1. PRETEXTURES OF TIME

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ABSTRACT

Textures of Time is a rich and challenging book that raises a host of important and hard questions about historical narrative, form, and style; the sociology of texts; and the core problem of ascertaining historical truth. Two that pertain to the book's main claims are of special interest to nonspecialist readers: Is register or style—“texture”—necessarily and everywhere diagnostic of “history”? Does a new kind of “historical consciousness” emerge in south India beginning in the sixteenth century, indeed as a sign of an Indian early modernity?Textures is not the first book to argue that historical discourse is constitutively marked by a peculiar style, but the claim is beset by difficulties that scholars since Barthes have detailed. Rather than textures of time—accounts of what really happened in history—what these works offer us may be only pretextures of time, textualized forms of a human experience that make claims about its degrees and types of truth through representations of various states of temporality. Instead of assessing, then, whether these works are history or something else like “myth,” we might ask whether they invite us to transcend this very dichotomy, to try, that is, to make sense of historical forms of consciousness rather than to identify forms of historical consciousness. As for modernity, nothing in south Indian historiography from 1500–1800 remotely compares to the conceptual revolution of Europe. But why should we expect the newness of the early modern world to have been experienced the same way everywhere? Modernity across Asia may have shown simultaneity without symmetry. Should this asymmetry turn out to reveal continuity and not rupture, however, no need to lament the fact. There is no shame in premodernity.

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