THE SPACE OF AUTHENTICITY IN MODERNITY
In this essay, I am centrally concerned with the production of this interior space in which the self is constituted, or interpellated, in Louis Althusser's terms. Interpellation
The inviolability of this space is secured by the symbolization of certain activities or practices—such as the rites of a nation, the vanishing festivals of a village, the self-sacrifices of women—as sacred or authentic. Within this space, social power can be cloaked in the robes of a pure and inner authenticity, the sacred space of (or in) the secular and modern. While this space exists in all societies, modern and premodern, it serves a rather special function in modern societies dominated by the discourse on evolutionary history and the conception of linear time it embodies. The anxiety produced by a conception of time that has potentially no end, goal, or moral purpose generates as much a need for faith in the future (progress), as for a secure identity symbolized by the unchanging essence. The space of inviolable authenticity is equivalent to the unchanging essence. Like the national flag, it is the sacred core of identity.
What nationalists and others refer to as the unchanging essence of a nation or civilization is a repeatedly reconstituted representation whose historicity is concealed by its pace of change, which is not synchronous with change in other spheres. In locating this sphere of authenticity within the problematic of linear history, I wish to separate it from a purely or primarily psychologistic reading of these essences and traditions. Thus, while Joseph Levenson's interpretation of the recreations and manipulations of "tradition" —as being psychologically comforting to modern Chinese intellectuals who needed to assert the particularity of Chinese history in the face of the overwhelming superiority of scientific civilization and values—may have been true for some intellectuals at some time and place, the reconstruction of tradition had other meanings and functions not reducible to salving the inferiority complex of Chinese intellectuals. All nations and societies that see themselves as subjects progressing or evolving through linear time need to constitute an "unchanging core" in order to recognize themselves in their ever-changing circumstances. Hence the role of tradition or sacred national symbols or core values in Britain or France or America. What is interesting about the Chinese and other non-Western cases is that the aporia of having to be of the past and also not of it is presented as having to be both Eastern and Western. Thus there is an imbrication between Easternness, national or cultural essence, and the space of authenticity, each functionally different, but each authorizing the other.
The homology between East versus West and essential versus evolving was characteristic of much non-Western modern thought in the first half of the twentieth century, and typically it authorized the space of authenticity in several Asian
Chatterjee's particular contribution is to show how this dualism was organized in a way that created an inner realm of national life that could not be contested by the colonial power. Nineteenth-century Bengali middle-class intellectuals had reworked certain historical texts to define the ideal "woman" and distinguish her from depictions of the "traditional" (i.e., recent historical, rather than the quintessential) Bengali woman, from depictions of contemporary lower-class women, and from the figure of the Western, materialist, and masculinized woman. Modern Indian nationalism found this trope of the enlightened but "traditional" woman to be highly congenial and appropriated it as the core of the essential nation. Tradition thus came to mark a realm of inner sovereignty that was simultaneously demarcated as domestic, spiritual, and feminine. The Hindu nationalist representation of woman—educated and educating, but personifying the spiritual virtues of domesticity—gave body to this national essence. While on the one hand, this lofty idealization of the Hindu woman provided new aspirations for some women, it also represented a new nationalist patriarchy and produced a sense of failure for women whose real lives could not match this idealization.
The creation of an inner realm of authenticity in the modern discourses of Republican China was important in authorizing a space that was off-limits, less to colonial powers than to Westernizing forces within China—most significantly the social forces spawned by the May Fourth Movement. It is hardly a coincidence that many of these redemptive modern societies emerged in the last years of the second decade of the twentieth century or in the early 1920s, and that Sun Yatsen's valorization of Chinese traditional virtues within nationalist rhetoric took place at around the same time as the May Fourth Movement. As a result, two very different representations of women emerged in China. On the one hand, there was the May Fourth representation of the radically anti-Confucian, indeed, anti-familial, nationalist woman, and on the other, the variety of more conservative constructions of woman as the representative of the soul of tradition, with which we are concerned here. These two conceptions tended to be deeply inimical to each other, and after the KMT-Communist split in 1927, thousands of "modern" women were killed because they were accused of participating in free love or simply because they had bobbed hair and unbound feet. Throughout the Republic, the image of the modern Westernized woman was associated at various different levels of society with promiscuity and impurity, an image conveyed effectively in
The conservative view of women was by no means simply a throwback or a resistance to modernity. Nationalists and social reformers of all stripes sought to bring about reform of the traditional social order in which women were seen to have been oppressed. The need for women's education, the abolition of foot binding, and the urgency of prenatal care were espoused by Kang Youwei and others who were considered conservative. Rather, what was being constructed here was a trope of woman as embodying "tradition within modernity." Women were to participate as modern citizens in the public sphere of the nation, but they were also expected to personify the essence of the nation or civilization. Wang Jingwei's lecture in a girls' school in 1924 expresses this conception aptly. Wang exhorts the girl students not to give in to the demands of the family but rather to use their education to rid society of its evil customs and build a progressive nation in China. Wang next goes on to suggest, however, that although the Chinese tradition is rife with noxious customs, the women of China have an admirable and long tradition of self-sacrifice (xisheng), whether in their natal home where they willingly sacrifice their happiness for the sake of their parents, or in marriage for the sake of their husband, or in old age for the sake of their sons. Wang is aware that many in the old society often exploited this tradition to deprive women of their freedom, but he also believes, he says, that women sacrificed their desires from a voluntary and deeply felt conviction (zhenzhende qinggan) for the good of the community: "Chinese women are rich in the spirit of self-sacrifice. If we can properly direct this spirit toward… [the collectivity] and use it, then we can, on the one hand, perhaps preserve a little of the essence [jingsui] of the teachings of several thousand years and, on the other, still plant the roots of modern liberatory thought. In seeking education for girls, I hope we can uphold our mission to inherit the past in order to enlighten posterity [chengxian qihou]." Thus Wang identifies woman as the locus of unchanging authenticity not by sanctifying the home and domesticity—as in India—but by redirecting the virtue of self-sacrifice to the nation.