False Idols of the Enlightenment: Q&A with Pankaj Mishra

Ratik Asokan in The Baffler:

DownloadRatik Asokan: Age of Anger feels like a continuation of a project that began with your first book, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, and which you’ve approached from various angles—memoir, fiction, reportage, now intellectual history—since then. Perhaps its subject can be described as “latecomers to modernity”?

Pankaj Mishra: As a writer, you can’t afford to become too self-conscious. You can’t become too aware of your origins or background. Because that impairs your capacity to think spontaneously. There are certain crucial experiences we have early on that set our trajectory. It’s for other people to identify them . . .

You’re right in that this particular quest started twenty years ago, with Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, which is an account of the provinces in India. Now looking back—I haven’t looked at the book for a long time—I think, and this is something I’ve been thinking of writing about, that something missing from much political, and literary-intellectual discourse, at least in the last three decades or so, is the experience of the provincial. Of the outsider from the provinces.

I have been insisting all along that that experience is very crucial, that it’s going to shape our futures, especially our cultural future. And what we are seeing today, is a political assertion of people who did not really have a voice in our political and literary discourses. That’s one reason why we find ourselves so politically and intellectually helpless before contemporary phenomena. We simply have no inkling what people in these places who felt ressentiment—felt excluded, marginalized, disdained, scorned—that they might at some point strike back by electing figures like Modi and Trump.

More here.

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