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The Conspicuous Lack of “Post-Colonial” in Nandy’s Uncolonized Minds

The Conspicuous Lack of “Post-Colonial” in Nandy’s Uncolonized Minds

Article by Feeza Vasudeva.

Abstract: The article reviews Ashish Nandy’s work to explore the idea of post-colonialism. In his book, The Intimate Enemy, Nandy is talking about the psychology of the colonized and the colonizer from what can be a so-called “post-colonial” position. Still, he rarely mentions the term “post-colonial.” When he does, as in the title of his second essay, “The Uncolonized Mind: A Post-Colonial View of India and the West,” it is mentioned as more of a description than a concept – for example, he uses it to mean the time after the physical colonization of India by the British. Clearly, for Nandy, colonialism in at least one sense has never ended, and in fact, only began when many people would mark the beginning of post-colonialism. Following this idea, the article focuses on what Nandy means when he talks about the way people perpetuate the colonized mentality by measuring the rest of the world by Western standards, including Western history. Finally, the article ends by analyzing the Jungle Book -the work of Rudyard Kipling to demonstrate Nandy’s idea of the colonized mind. Kipling would be an excellent example of someone who had a colonial mentality, as evidenced by the fact that Nandy’s psychoanalysis seems to make sense, but also because his works embody a continuation of colonialism into globalization even today.

Keywords: colonial, post-colonial, globalization, Kipling, The Jungle Book
Header image “Imperial Federation, map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886” by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

In Intimate Enemy, Ashish Nandy is talking about the psychology of the colonized and the colonizer from what can be considered a so-called “post-colonial” position. Still, he rarely mentions the term “post-colonial.” When he does, as in the title of his second essay, it is said as more of a description than a concept – for example, he uses it to mean the time after the physical colonization of India by the British. Using it in this way carries even less significance when Nandy (1983) introduces what he means by colonialism:

For parts of the book, therefore, colonialism in India began in 1757, when the Indians lost the battle of Plassey, which ended in 1947 when the British formally withdrew from the country. For other parts of the book, colonialism began in the late 1820s when policies congruent with a colonial theory of culture were first implemented, and it ended in the 1930s when Gandhi broke the back of the argument; for still other parts of the book colonialism began in 1947, when the outer supports to the colonial culture ended, and resistance to it is continuing (Nandy 1983, xvi).

Clearly, for Nandy, colonialism in at least one sense has never ended, and in fact, only began when many people would mark the beginning of post-colonialism. We can argue that he, therefore, has a different word for what some people call post-colonialism, but this is not the case either.

What we see when we read Nandy’s book and compare it to some other discourse about post-colonialism is that he is not talking about the same thing at all. The most obvious way this is true is that he is one of the few who talks about it in social psychology terms. It is following the tradition of Fanon and Cesaire, but they do not talk about colonialism in a “post” sense either. Another significant way is that Nandy discusses the way people perpetuate the colonized mentality by measuring the rest of the world by Western standards, including Western history. His essays are intentionally outside this line of thinking so that they can attempt to step away from a colonized mentality. Finally, the most prominent sign he doesn’t buy the post-colonial idea is that he introduces his book by talking about the present.

Colonial psychology in the present day

In his opening pages, Nandy roots his discussion in the modern-day, which for him was the 80’s. However, there are theories written after his book that confirm globalization and capitalism continued as a form of colonialism. This lengthy but dense quote establish his ideas about the modern way of colonialism:

Many decades later, in the aftermath of that marvel of modern technology called the Second World War and perhaps that modern encounter of cultures called Vietnam, it has become apparent that the drive for mastery over men is not merely a by-product of a faulty political economy. It is also a world view which believes in the absolute superiority of human over nonhuman and the subhuman, the masculine over the ahistorical, and the modern or progressive over the traditional or the savage. It has become more and more apparent that genocides, eco-disasters, and ethnocides are corrupt sciences and psychopathic technologies wedded to new secular hierarchies, which have reduced major civilizations to the status of a set of empty rituals. The ancient forces of human greed and violence, one recognizes, have merely found a new legitimacy in anthropocentric doctrines of secular salvation, in the ideologies of progress, normality, and hyper-masculinity, and theories of cumulative growth of science and technology (Pg. ix-x).

In the previous lines, he had described the classic style of colonialism, but here he powerfully makes the point that colonialism never ended, and in fact, the Second World War was part of the chain. In case a reader was to mistake that as being about the Nazis alone, and feeling safe that colonialism died with their defeat, Nandy brings it to (his) present with Vietnam. In contrast with the Western view of a history that progresses, colonialism is established here as a persistent world view with bipolar, assigned, dialectic pairs of relationships (as in Hegel’s master-slave dialectic). He brings in Enlightenment ideals of science, technology, and secularism to further allude to the Western worldview, and it is not hard to see how “post-colonialism” is inseparable from this worldview.

If there was any reason to doubt that this is what Nandy was saying, he clears that by further emphasizing all of these points by saying:

As this century with its bloodstained record draws to a close, the nineteenth-century dream of one world has re-emerged, this time as a nightmare. It haunts us with the prospect of a fully homogenized, technologically controlled, absolutely hierarchized world, defined by polarities like the modern and the primitive, the secular and the non-secular, the scientific and the unscientific, the expert and the layman, the normal and the abnormal, the developed and the underdeveloped, the vanguard and the led, the liberated and the savable (Pg. x).

These dichotomies describe a globalized world. Still, that’s not really “progressed” out of the colonial worldview (in fact, it has degenerated into a nightmare), so it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to describe this as neo-colonial. It is merely another period of colonialism, as Nandy mentioned above. So, Nandy uses the classic model of colonies to talk about the mental colony of the present because “This idea of a brave new world was first tried out in the colonies.” (Pg. x). In fact, instead of calling it “colonialism” and “post-colonialism,” he differentiates between two types of colonization. The first is the traditional meaning we think of when we hear the word colonization, and the second he explains like this:

It is now time to turn to the second form of colonization, the one which at least six generations of the Third World have learned to view as a prerequisite for their liberation. This colonialism colonizes minds in addition to bodies, and it releases forces within the colonized societies to alter cultural priorities once and for all. In the process, it helps generalize the concept of the modern West from a geographical and temporal entity to a psychological category. The West is now everywhere, within the West and outside, in structures and minds (Pg. xi).

This colonialism is institutional, structural, and epistemic. Even more worrying is the idea that our cultural priorities have changed, implying the situation may never change. Now Nandy begins to talk about psychology, and he links it again to the ideas of the West, which has become a psychological category. In other words, the West colonized the mind. This conjures up thoughts of McDonald’s and blue jeans, but it also has to do with forms of knowledge, ideas of history, and ideas of colonialism itself. He also confirms that this is why his book applies to the modern world:

That is why these essays are also forays into contemporary politics; after all, we are concerned with a colonialism which survives the demise of empires. At one time, the second colonization legitimized the first. Now, it is independent of its roots. Even those who battle the first colonialism often guiltily embrace the second (Pg. xi).

Again, this shows why “neo-colonialism” is not a fitting word for this form of colonialism because it is not something new, because it was around when physical colonies dominated the world. The same justifications for colonialism from that period have now become the second form of colonialism for the “post-colonial” world. As an example of this, Nandy talks about acculturation in the discourse of colonialism itself, saying:

Today, when ‘Westernization’ has become a pejorative word, there have reappeared on the stage subtler and more sophisticated means of acculturation. They produce not merely models of conformity but also models of ‘official’ dissent. It is possible today to be anti-colonial in a way that is specified and promoted by the modern world view as ‘proper,’ ‘sane’ and ‘rational’. Even when in opposition, that dissent remains predictable and controlled (Pg. xii).

Again, he alludes to a kind of Western episteme or worldview that colonizes minds. He is also saying that colonialism does not end when the colonizers leave. More importantly, the entire motivation for his book is laid out here: “Perhaps that which begins in the minds of men must also end in the minds of men.” Given all of this, it makes sense that in his essay “The Uncolonized Mind: A Post-Colonial View of India and the West,” he psychoanalyzes Kipling, Aurobindo, and Gandhi. He wants to give examples of colonized minds and have it applied to the “post-colonial,” and it seems to be in serving this point that he chose three men who lived the vast majority of their lives during the colonial period. By doing so, he is pointing out the irony of the term post-colonial because colonialism never came to an abrupt and clear end as the term implies.

Kipling’s modern influence

Rudyard Kipling was a great choice to demonstrate the colonized mind. Not only is he an excellent example of someone who had a colonial mentality, as evidenced by the fact that Nandy’s psychoanalysis seems to make sense, but his works embody a continuation of colonialism into globalization even today.

Jungle Book

Jungle Book” by Eva Rinaldi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

The Jungle Book is a famous book, an animated series in India, a Disney cartoon movie classic in America, and, as of 2016, a blockbuster Hollywood remake. This already says a lot about the world. Kipling is the man who wrote “The White Man’s Burden,” and his work has become a famous and persistent cultural artifact. If we are genuinely in a post-colonial world, then why is colonial rhetoric being eagerly bought and sold across the globe? If we quickly look at the book, some of the messages are obvious. For example, when Mowgli comes across the monkey city, there are descriptions of chaos and lawlessness. It is not a far leap to imagine that he is talking here about pre-colonial Indians. Mowgli is quite obviously Kipling as a boy, being raised by animals – dehumanized Indians.

Nandy talks about this period of Kipling’s life in his essay (but not about The Jungle Book specifically). Kipling was raised by Indian servants but was later sent to England for his education. He had a hard time fitting in since his skin was dark, and he did not enjoy the sport in a culture that emphasized the masculinity of the game. To adapt, he identified with the oppressor and assumed a power complex that led him to look down on his Indian past.

The 1967 animated Disney film also shows the dehumanized savage monkeys, but with an American twist. The orangutan, King Louie, sings the song “I Wanna Be Like You” in the swing style of a significant band era black musician. The lyrics reveal the same colonial message as Kipling’s original, despite the passage of time:

I wanna be like you
I wanna walk like you
Talk like you, too
You’ll see it’s true
An ape like me
Can learn to be human too

And how does an “ape” learn to be human? Louie wants the secret of “man’s red fire.” Technological progress – science and reason are what will civilize this savage. This is similar to the white man’s burden:

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Here again, the colonized are dehumanized (in this case Filipinos, whom Kipling was encouraging America to colonize). Instead of animals, they are half-devil children, but the effect is similar. And again, it is a civilized man who is giving something to them (rather than taking everything from them) just as Mowgli is expected to provide fire to King Louie. The end of the Disney film solidifies the Western telling of history because Mowgli sees a girl getting water from the river and follows her back to her village. In a distinctly Western way, Mowgli quits living amongst animals and becomes civilized by a female.

The 2016 remake of The Jungle Book embodies an almost too-perfect continuation of colonialism in a globalized world. It is more flashy, with expensive, computer-generated animals. It was designed to be a Hollywood hit across the globe. It fits the same mold as Transformers by capitalizing on shared cultural nostalgia. Unfortunately, this shared nostalgia is almost invisibly part of the colonized mind which Kipling represented. The film has a particularly American cultural feel to it, but Indians also share nostalgia because of the popular children’s cartoon. This seems to be what Nandy was talking about. Long after the British left India, the justification for colonialism is being rehashed over and over again.

Nandy’s discussion of Aurobindo is interesting here as well because his split did not cause him to reject his European side. Nandy explains that this is one possible way of resisting colonialism: To be Western when it is convenient, and Indian at other times. This is a possible answer to the problem that if the colonized fight back by defining themselves as anti-Western, all their actions are still defined by the West. As Nandy says, “India is not non-West; it is India” (Pg. 73).

So, maybe it is okay for Indians to enjoy The Jungle Book. Still, it does not solve the problem that the colonizer’s mind needs to reject identification with the colonized to identify with the oppressor. This mindset is violent, and there does not seem to be an end in sight, considering the prevalence of Kipling’s message. In Nandy’s words, “Kipling correctly sensed that the glorification of the victor’s violence was the basis of the doctrine of social evolution and ultimately colonialism, that one could not give up the violence without giving up the concept of colonialism as an instrument of progress” (Pg. 69). Except in the modern world, this idea almost seems to be flipped. Progress appears to justify victor’s violence, and this keeps the doctrine of colonialism alive.

Conclusion

Nandy didn’t actively argue against the term “post-colonial.” He used it cautiously. By using it in the title to his second essay, it shows an ironic contrast when he proceeds to talk about figures who were born and raised in colonial times. Combined with the introduction to his book, it seems safe to say he was pointing out that post-colonial means a second, psychological form of colonialism.

The fact that he uses prose and psychoanalysis to make his point is, according to him, a way to step out of the safely sanctioned resistance to colonialism. In other words, modern colonialism is a complicated, uneven, and culturally and historically dependent phenomenon. Another reason for Nandy’s writing style was to shift away from the Western worldview because either resisting colonialism by being anti-Western or by trying to become Western has the same result: all actions are still measured against Western standards of progress.

REFERENCES

Nandy, A. (1983). The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of the Self. Oxford University Press: Delhi, xvi.

 

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