian intellectual history.
Continuing with the history of The Future Poetry. In this passage Sri Aurobindo ’s stresses sound and foregrounds the metric/mantric element in poetry as a sign of an approaching future poetry. A future he envisages here as a progressive evolutionary movement of Spirit in the word. It was however, to be another movement, one away from the ear to the eye -imagist- that was to primarily orient the future of English poetry after this book was completed in 1920.
“The inmost seeing must bring out of itself to be poetically effective the inmost word and sound, must find out a luminous purity of its steps or a profound depth of its movement, must be said in the inmost way. Rhythm is the most potent, founding element of poetic expression, and though most modern poets depend or at least lean more heavily on force of thought and substance than on the greater musical suggestions of rhythm, — Shelley, Swinburne, Yeats are exceptions, — there must always be a change in this basis of the poet’s art when there is a substantial change of the constituting spirit and motive.”
What are going to be the consequences for the rest of the world? Traumatically for the United States, China will fairly soon replace it as hegemon, not only in traditional areas of Chinese influence in East and South-East Asia, but across former Third and First Worlds alike. The soft power of its sporting prowess, its martial arts, its costly painters, its multitudinous language, its ancient medicine, and not least the delights of its cuisine, will spread China’s radiance far and wide, as Hollywood, English and McDonald’s do America’s today. Above all, its spectacular economic success will not only inspire imitation wherever poor nations strive for betterment. It will reorder the entire international system, by holding out the prospect, not of democracy within nation-states, which the West vainly seeks to promote, but of ‘democracy between nation-states’. For we are entering a time in which the political and ideological conflicts that marked the Cold War are giving way to an ‘overarching cultural contest’, in which ‘alternative modernities’ will end the dominance of the West. In that emancipation a distinctively Chinese modernity, rooted in the Confucian values of devotion to the family and respect for the state, will lead the way.

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