Kris Manjapra’s Age of Entanglement is a worthy and comprehensive study of the transnational engagements between Germans and Indians, from the nineteenth century to the Second World War, when both nations were trying, in their own ways, to free themselves from British hegemonic control. Of course, Manjapra is quick to point out, and rightly so, that though there might have been a common axis for the Germans and Indians to come together, i.e., their opposition to British domination, this exchange can hardly be thought to be between equals. Therefore Manjapra hopes that his exploration in this book will ‘inject a necessary dose of realpolitik into the study of transnational intellectual history, through a focus on alliance building, political rivalries and multilateralism’ (p. 6). Consequently, Manjapra examines the political and intellectual coalitions beyond Europe —with Indians in this case—which helped critique the nineteenth century engineered universalism, that of the Enlightenment of Europe and the Empire.
Sidestepping the well-rehearsed arguments of colonial encounters and cross-cultural studies, Manjapra chooses to call his method of studying this exchange between Germans and Indians as a study in ‘Entanglements’, which, as he states, ‘occur when groups, alien from each other in many other ways, begin to need each other like crowbars or shovels to break apart or to dig up problems of the most pressing concern for themselves’ (p. 6). For Manjapra, ‘Entanglement’ is not only a tool to circumvent staid colonial/postcolonial arguments but also a means to inspect threads of history, as they interlace and separate, as a mode of study that foregrounds the ‘multifocal interest in the politics, poetics, and practices of transnational relations’ (p. 6).
As Manjapra argues, the rise of German nationalism in Europe endeavoured to challenge the idea of Europe from within, whereas the rise of anti-colonial nationalism in India attempted to challenge the idea of the unshakeable empire, and these taken together posed a formidable challenge to the well-established nineteenth century world order, that of British dominance. Manjapra studies the travel of ideas, intellectuals, and texts—between Germany and India—as both events and metaphors, though he does add that German travel to India is not to be seen as similar to Indian travel to Germany. And so he adds, ‘similarities are not at issue here; entanglements are’ (p. 2). Therefore, as part of the same project, he takes up the study of events such as the visit of Crown Prince Wilhelm to India, as also the study of metaphors such as the rise of German imperial science as a sign of its rising power.
As Manjapra acknowledges, through this research he hopes to be able to offer the following insights into ‘entanglements’: a) ‘transnational scholarly and scientific encounters played an important role in sustaining a pageant of political recognition between German and Indian nationalists in the early twentieth century’; b) ‘a particular alignment of international politics in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries facilitated new kinds of scholarly and scientific encounters across national and colonial boundaries’; and c) ‘the transnational circulations and feedback loops of German and Indian intellectual life were kept in their array by the galvanic force of a third party: the lodestone of the British Empire’ (pp. 2-3). This then is the sum and substance of Manjapra’s thesis in the Age of Entanglement.
Manjapra begins his study by tracing how in the 1880s, the Anglo-centric world order, which was at its peak from the 1830s to 1870s, started to disintegrate under the weight of the great depression and rising nationalisms as also anti-colonial forces both within and outside Europe, which in turn led to the questioning of the Enlightenment ideal, as also the idea of a unified Europe, if not that of the concept of the Empire. Therefore, the first section of Manjapra’s book focuses on the political and social stages that led to ‘the age of entanglement between the Europeans and Asians from 1880s onwards’ (p. 11). He examines ‘the British imperial modes of scholarly in sourcing, the rise of German imperial competition, the popularization of Orientalism in Germany, and the origins of anti-colonial internationalism in India’ (p. 11) as important stages which prepare the way for a rich engagement between the Germans and Indians.
In ‘German Servants of the British Raj’ Manjapra examines the role of German service intellectuals who became interpreters of the East for the British Raj. He inspects the role of leading thinkers such as Schlegel and Creuzer among others and concludes that German intellectual and scientific institutions were responsible for the foundation of British colonial institutions in India. ‘Indian Subjects beyond the British Empire’ traces the trajectory of the Swadeshi movement, as reflected in the writings of Aurobindo, as also the role of figures such as Asutosh Mukherjee, among several others. ‘German Visions of an Asianate Europe’ examines the role of Schopenhauer, Weber, Keyserling; whereas ‘Indian Visions of a Germanic Home’ surveys Indians who went to Germany in the aftermath of the First World War, as also visits of other Indians to Germany, chief among them being Rabindranath Tagore and his three visits.
The second part of Manjapra’s book, titled ‘Fields of Encounters’, goes into the specifics of the entanglements between Germans and Indians, ranging across disciplines of natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. It attempts to study the events, structures, texts and contexts of this transnational exchange between two unlikely allies. Manjapra begins his study with Tagore’s brand of anti-colonialism, rooted as it is, in an internationalist vision, whereby the British capital city Calcutta turned into an intellectual hub of anti-British politics, which insourced among others, German thinkers and intellectuals. Therefore in the second section, Manjapra studies ‘entanglements’ which cut across disciplines: Meghnad Saha and Satyendranath Bose encounter Albert Einstein and Walther Nernst; Girindrasekhar Bose engages with Freud; Karl Haushofer and Bernhard Harms collaborate with Benoy Kumar Sarkar; Josef Furtwängler meets M.N. Roy and Subhas Chandra Bose; Tagore travels to Germany to recruit faculty for Visvabharati; Himanshu Rai hires Franz Osten to help establish Bombay Talkies, and several such interactions. Man-japra also examines post-enlightenment encounters between German and Indian thinkers, in the fields of theoretical physics, international economics, Marxist criticism, geo-cultural studies, psychoanalysis, and art; as also the rather uneasy interactions between Nazism and Aryanism, which resulted in rabid nationalisms and racism.
In ‘The Physical Cosmos’, Manjapra examines post-enlightenment science, especially in the field of Theoretical Physics through the figures of Meghnad Saha, Satyendranath Bose, C.V. Raman and others who held a sustained dialogue with their German counterparts, including Einstein. In ‘International Economies’, he inspects the entanglements between Benoy Kumar Sarkar and Bernhard Harms, as also other figures such as Radhakamal Mukherjee, Werner Sombart etc.; whereas in ‘Marxist Totality’, he examines the contributions of Rosa Luxemburg and August Thaleimer to the evolution of an Indian Marxism of the kind theorized by M.N. Roy and others. ‘Geocultural Wholes’ talks about the cultural entanglements between German and Indian nationalists and folk historians, and the chapter titled ‘The Psychoanalytic Universe’ studies the dialogue between Freud and Girindrasekhar Bose. In ‘Worlds of Artistic Expression’, Manjapra studies the contributions of Stella Kramrisch, the artistic exchange of Bauhaus in Calcutta and the Bengal school in Berlin, as also the establishment of Bombay Talkies. Finally, Manjapra concludes with ‘A New Order’, where post 1945, because of the reconstitution of Europe and formation of other axes such as the ‘Third World’, the age of entanglement between the Germans and Indians gives way to a potentially new intellectual and political cosmos.
The Indo-German exchanges, through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are seen by Manjapra as collaborative attempts to not just unmask Anglo-centric hegemonies but also as an attempt to forge diagonal geopolitical and intellectual alliances between improbable partners. Manjapra’s account in the Age of Entanglement has to be lauded for carefully avoiding a Manichaean view of history and instead offering an epistemology of entanglement which studies it in its multiplicity: from orientalism to Aryanism, to socialism, to scientism, to interculturalism, etc. Manjapra’s exhaustive research is reflected in the 100 pages of notes that follow the eleven chapters which is suitably critical of a South Asian subaltern historiography as also of the ever tiring arguments of Foucault and Said inspired postcolonialisms, and is able to offer a refreshing account of the political and intellectual exchange between Germans and Indians, quite outside, though not unrelated to, the stratagem of the British Empire. That is what makes Kris Manjapra’s book invigoratingly different from other such accounts and worth reading by all. I also liked the carefully selected image of Tagore leaving the Berlin residence of the German President, which features on the cover of the book.
Simi Malhotra is a Professor in the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia,New Delhi.