Fall of the Public Sphere
Vibhuti Sharma
MUSIC, MODERNITY, AND PUBLICNESS IN INDIA by Edited by Tejaswini Niranjana Oxford University Press, 2020, 288 pp., 1495
July 2024, volume 48, No 7

I want to suggest that this public is a contentious, affective, and volatile public, even while it might include some of the forums for polite discussion and criticism belonging to elite circles.’ These opening lines by Tejaswini Niranjana in the Introduction to her edited volume Music, Modernity, and Publicness in India immediately unravel the curiosity of the reader around the word ‘publicness’ in the title. It underlines the idea of ‘publicness’ as the elusive quality of being public, the quality of people assembling together under a constantly transforming principle of togetherness as opposed to an already given idea of the public or a fixed understanding of what a ‘public’ should be. In a unique way, the essays in this book bring forth the idea of how different publics are constituted around music, claiming to make the concept of public sphere as famously theorized by the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas insufficient. The individual essays in the book although varied in their themes and approaches, share a common critical resistance towards such a normative theory of the public sphere. Rather than approaching the question of the public as a given ideal, the essays examine the historical production of a multiplicity of publics, each having its very own ‘publicness’.

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