Analysis Of Age Of Entanglement By Kris Manjapra: The Global History

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Age of Entanglement is the second book of the Tufts-based historian Kris Manjapra. His first, a short ‘global biography’ of Manabendra Nath Roy, the Bengali Marxist thinker and revolutionary who spent time in 1920s Germany, presages many of the transnational, intellectual themes present in this book. It is set apart, however, by its originality, breadth of enquiry, thematic focus and stringent analysis. Particularly remarkable is the examination of vast tracts of primary sources and literature in Bengali and German, thus ‘de-centering, ’ global history away from ‘Anglo-Centric’ discourse. The book considers theoretical trends. From intellectual history, to post-colonial Subaltern theory (Partha Chatterjee) and European historiography on the Franco-German long duree and historie croisee.

The book’s principal argument is adumbrated in the first chapter. Indian and German intellectuals “although separated by a stark power differential”, collaborated to “destroy the nineteenth-century world order organised by British power”. This interaction reached an “apotheosis” in the sixty years from 1880 to 1945. It was driven by three causes: first, the German desire to break free from the “concert of Europe”, and the enclosure placed on it by Versailles. Secondly, the development of nationalism in India and thirdly, the space opened up by the protracted loss of British power and the “liberal enlightenment universalism” which served as its epistemological foundation. There is, notwithstanding the traditions of the author, and the broad scope of enquiry, a lop-sided distribution of actors in these engagements. Germans are taken to represent all German-speaking intellectuals, inclusive of those in Switzerland, mittleuropa or Hungary while Indians are taken to be a small group of Bengali-speaking thinkers based mainly in Calcutta. We cannot, therefore, assume the regional ramifications in India of these encounters.

The book is split into two unequal halves. The first half contains four chapters entitled Stages of Entanglement. These provide a broad narrative of intellectual history from 1880 to 1945 while the second contains seven chapters, six of which explore the varied ‘Fields of Encounter. ’ The seventh chapter examines post-1945 developments before ending with a blunt epilogue. The first half contrasts German Ideas about India and Indian ideas about Germany from 1880 to 1945, against the background of shifting geo-political and ideological trends. Manjapra argues that in the first half of the eighteenth century, without an empire of their own, German intellectuals “provided foundational support for the establishment of British colonial institutions”. He looks at the participation of botanists, geographers and foresters in the Raj and evaluates the co-operative banking system and the Humboldtian university which served as models for the British. In Chapter 3 Manjapra explores the literary attraction toward India, incorporating lesser known writers such as Karl Bleibtreu who bear the mantle of German Orientalism, as well as major figures such as Arthur Schoepenhauer and proponents of Aryan philosophy. There are fascinating, fresh insights in this chapter, however, due to the constriction of the scope to Germany and India, we cannot tell whether this German ‘Indomania’ was a unique occurrence, as proponents of the Sonderweg theory argue, or whether it was part of wider European trends.

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The other two chapters focus on ‘Indian visons of a Germanic home’ and on ‘Indian subjects beyond empire. ’ Chapter 4 looks at the role of “cultural diplomacy ” carried out by “svadesi internationalists ” who collaborated with their “enemy’s enemy ” to develop new epistemologies of anticolonialism. One example is Tagore, who made three tours to India and sought to draw admirers back to Shantineketan to teach at his University. In Chapter 2, by following Manjapra original systemic analysis of archives, we learn that from 1914-1939 the majority of Indians in Germany, especially in Berlin, were students. Their presence here was encouraged by Nehru, who “had wanted students to go increasingly to Germany”. This, Manjapra maintains, is because Germany intellectuals created “a new kind of ‘soft power’ for Indians nationalists to undermine the British world view”.

However, again the constraint of national boundaries omits the presence of other influences. Manjapra writes about the rising nationalisms of “non- white peoples” and the formulation of “Greater India”, Mahattvar Bharat by Indian and German intellectuals in the 1920s. However, we only briefly learn of the role of French academics, which Susan Bayly and other historians have outlined, and alternate sources of anti-colonial inspiration such as Japan where Subhas Chandra Bose sought refuge. The most significant part of the book is in the more specific Fields of Encounter, which describe a process of epistemic dialogue and cross-cultural communication which buttress the “entanglements” of Indian-German intellectual from the 1880s until 1945. There are six “dialogic arenas”, of art, Marxism, Physics, political Geography, psychoanalysis and Economic which he considers against the political contexts of nationalism, providing “a necessary dose of realpolitik to the transnational intellectual history”. Physics is an arena of intense “re-enchantment”. C. V Raman and Meghnand Saha used German scientific institutes to “break free from the spell of epistemic hegemony”, by creating autonomous scientific institutes in India. Germany, meanwhile, could escape the domination of Britain in Europe by “asserting itself as a geopolitical World centre”. In psychoanalysis too, the well-known collaboration between Sigmund Freud and Girendrashekar Bose is re-interpreted. Manjapra argues that psychoanalysis was not an export of “European Vienna” but rather constituted by “a worldwide group of scholars”. Moreover, while Freud could claim a global reach for his work, Bose re-appropriated the subconscious for Bengali audiences and turned it to nationalist agendas by asserting the universality of ancient India. This is an example of Foucault’s “counter-sciences, ” invisible to the prevailing empiricist discourse, allowing Bose and Freud to “enchant the inner world differently”.

It can be asked if the frames of analysis Manjapra uses are appropriate ones? The two categories of “enlightenment” and “nationalism”, are broad and divergent. Manjapra defines the enlightenment to be search for “rational universal laws that authoritatively categorized, arranged and ordered the natural and human domains”, however, it comes to represent a more general category against which the interlocuters of engagement rebel. Furthermore, nationalist is taken as an umbrella term for a politically and culturally divergent collection of actors in India. This modality may see implicit motivation where it is negatory. For example, epistemological challenges may not equate to challenges to British hegemony. Did all Indian students in Berlin studying chemistry qualify for the epithet “mercenaries of science”? Conversely, does the activism of Stombart or Kramrisch equate to that of Einstein or Freud where the challenge to British domination was not fully expressed.

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