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Why was it important that the modern individual be conceptualized in terms of this internal struggle between passion/sentiments and reason ? Timothy Mitchell’s discussion of Durkheim in Colonising Egypt offers a suggestive answer. The very conception of modern individual, Mitchell says in discussing Durkheim’s texts, poses a threat to the conception of the social and the general, for if individuals are endowed with infinite individuality (which is what the drama of passions is supposed to reveal—each person his or her own novelist and analysand at the same time), what is there to guarantee the unity of the social ? What would prevent the social realm, made up of such individuals (that is, people not simply subject to social practice, as they were supposed to be in primitive societies), from collapsing into the nightmare of anomie ? The answer, at the level of the individual, would be : reason. Reason, by focusing the mind on the general and the universal, would guide the individual’s passion into its rightful place in the social realm. This thought, taken by itself, was not necessarily modern, but its generalization through society, one could argue, marks the coming of modernity.

Dipesh Chakrabarty Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial thought and historical difference Princeton University Press 2000 p. 131 durkheim mitchell modernité postcolonial raison subalterne universalisme