In Theory: Aijaz Ahmad

29 May

One cannot reject English now, on the basis of its initially colonial insertion, any more than one can boycott the railways for that same reason. (77).

In social processes at large, this privileging of a particular language is indicated by its uses in state administration, in those more powerful sections of the media which are considered ‘national’, in higher institutions of education and research, in its differential availability to the propertied and the working classes respectively, in the greater access it provides to the job market and hence the great prestige that attaches to the person who commands it with fluency, and so on. Once these processes are fully in place, with the bourgeoisie and the professional segments of the petty bourgeoisie fully incorporated in them, two things about ‘literature’, at the very least, become self-evident for all those who are thus incorporated. First, it seems inevitable that if an archive of a ‘national’ literature is to be assembled, it can be done only in this language. Second, as regards individual texts, only those that become available in this language can be said to have a representative character, so far as the ‘national’ literature is concerned; all else is ‘regional’, and a ‘regional’ novel, let us say, can become part of the ‘national’ archive only in so far as it is represented, either in full translation or through some extended summary and/or commentary, in the language designated already, through official proclamation or not, as the one appropriate for the construction of the ‘national’ archive. (77-78).

While the logic of capital is now irreversible in Asia and Africa, the great majority of these countries simply cannot make a fully fledged capitalist transition, now or at any point in the foreseeable future. European transition occurred when there were no external, imperialist, far more powerful capitalist countries to dominate and subjugate the European ones; when the world’s resources – from minerals to agricultural raw materials to the unpaid labour of countless millions – could form the basis for Europe’s accumulation; when vast reservoirs of European populations could simply be exported to other continents; when the European working classes could be pressed into service for commodity exports to the markets of the world, establishing a global hegemony of European capital. Where can India send the approximately five hundred million people for whom Indian capitalism simply cannot provide, and whose minerals is the Indian bourgeoisie to extract to fuel our economy and guarantee our balance of payments for the next two hundred years? It has only its own forests to ravage, it own mountains to denude, its own rivers to dam up and pollute, its own countryside to consign to generalized filth, its own cities to choke with carbonized air – in a subordinated partnership with imperialist capital. lacking the historically specific global conditions which proved to be the nursery for European capital, most of the Asian zones simply cannot ever hope to develop stable capitalist societies, and the devastating combination of the most modern technology and backward capitalist development is likely to inflict upon these societies, on lands and peoples alike, kinds and degrees of destruction unimaginable even during the colonial period. Given the existing differentials of accumulation, gaps between the various layers of world capitalism – as regards not only nation-states but also populations and classes and regions within nation-states, from the most advanced to the poorest – are likely to increase. (Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London and NY: Verso, 1992), 315-316



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