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Legacies


The field of humanities is the legacy of Europe in cultures that faced colonialism. 


This legacy pervades the institutional and intellectual formations of the humanities 


even to this day. Millions of students study humanities in thousands of higher 


education institutions today. But the student composition is markedly 


heterogeneous as the students come from divergent bio-cultural formations (called 


jatis). In the context of such a historical legacy any attempt to reorient teaching 


and research in the humanities in India is required to confront two related 


questions: (i) How does the field of humanities configure cultural forms and 


formations in India? and (ii) How do these forms and formations relate to 


communication technologies—oral to digital—in their millennial existence? 


Intellectual and institutional futures of the humanities in India will depend on how 


one addresses these questions.  In other words, the future of the humanities is 


contingent upon the exploration of the cultural forms (in image, music, text and 


performative formats) of these divergent and countless communities. These 


unstructured forms with millennial genealogies compel one to confront the 


challenge of the “lively archives”. To affirm one’s relation to one’s past and forge 


new paths of inquiry that will reconnect temporal generations is the central task of 


teaching and research in humanities. 


 


Accents of Memory


Mnemocultures signify cultural formations that articulate their memories 


essentially by the most primordial communicational technologies of speech and 


gesture. In India cultural memories are composed, expressed, mediated, 


transformed and disseminated through the medium of the body. The body 


circulates as the quintessential medium and destination of articulated 


inheritances. Such embodied and enacted cultural forms have had no use for 


archives and museums—which emerged as surrogate bodies of memories 


everywhere. Mnemotechnologies such as writing, print, audio-visual analogue 


techniques and even digital technologies are destined towards surrogate 


retentional systems like scriptoria, archive, museum, database or datalake. 


The historical ascendency of mnemotechnologies marginalizes and enframes the 


embodied and enacted articulation of mnemocultures. Even after the invasion of 


mnemotechnologies( from scribal to digital) mnemocultures sustained their 


embodied articulation of memories. This cultivated indifference toward 


disembodied or surrogate retentional systems of memory distinguishes and 


differentiates mnemocultures in general and Indian jati cultural formations in 


particular from the cultures (of the West) that are haunted by archival passions.


 


Critical Humanities


The multiple repositories of Indian cultural memories can be retained and 


enhanced only when the cultural inheritors of these heritages learn to affirm their 


inheritances. For this to happen the primary steps of unlearning the two centuries’ 


old internalized jati stigmatization and learning to reflect on the deeply 


sedimented but unexamined guilt must be undertaken. Today such urgent steps 


can be initiated only in the academic-research institutional context. For, nowhere 


in Indian history can one find such a powerful and singular, institutional structure 


that promises to “contain” the jatis and janjatis in unifying categories (but 


disavowing and denegating) – than the modern educational system (the university).


If the field of humanities is fundamentally concerned with human creativity and 


reflection, and the question of what is proper to man, the future of critical 


humanities in India is deeply contingent upon what we do with these jan-


jati cultural inheritances that we are composed by. The question of cultural 


memories concern not just humanities studies only but is inescapably related to 


the entire orientation of education in the country as such. The questions who are 


we educating and what are we educating them for cannot be dissociated for long 


from the question of cultural inheritances and their difference. Colonial education 


was aimed at permanently altering the relationship between jati and culture, what 


we think and how we live, cognitive and experiential realms. The definitive 


consequence of this epistemic violence can be seen in the severe disorientation in 


our humanities studies in particular and our educational telos in general.  The task 


of the critical humanities to explore the ways in which to suture the torn fabric of 


the relation between jati (genos) and culture in the context of ascendant 


technologies.


School of Literary Studies

The English and Foreign Languages University

Hyderabad 500 007 INDIA


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