Dorothy M. Figueira, Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity

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Dorothy M. Figueira, Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002, vii + 205 pp.

In Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority throughMyths of Identity, Dorothy Figueira examines a variety of European and Indian thinkers who, by reinterpreting "Aryan texts" in ways that accorded the texts historical value at key historical moments, constructed ideologies of the Aryan. In part 1, Figueira examines the European Romanticmythographers' construction of theVedic Golden Age, Friedrich Max Muller's return to the Vedas, and Nietzsche's turn to the Laws of Manu to construct a past for Europeans. Part 2 focuses on the role of Indian thinkers such as Raja Rammohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Justice Ranade, LokmayaTilak, and Swami Vivekanand in reinterpreting Hindu scriptures during the quest for an Indian national identity under British colonial rule, in ways that maintained the position of the Indian eliteswithin the social hierarchy and justiffed caste exclusion. In chapter 8, Figueria juxtaposes against elite reconstructions of the Aryan myth the work of low-caste social reformers such as Jotirao Phule and B. R. Ambedkar, who subverted the "nationalist script" by questioning the Vedas' canonical status, seeking to overturn the Aryan racialmyth togetherwith its triumphant justiffcation for the maintenance of hierarchical relationswithin Indian society. One of the most interesting chapters, Phule and Ambedkar's demonstrates that nineteenth-century India saw areas of reform that were "hardly touched by relationships of colonial power and significantly address the issue of Indian hegemonic abuses" (158).

In recovering the voices of Phule and Ambedkar, Figueira launches a fierce critique against postcolonial theory, which, in her estimation, remains "deaf " to such subaltern voices "because they attacked an enemy who was not the colonial power, but an opponent from whose ranks the critics themselves spring and within whose hegemonic structure of knowledge and discourse they continue to operate" (158). Figueira's advice that students "of postcolonial theory should explore such histories and representations because they resonate in our continuing arguments with contemporary racism" (159) is salutary, as is her caution about the danger of overlooking internal abuses of power, whether overt or subtle, which may be obscured by considering colonialism as "the hegemonic evil" (158). …


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