Abhidha Journal

Abhidha

Journal of Art, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

Abhidha

Journal of Art, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

Title:

Look askance: loss and recovery of writing in South and Southeast Asia

Author:

Nishaant Choksi

Abstract:

In the twentieth century, forest and hill-dwelling communities throughout South and Southeast Asia have been involved in the creation of unique orthographic scripts to represent their languages. While many outsiders have seen this as the result of literacy initiatives and the rise of identitypolitics in the postcolonial nation-state, the narratives surrounding these scripts within communities ranging from the Santal (India) to the Hmong (Southeast Asia) talk about these scripts as having been “recovered” from the hoary past. These recovery narratives of the recently developed orthographies contradict the developmental view of literacy, in which reading and writing are seen as markers of progress, instantiating a view of time that saturates the present with a lost past recovered from the dustbin of history. The paper draws on Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of ‘chronotope’ and Walter Benjamin’s discussion of the “angel of history” who looks askance to the past as it moves forward, to suggest that scripts arise in a political moment of suturing. This process occurs when communities seek to assert alternative historical visions following the violence of dislocation, migration, and upheaval brought about by state-formation in the Asian post-colonies.