Monday, March 15, 2010

Keynote addresses by Professors Harish Trivedi and Mukesh Williams at the MELUS-India / MELOW International Conference, Feb 25, 26, 2010

Professors Harish Trivedi and Mukesh Williams delivered keynote addresses entitled First "India, America and World Literature"(MELOW)and “The American Gulliver and World Systems—Cooperation and Consensus” (MELUS) at the MELUS-India / MELOW International Conference on “Contemporary Issues: Literature and Culture Since 1980” held at Punjab University, Chandigarh, India from 25th to 27th February 2010

The MELOW keynote address was delivered by Prof. Harish Trivedi, Post-Colonial scholar and visiting Professor to many national and international universities. Focusing on ‘India, America and World Literature’, he spoke of the very meaning of the word “ethnic”, which comes into play “when you are not where you should be, when you are not where you belong”. But he also said that this was a definition that cannot be applied to literature, the buzzword in fact, being ‘World Literature’ and the need to be “ethically sensitive rather then ethnically sensitive”. “Today world is the circumference and the US is not the centre”, Prof. Trivedi said.
The MELUS keynote address was delivered by Prof Mukesh Williams.
MELUS/MELOW Conference Chandigarh, February 26, 2010
Culture of Capitalism and Consumerism
The American Gulliver and World Systems—Cooperation and Consensus

We find ourselves at a historical moment that is both bewildering and critical. We want to make sense of what happens around us through information, analysis and knowledge but are invariably left confused. Every nation presents its own picture of the world. Within a nation there are multiple voices. Only the most powerful voices are heard around the world. And the voices in America are the most powerful. They can be heard around the world and they shape a large part of our reality. America has become the most “indispensable nation” in the world as Margaret Albright once put it. What does American mean for India. A lot of our business, technology and education are intrinsically connected to America. At the same time we also suffer from cross-border terrorism for which we partly blame America. We find it hard to dismiss terrorism in India as just regionalism, separatism or civil unrest. We are a beneficiary and a victim of US policies in the past. We still have to maintain a delicate balance between the US and the Soviet bloc as we have done decades ago.
As we confront the present crisis in world history it becomes obligatory for all disciplines including American Studies to seek “new avenues of inquiry” by “asking new questions.” We must ask questions about the relationship between knowledge and power, the conjunction between culture and conflict and the intricate workings of political empires and their self-interests. Edward Said once did this for us. Today America itself is asking these questions (Lipset 1997 31).

President Obama’s Nobel speech highlighted the role that America has played in the last 64 years as both “superpower” and “moral force” to bring peace to the world. He elaborated on some of the “most elemental questions” relating to “war and justice” that America needs to answer. It is better to negotiate a hard-nosed peace with the enemy, he said, than to fight an Armageddon. He rejected Martin Luther King’s concept of nonviolence in Niebuhrian terms. But he accepted King’s idea of Christian love as the major principle of American foreign policy. He underscored the fact that war cannot be eradicated by signing treaties. (Widmer 2009 9) Unlike Bush, Obama affirmed that America should always adhere to the rule of international bodies and at all times wage a just war. Today’s I will reflect upon some of the issues connected to cooperation and consensus that Obama raised. I will also see how these issues affect foreign policy, culture and our disciplines.

In public discourses the US has been called the American Gulliver, American Oceania and Uber America because of its national strength, economic power and military involvement in different parts of the world. It has surpassed the might of the Roman Empire as an imperial republic (Aron 2009). Its might is felt both by Americans and by people around the world. No country can ignore America or fail to have some kind of relationship with it. American global power has far reaching consequences not only in the realm of foreign policy but also in all areas of human endeavor. America affects and defines political values, civil liberties, social sciences, economics and literary endeavors around the world. Sometimes this impact is positive and at others negative.

John Ikenberry explains why America acquired the power to direct the world order. He proposes that ‘rare historical junctures’ occur in international relations after major wars are fought, wars such as the Thirty Years War (1648), The French Revolution (1713), Napoleonic Wars (1815), The First World War (1919) and The Second World War (1945). Nations that emerge victorious after such upheavals, find themselves at a historical juncture where the old world order does not work. They acquire unprecedented power to reconstruct world politics. After World War II America acquired the legitimacy to design rules governing world order. These rules were based on stability and cooperation. It created global bodies like the League of Nations, NATO and Bretton Woods institutions (such as the IMF, World Bank, IBRD and GATT). During the Cold War era it used the power of these bodies to acquire legitimacy to direct the politics and economies of the world. Usually it tailored such rules to suit its own needs (Ikenberry 2001). It also strengthened its resolve to market American exceptionalism more aggressively. There was a belief that American history was not only different from other nations but also superior to them.

America can reform the world order by using the consensus model that could highlight both cooperation and mutual benefit through the production of public goods, creation of intellectual capital or the revitalization of the economy. What we call in Hindi anukulta aur sahyog or paraspar labh. It could convince other nations within international bodies to endorse its agenda by overcoming objections and promising benefits. There are examples in global diplomacy when a proposal lacked justification but was still accepted as it represented the interests of other nations. Harry Truman’s extension of American rights over the continental shelf near territorial waters (1845) and the recent Proliferation Security Initiative to destroy weapons of mass destruction on sea, land or air are examples. The aim of American diplomacy should not be to supplant the existing order but to carry it forward with minor changes.

America may no longer be a universally acceptable role model but it still occupies a preeminent position as it did when it initiated the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan to contain the march of communism. It once more stands at a critical juncture to use its egalitarian principles and enlightened leadership to shape the postmodern world order. It can be both communitarian and particularistic in its approach. It can develop a world economy without ignoring its own, it can create global markets where its own markets find an important place, it can initiate information sharing to counter threats, and it can engage other nations in dialogue and opinion making. We in India have always had our own ambivalent reactions to our association with America. Our nuclear deal with the US may be of some advantage to us, but the one with the Soviets is even better as it places no conditions. But the US deal is hyped in India. America has shown to the world through the Obama moment that it can override its internal prejudices and surprise the world.  


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