Appendix to Chapter 1:
Historiography and Catachresis
Keeping in mind the instability of all categories within the arrested con-
temporary moment, the historical catachresis lends stability to such sin-
gular events as the event of woman in modernity. What debates in femi-
nist theory over the past decade suggest, then, are ways out of Dorothy
Ko’s impasse. Rather than conflating ‘‘gender’’ with ‘‘women’’ or wom-
en’s self-consciousness, three landmark studies in women’s social history
suggest useful ways of writing catachrestically. Lata Mani’s landmark essay
‘‘Contentious Traditions,’’ which opened an impasse similar to Ko’s, Nell
Painter’s ‘‘Representing Truth: Sojourner Truth’s Knowing and Becoming
Known,’’ a discussion of why unmediated access to women is not possible,
and Mrinalini Sinha’s ‘‘Gender in the Critiques of Colonialism and Na-
tionalism: Locating the ‘Indian Woman,’ ’’ which o√ered the catachresis
‘‘Indian women,’’ illustrate the general point and its resolution.∞
In a remarkable pathbreaking essay, Lata Mani argued that to approach
the question of what she called ‘‘female agency’’ or a ‘‘complex notion of
female subjectivity’’ (106) in colonial India, a feminist historian would have
to locate her work at the intersection of certain key discourses of moder-
nity. This Mani did by selecting as her subject contemporary debates over
sati. Mani read the debates and argued that colonial social welfare legisla-
tion regarding widow immolation, child marriage, and other social ills
actually rested on a perverse modernist formulation of tradition that made
local women’s voluntarism unrepresentable because colonially imposed
grids were figuring Indian womanhood through the metonym of widow
burning. A ‘‘matrix of constraints’’ (91) shaping the debate, moreover,
sanctioned the collusion of indigenous and imperialist patriarchies, rein-
forcing male dominance and resituating men’s power in a colonial world
defined by imperialism and nativism. Working in this matrix, Mani’s nu-
anced, lavishly researched essay concluded that ‘‘o≈cial discourse fore-
closes any possibility of women’s agency, thus providing justification for
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