Dialogue of cultures
Rumina Sethi

by Aziz Al-Azmeh, Wang Bin, David A. Hollinger, N. Jayaram, Mahmood Mamdani and Emmanuel Renault.

by Raja Ben Slama, Drucilla Cornell, Genevieve Fraisse, Seemanthini Niranjana, Linda Waldman and Li Xiao-Jian.

by Nader El-Bizri, Jean-Pierre Clero, Martin Jay, G. K. Karanth, Achille Mbembe and Ye Shu-Xian.

by Ali Benmakhalouf, Ganesh Devy, Yang Guo-Rong, Bertrand Ogilvie, Douglas Patterson and Deborah Posel. Vistaar, New Delhi. Pages 148; 165; 146 and 158. Rs. 195.

IN a "post-ist" world, there is a problematic correlation between postmodernism, poststructuralism and postcolonialism. Along with various counterdiscourses such as gender studies, Afro-Asian studies and Ethnic studies, Postcolonial Studies has been institutionalised in the academia in the last two decades.

It all boils down to the eurocentric viewpoint counterpoised by the Calibanic. This confrontation marks the thematic concern of these four volumes, underlying the canons of difference in the sphere of culture, politics and philosophy, thereby legitimising the Manichean delirium. The books celebrate a process of dialogue for highlighting hybridity and cultural polyvalency, as we all belong as groups and individuals simultaneously to various cultures.

Thinkers from six different regions around the world enter into a symposium on certain universal concepts that are so necessary to comprehend the contemporary human situation of diversity and cultural difference. This multiple point of view gives a three-dimensional picture of the polyphony of culture in the era of globalisation. The intertextuality of concepts such as truth, gender, identity and experience throws light on the diversity of traditions underpinned by philosophical and cultural specificities relative to time and space.

This collection has been published with the initial impetus given by the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation, which was later taken up by independent publishers in France, China and India with the intention of offering "fundamental notions from different cultural points of view, taking a hard look at a common object with a view from afar."

Translated into English, Arabic, Chinese and French, the enterprise will go a long way in examining concepts relating to questions of identity and gender that have recently mobilised public opinion and the academy, to bring to an end "ambiguities and globalisations that render them meaningless." While recognising the issues of hybridisation, of the dynamics of cultural identity, gaps of temporality as well as the various "levels of historicity and abstraction", the authors who come from different disciplines take full consideration of the polemics and problematics of gender, transgender and the queer as understood by universities, international organisations, or for that matter, the Arab world where the cause of the women and homosexuals is of prime interest.

From multiculturalism to the politics of recognition, from identity politics within the history of colonialism in Africa, or "the paradoxical deconstruction that ends up as a trans-cultural demand" in China, the complex discipline of representation and class-consciousness stands juxtaposed with scientific "experience" and "nature". The book on identity cites the interesting interaction between conflicting identities: one of marking the forehead of an elephant with a V or a U in South India. The marking of a mute elephant by caste-ridden groups prompts the idea that identity is predicated upon one’s own perception of one’s identity and the way in which others perceive it. There are seven determinants of identity in India: female dress, male dress, turban, male headgear, female tattooing, male tattooing, female ornaments and male ornaments. Indian identity has largely been determined in terms of marks and symbols and scarcely as a concept.

The books set out to explore "truth" in a world which has never rid itself of mathematical certainty, of universal forms and the cultural landscape of the local and the popular within the history of ideas. American classroom relativists as well as Aristotelian universalists jostle with each other to produce the lexicon of pluralisation and knowledge based on the "truth of facts". As the Gita says: "Of the unreal, there is no being; the real has no non-existence, but the nature of both these indeed has been realised by the sayers of truth."