Panel Discussion on Bernard Bate’s Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern (5pm, Zoom)
Susan Gal (moderator/interlocutor; University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology), and the editors of the book, Francis Cody (University of Toronto, Anthropology), E. Annamalai (U of Chicago, South Asia Languages and Civilizations, emeritus), and Constantine V. Nakassis (U of C, Anthropology)
About the book: What are the lineages of mass democracy in South Asia? What changed from the nineteenth into the twentieth century such that people previously excluded from, or indifferent to, formal political action suddenly appeared in great numbers in the political realm? And how did political oratory, did speech itself, become central to this form of politics? Bernard Bate’s Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern offers a genealogy of this political transformation, of Tamil political oratory, and of the emergence of vernacular political modernity in the Tamil-speaking lands of India and Sri Lanka. It documents how sermonic and homiletic genres introduced by Protestant missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fused with culturally and historically deeper forms and aesthetics of language, providing the communicative infrastructure that eventually enabled a new kind of agent, the vernacular politician, to address and mobilize a modern Tamil people within a distinctive social imaginary. Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern mobilizes materials from a variety of sources, ranging from interviews, catechisms, Saivite polemics, Tamil poetry and biographies, archival documents, and hitherto unexamined colonial police reports to trace a genealogy of this transformation. Starting from the early missionary attempts to address non-believers in the bazaars and culminating in the florescence of nationalist politics, throughout, the analytic focus on the politics and ethics of textuality: cultural and historical concepts of what semiotic, communicative activity is and should be, can and should do.This analytic focus forms the basis of the book’s major argument that rhetoric and oratory—as embodied in real, dialogic, sensuous textual practice—has infrastructural effects on the unfolding of history and the structuring of social order. By demonstrating the emergence of political modernity through a genealogy of Tamil political oratory, this book shows how the vernacularizing process was both aesthetically singular to the Tamil world—for all its newness, vernacular oratory tied language to older and deeper cultural aesthetics, poetics, and lifeways—and exemplary of the global emergence of new geographies and histories of political belonging of modern peoples, nations, and publics. Please click here for the open access version of the book.
Bernard (“Barney”) Bate (1960–2016) was Associate Professor and Head of Studies in the Anthropology Department at Yale-NUS College. He taught at Yale University for ten years before helping to shape the core social science and humanities curriculum at his new institution in Singapore. A linguistic anthropologist by training, Barney devoted his scholarly life to the study of Tamil political oratory. His first book, Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in South India (Columbia 2009) was based on ethnographic research he conducted in Madurai, Tamil Nadu for his dissertation at the University of Chicago (PhD 2000). It consists of a study of the refined register of Tamil used in political oratory by leaders of the Dravidian movement in the second half of the twentieth century. Arguing that using this ancient sounding language in speech was in fact a relatively recent development, the book examined political rallies to understand how virtuosic speakers interpellated common people as democratic subjects through literary Tamil’s poetic qualities. A mentor to generations of linguistic anthropologists and students of Tamil, Barney’s teaching and writing were both centrally concerned with what he called the “poesy” of language: that palpable quality of speech that lends it world-making capacities. His second major research project brought him to the archives in both Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Jaffna, Sri Lanka in an effort to understand the origins of political speech in Tamil. In a series of articles in published the Indian Economic and Social History Review and Comparative Studies in Society and History, along with a book chapter in the volume Ethical Life in South Asia, Barney explored how protestant missionary efforts introduced a new kind of public address that fused with the aesthetics of Tamil poetics to form modern political oratory in the early twentieth century.
About the editors:
Annamalai (Visiting Professor Emeritus in the Department of South Asian Languages & Civilizations) is a linguist trained in India (MA, M.Litt, Tamil Literature –Annamalai University) and the United States (PhD, Linguistics –The University of Chicago) specializing in Tamil grammar and semantics. He served for over twenty years as Professor and Director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, India, where he studied indigenous languages, their documentation, and their use in education; the use of language in society, especially in education; and the study of language diversity and its consequences. He has always been interested in social issues and cultural creativity and he found the study of language a good prism for understanding both. Until last academic year, he taught Tamil language and literature at the University of Chicago for eleven years and before that for five years at Yale University alongside Bernard Bate.
Francis Cody is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on language, media, and politics in southern India. He first brought these interests to bear on a study of citizenship, literacy, and social movement politics in rural Tamil Nadu. This work was published as The Light of Knowledge(Cornell 2013), co-winner of the 2014 Edward Sapir Book Prize awarded by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology. Cody’s more recent research theorizes populism and transformations of political publicity through Tamil and English news media. This work explores questions of law, technology, and violence in claims to representing popular sovereignty, the topic of a book manuscript tentatively titled The News Event. Taken as a whole, his work contributes to the transdisciplinary project of elaborating critical social theories of mass mediation and politics in the postcolonial world.
Malarvizhi Jayanth is a historian of colonial South Asia. She is due to begin post doctoral research as the Research Fellow in Slavery and its Impacts at King’s College, Cambridge, AY2021–2022. She holds a Ph.D. in South Asian Languages & Civilizations from the University of Chicago.
Constantine V. Nakassis is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Affiliated Faculty in the Departments of Comparative Human Development and Cinema & Media Studies, and Chair of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist, his research spans the social aspects of the Tamil language, youth culture and mass media in South India, film theory and semiotics. He is the author of the 2016 monograph, Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India (University of Chicago Press) and is currently working on new book manuscript on the cinema of Tamil Nadu, entitled Onscreen/Offscreen (University of Toronto Press).He is the organizer of the Chicago Tamil Forum, an annual workshop devoted to Tamil language and culture, for which Bernard Bate provided its name, and of which he is a regular and founding member, alongside E. Annamalai and Francis Cody.
About the moderator: Susan Gal is Mae & Sidney G. Metzl Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, Linguistics, and of Social Sciences in the College at the University of Chicago. Her work has focused on the political economy of language, including linguistic nationalism, language and gender, and especially the rhetorical and symbolic aspects of political transformation in contemporary eastern Europe and post socialism generally, as well on the construction of gender and discourses of reproduction. She is a pioneer in the field of linguistic anthropology, writing numerous seminal texts on language ideology, politics, and discourse, most recently, with Judith Irvine, Signs of Difference: Language and Ideology in Social Life (2019, Cambridge University Press).
The co-sponsors are Committee on Southern Asian Studies, The University of Chicago and the Center for the Study of Communication and Society, The University of Chicago.