Impossible and Necessary recovers an alternative strain of anticolonialism. Early twentieth-century anticolonial thinkers endeavored to imagine a world emancipated from colonial rule, but it was a world they knew they would likely not live to see. Written in exile, in abjection, or in the face of death, anticolonial thought could not afford to base its politics on the hope of eventual success. J. Daniel Elam shows how anticolonial thinkers theorized inconsequential practices of egalitarianism in the service of impossibility: a world without colonialism.
Bringing together the histories of comparative literature and anticolonial thought, Elam demonstrates how these early twentieth-century theories of reading force us to reconsider the commitments of humanistic critique and egalitarian politics in the still-colonial present.
To trace this political theory, Elam foregrounds anticolonial theories of reading and critique in the writing of four thinkers, Lala Har Dayal, B.R. Ambedkar, M.K. Gandhi, and Bhagat Singh. These anticolonial activists theorized reading not as a way to cultivate mastery and expertise, but as a way to disavow mastery and expertise altogether.
Introduction: Impossible Subjects
Lala Har Dayal’s Imagination
B R Ambedkar’s Sciences
M K Gandhi’s Lost Debates
Bhagat Singh’s Jail Notebook
Epilogue: Stopping and Leaving