Prathama Banerjee's book Elementary Aspects of the Political: Histories from the Global South (Duke UP, 2020) studies the rise of modern politics in India, between the mid-19th and the mid-20th centuries, at the cusp of colonial modern, classical Indian, Indo-Persian and regional vernacular ideas. It unpacks the political, following modern common sense, into four elementary aspects – Self, Action, Idea and People – and shows how each element is structured around a conceptual instability, rendering its very elementary status questionable. The political subject is split by the tension between renunciation and realpolitik; action driven by the dialectic between labor and karma, each with its distinctive means-end configuration; the idea torn by its troubled relationships with the economic and the spiritual; and the people forever oscillating between being pure structure, as in the political party, and being pure fiction. Through this account, the book argues that the modern political works by virtue not of any irreducible principle or autonomous logic, a priori identifiable as political, but an unceasing process of differentiation of the political from the non-political – variously imagined at various times as science, religion, society, economics and aesthetics – as also through a simultaneous grounding and delimitation of the political by the specter of the extra-political. The book invites us to go beyond postcolonial and decolonial criticism and engage in the positive and creative task of producing new political theory, inspired by histories and practices from the non-European world.
Prathama Banerjee is a historian at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. She works at the cusp of history, philosophy and literary theory. Her books include The Politics of Time: 'Primitives' and History-writing in a Colonial Society (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Elementary Aspects of the Political: Histories from the Global South (Duke University Press, 2020). Currently she is engaged in a study of the career of political concepts in India – across the ancient, medieval and modern periods. She asks if it is possible to think across time from within the discipline of history. Banerjee is also involved in a collaborative project on the emergent futures of democracy in the digital cum viral age.
Saronik Bosu (@SaronikB on Twitter) is a doctoral candidate in English at New York University. He is writing his dissertation on South Asian economic writing. He is coordinator of the Medical Humanities Working Group at NYU, and of the Postcolonial Anthropocene Research Network. He also co-hosts the podcast High Theory.