A Pragmatic Response

History and Theory 46 (3):409-427 (2007)
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Abstract

In the years since its twin publication in 2001 and 2003, Textures of Time has attracted a great deal more attention outside the United States than in the American academy. This, we suggest, is because its ideas and approach are rather at odds with the dominant trends in the area of “postcolonial studies.” In this response to three critical essays that engage with the book—by Rama Mantena, Sheldon Pollock, and Christopher Chekuri—we begin by setting out our principal hypotheses as well as the evidentiary structure of the book, which draws mostly on vernacular materials from South India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The former includes the claim that South India between roughly 1600 and 1800 possessed considerable and diverse historiographical traditions, though these histories came couched in a variety of genres, rendering them difficult for the uninitiated to recognize at first; the latter requires us to develop the significance of the concepts of “texture” as well as of “subgeneric markers” that help distinguish texts with a historical intention from those that are nonhistorical but have the same generic location. Our response then goes on to discuss why theoretical or sastric texts in India do not themselves explicitly theorize the distinctions we make. Here, we posit a contrast between “embedded” and “explicated” concepts in the “emic” sphere, suggesting that “texture” belongs to the first category. We explicitly distinguish our views from the poststructuralist language adopted by Pollock in his critique of Textures, and the more predictable postcolonial vision of Chekuri. We once more emphasize the need to take the vernacular historiography seriously, and to refine our reading practices, rather than overly depending on normative materials in Sanskrit, or on a prefabricated theoretical schema that derives from a stylized view of the nature of the transformations produced by colonial rule.

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