Finally, an article about Harvard that makes some sense about the current meltdown there.
One thing I still don't get- does Harvard's "prestige" change if its scholarship declines? Because, honestly, the last five books I've read by Harvard professors have been dreadful. But, Harvard is still the gold standard, and will probably be the gold standard for time and eternity. Why?
Monday, March 28, 2005
Finally, an article about Harvard that makes some sense about the current meltdown there.
Here's a peak at that part of my essay:
Cohn’s 1962 article Political Systems in Eighteenth Century India: The Benares Region, attempts to understand the political structures that ruled that part of India on two levels, the Regional, and the Local. Cohn focuses on this region to detail the Raja of Benares’s relationship to “his superior, the Nawab of Oudh, and his subordinates, the local chiefs or Rajas.” Instead of focusing on the Nawab’s power over the Raja of Benares and his dominion over the local raja chiefs and taluka groupings, Cohn describes these relationships as being “a balancing of relative weaknesses” or what today might be called “contested” relationships.
What Cohn is suggesting is that these political relationships were not necessarily bordering on anarchy, as had been suggested, but that they were highly reciprocal, complex, and developed in a way that later colonial relationships were not. More importantly, for this paper, is the fact that Cohn focuses on how political relationships were structured, but also analyses how they were legitimized in the symbolic realm. Cohn writes, “Although these societies are segmentary in their structure, culturally there are often rituals, traditions, myths, and histories through which the political order is legitimized and maintained.” Cohn does not see authority in this context as a simple monopoly of wealth or violence, but also as a control of the symbolic realm. For instance, when he describes Chait Singh’s ascension to Raja of Benares, Cohn describes how the nawab “tied his turban on Chait Singh’s head and presented him with a sword. This showed that the Raja was his subordinate.” The ritual creates legitimacy in this context, instead of simply being a pretext for legitimacy gained through power or coercion.
It seems highly likely, to an outsider, that Cohn’s emphasis also reveals a shift in anthropology away from a structural-functionalist model of political authority to a model that reveals what Cohn calls “deep structures”. Perhaps because of its dependence on Marxist ideas, traditional anthropology of Cohn’s time had tended to deal with religious rituals as a ploy to maintain state power. Cohn essentially argues that the rituals create authority, and therefore are a source of political power.
So, Cohn’s desire to understand pro-colonial political authority in its own context was certainly a response to an all-too-common tendency within historiography to reduce these structures to an Indian variation on a Western theme. But, it was also a response to what Cohn saw as a shift within anthropology from a functional structuralist model that analyzes how political systems operated to a more symbol-oriented analysis of “deep structures”. Cohn’s article is valuable for the way that it describes both how these relationships functioned on a pragmatic level and how they were conceptualized on a cultural level. Instead of seeing the legitimizing ritual as a detached recital, Cohn suggests that the Raja of Benares’s authority functioned on both the practical and symbolic levels.
 Bernard Cohn, "Political Systems in Eighteenth Century India: The Benares Region" in An Anthropologist Among the Historians and Other Essays, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987. p. 485.
 ibid. p. 487.
 ibid. p. 489.
 ibid. p. 484.
 ibid. p. 488.
Okay, I have read the Cohn article, and linked it to the work of Clifford Geertz, Robert Darnton, and Nicholas Dirks. This is pretty much what a "Historiographical Essay" is; you show how a bunch of historians influenced each other. The scholar might point out that Bernard Cohn and Clifford Geertz are not historians; they're anthropologists. However, Geertz's book "Negara: The Theatre State In Nineteenth-Century Bali" is ethnohistory, and actually Cohn's article is too. Besides, History borrows from everybody. That's why we're always a bit behind the curve.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Sunday, March 20, 2005
An interesting story about protests in Cuba by the wives of "dissidents" who were jailed there two years ago. Because they are extremely brave, these women have been holding silent protests over the past year, which is unheard of in Cuba.
Meanwhile, a group of female Castro supporters has been breaking the protests up. What fascinated me was their reason for doing this. To quote one woman:
"We have to support the revolution," said government supporter 70-year-old Aida Diaz.
I can find few better examples of the counter-intuitive logic of totalitarian regimes. Not only do they give people an overarching idea to ascribe to; but they also provide an entire reality matrix. The strength of this matrix is actually demonstrated by how counter-intuitive its beliefs are. For a true believer, the sky is never blue. To quote Rev. Groucho Marx:
"Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
Outside of the Castro reality matrix, a "revolution" is defined as:
1) The overthrow of one government and its replacement with another.
2) A drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving.
Note that these government supporters are actually opposing both of these things, and yet they believe themselves to be "supporting" a revolution. This would be like... well, a "pro-life" advocate killing a doctor.
And so, Logic is the first casualty of "answers".
Saturday, March 19, 2005
So, a good question for a History grad student might be: "What's a good history book that I might like?"
Here's a great history book: Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins. Eksteins tries to chart the ways that the First World War changed the mentalities of Europeans, so much so in fact that many of the mentalities that we consider to be "contemporary" or "post-modern" originated, in fact, with the terrors of the trenches. The book is stunning because Eksteins weaves in so many varied sources, accounts, and events that the reader can see patterns of behavior emerge in the 1920s that are all-but-forgotten today, even though they still relate to our current world. Fascinating.
Yeah, I actually did believe that the flap over Larry Summers's rather benign comments on science and gender would be over by now. Somehow, being naive, I figured that his apologies (I think he's made three now, although he might be up to four) would help a situation in which he reasonably should not have had to apologize once. But, nope- now the faculty has given him a no-confidence vote.
Again, I have to wonder why nobody thinks that the site of an esteemed woman biologist at MIT telling the national media that she could not hear a hypothesis that she disliked without becoming physically ill and having to leave the room is, in itself, extremely degrading to young women. Anyway, the excuse that these pressure groups are making for trying to get Summers fired, or at least making him grovel a while, is that he is something of a bully. Nobody seems to get the irony of a group of academics publically attacking, humilating and bullyinganother human being, and then calling that human being a "bully".
Apparently, it's been two years since the United States entered Iraq. There are planned demonstrations in Toronto, but I'm not sure exactly what the protesters hope to get across. The US should leave? Before or after the new Iraqi government is on its feet? And isn't this something that the Iraqi people should have a say in before Canada? Isn't it weird how we seem to hear about what other people in North America think about the situation in Iraq from sunrise to sunset, but we never hear about what the people in Iraq think of this situation? Why?
Alas though, studying in the U of T library is a joy! Not only is it the largest library in Canada, and perhaps North America; it is also academic. My university has an entirely different atmosphere- more like the mall really. At U of T there are students in all of the study cubbies, reading and writing and... you know, studying. At my university, the library is sporadically filled, and most kids are surfing the net or talking on their cell phones. Granted, the disadvantage of going to a prestigious school like U of T is that the students can be ultra-competitive, shallow, snobbish, and bristling with entitlement. But, it's nice to be around students who see University as something other than a distraction from the music video that they are otherwise starring in inside their mind.
Well, I still intend to do this thing once a week. It just seems considerably easier than doing it daily as many people do. This week I had off for March Break, and I spent a lot of time in the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. This is what grad students do on a break. We get very excited about being able to "catch up".
Alas, somebody has to
Friday, March 11, 2005
Because, you know, there's nothing tactile about the Internet really. It's just an eye-brain connection. The reason it feels active is because the nervous system is wandering wherever it will and the body is inert. There is an element of gnosticism to it. The Christian term is gnosticism. The Islamic is Sufism. The Jewish is Kabbalah. The Hindu would be transcendental meditation. For the Indians, it was a vision quest. But, the problem is that most of us don't use the Internet spiritually. Actually, the problem is that we don't experience anything in a spiritual manner. I would like more time to work on that problem out here in the world.
I'm having fun in the real world lately, and so I think I am going to reduce my time on-line. The Internet is fun, but not like reading a book, or walking to the store, or playing with the cat. So, expect me to start posting lots of stuff on Fridays, and nothing throughout the week.