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Book review: Pankaj Mishra’s thought-provoking critique of modernity tries to do too much

Age of Anger

by Pankaj Mishra

Allen Lane

3/5 stars

Three years after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the neoconservative American political scientist Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man. This book declared that liberal democracy was triumphing all over the world and would become the final form of human government, bringing history to an end.

Its success would be driven by the inevitable victory of market capitalism, then sweeping across the former socialist economies of Russia and eastern Europe. Contrary to what some of Fukuyama’s critics maintained, the model for a post-historical world was not the United States but the European Union, largely because it represented the triumph of law on a transnational basis, subjecting individual states to a higher principle of reason. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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What to read in 2017

By Palash Krishna Mehrotra

Is any year a good year for books? Despite doomsday predictions, the book is alive and kicking. Here’s a list of titles to look out for in 2017, from all God’s publishers, big and small.

The God of Small Things came out in my last year of college in 1997. Two decades later, as I sit perched on the cusp of middle-age, Arundhati Roy returns with her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Has she changed; have we changed? We shall find out soon.

Among other novels from Penguin Random House India, there’s Nadeem Aslam’s The Golden Legend, set in contemporary Pakistan; Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West,a love story set against the backdrop of the international refugee crisis; and Perumal Murugan’s Seasons of the Palm, the story of a young untouchable farmhand. In his novel, Friend of My Youth, a meditation on the passage of time, Amit Chaudhuri treads the fine line between fiction and non-fiction and emerges with a sensitive commemoration of Bombay and an unusual friendship. Read more

Source: DailyO


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Pankaj Mishra: Is the idea of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ a sign of social privilege?

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

The insistence on creating art for art’s sake may appear to be aimed at rich connoisseurs. But it originally expressed the frustration of artists with nouveau-riche consumers. In the early 19th century, artists had been, if not unacknowledged legislators, then high priests of a sacralized art — the replacement for transcendental ideals in a secularized society. Schiller produced a grand theology of the new aesthetic religion, claiming that art was essential to the growth of moral and rational faculties in human beings. Poet-prophets such as Lord Byron, Adam Mickiewicz, Victor Hugo and Sandor Petofi ambitiously imagined new political communities. Contrary to Auden’s belief, poetry made much happen, briefly at least. Continue reading


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Pankaj Mishra on Arundhati Roy: Hindu nationalists ​have many ways to silence writers

Author Roy is facing criminal trial for contempt of court in India. Of course, Narendra Modi’s government has left no clear fingerprints on this scene of a crime against art and thought: The Guardian

arundhati_royThe governments of Egypt and Turkey are brazenly leading a multi-pronged assault on writers, artists and intellectuals. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month denounced his critics among Turkish academics as treasonous fifth columnists of foreign powers; many of them have been subsequently dismissed and suspended. Both Turkey and Egypt have imprisoned journalists, provoking international protests. But the suppression of intellectual and creative freedoms is assuming much cannier forms in India, a country with formal and apparently free democratic institutions.

Controlled by upper-caste Hindu nationalists, Indian universities have been purging “anti-nationals” from both syllabuses and campuses for some months now. In a shocking turn of events last month, Rohith Vemula, a PhD student in Hyderabad, killed himself. Accused of “anti-national” political opinions, the impoverished research scholar, who belonged to one of India’s traditionally and cruelly disadvantaged castes, was suspended, and, after his fellowship was cancelled, expelled from student housing. Letters from Modi’s government in Delhi to university authorities revealed that the latter were under relentless pressure to move against “extremist and anti-national politics” on campus. Vemula’s heartbreaking suicide note attests to the near-total isolation and despair of a gifted writer and thinker.

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Modi should learn from the Chinese their deliberate rejection of self-promotion: Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra spoke to Basharat Peer about his exploration of China, the Indian encounter with China and East Asia, along with other issues: The Hindu

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

What we are seeing is a convergence between the East Asian and the Indian narratives, and the breakdown of the cold war binary of democracy and authoritarianism. India used to be the democratic exception and most other countries were authoritarian or dictatorships. Mr. Modi with his corporate chums is the greatest Indian exponent of capitalism with East Asian characteristics. I think one has to think of Mr. Modi along with Suharto, Lee Kwan Yew, and the CCP provincial bosses who then make it big in Beijing. These are all control freaks supported by the corporate and technocratic classes who prefer top-down solutions and rapid decision-making, and have contempt for anything that doesn’t directly advance their interests. So the rise of the middle class in Asia has assisted the growth of authoritarian populism rather than democracy.

Fortunately, India is too diverse a place for any Modi to flourish. A truly authoritarian leader like Suharto won’t be able to flourish for long in India. Sixty five years of deeply flawed democratic processes have nevertheless created an India where someone like Mr. Modi can enjoy only limited successes.

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Pankaj Mishra on Narendra Modi and the new face of India

With the rise of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi culminating in this week’s election, Pankaj Mishra asks if the world’s largest democracy is entering its most sinister period since independence: The Guardian

Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), shows his ink-marked finger to his supporters after casting his vote at a polling station during the seventh phase of India's general election in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

Narendra Modi shows his inked finger after casting his vote in Ahmedabad. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters
In A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth writes with affection of a placid India’s first general election in 1951, and the egalitarian spirit it momentarily bestowed on an electorate deeply riven by class and caste: “the great washed and unwashed public, sceptical and gullible”, but all “endowed with universal adult suffrage”. India’s 16th general election this month, held against a background of economic jolts and titanic corruption scandals, and tainted by the nastiest campaign yet, announces a new turbulent phase for the country – arguably, the most sinister since its independence from British rule in 1947. Back then, it would have been inconceivable that a figure such as Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat accused, along with his closest aides, of complicity in crimes ranging froman anti-Muslim pogrom in his state in 2002 to extrajudicial killings, and barred from entering the US, may occupy India’s highest political office.

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Asia needs ‘a new historical perspective’: Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Indian author Pankaj Mishra is the 2014 winner of the “Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding.” In a DW interview, Mishra talks about his book and the impact of colonialism on current Asian-European ties.

DW: What inspired you to write this book?

Pankaj Mishra: The inspiration was partly the realization that countries in our part of the world, like India, are deeply connected to histories of other countries, other societies and yet we don’t know enough about that aspect. Continue reading


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Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra selected for Windham Cambell Literature prize

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Award-winning Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra has been selected for the prestigious Windham Cambell Literature prize in the non-fiction category, Yale University announced today.

“Pursuing high standards of literary style, Pankaj Mishra gives us new narratives about the evolution of modern Asia,” the university said.

This year’s recipients illustrate the global scale of the prizes, with the eight winning writers hailing from seven countries. (PTI)


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Where’s The Rage? Kamila Shamsie in conversation with Pankaj Mishra

Kamila Shamsie and Pankaj Mishra discuss the absence of political anger in Western literature and why we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn writers like Mo Yan: Guernica

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Kamila Shamsie: The decision to give the Nobel Prize for Literature to Mo Yan was heavily criticized by many writers, not because of his work’s literary merit, but on the grounds that he had refused to sign a petition calling for the freedom of Liu Xiaobo, a fellow laureate. The criticism grew even stronger when Mo Yan defended censorship, comparing it to airport security. You’ve always been politically outspoken, and have expressed your frustration with writers who remain quiet over political issues. You might have been expected to join the chorus of disapproval. Instead you turned around and criticized those who were criticizing Mo Yan. Is there a contradiction here in your own position? Continue reading