Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Review: Amarjit Singh Grewal's Sach Di Siyasat

Sach Di Siyasat
(The Politics of Truth)
by Amarjit Singh Grewal
Published by Chetna Parkashan, Ludhiana, 2009
Pages: 184
Price: Rs. 220

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

(Extracts from the book review to be published in the winter number of South Asian Ensemble)

Amarjit Singh Grewal’s Sach Di Siyasat (The Politics of Truth) proceeds through a series of structured deflections. It begins with a reflection on the possibility of grasping the “truth” of Guru Arjun Dev’s martyrdom, moves on to explore the truth value of the historiographic object in terms of poststructuralist theory, the discourses of science and game theory, and goes on to unfold the world-historical specificity of Sikhism as a cultural-political project of humanization with implications for the emerging global society. Along the way, it briefly pauses to consider also the contemporary social situation in the light of what the Gurus had arguably envisaged.
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Grewal’s most significant accomplishment in this work is that on the strength of a sustained rational discourse and without resorting to any mystification he is able to situate the world-historical strategic vision of the Gurus in a cultural politics of the global scale. And he is able to spell out that vision as a concretely redemptive one for our real world.
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Grewal’s theoretical-methodological position as it emerges in the present work derives almost exclusively from Western epistemologies. I wish he had bolstered it with insights from the Indian epistemologies, particularly the Buddhist. Moreover, while he aptly deploys poststructuralist theory to wrench open several complacently accepted notions (including that of the self), he could have engaged with poststructuralism more elaborately and rigorously: that would have prevented the impression one gets here of poststructuralism as a finished and closed thing, a kind of conceptual and critical toolbox. In its present shape and elaboration, the work falls short of sufficiently demonstrating at the level of practice the validity of its key theoretical stake that truth is a function of the apparatus (a translation of the French dispositif). The reason, probably, is that not all interlocutors in the dialogue are equally equipped with the subtleties of theory. For instance, the precision that attends on the exchange on story, narrative, discourse and virtuality (49-52), or the incisiveness that characterizes the sustained critique of binarism (148) is not to be found everywhere in the work. Perhaps Grewal could have filled up the gaps by pointing them out: he could have, from his parallel position as the omniscient narrator (in addition to that of an interlocutor), added to what some of the interlocutors had not stated or had inadequately stated.
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Somewhat similar fate attends on the treatment of Derrida’s critique of logocentrism, which was actually formulated against the background of Platonic logos conceived as a mathematical conceptual form. To think of logos as something that “travels invisibly through different interpretations” (25) is to succumb to logocentrism again – in the very act of trying to describe it and trace its itinerary. I guess the peril inheres in the very move of describing the logos metaphorically.
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The historical – and symptomatic – importance of Grewal’s book in terms of the contemporary critical-theoretical scene in Punjab lies arguably in its constitutive contradiction: it is a poststructuralist anti-project (the conversational, dialogical form is one of the markers), yet it does not decisively liquidate the humanist subject. Actually, the contradiction dogs Grewal’s undertaking right from the moment of its conception. His very problematization of the text of the Guru’s martyrdom finds articulation in a humanist conceptual vocabulary as he formulates his basic questions: Who writes this text? Why? For whom? And how does it come into existence? The only properly poststructuralist question is the last, that too if we agree to read it the way Foucault might have phrased it: How does it emerge? And once Grewal has taken the humanist road, he is destined to envisage Guru Arjun Dev’s work as a “project” in the pre-structuralist, modernist parameters. The advantage of his taking the humanist road is that it paves the way for his candid encounter with the current situation in which he sees barely any signs of the pluralistic democracy that the Guru had founded. But this obviously also suggests that there might be a chance that the Guru’s great dream probably did not take into account the all-too-human reality, or that the great dream has suffered betrayal at our lesser hands. If Grewal had avoided the modernist trap and walked an extra poststructuralist mile (this time with Deleuze, over Hegel’s still active grave), he would not have been distressed at the current situation. He could then have contemplated the work of the great Gurus without the constraining limits of projective linearities and as opening up radically new fields of possibilities. And in the fields of possibilities, there are no reasons to despair.

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