Aamir R. Mufti. Enlightenment in the Colony. The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007. ISBN: 978069105731. Price: US$20.95/£12.50[Notice]

  • Eitan Bar-Yosef

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  • Eitan Bar-Yosef
    Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

The premise behind Aamir R. Mufti’s book, Enlightenment in the Colony, is basic and yet almost breathtakingly bold. The crisis of modern secularism in colonial and postcolonial societies, Mufti argues, is rooted in the problematic of “minority” which first emerged in Europe, in post-Enlightenment liberal culture, and particularly in the debates about the Jews’ status in modern society. It is impossible, therefore, to understand the crisis of Muslim identity in postcolonial South Asia without exploring its relationship to the history of the “Jewish Question” in modern Europe. By juxtaposing such classics as Gotthold Lessing’s Nathan the Wise (1779) and Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India (1946), Mufti offers a brave, new way of linking pivotal cultural and political issues that have rarely been addressed in the same book, not to mention the same paragraph. This is quite a leap, but the payoff seems to be enormous. On the one hand, Mufti sets out to illustrate the fate of the bourgeois Enlightenment in colonial and postcolonial settings. The construction of European Jewry as a minority and the difficulties concerning emancipation/assimilation as possible solutions to this “problem” offer, Mufti claims, an early, exemplary, instance of the crisis of the ethnic/religious minority that has accompanied the development of liberal-secular states–among them India, where the question of what it means to be Indian “has remained a cultural formation brought to crisis by the question of Muslim identity” (7). On the other hand, Mufti follows the work of scholars such as Bryan Cheyette, Jonathan Boyarin, and Daniel Boyarin in “attempting to dismantle the anti-comparatist impulse” (6) that has characterized Jewish Studies for decades. Projected backwards—and “westwards”—to eighteenth-century metropolitan European culture, the postcolonial vocabulary allows Mufti to rethink “those forms of constitutive failure of the idea of Europe that come to us coded as the ‘Jewish Question’” (4). Mufti, then, goes much beyond the familiar postcolonial critique of Zionism (associated with the work of his mentor, Edward Said): rather, he sets out to offer a “postcolonial” analysis of the scenarios of Jewish minoritization and exile in the domestic European metropolitan context. These complementary trajectories are reflected in the book’s somewhat rigid structure. Following a wonderfully intricate prologue, in which he maps the theoretical genealogy of his argument (ranging from Lukács and Adorno to Said and Chatterjee), the study is then divided into two parts: the first, “Emergence: Europe and Its Others,” explores the rise and dissemination of the question of minority existence by charting the dialectic of the Jew as minority in post-Enlightenment European culture. Analyzing texts by Lessing, Mendelssohn, Fichte, Scott, and Heine, Chapter 1 records the universalism of late-Enlightenment formulations of emancipation and citizen subjectivity in the context of an emergent “nation-thinking,” tracing the tension between different liberal attempts to “settle” the unsettling figure of the Jew. Moving chronologically, Chapter 2 reads Daniel Deronda—“the canonical […] and pan-European text of the Jewish Question for the late nineteenth century” (31-2)—before turning to Kipling and Forster to ponder how “the figures and forms of minority are reinscribed, in Britain’s late imperial culture, into an exploration of the nature and meaning of its Indian colony” (32). The second section, “Displacements: On the Verge of India,” includes three chapters that offer different ideological, literary, and generic models of understanding the construction of Muslim as minority in the decades leading to partition. Chapter 3 approaches the work of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad—who composed his autobiographical Ghubar-e Khatir just as Nehru was writing TheDiscovery of India—by focusing on the historical and cultural processes by which the difference between “Hindus” and “Muslims” came to be defined as …

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