positions politics

One might find it strange or even difficult to write about Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan; on the one hand, in the common atmosphere of philosophy that prevails in universities and intellectual circles these days, little is said about the two.


issue 4: philosophy for another time; towards a collective political imagination

February 2021


1. The Meteorite of Our Time

“To recover the trace of the nothing, of the incompleteness, the imperfection of the crime, we have, then, to take something away from the reality of the world.”

Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime

One might find it strange or even difficult to write about Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan; on the one hand, in the common atmosphere of philosophy that prevails in universities and intellectual circles these days, little is said about the two. This, of course, stems from a tradition that essentially seeks to suppress any different or altered voices and turn them into a part of the production and supply mechanism that is engulfing everything and everyone around the world. The works that are born from the heart of such a culture tend towards a form of totalitarian domination and provide a platform for the apparatuses that result from it. Here domination does not mean the power of repression to turn society into a merely disciplined and obedient whole, but a power which finds its continuity in the preservation and expansion of the life of the subject. A power whose purpose is the precise management and control of life, and whose existence is formed in this way.

A philosophy based on the culture of domination guarantees such a mechanism because it is defined by codifications that constitute the assimilative structure of society and establish the identity of the subject at its own accord. Thought that originates from this culture is in constant adaptation to the current situation. There is no dark spot in such texts. Everything is smooth and straightforward; each element has a definite role, so it can be easily integrated into the everyday order. Using the ideas of Herbert Marcuse, one might say that such an estate makes everything it comes in contact with a source of progress and exploitation. The book publishing market is full of such works, embedded behind a political and ideological mechanism; works that, while seemingly talking about liberating politics, have long been exploited by the mechanisms of the symbolic system.  These books address the reader by the constant assimilation of information. The result of this homogenization is the accumulation of limiting and equalizing coordinates.

This mechanism, of course, makes it difficult, even impossible to write about these two subcontinental philosophers. Combining established and emerging new voices from philosophy, literature, anthropology, history and so on is not an easy task. But at the same time, this newness itself makes it somewhat simple to talk about the radical philosophy that has led to a book like Gandhi and Philosophy: True courage comes from the despair, from understanding the fact that, as Paul Virilio puts it, reality and our images of reality no longer connect with one another.  I well remember the day I first encountered Shaj and Divya. Late April 2020; another day in the office . . . as always, browsing through all the news items that I had to translate by subject. The translation of news (especially political ones) is rooted in the concept of narrative, that is, the explanation and re-expression of events in a calm and safe atmosphere, an atmosphere that is formed after the occurrence of a specific event or catastrophe. Although this narrative is somewhat boring and depressing, it also has an aspect of certainty at heart, because the subject is far enough away from reality and therefore can provide an arbitrary generality to everything. In other words, some sort of exorcism takes place and the ghosts of the past can no longer have anything to do with you. It is as if the line between the subject, the future, and the past has been completely severed, leaving only a small crack in the present, time that has been emptied of all its essence. This boredom, this state of absorption, however, led me to an unexpected event: searching through the web, I came across an article called “Our Mysterious Being”, by Jean-Luc Nancy and Shaj Mohan. I was of course familiar with Jean-Luc but the name “Shaj Mohan” was unheard of for me! My search for information about this  second person began, and it was from here that the meteorite left its nest and set off. From this point onward, I came across texts that reminded me of many things not mentioned for the longest  time: materialism, the Absolute, the Obscure. Also mind-challenging concepts such as “the ana-stasis” and “hypophysics” kept running through my mind for days as I was struggling with ideas that, as Nancy once said, “comes to our attention and contributes to orient us, if I may say so, toward a thought, and even a world, neither humanist nor reduced to suffering in the name of Truth.”1 I felt I had to get in touch with these two strange writers who had stepped into my intellectual world like a couple of destructive meteorites. This happened and I was able to arrange two interviews with Divya and Shaj, focusing on politics, resistance, and imagination. For me, these conversations reaffirmed the importance that the thought of these two philosophers plays in the present age, a landscape that seeks a new beginning in the current zombie world we live in. This new beginning “is the obscure beginning which would gather the occidental and the oriental in order to make of them a chrysalis and set off the imagos born with their own spans and skies; these skies and the imagos set against them will refuse to trade in orientations; and these skies will be invisible to the departed souls of Hegel who sought mercury in the darkest nights.”2

  1. The Collective Faculty of Imagination

“The challenge today for a philosophical investigation into the future of politics is to find concepts which have a certain degree of reality, concepts which can explain the diverse phenomena without collapsing them into lazy analogies.”

Shaj Mohan

Maurice Blanchot once explained that the main question is not “What is literature?” Rather, it is: is literature possible? Today, this parallax is a very important one. After the catastrophes we have witnessed in the 21st century, from the financial crisis to the failure of political and social movements, as well as the current health predicament, we must take a risk and put aside the question “What is philosophy?” and instead ask a more important and fundamental one: “Is philosophy still possible amid all these failures and crises?” It is exactly through this questioning that concepts such as Violence, Truth, and Will can be redefined and examined in a new light. Here, thinking comes into play as the principle of doubt, a kind of negation equivalent to the successful realization of the subject’s teleological activity. As Divya and Shaj put it brilliantly, “Just as the rules governing the appearance of truth through its telling is regulated by the relation which a man obtains between himself and the Maker, a competent passive resister too has the authority to determine for a novice passive resister the hour, the quantity, the stage, and the metre of truth telling.”3

The importance of this form of investigative analysis becomes clear when we take into account the fact that it seems that today we are witnessing the decline of the state as an institution of “absolute politics.” From this perspective, we see the establishment of a network of apparatuses that represent the interests of the ruling class. Here, it is not the government but a process that leads to problems that can only be solved through shared social action. However, there is a danger that this practice, according to the testimony of history, will re-establish the same superstructures and anatomies in the form of new laws. As Divya Dwivedi puts it brilliantly, “what comes over the crisis is always another system that picks up the components left over by the crisis and sets them in new relations with each other, and with new components.”4 What remains of this process is what Schelling called “der nie aufhebbare Rest,” a remainder which cannot ever be re-integrated as the subordinate moment of a higher level of life. In the current situation, amid a pandemic and the suppression of the capital market, has not the proletariat taken the place of such a remainder? Divya once said that the “proletariat are all those who are denied the collective faculty of imagination”. This should not be interpreted as another form of the kitsch and repetitive slogan of the May 68 (“Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible”), but on the contrary a plea for an inclusive and direct politics: “imagination is not fantasizing about an uprising against a regime or a sudden beneficent collapse of a repressive order. Imagination is the making of a precise bauplan for the future which can materialize from the here and now.5

Passing through their lines and ideas, one can see that Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi leave us in the face of an obsessive and vague puzzle in which we feel a strange closeness to our situation, unable to understand and solve it. Their focus is on exposing repressive structures that hide the lustful cry for domination behind the dream of the Enlightenment and the end of the century. This, of course, leads us to rethink the institutions and structures that are involved in reproducing fixed implication and meaning: “Today we are still unaware that all the institutions—the parliament, university, the courts, the police—on the basis of which we formulated all our political concepts and theories do not have their principle of reason.”6

Finally, there is another point that needs to be made when examining the philosophy of thinkers of the subcontinent or the Middle East. As far as the discussion of colonization in the subcontinent and other regions with similar histories is concerned, there is a strange alliance that emphasizes a kind of return to the pre-modern world. Postcolonial critics often insist on the importance of a kind of true identity in colonial culture, as if there is a monotonous and intact identity behind the history of colonialism that must be traced back to the past. This so-called authentic self tries to stand against radical alienation in this day and age. However, the true resistance against the oppressive colonization is not to return to the lost days but on the contrary, one has to be radical enough to dismantle this “true essence” and focus on the wound itself as a space for liberation, or to quote from Wagner’s Parsifal: The wound can be healed only by the spear that smote it (Die Wunde schliesst der Speer nur der Sie schlug).

To deviate from this path carries with it the danger of a kind of class-oriented reaction which, by inventing a false religion or worldview, seeks to maintain its dominance over the lower classes or caste. To be more precise, as Divya and Shaj and J Reghu point out in their recent article, “in the early twentieth century, caste oppression and the demographic distribution of castes became the central question in politics. Upper castes experienced an unprecedented pushback as they were by then found to be a minority. At the time, for something to be identified as a religion, it needed to be recognized by the state as well as to appear as already encompassing the ‘spiritual life’ of a large population. The real life of the ‘Hindu’ religion, then, began with the census operations of the colonial administration, through which it entered the enumerative categories of the state.”7

This issue functions as a selection of responses, explanation, and interpretation on the philosophy and thinking of Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi. Contributors to this issue each present a special picture of the thought of these two philosophers in their own way and try to shed light on it.

Robert Bernasconi explores the way Divya and Shaj address the issues of India today and looking at Western thought from India rather than applying Western philosophy to India.

Marguerite La Caze reflects on Shaj Mohan and Dwivedi’s book, Gandhi and Philosophy, which considers Gandhi’s thought as a system, links to the possibility of a cosmopolitanism or world democracy that creates new freedoms as well as new responsibilities as we recognize the indestinacy of the world. This article response to their call for anastasis or a new beginning not grounded in concepts of destiny nor nature is to explore Mohan and Dwivedi’s interpretation of Gandhi’s view of violence and resistance and then consider what our responsibility could involve given an alternative cosmopolitan conception of resistance.

Ivana Perica begins with a detailed reading of Dwivedi’s essay “May 1968 and other dates in the Memories of Imagination” and reflect on her understanding of analogy and homology in relationship with the pasts and futures of political action, or of “meaningful action,” as Dwivedi and Mohan put it in their Gandhi book. Her primary concern is answering the question regarding how the forlorn revolutionary pasts relate to possible futures and what role imagination plays in this.

Daniel James Smith examines the notion of “hypophysics,” the central concept of Dwivedi and Mohan’s new philosophical interpretation of Gandhi. In the first part, Smith explains how it functions as the “orienting star” for their navigation of Gandhi’s system of thought as a whole, in relation to its other leading components like nature, good and evil, and speed. In the second part, he explores one of its significant political implications, namely the comparison it allows them to draw between caste and race.

Reghu Janardhanan in his reading of Dwivedi and Mohan’s philosophy intends to stay close to the intent of non-centrism in their works, and the complex transformations which philosophical thought has undergone through them, which have been marked out as epochal by some of the leading philosophers. His goal is to find a streamlined account of the Dwivedi and Mohan’s tremendous philosophical contributions with a view to the immediate philosophico-political milieu of the 21st century and the need to apply the theoretical tools and instruments from their works in the social sciences and the arts to  the overcoming of the global political stasis.

Benedetta Todaro talks about hypophysics and Gandhian “mutterialism.” As she argues, “hypo” of “hypophysics” does not designate a “less” of “physics” but rather “another physics.” As she puts it in her essay, it is the physics of the “true” status of nature—nature as that which alone is value—in Gandhi. In other words, from hypo-physics both physics and metaphysics deviate, or depart. She also discusses the role of resistance in their work and argues that Dwivedi and Mohan assign a conservative role to resistance, that is, resistances are the reciprocal adjustments of a system to remain as that particular system while conserving the foundations of that system.

Farid Ghadami looks at “Gandhi and Philosophy” as a way to show how any society that is formed around something positive (cleanness, God, homeland, religion, etc.) can immediately lead to racism and oppression, and only a community that is formed around something negative such as dirtiness and Identitylessness can be liberating. Also through a dialogue with a story of Guy de Maupassant, he intends to show how Gandhi’s “spiritual and positive face” can become a tool of repression.

And the final part of the issue is a conversation between Shaj Mohan and Rachel Adams.

Not only do I owe it to myself to thank Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi for giving me the opportunity to address these fascinating topics and essays, but I also send my comradely salute to Tani Barlow, Rebecca Karl, Fabio Lanza and Aminda Smtih. All this would not have been possible without their kindness, help, and patience.


Kamran Baradaran is an author, critic, musician, translator, and journalist. He has translated works of philosophers including Jean Baudrillard, Antonio Gramsci, Paul Virilio, and Slavoj Žižek into Persian. Baradaran has also published a book on Écriture féminine Feminine Writing; Improvisation in the Mist.

— Kamran Baradaran, editor

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  1. Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi, 2019, Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-Politics, Bloomsbury Academic. p. 9.
  2. Ibid, p.217.
  3. Ibid, p.141.
  4. See:  http://positionspolitics.org/the-proletariat-are-all-those-who-are-denied-the-collective-faculty-of-imagination-an-interview-with-divya-dwivedi/
  5. Ibid.
  6. See: https://crisisandcommunitas.com/?communitas=what-we-need-is-collective-shared-political-inventions
  7. See: https://caravanmagazine.in/religion/how-upper-castes-invented-hindu-majority