Education, National Liberation, and the Limits of Modernism
Ben Conisbee Baer
Anticolonial struggles of the interwar epoch were haunted by the question of how to construct an educational practice for all future citizens of postcolonial states. In what ways, vanguard intellectuals asked, would citizens from diverse subaltern situations be equally enabled to participate in a nonimperial society and world? In circumstances of cultural and social crisis imposed by colonialism, these vanguards sought to refashion modern structures and technologies of public education by actively relating them to residual indigenous collective forms.
In Indigenous Vanguards, Ben Conisbee Baer provides a theoretical and historical account of literary engagements with structures and representations of public teaching and learning by cultural vanguards in the colonial world from the 1920s to the 1940s. He shows how modernizing educative projects existed in complex tension with impulses to indigenize national liberation movements, and how this tension manifests as a central aspect of modernist literary practice. Offering new readings of figures such as Alain Locke, Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, D. H. Lawrence, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, and Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Baer discloses the limits and openings of modernist representations as they attempt to reach below the fissures of class that produce them. Establishing unexpected connections between languages and regions, Indigenous Vanguards is the first study of modernism and colonialism that encompasses the decisive way public education transformed modernist aesthetics and vanguard politics.