Amitav Ghosh’s nutmeg curse lacks careful thought-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost


Most of the information transmitted by Ghosh is generally accessible to the informed public and its contribution is mainly its assembly.

Amitav Ghosh is an anthropologist by training but is best known as a fiction writer, and he chooses anthropological subjects around which he builds fiction – for example, people, ecology and legends of the Ganges Delta in The hungry tide (2004). His writing involves many journeys since his first works. In an ancient land (1992) was a non-fiction account based on his doctoral thesis and set in the Nile Delta. The Glass Palace (2000) takes place in Burma, Bengal and Malaysia and spans a century after the Third Anglo-Burmese War. The Ibis trilogy – made up of three separate novels – covers spaces starting in India, deals with the migration of coolies (contract labor) to Mauritius in the middle of the 19e century.

His books are based on extensive research and The curse of nutmeg: parables for a planet in crisis, a work of non-fiction, was undertaken as a project based on a trip to the Banda Islands, an archipelago that is part of Indonesia. Ghosh is increasingly involved in climate issues and he traces the current crisis to the actions of colonialism in the book. The Banda Islands are known for nutmeg, a spice once so beloved – because it didn’t grow anywhere else – that the Dutch slaughtered the island’s inhabitants and sold the survivors into slavery to take control of its trade. When the price of nutmeg subsequently fell, they set out to destroy the trees to make the spice more expensive. Ghosh gathers an enormous amount of material to make his arguments and his program is ultimately to trace the ecological crisis back to Western ideas of progress. He tries to show that the so-called savages and shamans had a more enduring relationship with the world than civilizations which regard nature as a “resource”. The coronavirus The pandemic, according to Amitav Ghosh, is just the latest in a series of man-made disasters resulting from “progress.”

Ghosh makes a lot of connections in pursuing his argument and the first is the debunking of the idea that man-made products take precedence over natural products in the modern age:

“Today we are even more dependent on plant matter than three hundred years ago and not just for our food. Most modern humans are completely dependent on the energy that comes from long buried carbon – and what are coal, oil, and natural gas, other than fossilized forms of botanical material? “

Ghosh elaborates on the amount of fossil fuel energy consumed in the world and cites sources. The case is impressive, but one wonders if the original claim even merited a rebuttal. Humanity can only create goods from the natural material bequeathed to it by the planet. You could say that much of Ghosh’s scholarship is used in this way, largely to defend what well-meaning truisms are.

From the massacre of the Bandanese by the Dutch, Ghosh moves on to an almost contemporary event: the genocide of the Pequot Indians by the British, the link between the two being the Anglo-Dutch rivalry in the Far East and America. He supports his delineation of the Pequot massacre with two different accounts of the event from British soldiers who participated in it. More interesting, however, is the fact that the philosopher and polemicist Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England, explained in detail why it was lawful for European Christians to exterminate certain groups “outlawed by nature” or by “the immediate command of God “. These parts justifying the massacres are the most gratifying part of Ghosh’s book since it is not just about reporting but about argumentation. Here’s what Ghosh says:

“In essence (Bacon) argued that a well-governed country (“ any civil and supervised nation ”) has the absolute right to invade countries which are“ degenerate ”or in violation of“ the laws of nature and nations ”. . ‘ This is, of course, the fundamental doctrine of “liberal interventionism”, and it has been invoked repeatedly over the past decades to justify “wars of choice” launched by Western powers. “

Ghosh does not go all the way in stretching it to American interventionism in Iraq and Libya, but the liberal ethic that genocide is judged appears to be only if a leader engages in genocide of people in another country, it is morally justifiable, but if the ruler kills people in his own country, that would be inexcusable. Since the United States is “well governed”, its genocidal conduct elsewhere in “less well governed spaces” is justifiable by this doctrine, but not Stalin’s genocide in the USSR. A genocide of the “well governed” is obviously a much more odious affair than the genocide of the “less well governed”.

Ghosh writes non-fiction but it is essentially as a narrator that he emerges as he piles up fact upon fact without producing much argument, using only irony. Take the previous remarks on Sir Francis Bacon, for example, or Sir Francis Bacon imagining a utopia (as New Atlantis) when he advocated the liquidation of “unnatural” peoples. In a subsequent intervention, Ghosh is once again ironic that the Netherlands is having a ‘golden age’ just as the Dutch were destroying the Bandanese so that they could dominate the nutmeg trade. I think Ghosh’s use of irony is misplaced as it only involves “hypocrisy”; it is as if Rembrandt’s paintings were tainted with what the Dutch did in the Banda Islands.

Even if this contradiction can be resolved, Ghosh refuses to do so; Western progress may have caused the destruction of non-European peoples (called “unnatural”), but this is a moral judgment made by the same liberal point of view as “Western progress” through thought. ethics. In other words, Ghosh and those he cites are all products of the same civilization that engaged in genocide. One can hardly justify genocide, but neither can one write with irony when describing Western progress. Ghosh’s gender irony refuses to deal with complexities and contradictions. To illustrate, there is as much irony in a civilization that produced Rembrandt also engaging in genocide as there is in that civilization – which destroyed the environment – producing a book like Ghosh’s. The Western idea of ​​progress is based on contradictions in order to move forward, but this notion escapes Ghosh.

Climate change linked to progress and the world destroyed by this idea of ​​progress is not an unreasonable assumption, and hardly anything Ghosh says disagrees. But as alternatives, he only offers those devised by “primitive” groups in which the words and actions of shamans and mystics are paramount. My own argument is that human beings have little control over what they can “know” and how they use it, and knowledge itself is not “moral” no matter how much moral choices. can be admirable. The compulsion to “know and use” is much stronger than the “moral” urge, which means that if the primitive tribes had the same propensity to explore as the Europeans, they could have put the world in the same way. position he is in today – because the urge to “know” would have driven them. At no time does Amitav Ghosh offer another type of knowledge which could have given the same rapid results as European thought, but of a more benign type.

There are some very interesting things that Ghosh has to say which include the use of “nature” by colonizers – like epidemics – under the pretext that nature had defeated them because of their primitive practices. A particularly interesting common thread is Gaia’s hypothesis that the Earth is a living entity and that “life maintains the conditions for life”. This is the exact opposite of the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian religions that what is on Earth is essentially for Man because it has been chosen by God. The later point of view may be responsible for the enormous value placed on human lives in Western rhetoric although in actual practice the high value is placed only on Western lives. Ghosh recognizes it but The curse of nutmeg ends with a missive extolling human life, “the fate of humans and all our loved ones”. My question here is whether the inflated value placed on human lives is compatible with the Gaia hypothesis. Would it not follow that the planet and life are worth more than human life itself and if the human losses caused by themselves could not be simply “collateral damage?” I’m not advocating anything here except that each type of speculation requires more thought than Ghosh gives.

In Amitav Ghosh’s critique of Western science and progress, there is evidence of a scholar who has studied extensively and who cares about the future of mankind; but we do not find traces of rigorous thought in his writing. Most of the information it conveys is generally accessible to the informed public and its contribution is above all its assembly. The book’s subtitle “Parables for a Planet in Crisis” also suggests that Ghosh was not quite sure what he had assembled. Perhaps a thinker at the heart of so many emotions could have given his company more unity and purpose.

Mk Raghavendra is a cultural, literary and film critic who has authored 11 books on film, politics and literature. He won the Swarna Kamal for Best Critical Film in 1997. Two of his books have been translated into Russian.


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