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III

A preliminary assessment of the achievements of intellectual creativity reveals a varied picture. The Bengal area seems to have been singularly well endowed with a "liberal imagination", resulting in syncretic tradition characterized by heterodoxy, populism, and demystification rather than outright radicalism. The forte of the Bengali intellectual tradition lay in literature and music. mysticism and metaphysics, with a smaller contribution to spheres such as architecture, sculpture and painting.

In contrast there has been much less contribution to the scientific and mathematical tradition. There was no development of the experimental method nor an intellectual tradition which would "articulate itself into crisis", thus invoking the creative imagination. Only in one sphere of applied sciences - medicine - endogenous schools developed, and that growth was also limited.

The case of technology was somewhat different. Ancient arts and crafts demonstrate a level of simple but skilled technology. However, this has been refined through the centuries without any major breakthrough resulting in a discontinuous rise in productivity. Since technology is also directly related to the level of productive forces in the economy, the question arises as to whether the corresponding production relations generated appropriate preconditions which might have led to technological innovation.

By and large, none of the endogenous intellectual traditions brought forth any contribution which transformed the essential structure of the social and economic order. Such change, when it came, was brought through an exogenous impact with unique characteristics.

Bangladesh has almost always had rulers with external origins. Even so, particularly in those cases where she was not reduced to a part of a centralized empire but constituted an independent kingdom on her own, the rulers and their intellectual traditions were gradually assimilated into the local tradition. In this, manner, the boundaries of the endogenous expanded over time, which indicates extraordinary powers of absorption and assimilation of exogenous elements, a capacity for syncretism as well as the resilience of the pre-existing traditions.

An overview of the historical experience indicates that, in spite of the repeated impact of external conquest, the structure of society remained essentially unchanged until the imposition of colonialism based on a worldwide capitalistic system. What was common to pre-British Bengal was an agrarian civilization in which a transfer of surplus was imposed by the ruling orders, resident in urban capitals. Sometimes, in the case of centralized empire, surplus transfer was done through a bureaucracy which deprived the labouring class – the cultivators and the artisans who were always made to surrender most of their surplus products - of the means and motives to invest in higher productivity, hence the absence of a breakthrough in the technological tradition. This particular aspect of production relations corresponds broadly with the relationship of intellectual traditions to the social and political order over the period. The caste system functioned to order not only class relationships (by occupational groups) but also creativity; thus practitioners of the literary tradition, coming mostly from high caste groups, retained a monopoly of such abilities among the ruling order. Correspondingly, other practitioners of the arts, such as dancers, musicians, and actors, were kept at a low caste level. Recruitment into the domain of the arts was by birth, imbuing such professions with the ideal of following laid-down patterns rather than individualized innovation.

In short, the domain of endogenous intellectual creativity was retained firmly under the control of the ruling order. Artists produced according to the wishes of their patrons, and thus the class structure operated as a filter of consciousness and creativity in the interest of the ruling class.

Endogenous intellectual creativity could never successfully challenge the basic exploitative relationship on which the foundation of the society was based, but time and again, it revolted against the system, though mostly at the level of ideology. The dissenting cults of the Tantric schools. for instance. instead of challenging the basic production relations underlying the social formation, only emphasized a different metaphysics, which the ruling classes could well afford to tolerate.

The endeavor of this school was significantly to reach and communicate with the masses through the medium of the Bengali language. Language, appropriately, provided a medium of intellectual creativity which was extremely difficult for any ruling order to control. This experience has been echoed from the earliest times to the most contemporary period.

With annexation to the British Empire, the country became articulated into a world capitalistic system under the control of imperialism. The impact was qualitatively different in so far as it led to the disintegration of pre-existing social structures and creative tradition. It brought new productive forces (the technology of the steam engine) and new relations of production (capitalism and imperialism). While these generated new brands of creativity, much of the best in the endogenous creative tradition, including the arts and crafts, was stunted or destroyed by market forces and discriminatory practices of the colonial regime.

The most significant social consequence of colonial rule was the emergence of a middle class. This urban comprador elite began by emulating colonial culture and eventually led the movement for the apparent demise of colonial rule, in the process ensuring the smooth transfer of power to themselves. While the middle class initiated, and to some extent implemented, worthy social reforms, they invariably identified themselves with state power against popular expectations. Hand in hand with this has gone a disinterested attitude towards endogenous creativity in rural areas, leading to impotency in the spheres of social transformation and national development. Folk tradition was revived and glorified only to the extent that it fulfilled the needs of an emergent bourgeoisie in search of a distinctive identity vis-a-vis its colonial predicament.

 
 

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