The 1970s are remembered in the Global North as a time of stagflation, malaise, and political drift. But from the point of view of much of the Global South, this same epoch was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and political ambition. Particularly for primary producers in the wake of the OPEC oil price hikes, the 1970s were a time of unparalleled hopes for a rebalancing of global power relations and institutional authority. One manifestation of the new global mood was a profound shift in the understanding of global responsibilities for achieving development in the South.
Ayça Çubukçu: Considering the impressive common ground shared by what you differentiate as liberal and antiliberal ideologies of empire, why would it be incorrect to interpret what you name an anti-liberal ideology of empire as an articulation internal to liberal imperialism? What are your criteria for distinguishing between liberal and antiliberal ideologies of empire on the one hand, and “techniques” and “ideologies” of imperial practice, on the other?
Ayça Çubukçu: In contradistinction to nationalist projects that would be fashioned during the colonial modern, in a formation you distinguish as the early modern, various “native” figures in British India—among them Rammohan—were campaigning for liberty and equality as subjects of the British Crown, with a certain kind of faith in the emancipating mission of British rule. What is the significance of such early modern imaginaries of political community, which you observe to have been “doomed”? Why do they resist attempts to subsume them in nationalist historiographies of modernity?
Ayça Çubukçu: How would you describe the field and the genre which The Black Hole of Empire fits, or else, wishes to inspire? What is the craft you practiced when writing The Black Hole? Is this a book in Anthropology and Asian Studies as the Princeton University Press catalogue claims?
Congratulations to Samera Esmeir, Humanity editorial board member, on the publication of her new book, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford University Press). Here's the publisher's description:
When Siraj, the ruler of Bengal, overran the British settlement of Calcutta in 1756, he allegedly jailed 146 European prisoners overnight in a cramped prison. Of the group, 123 died of suffocation.
If you pass through Belgium this fall, stop by "Newtopia: The State of Human Rights," an ambitious new art exhibition staged by Katerina Gregos and others. (Here's an interview with Gregos.) Along with Ariella Azoulay, Stéphane Hessel, and Elena Sorokina, I've offerd a short text for the catalogue.
Any place on its way to hell or already there has been preceded by stories like this. Small things that insist on attention and remain in memory, because that is the world people spontaneously create and sustain all the time in their daily lives when they are free to do so, alongside whatever authorities and governments and media regimes they may live under. Violence disrupts this everyday freedom, as it has disrupted even my memories from a distance.
After several days of conferencing, our group of twenty or so takes a day-trip to the ruins of ancient Palmyra, over 200 kilometers northeast. The journey takes about two hours by bus. On the far outskirts as we leave the city before entering the desert, we drive through a monumental construction site covering an area of what looks to be several square miles, extending on either side of the highway. It is a housing project, a large-scale settlement clearly intended for and anticipating hundreds if not thousands of people.
I pay the bill and we head out walking for an hour or so in the neighborhood, which is outside the old city. With no particular place to go and the barest of maps, we circle the area of our hotel, sometimes retracing our steps but all in the process of orientation. It is not late when we start, maybe eight o’clock or so, but there are few people around and most of the businesses are closed. We pass pastry shops displaying pyramids of sweets, and several others that seem devoted entirely to wedding announcement cards, examples of which are exhibited in the windows.