If asked to identify episodes of transnational collaboration in the sixty-odd years before the Second World War, for most people Germany and India probably don’t so readily come to mind. Given thought, though, the patterns of connection between the countries make sense: thinkers on either side were aiming to extricate themselves from subordination to the British dominance of the 19th century, and each stood to benefit intellectually and socially from interaction with the other. Such exchange needn’t—and shouldn’t—be imagined to have occurred on level fields between parties of equal standing though, especially in light of Germany’s status as imperial power and India’s as colonized. But, as historian Kris Manjapra argues, “similarities are not at issue here; entanglements are.”
“Entanglements,” Manjapra writes, “occur when groups, alien from each other in many other ways, begin to need each other like crowbars or like shovels to break apart or to dig up problems of the most pressing concern for themselves.” A new study of entanglement, he explains, would ask questions about what different groups, some stronger, some weaker, get out of their political relations together, and about how groups use trans-societal interactions and linkages to satisfy their own specific local political interests.
“The study of entanglement in fact keeps different threads of history separate,” Manjapra writes, “just as it also traces the involvement of these threads together. Such a pursuit displays a multifocal interest in the politics, poetics, and practices of transnational relations.” Further, examining such cultural and intellectual exchange enables a move beyond “studying encounters in terms of the pity of colonial domination, or else in terms of the charms of cross-cultural encounter,” injecting what Manjapra describes as “a necessary dose of realpolitik” into the study of transnational intellectual history.
In the video below, Manjapra takes us back to a time when German and Indian thinkers engineered encounters designed to help “skew and transgress nineteenth-century ideals of Anglocentric Europeanness, on one hand, and ideals of imperial citizenship, on the other,” the period he describes in Age of Entanglement.